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Chaldean patriarch appeals to Iraqi leaders to work for reconciliation

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Catholic News Service

 

BAGHDAD (CNS) — Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad urged Iraq’s leaders to put an end to the “institutional, economic and security deterioration” in the country.

“We call upon you, with a saddened heart and sorrow because of what is happening in Iraq and because the people are suffering from violence, poverty and misery,” Patriarch Sako said in a statement. Read more »

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Nothing can keep God from seeking those who stray, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — There is no such thing as a soul that is lost forever, only people who are waiting to be found, Pope Francis said.

God is not part of humanity’s “throwaway culture” and does not shut out the sinner and those most in need, the pope said May 4 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Because of his immense love for everyone, God takes the illogical step of leaving his faithful flock behind in the harsh desert to seek out the one who has gone missing, he told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope reflected on the Gospel parable of the good shepherd, which, he said, reflects Jesus’ concern for sinners and God’s commitment to never give up on anyone.

Jesus uses the parable to explain how “his closeness to sinners must not scandalize, but, on the contrary, encourage everyone to seriously reflect on how we live our faith,” the pope said.

The parable, he said, responds to the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, who “were proud, arrogant, believed themselves just,” and, therefore, became suspicious or shocked seeing Jesus welcome and eat with sinners.

The parable according to the Gospel of Luke begins, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

The query, the pope said, introduces a paradox that questions how smart this shepherd could be when he abandons his precious flock, not in a safe pen, but in the dangerous desert just for one sheep.

“He could have reasoned, ‘Well, let’s look at the numbers: I have 99, I lost one, oh well,’” the pope said. But, “no. He goes looking for it because everyone is very important to him and that (sheep) is the one most in need, the most abandoned, the most rejected and he goes out to find it.”

The story might make people think that the good shepherd doesn’t care about the ones he leaves behind, the pope said, “But in actuality it’s not like that. The lesson Jesus wants to give us instead is that no sheep can be lost. The Lord cannot resign himself to the fact that even one single person may be lost.”

God’s desire to save all his children is so “unstoppable, not even 99 sheep can hold the shepherd back and keep him locked up in the pen.”

“We are all forewarned — mercy toward sinners is the way God works” and “nothing and no one will be able to take away his will of salvation” for all of humanity, the pope said.

“God doesn’t know our current throwaway culture,” he said. “God throws nobody away. God loves everyone, seeks out everyone, everybody, one by one.”

The parable shows how everything depends on the shepherd and his willingness to look for the lost ones.

But it also tells the faithful flock that they will always be on the move, that they “do not possess the Lord, they cannot fool themselves keeping him imprisoned in our mindset and game plans,” Pope Francis said.

“The shepherd will be found where the lost sheep is,” he said, and it is up to the flock to follow the shepherd’s same journey of mercy so all 100 may be reunited again and rejoice.

The church needs to reflect often on the parable of the lost sheep, he said, because there is always someone who has strayed from the fold.

Sometimes seeing that empty place at the table, the pope said, “is discouraging and makes us believe that the loss is inevitable, an illness without a cure. And then we run the risk of closing ourselves up in the pen where there will be no smell of sheep, but the stink of stale air.”

Christians, he said, must never have the musty smell of confinement, which happens when a parish or community loses its missionary zeal and cuts itself off from others, seeing itself as “we, quote unquote, the righteous.”

Christians must understand that in Jesus’ eyes, no one is ever lost for good; there “are only sheep that must be found.” God waits up until the very end, like he did for the good thief, who repented before he died on the cross next to Jesus, the pope said.

No distance is too far to keep the shepherd away, and “no flock can give up on a brother” because the joy of finding what was lost belongs both to the faithful and the shepherd, he said.

“We are all sheep who have been found again and welcomed by the Lord’s mercy, called to gather the whole flock together with him,” Pope Francis said.

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For Sale: St. Katharine Drexel Shrine, Blessed Sacrament motherhouse; saint’s tomb to be moved

May 4th, 2016 Posted in Featured, National News

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation founded by St. Katharine Drexel, announced that it will sell its historic motherhouse in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. The 44-acre property also contains the National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel and her tomb.

At a future date, St. Katharine’s tomb will be moved to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

The National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel and the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem, Pa., will be sold, it was announced May 3.(CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com)

The National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel and the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem, Pa., will be sold, it was announced May 3.(CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com)

At the same time, the congregation has placed for sale a 2,200-acre property in Virginia that was the location of two schools founded by St. Katharine and her sister, Louise Drexel Morrell.

Blessed Sacrament Sister Donna Breslin, the president of the congregation, said in a statement that a portion of the proceeds from the sales will support the care of retired sisters.

As her order prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary in July, she said the sisters are also “serving some of the most vulnerable people in the United States, Haiti and Jamaica.”

Proceeds from the sale of the properties will be used “to challenge, in new ways, all forms of racism as well as the deeply rooted injustices in the world,” Sister Donna said.

The decision, according to the statement, will make it possible for the congregation to carry forward the vision and spirit of St. Katharine Drexel, who left her prominent Philadelphia family to establish a religious order in 1891 with the primary purpose to minister to Native Americans and African Americans.

In a separate statement, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput voiced his support and prayers for the sisters.

“I’m also happy to share that I have guaranteed archdiocesan support for the sisters as their plan unfolds over the next few years,” he said. “They’ve committed to keeping the national shrine open to visitors through at least 2017. When the time is right to do so, the remains of St. Katharine Drexel will be transferred to the care of the archdiocese and entombed in an appropriate location in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

“It is both an honor and a blessing to accept this responsibility. We’ll also work collaboratively with the sisters to make sure their archival records are cared for appropriately within our archdiocese.”

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament at their peak numbered about 600, but have dwindled to about 104 today, with more than half retired and living at the motherhouse.

Most of the deceased members are buried on the Bensalem property as are the parents, sisters and brothers-in-law of St. Katharine and priests prominent in the congregation’s history. The statements did not address what will become of the cemeteries.

The area of the cathedral suggested for St. Katharine’s tomb is near the altar dedicated to her at the rear of the basilica. The altar was donated by St. Katharine and her sisters Elizabeth and Louise in memory of their parents, Francis and Emma Drexel.

St. Katharine Drexel was born Nov. 26, 1858 into Philadelphia’s wealthiest family. She left everything to found her congregation in 1891 and devoted her considerable fortune to the Native and African American missions.

She died March 3, 1955 and was canonized Oct. 1, 2000. The Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul where she will now be entombed was the site of her funeral Mass.

The Bensalem property that contains 10 buildings was also the site of the former Holy Providence School a small residential school.

The Virginia property was the site of St. Francis de Sales School, a residential school for African-American girls founded by St. Katharine, and St. Emma’s Academy, a residential school for African-American boys founded by Louise and Edward Morrell. Before the schools closed in the early 1970s, they educated nearly 15,000 students.

 

Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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Report shows religious freedom is declining worldwide

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The state of religious freedom worldwide saw more decline than improvement in the last year, said Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

A refugee prays in front of an image of Christ in a makeshift church in a camp called "The Jungle" in 2015 in the port of Calais, France. (CNS photo/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)

A refugee prays in front of an image of Christ in a makeshift church in a camp called “The Jungle” in 2015 in the port of Calais, France. (CNS photo/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)

“Regrettably, things have not improved, and in some places, things have gotten worse,” said George, a Princeton University law professor and director of the university’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, during a May 2 telephone news conference coinciding with the release of the commission’s annual report.

“At best, in most of the countries we covered, religious conditions have failed to improve in any demonstrable way. In most cases, they have spiraled downward,” he added.

The 2016 report, covering the year from March 1, 2015, to Feb. 29, 2016, notes the nations labeled by the State Department to be “countries of particular concern” for their treatment of its citizens’ religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Four of the countries — China, Iran, Myanmar and Sudan — have had the designation since it was first issued in 1999. An 11th nation, Tajikistan, was added by the State Department in April.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, remains on the list despite its transition from a military regime to a civilian government. “Among the displaced were thousands of Rohingya Muslims forced to flee their homes in Burma, joining other Rohingya already displaced internally. While last year’s general elections marked the country’s bid to emerge from its past as a military dictatorship, the government enacted four discriminatory ‘race-and-religion’ bills that not only effectively disenfranchised as many as one million Rohingya, but also denied them the right to contest the elections,” the report said. “These measures reflect a legacy of their brutal persecution by both government and society, which contributed to the refugee crisis.”

The commission identified seven countries that it recommends being added to the State Department list: the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam.

Another 10 countries were labeled by the commission as being “Tier 2” for their restrictions on religious practice: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey. The commission also monitored the situation in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Western Europe and the Horn of Africa.

The terror attacks late last year in Paris and Brussels “produced backlashes against Muslims by members of the wider society, in which Muslims often are blamed collectively,” the report said. “Mosques have been given police protection in several countries, and European Union officials have stressed the importance of not stigmatizing all Muslims.” Moreover, the number of French Jews leaving France for Israel quadrupled, from 2,000 to 8,000, it added.

The only nations and regimes to have had the country of particular concern label withdrawn are the Slobodan Milosevic regime of the former Yugoslavia in 2001, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2003, Iraq in 2004 and Vietnam in 2006.

George cited one example in Vietnam as particularly distressing. A Vietnamese religious figure had met with Rabbi David Saperstein, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, who was visiting Vietnam. Almost immediately after the meeting, the Vietnamese activist was arrested by authorities.

“Egypt and India’s presidents have made positive remarks” regarding religious freedom, George said. “But rhetoric doesn’t really matter unless it is accompanied by action.”

India is a Tier 2 country, George said, because of “political violence and societal violence. It has also failed to reform a criminal justice system that fails to prosecute attackers in a timely manner. This leads to a sense of impunity.”

George said he hoped the United States would become more welcoming to refugees fleeing religious persecution in their homelands.

“The conception for religious freedom goes all the way to our founding,” he said. “It’s not a local right, it’s not a local privilege. … It’s not just for us, it’s for everybody. It’s a universal human right. Part of what makes America exceptional is our belief in universal human rights. The very founding documents of our country. It’s in our in political DNA.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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‘We need to look after each other,’ Syrian refugee says

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Omar al-Muqdad has seen both sides of the refugee crisis.

In 2004, he assisted Iraqi refugees in his home country of Syria. And then nearly a decade later, he escaped the civil war in his country by first going to Turkey and then finding a temporary home in 2012 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he was the only Syrian refugee in the state.

Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country's Bekaa Valley April 12. The international Catholic charity Caritas has been instrumental in helping Syrian refugees attend Lebanese public schools to continue their education. (CNS photo/Dale Gavlak)

Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country’s Bekaa Valley April 12. The international Catholic charity Caritas has been instrumental in helping Syrian refugees attend Lebanese public schools to continue their education. (CNS photo/Dale Gavlak)

“I thought I knew what it was like to be a refugee, then I became a refugee and I needed someone to help me,” he told Catholic News Service April 15.

He realizes there is no rule requiring people to help refugees, but he feels there is an underlying premise that they should.

“It’s a human responsibility. We need to look after each other. You also don’t know if (this situation) could happen to you or someone else,” said al-Muqdad who met with officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Migration and Refugee Services in mid-April to share his experiences.

Al-Muqdad, 36, was assisted by MRS, Catholic Charities of Arkansas, the Diocese of Little Rock and St. Joseph Parish in Fayetteville. They helped him find an apartment and get what he needed, including rides to places while getting established in the United States and working toward citizenship. Today he lives in Arlington, Virginia, and works as a journalist.

He has worked on documentaries about refugees. His current work is about his own experience called “Back to Arkansas.”

When asked about Fayetteville, a far cry from the ancient Syrian town of Bosra where he lived, al-Muqdad, only has good things to say. He says the small town was friendly and beautiful. He also was able to find good Syrian food, which was definitely a plus.

“I really miss that town. I was touched by the treatment I received which was the opposite of what I heard: that people in the South don’t like strangers.”

“People opened their homes for me and just wanted to help,” he said, adding, “I didn’t feel for a second that I was a stranger there.”

And that’s what has made it all the more difficult for al-Muqdad to understand how Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson could say last fall that Syrian refugees would not be welcome.

“What was even more shocking is to learn that I was the only Syrian refugee that was officially admitted and granted residency in that state,” he wrote in a column in December for The National newspaper.

He realizes many of the governors who spoke out against Syrian refugees did this for security concerns, which he said he understands, to a point.

“As a Syrian who, like many other Syrians, suffered from the lack of security, I am completely in favor of a security check on everyone who wants to enter the country,” he wrote. “But that doesn’t mean it is possible to generalize the threat as coming from all refugees, or to paint them all with a single brush, or to say to all of these desperate people: ‘You are all a threat and need to stay out.’”

He has also been disheartened by comments from political candidates about shunning refugees, but he has confidence Americans will do the right thing on the issue.

Al-Muqdad pointed out that terrorists and refugees are not one and the same and stressed that terrorists would have a hard time getting into the U.S. through the refugee path which is time consuming and involves many meetings. He said he was interviewed twice by U.N. officials and multiple times by U.S. immigration officials. If there are gaps in your story, you won’t be admitted, he added.

“It’s a really tough process, and it’s OK,” he said, but countries should not shut their doors out of fear, he added, calling this the “wrong approach to solve this issue.”

At the end of March, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged governments around the world to take in more Syrian refugees.

So far, the Obama administration’s goal of settling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by Oct. 1 has not nearly been met. The U.S. Department of State reports that about 1,200 refugees have been resettled during the last six months. Overall, the U.S. has resettled about 3,100 Syrian refugees since 2011 when the civil war in Syria began. Turkey has the largest settlement of Syrian refugees followed by Lebanon and Jordan and then European countries.

During a March 30 conference in Geneva focused on refugees, Ban called the amount of people fleeing Syria “numbing.”

“But these are all individuals with tragic stories: Children who have lost their parents; Teenagers who are suddenly in charge of their families; Men and women, old and young, who have experienced terrible atrocities — some carry shrapnel in their bodies. All bear the mental scars of displacement,” he said in his remarks, posted on the UN website.

Al-Muqdad admits he has been frustrated with the American response to Syrian refugees, but he has also been heartened by “other voices” showing their support, including Catholic and Lutheran groups.

He says he is not a religious person and describes himself as “still investigating” his faith, but he is touched by what faith-based groups have done for him and other refugees.

Four years after his arrival here, Al-Muqdad who speaks Arabic, English and Italian, says it was easy to fit in and he has a lot of friends here from many nationalities.

That’s not to say he doesn’t long for his homeland. “I miss it so much, but it’s war there now and it’s breaking my heart,” he said.

While he waits for peace to return to Syria, he is focused on his new path.

“I have started to build a life here,” he said. “I’m an American now.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter @carolmaczim.

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Military challenge coin: Pope promises wine, not beer, to fulfill challenge

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis receives countless gifts, but most do not require anything in return. However, at his audience with members of the military April 30, the pope received a small gift with a tradition and obligation attached.

Service members attend Pope Francis' special audience for military members and their families in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Service members attend Pope Francis’ special audience for military members and their families in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services gave the pope a military challenge coin with a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi stamped on it.

Bishop Spencer, who ministers to U.S. service members in Europe and Asia, explained the tradition of military challenge coins to the pope. “A long-standing military tradition is for leaders to ‘coin’ a person as an outward sign of appreciation and admiration for their actions and service,” the bishop said.

Military challenge coins come with a catch. “The next time the two of you meet after being ‘coined,’ the person receiving the coin must show the coin from the original presenter. If they do not have the coin with them, then they owe you a beer!” said Bishop Spencer, whose began his military service as an Army officer in 1973.

Bishop Spencer said he explained the custom to the pope, who “asked, with a smile, if I would accept wine instead!”

In offering wine, the pope was in fact keeping with the original European heritage of challenge coins. The history begins in World War I when an airman with the U.S. Army Air Service was shot down and captured by the Germany army, who took away his identification and belongings.

U.S. Airman 1st Class Deana Heitzman, who wrote a recent article about challenge coins for U.S. Air Force websites, explained the story: “While escaping from the grasp of the Germans, the pilot made his way to France, where they believed he was a spy and sentenced him to be executed. To prove his identity and save his life, he revealed a bronze medallion with his flying squadron’s emblem, confirming he was an American pilot. The French spared his life and celebrated by giving him a bottle of wine instead,” wrote Heitzman.

Carrying a unit coin became a tradition for the saved pilot’s squadron in Germany. Coin challenges developed as a way to ensure everyone was carrying their coin. If they didn’t have it, they would be buying drinks.

But coins are much more than just a fun tradition that leads to drinks. They also are exchanged on important occasions and mark significant events in a service member’s career. Many service members display important coins in cases as a reminder.

Pope Francis would have no trouble participating in a coin challenge. The Vatican has a long history of creating papal coins. The 2016 Pope Francis coins available from the Vatican are genuine euro tender and range in value from one euro-cent to a 50-euro gold coin that sells for 1,090 euro.

— By Paul Haring

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Nigerian cardinal unhurt after attack on his car

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Two bishops from southern Nigeria condemned an attack on a vehicle carrying Abuja Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan and appealed to the government to tackle the issue of growing instability in Edo state.

Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubueze of Benin City and Bishop Donatus Aihmiosion Ogun of Uromi said the situation was becoming more serious because herdsmen committing the attacks were becoming more brazen.

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, is pictured in a 2013 photo at the Vatican.Two bishops from southern Nigeria condemned an attack on a vehicle carrying Cardinal Onaiyekan and appealed to the government to tackle the issue of growing attacks in Edo state. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, is pictured in a 2013 photo at the Vatican.Two bishops from southern Nigeria condemned an attack on a vehicle carrying Cardinal Onaiyekan and appealed to the government to tackle the issue of growing attacks in Edo state. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The April 29 attack on the car carrying the cardinal occurred around 5 p.m., as he was en route to Uromi.

Cardinal Onaiyekan told Vatican Radio May 2, “We were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He said he had tried to avoid speaking publicly about the incident “because they were not targeting me. The car I was riding in was on a public road together with many other cars. We ended up in the middle of one of the attacks that take place every now and then. As the saying goes, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Such attacks have become frequent, the cardinal said. “Two or three weeks ago a car in which two or three priests were riding was attacked and one of the priests was seriously injured.”

The cardinal said he could not identify the gunmen and did not know for certain they were Fulani, nomadic Muslim cattle herders. “We didn’t see anyone, we just heard the ‘bam, bam, bam’ of the guns and saw that a bullet pierced the car. I didn’t see anyone. It could have been them (the Fulani), it could have been other criminals, but in the end what matters is that the road is not safe. We cannot go around with an armed escort. That is no way to live.

“I do not believe they were targeting me or that they knew I was in the middle of that chaos,” the cardinal said. “In fact, I imagine that what happened was embarrassing for them because up until now they have attacked people without drawing much attention.

“It was a criminal act,” he insisted, not one motivated by religion because “in all those cars on the road that day there was no way to know if someone was Muslim or Christian.”

The day after the attack, Archbishop Akubueze told newsmen in Benin City, “If something bad had happened to him, what would have been the story? … We thank God nothing happened and we are using this opportunity to appeal to Mr. President to provide adequate security for the citizens of Edo state.”

“If there is no security of lives and property, no investments or meaningful economic development can take place in the state and the nation at large. We need security and we are demanding that from our government,” he said.

The archbishop said the spate of attacks by the so-called herdsmen across the country “is becoming frightening.”

Bishop Ogun said Nigerians, especially in Edo state, “cannot continue to live in fear in our own land because of the activities of these criminals.”

Cardinal Onaiyekan’s driver, who identified himself only as Segun, said he slowed for a pothole.

“I would have passed the spot with speed, but because the cardinal was sleeping, I decided to slow down the vehicle so that he won’t wake up,” he said.

Three men emerged from the local palm tree plantation and started shooting at the vehicle,” he said. Since only one was behind the car, he threw it into reverse and backed up.

When he finally stopped the vehicle, they discovered “that the bullets had shattered the left passenger’s window glass and made huge holes on the panel of the door.”

By Peter Ajayi Dada

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Spartans hold off Ursuline for 2-0 girls soccer win

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Dialog reporter

 

WILMINGTON – It took the St. Mark’s girls soccer team about 20 minutes of the first half to get its motor running, but the Spartans took advantage once they did. Maddie Burnham scored a controversial goal off a corner kick in the 23rd minute, giving the Spartans all the cushion they would need in a 2-0 Catholic Conference win over Ursuline on May 2. Read more »

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Three with Catholic high school ties to be inducted into Delaware sports hall

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Dialog reporter

 

Three people with significant Catholic school ties are among 10 who will be inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame during the organization’s 41st annual banquet May 24 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront.

Mark Romanczuk, a 2002 graduate of St. Mark’s High School, was a three-sport athlete for the Spartans, although he made his greatest mark in baseball. He was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year and graduated with a career earned-run average of 0.77. He began his senior year with a perfect game and a no-hitter and finished 10-0 with three no-hitters. Read more »

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Reconciliation with God, is key to peace with others, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — For peace in the family, community and nation, people need to recognize their faults and ask forgiveness, Pope Francis told thousands of pilgrims, including hundreds of soldiers, sailors and police officers from around the world.

Pope Francis arrives for a special audience for military members and their families in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 30. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives for a special audience for military members and their families in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 30. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“In your families, in the various areas where you work, be instruments of reconciliation, builders of bridges and sowers of peace,” the pope told the police and military attending his Year of Mercy audience April 30 in St. Peter’s Square.

Most of the military and police participating in the special Holy Year pilgrimage were from Italy, but in his remarks to English-speakers, the pope also greeted uniformed representatives from the United States, Canada, Kenya, South Korea and the Philippines as well.

Pope Francis urged members of police forces and military not to give into discouragement even when war and violence seem to “harden hearts” and increase hatred. “Continue your faith journey and open your hearts to God, the merciful father, who never tires of forgiving us. In the face of the challenges each day brings, let shine your Christian hope, which is the certainty of the victory of love over hatred and peace over war.”

In his main audience talk, the pope told pilgrims that people often act as if God moves away from them when they sin, but in fact it is the sinner who is moving away from God. “He, seeing us in danger, comes looking for us even more,” the pope said.

The Year of Mercy, Pope Francis explained, is a time for people to turn back to God, knowing that he is always ready to forgive.

As he does frequently, the pope pleaded with priests to be welcoming and patient in confession, recognizing just how hard it is for many people to face their sins and acknowledge their need for forgiveness.

“May no one stay far from God because of obstacles placed in their path by men,” the pope said. “I’m underlining this; it goes for confessors, too. Please, do not place obstacles before those who want to reconcile with God. The confessor must be a father.”

Pope Francis told the crowd at the audience that once they experience reconciliation with God, they should look around them and see where else they need reconciliation, particularly if there are tensions within their families.

:This year is the year of reconciliation with God and among us,: he said.

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