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Pew study shows increase in hostility toward religion around globe


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Pew Research Center study issued Jan. 14 shows another increase in hostility toward religion by most of the world’s 198 nations.

The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, the study said. The share of countries with a high or very high level of government restrictions on religion, though, stayed roughly the same in 2012, the year reviewed.

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil in 2012 at the Sikh Temple in Brookfield, Wis., in memory of the victims of a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis. A 2012 pew study shows a global increase in hostility toward religion. (CNS photo/John Gress, Reuters)

This is the fifth time the Pew Research Center has reported on religious restrictions around the globe. The report was issued in advance of the U.S. observance of Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 16.

The number of nations showing hostilities toward Christians rose from 106 to 110, according to the study. Christians have been the subject of religious hostility in more nations than any other group. But those countries showing hostilities toward Muslims jumped from 101 to 109 in 2012.

In fact, hostilities toward Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and folk religionists were all up from 2011 levels. The only group recording a decrease were “others,” which includes Sikhs, Baha’is, Zoroastrians and other groups.

In overall changes taking into account both social hostilities and government restrictions, 61 percent of nations recorded an increase, 29 percent recorded a decrease and 10 percent had no change.

On a scale of 0 to 10, 20 nations were given a score of at least 7.2, indicating very high social hostilities on religion, up from 14 in 2011. Pakistan once again topped the list. New countries joining the list were Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar.

In the case of government restrictions, the number of countries given a score of 6.6 or higher on a zero-to-10 scale indicating very high restrictions increased from 20 in 2011 to 24 in 2012. Egypt led both years. New to the list are Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Morocco, Iraq and Kazakhstan; Yemen dropped off the list.

“Overall, across the six years of this study, religious groups were harassed in a total of 185 countries at one time or another,” the study said. “Members of the world’s two largest religious groups — Christians and Muslims, who together comprise more than half of the global population — were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively.”

On social hostilities involving religion, the Middle East-North Africa region had a score of 6.4, more than twice that of the next-most-hostile region. The Americas had the lowest score, at 0.4.

The Pew study cited the August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six worshippers dead and three others wounded as an incidence of “religion-related terrorist violence.” The report said episodes took place in about 20 percent of all countries in 2012, more than double the 9 percent figure of 2007.

The Middle East-North Africa region also had the highest regional score of government restrictions toward religion, at 6.2. The Americas were given the best score here, too, at 1.5.

The United States received its third straight year of “moderate” for both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities toward religion. Pew does not issue scores for individual countries, it said, “because there are numerous tie scores and the differences between the scores of countries that are close to each other on this table are not necessarily meaningful.”

“None of the 25 most populous countries had low social hostilities involving religion in 2012,” the report said, while only five — Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, Japan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — had low government restrictions on religion.

Countries whose score increased by at least one full point on Pew’s “social hostilities index” were Afghanistan, Somalia, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Kenya, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Mali, Tunisia, Kosovo, Mexico, Greece, Algeria, France, Georgia, Italy, Vietnam, Turkey, Libya, Bahrain, Guinea, Ghana, Tuvalu, the Netherlands, China, Angola, Poland, Belgium, Zambia, Samoa, South Sudan, Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Slovenia, Ireland and Mozambique.

Nations that gained at least a full point on Pew’s “government restrictions index” were Tajikistan, Morocco, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Djibouti, Austria, Tuvalu, Iceland, Zambia, Hungary and Montenegro.

To make its determinations, Pew used 18 widely cited, publicly available sources of information, including reports by the State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Council of the European Union, the United Kingdom’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Freedom House and Amnesty International.


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Pope replaces cardinals serving on Vatican bank oversight commission


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis replaced four cardinals serving on a five-person commission overseeing the Vatican bank.

The new members include Canadian Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto and Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

The Institute for the Works of Religion, popularly known as the Vatican bank, is located in the Bastion of Nicholas V in the Vatican. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is the only serving member the pope asked to stay on.

The Vatican made the announcement Jan. 15.

The responsibilities of the five-member Commission of Cardinals Overseeing the Institute for the Works of Religion, the formal title of bank, include appointing the bank’s president, an appointment which then must be approved by the pope.

In addition to Cardinal Collins and Cardinal-designate Parolin, the new members are Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril Castello, the archpriest of Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major.

The four cardinals replace Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican secretary of state; Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India; Odilo Pedro Scherer of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Domenico Calcagno, who is president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

Pope Benedict XVI had confirmed the mandates of the five previous members just 11 months ago, five days after announcing his retirement in February.

Cardinal Bertone retired as Vatican secretary of state in October, just before his 79th birthday; the usual retirement age is 75. He had served as president of the cardinals’ oversight commission and had faced a number of criticisms in the press for mismanagement during his tenure as secretary of state.

Cardinal Tauran continues to serve on a separate five-person papal commission that is reviewing the activities and mission of the Vatican bank. Pope Francis created the commission in June 2013 as part of his larger efforts to reform the central offices of the church.

The Vatican has said that Pope Francis’ reforms are in continuity with a 1990 reform of the bank ordered by Blessed John Paul II and efforts begun by Pope Benedict in 2010 to better monitor all of the Vatican’s financial operations and make sure they reflect the latest European Union regulations and other international norms.

The Vatican bank had been marred by an image of secrecy and scandal for decades.


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On abortion and U.S. birth control mandate, Vatican puts words in context


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — On successive days in mid-January, Pope Francis and his top collaborator at the Vatican made public statements that provided a lesson in Franciscan contextualization of highly loaded moral issues.

Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, right, meets with his U.S. counterpoint, John Kerry, at the Vatican Jan. 14. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, pool)

On Jan. 13, the pope told the Vatican diplomatic corps that he found it “horrifying just to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.”

That was strong language, especially for a pope who has spoken relatively little about abortion. His words had even more impact given the setting: not before a group of clergy, nuns or Catholic doctors, but in a room full of ambassadors, almost all of them from countries where abortion is legal in at least some cases.

Pope Francis’ words were even more significant because of the kind of speech in which they occurred. Popes normally use talks to diplomats to survey crises and conflicts around the globe and urge the pursuit of peace, which is what Pope Francis for the most part did. In such a context, references to anything other than geopolitics are bound to stand out.

More specifically, Pope Francis’ mention of abortion came in the middle of a paragraph about threats to human dignity such as hunger and human trafficking, both issues about which the pope has spoken more often, as consistent with the priority he has set on helping the world’s poor. The appearance of abortion in that company suggests the defense of unborn life is at the heart of Pope Francis’ agenda.

The next day came a statement no less striking or significant in its implications for Vatican policy, even though it did not come from the pope himself.

Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, who as secretary of state is considered the highest Vatican official, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Jan. 14 for a conversation that lasted an hour and 40 minutes.

Peace in the Middle East, and particularly Syria, had been expected to be Topic A. Kerry was stopping in Rome between meetings in Paris and Kuwait devoted to the crisis in Syria. And Pope Francis has made ending the civil war in Syria a major focus, among other ways by leading a prayer vigil last September that drew 100,000 people to St. Peter’s Square.

So it was no surprise when the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, reported that the two secretaries of state had discussed common concerns on Syria, as well as Israel and Palestine, and other questions of foreign policy. The attention-grabbing anomaly in his account of the diplomats’ talk was a U.S. domestic issue.

Father Lombardi said the two men “also discussed the United States, especially the themes that have been the object of concern and discussion by the U.S. bishops: the health care reform and its relationship to guarantees of religious freedom.”

That was evidently a reference to the contraceptive mandate: the Obama administration’s requirement that nearly all health insurance plans, including those offered by most Catholic universities and agencies, cover sterilizations, contraceptives and some abortion-inducing drugs, all of which are forbidden by the church’s moral teaching.

While legal challenges to the mandate are making their way through the U.S. courts, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the bishops’ conference, asked President Barack Obama Dec. 31 to exempt from fines religious institutions who believe funding contraception and sterilization violate their religious principles.

If there were any doubts about the Vatican’s support for the bishops’ stand, they were dispelled by Cardinal-designate Parolin’s decision to include the contraception mandate in a discussion of geopolitical priorities with Obama’s top diplomat, and then have the Vatican spokesman tell the press about it.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Pope Francis said in a widely quoted interview published last September. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.”


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Pope tells diplomats that abortion, hunger, damage to environment threaten peace


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said world peace requires the defense of human dignity from violations such as world hunger, human trafficking and abortion.

Pope Francis leaves a meeting with ambassadors to the Holy See at the Vatican Jan. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope made his remarks Jan. 13 in his first annual address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, offering a survey of world conflicts and crises he said were caused by “envy, selfishness, rivalry and the thirst for power and money.”

Speaking in the Apostolic Palace’s Sala Regia, the vast hall where popes traditionally received Catholic monarchs, Pope Francis spoke of what he has frequently called a “throwaway culture” exemplified by widespread food waste that leaves children starving or malnourished.

“Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food or disposable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as if they were unnecessary,” the pope said. “It is horrifying just to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; children turned into merchandise in that terrible form of modern slavery called human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.”

The pope also lamented what he called rising numbers of “broken and troubled families,” which he attributed to both moral and material factors: the “weakening sense of belonging so typical of today’s world” as well as the “adverse conditions in which many families are forced to live, even to the point where they lack basic means of subsistence.”

Noting the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan in November, Pope Francis warned against “greedy exploitation of environmental resources,” and quoted what he said was a popular adage: “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature, creation, is mistreated, she never forgives.”

Most of the pope’s speech was devoted, as usual for the occasion, to geopolitical problems in different regions of the world.

The pope called for an end to the almost three-year old civil war in Syria, voicing hope for upcoming peace talks and praising neighboring Lebanon and Jordan for accepting refugees from the conflict. He also noted what he called significant progress in ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Pope Francis lamented the “exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa,” as well as violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and the Central African Republic.

Without specifying countries, the pope noted sectarian tensions in Asia, “where growing attitudes of prejudice, for allegedly religious reasons, are tending to deprive Christians of their liberties and to jeopardize civil coexistence.”

The pope recalled his July visit to the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, an entry point for immigrants without legal permission to enter Europe, and voiced sympathy with those who, “in the hope of a better life, have undertaken perilous journeys which not infrequently end in tragedy.”

“I think in particular of the many migrants from Latin America bound for the United States,” he said, “but above all those from Africa and the Middle East who seek refuge in Europe.”

After his speech, the pope personally greeted the attending ambassadors and their spouses. The Holy See has full diplomatic relations with 180 nation-states, the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as well as relations of a special nature with the Palestine Liberation Organization.


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Pope baptizes 32 babies, puts nursing mothers at ease


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis assured mothers that breast-feeding their babies in public, even during a papal Mass in the Sistine Chapel, is OK.

Pope Francis baptizes an infant in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 12. The pope baptized 32 children during the celebration on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

No chorus is as wonderful as the squeaks, squeals and banter of children, the pope said during a Mass in which he baptized 32 babies on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 12.

“Some will cry because they are uncomfortable or because they are hungry,” he said during his brief and unscripted homily.

“If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here they are the main focus,” he said.

One of the mothers, Emer McCarthy, an Irish journalist at Vatican Radio, told Catholic News Service that while most of the other mothers had brought baby bottles for feedings, she did not hesitate to breast-feed her daughter, Polly Rose, discreetly during appropriate moments during the ceremony.

She said she hoped the pope’s encouragement would help overcome social taboos against breast-feeding in public.

“Who would have thought the pope would be this great proponent?” she asked.

The pope made a similar appeal in an interview with La Stampa newspaper Dec. 15. In a world where so many children go hungry, people must help them eat, he said.

He used the example of a young woman he saw at a Wednesday general audience whose child was crying desperately.

“I told her, ‘Ma’am I think your baby is hungry.’ And she replied, ‘Yes, it would be time.’ I replied, ‘Well, please, feed him.’ She was modest and didn’t want to breast-feed him in public while the pope drove by,” the pope said in the interview.

The pope’s remarks “underline how natural it is, how motherhood and maternity are natural and have a place, even in church, even in the Sistine Chapel,” McCarthy said.

Typically, the babies that are baptized by the pope at the annual liturgy are children of Vatican employees.

This year, Pope Francis also included one couple who do not work at the Vatican, but had requested the pope baptize their second child.

The couple, Ivan Scardia and Nicoletta Franco, both work for the Italian military police in the central Italian town of Grosseto.

However, while they are Catholic, they were married civilly and not in the church, which caused a slight “glitch” when they had to send the requested paperwork to the Vatican, Scardia said.

“But they called me back right away and this problem, too, was taken care of,” he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Scardia said they consider themselves to be believers and wanted their 7-month-old daughter to receive the sacrament of baptism.

He said they had not gotten married in the church because “we were in a hurry and there wasn’t time to organize a church ceremony. Maybe we will get married in the church sometime later.”

One of the intentions read during the prayers of the faithful was for families and asked that “the Lord rekindle the sacramental grace of marriage and give (parents) the ability to teach their children in the faith.”

In his homily, Pope Francis told the parents and godparents the faith was “the most beautiful inheritance they will leave” their children and that they had “the duty to hand down the faith.”

Later, at the Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope again underlined his hopes that a child’s baptism would serve as an impetus for his or her parents to live a Christian life more fully.

“I pray that the children’s baptisms help these parents rediscover the beauty of faith and to return, in a new way, to the sacraments and the community” of the church, he said.


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Pope names 19 new cardinals, calls job a form of service, not a promotion


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Stressing that their role would be one of service rather than honor, Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals, including six men from his home region of Latin America.

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti, is among 19 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Jan. 12. At age 55 he is the youngest and also the only non-archbishop in the group. Bishop Langlois is pictured during an 2012 interview with Catholic News Service in Washington. Above him is a 2010 photograph of the destroyed cathedral of Port-au-Prince. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The pope announced the nominations Jan. 12 after praying the Angelus and said he would formally induct the men into the College of Cardinals Feb. 22.

Although cardinals are traditionally known as “princes of the church,” Pope Francis, who has pointedly refused many of the trappings of his office, characteristically dismissed any element of pomp in the distinction he had decided to bestow.

In a letter to the new cardinals, released by the Vatican Jan. 13, the pope wrote that a red hat “does not signify a promotion, an honor or a decoration; it is simply a form of service that requires expanding your vision and enlarging your heart.”

Pope Francis instructed the cardinals-designate to “receive this new designation with a simple and humble heart. And while you should do so with joy and happiness, do it in a way that this feeling may be far from any expression of worldliness, or any form of celebration alien to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.”

The consistory will bring the total number of cardinals to 218 and the number of cardinals under age 80 to 122. Until they reach their 80th birthdays, cardinals are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Two current cardinal electors will turn 80 in March, bringing the number of electors back to the limit of 120 set by Pope Paul VI. (Other popes have occasionally exceeded that limit for short periods of time.)

Some observers had predicted that Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, would use his first selections to make major changes in the composition of the cardinal electors, perhaps by boosting the presence of residential bishops from the global South and reducing that of Vatican officials or prelates from rich Western countries.

Half of the new cardinal electors hail from statistically underrepresented regions in the southern hemisphere, including three of the world’s poorest countries: Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Haiti. Yet Pope Francis did not substantially reduce the representation of groups with a traditionally strong presence.

Five of the new electors are from Latin America, an increase by one-third of the current number from the region. Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, will account for about 16 percent of the group eligible to choose the next pope.

The archbishops of Westminster and Quebec are also on the list of those to receive red hats; the latter is only cardinal-designate from North America.

Four of the new cardinal electors are from Italy, leaving that nation’s share practically unchanged at nearly a quarter. However, the pope passed over the archbishop of Venice and the archbishop of Turin, both dioceses that traditionally come with a red hat.

Four new cardinal electors are Vatican officials, three of them in offices that traditionally entail membership in the college. Such officials will continue to make up slightly more than a third of the cardinal electors.

Three of the new cardinals are already over the age of 80 and, therefore, ineligible to vote in a conclave. The pope uses such nominations to honor churchmen for their scholarship or other service to the church.

Among the new so-called honorary cardinals is Cardinal-designate Loris Capovilla, who served as personal secretary to Blessed John XXIII.

Here is the list of the new cardinals:

• Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, who will turn 59 Jan. 17.

• Italian Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, 73.

• German Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 66.

• Italian Archbishop Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, 72.

• English Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, 68.

• Nicaraguan Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, 64.

• Canadian Archbishop Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, 56.

• Ivorian Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 68.

• Brazilian Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro, 63.

• Italian Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perguia-Citta della Pieve, 71.

• Argentine Archbishop Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, 66.

• Korean Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul, 70.

• Chilean Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, 72.

• Burkina Faso Archbishop Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou, 68.

• Philippine Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, 74.

• Haitian Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, 55.

• Italian Archbishop Capovilla, 98.

• Spanish Archbishop Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, retired, of Pamplona, 84.

• Saint Lucian Archbishop Kelvin Felix, retired, of Castries, who will be 81 Feb. 11.


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Come and Seek: Planting the seeds for vocations to the priesthood

January 9th, 2014 Posted in Featured, Vocations


Dialog Editor


Every parish priest is a farmer of sorts when it comes to nurturing vocations to the priesthood.

The most important ingredient in the growth of vocations to the priesthood is the example of happy, joyful parish priests, said Father Charles C. Dillingham, an associate director of the Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations, and pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Hockessin.

While priests who are happy in their ministry provide the required sunlight for growing priests, the planting of the seeds of a vocation is also a priority in the diocese.

That’s why priests of St. Mary of the Assumption and St. John the Beloved parish in Wilmington started “Come and Seek” sessions last October, get-togethers for men who may feel a calling to the priesthood. Read more »

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In it for the long march: Pro-life activists ready for another March for Life in D.C. on Jan. 22


Staff reporter


Pro-life activists from throughout the Diocese of Wilmington are making plans to converge on Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22 for the 41st annual March for Life to protest the continuing availability of legal abortion in the United States.

In the Diocese of Wilmington, abortion is still legal and available in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but the director of the diocesan Respect Life Office is optimistic as Roe v. Wade drifts one more year into history.

“I think there continues to be considerable positive energy throughout the pro-life movement. Even though there aren’t many advances on the legal front, we look at the polls and they seem to be climbing on the pro-life front,” Father Leonard Klein said. Read more »

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Baptism isn’t a formality, it gives strength to forgive and love, pope says at general audience


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Baptism isn’t just some formal ritual, it profoundly changes people, giving them unwavering hope and the strength to forgive and love others, Pope Francis said.

“With baptism, we are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life that is Jesus’ death, the greatest act of love in all of history,” he said during his first general audience of 2014.

Pope Francis passes circus performers on stilts as he arrives to leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope spent nearly two hours after the audience Jan. 8 greeting people, blessing the sick, speaking with newlyweds and receiving notes, letters and late Christmas gifts from the crowd. He also watched a brief performance by acrobats, jugglers and clowns who were part of an international Golden Circus festival.

During his usual rounds through St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile before the start of the audience, the pope caught sight of a friend in the crowd. The pope had the driver stop the popemobile and gestured for his friend to board the vehicle.

The friend, Father Fabian Baez, sat in the back seat, then walked with the pope to a special seating section for guests.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said the priest works in a parish in Buenos Aires and that the pope said Father Baez was “a great confessor.”

The pope began the new year of audience talks with a new series of catecheses on the sacraments, starting with baptism, the sacrament that “grafts us as living members in Christ and in his church.”

Baptism isn’t merely “a simple rite, a formal act of the church,” he said. “It is an act that profoundly touches our existence” and radically changes the person.

“A baptized baby is not the same as a baby who’s not baptized. A baptized person is not the same as a person who’s not baptized,” he said.

By being immersed in the living waters of Christ’s salvation, he said, “we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, sin and death, but in communion with God and our brothers and sisters,” embarking on a whole new life.

The pope reminded his audience that it was very important for Christians to know the date of their baptism because it was “a happy day” of celebration.

Recalling that event is important because there is always the risk people think of it as something that happened in the past or that it was something just their parents wanted, and was “not of our volition.”

Even though chances are people were just infants on that day and can’t remember it firsthand, “We have to reawaken the memory of our baptism” and live it every day as a great gift from the Lord, the pope said.

“If we are able to follow Jesus and remain in the church, even with our limits, frailties and our sins, it is precisely because of the sacrament in which we became new beings and were vested in Christ.”

The power of baptism frees people from original sin, grafts them to God and makes them bearers of “a new hope” that nothing and nobody can destroy, he said.

“Thanks to baptism, we are able to forgive, to love, even those who offend us and hurt us; that we are able to recognize the face of Christ in the least and the poor,” he said.

The fact that baptism is always conferred by a priest in the Lord’s name shows it is a gift that is passed on from person to person “a chain of grace,” he said. It is “an act of fraternity” and becoming a child of the church, who, like a mother, generates new children in Christ through the Holy Spirit.


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Pope becomes a shepherd during visit to live Nativity scene


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Surrounded by cheese sellers, shoemakers and bleating, baying animals, Pope Francis immersed himself in a lively re-enactment of a special day in Bethlehem.

He even let a lamb rest on his shoulders and greeted a tiny baby named Francis, who played the part of Jesus, when he visited a live Nativity scene Jan. 6 at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori on the northern outskirts of Rome.

A lamb sits around the neck of Pope Francis as he visits a Nativity scene at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome Jan. 6. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

More than 200 people took part in the re-enactment, wearing period costumes and playing the parts of villagers, artisans and street sellers. People lined the sides of the road leading to the church and watched from rooftops and balconies of surrounding buildings.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope greeted each of the participants and many of the parishioners who attended.

One special guest lay waiting in a small hut: a 2-month-old baby named Francesco, who had been baptized that morning and played the role of Jesus in the pageant.

A woman dressed as a shepherd placed a small lamb on the pope’s shoulders. Children sang a Christmas song and gave the pope a bouquet of red roses.

At the end of his visit, the pope talked about the importance of a new year beginning with Jesus, who stays by everyone’s side to overcome evil. He asked everyone to pray for children who would be born in 2014 and for all grandparents, who he said are the source of wisdom.

The priest who organizes the parish’s live Nativity scene each year said he had invited the pope just a few days earlier and the pope had accepted immediately.

“The pope was so happy. He told me ‘Keep it up. Don’t get discouraged,’” Father Dario Criscuoli told journalists.

According to the Vatican newspaper, the priest said the pope told him, “Surely to put something like this together you have to be crazy, but that’s OK; God likes some things that are crazy.”

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