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In talk with top diplomat, bishop stresses church concern for common good

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob RollerBy Rhina GuidosWASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country's top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church's efforts toward building "the common good." "After some small talk about Texas," the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas. Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know "that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don't have ulterior motives," and explaining the bishops' peace and justice committee's work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East. Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States' nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration. "I have concerns," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good. "We bring a unique perspective," said Bishop Cantu. "One of our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes beyond our own church needs." Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church's efforts in Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5 million lives in the region. Because of the church's humanitarian agencies, its solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said. "He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things," Bishop Cantu said. "The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out to Central America and Mexico," said Bishop Cantu. He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to 28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department's Food for Peace Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending. Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church's concerns with the proposed budget. "We're concerned about the very steep increase in the military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we're very concerned about that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need to be stabilized," he said, "that those are wise investments of time and funds." The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, "and that Christians don't want to live in a ghetto. ' They believe it's important that they live in an integrated society that is safe and secure," to have a voice in local, regional as well federal government. He said he also emphasized "the fact that the (Catholic) church in the Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia" and the importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria. "Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of experience," Bishop Cantu said. "We have our brothers and sisters there, the church, who do live there. The fact is that ' we bring a trusted voice."We bring some wisdom to the conversation," he added. "Our vision is to build a society that's stable, that's just, that's peaceful, and ultimately, that's the goal of the state department ... and so I think that's why our voice is valuable to them."- - -Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.  - - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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No date yet for Blessed Romero canonization, archbishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho EstevesBy Junno Arocho EstevesROME (CNS) -- While documentation regarding an alleged miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero is being studied at the Vatican, there is no date scheduled for his canonization, the archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, said. "I must say, in all sincerity, that there is no date. And we understand it well because it involves a process. Blessed Romero's cause is at a decisive phase that is necessary for his canonization," Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said March 23 during a memorial Mass for Blessed Romero in Rome. Archbishop Escobar, along with the other bishops of El Salvador were making their "ad limina" visits to Rome and the Vatican and anticipated the 37th anniversary of Blessed Romero's death with Mass at Rome's Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Blessed Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a local hospital one day after calling on the government to end its violation of human rights against the population. During the nearly two hours Pope Francis spent with the bishops of El Salvador March 20, the pontiff expressed "his warmth and affection" for Blessed Romero, Archbishop Escobar told Catholic News Service after the Mass. "He told us that it would be very good if the places associated with Romero -- his relics, the place where he was killed and where he was born -- would become places of pilgrimage," the archbishop said. During his homily, Archbishop Escobar thanked Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the official promoter of Blessed Romero's sainthood cause, for his work throughout canonical process. The alleged miracle involves a pregnant woman in El Salvador who was in in danger of dying, Archbishop Paglia told CNS. "Several friends of this family prayed to Blessed Oscar Romero. And in a short time, the baby was born and the mother is well." Archbishop Paglia also told CNS that officials at the Congregation for Saints' Causes had opened the documentation concerning the alleged miracle and would begin studying it March 24. The congregation's work, he added, is a delicate process, which involves looking at the alleged miracle from both a "medical and theological perspective." "I hope that as soon as possible the results can be given. We cannot say how long it will take," he said. "If the results are positive, it will be presented to the pope and he will decide on the canonization and the date." - - -Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Cardinal Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore, dies at 86

IMAGE: CNS/Gregory A. ShemitzBy George P. Matysek Jr.WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's 14th archbishop, who was an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America's first cathedral, died March 23 at his residence at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 86. The archdiocese said the cardinal will lie in repose March 27 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore. His funeral will be celebrated March 28 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, also in Baltimore. "One of the great blessings in my life was coming to know Cardinal Keeler," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori in a statement. "Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed. I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the cardinal." Cardinal Keeler was the bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when he was appointed the 14th archbishop of Baltimore in 1989. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1994. He retired in 2007. As president of the U.S. bishops' conference from 1992 to 1995, he participated in a wide range of national and international issues. As part of his work with what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Keeler developed a reputation for effectively building interfaith bonds. He is particularly noted for his work in furthering Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He was appointed moderator of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the USCCB. "As a priest, bishop of Harrisburg and archbishop of Baltimore, the cardinal worked to bring the hope of Christ to people's lives," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, who is president of the USCCB. "He also built bridges of solidarity to people of other faiths as a leader in ecumenism and interreligious affairs. "Cardinal Keeler was a dear friend. The most fitting tribute we can offer is to carry forward his episcopal motto in our daily lives: 'Do the work of an evangelist,'" Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. He called the late cardinal "a servant of priestly virtue and gentlemanly manner" who is remembered by the USCCB for "his generosity of spirit in service to his brothers and the people of God." Cardinal Keeler's death leaves the College of Cardinals with 223 members, 17 of whom are from the United States. The College of Cardinals has 117 members under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave. In his statement, Archbishop Lori remarked on "the respect and esteem" in which the cardinal was held by his brother bishops, and praised his leadership in Jewish-Catholic relations and in Orthodox-Catholic relations. Archbishop Lori also said he was known for his "prowess as a church historian" and had a "deep love and respect for the history and heritage of the Archdiocese of Baltimore." Cardinal Keeler was an ardent promoter of the Catholic Church's teaching on the sanctity of all human life. He twice served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities and testified at all levels of government on legislation ranging from abortion to euthanasia to capital punishment. Among the cardinal's many accomplishments in the Baltimore Archdiocese, Archbishop Lori highlighted "the wonderful visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995, the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption and the creation of Partners in Excellence which has helped thousands of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive a sound Catholic education." "When I would visit the cardinal at the Little Sisters of the Poor (in Cardinal Keeler's retirement), I gave him a report on my stewardship and told him many times that we were striving to build upon his legacy -– a legacy that greatly strengthened the church and the wider community," Archbishop Lori said. Born in San Antonio and raised in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, William Henry Keeler knew from an early age he was called to the priesthood. In a 2005 interview with the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper, he recalled visiting his grandfather's farm in Illinois when the local Catholic pastor stopped by for a visit – pointing to the 4-year-old boy and announcing that he would one day become a priest. He was ordained a priest in Rome July 17, 1955. He served as assistant pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Marysville, Pennsylvania, before taking on other assignments as secretary to Harrisburg Bishop George L. Leech and as a "peritus," or special adviser, during Second Vatican Council meetings in Rome. He later was named vice chancellor and vicar general of the Harrisburg Diocese and named an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1979. Four years later he was appointed its bishop. "He was a true churchman whom we are greatly honored to have called a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg," said Bishop W. Ronald Gainer, head of the diocese since 2014. "His roots and Catholic education in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, prepared him to do great work for the people of God. "This area and diocese benefited significantly from his leadership and passion for service and evangelization," Bishop Gainer said. As a priest and bishop, Cardinal Keeler "worked fruitfully to advance increased cooperation and warmer relationships between different Christian communities, both locally and nationally. ... I thank God for his priestly life and ministry and for his inspiring service to all." As Baltimore's archbishop and head of the nation's first archdiocese, the 1995 papal visit to Baltimore – at Cardinal Keeler's invitation was one of the prelate's proudest moments. St. John Paul II celebrated Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, visited the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, shared a meal at Our Daily Bread and encouraged seminarians at St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park. A prodigious fundraiser, Cardinal Keeler established what is now known as the Archbishop's Annual Appeal. In 1997, he launched a major capital campaign known as Heritage of Hope that raised more than $137 million from more than 39,000 gifts and pledges. The cardinal also established the Partners in Excellence program, which provides tuition scholarships for children in inner-city Catholic schools. Since its inception in 1996, Partners in Excellence has provided more than $26 million in tuition assistance. One of the cardinal's last major efforts was the $32 million campaign to restore the basilica. After more than two years of construction, the building was rededicated Nov. 4, 2006 -- 200 years after the basilica's cornerstone was laid. More than 240 bishops from across the nation were there for the celebration, marking the first time all the country's bishops gathered in the basilica since 1989 when the archdiocese marked its bicentennial. Father Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium and Cardinal Keeler's first priest-secretary in Baltimore, said Cardinal Keeler "put Baltimore on the map in the Catholic Church." Father White noted that in addition to the papal visit, Cardinal Keeler hosted spiritual gatherings in Baltimore in the late 1990s with St. Teresa of Kolkata and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Leaders within the Catholic Church and from other faith traditions regularly visited him in Baltimore and "not a day went by" when bishops from other parts of the country didn't call for the cardinal's advice, Father White said. Cardinal Keeler suffered serious health problems in the latter years of his ministry. He underwent knee replacement surgery in 2005 and had to have brain surgery in 2006 following a car accident in Italy that resulted in the death of a friend, Father Bernard Quinn of Harrisburg. In the early part of his retirement, Cardinal Keeler remained focused on many of the same priorities he had always held: promoting better relations between the Catholic and Jewish communities, celebrating Mass every day and staying in touch with friends. In his final years, one of the U.S. church's great communicators was frustrated by finding it difficult to find the words to express himself. "His final years of illness were lived in silent, Christ-like dignity and acceptance to the will of God," said Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, Cardinal Keeler's immediate successor in Baltimore, who is grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Referring to Cardinal Keeler's accomplishments as "monumental," Cardinal O'Brien added that he prays that the cardinal "enjoy a joyful, eternal rest in the Lord he served so generously." - - - Matysek is assistant managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. - - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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London cardinal calls for prayers for victims of Westminster attack

IMAGE: CNS photo/Toby Melville, ReutersBy LONDON (CNS) -- Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, whose cathedral is just a short walk from the scene of the London terrorist attack, called for prayers for the dead and wounded. "Yesterday's attacks in Westminster have shocked us all," he said in a March 23 statement. "The kind of violence we have seen all too often in other places has again brought horror and killing to this city." The five fatalities included Aysha Frade, a 43-year-old Catholic mother mowed down by a car driven by the assailant as he sped over Westminster Bridge toward the British Parliament. Frade was on her way to pick up her children from school when she was killed. After crashing the vehicle into railings, the British-born Muslim ran into New Palace Yard, near Parliament, where he fatally stabbed a police officer before he was killed by police. About 40 people were injured in the attack. "Pray for Aysha Frade, killed by the car on Westminster Bridge," Cardinal Nichols said, adding that her two children attended St. Mary of the Angels Primary School, a Catholic school in West London. "Pray for them and for their father. And please remember the young French students who have been injured. "We remember, too, all who have been injured, and those who care for them," the cardinal continued. "We pray in particular as well for Keith Palmer, the police officer who died, and for his family, thanking God that so many show such brave dedication to keeping our society safe." The cardinal urged people to make their voices become "one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity, and of calm," he said. "All who believe in God, creator and father of every person, will echo this voice, for faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a strength and a foundation on which depend." Pope Francis sent a message to Cardinal Nichols March 23, assuring the president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales of his prayer for the nation. Communicated via Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, the message said: "Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy. "Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of almighty God, His Holiness invokes divine strength and peace upon their grieving families, and he assures the nation of his prayers at this time," it said. According to reports in the British media, the "lone wolf" assailant was not on a security services list of about 3,000 people thought capable of mounting an attack, but was described by Prime Minister Theresa May as a "peripheral figure." He was named as Khalid Masood, 52, a petty criminal from the Birmingham area of the English Midlands. The Islamic State group issued a statement March 23 describing the attacker as a "soldier" who had answered its call to attack "coalition countries."- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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With new website, Franciscans opt for their own 'hip-hop' style

By Cindy WoodenROME (CNS) -- The head of the Franciscans hopes the order's new website will have a certain "hip-hop" style -- being very modern or "hip" and inspiring people to move, act or "hop." Franciscan Father Michael Perry, minister general of the order, said the March launch of the revamped website -- www.ofm.org -- is just phase one of a comprehensive project that will include opportunities for the public to interact with the friars and for the friars to reflect formally on how, when and why they communicate. The Franciscans decided their website needed a radical redesign because "we discovered we were communicating only to ourselves and not to the world," Father Perry told Catholic News Service. "Reading the signs of the times" means not simply acknowledging a problem, but doing something about it, he said. So the friars engaged Longbeard Creative, a Canada-based digital design company, to help them move the website into the modern age and respond to the Franciscans' obligation to share the Gospel. "We see this as a continuity with what St. Francis and the early brothers did," he said. "Whenever they came across a need, when they saw a boundary, they decided they had to cross it, they had to respond," otherwise they would be "limiting the possibility of God's grace in their lives and the offer of God's love for the world." A sleek, mobile-friendly website is not out of place for a group of mendicant friars. St. Francis and his brothers always looked for "new tools to communicate a message in a new way," the minister general said. "He wasn't simply repackaging old material, he was picking up things as he went along" and sharing the Gospel in ways the people he met would understand. "I think he felt also that he needed to learn new things," which is what the friars need to do as well. "We need to ask ourselves: 'What is it that the world is telling us? What is this new technology offering us? What prospects and challenges does it bring? Is it really offering humanity a greater step toward a deeper experience of itself as human? Is it bringing people together, is it crossing divides, or is it creating new spaces where people feel even more isolated?'" As time goes on, Father Perry said, the Franciscans will expand the website in response to users' needs and interests, but also in the areas the friars believe they have something particular to offer to the world. Obviously, that will include "environmental ethics" and offering small "formation packages" on safeguarding creation, spirituality and prayer. Many people visit www.ofm.org looking for information about St. Francis -- a search term with increased popularity since the election of Pope Francis, "this person who's a Jesuit who's now converted to become a Franciscan," Father Perry said with a smile. Traffic increased again when Pope Francis titled his encyclical on the environment "Laudato Si'," quoting St. Francis of Assisi's canticle of praise and thanksgiving for the gifts of creation. The second thing visitors want is help with their spiritual lives, he said, "something that can help them try to ... 'mind the gap'" between the challenges of their daily lives and their faith in God. The Franciscans want the new site to be attractive, substantive, thought-provoking and help people feel connected. But perhaps not always, Father Perry said. Legend holds that St. Francis of Assisi spoke with the birds, but his successor as head of the order does not even Tweet. "People do not always have to be 'on,'" he said. "We need perhaps to propose ways people can do a moratorium" on constant media use, so that they can pray and contemplate.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Pope recognizes miracle attributed to Fatima visionaries

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, ReutersBy Junno Arocho EstevesVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of two of the shepherd children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, thus paving the way for their canonization. Pope Francis signed the decree for the causes of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto during a meeting March 23 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the Vatican said.   The recognition of the miracle makes it likely that the canonization ceremony for the two children will be scheduled soon. The cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation must vote to recommend their canonization and then the pope would convene the cardinals resident in Rome for a consistory to approve the sainthood. Many people are hoping Pope Francis will preside over the canonization ceremony during his visit to Fatima May 12-13. The pilgrimage will mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church. A year after the apparitions, both of the Marto children became ill during an influenza epidemic that plagued Europe. Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9. Francisco and Jacinta's cause for canonization was stalled for decades due to a debate on whether non-martyred children have the capacity to understand heroic virtues at a young age. However, in 1979, St. John Paul II allowed their cause to proceed; he declared them venerable in 1989 and beatified them in 2000. Their cousin Lucia entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy and, later, obtained permission to enter the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she resided until her death in 2005 at the age of 97. Following her death, Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could open. Bishop Virgilio Antunes of Coimbra formally closed the local phase of investigation into her life and holiness Feb. 13, 2017, and forwarded the information to the Vatican. Also March 23, Pope Francis signed other decrees recognizing miracles, martyrdom and heroic virtues in six other causes, the Vatican said. The pope also approved the bishops' and cardinals' vote to canonize two Brazilian priests -- Blessed Andre de Soveral and Blessed Ambrosio Francisco Ferro -- as well as Mateus Moreira and 27 laypeople, who were killed in 1645 as violence broke out between Portuguese Catholics and Dutch Calvinists in Brazil. Pope Francis also approved the vote to canonize three young Mexican martyrs, known as the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, who were among the first native converts in Mexico. Known only by their first names -- Cristobal, Antonio and Juan -- they were killed in 1529 for rejecting idolatry and polygamy in the name of their faith. In addition, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Franciscan Claretian Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, who died in 1995 after being stabbed 54 times, apparently because of her work helping poor women in India organize themselves. With the signing of the decree, a date can be set for her beatification. - - - Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Hardened hearts can turn believers into atheists, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPABy Junno Arocho EstevesVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Not listening to God's voice can distance Christians from him and lead them instead to seek solace in worldly idols that offer only doubt and confusion, Pope Francis said. When Catholics are "deaf to the word of God," their hearts are hardened, and "they lose the meaning of faithfulness," the pope said March 23 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. The pope began his homily by reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Jeremiah in which God laments the unfaithfulness of his people who "walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me." "Not listening to and turning our backs -- which hardens our heart -- takes us on that path of unfaithfulness," the pope said. In the reading, "the Lord says: 'Faithfulness has disappeared,' and we become unfaithful Catholics, pagan Catholics and, even worse, atheist Catholics" without the necessary reference to the love of the living God, the pope said. Instead of being full of clarity, he continued, Christians on this path of unfaithfulness are filled with confusion, not knowing where God is and confusing "God with the devil." Those who said Jesus expelled demons "by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons" in the day's Gospel reading from St. Luke, the pope added, are an example of the last step along this path. "This is blasphemy. Blasphemy is the final word of this path that begins with not listening, which hardens the heart" and "brings confusion; it makes you forget faithfulness and in the end, you blaspheme." Pope Francis said Christians must ask themselves whether they listen to the word of God or have "lost faithfulness to the Lord and live with the idols that offer me the worldliness of every day." "Today is a day for listening. 'Listen today to the voice of the Lord' we prayed." the pope said. "'Do not harden your heart.' Let us ask for this grace: the grace to listen so that our heart does not harden." - - - Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Church leaders: Restoration on Jesus' tomb signals new cooperation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sebastian Scheiner, ReutersBy Judith SudilovskyJERUSALEM (CNS) -- Less than a year after restoration work began, the Edicule -- the traditional site of Jesus' burial and resurrection -- was inaugurated in an ecumenical ceremony led by representatives of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian churches, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The 200-year-old structure was rehabilitated for the first time after Israeli authorities deemed it unsafe and leaders from the three churches that share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher came to an agreement for the work to proceed. Some did not believe the churches could overcome their centuries-old disagreements, but the project was a sign that "with God, nothing is impossible," Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said at the March 22 ceremony. "This apparent mission impossible became possible because we allowed God to enlighten our thoughts and our eyes and our relations. Things do not change by themselves. If we are here for this celebration, it is because the different churches and leaders were able to hear the voice of God and understand and realize and accept that it was time to build new relations between us of trust and respect," he said. Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, said it was "providential coincidence" that this year, as the Edicule is restored, all the Christian denominations celebrate Easter on the same date. It was also fitting, he said, that it was around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that the churches regained a closer relationship. Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian took the opportunity to mention the three other denominations with a presence in the church -- the Assyrian Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox. He asked that the Anglican and Russian Orthodox churches be allowed to offering their holy liturgy at the Edicule once a year, after Easter. "We must pray earnestly to Jesus Christ to give us the wisdom to be able to absorb literally between ourselves his greatest commandment of love," said the patriarch. "We have no difference in regard to this commandment and, unless we accept his commandment and express it in our lives and deeds, how can we consider ourselves Jesus' disciples?" Several hundred local faithful, pilgrims and international dignitaries filled the main area of the basilica where the Edicule is located, taking pictures and videos of the pink-stoned structure. The metal girders that British Mandate authorities added in 1947 to keep it standing have been removed. "It is a very exciting day which hasn't happened in hundreds of years. It is a very big step, we are all united in celebration," said Marlen Mauge, 53, a Catholic from Jerusalem. "We would like to have more than one united celebration. It is a good message to the world." Antonia Moropoulou, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens, directed the work at the site.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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U.S. Catholics asked 'to accompany' migrants, refugees seeking better life

IMAGE: CNS photo/Justin Lane, EPABy Julie AsherWASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States." Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the reflection was issued "in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands," said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection," said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington. The 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation's bishops between their spring and fall general meetings. "To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear," it continued. "Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes." The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and "listen to their story, and share your own"; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system" in a way that would safeguard the country's security and "our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration." The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: "The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt." The bishops urged Catholics to "not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future." "As shepherds of a pilgrim church," they wrote, "we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you." Those families could include "a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence," they said, adding that "it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity." The bishops said that "intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well." "When we look at one another, do we see with the heart of Jesus?" they asked. Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration's rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent. The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump's new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was to take effect March 16 at midnight. The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia. In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find "common dreams for our children" in their "diverse backgrounds." "Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, 'out of many, one,'" they said. "In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin." Christ, as the word made flesh, "strengthens us to bring our words to life," they said, and suggested three ways Catholics, "in our own small way," can "bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life": by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies. "Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children," the bishops said. They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to "listen to their story and share your own." The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees "both to comfort them and to help them know their rights." They also urged Catholics to "to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ." Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they "fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration." The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland." - - - Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher. - - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Famine, worsened by war, threatens South Sudanese, official says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nancy McNally, Catholic Relief ServicesBy Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Some 5 million people in South Sudan -- half of its total population -- are on the brink of starvation and a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished, a representative from the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services said. Famine has already gripped 100,000 people in Unity State and other parts of the nation, and if emergency food and aid don't get to people soon, "people will start starving to death or they will die of dehydration," Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, told Catholic News Service March 21. Farrell and other representatives from dioceses, CRS, Caritas and other Catholic aid and development agencies working in South Sudan were in Rome for a meeting March 21-22 hosted by Caritas Internationalis to discuss the worsening crisis in the country.Despite the ongoing civil war, if the security situation does not escalate, Pope Francis hopes to visit the ravaged nation sometime in October, Bishop Erkolano Tombe of Yei, South Sudan, told Reuters March 21. "We have been informed (by a Vatican official) that he will come in October, but we don't know the exact date yet," said the bishop, who was in Rome attending the Caritas Internationalis meeting. If the security situation "remains as it is now, he will come," he said. Pope Francis said in late February that he wanted to go to South Sudan and that Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic leaders there had urged him to visit together with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury. The pope said officials were studying whether the local situation was "too dangerous. But we have to do it, because they -- the three (Christian communities) -- together desire peace, and they are working together for peace."With so much fertile land in the country, the food shortages and famine are man-made, Farrell said, a result of almost four years of violence, displacement, climate change and economic collapse with the rate of inflation nearing 800 percent. The Catholic Church has always been in a unique position to respond to humanitarian disasters no matter how bad the situation escalates, Farrell said. "The church never closes down. It's extraordinary and it's part of the community," he said. Parishes and church-run schools, hospitals and other institutions all open their doors to protect and care for people fleeing from violence. Through a network of churches and religious orders, "within 24 hours we can provide assistance" to any newly displaced. Even with the risk of increasing violence and insecurity, the priests, nuns or church workers "might have to flee in the bush with the people for a day or so. But they come back, celebrate Mass" and immediately mobilize the national and international networks in place to send out appeals and distribute the aid to the neediest or most vulnerable, he said. "The church is a lifeline in South Sudan, not only spiritually, but also physically. We can distribute medical supplies, food, shelter, water, through the church in communities where you would think nobody could go," he said. The church and its local partners also know exactly what a community needs, so, for example, when violence struck Wau last year, CRS found out the people there didn't need food aid, but rather kitchen utensils -- portable stoves, pots and pans -- because their homes had been looted. To be able to respond adequately to such unpredictable disasters, "you have to be able to talk to people with on-the-ground knowledge, and the church has that in spades," he said. One area along the Nile River is so pristine and abundant, "I can drop a line and pull out a catfish that weighs 50 pounds," said Farrell, who insisted he was not a patient or practiced fisherman. But the people can't fish or eat if they don't have security or equipment. People will fish, plant and harvest as long as conflict does not prevent their access to the areas and as long as they do not keep losing land and equipment to arson and looting, he said. The local churches -- Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian communities -- "have credibility and respect" with almost all sides in the civil war, he said. Many church leaders can get feuding groups to at least stop the fighting in their area and have the groups sit down for talks. "Because the basis of the conflict in South Sudan is political, the solution is also political," he said, "so the church has a very important, critical role in bringing the parties together and does this all the time at the grass-roots level in sponsoring neutral forums." "Everyone has to stop fighting. The people in South Sudan are so tired, they are bone-weary of fighting and there is a hunger for peace," he said. In the meantime, South Sudan desperately needs emergency relief, long-term development programs, medical care, schooling and help for people to "strengthen their dignity" by rebuilding their lives and bringing peace. "As a Catholic organization, we're blessed because we can actual work in all those areas at the same time," he said.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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World needs those who can bring God's hope, consolation, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian hope is built on patiently enduring everything life brings and knowing how to see God's presence and love everywhere, Pope Francis said. God "never tires of loving us" as he "takes care of us, dressing our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy, meaning, he consoles us and he never tires of consoling us," the pope said during his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 22. The pope also invited all Catholics to "rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation" during the Lenten season by taking part in the "24 Hours for the Lord" initiative, being held March 23-24 in many dioceses and parishes worldwide. The pope asked people to make time for confession to "experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the father," who welcomes and forgives everyone. During his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of reflections on how the Apostle Paul describes the nature of Christian hope. In the apostle's Letter to the Romans (15:1-5), he said that it is "by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." This endurance or perseverance, the pope said, is the patient ability to remain faithful and steadfast even when dealing with the most unbearable burdens. It is persevering even when "we would be tempted to judge unfavorably and give up on everything and everyone." The encouragement or consolation St. Paul talks about, the pope said, is "the grace to know how to grasp and show the presence and compassionate action of God in every situation, even in one greatly marked by disappointment and suffering." When St. Paul says, "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak," he isn't separating the Christian community into a special class of those who are "strong" and a group of "second-class citizens" who are weak, the pope said. In actuality, the strong are those who experience and understand their fragility and know they need the support and comfort of others, he said. And when people are experiencing their fragility and vulnerability, they "can always offer a smile or hand to a brother or sister in need," showing them strength. It's about people offering one another what they can and knowing that the truly strong one is Christ, who takes care of everyone. "In fact, we all need to be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and to feel surrounded by his tender and caring gaze," Pope Francis said. That strength to endure and find encouragement all comes from God and his sacred Scriptures, the pope said, not from one's own efforts. The closer people are to God with prayer and reading the Bible, the more they will have the energy and feel the responsibility to go to those in need, "to console them and give them strength." The aim of serving others then will not be to feel proud of oneself, he said, but to "please our neighbor for the good, for building up," as the Apostle Paul says. People will realize they are "a 'channel for broadcasting' the Lord's gifts and, in that way, concretely become a sower of hope," the pope said. Planting seeds of hope "is needed today. It's not easy," Pope Francis said. But with Christ at the center of one's life, it will be him who "gives us the strength, the patience, the hope and the consolation" needed to live in harmony. At the end of the general audience, the pope highlighted that the day also marked World Water Day, established by the United Nations 25 years ago. The pope greeted participants attending the conference, "Watershed: Replenishing Water Values for a Thirsty World," sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome March 22. He said he was "happy this meeting is taking place" as part of continued joint efforts to raise awareness about "the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone."- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Don't treat confessional like a dry cleaners, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob RollerBy Junno Arocho EstevesVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The confessional is a place where one can go to humbly seek forgiveness; it is not a dry cleaners where one goes to remove the occasional stain, Pope Francis said. While forgiveness is "God's great work of mercy," Christians can take for granted the power of the sacrament of reconciliation and confess while being "unable to be ashamed" of their sins, the pope said March 21 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "You did not go there ashamed of what you did. You saw some stains on your conscience and you were mistaken because you believed the confessional was a dry cleaners to remove stains," he said. Reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Daniel in which the people of Israel humbly beg God to pardon their sins, the pope said shame was "the first step" in seeking forgiveness.   However, he noted, the Gospel reading from St. Matthew recounts Jesus' parable of the ungrateful servant who, although forgiven of a debt, refused to show the same mercy to another. While forgiveness is "a difficult mystery" to comprehend, the Gospel helps Christians understand that going to confession is more than just making some kind of "bank transaction," the pope said. "If you are not aware of being forgiven you will never be able to forgive, never," he said. "There is always that attitude of wanting to take others to task. Forgiveness is total. But it can only be done when I feel my sin, when I am ashamed and ask forgiveness of God and feel forgiven by the father so I can forgive." Like the ungrateful servant in Jesus' parable, Christians can be tempted to leave the confessional thinking that "we got away with it." This feeling, the pope said, is "the hypocrisy of stealing forgiveness, a pretend forgiveness." For this reason, he added, it is important to "ask for the grace of shame before God." "It is a great grace! To be ashamed of our own sins and thus receive forgiveness and the grace of generosity to give to others because if the Lord has forgiven me so much, who am I to not forgive?" he said. - - - Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Church experience more than just a cut-and-run flash mob, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young men and women can live a true experience of the church by joining together and reconnecting with the past, Pope Francis told Catholic young people. "The genuine experience of the church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways," the pope said in his message for World Youth Day 2017. The message, released March 21 at the Vatican, centered on a verse of the Magnificat: "The Mighty One has done great things for me." Pope Francis has chosen several verses that reflect on Mary's faith from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke as the themes for World Youth Day 2017-2019. This year and next, World Youth Day will be celebrated on a local level -- on Palm Sunday at the Vatican -- and in 2019 it will be an international gathering in Panama. The pope reminded young people that another event, the Synod of Bishops in 2018, will also help them to reflect on how they "live the experience of faith in the midst of the challenges of our time." "It is my hope that the journey toward the World Youth Day in Panama and the process of preparation for the synod will move forward in tandem," the pope said. Young people are called to follow the example of Mary who, after saying "yes" to becoming the mother of God, did not remain closed in on herself but went out of her way to help her cousin Elizabeth. "Mary does not shut herself up at home or let herself be paralyzed by fear or pride," the pope wrote. "Mary is not the type that -- to be comfortable -- needs a good sofa where she can feel safe and sound. She is no couch potato!" Upon meeting her cousin, he explained, Mary proclaims the "Magnificat," a "revolutionary prayer" in that while she is aware of her own limitations, she completely trusts in divine mercy. Like Mary, young men and women today also can experience "great things" if they allow their hearts to be touched by God in the "journey of life, which is not a meaningless meandering but a pilgrimage that, for all its uncertainties and sufferings, can find its fulfillment in God," the pope said. To look toward the future God has prepared for them, he continued, young people must look to the past and remember God's mercy and love in their own lives. "I would like to remind you that there is no saint without a past or a sinner without a future," he said. "The pearl is born of a wound in the oyster! Jesus, by his love, can heal our hearts and turn our lives into genuine pearls." Although he rejected the notion that young people are "distracted and superficial," Pope Francis said young people today need to reflect on their lives in order to decide their future and not rely on current cultural trends that present a false or incomplete reality. Social media, he explained, only offers snippets of a person's memories and history and those glimpses are rarely "endowed with purpose and meaning." And reality shows present young people with stories that are not real and are "only moments passed before a television camera by characters living from day to day without a greater plan." "Don't let yourselves be led astray by this false image of reality!" the pope said. "Be the protagonists of your history; decide your own future." He also warned of giving in to society's tendency to value the present while dismissing "everything inherited from the past, as for example the institutions of marriage, consecrated life and priestly mission," which are often written off as "meaningless and outdated forms." "People think it is better to live in 'open' situations, going through life as if it were a reality show, without aim or purpose," he said. "Don't let yourselves be deceived! God came to enlarge the horizons of our life in every direction." Instead, the pope said, by appreciating the wisdom and memory of the past and nourishing themselves through the sacraments in the present, young people can proclaim their own song of praise, like Mary, for the "great things" God is doing for their future. "Spread your wings and fly, but also realize that you need to rediscover your roots and to take up the torch from those who have gone before," Pope Francis said. "To build a meaningful future, you need to know and appreciate the past." - - - Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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At 50, 'Populorum Progressio' takes on new life through Pope Francis

IMAGE: CNSBy Dennis SadowskiWASHINGTON (CNS) -- These days when Pope Francis talks about integral human development and his vision of a church that goes to the margins of the world, he undoubtedly thanks a predecessor of 50 years ago for the inspiration.Blessed Paul VI addressed "the progressive development of peoples" as "an object of deep interest and concern to the church" in his encyclical "Populorum Progressio" ("The Progress of Peoples") that emerged in the years following the Second Vatican Council.Pope Francis has used language similar to that in the encyclical in his admonitions of the world economy and his vision for a more merciful world.Released March 26, 1967 -- perhaps purposefully on Easter -- Blessed Paul's encyclical rooted the Catholic Church in solidarity with the world's poorest nations. He called for the elimination of economic disparity and reminded people to recognize the common threads that unite humanity in a world with finite resources."We are the heirs of earlier generations, and we reap benefits from the efforts of our contemporaries; we are under obligation to all men," Blessed Paul wrote in his only social encyclical. "Therefore, we cannot disregard the welfare of those who will come after us to increase the human family. The reality of human solidarity brings us not only benefits but also obligations."Such a call has repeatedly echoed throughout Pope Francis' four-year pontificate. A reading of his apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium") and his encyclical on the environment and human development, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," he reminds the human family of the social responsibilities to care for one another. In line with Blessed Paul, he has repeatedly recalled the social injuries caused by an "economic system that has the god of money at its center," as he said in a message to the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California, in February.While 50 years have passed and the political discussion has shifted to new issues, the message of "Populorum Progressio" has been resurrected in a 21st-century pope and remains as important today as it was in 1967, social policy experts told Catholic News Service as the encyclical's golden anniversary approached."'Populorum Progressio' and the whole idea of integral human development is really the cornerstone of everything since (then) in the church," said Dana Dillon, assistant professor of theology at Providence College.The message, if not the specific words, has resonated through the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but it is Pope Francis who has renewed the call for true human development in a world still experiencing economic inequality and vast pockets of extreme poverty, said Leonard Calabrese, retired executive director of the Commission on Catholic Community Action in the Cleveland Diocese."It's not only about economic development. It's also about distributive justice and a concern for fairness for how development and the benefits of development are spread through the society," Calabrese said, comparing the similar calls from both popes.Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University, called Pope Francis a "Paul VI pope" because of his reliance on the Holy Spirit in calling the world to mercy and justice.The timing of the encyclical's release -- less than 16 months after Vatican II concluded -- fed eager laypeople and clergy to go into the world to share the good news through action. Not only did Blessed Paul announce the formation of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace then, but the document inspired the introduction in 1969 of what today is the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development and gave birth to social action offices in many dioceses."It had carriers all over the world who were sympathetic to the mood of the council and the themes of the church's involvement in the world of the council. It energized the church and many people in the development field," Father Christiansen said.Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, suggested it was time for the church to take a deeper look at "Populorum Progressio" at this point in the church's history. "It is relevant because it is a time to rediscover what was the most radical Catholic social teaching of these last 50 years," he told CNS.The document raised the profile of the church's concern for people in the global south at a time when European colonialism was declining, giving people across Africa, Asia and Latin America greater hope that the church was with them, Faggioli explained.In the global north, however, the encyclical was panned. Vermont Royster, editor of The Wall Street Journal at the time, called it "warmed-over Marxism" because it challenged capitalism's inherent rush to achieve profit at the expense of human life. Others were critical of Blessed Paul VI's assessment that economic trade must benefit both the developed countries and those emerging from the colonialism that had dominated the world for centuries, feeling it was too judgmental of existing corporate practices.Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan, writing for Crisis Magazine March 3, questioned why Blessed Paul addressed such questions specifically. He questioned the prudential judgments offered by Blessed Paul about such matters because "there's often no single right answer for Catholics."Still, he credited Blessed Paul for his emphasis on core church teaching on integral human development."Paul VI reminded us that while human development has a material dimension, it cannot be reduced to material growth," Gregg wrote in an email to CNS. "We fully develop when we freely choose the goods that are distinctly human and act accordingly. If Catholics lose sight of this truth when we talk about topics ranging from justice to the decisions of political and business leaders to the environment, then we will have nothing distinctive to say about human development."While the particulars of trade deals may have shifted over the last half-century, the overall issue of the importance of building relationships among people in developed and undeveloped nations remains, said John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.Blessed Paul envisioned that economic development could lead to long-lasting peace, Carr said. "Development and justice is more a matter of being more than having more. Being more a worker, being a husband, mother, a citizen," he said.Carr points particularly to paragraph 47 of the encyclical as a vital passage that raises questions that resonate today as they did in 1967. In the passage, Blessed Paul explained that simply ending hunger and reducing poverty was not enough. He called on people to build a human community across borders, cultures and economic classes.Blessed Paul continues: "On the part of the rich man, it calls for great generosity, willing sacrifice and diligent effort. Each man must examine his conscience, which sounds a new call in our present times. Is he prepared to support, at his own expense, projects and undertakings designed to help the needy? Is he prepared to pay higher taxes so that public authorities may expand their efforts in the work of development? Is he prepared to pay more for imported goods, so that the foreign producer may make a fairer profit? Is he prepared to emigrate from his homeland if necessary and if he is young, in order to help the emerging nations?"Carr said the same questions deserve consideration today."Candidly," he told CNS, "the contrast between the dominant message in Washington and the call of the church could not be more stark."- - -Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @Dennis Sadowski.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Northern Ireland political leader Martin McGuinness dies at 66

IMAGE: CNS photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, ReutersBy Michael KellyDUBLIN (CNS) -- Martin McGuinness, 66, who went from being a paramilitary leader to laying the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland, died March 21. McGuinness was diagnosed with a rare heart condition in December and died in a hospital in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, surrounded by his family. The Londonderry in which McGuinness grew up was marked by deprivation and gerrymandering that ensured the majority Catholic community in the city was never able to exercise political influence. Discrimination in employment, housing and education was widespread. McGuinness was an early activist in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, formed in the late 1960s to work for equal rights for Catholics. However, he later joined the Irish Republican Army, which was leading an armed insurrection against British rule in Northern Ireland. The organization was classified as a terrorist group by the British and Irish governments and successive U.S. administrations. In 1973, McGuinness was imprisoned for six months for terrorism-related activates and later claimed he resigned from the IRA the following year. In the 1970s, he became a key figure in Sinn Fein, the political wing of Irish republicans opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland. He is credited with playing a key role in convincing the IRA to call a cease-fire in 1994 and embrace purely peaceful means. In the political talks that followed, he was named by Sinn Fein as the party's chief negotiator. Politicians said his military background in the IRA was instrumental in convincing militant republicans to keep faith in the peace process, even when they thought too many concessions were being made. He was a signatory to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which established the Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, and was subsequently appointed minister for education. In 2007, he was appointed deputy first minister of Northern Ireland -- effectively a joint prime minister role with the Rev. Ian Paisley, the leading figure within political Protestantism. The partnership of the two former political foes became a symbol of how far Northern Ireland had traveled from the days of sectarian violence. McGuinness worked closely with Rev. Paisley's successor as first minister, Peter Robinson. However, when Robinson was replaced by Arlene Foster in 2016, relations turned sour, and McGuinness resigned in January of this year. His death came as political leaders scrambled to meet a March 27 deadline to make a new deal to re-establish the power-sharing government before the British government intervenes to rule Northern Ireland directly from London. From a traditional Catholic background, McGuinness was private about his faith but always described himself as a believing Catholic and was a weekly Mass-goer. However, his stance in favor of Sinn Fein's support for same-sex marriage and more liberal laws on abortion drew criticism from within the Catholic community and pro-life activists. Leading tributes to McGuinness, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland -- president of the Irish bishops' conference -- expressed the hope that a new political deal would be a fitting tribute to McGuinness' legacy. The archbishop, who also grew up in Londonderry, said he would "remember Martin as someone who chose personally to leave behind the path of violence and to walk instead along the more challenging path of peace and reconciliation." "As a leader, he was courageous and took risks in order to bring others with him, convincing them that goals could be achieved by politics and persuasion. He channeled his many gifts into creating and sustaining the peace process, of which he was one of the key architects," he said. Archbishop Martin described McGuinness "a man of prayer, and I am personally grateful for his good wishes and encouragement to me, as a fellow Derry man, in my own vocation." Father Joe McVeigh, a priest based in Northern Ireland who considered McGuinness a close personal friend, told Catholic News Service that the politician was "one of the people mainly responsible for taking the gun out of Irish politics." The priest said McGuinness would "be forever remembered for his key role in building the peace after almost 30 years of violent conflict, when many had almost despaired of ever finding a peaceful way forward. ... He remained firm in his republican belief in a reunified Ireland, but he always showed respect to those who differed." Irish President Michael D. Higgins said "the world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland." "His death leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill," the president said. British Prime Minister Theresa May said McGuinness played a key role in ending violence. "While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence. In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace," she said.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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House bill's 'life protections' said laudable, other aspects 'troubling'

IMAGE: EPABy WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The inclusion of "critical life protections" in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits, are "troubling" and "must be addressed" before the measure is passed, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who is chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, sent a letter March 17 to House members. It was released March 20 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Regarding life protections in the bill, Bishop Dewane said: "By restricting funding which flows to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion -- including with current and future tax credits -- the legislation honors a key moral requirement for our nation's health care policy." Among the "very troubling features" of the bill are the Medicaid-related provisions, he said. Other aspects that must be addressed before the bill is passed include the absence of "any changes" from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services, Bishop Dewane said. His letter follows one sent March 8 to House members by him and three other bishops' committee chairmen stating they would be reviewing closely the American Health Care Act, introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The other signers of the earlier letter were: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration. In his March 17 letter, Bishop Dewane said one area in the new bill that could be helpful -- with "appropriate safeguards" -- is an effort to increase flexibility for states and provide more options for health care savings and different kinds of coverage based on economic levels. But still, Bishop Dewane said, "efforts to increase flexibility must be carefully undertaken so as not to undermine" a given program's "effectiveness or reach." In the House bill, Medicaid expansion would be repealed and replaced with a "per capita allotment." Under the current law, more Americans became eligible for Medicaid, so long as their states opted into the entitlement program's expansion. The House bill's "proposed modifications to the Medicaid program, a vital component of the social safety net, will have sweeping impacts, increasing economic and community costs while moving away from affordable access for all," Bishop Dewane said. He also cited the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's assessment of the bill that said "as many as 24 million additional people could be uninsured in the next 10 years for a variety of reasons." The U.S. bishops, he said, have stressed that "all people and every family must be able to see clearly how they will fit within and access the health care system in a way that truly meets their needs." The CBO estimates millions of people currently eligible for Medicaid under the law "will be negatively impacted due to reduced funding from the per capita cap" proposal, Bishop Dewane said. "State and local resources are unlikely to be sufficient to cover the gaps," he continued. Congress needs "to rework the Medicaid-related provisions of the AHCA to fix these problems and ensure access for all, and especially for those most in need," said Bishop Dewane. He also pointed out that the House measure does not provide "conscience protection against mandates to provide coverage or services, such as the regulatory interpretation of 'preventive services' requiring contraception and sterilization coverage in almost all private health plans nationwide." The mandate requiring most employers to provide such coverage even if they are morally opposed to it, he reminded House members, "has been the subject of large-scale litigation especially involving religious entities like the Little Sisters of the Poor." Bishop Dewane outlined other provisions he said need to be addressed before the legislation is passed, including: -- The new tax credit system, which "appears to create increased barriers to affordability, particularly for older and lower-income people when compared with the cost assistance" allowed under the current health care law. -- The cap on the cost of plans for older Americans relative to plans for younger people would increase to a 5-to-1 ratio over the current 3-to-1 ratio. Studies show, Bishop Dewane said, that "premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically" under the House proposal. -- A 30 percent surcharge for a 12-month period for those who do not maintain continuous coverage "presents a serious challenge." -- No longer any requirement for states to allow individuals seeking Medicaid benefits a reasonable opportunity to verify that they are either U.S. citizens or have a qualified immigration status. "This change would undoubtedly threaten eligible individuals' access to essential and early medical care, the bishop said. The current federal health care law "is, by no means, a perfect law," Bishop Dewane said, noting the U.S. bishops "registered serious objections at the time of its passage" in 2010. "However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society," he said. The U.S. bishops "look forward to working with Congress to address the problems found in the AHCA, to ensure that all people can benefit from comprehensive, quality health care that they can truly afford."- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. 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Pope apologizes for Catholics' participation in Rwanda genocide

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, pool via EPABy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Pope Francis asked God's forgiveness for the failures of the Catholic Church during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and for the hatred and violence perpetrated by some priests and religious. "He implored anew God's forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church and its members, among whom priests and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission," said a Vatican statement released March 20 after the meeting of the pope and president. Some 800,000, and perhaps as many as 1 million people -- most of whom belonged to the Tutsi ethnic group -- died in the ferocious bloodshed carried out from April to July 1994. "In light of the recent Holy Year of Mercy and of the statement published by the Rwandan Bishops at its conclusion" in November, the Vatican said, "the pope also expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a 'purification of memory' and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center." Pope Francis "conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the church, for the genocide against the Tutsi," the Vatican said. "He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events." In President Kagame's 25-minute private meeting with the pope, as well as during his meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, note was made of "the collaboration between the state and the local church in the work of national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace for the benefit of the whole nation," the Vatican said. In a statement read in churches throughout Rwanda Nov. 20, the country's bishops apologized for "all the wrongs the church committed" during the genocide. "We regret that church members violated their oath of allegiance to God's commandments" and that some Catholics were involved in planning, aiding and carrying out the massacres.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Slain Jesuit inspires another Salvadoran archbishop and an ode to martyrs

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of the Archdiocese of San SalvadorBy Rhina GuidosWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande has been credited with inspiring Blessed Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, toward a journey of defending the poor that led to his martyrdom in 1980. But now, Father Grande's life seems to have inspired the current archbishop of San Salvador, who issued a pastoral letter remembering, praising and apologizing for the long-overdue recognition of Catholics, including U.S. church members, who suffered persecution and death during Central America's armed conflicts. "In my capacity as pastor of this church, I have to acknowledge with humility that we have committed many mistakes," Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said in the letter issued March 12, the 40th anniversary of Father Grande's killing. "We have crossed the threshold of the third millennium in the Salvadoran archdiocese without having pronounced a word of recognition for all the men and women who were victims of persecution, torture, repression" and who ultimately died as martyrs, he said. The archbishop unveiled the letter in the hamlet of El Paisnal, the hometown of Father Grande, a vocal priest who worked with poor rural communities in El Salvador and advocated for better social conditions for them. He died in 1977 after being shot more than a dozen times in an ambush that also resulted in the death of two of his rural parishioners, Manuel Solorzano, a man in his 70s, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, a teenager of 15 or 16, who were accompanying him to a novena honoring St. Joseph, the patron saint of their hometown. Some say his death led Archbishop Romero, who was a close friend, to take up Father Grande's devotion to the poor. The document of more than 200 pages urges Catholics and "people of goodwill" to learn about and follow the example of Father Grande and other slain members of the church, including U.S. Father Stanley Rother, and four U.S. churchwomen who lost their lives while serving the poor of Central America in the 1980s. The Vatican announced March 13 that Father Rother, brutally murdered in 1981 while serving a poor indigenous community in Guatemala during a mission for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, will be beatified in September. Archbishop Escobar praised Father Rother, who was born on a farm, for his contributions to agriculture in Guatemala and identifying "as one more peasant" with the local community of Santiago Atitlan, where he served. He also praised four U.S. churchwomen -- Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and laywoman Jean Donovan -- who were beaten, raped and murdered by government soldiers in El Salvador in 1980. Though their work was precarious, they decided to stay with those who were suffering in the country, Archbishop Escobar said. He said he hoped all of El Salvador's Catholic martyrs would one day be recognized but focused for now on 24 lives who were "consecrated to God" and who died because of their faith: two bishops, 17 priests, a seminarian about to be ordained, three religious sisters and a lay woman. He also acknowledged that an untold number of Salvadoran "lay martyrs" whose lives are now being documented also perished. More than 70,000 are estimated to have died in the Salvadoran conflict that lasted roughly from the late 1970s until peace accords were signed in 1992. "I'm sorry that this act of justice and charity for our martyrs wasn't carried out," long ago, he said in the letter. Some of it could have been due to practices and spirituality "contrary to the renewal of the Second Vatican Council" and other church teachings from Latin America that focused on the poor and that were not always welcomed by some in the church of El Salvador. The oligarchy, and "sons and daughters of darkness," who owned much of the country's mass media, helped in those days drive a false message, one that promoted slanderous views and defamation of people who were faithful Christians, Archbishop Escobar wrote. Many Salvadorans believed that Catholic men and women who were helping the poor were communists, politically minded enemies of the system, wolves in sheep's clothing, "guerrilleros," members dangerous organizations, the archbishop said. "They were none of this. They were and are martyrs," Archbishop Escobar wrote. The letter came from an archbishop who, much like his predecessor, Archbishop Romero, made a quiet entrance to the post, but has become more active on social matters, particularly those disproportionately affecting the country's poor. His first pastoral letter issued in 2016 focused on the El Salvador's rampant violence, which has called attention to the country as one of the most dangerous places in the world not at war. Archbishop Escobar recently joined efforts asking El Salvador's legislature to ban metal mining in the country and even joined a demonstration against it. The letter, titled, "You will also testify, because you have been with me since the beginning," is a reference to the Gospel of St. John and features a cover depicting Father Grande's funeral at San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior, where Jesus greets a long of line of people dressed in white entering the church. In the illustration, Jesus holds a palm frond in one hand, a symbol of martyrdom, and the crown of thorns in the other. While the letter was issued March 12, it was publicly presented March 14, steps away from Father Grande's tomb. Father Estefan Turcios, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in El Salvador, who was in El Paisnal for the presentation, said the letter was an homage of which Father Grande was the focus. However, he said, the archbishop also deemed it important to mention the lives of others so that they, too, can serve as models to follow in a time when El Salvador is experiencing serious violence, one that is almost "worse than the war." The country still has difficulty discussing the conflict, Father Turcios said, but the letter serves as way to make others aware of what happened so it is not erased from the country's historic memory and to acknowledge those who died for the Gospel. In late 2016, the Archdiocese of El Salvador announced the completion of part of the process that it hopes soon will lead to the beatification of Father Grande and ultimately to his canonization. They also recently submitted to the Vatican documents for a case of a medical healing, a possible miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Romero, who was beatified in 2015. "What better place than here (close to) Father Rutilio Grande to make the presentation of this letter," Archbishop Escobar said during the event. "We have to honor those who deserve it. ... Let's come to know them, love them, have a devotion to them, invoke them, imitate them because they have marked an imprint in our country that we must follow. It is a beautiful imprint of fidelity to Christ, of fidelity to the Gospel. From heaven, they see us with love, they intercede for us and bless us."- - -Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Pope presides over Lenten penance service at Vatican

IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A few hours after urging priests to be generously available for the sacrament of penance, Pope Francis went to confession, then offered the sacrament to seven Catholics. Presiding over the annual Lenten penance service March 17 in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis was one of 95 priests and bishops listening to confessions and granting absolution. After the reading of a Gospel passage, the pope did not give a homily. Instead, he and the thousands of people gathered in the basilica prayed in absolute silence for 10 minutes. Pope Francis spent about four minutes kneeling before a priest in one of the wooden confessionals before he walked to one nearby, put on a purple stole and waited for the first penitent to approach. As people were preparing, confessing and praying, the Sistine Chapel Choir alternated with the organist and a harpist in ensuring an atmosphere of peace. The pope spent 50 minutes administering the sacrament before leading the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving for the experience of the "goodness and sweetness of God's love for us." The Vatican press office said Pope Francis heard the confessions of three men and four women, all laypeople. The small service booklets distributed to the congregation included a guide for an examination of conscience. The 28 questions began with a review of one's motivation for going to confession in the first place: "Do I approach the sacrament of penance out of a sincere desire for purification, conversion, renewal of life and a closer friendship with God, or do I consider it a burden that I am only rarely willing to take on?" Other questions involved how often one prays, Mass attendance, keeping the Ten Commandments, giving generously to the poor, not gossiping and keeping the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and abstinence and almsgiving.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Bagpipes, drums more than St. Patrick's Day music for the McPhees

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia BulletinBy Andrew NelsonJACKSON, Ga. (CNS) -- As a kid, Richard McPhee played the clarinet. But when his firefighter father asked for "Amazing Grace" at his funeral with the skirl of the pipes, McPhee pledged to his father, he'd take care of it. Now the family does not take a trip without the bagpipes. From national parks and Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the pipes have made an appearance. During a recent morning at their parish church, St. Mary, Mother of God in Jackson, the boom of the drum and the pipes could be heard from the parking lot. It was Missy McPhee swinging the mallets with a flourish, keeping the beat to Rich's pipes for "Scotland the Brave." This was a rare unscheduled morning for the McPhees, especially in March. The couple has plenty of performances on and before St. Patrick's Day -- in Atlanta and outside the city. The McPhees are members of the Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums USA. The band performed in Atlanta's St. Patrick's Day Parade, held March 11. The day before Richard played at the annual tribute to Civil War pastor Father Thomas O'Reilly at Atlanta City Hall. The McPhees are natives of Rochester, New York. They grew up in the same parish, St. Jerome. Born to families with generations of firefighters and police officers, they trace Celtic roots to Scottish and Irish immigrants. They knew each other as teens, but only because Richard was friends with Missy's older brother. There weren't any romantic sparks. That is until Richard came home from the U.S. Military Academy and called her. That began a courtship. They exchanged vows at their parish on St. Patrick's Day in 1979. That was the start of an itinerant career in the military of more than 30 years. "We left, and we never really went home," he told The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. There were deployments to conflict zones, from the deserts of the Middle East to the Balkans and the Korean Peninsula. There were more than 20 moves over the years. Through it all, the two credit their faith for keeping their family together. The Catholic chapel on a military installation became an instant source of friends as the McPhee family packed up to a new state or country, with three children in tow. Shared faith tied the family together through all those hardships, Missy said about the constant moving. "That is the core of our family, our faith." One of the big tests was during the Gulf War in 1991. Missy was giving birth in a hospital in Germany to their youngest child. "I was in the desert," Richard said. "You better have a strong faith." They finally settled in central Georgia after serving at military bases around the South. He retired holding the rank of brigadier general after a tour at the now-closed Fort McPherson in Atlanta. Their son, Rich, graduated in 2009 from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fayetteville, and from the U.S. Military Academy in 2013. He serves in the Army. Their two daughters work, one as a social worker and the other as a physician assistant. Missy and Richard's kilts are green with red stripes of the Murray tartan. With a nod to the family tree, the neckties are the color of the McPhee family clan. Pins of the crests of the McPhee clan and her Connell clan decorate Missy's Glengarry cap. Along with them is a service flag pin with two stars for their active duty son and daughter-in-law. Missy, 58, on the tenor drum, and Richard, 60, on the pipes, acknowledged playing in a Celtic band may not be for everyone. But Atholl Highlanders works with anyone, no prior musical experience necessary. They'll teach anyone to play the drums and the bagpipes. "There are only nine notes. Simple," Richard said. Founded 30 years ago, Atholl Highlanders is a nonprofit organization that has earned top awards at the Savannah Scottish Games and the Charleston Scottish Games in South Carolina in recent years. The pipes are a part of the family. "We go nowhere without our pipes," acknowledged Richard, who in 2014 fulfilled his father's wish that at his funeral he play "Amazing Grace" on the pipes. While still on active duty as a general, Richard even played for the couple's son on his first day as a West Point cadet. His father told him to open his window at 9 p.m. Richard stood on the parade grounds and proceeded to play. National parks, family vacations, no reason necessary; the McPhee children had to get used to being embarrassed. "They have been a part of our life," Richard said. - - - Nelson is a staff writer at The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.- - -Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.