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South African cardinal says iconic Mandela had touch of humanity

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Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Nelson Mandela, who led the struggle to replace South Africa’s apartheid regime with a multiracial democracy, died Dec. 5 at his home in Johannesburg.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has died at 95. (CNS/Reuters file)

Mandela, 95, became the country’s first black president in 1994. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

One of the world’s most revered statesmen, Mandela had a touch of humanity rarely seen in political leaders, said Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa in an interview with Catholic News Service earlier this year.

Cardinal Napier represented the South African Catholic Church in discussions between Mandela and church leaders beginning in 1990, following Mandela’s release after 27 years in prison, until he retired from public life in 2004.

Cardinal Napier said he came to treasure Mandela through regular meetings church leaders had with his African National Congress in the transition from apartheid to democracy.

“I always felt we should introduce ourselves to him again, but it was never necessary,” said the cardinal, who was president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 1987 to 1994.

Mandela “remembered names and faces and always gave us a hearty welcome,” he said.

“I came to realize that if he had met someone he had no trouble remembering their names or where they were from. To him, people mattered because of who they were, not the position they held,” he said. “That’s what I really treasure about the man.”

Negotiations between Mandela and South Africa’s apartheid regime began in 1989 while he was still imprisoned. The late Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban told Catholic News Service at the time that he was “astonished” to hear that the notoriously intransigent former President P.W. Botha had approached Mandela to discuss negotiating an end to the armed struggle against apartheid.

The negotiations were fraught with difficulties, and Mandela frequently called on the country’s church leaders to help overcome the deadlocks, Cardinal Napier said.

“When there was a problem, Mandela would say exactly how he saw the problem,” he said, noting that the South African leader was a “direct man and it was easy to engage with him.”

Mandela’s humility and self-deprecating sense of humor were other qualities Cardinal Napier said he valued.

In February 2001, when Cardinal Napier was inducted into the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II, Mandela was in Mozambique.

“He tracked me down to St. Peter’s to congratulate me. He said, ‘Archbishop Napier, how wonderful that you’ve been promoted to this esteemed position and you still have time for all of us back home.’ I called him Mr. Mandela and he said, ‘No, it’s Madiba.’ He wished me luck and asked me to pass on his greetings to everyone there.”

Mandela, who was born in 1918 into the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people in a village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, was often called by his clan name ‘Madiba.’

Cardinal Napier recalled a 1991 meeting at retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Cape Town office, where church leaders and liberation movement leaders were introducing themselves to each other.

“I could see Mandela quite clearly from where I was seated, and when the Methodist bishop’s turn came to introduce himself Mandela said, “That’s my bishop.’ He’s the only political leader I’ve known who’s … allowed himself to be defined in terms of his faith, not just in terms of political allegiance,” the cardinal said.

After serving one term in office, Mandela became a high-profile ambassador for South Africa and helped with peace negotiations in other African countries.

Mandela was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 and, three years later, at the age of 85, retired from public life. He made rare public appearances after that, but helped to secure South Africa’s right to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

On his 80th birthday, he married Graca Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique.

After his official retirement, his public appearances were primarily connected with the work of the Mandela Foundation, a charitable fund he founded.

On July 18, 2007, his 89th birthday, Mandela formed The Elders, a council that aims to tackle global problems.

In honor of Mandela’s birthday in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama called the South African leader “a beacon for the global community and for all who work for democracy, justice and reconciliation.”

Two years earlier, the U.S. and 192 other U.N. member states created Nelson Mandela International Day to honor the African leader through acts of community service.

Every July 18, people around the world take up Mandela’s call for citizens to “take responsibility to change the world into a better place” by donating 67 minutes of their time — one minute for each year of Mandela’s struggle against white-minority rule — to helping others.

The parishioners of Regina Mundi Church in Soweto are among thousands of South Africans who have heeded the call, said Oblate Father Benedict Mahlangu, a priest at the parish.

On July 18, 2011, members of the Catholic Women’s League were at the church at 6 a.m. to prepare a special meal for unemployed and homeless people in and around Soweto, Father Mahlangu said, recalling that Mandela came to a service at the church to celebrate his birthday in 2010.

The church, the largest in Soweto, served as a refuge for anti-apartheid activists for decades. Bullet holes in the ceiling and the broken marble altar have been preserved and serve as reminders of the apartheid era.

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Morning homily: A life built on Christ is guarantee against hypocrisy, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — People can say things that sound Christian and call themselves Christian as they tell others what to do, but if they don’t pray often and live the Gospel, they harm others and the church, Pope Francis said.

Concelebrating his morning Mass Dec. 5 with the eight members of the Council of Cardinals advising him on the reform of the Roman Curia and church governance, Pope Francis prayed that God would give all Christians “the grace of humility” to build their lives on the rock that is Christ.

The statue of Christ outside the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. (CNS file)

According to Vatican Radio, the pope’s homily focused on the Gospel story of Jesus scolding the Pharisees who knew all of the commandments, but did not live them.

Modern-day Pharisees know the right words, he said, but by not putting them into practice, “they do harm; they trick us and make us believe that we have a beautiful home, but it is without a foundation” because it is not built on rock.

“The rock is Jesus Christ. The rock is the Lord,” he said. “A word is strong, it gives life, it carries on, it withstands attacks if the word has its roots in Jesus Christ.”

Christian preaching and admonitions, he said, “trick and do harm” if they are not built on Christ and rooted in a life lived for him.

Paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, Pope Francis said, “A heresy is a truth, a word, gone mad. When Christian words are without Christ they begin to journey toward madness.”

The madness of the hypocrite leads to haughtiness, he said. “A Christian word without Christ moves you toward vanity, self-confidence, pride and power for power’s sake.”

“The Lord will bring those people down,” Pope Francis said. “That’s a constant in the history of salvation. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, said it and Mary said it in the Magnificat: The Lord takes down the vain, the pride of those who think they are the rock.”

Pope Francis told those at the Mass that it is important for Christians to make an examination of conscience about their words and attitudes when speaking about Christ and the faith and whether what they say is reflected in the way they live their lives.

When words and lives don’t match, he said, “this creates divisions between us, divisions in the church.”

 

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Catholic school students named to all-state choral groups

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Many Catholic school students are among those selected for the 2013-14 junior all-state chorus, senior women’s choir and senior mixed choir, which are sponsored by the Delaware Music Educators Association. The groups will perform in February. For more details, see www.delawaremea.org.

The participants, as listed by the DMEA, follow. Read more »

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Pope asks prayers for kidnapped nuns, others abducted in Syria

December 4th, 2013 Posted in International News Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called on Catholics worldwide to pray for five Orthodox nuns who were kidnapped in Syria and for all people who have been abducted during the conflict there.

“Let’s keep praying and working together for peace,” he said in an appeal at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 4.

The pope invited everyone to pray for the nuns who “were forcibly taken away by armed men” Dec. 1.

“Let us pray for these sisters and for all people abducted because of the conflict underway,” he said before leading the crowd in praying the Hail Mary in Italian.

The kidnapping of the nuns from a Christian village near Damascus shocked Syria’s Christian community and filled many Christians with fear, said Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria.

Speaking to Vatican Radio Dec. 3, Bishop Audo said the latest information was that the superior and four of the nuns belonging to the Orthodox Monastery of Santa Tecla in Maaloula were kidnapped during the night Dec. 1 and taken to Yabrud, a city nearby.

“We have no more information,” he said.

Most media reports on the kidnapping, including by the government’s Sana news agency, speculated the kidnapping was the work of the Al Nusra Front, which the U.S. State Department defines as a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida. Early reports said 12 nuns were kidnapped.

Bishop Audo told Vatican Radio, “Maaloula is an important symbol not only for Christians, but also for Muslims in Syria and throughout the Middle East, because it is known that people there still speak the Aramaic dialect, the language of Christ. That is one of the reason people are so struck” by the kidnapping of the sisters and the rebels’ capturing the town in early December.

As for the motive of the kidnapping, Bishop Audo said, “the first reason is the war.”

“As Christians, as the church in Syria, we don’t want to say this is a war against Christians because we want to be a presence for reconciliation and coexistence. That is our vocation. We don’t want to create provocations with the Muslims.”

However, he said, Christians feel more threatened now because the kidnapping has brought the war “to a sacred Christian place, one where for centuries nothing like this has happened.”

Maaloula is about 35 miles north of Damascus, the capital of Syria.

In Bkerke, Lebanon, the Council of Maronite Bishops condemned the kidnapping of the nuns.

“What do those who pray for peace in the Syrian conflict have to do with this?” the bishops asked.

They urged the international community to determine the nuns’ whereabouts and facilitate their return “to the sanctity of the monastery.” They also called for “the preservation of this sacred place, and houses of worship, and the protection of the dignity of every human being” and for “hard work to find political solutions” to the conflict in Syria.

Lebanese authorities say there are more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, equal to about one-quarter of Lebanon’s population.

 

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Philippines relief efforts require long-term support, Congress told

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Expect the rebuilding in typhoon-ravaged regions of the Philippines to take up to five years, a Catholic Relief Services official said at a congressional hearing.

Because the recovery will be slow for millions of displaced Filipinos, Sean Callahan, chief operating officer at CRS, urged congressional representatives to commit funding for the long term so that progress can continue after the disaster that has claimed more than 5,600 lives is no longer in the headlines.

A man repairs his house, which was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, at a coastal area south of Tacloban Nov. 16. Rebuilding in typhoon-ravaged regions of the Philippines is expected to take up to five years, a Catholic Relief Services official said at a Dec. 3 congressional hearing. (CNS photo/Damir Sagolj, Reuters)

“It’s not over. The disaster hasn’t disappeared,” Callahan told a Dec. 3 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. At the same time he credited the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. military for their roles in the first wave of response since Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central Philippines Nov. 8.

“It’s important that we don’t forget the Philippines and let that country go down,” Callahan continued in response to a question from Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., subcommittee chairman. “Thirteen million people were affected. This is going to affect the whole country over the long term. It really needs a significant three- to five-year response.

“I think the Filipino people and the Filipino (Catholic) church and the government are ready to put their shoulders to the grindstone (to rebuild). If we do it in solidarity with them, they can achieve that goal. If we let it go, frankly, shame on us,” Callahan added.

Smith, who led a small congressional delegation to Tacloban and surrounding communities in the Philippines Nov. 22-26, called the hearing. The delegation included Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Rep. Al Green, D-Texas.

Smith said he and his colleagues wanted to witness firsthand the devastation and relief efforts. The U.S. has committed an initial $60 million in typhoon-related aid.

The New Jersey Republican said his main concerns focused on ensuring that aid was reaching devastated communities quickly, steps were being taken to limit the outbreak of diseases, and women and children were being protected from exploitation by human traffickers.

“We know traffickers are ready to prey on the vulnerable. The Philippines has a huge problem of women being trafficked and children as well,” Smith said.

Nancy E. Lindborg, assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance at USAID, assured Smith that food and emergency supplies were reaching affected communities within days of the typhoon. She said the expertise of faith-based organizations such as CRS and World Vision has helped ensure that aid distributions were reaching isolated communities.

USAID, working in cooperation with the U.S. military and UNICEF, was able to get the water system in the city of Tacloban functioning within eight days and that fogging was underway to limit mosquito reproduction in the vast puddles of standing water that remained.

Callahan credited the local church for mobilizing quickly to begin registering people in an effort to ensure that aid reaches victims most in need.

Lessons learned during the agency’s response to the work in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti are helping CRS workers respond to the typhoon, Callahan said. As a result, Filipinos are being urged to shelter in place in familiar communities rather than relocating to areas where they have no connections and would be vulnerable to exploitation, he explained.

Callahan also said CRS had secured $15 million in private contributions in the three weeks after the typhoon and expected to raise another $5 million from those sources. U.S. parishes, directed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, were collecting funds at the end of November and into December as well for relief and rebuilding efforts.

Through early December, Callahan estimated that CRS had provided shelter for 80,000 people and has begun planning to provide assistance for housing reconstruction efforts.

Chris Palusky, senior director of humanitarian and emergency affairs at World Vision, echoed Callahan’s comments to the subcommittee, describing the recovery effort as a marathon. He called for a coordinated transition from emergency response to recovery and urged Congress to recognize the importance of remaining committed to the aid effort for years to come in cooperation with the Philippine people

“We want to make sure we’re not doing programs for people,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re doing programs with people.”

 

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Our joyful destiny is to be with Jesus, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — With his resurrection, Jesus opened the doors for all those who believe in him to be risen and united with him in heaven, Pope Francis said.

The anticipation of eternal life “is the source and reason of our hope, a hope that, if cultivated and safeguarded, becomes the light to illuminate our own lives” and those around us, he said during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 4.

Pope Francis passes a crucifix as he walks down steps during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

If people could grasp fully this reality of eternal life with Jesus, “we will be less weary from daily life, less imprisoned by the ephemeral and more willing to walk with a merciful heart on the path to salvation,” he said.

The pope focused his catechesis on the resurrection of the body.

The death and resurrection of Jesus “is not a lie, it’s true. We believe that Jesus is risen and alive at this moment,” he said.

“And if Jesus is alive, do you think he would leave us to die and never resurrect us? No! He is waiting for us and, because he is risen, the power of his resurrection will resurrect all of us.”

Through Christ, the human body will be glorified and reunited with the soul at the resurrection, he said.

“Our relationship with (Christ’s) body and blood” through the sacraments prepares the faithful for this transformation, this “transfiguration of our body,” he said.

In fact, baptism marks the start of a new life, “a life with Christ” and, “in a certain way, with him we are already risen,” the pope said.

This “seed of resurrection” and an image of eternity are imprinted in people, underlining the importance of always respecting all human life and showing love for others, especially for those who suffer.

“This gives us hope that we are journeying toward the resurrection and this is our joy: one day to find Jesus, encounter Jesus” and be all together in heaven. “This is our destiny,” he said, to be joyous with Jesus.

 

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Historic leader lionized in ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

December 3rd, 2013 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Those who subscribe to the “great man” theory of history, the idea that the optimum way to understand the past is to study the lives of key individuals, won’t find a better example than South African dissident-turned-president Nelson Mandela.

Idris Elba, Tony Kgoroge, and Riaad Moosa star in a scene from the movie “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults.

That’s one conclusion to be drawn from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” — a film glowing with admiration for its protagonist and bent on demonstrating the historical significance of his personal journey.

Adapted from Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, the handsome movie may not sufficiently acknowledge how other people and forces contributed to the dismantling of apartheid. But Mandela’s espousal of forgiveness and peace certainly comes across as crucial in determining the course of his native country’s history.

Still, the limitations of “Mandela” illustrate the pitfalls of approaching history through a too-narrow prism. In sum, the glossy presentation has a static quality, as if the filmmakers are trying to preserve Mandela’s legacy in amber.

To be a truly outstanding biopic, it would have to plumb the depths of Mandela’s character with more incisiveness and make his internal struggle more dynamic. It’s never clear what underpins his wisdom and moral courage.

The movie leans too heavily on flashbacks to Mandela’s coming-of-age ceremony and dream images of the golden fields surrounding his childhood village. Their explanatory power is minimal.

The narrative spans the majority of Mandela’s adult life, from 1942, when he was a lawyer in Johannesburg, to his election as president in 1994. After joining the African National Congress, Mandela quickly became a leader in the struggle against the minority Afrikaner government. He helped organize a sabotage campaign and was arrested and sentenced to life along with seven colleagues in 1964.

Of Mandela’s 25 years in prison, 18 were spent on Robben Island. After transferring him to a less forbidding mainland facility, the government began negotiating with Mandela, without his cohorts, about his release and what would follow when white rule ended.

Despite the emphasis on a single agent of change, it’s not Mandela’s story alone. The experience of his second wife, Winnie (Naomie Harris), serves as schematic counterpoint. During his long absence, she is harassed, arrested and mistreated by police. Fueled by hatred, she publicly embraces violence and advocates revenge.

“What they have done to my wife is their only victory,” Mandela declares.

British actor Idris Elba brings a robust physicality to the title role. William Nicholson’s cautious screenplay and the film’s lionizing tack are mostly responsible for any lack of texture in the portrayal.

Mandela’s greatest flaw appears to be his inveterate womanizing and adulterous behavior. By romanticizing his dalliances, the picture makes this aspect of his personality all the more difficult to excuse, more difficult, even, than his decision to abandon nonviolence prior to his incarceration.

The fact that Mandela became the face of his movement challenged a guiding principle of the ANC, namely, that no single person can oppose apartheid as effectively as multiple individuals banded together. Inadvertently, the film’s polished aesthetics also call into question the efficacy of one person acting alone, no matter how great he or she may be.

Early on, tasteful period details seem to belie the harsh conditions for nonwhites. And later, one wonders what effect the special treatment and relatively cushy conditions the government affords Mandela have on his decisions.

Ultimately, however, it’s clear that he is not being driven by vanity, self-aggrandizement, self-pity or the desire for material comfort. Instead, the movie makes a powerful case for concluding that Nelson Mandela’s greatest virtue as a statesman was his ability to look beyond his own personal circumstances and discern what was best for his nation as a whole.

Without obscuring the injustice, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” remains at a distance from the brutality and anguish of apartheid, in part by never being too graphic. Nevertheless, it is best suited to adults.

The film contains considerable violence, including many gun battles, bombings and an immolation, demeaning treatment of prisoners, a half-dozen premarital and adulterous sexual situations, though without nudity or explicit activity, as well as some crude language and hate speech. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

 

 

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‘I.D., por favor’: Pope Francis says he once was a bouncer

December 3rd, 2013 Posted in Vatican News

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In addition to having worked sweeping floors and running tests in a chemical laboratory as a teenager, Pope Francis revealed he also used to work as a bouncer.

No longer kicking troublemakers out of clubs, he has discovered the secret to bringing people back, this time, into the church, according to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Dec. 2.

Pope Francis says he worked as a bouncer, janitor and chemist prior to his ordination.

The pope spent four hours at a parish visit of the church of San Cirillo Alessandrino in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome Dec. 1. He chatted informally with a large number of parishioners before and after celebrating Mass.

He told one group that when he was young, he worked as a bouncer, and that his work later in life, teaching literature and psychology, taught him how to get people back into the church.

He said it’s enough to be a witness of hope and, as St. Peter said, “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

Recounting how he discovered his vocation to the priesthood after confession with a priest he had never met before, the pope joked it was common knowledge that the best confessors are priests the penitent does not know and priests who are deaf.

“Hypocrisy is a grave sin,” he said, underlining how important credibility was in helping the church grow, not through proselytism, but by attraction.

He also confided that he prayed “for the grace of simplicity for me and the church” when he prayed at the tomb of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4.

A woman asked the pope how she should pray for one of her relatives who was going to become a Franciscan friar.

The pope said to pray that the man would have “the perseverance to go forward, but also the courage to turn back if he understands that this is not the right path.”

Before celebrating Mass, he met with parents whose newborns were baptized within the last year, and he urged them to be patient with their children.

“When we baptize them, we bring home not just our child but also a seed of divinity that we have to help grow,” he said, according to the Vatican newspaper.

“Patience with children is beautiful just as it’s beautiful to talk with them and teach” them the things that matter in life, he said. But even more beautiful is remembering baptism brings “a sign of the divine” back to the home.

When meeting with children preparing for their confirmation, the kids presented the pope with a paper daisy. They asked him to pluck each heart-shaped petal to reveal a question the children had prepared.

Parish youngsters preparing for their confirmation presented Pope Francis with a paper daisy. They asked him to pluck each heart-shaped petal to reveal a question they had prepared.

The first question was whether he expected to be chosen as the cardinals’ “favorite” in the conclave that elected him pope.

Pope Francis said, “For the Lord, the ‘favorites’ are children.” But he added that he never dreamed that he would become the successor of Peter, not when he was ordained a priest and not even when he arrived for the conclave.

The next question was how the pope spent his day. “I pray, then I celebrate Mass, and then I start work,” which includes reading letters, cards, documents and reports as well as meeting cardinals, bishops, priests and laypeople, he told them.

He said he eats lunch between noon and 1 p.m., then rests for about 30 minutes before returning to work until the evening.

In answer to another question, he admitted feeling a bit of stage fright as pope and that he felt a little nervous celebrating his first Mass after being elected pontiff.

“Was I anxious? A little, yes, but everyone was nice. But it’s true, having a lot of people in front of you is a bit scary.”

But now, “Thank God I feel really good. The Lord helped me be a priest, to be a bishop and now to be the pope.”

Pope Francis also gave a bit of advice, saying it was important to be nice and good and to be a good example for others.

When asked how to manage that, the pope said “pray all the time, don’t speak badly of others because gossip destroys friendships, and always greet people nicely, always with a smile,” he said.

Sometimes even priests can be irritable so they need to work extra hard at being “meek, amiable and good.” That is why it is so important people “pray a lot for priests,” he added.

 

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Pope, cardinal council begin work on reorganizing Roman Curia – updated

December 3rd, 2013 Posted in Featured Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and the eight members of his international Council of Cardinals have begun their discussions on specific ways to reorganize the Roman Curia with the aim of “a renewal that will truly be a service to the universal church,” the Vatican spokesman said.

On the second day of the council’s Dec. 3-5 meeting, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, said the cardinals planned to discuss the work of each congregation and, hopefully,

The cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica is pictured as the sun sets at the Vatican Nov. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

each pontifical council. They had begun, he said, with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Father Lombardi had told reporters Dec. 3, “They have to start somewhere,” but declined to provide more information about why the congregation responsible for liturgy was the first to be examined.

Spanish media have reported that Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, congregation prefect, will conclude his five-year appointment Dec. 9 and could be named the next archbishop of Madrid.

The Vatican spokesman continued to insist journalists and other observers should not expect changes to the curia to be announced quickly because Pope Francis and the Council of Cardinals were committed to a complete overhaul of Vatican structures “in light of the expectations expressed by the College of Cardinals before the conclave” that elected Pope Francis in March.

The pope and his Council of Cardinals, named in April, were not planning “to make amendments or limited adjustments” to Blessed John Paul II’s 1988 document on the Roman Curia, but rather expected to draft a completely new apostolic constitution.

The eight cardinals and the pope held their first full meeting in October and looked primarily at the role of the Vatican secretary of state since Archbishop Pietro Parolin was about to take over from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The cardinals’ council met briefly with Archbishop Parolin late Dec. 3 to congratulate him and offer their support, Father Lombardi said, but he was not involved in the council’s work.

When Pope Francis named the cardinals to advise him, Father Lombardi said, he did not choose them as continental representatives; however, their positions have allowed them to attend meetings of different bishops’ conferences and to continue collecting suggestions and concerns from bishops in their parts of the world.

While the council does not include the head of any Vatican congregation or council, he said, officials of the Roman Curia responded to an invitation to send their ideas and questions to the council.

In addition, the spokesman said, “the pope meets regularly and often with the heads of dicasteries (the Vatican offices), and these meetings go on for some time.”

“It’s not like they’ve been forgotten,” Father Lombardi said. “They have easy access to the Holy Father.”

Father Lombardi, who spoke with council members during their morning break on the first day of the Dec. 3-5 meeting, said they emphasized that they were looking “in depth” at the curia and ways of restructuring it, not at “small touch ups.”

Father Lombardi said given the depth of what the council is trying to do, “I wouldn’t expect any conclusions in a brief period of time.”

The council members begin their day concelebrating an early morning Mass with Pope Francis in the chapel of his residence. After breakfast, the meetings take place from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. in a small room near the chapel. Pope Francis was expected to attend all the sessions, although not the morning of Dec. 4, when he held his weekly general audience.

The next meeting of the council with the pope is scheduled for Feb. 17-18, Father Lombardi said. The meeting will be right before a likely gathering of the entire College of Cardinals with Pope Francis on the eve of the Feb. 22 consistory at which Pope Francis plans to create new cardinals.

Pope Francis may use the gathering of the entire College of Cardinals as an opportunity to inform them of the council’s work to that point, Father Lombardi said.

The pope has asked his eight cardinal advisers for counsel on the Vatican’s finances, which is likely to be the theme of the February meeting, Father Lombardi said.

The reorganization of the Roman Curia and improved relations between local bishops and the Vatican were key topics at the meetings of the College of Cardinals preceding the election of Pope Francis in March.

The eight members of his council are: Cardinals Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, retired archbishop of Santiago, Chile; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo; Sean P. O’Malley of Boston; George Pell of Sydney; Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

 

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Five nuns kidnapped from village near Damascus

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The kidnapping of five Orthodox nuns from a Christian village near Damascus has shocked Syria’s Christian community and filled many Christians with fear, said Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria.

Speaking to Vatican Radio Dec. 3, Bishop Audo said the latest information is that the superior and four of the nuns belonging to the Orthodox Monastery of Santa Tecla in Maaloula were kidnapped during the night Dec. 1 and taken to Yabrud, a city nearby.

“We have no more information,” he said.

Most media reports on the kidnapping, including by the government’s Sana news agency, speculated the kidnapping was the work of the Al Nusra Front, which the U.S. State Department defines as a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida. Early reports said 12 nuns were kidnapped.

Bishop Audo told Vatican Radio, “Maaloula is an important symbol not only for Christians, but also for Muslims in Syria and throughout the Middle East, because it is known that people there still speak the Aramaic dialect, the language of Christ. That is one of the reason people are so struck” by the kidnapping of the sisters and the rebels’ capturing the town in early December.

As for the motive of the kidnapping, Bishop Audo said, “the first reason is the war.”

“As Christians, as the church in Syria, we don’t want to say this is a war against Christians because we want to be a presence for reconciliation and coexistence. That is our vocation. We don’t want to create provocations with the Muslims.”

However, he said, Christians feel more threatened now because the kidnapping has brought the war “to a sacred Christian place, one where for centuries nothing like this has happened.”

Maaloula is about 35 miles north of Damascus, the capital of Syria.

 

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