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Former Manila street kids want pope to visit


Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines — Father Matthieu Dauchez knows the children he works with are not the only poor people in the Philippines, but that has not stopped him from lobbying loudly and praying constantly that Pope Francis will stop by.

“We’re a drop in the ocean, but I hope he’ll see this drop,” Father Dauchez said Jan. 13. “Our drop is very well located.”

The advantage of the Blessed Charles de Foucauld Home for Girls is that it is across the street from the Manila cathedral where Pope Francis will meet with priests and religious Jan. 16. In addition to the 38 girls and young women who live there, another 150-170 young people from the Tulay Ng Kabataan centers for street children around Manila will be waiting for there for the pope.

Father Matthieu Dauchez, director of The Blessed Charles de Foucauld Home for Girls, poses with residents Jan. 13 in Manila, Philippines. Father Dauchez said there are between 6,000 to 10,000 street children in metro Manila. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Father Matthieu Dauchez, director of The Blessed Charles de Foucauld Home for Girls, poses with residents Jan. 13 in Manila, Philippines. Father Dauchez said there are between 6,000 to 10,000 street children in metro Manila. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Speaking in English, Jelly, a 17-year-old resident at the center near the cathedral, said she wrote Pope Francis a letter asking him to stop by because “I want to confess my sins and I want to hug him.”

“He is a representative of God,” she said in Filipino, before returning to English to say: “He’s a very humble person. He’s very kind and playful.”

Jelly, who was rescued from the streets less than seven years ago, is now in the 6th grade at a local elementary school. She’s playful, too, and rallies some of the younger girls for their favorite game: They send flip-flops slicing through the air trying to knock over the sardine can that held the protein portion of their day’s lunch. They also had rice.

Jelly picks up a man’s massive blue flip-flop and sends it sailing, nailing the can; she insists it is not cheating if one finds a bigger shoe to launch.

Since 1998, the TNK foundation has been ministering to street children and the children of the urban poor in metropolitan Manila, including those who work as scavengers on Manila’s massive waste dumpsite.

While UNICEF estimates there are as many as 500,000 “street children” in the Philippines, that figure is based on long hours spent on the streets; many of them either live with their families on the streets or are sent out to work and return home to their families at night.

The 14 Tulay Ng Kabataan residential centers are for “hard-core” street children, those who have been abandoned by their families or were forced to flee because of physical and sexual abuse; 6,000 to 10,000 of those children live in metropolitan Manila, said Father Dauchez, who came to the Philippines from France as a seminarian and was ordained in 2004 for the Archdiocese of Manila.

Foundation employees and volunteers, including social workers and psychologists, are out on the streets every day and every night, building relationships with the children and letting them know that there is a safe place where they can find a home.

Alexandra Chapeleau, the foundation’s communications manager, says getting the children to the residential centers is a long process. The children form tight-knit and tightly controlled groups on the street; the group becomes their safety net and the source of whatever sustenance they can find, often through stealing and prostitution.

When the children first leave the streets, they are welcomed into “drop-in centers,” where social workers and psychologists evaluate each individual and try to discover if they have any ties or the possibility of a re-establishing a tie with their families. When they have settled into more of what would be considered a normal life, they move to a residential center and begin attending public schools.

Among those rescued from the streets are children who are mentally challenged or have serious learning disabilities; Tulay Ng Kabataan operates three residences just for them.

In the centers, the children experience the luxury of loving care, an end to exploitation and help with their homework. But the facilities are basic: The girls sleep on plastic loungers usually found by a swimming pool. They each have their own closet and their weekly schedule of chores is taped to it. Each day of the week of the pope’s visit, Jelly has a different task: dishwashing; preparing the table for meals on two different days; helping to cook and clean the kitchen; laundry duty twice; and one entry that says “3Gs.” She explained that that is tidying up the garden and garage and taking out the garbage.

Her 15-year-old friends, Liway and Elisa, are in high school and arrive home later than Jelly does. But they are fully onboard with the dream of welcoming the pope to their home.

“Pope Francis is one who will bring hope and make our dreams possible,” Liway said.

Elisa added: “I hope he will be able to visit us at the center for girls because he is very important. He helps others.”

The foundation cares for the young people until they are ready to live autonomously, Chapeleau said. Some stay until they are in their early 20s if they are enrolled in a university or job-training program.

As one of the girls led nine others in saying a prayer of thanksgiving after lunch, Father Dauchez put obvious effort into being philosophical about Pope Francis’ packed schedule and the fact that TNK is not officially on it.

“What is important,” he said, “is not whether he visits here, but that Pope Francis is coming to the Philippines to visit the poorest of the poor.”

“But what do you think our chances are?” he asked.


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Manila cardinal’s day: Preparing for pope’s visit, being with the poor


Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines — “Today I was thinking about the tenacity of the poor,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila as he and his guests rode past a polluted creek lined with the cardboard, plastic and tin shacks of people he describes as “informal settlers.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, blesses the lot of a housing project in Pasay City during a Jan. 11 ground-breaking ceremony. The building will house 67 of the families living along a creek and roughly 300 families already living in their own tiny apartments.(CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, blesses the lot of a housing project in Pasay City during a Jan. 11 ground-breaking ceremony. The building will house 67 of the families living along a creek and roughly 300 families already living in their own tiny apartments.(CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

He had just presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for a building that will house 67 of the families living along the creek, then celebrated a late-afternoon Mass for them and for the roughly 300 families already living in their own tiny apartments in neat, two-story cinderblock units built under the auspices of the St. Hannibal Empowerment Center.

As he arrived in a pedal cart to the building site, a lot vacant except for a huge pile of rubble, and as he left the Mass, the crowds pressed in. Police and community organizers had to form a cordon to get him to his car after Mass, but he still stopped to pose for selfies, smiling broadly and bringing the hands of the elderly to his forehead in a sign of respect.

The poor, he said, “are willing to wait. When life is easy, it’s easy to say I’m a hopeful person,” but the poor in the Malibay community of Pasay City on the outskirts of Manila had been living in shacks for decades. They spent three years working with the Rogationist Fathers on community education and community-building projects before they found, financed and purchased the plot of land that will be their new home.

Pope Francis was scheduled to arrive in Manila Jan.15, and the 57-year-old cardinal had a million details to handle, many of them dispatched with his lightning quick telephone text-messaging skills, but he immersed himself in the crowd at the ground-breaking ceremony and Mass Jan. 11.

It was just a couple hours in a day filled with appointments from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. He didn’t stop for lunch, although after the Mass in Pasay City and before heading to the next Mass, he did take a little piece of cake that was part of the sweet array offered to his guests by the sisters who staff his residence. He also popped a couple “pastillas de leche” into his mouth, trying to tempt his already sugar-buzzing guests.

When a comment was made that he seems much thinner than he did in October when he was one of the presidents of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, he said, “It’s no joke preparing for the Holy Father.”

Asked if his schedule would be any lighter the next day, he replied with a long, drawn out “no.” But despite all the meetings, he still had to find a way to spend a bit of time with his father, Manuel, because it was his dad’s 85th birthday. Although he knew it wasn’t quite right, he said he might have to ask his brother to bring his parents to Manila from their home in Imus, about 15 miles away.

His parents have not been unaffected by the planning for the papal trip. Cardinal Tagle said he has been hearing from all sorts of “long-lost friends” who were hoping to meet Pope Francis. “Some even go to my mother,” Milagros, asking for tickets to one of the papal events, he said.

The cardinal’s public Sunday began with him warmly welcoming a succession of journalists to his home, standing where TV crews told him to and answering their questions with ease. He posed for group and individual photos with almost all of them.

He talked about the papal trip, the morning earthquake that woke all his visitors, the Filipino people, Pope Francis’ personality, popular piety and the poor. He expressed concern about how he will deliver the gifts people have given him to give to the pope. They fill 14 boxes so far, he said, and the nuncio doesn’t want them stacked at the nunciature where the pope will sleep.

During a fast-paced and often funny conversation with Lino Rulli, host of the “The Catholic Guy” on SiriusXM, Cardinal Tagle said he is not nervous about the approaching papal visit. “I’m excited. I want to see how the pastor in him will react to the reality here.”

The pope, he said, practices what he preaches about going out to the world’s peripheries to meet, listen to and help the poor and excluded.

When you do that, the cardinal said, “you will learn something,” and he’s looking forward to seeing the pope’s face, watching his eyes, when he “receives the Gospel proclaimed to him by the poor.”

The theme came up again in an evening conversation before the last events of the day: a 7 p.m. Mass in a super-packed Santo Nino de Tondo Church and dinner afterward with the concelebrating priests, auxiliary bishop and the journalists who were treated as his honored guests.

The Filipino poor usually are “resigned, in a positive sense. They say, ‘We will try to succeed, but if not, God will take care of us,’” he said. Even if they cannot provide their children with a nice house, good schools and nutritious meals every day, they try to live honorably and ensure special events are celebrated. “If nothing else, they want to leave their children a good name and good memories. You hear that over and over from the poor.”

Cardinal Tagle said he did not know how to judge the accuracy of the predictions that 5 million people will attend the pope’s Mass Jan. 18 in Manila’s Rizal Park, but he knows a lot of the poorest Filipinos will be there.

“Many people believe that even if they cannot see the pope up close, if they are geographically present, it will bring a blessing. And their children and grandchildren can say they were there,” he said. Sacrificing to get to the park, waiting for hours and putting up with the crowds “is a bodily form of prayer, like fasting.”

Cardinal Tagle said that over and over again, his understanding of the Scriptures has taken on new depth from his experience with the poor and “their wisdom, their hope.” That’s what he wants to share with the pope.


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God created all people, desires to save them, pope says on Epiphany


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In every age and in every culture, people seek God just as the Three Kings did and, in every age, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they find him in the surprising humility of a baby born in a manger, Pope Francis said.

“Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love,” the pope said Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates Mass on the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 6. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates Mass on the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 6. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini pool via Reuters)

Before beginning the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis and two families, each with two small children, paid homage to the newborn Lord by kissing a statue of Baby Jesus that had been placed in front of the main altar on Christmas Eve.

The journey of the Magi from the East and their discovery of the babe, the pope said in his homily, is a sign that Jesus came to save all peoples, not just his fellow Jews.

“According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs,” the pope told the congregation. “The wise men represent men and woman who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest.”

The Holy Spirit prompted them to follow the star, kept them strong when their quest proved difficult and filled them with the grace they needed “to have a personal encounter with the true God,” he said.

While it would have been understandable to not believe that the baby was the Messiah, the Holy Spirit helped them “enter into the mystery,” the pope said. “The wise men are thus model of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendor of power.”

The feast of the Epiphany, he said, is a time for all Christians to ask themselves where God can be found in their lives and whether they resist the temptation to put their faith in people or things that demonstrate worldly power.

“The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world,” Pope Francis said. “It is the path of God’s self-abasement, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.”

While Pope Francis and thousands of people were at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, thousands more lined the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square for the traditional, folkloric Epiphany celebration. Marching bands, baton twirlers and more than 1,500 people in Renaissance costumes paraded up the street ahead of the Three Kings on horseback.

Vatican police said there were 50,000 people were in the square to recite the Angelus at midday with the pope.

The revelation of Jesus to the Three Kings, the pope said at the Angelus, was the “manifestation of God’s love and universal salvation. He does not reserve his love to a privileged few, but offers it to all.”

Just as all human beings have one creator, the pope said, God willed that they would have one savior, Jesus Christ.

“For this reason, we are called always to nourish great trust and hope for every person and his or her salvation,” he said. “Even those who seem far from the Lord are followed, or better, pursued, by his passionate and faithful love.”

Like the Wise Men, he said, Christians must continue to journey closer and closer to the Lord, attentive to the signs of God’s presence, untiring and courageous.

“Attentive, untiring and courageous — but one thing is missing,” he said. “Walk in the light! And what is the light? The Gospel of Jesus. Always have a Gospel in your purse or pocket to read.”


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Pray for peace, sow harmony, look to Mary as model disciple, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Peace is a gift that comes through prayer and through small daily efforts to sow harmony in one’s family, parish and community, Pope Francis said.

“At the beginning of this new year, we are all called to reignite in our hearts a spark of hope, which must be translated into concrete works of peace: You don’t get along with that person? Make peace. In your home? Make peace. In the community? Make peace. At work? Make peace,” he said Jan. 4 during his midday recitation of the Angelus.

Pope Francis gestures as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Jan. 1. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis gestures as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 1. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Before announcing the names of the 20 new cardinals he will create Feb. 14, Pope Francis used his Sunday Angelus address to continue the reflection on peace, on Mary and on the church that he began during a Mass Jan. 1 marking the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

“Peace is not just an absence of war, but the general condition of the person who is in harmony with him- or herself, in harmony with nature and in harmony with others,” he said during the Angelus address.

Everyone says they want peace, Pope Francis said, but they continue to make war, even on a small scale. “How many families, how many communities — even parishes — are at war,” he said.

Describing Mary as the “queen of peace,” the pope said that during her earthly life she knew difficulty, “but she never lost her peace of heart, a fruit of having abandoned herself with trust to the mercy of God. We ask Mary, our tender mother, to point the whole world to the sure path of love and peace.”

Reciting the Angelus Jan. 1, he reminded people that the theme of his 2015 peace day message was “No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters.”

“War makes us slaves always,” he said. “We are all called to combat every form of slavery and build brotherhood. And remember, peace is possible.”

Faith helps make people free, and living the tenets of faith helps make them peacemakers, he said.

“Thanks to our baptism, we were introduced into communion with God and we are no longer at the whim of evil and sin, but we receive the love, tenderness and mercy of the heavenly Father,” he said.

Earlier Jan. 1, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and focused his homily on Mary as both the mother of God and mother of the church.

“Jesus,” he told the congregation, “cannot be understood without his mother,” the one who gave him human flesh, raised him and was near him always, even as he died on the cross and rose from the dead.

“Likewise inseparable are Christ and the church,” he said. And, just as Mary brought Jesus into the world more than 2,000 years ago, the church continues to bring him to the world, he said.

Pope Francis repeated what he has said in the past: “It is not possible to love Christ without the church, to listen to Christ but not the church, to belong to Christ but not the church.”

The church brings Christ to people, nourishes people with the sacraments and helps them understand what it means to belong to Christ, the pope said. “Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.”

“Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the church, in our hierarchical, holy mother church,” he said. “It is the church which says today: ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ It is the church which proclaims him. It is in the church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.”

“Without the church,” the pope said, “Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.”


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Prolong Christmas joy by serving others, pope says on feast of St. Stephen


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The day after Christmas, Pope Francis warned Catholics about two related temptations: giving Christmas a “false, sugary coating” and not putting the faith one professes into action.

Reciting the Angelus Dec. 26 — a holiday in Italy and the feast of St. Stephen, the martyred deacon who served the poor, the pope said Stephen “honored the coming into the world of the king of kings, gave witness to him and offered as a gift his life in service for the poorest. In that way, he shows us how to fully live the mystery of Christmas.”

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to deliver his Christmas blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to deliver his Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

The reading, Pope Francis said, doesn’t “break up the celebration of Christmas, but it strips it of that false, sugary coating that does not belong to it.”

“If we really want to welcome Jesus into our lives and prolong the joy of that holy night,” he said, “the path is indicated by this Gospel: Give witness to Christ in humility, in silent service, without being afraid of going against the current and paying the price.”

Not everyone is called to martyrdom, he said, “but every Christian is called in every situation to be consistent with the faith he or she professes.”

One cannot say, “‘I’m a Christian,’ and live like a pagan,” the pope said.

Remembering St. Stephen as the first Christian martyr, Pope Francis also urged the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray for “all those who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for their witness of Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, and you are in the heart of Christ and of the church.”

The pope also asked for prayers that “the sacrifice of today’s martyrs, and they are many, would strengthen in every part of the world the commitment to recognizing and concretely assuring religious freedom, which is the inalienable right of every human person.”


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On Christmas, pope urges people to hear the cry of suffering children, phones Iraq refugees


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The crying of Baby Jesus is not the only cry people should hear on Christmas; many children around the world are crying because of war, maltreatment and abuse, Pope Francis said.

“Baby Jesus,” he said Dec. 25, pausing for effect. “My thoughts today go to all children who are abused and mistreated: those killed before they are born; those deprived of the generous love of their parents who are buried under the selfishness of a culture that does not love life; those children displaced by war and persecution, abused and exploited under our eyes and the silence that makes us accomplices.”

Pope Francis carries a figurine of the baby Jesus as he leaves after celebrating Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis carries a figurine of the baby Jesus as he leaves after celebrating Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Before giving his solemn Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world), Pope Francis addressed an estimated 80,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, urging them to pray for peace in Ukraine, in the Middle East, Nigeria, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo.

With thousands of children looking at the Vatican’s Nativity scene and receiving the pope’s blessing with their parents Christmas morning, Pope Francis’ strongest words were about less-fortunate children.

“May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking or forced to become soldiers,” he said. He added special prayers for the families of the dozens of children killed Dec. 16 by a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“There are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the infant Jesus,” he said. Children are dying “under bombardment, even there where the son of God was born. Today their silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods,” those who kill children just as Herod did in Jesus’ time.

The pope prayed that Christ’s “divine power, by its meekness,” would “take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.”

In the dark of the night Dec. 24, in a St. Peter’s Basilica filled to capacity, 10 children led Pope Francis toward the altar of the church. Together they stood waiting while a lector read the solemn “Christmas proclamation,” recounting the timing of the birth of Christ in human history.

As the children from the Philippines, South Korea, Belgium, Italy, Lebanon and Syria looked on, Pope Francis removed the cloth that had been covering a statue of Baby Jesus. He bent over and kissed it gently.

In this homily, the pope said Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, “announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds.”

The birth of the Son of God in a lowly manger is the sign of “the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations.”

Ever since sin entered the world, humanity was yearning for light and for peace, the pope said. The birth of Jesus revealed that “the message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.”

“On this holy night, while we contemplate the infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect,” he said. “How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?”

Put more simply, he said, the key question is: “Do I allow God to love me?” In the face of difficulties and problems, the pope said, “the Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness.”

“When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us,” the pope said, “we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: ‘Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict.’”

As the “Gloria” was intoned at the Mass, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica pealed; those inside the church heard a slightly muffled version, but the thousands of people watching on video screens in St. Peter’s Square got the full effect. Later, during Communion, priests came out of the church to distribute the Eucharist to those unable to get inside.

Another musical note came in the midst of the Gregorian chant of the Creed. After the line, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,” an orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, began playing. Chen Reiss, an Israeli soprano, sang Mozart’s “Et Incarnatus Est,” which the Vatican said was a special request of Pope Francis. The pope and the congregation knelt as Reiss sang that Jesus, “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

Shortly before the Mass, taking advantage of the satellite link of a crew from the Italian bishops’ TV2000, Pope Francis made a telephone call to Christian refugees gathered for Mass in a camp in Ainkawa, Iraq.

“You are like Jesus on Christmas night,” he told them. “There was no room for him either, and he had to flee to Egypt later to save himself.” “You are like Jesus in this situation, and that makes me pray even more for you,” he said. “Dear brothers and sisters, I am close to you, very close this evening. With all my heart, I am near you, and I ask Jesus to caress you with his tenderness and I ask his mother to give you much love.”

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Vatican report calls U.S. women religious to continued dialogue


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A massive, detailed Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious ended with a call to the women themselves to continue discerning how best to live the Gospel in fidelity to their orders’ founding ideals while facing steeply declining numbers and a rapidly aging membership.

Sister Agnes Mary Donovan, coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, speaks as Sister Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, listens during a Dec. 16 Vatican press conference for release of the final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious. The 5,000 word report summarizes problems and challenges the women see in their communities and thanks them for their service. The visitation was carried out between 2009 and 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Sister Agnes Mary Donovan, coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, speaks as Sister Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, listens during a Dec. 16 Vatican press conference for release of the final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious. The 5,000 word report summarizes problems and challenges the women see in their communities and thanks them for their service. The visitation was carried out between 2009 and 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Although initially seen by many religious and lay Catholics as a punitive measure, the apostolic visitation concluded with the publication Dec. 16 of a 5,000-word final report summarizing the problems and challenges the women themselves see in their communities and thanking them for their service to the church and to society, especially the poor.

The visitation process, carried out between 2009 and 2012 with detailed questionnaires and on-site visits, mainly by other women religious, “sought to convey the caring support of the church in respectful, sister-to-sister dialogue,” says the final report by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The process attempted to help the Vatican “and the sisters themselves to be more cognizant of their current situation and challenges in order to formulate realistic, effective plans for the future,” said the report, signed by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the congregation for religious, and Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary.

In summarizing the results, the congregation called for special attention in several areas, including: formation programs for new members; the personal, liturgical and common prayer life of members; ensuring their spiritual practices and ministries are fully in harmony with church teaching “about God, creation, the Incarnation and redemption” in Christ; strengthening community life, especially for members living on their own or with just one other sister; living their vow of poverty while wisely administering financial resources; and strengthening communion within the church, especially with the bishops and Vatican officials.

The Vatican, the report says, “is well aware that the apostolic visitation was met with apprehension and suspicion by some women religious. This resulted in a refusal, on the part of some institutes, to collaborate fully in the process.”

“While the lack of full cooperation was a painful disappointment for us,” the congregation writes, “we use this present opportunity to invite all religious institutes to accept our willingness to engage in respectful and fruitful dialogue with them.”

“A number of sisters conveyed to the apostolic visitator a desire for greater recognition and support of the contribution of women religious to the church on the part of its pastors,” the report says. “They noted the ongoing need for honest dialogue with bishops and clergy as a means of clarifying their role in the church and strengthening their witness and effectiveness as women faithful to the church’s teaching and mission.”

In addition, it says, “some spoke of their perception of not having enough input into pastoral decisions which affect them or about which they have considerable experience and expertise.”

The current Year of Consecrated Life, the congregation says, should be “a graced opportunity for all of us within the church — religious, clergy and laity — to take those steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation, which will offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion to all.”

The former prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Franc Rode, ordered the visitation in 2008, saying its aim would be to study the community, prayer and apostolic life of the orders to learn why the number of religious women in the United States had declined so sharply since the 1960s.

Almost a year into the study, Cardinal Rode told Vatican Radio that the investigation was a response to concerns, including some expressed by an unnamed “important representative of the U.S. church,” regarding “some irregularities or omissions in American religious life. Most of all, you could say, it involves a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain ‘feminist’ spirit.”

As the process began, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of U.S. women religious, questioned what its officials considered a lack of full disclosure about what motivated the visitation.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s investigation of the LCWR, begun in 2008, was a separate process; in 2011, the congregation ordered a reform of the organization, saying “the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious congregations in other parts of the world.”

At a news conference presenting the report Dec. 16, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life invited both the president of the LCWR and the chairwoman of the smaller U.S. Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious to address the media. They were joined by Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitor appointed by the Vatican.

The congregation’s final report says that while apostolic visits are “a normal instrument of governance” designed to “assist the group in question to improve the way in which it carries out its mission in the life of the church,” the visitation of U.S. women religious “was unprecedented” in many ways.

“It involved 341 religious institutes of both diocesan and pontifical right, to which approximately 50,000 women religious throughout the United States belong,” the report says. Only communities of cloistered nuns were excluded.

While not news, the report presents striking statistics: “Today, the median age of apostolic women religious in the United States is in the mid- to late-70s. The current number of approximately 50,000 apostolic women religious is a decline of about 125,000 since the mid-1960s, when the numbers of religious in the United States had reached their peak.”

“It is important to note, however, that the very large numbers of religious in the 1960s was a relatively short-term phenomenon that was not typical of the experience of religious life through most of the nation’s history,” the report says. “The steady growth in the number of women religious peaked dramatically from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, after which it began to decline as many of the sisters who had entered during the peak years left religious life, the remaining sisters aged and considerably fewer women joined religious institutes.”

Citing a wide variety of founding principles, ministries and community sizes, the congregation’s final report notes an overall trend of “aging and diminishment” in the number of members.

Most religious communities, it says, “are expending considerable spiritual and material energies in the area of vocation promotion,” but many of them are obtaining results “not commensurate with the expectations and efforts.”

“Vocation and formation personnel interviewed noted that candidates often desire the experience of living in formative communities, and many wish to be externally recognizable as consecrated women,” it says, in an apparent reference to the wearing of traditional habits. “This is a particular challenge in institutes whose current lifestyle does not emphasize these aspects of religious life.”

The congregation’s report does not make specific recommendations other than urging the entire church “to offer fervent prayer for religious vocations” and to ask religious communities to ensure they provide “a solid, theological, human, cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation” for religious life


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Pope praises Our Lady of Guadalupe as great missionary of ‘our America’


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Preceded by a procession of flags from the nations of the Americas and the recitation of the rosary in Spanish, Pope Francis and thousands of Catholics from across the Atlantic celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Vatican.

Pope Francis prepares to use incense to venerate an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during her feast day Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 12. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prepares to use incense to venerate an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during her feast day Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 12. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Argentina-born pope celebrated the Dec. 12 Mass to the sounds and rhythms of many of South America’s indigenous peoples; the principal sung parts of the Mass were from the “Misa Criolla,” composed 50 years ago by the late Ariel Ramirez. His son, Facundo Ramirez, conducted the choir that featured Patricia Sosa, a famous Argentine singer, as well as guitars and traditional instruments from the continent.

With St. Juan Diego’s vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, the pope said, Mary “became the great missionary who brought the Gospel to our America.”

In his homily, Pope Francis prayed that Mary would “continue to accompany, assist and protect our peoples” and that she would “lead all the children who are pilgrims on this earth by the hand to an encounter with her son Jesus Christ.”

“Imploring God’s forgiveness and trusting in his mercy,” the pope prayed that God would help the people of Latin America forge a future of hope, development and opportunity for the poor and suffering, “for the humble, for those who hunger and thirst for justice, for the compassionate, the pure of heart, peacemakers and those persecuted for the sake of Christ’s name.”

Mary’s “Magnificat,” her hymn of praise to God, he said, proclaims that God “overturns ideologies and worldly hierarchies. He raises up the humble, comes to the aid of the poor and the small, and fills with good things, blessings and hope those who trust in his mercy.”

Pope Francis said the day’s reading from Psalm 66, with its “plea for forgiveness and the blessing of the peoples and nations and, at the same time, its joyful praise, expresses the spiritual sense of this Eucharistic celebration” in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “for whom devotion extends from Alaska to Patagonia.”

The dark-skinned image of Our Lady of Guadalupe traditionally believed to have been miraculously impressed on Juan Diego’s cloak, the pope said, proclaimed to the indigenous peoples of the Americas “the good news that all its inhabitants shared the dignity of children of God. No more would anyone be a servant, but we are all children of the same Father and brothers and sisters to each other.”

Mary did not just want to visit the Americas, the pope said, the image on the cloak or “tilma” is a sign that “she wanted to remain with them.”

“Through her intercession, the Christian faith began to become the greatest treasure” of the American peoples, Pope Francis said, a treasure “transmitted and demonstrated even today in the baptism of multitudes of people, in the faith, hope and charity of many, in their precious popular piety and in that ethos of the people who show that they know the dignity of the human person, in their passion for justice, in solidarity with the poor and suffering.”


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Vatican investigates two former bank managers

December 9th, 2014 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican City prosecutor has opened an investigation into possible embezzlement by two former top officials at the Institute for the Works of Religion, more commonly called the Vatican bank.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Dec. 7 that the prosecutor, Gian Piero Milano, opened the investigation of the two former bank officials “on a hypothesis of embezzlement for real estate operations in the period 2001-2008.” An investigation of possible collusion by their legal adviser in the real estate deals also is under way.

The possible embezzlement was reported to Milano by current bank officials who discovered irregularities during the Vatican bank’s internal verification of accounts and operations over the past year, Father Lombardi said.

The spokesman said the Vatican bank accounts of those involved have been frozen.

Angelo Caloia, the former bank president, and Lelio Scaletti, the former director general, are being investigated in connection with the sale of 29 Vatican-owned buildings in Rome and Milan, according to the Reuters news agency.

The news agency, which said it had obtained Milano’s order freezing the accounts, said Milano suspects Caloia and Scaletti of entering in the Vatican books prices below what actually was received in the sales and of pocketing the difference, perhaps as much as 57 million euros (over $70 million).

The frozen Vatican bank accounts, Reuters said, contain 16 million euros (close to $20 million).

Liuzzo confirmed to Reuters that his account had been frozen, but he said the suspicions were “rubbish” and insisted all the money from the property sales had gone to the bank. Neither Caloia nor Scaletti responded to Reuters’ request for comment.

A statement dated Dec. 6 and posted on the Vatican bank’s website confirmed officials there “pressed charges against two former managers and a lawyer some months ago, underlining its commitment to transparency and zero tolerance, including with regard to matters that relate to a more distant past.”

“We are very pleased that the Vatican authorities are taking decisive action,” said Jean Baptiste de Franssu, president of the bank’s board of supervisors.


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Dec. 8: Mary gives hope against threats of evil, pope says


Catholic News Service

ROME — In the heart of Rome’s high-end shopping district, sparkling with Christmas lights and shiny baubles in the windows of famous designers, Pope Francis prayed that people would spend time in silence and in service as they prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

Pope Francis blesses a wreath while praying at a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis blesses a wreath while praying at a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8, Pope Francis prayed for Mary’s intercession so that, “in us, your children, grace also will prevail over pride, and we can become merciful like our heavenly Father is merciful.”

Before laying a basket of cream-colored roses at the foot of a statue of the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Spanish Steps, Pope Francis recited a special prayer he composed for the occasion.

The feast is a major Rome holiday, and with brilliant blue skies replacing days of gray and rain, thousands of people lined the streets near the Spanish Steps to catch a glimpse of the pope and pray with him for Mary’s assistance.

Pope Francis said Mary being conceived without sin should give all Christians hope and strength “in the daily battle that we must conduct against the threats of evil,” because her immaculate conception is proof that evil does not have power over love.

“In this struggle we are not alone, we are not orphans,” he said, because Jesus gave his mother to be our mother.

“Today we invoke her maternal protection on us, our families, this city and the world,” the pope said, praying that God would “free humanity from every spiritual and material slavery.”

“In this time that leads up to the feast of Jesus’ birth, teach us how to go against the current,” Pope Francis prayed to Mary. Teach people how to be unencumbered, “to give ourselves, to listen, to be silent, to not focus on ourselves, but to leave space for the beauty of God, the source of true joy.”

In a small blue Ford Focus, the pope was driven to the Spanish Steps’ neighborhood after first stopping for a private prayer at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Earlier in the day, with thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis led the recitation of the Angelus, a Marian prayer.

Commenting on the feast day’s Gospel reading — Luke’s story of the annunciation to Mary that she would be Jesus’ mother — the pope said it was important that Mary did not respond, “I will do what you say,” but “May it be done unto me.”

“The attitude of Mary of Nazareth,” he said, “shows us that being comes before doing, and that we must let God do in order to be truly as he wants us to be. He will accomplish marvels in us.”

“We, too, are asked to listen to God, who speaks to us and accept his will,” the pope said. “According to Gospel logic, nothing is more effective and fruitful than listening and accepting the word of the Lord.”

The pope also said the Gospel story shows how Mary “is receptive, but not passive.” She agrees to God’s will, receives the power of the Holy Spirit and gives “flesh and blood” to the son of God.

And while Mary was conceived without sin, a special and unique privilege, “we, too, always have been blessed, that is loved, and therefore ‘chosen before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him,’” as the day’s reading from Ephesians said.

Recognizing how blessed they are, the pope said, Christians must be filled with gratitude and ready to share their blessings with others.

“If everything has been given to us, everything must be given again,” he said. “How? By letting the Holy Spirit make us a gift for others.”

Pope Francis encouraged Christians to let the Holy Spirit make them “instruments of welcoming, instruments of reconciliation, instruments of forgiveness.”


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