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Catholic group asks U.S. government to drop appeal in HHS mandate case

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Benefits Association has filed a motion with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver over a three-year-old appeal by three Cabinet departments in a case involving the “HHS mandate” that says all employers must provide contraceptive coverage.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

The association, which counts 1,000 Catholic institutions and privately run companies among its membership, including dioceses and hospitals, filed suit in 2014, seeking elimination of the mandate. The court granted a preliminary injunction because it believed the government’s action violated RFRA.

The government promptly appealed the injunction and since then has asked for several delays to argue its appeal. Defendants in the case are the Cabinet departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, which issued the mandate in 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act. 

The CBA wants the court to force the departments to meet a July 31 deadline the court set for them to address the association’s arguments.

In a filing made July 21, the CBA, based in Castle Rock, outside Denver, said the federal government does not need to ask for yet another extension in the matter.

The CBA motion cited four reasons the court should dismiss the appeal: “The parties agree that the mandate substantially burdens religious exercise. The parties agree that the mandate does not further a compelling interest. The parties agree that the departments have less restrictive means of advancing their interests. The parties agree that the mandate is illegal under RFRA,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Since the preliminary injunction, “the departments have filed status reports in the CBA appeals on 10 separate occasions” — two in 2015, five in 2016 and three thus far this year – “each asking the court to delay ruling on the merits,” said the association’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

“There is a possibility, given the current climate, we agree and we’re going to drop this thing,” CBA executive director Doug Wilson told Catholic News Service, adding his confidence this would happen was “not terribly high.”

“We’re still fighting this despite what’s come out of our own agencies,” Wilson said July 28, referring to the Trump administration, which is seen as friendlier to the CBA’s stance. “It would be very hard to explain that (legal) position, but it’s certainly possible,” he added. “Unfortunately, despite the fact that the court was very clear that they wanted a specific response to our filing and not another request for a time extension, they could come back and say, ‘We’re close to a new regulation, could we please have one more extension?’”

Wilson cited President Donald Trump’s May 4 Rose Garden address at which he unveiled his “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” executive order, when he told members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, another plaintiff fighting the mandate: “Your long ordeal will soon be over. … We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

Almost a month later, on May 31, an HHS draft rule was leaked to the press. The 125-page draft would exempt religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. It still has not been formally issued, the CBA noted. It remained under final review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to the office’s website.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Merry Christmas from The Dialog

December 25th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: ,

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And have a Happy and a Holy 2015!

Detail from "Nativity at Night" by Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni depicts the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem manger. The feast of the Nativity of Christ, a holy day of obligation, is celebrated Dec. 25. (CNS/Bridgeman Art Library)

Detail from “Nativity at Night” by Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni depicts the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem manger. The feast of the Nativity of Christ, a holy day of obligation, is celebrated Dec. 25. (CNS/Bridgeman Art Library)

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Bishop Malooly’s 2014 Christmas message

December 23rd, 2014 Posted in Our Diocese Tags: , ,

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The Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year. But not everyone feels the same way about Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and materialism of the season: concentrating on the shopping, decorating, baking, cleaning, cooking, wrapping and traveling and not on the true meaning of Christmas; that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)

God’s gift to us is his Son, Jesus Christ. He gave us that gift out of love for us, for our salvation and redemption. In gratitude for that gift, we are called to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In his Christmas message from last year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, Christmas calls us “to give glory to God, for he is good, he is faithful, he is merciful.” He prayed that all of us would come to know “the true face of God the Father, who has given us Jesus.” And he encouraged everyone to glorify God by spending their lives in “love of him and of all our brothers and sisters.”

This Christmas, let us be like the multitude of the heavenly host on the first Christmas who praised God by proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) Let us glorify God by showing love to our brothers and sisters.

God bless you as we celebrate this Christmas and always.

Most Reverend W. Francis Malooly

Bishop of Wilmington

 

•••

Mensaje de Navidad de 2014 del Obispo Malooly

 

La Navidad es una de las épocas del año que más me gusta, pero no es así para todo el mundo. Es fácil dejarse llevar por el estrés y el materialismo que parecen difundirse en esta temporada, y concentrarse en las compras, las decoraciones, la repostería, la limpieza, la cocina, el envoltorio de regalos y los viajes, en lugar de reflexionar sobre el verdadero significado de la Navidad: “¡Así amó Dios al mundo! Le dio al Hijo Único, para que quien cree en él no se pierda, sino que tenga vida eterna”. (Juan 3: 16)

El regalo que Dios nos da es su Hijo Jesucristo por el amor que nos tiene y para nuestra salvación y redención. Nuestra gratitud por este gran regalo nos lleva a amar a Dios con todo el corazón, toda el alma, y toda la mente, y a amar al prójimo como a nosotros mismos.

En su mensaje de Navidad del año pasado, el Santo Padre, nuestro Papa Francisco, dijo que la Navidad nos llama “a dar gloria a Dios, porque es bueno, fiel, misericordioso”. Rezó para que todos nosotros llegáramos a “conocer el verdadero rostro de Dios, el Padre que nos ha dado a Jesús”. También nos instó a dar gloria a Dios “con la vida, con una vida entregada por amor a Él y a los hermanos”.

Seamos esta Navidad como la multitud de seres celestiales que aparecieron en la primera Navidad alabando al Señor y proclamando: “Gloria a Dios en lo más alto del cielo y en la tierra paz a los hombres: ésta es la hora de su gracia”. (Lucas 2:14) Glorifiquemos al Señor expresando nuestro amor hacia los hermanos.

Que Dios los bendiga durante nuestra celebración de la Navidad y siempre.

Feliz Navidad y bendiciones,

El Muy Reverendo Obispo W. Francis Malooly

Obispo de Wilmington

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Key Maryland Election Issues 2014

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Public Policy Positions of the Catholic Church

The Church and the Public Square

The sacredness of life and the value of human dignity form the lens through which the Church views every public policy issue, whether it involves poverty, abortion, education, the family, immigration or any other topic. Whether we are Democrat or Republican, conservative, liberal or in between, our Catholic faith should be the first and most important influence on how we think about political issues. To help Catholics understand these issues, the Maryland Catholic Conference has provided below a brief summary of policies addressed by the Church in the Public Square.

2014 Elections

Much is at stake in the upcoming June 24 primary election in Maryland, in which candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, governor, and the Maryland General Assembly will be vying for your vote. All 188 seats in the General Assembly are up for election and more than 50 seats have been vacated by incumbents, providing an unprecedented opportunity to elect new candidates to the legislature.

During their upcoming terms, the men and women selected to represent your interests will decide many issues affecting the values the Church promotes in the public square, including the sanctity of life, the dignity of the human person, and the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society. Your vote, especially in the primary election when turnout often is low, can make a critical difference in who speaks for you in Congress and Annapolis. Make sure you know the issues, and where your candidates stand on matters that are important to your faith. As Pope Francis reminds us, “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”

Respect for Life

ABORTION. There is an urgent need to pass legislation in Maryland that protects unborn life, and that supports women facing crisis pregnancies. Maryland is home to one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country and has some of the highest abortion rates in the nation. Maryland is one of only four states and the District of Columbia that voluntarily fund elective abortions. Maryland has no parental consent law, no meaningful parental notification law, no informed consent law, no mandatory waiting period, no abortion reporting requirement, and no ban on late-term abortion.

STEM CELLS. The killing of human embryos in embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) – no matter how good the intention– is still the destruction of human life and
has not led to human cures. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have been treated with adult stem cells, which carry no ethical concerns. Yet Maryland largely ignores successful, ethical adult stem cell research and has spent more than $100 million on ESCR through the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund.

END-OF-LIFE. Forces in modern culture promoting physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia seek to devalue the lives of the sick, the elderly, and the disabled under the guise of “choice.” Such measures not only discriminate by implying
certain persons’ lives are not worth living, but
threaten the very
premise that every
life is a gift from
God, worthy of our protection.

Pope Francis has called on us to “challenge all forms of injustice,” including, “the throwaway culture and the culture of death that nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted.” Patients who are elderly, terminally ill, or medically fragile deserve the comforting care of loved ones and medical treatment that alleviates pain and suffering – not a prescription to commit suicide.

Education & Family Life

EDUCATION. Catholic schools are an integral part of Maryland’s educational landscape. Pope Francis has stated that “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture.” (Evangelii Gaudium) In addition to their commitment to moral formation and community service, Catholic schools also are a fiscally valuable resource for our state. Nearly 50,000 students attend Maryland’s Catholic schools, saving the state and its taxpayers approximately $700 million every year.

While Maryland provides some support to nonpublic school students through textbook and aging school construction programs, neighboring states routinely provide their private and parochial schools hundreds of millions of dollars more in support, including through business or individual tax credits which encourage investment in education. The U.S. bishops have reminded us that the “entire Catholic community should be encouraged to advocate for parental school choice and personal and corporate tax credits, which will help parents to fulfill their responsibility in educating their children.” (Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, 2005)

The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.

Pope Francis, World Youth Day 2013

FAMILY LIFE. The Church upholds marriage as the union between one man and one woman and recognizes the family unit of mother, father and child as the foundation of society. The Church promotes government policies that advance stable families and their ability to provide adequate food, housing, and other basic necessities

for their children. Employment policies should provide adequate maternity leave and sufficient sick leave to allow parents to care for their own health or that of another family member.

Social Concerns

Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.

—    Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel),

—       Apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis

POVERTY. Although Maryland has one of the highest rates of per capita income in the country, 13.8 percent
of Maryland’s children were living in poverty according to the 2012 American Community Survey. In order to address the pressing needs of the vulnerable, the Church encourages public policies and budget priorities that support those who often struggle through no fault of their own to maintain the basic necessities of life.

HEALTH CARE. For decades the Catholic Church has been a leading voice for universal health care access, and for health care policies that include adequate conscience protections. A person’s right to health care is based on the principle that each life has value and each life is sacred. We must provide health care for some of our most vulnerable populations, including the working poor, immigrants, persons with disabilities and the homeless.

EMPLOYMENT. The Church promotes policies that support the dignity of work, a healthy work environment, and the ability of each individual to have access to employment. “As the state’s largest private social service provider, we witness in our Catholic ministries the painful reality of those who struggle to keep up with the basic costs of food, rent, utilities and transportation. This desperate cycle cannot end unless we as a society find a way to give all capable men and women the chance to work at a job through which they can live with true independence and dignity.” (The Dignity of Work, Maryland Bishops, 2014)

IMMIGRATION. The Catholic Church supports immigration policies that uphold the moral duty to recognize documented and undocumented immigrants as truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. Immigration policies must keep families unified and protect national borders. Recent attempts to locally implement the federal responsibility of immigration enforcement raise numerous concerns including possible safety issues for immigrants too afraid to contact police. As we pray during Mass, many of us may look and realize – new immigrants are our family.

From the Maryland Catholic Conference

www.mdcathcon.org/elections

 

 

 

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Happy are the ‘losers,’ the poor in spirit, pope tells young people

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The “poor in spirit,” the pure and the merciful, whom Jesus described as “blessed,” are the same people the world considers to be “losers,” Pope Francis told Catholic young people.

Pope Francis meets with young people during his visit to Sardinia last fall. CNS/Paul Haring

But Jesus offers his followers the true path to happiness, and faith in him “will allow you to expose and reject the low-cost offers and approaches all around you,” the pope said in his message for World Youth Day 2014.

The message, released Feb. 6 at the Vatican, focused on the beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Pope Francis has chosen the beatitudes from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew as the themes for World Youth Day 2014-2016. This year and next, World Youth Day will be celebrated on a local level, on Palm Sunday at the Vatican, and in 2016 it will be an international gathering in Krakow, Poland.

The pope told young people that in April, he will canonize Blessed John Paul II, who began the international celebrations and will be “the great patron of the World Youth Days.”

“To be blessed means to be happy,” the pope said. “In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and thinking small when it comes to the meaning of life.

“Think big instead,” he told young people. “Open your hearts.”

“Young people who choose Christ are strong: They are fed by his word and they do not need to stuff themselves” with money, possessions and fleeting pleasure, the pope said.

“Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly happy,” he said.

Explaining how true happiness includes being “poor in spirit,” the pope said he knew it seemed strange to link happiness and poverty.

But, he said, in the Bible being poor isn’t just about having few material possessions. “It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty. The ‘anawim’ (God’s poor) trust in the Lord, and they know they can count on him.”

The pope said his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “understood perfectly the secret of the beatitude” and demonstrated that by living “in imitation of Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor.”

To be poor in spirit, the pope told young people, they must learn to be free or detached from material things, living simply, being concerned about the essentials, but “learning to do without all those unneeded extras.”

Poverty in spirit also requires “a conversion in the way we see the poor,” which means meeting them, listening to them, caring for them and offering them both material and spiritual assistance, he said.

Living according to the beatitude also means recognizing that the poor “have much to offer us and to teach us,” particularly that “people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank.”

Looking to Mary, particularly in the Magnificat, the pope told young people, “the joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God.”

The text of Pope Francis’ message in English is available at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/messages/youth/documents/papa-francesco_20140121_messaggio-giovani_2014_en.html.

 

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‘Nine Days for Life: Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage’ Jan.19-26

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For the second year in a row, the U.S. Catholic bishops are sponsoring “Nine Days for Life: Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage,” planned for Jan. 18-26 this year, as part of several events marking the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand in the U.S.

“Since that tragic decision, more than 55 million children’s lives have been lost to abortion, and many suffer that loss, often in silence,” says a posting on the website www.9daysforlife.com.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said Jan. 15 that the number of abortions since the 1973 decision reflects “with heartbreaking magnitude” what Pope Francis means by a “throwaway culture.”

“Yet our society relegates abortion to a matter of personal choice, often denying the integrity and even the recognition of the personhood of unborn children,” he said in a statement. “However, we have great trust in God’s providence.”

Cardinal O’Malley urged all Catholics to participate in nine-day pro-life novena, whether they planned to travel to Washington or not for this year’s March for Life Jan. 22.

The 9daysforlife website offers participants several ways to sign up to receive directly a daily simple novena with different intercessions, brief reflections and suggested acts of reparation via email or text message or by using an app for smartphones.

Several resources for prayer and activities, as well as the full reflections for each of the nine days, are available online in the “Pro-Life Activities” section of the U.S. bishops’ website, www.usccb.org.

By participating in the pro-life novena and calling “upon the Lord for the healing and conversion of our nation and those impacted by the culture of death,” Cardinal O’Malley said, “we are also reminded, through the very act of prayer, of our beautiful dependence on God and his deep love for each of us.”

Jan. 22 is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in the Roe case and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. Once gain the National Mall in Washington will be site of the annual March for Life marking those rulings. Thousands of pro-lifers are expected to descend on the nation’s capital for the rally and march to the Supreme Court.

The March for Life, which has adoption as its theme this year, will begin with a pre-rally event with live music at 11:30 a.m., followed by a noon rally with a host of speakers. The march begins immediately afterward, with participants walking from the Mall to Constitution Avenue and ending up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the eve of the annual march, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and The Catholic University of America’s Office of Campus Ministry will sponsor the annual National Prayer Vigil for Life at the national shrine.

It will open Jan. 21 with a 6:30 p.m. Mass to be celebrated in the Washington shrine’s Great Upper Church. Cardinal O’Malley will be the principal celebrant and homilist.

The vigil will continue in the shrine’s Crypt Church with the National Rosary for Life at 10 p.m., followed by night prayer at 11 p.m. The vigil continues overnight in the Crypt Church, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Hours every hour on the hour starting at midnight and continuing through 6 a.m.

After morning prayer, Benediction and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament at 6:30 a.m., Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will be the celebrant and homilist at the vigil’s closing Mass at 7:30 a.m. Mass in the national shrine’s Great Upper Church.

Last year, more than 20,000 pro-life pilgrims attended the vigil.

Across the country, three days after the Washington events, more than 50,000 people are expected to gather Jan. 25 for the 10th annual Walk for Life West Coast.

“The pro-life spirit is truly alive in San Francisco and the Walk for Life West Coast continues to be a wonderful way for those who care about women and their babies, born and unborn, to show that life is the only choice,” Eva Muntean, the event’s co-chair, told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.

The crowd will gather at Civic Center Plaza for a 12:30 p.m. rally, then walk down Market Street starting at 1:30 p.m. The event will conclude with a celebration at Justin Herman Plaza near the Ferry Building.

To celebrate and promote this year’s walk, the Walk for Life has released a short promotional video that can be seen at www.walkforlifewc.com.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone will deliver the invocation for the walk at Civic Center Plaza. He has invited the priests and people of all the parishes and schools of the archdiocese to attend.

“The growth and enthusiasm surrounding the walk proves that our pro-life message continues to resonate with the culture to fill the void secular society creates when it excludes God, virtue and an understanding of the profound dignity of human life,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote in his letters to pastors, priests, Catholic school teachers and students in the San Francisco archdiocese.

The archbishop also will celebrate a 9:30 a.m. Walk for Life West Coast Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“People, especially our young people, are more and more receptive to the message that abortion hurts women, men and families. They understand that it is inherently unfair to generations of their peers who never had the opportunity to experience life. This is why turnout by our students and young people continues to rise,” the archbishop wrote.

 

 

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Pope Francis: 2014 will be brighter if everyone steps outside their comfort zones to work on solving problems

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The new year will be brighter only if everyone steps outside their safe havens, gets involved and works together to solve local problems with generosity and love, Pope Francis said.

As 2013 comes to a close, let everyone ask God for forgiveness and thank him for his patience and love, the pope said as he presided over a Dec. 31 evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis arrives to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square after leading an evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

May Mary “teach us to welcome God made man so that every year, every month, every day be overflowing with his eternal love,” he said on the eve of the feast honoring her as Mother of God.

Leading the annual “Te Deum” prayer service to thank God for his blessings in 2013 and the gift of salvation in Christ, the pope asked people to reflect on how they have spent the past year, the precious days, weeks and months the Lord has given as a gift to everyone.

“Have we used it mostly for ourselves, for our own interests or did we know to spend it for others, too? How much time did we set aside for being with God, in prayer, in silence, in adoration?”

People should also reflect on how they used their time to contribute to their communities.

The quality of life in a community, how it runs and looks, depends on everyone, he said in his homily, which he delivered standing from a lectern.

“A city’s face is like a mosaic in which the tiles are all those who live there,” he said.

While public officials and other leaders certainly have more responsibility, “everyone is co-responsible, for the good and bad.”

“Have we contributed, in our small way, to making (our communities) livable, orderly, and welcoming?” the pope asked. “What will we do, how will we act in the new year to make our city a little bit better?”

As the bishop of Rome, the pope looked at the Italian capital in particular, noting its “extraordinary” spiritual and cultural riches.

“And yet, Rome also has many people marked by material and moral poverty, people who are poor, unhappy and suffering, who prick the consciences of every citizen,” he said.

“In Rome, perhaps we feel this contrast more strongly” with such a stark difference between its “majestic setting, loaded with artistic beauty” and the difficulties people struggle against.

A city of opposites, Rome is teeming with tourists, “but is also filled with refugees. Rome is full of people who work, but also people who can’t find work,” who are underpaid or have jobs that harm their dignity, he said.

“Everyone has the right to be treated with the same attitude of welcome and fairness because everyone possesses human dignity” and are part of the same human family, he said.

Pope Francis said Rome, like all communities, will be more beautiful, hospitable, welcoming and kind “if all of us are attentive and generous toward whoever is in difficulty; if we know how to collaborate with a constructive and caring spirit for the good of all people.”

Every community will be a better place “if there are no people who watch it ‘from afar,’ like a picture postcard, who observe its life only ‘from the balcony’ without getting involved” directly with the many problems of the men and women who, “whether we want it or not, are our brothers and sisters.”

The pope underlined the important work and duty of the church in contributing to people’s lives and future, and how, with the leaven of the Gospel, the church is a sign and instrument of God’s mercy.

After the prayer service, Pope Francis visited St. Peter’s Square to get a close look at the Nativity scene.

 

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Necropolis now — Ancient cemetery under Vatican City will be opened to visitors in 2014

December 12th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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A necropolis under Vatican City State will be open to visitors in early 2014. Mud and gravel slides entombed five centuries of pre- and early Christian burials, keeping the “city of the dead” sealed for two millennia. (CNS photo/Vatican Museums)

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Slipping hillsides of clay, mud and gravel entombed an enormous necropolis below today’s Vatican City State, keeping its underground “city of the dead” safely sealed for two millennia.

But unlike the Italian town of Pompeii, which was abandoned and frozen in time after the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D, the Vatican hillside was still used after each mudslide, and offers a multilayered record of pre- and early Christian burial practices and treasures spanning over five centuries.

“A necropolis this vast, with so many chronological phases, with so many preserved decorative objects, makes it one-of-a-kind in Rome,” Vatican archaeologist Sabina Francini told Catholic News Service Dec. 10.

Finally, after years of excavations and restoration and the installation of interactive monitors for visitors, a 650,000 euros ($900,000) project funded largely by the Canadian chapter of the Vatican Museums’ Patrons of the Arts association, the site will be opened to the public in early 2014.

Guided tours of the necropolis near “Via Triumphalis” (Triumphal Way, a major road leading out of ancient Rome) will be limited to groups of 25 people. Reservations will have to be made in advance via the museums’ website: mv.vatican.va.

The necropolis, separate from the catacombs and cemetery under St. Peter’s Basilica believed to include the tomb of St. Peter, will give visitors a remarkable look at the detail and evolution of early Roman burial practices from the first century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. There are hundreds of burial sites on view of people belonging to the poor, middle and upper classes of ancient Rome.

Grated metal catwalks circle around bricked tombs decorated with mosaic tile floors and frescoed walls; terracotta urns containing cremated human remains; and now-open graves revealing human skeletons that lie just as the archaeologists found them.

One small child has two small metal jugs at its feet and a real egg near its right hand. Francini said the “infinite, spherical” form of the egg could represent eternity, though other interpretations see it as a symbol of rebirth.

Another tomb was decorated with a marble replica of a small boy’s head; the inscription said the boy was named Tiberius and lived to be four years, four months and 10 days old. The same grave held a terracotta figurine, perhaps the head of doll.

It’s easy “to become a bit jaded” about death after working on so many tombs, Francini said, but seeing the loving mementos and memorials left for the departed, “you get choked up.”

Among the numerous funerary objects, many exceptionally well-preserved, are small glass bottles that held oils and perfumes; coins placed in the deceased’s mouth to pay the ferryman’s fare across the rivers separating the worlds of the living and the dead; and a lot of broken mirrors made of burnished metal.

Because almost no mirror was found intact, Francini said she thinks they were intentionally shattered in a symbolic gesture, “perhaps because your image, too, disappears with death.”

Bodies were cremated on a flat mound of dirt, visible where the extreme heat of the funeral pyres turned the clay bright red. Charred pinecones, perhaps used as kindling, were also found there.

To hold the ashes, poorer families would use recycled terracotta amphorae made to hold oil or wine; richer families used ceramic or marble urns.

The amphorae were buried with terracotta tubes sticking out of the ground so relatives could pour in ritual offerings of wine, milk or honey. Small libation holes can be seen in many slabs over the tombs.

According to Giandomenico Spinola, director of the museums’ ancient Greek and Roman section, people eventually stopped burying their loved ones at the Via Triumphalis necropolis around the early fourth century, the period when the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity.

It then became much more popular to be buried near St. Peter the Apostle on the other side of the Vatican hill, he said, because even the rituals surrounding death were susceptible to “a bit of snobbery.”

 

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