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U.S. bishops' pro-life chairman asks Catholics to serve mothers in need

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In marking the "sorrowful anniversary" Jan. 22 of the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing abortion nationwide, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee said the Catholic Church's pastoral response to all mothers in need "will soon intensify."

The nation's Catholic bishops are being asked to invite the parishes in their dioceses to join a nationwide effort called "Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service" from March 25 of this year through March 25, 2021.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced the new initiative on the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The new program has its own website: www.walkingwithmoms.com.

The archbishop noted that the special day of prayer marks the "tragic" Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton of Jan. 22, 1973. The rulings in the companion cases legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy across the country.

"The church will never abandon her efforts to reverse these terrible decisions that have led to the deaths of millions of innocent children and the traumatization of countless women and families," Archbishop Naumann said.

"As the church and growing numbers of pro-life Americans continue to advocate for women and children in courthouses and legislatures," he said, "the church's pastoral response is focused on the needs of women facing pregnancies in challenging circumstances. While this has long been the case, the pastoral response will soon intensify," with the yearlong service project "Walking with Moms in Need."

In "recognizing that women in need can be most effectively reached at the local level," Archbishop Naumann explained, the year of service "invites parishes to assess, communicate, and expand resources to expectant mothers within their own communities."

The U.S. bishops will be providing "resources, outreach tools and models to assist parishes in this important effort," he said.

"We pray that 'Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service' will help us reach every pregnant mother in need, that she may know she can turn to her local Catholic community for help and authentic friendship," the archbishop added.

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Hospitality is an important ecumenical virtue, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Showing hospitality makes a person a better human being and a better Christian and is an important part of promoting Christian unity, Pope Francis said.

"Working together to live with ecumenical hospitality, particularly toward those whose lives are most vulnerable, will make us -- all Christians, Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians -- better human beings, better disciples and a more united Christian people," the pope said Jan. 22 during his weekly general audience.

Christians today, like the people of Malta who welcomed St. Paul and his companions who were shipwrecked on their island, must show hospitality to and care for those who flee violence and persecution, he said.

"Unfortunately, they sometimes encounter even the worst hostility," he said. "They are exploited by criminal traffickers today; they are treated as numbers and as a threat by some leaders today; sometimes inhospitality rejects them as a wave carrying poverty or the very dangers from which they were fleeing."

In his audience talk, the pope reflected on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place Jan. 18-25. The theme for the 2020 celebration, "They showed us unusual kindness," is taken from St. Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles of the hospitality shown by the people of Malta to St. Paul and his companions.

St. Paul and the other passengers of the ship were welcomed by the Maltese people, who gave them food and shelter "even though they had not yet received the Good News of Christ," the pope said.

The virtue of hospitality, he added, "means recognizing that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ."

"We are brothers and sisters," the pope said. "Someone may tell you, 'But that one is a Protestant, that one is Orthodox.' Yes, but we are brothers and sisters in Christ."

The pope said ecumenical hospitality means showing God's love to others and "a willingness to listen to other Christians, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and the history of their community."

"I think about the past, in my land for example, when some Evangelical ministers came," the pope said, "a small group of Catholics burned their tents. This isn't Christian. We are brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters and we must give hospitality to one another."

With so many migrants and refugees facing "risky voyages to escape violence, war and poverty," Pope Francis called on Christians to set aside their differences and work together to show them "the love of God revealed by Jesus Christ" and that "each person is precious to God.

"The divisions that still exist between us prevent us from being fully the sign of God's love for the world, which is our vocation and mission," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Bishop Strickland says he asked pope about McCarrick report

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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said he asked Pope Francis about the Vatican investigation into Theodore E. McCarrick and the release of a promised report on how the former cardinal managed to rise through the church ranks.

The bishop, who was making his "ad limina" visit to Rome, drew widespread attention in August 2018 for a public statement saying he found "credible" the allegations made by retired Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio to the United States, regarding McCarrick.

Archbishop Vigano alleged that top Vatican officials, including Pope Francis, knew for years that McCarrick had been accused of sexual misconduct.

Bishop Strickland at the time called for a "thorough investigation, similar to those conducted any time allegations are deemed to be credible."

"Pope Francis was great" in answering all the questions of the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas during an audience Jan. 20, Bishop Strickland told Catholic News Service the next day. But the pope did ask the bishops not to share certain details about the discussion.

Bishop Strickland said he does not regret what he said in his 2018 letter -- "honestly, I guess I didn't realize how controversial it was at that time" -- but as someone who studied canon law and as a bishop, "credible allegations" must be investigated and dealt with.

"If I regretted anything," he said, it would be that Archbishop Vigano called for Pope Francis to resign. "I never intended to embrace that, because that's a major thing to say."

"I certainly didn't want to validate that," Bishop Strickland said, "but I said these allegations about McCarrick need to be investigated, and they have been and the report, according to Pope Francis yesterday," will be published.

"I'm a Catholic bishop. Of course, I support the vicar of Christ," he said.

The summer of 2018 had been difficult for Catholics, beginning with the news in June that McCarrick had been suspended from ministry, followed by dozens of stories detailing his sexual misconduct with seminarians and then allegations of sexual abuse of children; McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals in July; and the release in August of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse and its cover up in six dioceses.

Bishop Strickland said the priests and faithful of his diocese "were devastated at that time," and his reaction to Archbishop Vigano's report could be seen as him "taking on the smell of my sheep," as Pope Francis would say.

The bishop said he knew people are frustrated that it is taking so long for the report to be published, but "an institution that's been around 2,000 years doesn't turn on a dime."

When the report on McCarrick is published, he said, there will be a "dust-up" in the media, and it likely will cause Catholics more pain, but it also could bring "a sense of closure."

"I've always said that what hit the news with McCarrick began this moment of pain and struggle and confusion in the life of the church. It won't magically disappear with this report," Bishop Strickland said, but it should help people move forward.

"It's about the victims. It's about the children of God who have suffered through the negligence and bad acting of bishops, priests and other members of the church," he said. The report should help McCarrick's victims by acknowledging how the church failed to protect them.

Asked if he believed Archbishop Vigano's accusation that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick's misconduct with seminarians as early as 2013, Bishop Strickland said, "Honestly, I'd have to say I do not know."

But some of the things the pope told the bishops "makes you realize that it's always a bigger picture than maybe the slice you are looking at," he said, while insisting he could not say more. "I certainly am not ready to judge the actions in the moment of any of the pontiffs" who were in office during McCarrick's rise from priest to bishop to cardinal.

Bishop Strickland admitted he was "a bit nervous" about meeting Pope Francis for the first time, but the bishops' Mass that morning at the tomb of St. Peter was a reminder that God calls men, flawed human beings, to cooperate with his grace and "to guide the church inspired by the Holy Spirit."

 

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Supreme Court to reexamine contraceptive mandate for religious employers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Little Sisters of the Poor are once again going to the Supreme Court.

The order of women religious who care for the elderly poor have been down this road before, twice defending their right to not comply with the government's health law requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Now the court is about to look at the Affordable Health Care's contraceptive mandate from a different angle, examining if the Trump administration can legally allow religious employers to opt out of the mandate.

In 2013, religious groups and houses of worship were granted a religious exemption by the Supreme Court from the government's mandate in the Affordable Care Act to include coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan.

Three years later, religious nonprofit groups challenged the requirement they comply with the mandate and the court sent the cases back to the lower courts with instructions for the federal government and the challengers to try to work out a solution agreeable to both sides.

In 2017, religious groups were given further protection from the contraceptive mandate through an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit religious ministries, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the contraceptive mandate.

HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey obtained a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate; that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.

This is where the Little Sisters come in. They appealed the circuit court's ruling and asked the Supreme Court to step in.

In one of the two consolidated cases, Trump v. Pennsylvania, the administration has argued that the exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious groups were authorized by the health care law and required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Lawyers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey said the administration lacked statutory authority to issue such regulations and said the government did not follow proper administrative procedures.

The second case will examine if the Little Sisters of the Poor had the standing to appeal the 3rd Circuit ruling since a separate court order had already allowed them to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

"It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court," said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. "We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the justices will reinforce their previous decision," she said in a statement.

Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the sisters, agreed, saying: "It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest."

The oral arguments, which will be heard by the court later this spring are the combined cases of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the-court brief Nov. 1, siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor and stressing that the court needs to set the record straight particularly with its interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

RFRA -- which says, "Governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification" -- was passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The USCCB brief said there was a compelling need to review this case not only because the 3rd Circuit Court decision conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings on this topic in Hobby Lobby and Zubik decisions, but because its ruling "threatens to reduce one of America's leading civil rights laws to virtual impotence," referring to RFRA.

This case, like previous ones, it said, asks if RFRA protects the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers from federal regulations requiring most large employers to include contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans.

It emphasized that RFRA essentially hangs in the balance because the appeals court "adopted a grudging interpretation of the statute that will, unless reversed, too often deny protection for religious people and institutions."

"Only this court's intervention can ensure that RFRA remains a meaningful security for religious freedom," it added.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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Integral development for all is a moral duty, pope tells leaders at Davos

IMAGE: CNS photo/Denis Balibouse, Reute

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told global business and government leaders that everyone has the moral responsibility to seek the integral development of all people, but especially those who are in need, suffering injustice or whose lives are threatened.

"The moral obligation to care for one another flows from this fact," which must never be forgotten, that "we are all members of the one human family," he said in a message read to those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Likewise, this means putting the human person, "rather than the mere pursuit of power or profit, at the very center of public policy," he wrote.

The pope's message was read to the assembly Jan. 21 by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; he attended the forum as the Vatican's representative.

The annual meeting in Davos Jan. 21-24 brought together people representing business, government, academia and media to discuss the theme, "Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World."

With the World Economic Forum celebrating its 50th anniversary, Pope Francis said it has offered opportunities "to explore innovative and effective ways of building a better world. It has also provided an arena where political will and mutual cooperation can be guided and strengthened in overcoming the isolationism, individualism and ideological colonization that sadly characterizes too much contemporary debate."

As the world begins a new decade, he said, the duty to put people first and protect their dignity "is incumbent upon business sectors and governments alike," and must be part of the search for "equitable solutions to the challenges we face."

"It is necessary to move beyond short-term technological or economic approaches and to give full consideration to the ethical dimension in seeking resolutions to present problems or proposing initiatives for the future," the pope said in his message.

When practices and structures are "driven largely, or even solely, by self-interest," he wrote, they often only see people as "a means to an end," which, in turn "gives rise to real injustice."

"A truly integral human development can only flourish when all members of the human family are included in, and contribute to, pursuing the common good," he said.

"In seeking genuine progress," he said, "let us not forget that to trample upon the dignity of another person is in fact to weaken one's own worth."

Pope Francis acknowledged the achievements made over the past 50 years and said he hoped those taking part in this year's and future forums "will keep in mind the high moral responsibility each of us has to seek the integral development of all our brothers and sisters, including those of future generations."

"May your deliberations lead to a growth in solidarity, especially with those most in need, who experience social and economic injustice and whose very existence is even threatened," he said.

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Pope decries 'barbaric resurgence' of anti-Semitism

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By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned the "barbaric resurgence" of anti-Semitism and criticized the selfish indifference that is creating the conditions for division, populism and hatred.

"I will never tire of firmly condemning every form of anti-Semitism," the pope told a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles that combats hate and anti-Semitism around the world.

Meeting the delegation at the Vatican Jan. 20, the pope said, "It is troubling to see, in many parts of the world, an increase in a selfish indifference" that cares only about whatever is easy for oneself and lacks concern for others.

It is an attitude that believes "life is good as long as it is good for me, and when things go wrong, anger and malice are unleashed. This creates a fertile ground for the forms of factionalism and populism we see around us. Hatred rapidly grows on this ground," he added.

To tackle the root cause of the problem, he said, "we must commit ourselves also to tilling the soil in which hatred grows and sowing peace instead."

With integration and seeking to understand others, "we more effectively protect ourselves," the pope said, therefore, it is "urgent to reintegrate those who are marginalized, to reach out to those far away" and support those who have been "discarded" and to help people who are victims of intolerance and discrimination.  

Pope Francis noted that Jan. 27 would mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from Nazi forces.

Recalling his own visit in 2016 to the extermination camp, he underlined how important it is to make time for moments of reflection and silence, so as to better hear "the plea of suffering humanity."

Today's consumer culture is also gluttonous with words, he said, churning out so many "useless" words, wasting so much time on "arguing, accusing, shouting insults with no concern for what we say."

"Silence, on the other hand, helps to keep memory alive. If we lose our memory, we destroy our future," he said.

The commemoration of "the unspeakable cruelty that humanity learned of 75 years ago," he said, should "serve as a summons to pause," be silent and remember.

"We need to do this, so we don't become indifferent," he said.

And he asked that Christians and Jews continue to use their shared spiritual patrimony to serve all people and to create ways of drawing closer together.

"If we do not do this -- we who believe in Him who from on high remembered us and showed compassion for our weaknesses -- then who will?"  

 

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Germany's synodal assembly a step to rebuilding church's credibility

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FRANKFURT, Germany (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Germany have compiled responses from lay Catholics in areas related to who holds power in the church, sexual morals, the role of priests and the place of women in church offices in preparation for an upcoming synodal assembly to debate church reforms.

More than 940 suggestions and questions had been submitted by early January in advance of the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 assembly in Frankfurt, reported KNA, the German Catholic news agency.

The synodal assembly is one segment of the synodal path, which the German bishops agreed to stage at their annual meeting last March.

The synodal assembly will include 230 members. It is the highest decision-making body of the synodal path, an effort by the bishops' conference and lay Central Committee of German Catholics to restore trust following a September 2018 church-commissioned report that detailed thousands of cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy over six decades.

Comments will continue to be accepted through Jan. 23 at the website of the German bishops' conference.

The bishops and the lay group are collaborating in planning the synodal assembly. During a September plenary meeting, the bishops approved statutes to guide discussions at the assembly.

The bishops' conference and the committee each will send 69 members to the assembly. Decisions of the assembly must be passed by a double two-thirds majority: two-thirds of all participants as well as two-thirds of all members present from the bishops' conference.

German church officials say the synodal assembly is not meant to be a synod in the classic sense.

In describing the synodal path, KNA reported that the inclusion of the term synodal in the name of the reform process reflects that the dialogue, initially limited to two years, is more than a nonbinding conversation. As with a synod, each respective local bishop will determine whether the decisions reached will be implemented.

Several high-ranking church leaders have weighed in on the upcoming assembly.

Bishop Franz Jung of Wurzburg called for greater patience in the debates on church reform.

The synodal path to discuss reforms was "initially, first and foremost, about the church in German forming an opinion," Bishop Jung told a new year's reception in Wurzburg. "It is still unclear what decision-making scope will be granted to individual local churches and how much regional diversity Catholic unity can take."

KNA reported he said it also was unclear if there could be different speeds on the path to a renewed church.

The synodal path will be judged by the extent to which divergent views will be allowed to be heard, Bishop Jung explained. It is important "that one endeavors to lead the discussion objectively and above all to preserve the inner unity as far as possible," he said. "It's an enthralling task."

However, several German church leaders, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, have voiced skepticism of the synodal path.

They have maintained that any decisions within the church should be left to the bishops alone. In addition, they have said the synodal path should not be interpreted as a "quasi-parliamentary vote on faith."

Other observers have said the most controversial issues confronting the church cannot be decided in Germany and can only be addressed within the Vatican on behalf of the worldwide church.

Elsewhere, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen called on the German church to embrace the synodal path of reform discussions as a chance to make a fresh start and to become "smaller and more humble."

KNA reported that in a statement read at all parishes of the diocese in early January, the bishop called for the church to allow "differentiated, multi-layered answers and refrain from raising itself above other people in a know-all and arrogant manner."

Bishop Overbeck called on the church to discuss the issue of power within its institutions, adding that more controls needed to be imposed. He also said the church must address celibacy, which placed a heavy burden on many priests.

Issues of sexual morality and partnership needed to be reassessed, and many people found it unacceptable that women were kept out of the most important positions of the church, the bishop added.

Earlier, in a new year's homily, Bishop Overbeck described gender justice as an "issue of the century" and urged the church to address it.

However, KNA reported in mid-January the bishop said he did not want to raise false expectations regarding the ordination of women in the upcoming discussions.

"But I also belong to those bishops who do not want to slam the door shut in that regard," he told a meeting of 400 priests and laypeople from through the Essen Diocese.

Increasing the role of women in the church is one of the core issues to be debated in the synod assembly. Church officials have repeatedly pointed out, however, that St. John Paul II declared in 1994 that the church had "no authority whatsoever" to ordain women as priests.

A statement on the bishops' conference website said the "dissatisfaction of many believers" was the starting point for the synodal path, which would be the first national consultation since a 1971-1975 synod at Wurzburg on implementing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

It added the issues of priestly celibacy and the ordination of women could only be "addressed and clarified" by the whole Catholic Church.

 

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Gratitude to God should expand hearts, lead to hospitality, pope says

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Every Christian should be grateful for the gift of his or her baptism, and that gratitude should draw them together to recognize that they are brothers and sisters and called to pursue holiness together, Pope Francis said.

Welcoming an ecumenical pilgrimage from Finland to the Vatican Jan. 17, Pope Francis told the Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian leaders that all Christians are called "to witness to the good news in the midst of their daily life."

Hospitality to the stranger and to those in need is a particularly strong form of witness, the pope said on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated Jan. 18-25.

The theme chosen for this year's commemoration is "They showed us unusual kindness," a quote from St. Paul, writing about the experience of being shipwrecked in Malta.

"As baptized Christians, we believe that Christ wishes to meet us precisely in those who are -- whether literally or figuratively -- shipwrecked in life," Pope Francis told his guests. "Those who show hospitality grow richer, not poorer. Whoever gives, receives in return."

The gratitude Christians feel for the gift of baptism "links and expands our hearts, and opens them to our neighbor, who is not an adversary but our beloved brother, our beloved sister," the pope said.

 

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Update: '9 Days for Life' prayer, action campaign takes place Jan. 21-29

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholics across the country are invited to take part in the 9 Days for Life is a novena for the protection of human life. Each day's intention is accompanied by a short reflection and suggested actions to help build a culture of life.

The pro-life novena, sponsored by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, coincides with the annual March for Life that takes place in Washington every January to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the country. This year's march takes place Jan. 24.

But "even if you can't come to D.C., you can join others to witness and pray for an end to abortion," said Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications at the USCCB. "We ask all of the faithful to unite in prayer to protect the rights of unborn children, to end the violence of abortion, and for greater respect for human life."

According to Talalas, thousands of Catholics across the country have already signed up for 9 Days for Life. By signing up online at 9daysforlife.com, participants will receive a daily prayer intention, a reflection and suggested actions via email, text or through an app.

The novena encompasses the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children Jan. 22, the day the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. The USCCB pro-life committee began the novena in 2013 in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Roe.

The "9 Days for Life" website also has materials, in English and Spanish, for parish leaders to share. For each day there is an intercession, prayers, a reflection, "acts of reparation" and "one step further," describing one more suggested action for novena participants to take.

For example, the intercession for "Day One" is: "May the tragic practice of abortion end," followed by the Our Father, three Hail Marys and the Glory Be. The reflection for the day says in part: "At every stage and in every circumstance, we are held in existence by God's love. ... Christ invites us to embrace our own lives and the lives of others as true gifts. Abortion tragically rejects the truth that every life is a good and perfect gift, deserving protection."

The suggested "acts of reparation" for the first day are: Take a break from television and movies and consider spending some of that time praying with the day's reflection. Or pray the short prayer "Every Life Is Worth Living," reflecting on the gift of human life. (It can be downloaded www.usccb.org/worth-living.) Or offer some other sacrifice, prayer, or act of penance that you feel called to do for the day's intention.

For "one step further," novena participants are encouraged to read more about abortion, in particular the article "Another Look at Abortion," available at www.respectlife.org/another-look-at-abortion, which provides a basic overview and summarizes key points. "This article will help you be better prepared to witness to the sanctity of human life," it says.

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Protect your health, physically and spiritually, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus healed people of all sorts of physical ailments, but he always started with the essential -- forgiving their sins, Pope Francis said.

"We should take good care of our bodies, but also our souls," the pope said Jan. 17, preaching about the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus healing the paralytic.

"Jesus teaches us to go to what is essential," the pope said at morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "What is essential is health, complete, body and soul."

Just like a person who is sick tries to find the right doctor to cure that ailment, he said, when a person's spiritual health is in danger, "we go to that physician who can heal us, who can forgive our sins. Jesus came for this reason; he gave his life for this."

In the day's reading from the Gospel of St. Mark, a paralytic is hoping for physical healing, the pope said. But Jesus says to him, "Child, your sins are forgiven."

Only later does he tell the man to get up and walk.

"Physical healing is a gift, physical health is a gift that we must safeguard," the pope said. "But the Lord teaches us that we must safeguard the health of our hearts -- our spiritual health -- as well."

And, he said, the first step to any kind of healing is recognizing that one is unwell.

Simply saying, "Yes, yes, we are all sinners," isn't enough, the pope said. That just "waters down" the serious consequences of sin and the need for healing. "Today Jesus says to each of us, 'I want to forgive your sins.'"

 

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