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British Catholic schools remove ‘mother,’ ‘father’ from admission forms

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Catholic News Service

 

MANCHESTER, England — The terms “mother” and “father” will be banned from Catholic schools’ admissions forms in England and Wales following a complaint the terms discriminated against gay and stepparents.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator, which settles disputes on behalf of the government, upheld the objection of a parent who wished to enroll a child in Holy Ghost Catholic Primary School in London. Read more »

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Benedictine abbey in England displays St. Thomas More’s hair shirt

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Catholic News Service

BUCKFAST, England — The hair shirt worn by St. Thomas More as he contemplated a martyr’s death in the Tower of London has been enshrined for public veneration.

The folded garment made from goat’s hair was encased above an altar in Buckfast Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in southwest England.

St. Thomas, a former lord chancellor of England, wore the shirt while he was incarcerated in the Bell Tower of the Tower of London while awaiting execution for opposing the Protestant reforms of King Henry VIII.

He was beheaded July 6, 1535, after telling a crowd gathered on London’s Tower Hill that he was “always the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

An encasement of a hair shirt worn by St. Thomas More as he contemplated a martyr's death in the Tower of London, before his 1535 beheading, is on display at the altar of England's Buckfast Abbey Nov. 18 photo. (CNS photo/Luke Michael Davies, courtesy Buckfast Abbey Media Studios)

An encasement of a hair shirt worn by St. Thomas More as he contemplated a martyr’s death in the Tower of London, before his 1535 beheading, is on display at the altar of England’s Buckfast Abbey Nov. 18 photo. (CNS photo/Luke Michael Davies, courtesy Buckfast Abbey Media Studios)

Benedictine Abbot David Charlesworth told Catholic News Service Nov. 21 that the shirt had not been shown in public before.

He said that although the shirt was a secondary relic, he believed it was of greater significance than a body part, or primary relic, because it was directly linked to the religious convictions of the saint.

“What this relic represents is St. Thomas More’s faith,” Abbot Charlesworth said. “This relic says something about who Thomas More was as a Christian … it is a major relic. It is linked to his life of conversion and his identification with the sufferings of Christ.”

Abbot Charlesworth said St. Thomas was a man of conscience who was “standing up for freedom” against a tyranny that was trying to dictate to people what they could or could not think.

Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth, the diocese in which Buckfast is situated, said he hoped the shrine would become an international pilgrimage destination. He said there was a huge cult dedicated to St. Thomas in countries as diverse as Germany and South Korea.

The bishop noted that St. Thomas also had global significance as the patron of statesmen and politicians, a title bestowed on him by St. John Paul II in 2000, as well as patron saint of lawyers.

St. Thomas was a man who manifested “huge integrity” and faith at a time of crisis, Bishop O’Toole said. He “gives us a pattern of what individuals can do through personal integrity and through the living out of their faith in very concrete and practical ways.”

St. Thomas is recorded as wearing a hair shirt when he was testing a possible vocation to the monastic life at the London Charterhouse, a Carthusian monastery, when he was in his early 20s.

The rough uncomfortable cloth is meant to encourage self-control, to serve as a penance for past sins and to unite the wearer with the passion of Christ.

Although St. Thomas went on to marry and father four children, he continued to wear the shirt in private, sometimes beneath his robes of high office.

He gave up public office when King Henry asserted supremacy over the church in England so he could annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon and wed Anne Boleyn, his mistress.

St. Thomas was condemned for high treason after he refused to take an oath attached to the Act of Succession, which recognized any children of the marriage of Henry and Anne to be rightful heirs to the throne.

The day before his execution, the saint gave his hair shirt to Margaret Giggs, his adopted daughter, and it remained in her family until 1626, when it was bequeathed to a community of exiled English Augustinian nuns in Louvain, Belgium.

The nuns later relocated to Devon and, when their priory closed in 1983, they handed the shirt to the Diocese of Plymouth.

In 2011, now-retired Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth asked the monks of Buckfast to put the shirt on display so it could be venerated by the public. In October, the shirt was placed in a sealed case in a side chapel in the abbey church.

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Archbishop of Canterbury: Failure of ecumenism would imprison mercy

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Churches that are not reconciled with one another weaken the experience of mercy that unites believers to God and with each other, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said.

By not reconciling with one other, “our worship is diminished and our capacity to grow close together with God

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

is reduced,” he said Sept. 20 in Assisi during a discussion on ecumenism.

“The failure of ecumenism imprisons mercy and prevents its liberation and its power with one another,” he said.

Speaking before Pope Francis arrived in Assisi for an interreligious peace meeting, Archbishop Welby joined other Christian leaders exploring how love, charity and mercy help foster peace and unity among Christian denominations.

Mercy is the “engine of reconciliation,” Archbishop Welby said, and it is “the source of our capacity for the evangelization of the world in which we live.”

“Mercy begins with the mercy that each of us experiences in the sacrament of reconciliation; the knowledge that we ourselves are accepted,” he said.

Suffering and martyrdom, the archbishop added, also unite Christians and are a visible sign of ecumenism for the world.

“If we do not suffer together, we do not know the meaning of the ecumenism of mercy,” he said. “When they kill us, they do not ask if we are Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic or Orthodox; we are one in Christ for them. So why are we divided when they are not killing us?”

Echoing Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one so that the world may know that I come from the Father,” Archbishop Welby said that the evangelization of the world “depends on that ecumenism of mercy.”

While they may have theological differences, he said, Christians must learn to “disagree well” and “learn to love one another with good disagreement.”

Evangelization depends on the visible sign of love and unity. If not, churches will be unable “to carry out Jesus’ command to go out into the world,” he said.

“It depends on the world seeing visibly that we belong to one another and that we love one another,” Archbishop Welby said. “Without that, we have nothing to say to a world that is incapable of resolving its own differences.”

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A bus named Mercy: Lapsed Catholics queue up for a return journey to the faith

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Catholic News Service

BURNLEY, England — A diocese in England is using a double-decker bus as a venue for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church.

The Mercy Bus is touring the Diocese of Salford during Lent in an attempt to reach out to lapsed Catholics.

People walk by the Mercy Bus in Burnley, England, Feb. 20. The double-decker bus is used for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell)

People walk by the Mercy Bus in Burnley, England, Feb. 20. The double-decker bus is used for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell)

Each Saturday, the bus parks in a busy area of Manchester or one of the outlying towns, and volunteers try to engage shoppers by offering miraculous medals blessed by Pope Francis as gifts.

If they receive a positive response, they are invited on the bus, where they can talk with a priest or receive a blessing — and also go to confession. Two priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation are stationed at the front and rear of the upper deck and one at the rear of the lower deck.

Visitors can also depart with information about the Catholic faith and about times of Masses in their local area.

Father Frankie Mulgrew, a Salford priest who helped to devise the project for the Year of Mercy, said interest from the public had exceeded expectations.

In the first two weeks, when the bus visited Salford, then Bolton, more than 400 people visited, he told CNS in a Feb. 20 interview in Burnley, on the morning of the bus’ third stop.

Priests later reported hearing the confessions of “significant numbers” of lapsed Catholics, some of whom had not been to church “for decades,” he said.

“We are meeting people where they are, we are parking up beside their lives,” said Father Mulgrew, 38, a former stand-up comedian who turned his back on a career in children’s television to become a priest after he said he personally experienced the mercy of God in confession.

“We are saying: ‘If you have got any burdens, come on the bus and be free from them. If you are going through any struggles right now — a family feud, financial problems, a broken relationship — come on board the bus and experience God’s mercy,’” he said.

“We are trying to reconnect people to faith and provide a place of welcome for them, and acceptance, and a place where they are going to encounter God’s mercy in a tangible way in their lives,” Father Mulgrew said.

“It is going out joyfully,” he added. “It’s trying to show the church in all its beauty and all its joy.”

Father Mulgrew said the initiative was inspired by the public ministry of Jesus “on the hilltops, in marketplaces and at the dinner tables” and also by the open-air Masses celebrated in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis.

The initiative was conceived by a Salford diocesan Year of Mercy “outreach group” of which Father Mulgrew, a curate in Blackburn, is a member.

The bus was hired from an Accrington-based company called Moving People at the cost of $330 a day.

Initially, the plan was to use the bus on each Saturday in Lent, but the initiative is proving to be such a success that diocesan officials said they plan to retain the vehicle until the end of the holy year in November.

The front of the bus is emblazoned with the diocesan Year of Mercy logo with its destination entry designated as “#nextstopmercy.”

The sides of bus show images of Pope Francis and priests hearing confessions on either side of “Mercy Bus” in huge letters.

Pope Francis has given his personal blessing to the initiative and, according to Father Mulgrew, “laughed spontaneously” when he presented the pontiff with pictures of the Mercy Bus.

“He gave me this great beaming smile which I took as a great encouragement and affirmation of what I was working toward,” Father Mulgrew said.

Ahead of the launch, Bishop John Arnold of Salford announced in a press release that “the Mercy Bus is a way of reaching out to people who might not otherwise have contact with the church.”

“We are going out to them, rather than expecting them to come to us,” the bishop said.

The bus is accompanied by up to 40 volunteers and a band of musicians who play live music to draw the attention of the passing crowds.

Among the volunteers is Hannah Beckford who, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday, approaches shoppers with the offer of a miraculous medal.

“We say ‘Would you like a free gift from the Holy Father?’ and they often come back and ask a bit more about it,” said Beckford, 25, who also serves as a chaplain in St. Joseph’s Catholic High School, Horwich.

“It has caused a lot of interest, especially from people who haven’t been to church for a long time,” she said.

“The amazing thing about it is that it has thrown open the doors of the church,” she said. “People are coming off the bus smiling and expressing sincere thanks.

“It is what the church should be doing. For a long time I have wanted it to go out, and it’s wonderful that in Salford that’s what the church is doing,” she continued. “It is a joy to be a part of it. I love it.”

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Bishops visiting Holy Land urge peace efforts to help ‘forgotten’ Christians

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Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan — With crises in Syria and Iraq deepening, Catholic bishops on a solidarity visit with the “forgotten” Christians of the Middle East are urging stepped-up peace efforts to resolve conflicts tearing apart the troubled region.

Highlighting the ongoing plight of Iraqi Christian refugees who face another winter of displacement, 18 months after fleeing persecution by Islamic State militants, is also their top concern.

A priest gives Communion to a woman during a Jan. 11 Mass for Iraqi Christian refugees at Our Lady of Peace Center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

A priest gives Communion to a woman during a Jan. 11 Mass for Iraqi Christian refugees at Our Lady of Peace Center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

“They want a future which is full of peace,” Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said of the Iraqi Christians who attended a packed, solemn Mass at Our Lady of Peace Center on the hilly, tree-lined outskirts of the Jordanian capital.

“These people are of tremendous faith, and that’s where they find their identity. What we are trying to say to them is that you are not forgotten,” Bishop Lang told Catholic News Service.

Bishop Lang has been leading 12 bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America on the third and final leg of a pilgrimage to encourage Christians in the Holy Land. Known as the Holy Land Coordination, the annual event was set up at the invitation of the Holy See at the end of the last century to offer support to local Christian communities of the Holy Land.

The bishops earlier traveled to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to encourage a Palestinian Christian population increasingly dwindling in the land of Jesus’ birth.

But the bishops told Catholic News Service that it also was important to hear from Iraqi Christians and other refugees, so the wider Christian community can effectively help them.

“It’s important that we remind our governments and the general population of the situation of Iraqi Christians,” Bishop Lang said of the some 8,000 Iraqi Christians currently sheltering in neighboring Jordan.

They fled their ancient homeland of more than 14 centuries after Islamic State militants told them to convert to Islam, be killed or leave. Tens of thousands are internally displaced in northern Iraq.

“So one of the responsibilities and obligations that we have is to keep reminding people of the stress and distress of the Iraqi refugees,” Bishop Lang said.

One Iraqi Christian, identified only as Bashar, said after the Mass, “My family and I sadly feel that we can never go back to our home in Mosul.” A mechanical engineer, the man had once owned his own telecom company in Iraq’s second-biggest city, which is now in the hands of Islamic State.

“The military didn’t protect us, and our Muslim neighbors betrayed us, even robbing us of our personal possessions. So we believe that the only future for us is somewhere in the West,” said the man, who now shelters with his family of four at the center’s compound because he has lost his savings.

Bishop Lionel Gendron of St. Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, told CNS that one of the first things he plans to do is talk to the new Canadian government about the issue of opening more resettlement opportunities to Iraqi Christians.

“I will insist on the fact. Iraqis are practically not allowed to go back to their country,” the Canadian bishop said. “Many Syrians left (their country) because of the war and the political situation, while the Iraqis left mainly because of their faith.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told CNS that “the time for peace is now.”

While praising the work of the international Catholic charity, Caritas, which aids more than 1 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees and the other humanitarian efforts in Jordan, he called them “a band-aid.”

“It’s not sustainable in the long run,” said Bishop Cantu, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. “We have to look at the root causes of these issues. It’s in everyone’s interest to build peace, so we will certainly be advocating for that as we return.”

“It’s also important that the U.S. take in its fair share of refugees,” Bishop Cantu said of the increasingly divisive issue in the United States.

Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace, accompanied Bishop Cantu on the visit. He said the office’s work on behalf of “all the peoples of the Middle East” has involved supporting a resolution in Congress declaring that Iraqi Christians and Yezidis have suffered genocide at the hands of Islamic State militants. He said his office also has worked to encourage the U.S. to accept its “fair share of refugees” and “invest in more resources for countries, like Jordan, to cope with the refugee influx, so they are not destabilized.”

Colecchi emphasized the need for active international peace efforts that recognize the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East.

“We’ve got to work for peace and ultimately stop the atrocities of Islamic State and the flow of refugees,” he said.

“A more united and effective response is needed to that kind of extremism from which Muslims are suffering and particularly, Christians and Yezidis, are targeted by,” Colecchi added.

Among the other bishops who took part in the Holy Land Coordination were Bishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa; Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England; Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, Ireland; and Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland.

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