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Update: President Trump issues new guidance on prayer in public schools

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump announced his administration's new guidance on prayer in public schools during a Jan. 16 event in the Oval Office on National Religious Freedom Day.

Primarily, it will require states to report cases where public school students have been denied their right to pray.

Ahead of the event -- which was delayed from a 2 p.m. (EST) start to about 4 p.m. -- material on the guidance was provided to reporters in a background briefing the morning of Jan. 16.

In a separate proposed rule, the administration aims to protect the rights of religious student groups at public universities, giving them equal treatment with secular student groups.

For schools to receive federal funding, they will need to certify once a year with state education departments that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students from constitutionally protected prayer, a senior administration official said.

State departments of education also would have to report to the U.S. Department of Education each year with a list of local school boards that failed to make the required certification as well as complaints made to that department about a local school board or school that has been accused of denying students or teachers their right to engage in constitutionally protected prayer.

The new guidance also stipulates that state education offices provide a clear process for people to report complaints about school boards or schools that have denied students or teachers their right to prayer which will in turn be sent to the federal Education Department. Similarly, state education offices will need to report to the Education Department any lawsuits against a local school or school board concerning rights to pray.

At an evening event marking National Religious Freedom Day, Jennie Bradley Lichter, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, said the guidance was important because "you don't lose your constitutional rights when you walk in a public school."

She said the event included students -- Muslims, Jewish, evangelical and Catholic -- who had been punished for something related to religion.

One of the students, William McLeod, a Catholic at a public school in Utah, told those at the ceremony: "So it all started when I walked in the classroom. ... It was Ash Wednesday, and I had my ashes on my forehead, and all the kids in the classroom was like, 'Is that dirt on your forehead?' Because they don't know, because they aren't Catholic and they were all Mormon."

"So then the teacher came up and was like, 'It's unacceptable. Wipe it off.' And I told her four times, and she didn't listen and she made me wipe it off in front of all the kids."

William told the president: "I just don't want anyone to feel like that."

Trump mentioned school prayer in his Jan. 3 address to evangelicals in Miami where he praised an effort in Tennessee to expand school prayer. Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a school district saying it sponsored prayer assemblies and the distribution of Bibles.

"I will be taking action to safeguard students' and teachers' First Amendment rights to pray in their schools," Trump told the Florida gathering.

The Supreme Court has taken up the issue of school prayer multiple times. In the 1960s, it said that school-sponsored prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment but that students are permitted to pray alone or in groups at school if other students weren't compelled to participate.

In 1992, the court ruled against prayer at graduations and eight years later it said prayers said on a public address system at school games also violated the Establishment Clause.

 

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Update: Knights, N.Y. Archdiocese and others providing aid to quake victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters

By

PONCE, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Jose Lebron-Sanabria, a Knight of Columbus and a general insurance agent for the fraternal organization, is coordinating assistance to Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes.

He led the Knights' recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico in September 2017. Among other efforts this time, he is working with the Diocese of Ponce to bring food, water and nutrition drinks, like Glucerna and Ensure, to a religious monastery, home to 25 elderly nuns.

"I have a tool to offer my community and that is the Knights of Columbus," Lebron-Sanabria said in a statement. The island is home to 5,240 Knights and 81 councils.

The series of earthquakes, the highest being a magnitude 6.4, has leveled towns and parish churches on the southern coast of the island. Gov. Wanda Vazquez Garced has declared a state of emergency. Aftershocks continue to rock Puerto Rico.

The Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Connecticut, has established an online portal for donations for those affected by the quakes: https://bit.ly/2FN5pG0. Catholic Charities USA has established a Puerto Rico disaster relief fund that can accessed online at https://bit.ly/30hHwQd.

In addition, the Archdiocese of New York is raising funds for Puerto Rico assistance. In a Jan. 10 letter, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan asked priests of the archdiocese to raise funds to help the quake victims through a second collection at Mass.

In his letter, the cardinal said he was reluctant to ask for a second collection in the parishes, but, "given the unique relationship we share with Puerto Rico, I believe our people will respond generously if asked to show their support, as they have always done."

He also noted that the Puerto Rico is still struggling to overcome the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, making assistance even more critical.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and the archdiocese itself, have already sent a combined $80,000 to Caritas Puerto Rico, which is helping lead the relief efforts.

On Jan. 16, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, asked parishes in his diocese to take up a special voluntary collection for earthquake victims during weekend Masses Jan. 18 and 19. The diocese will send the money collected for distribution and direct assistance to the Archdiocese of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by this terrible natural disaster," the bishop said in a statement announcing the collection. "We also must remember that Puerto Rico continues to recover from the devastating effects caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, which affected the infrastructure, health services, education, energy and telecommunications networks on the island."

In Puerto Rico, Jose Vazquez-Padilla, the Knights' state deputy, and other Knights purchased 20 canopies to bring to the now homeless living outside of San Antonio Abad Church in Guanica. Not only were they providing immediate shelter, but more than 300 Knights cooked 1,000 hot meals Jan. 12 for those affected by the earthquakes in Guayanilla.

According to Father Segismundo Cintron, a Knight of Columbus from Don Juan Ponce de Leon Council 1719, 20,000 people from the town of Guanica were living and sleeping outdoors. Every structure in town has been deemed unsafe and uninhabitable in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

In Guayanilla, Immaculate Conception Church lost both of its bell towers and collapsed due to the seismic activity. The nearly 180-year-old church withstood a large earthquake in 1918, but now the only thing left is the parish courtyard, where Father Melvin Diaz Aponte has been celebrating Mass.

The priest, a Knight from Council 1719, told EFE News of his sadness witnessing the pain of the parishioners.

"We want to support them, help them and do what we have to do, as we all should," he said.

He assured the congregation that they will rebuild, according to The New York Times.

Immaculate Conception is one of three churches destroyed by the earthquakes. Knights have brought the churches canopies so the parish priests will be able to continue Masses for their congregations.

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Hearing cites successes, undone work in protecting trafficking victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a Jan. 15 hearing to celebrate the act cited numerous successes -- including the passage of four subsequent bills to further clamp down on trafficking -- but noted work yet to do to keep both children and adults safe from others who would exploit them for sex or cheap labor.

Rep. Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the House's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said few in Congress signed on when he first sponsored the bill. "For most people at that time -- including lawmakers -- the term 'trafficking' applied almost exclusively to drugs and weapons, not human beings," he said.

The act, Smith said, included a number of "sea change" provisions, "including treating as a victim -- and not a perpetrator of a crime -- anyone exploited by a commercial sex act who had not attained the age of 18 and anyone older where there was an element of force, fraud or coercion."

He added, "Thousands of human traffickers have been prosecuted and jailed pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act including all charges brought against (billionaire financier) Jeffrey Epstein (who committed suicide in his jail cell before trial) and the infamous convictions involving the 'Smallville' actress Allison Mack."

Smith, who chaired the hearing, said the law "is working as intended. In just over two years, the U.S. government has notified foreign governments of the planned travel of 10,541 covered sex offenders to their countries. As of July, 3,681 individuals who were convicted of sex crimes against children were denied entry by these nations."

Reciprocity is another feature of the law, as other countries now notify the U.S. government if a convicted sex offender is planning to travel from their nation to the United States, Smith said.

Limnyuy Konglim, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission's U.S. Liaison Office in Washington, testified that "faith-based actors" play a "critical role" in protecting both communities and individuals. Konglim said her commission's work is "inspired by the holy Bible, as well as by the ongoing teaching and tradition" of the church.

Partnering with local groups, the ICMC has worked since 1999 to "prevent and respond to human trafficking, provide direct assistance to survivors, conduct international advocacy on behalf of those most vulnerable to human trafficking, and train border officials to strengthen identification of trafficked victims and increase prosecution of traffickers," Konglim said. "We continuously and actively engage with our faith-based partners to ensure that the needs of affected communities are identified and appropriate services are sought."

She lauded last year's pastoral orientations on human trafficking issued by the Vatican, as well as Pope Francis' leadership on the issue. "We are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country," the pope said. Therefore, he added, "we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself."

Trafficking issues, though, persist both in the United States and worldwide.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, the other co-chair of the Tom Lantos Commission -- named after the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress -- criticized the Chinese government's treatment of ethnic minorities, singling out Tibetans and Uighur Muslims, estimating there are 1 million Uighurs in government-run camps.

Witness Neha Misra, a senior specialist in migration and human trafficking for the Solidarity Center, a project of the AFL-CIO that deals with labor rights around the world, said similar problems exist in Indonesia, although the perpetrators tend to be companies and not government. Still, "items made from their forced labor appear on grocery and retail shelves" in the United States, she said.

Liat Shetret, a senior adviser at cryptocurrency compliance tools provider Elliptic, said traffickers are now turning to "privacy coins" to evade scrutiny. She cautioned, though, against banning privacy coins, saying it would be akin to "shooting ourselves in the foot" as other nations, especially China, are developing their own cryptocurrencies.

Lori Cohen, executive director of ECPAT-USA -- originally known as End Child Prostitution and Trafficking -- testified that while women and girls are most commonly thought of as the victims of human trafficking, the phrase "and boys" also must be added.

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Young adults make 'deep dive' into faith during 'ad limina' visit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Supporting and supported by their bishops, 25 young adults from Minnesota and North Dakota made a pilgrimage "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- in mid-January.

The delegation of women and men, single and married, ages 21-35 flew to Rome with the bishops of Region VIII, who are required by church law to make the "ad limina" visits to pray at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul and to meet with the pope and top Vatican officials.

Many dioceses offer pilgrimages to coincide with their bishops' "ad limina" visits, but the Region VIII trip was different: Young adults were invited last May to apply to make the trip either by providing a letter of recommendation from someone who would attest to their leadership in evangelization or by writing a short essay on how Christ has worked through others to draw them closer to him.

While the region's bishops met Pope Francis Jan. 13, the young pilgrims met him two days later after the pope's weekly general audience. Two young men came bearing white zucchetti -- the papal skullcaps -- and the pope put each on his head, then handed it back as a souvenir.

Mychael Schilmoeller, 33, the pastoral care minister at St. Michael parish in Prior Lake, Minnesota, received special attention from Pope Francis. Noticing her belly, he asked when her baby is due. She told him, "St. Patrick's Day," and he blessed her unborn baby and gently touched her.

"I don't usually like people touching me, but it was a beautiful blessing," she said.

Schilmoeller said the bishops' invitation to young adults to join them for the "ad limina" is "a sign of hope, a sign of a willingness to listen to young people, a willingness to change some things, perhaps."

Vincenzo Randazzo of the Office of Evangelization of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis came up with the idea for the pilgrimage and presented it to Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, who, he said, responded, "Let's do it."

"I want everything we do to be an effort to evangelization," Randazzo told Catholic News Service. If the pilgrimage simply had a first-come-first-served sign-up policy, "we'd get the choir," instead of a mix of young adults who are or potentially are evangelizers of their peers.

Will Herrmann, a 30-year-old computer programmer and member of St. Bonaventure parish in Bloomington, Minnesota, was the newest Catholic in the group. He entered the church last Easter.

Although he was surprised to be chosen for the pilgrimage, he said he applied because "I wanted to dive into the deep end of my faith."

Speaking to CNS near the tomb of St. Paul, he said, "I feel like I married into this family and now I'm meeting the relatives -- the saints."

One thing the pilgrims have in common, Randazzo said, is how much of their time is spent online, including when seeking information about the faith.

As opposed to that "virtual reality," Randazzo said, "Rome has lots of stuff" with art and architecture and the actual places where Sts. Peter and Paul and a host of other saints lived, died and were buried.

Another pilgrim, Mary Evinger, 29, the director of religious education at St. Joseph's parish in Williston, North Dakota, is planning to bring high school students to Rome precisely for that reason.

"They're just on their screens, and just seeing an image isn't the same," she said. "You don't get that awe of being there."

"Being there" -- in the basilicas, the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum -- was a big motivator for Evinger to apply for the pilgrimage, she said. But she also wanted to be with the region's bishops and with Pope Francis.

Organizing the pilgrimage was part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' ongoing response to young adults who wrote Archbishop Hebda an open letter in 2018 about what they want from the church, the archbishop told CNS.

The youthful pilgrims, the archbishop said, told the bishops they were making the pilgrimage "to pray for Pope Francis and then to pray for their bishops."

Most of the pilgrims already have completed university and are "trying to figure out where they are in the church now that they are working and living on their own," he said. They want to know where God is calling them to serve.

"It's no secret that one of the things that the church, at least in the United States, struggles with is young people drifting at times," Archbishop Hebda said, so when the region's bishops met Pope Francis, they assured him "there also were young people who were very much involved in the church, who loved him and certainly the way he articulates his ministry."

Randazzo said it is easy for Catholics to notice the scandals and the problems afflicting the church, but "it takes courage to recognize God is doing something incredible," and the growing faith of many young adults is one of those things.

 

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The greater the sinner, the greater God's love, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God shows the greatest love and compassion for the greatest sinners, Pope Francis said.

The Lord "has come precisely for us sinners and the greater the sinner you are, the closer the Lord is to you because he has come for you, the greatest sinner; for me, the greatest sinner; for all of us," the pope said in his homily Jan. 16 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark, in which Jesus' takes pity on and heals a leper who kneeled before him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean."

In saying "if you wish," the pope explained, the leper "attracts God's attention" and makes an "act of faith" because he saw that Jesus acted with compassion toward those who suffer.

"This was Jesus' mission," the pope said. "Jesus did not come to preach the law and then go away. Jesus came with compassion, that is, to suffer with and for us and to give his life. The love of Jesus is so great that compassion brought him to the cross, to give his life."

Pope Francis said that Christians should pray to God like the leper did -- by acknowledging their sinfulness and asking for mercy.

It is "a simple prayer that can be said many times a day. 'Lord, I, a sinner, ask you: have mercy on me.' It can be said many times a day, from the heart, without saying it aloud: 'Lord, if you want, you can; if you want, you can. Have mercy on me.' Repeat this," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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God's word can never be 'enchained,' pope says at audience

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A true apostle is one who continues to be a courageous and joyful evangelizer even in the face of persecution and certain death, Pope Francis said.

By choosing to close the Acts of the Apostles not with St. Paul's martyrdom but with his continuing to preach the Gospel even while under house arrest, St. Luke wanted to show that the word of God cannot be "enchained," the pope said Jan. 15 during his weekly general audience.

"This house open to all hearts is the image of the church which -- although persecuted, misunderstood and chained -- never tires of welcoming with a motherly heart every man and woman to proclaim to them the love of the Father who made himself visible in Jesus," he said.

The pope concluded his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles with a reflection on St. Paul's imprisonment in Rome.

St. Paul's treacherous journey and adventures to "the heart of the empire," he said, did not weaken the Gospel he preached but instead strengthened it by "showing that the direction of events does not belong to men but to the Holy Spirit, who gives fruitfulness to the church's missionary action."

During his imprisonment, the pope continued, the apostle would meet with notable Jewish people in his efforts to show "the fulfillment of the promises made to the chosen people" through Christ's death and resurrection.

While not everyone was convinced by his preaching, St. Paul continued to welcome anyone "who wanted to receive the proclamation of the kingdom of God and to know Christ," which is a grace that all Christians should pray for, he said.

May the Lord "enable us, like Paul, to imbue our houses with the Gospel and to make them cenacles of fraternity, where we can welcome the living Christ, who comes to meet us in every person and in every age," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Encore: Catholic schools called 'essential, integral' to church's ministry

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

By Sydney Clark

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The mission and foundation of Catholic education are directly related to evangelization, said the head of the National Catholic Educational Association.

Catholic schools are obligated to evangelize simply because that is the core and mission of the Catholic Church, according to Thomas Burnford, president and CEO of the NCEA.

"The apostles told the good news of Jesus Christ, and Catholic schools are an essential and integral ministry of the Catholic Church," he told Catholic News Service.

Nationwide, 1.8 million students are enrolled in 6,300 Catholic schools, he noted. Additionally, 80% of students are Catholic, and the remaining 20% are non-Catholic.

Despite the percentage difference, the mission of Catholic education is the same for Catholic and non-Catholic students, Burnford explained.

"The teaching of the faith, the way we witness the Catholic faith fully to Catholic students is the same for all students. All students are invited and welcomed to participate fully in the whole culture of the school, the formation of the school and the life of the school," Burnford said.

Evangelization is present within schools because students are presented with a Catholic worldview that reveals the reality of God and the Gospel through the curriculum, he said.

"In that way, we are evangelizing students by giving them a real understanding of the world and society. Everyone in a Catholic school is being moved along in the process of evangelization and outreach," Burnford said.

Acknowledging the inherent relationship between Catholic education and evangelization in the presence of faith, community and identity, Pope Francis in a June 2018 address said: "Schools and universities need to be consistent and show continuity between their foundational mission and the church's mission of evangelization."

He delivered the address to members of the Gravissimum Educationis Foundation, which he established in October 2015 at the invitation of the Congregation for Catholic Education to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Christian Education.

In that same address, Pope Francis proposed a challenge to members of the foundation, which aims to renew the church's dedication to Catholic education, saying: "To fulfill your mission, therefore, you must lay its foundations in a way consistent with our Christian identity, establish means appropriate for the quality of study and research and pursue goals in harmony with service to the common good."

Elisabeth Sullivan, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, identified roles within Catholic schools that help bring Catholic and non-Catholic students together. "I think Catholic schools have a unique opportunity to provide hope in a world that is increasingly beset by hopelessness. A world without God is a world without hope," Sullivan said.

Sullivan believes that Catholic education is uniquely distinct from other education systems due to its long tradition of conveying the inherent and inseparable relationship between faith and reason. Consequently, Catholic schools "restore what the industrialized model of education has stripped from the classroom -- an understanding of the meaning and purpose of things," she told CNS.

Catholic education asks the deeper questions, regarding the nature of something and its purpose, according to Sullivan. "Secular education can't offer that, can't decide on a meaning or a purpose, so it has to stay away, and therefore, it's incomplete," she explained.

Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, expressed a similar viewpoint regarding evangelization efforts within Catholic schools. Donoghue said because formation in a Catholic school is integral, students are not solely taught religious doctrine in a religion course.

"What we seek to do is bring forward the church's intellectual tradition and form their minds in all of the content and areas that they study. This is an excellent tool of evangelization because it exposes kids not just to Catholic practices, regarding prayer and liturgy, but also to a Catholic understanding of reality."

Donoghue is hopeful that Catholic schools will continue to fulfill their mission of bringing children and young adults into a relationship with Christ.

As populations shift, she said, many Catholic schools will be located in new areas, creating a changing landscape. However, Donoghue said that Catholic education in America has been around for centuries and "will renew itself by turning toward the church's own tradition and that can be the way forward in the future."

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Update: Retired pope wants his name removed as co-author of book on celibacy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the request of retired Pope Benedict XVI, his name will be removed as co-author of a book defending priestly celibacy, said Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican official who coordinated work on the book.

"Considering the polemics provoked by the publication of the book, 'From the Depths of Our Hearts,' it has been decided that the author of the book for future editions will be Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI," Cardinal Sarah tweeted Jan. 14.

"However," he said, "the full text remains absolutely unchanged."

The tweeted announcement came only a few hours after Cardinal Sarah had issued a formal statement accusing people of slandering him by saying that while Pope Benedict may have contributed notes or an essay to the book, he was not co-author of it.

Archbishop Georg Ganswein, personal secretary to Pope Benedict, phoned several German news agencies and spoke with the Reuters news agency Jan. 14, saying the retired pope had requested that his name be removed as co-author of the book, its introduction and its conclusion. The archbishop confirmed that the book's first chapter, attributed to Pope Benedict, was the work of the retired pope.

Since marriage and priesthood both demand the total devotion and self-giving of a man to his vocation, "it does not seem possible to realize both vocations simultaneously," retired Pope Benedict wrote in his essay.

The French newspaper Le Figaro published excerpts of the book late Jan. 12 and, almost immediately, some people began questioning just how much of the work actually was written by the 92-year-old former pope.

The introduction and conclusion were attributed jointly to the retired pope and to Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments; the book has two other chapters, one attributed to each of them alone.

The book was to be published in French Jan. 15 and in English Feb. 20 by Ignatius Press.

In a statement Jan. 14, Ignatius Press indicated its edition would still credit Pope Benedict as co-author.

The correspondence released by Cardinal Sarah indicate he and Pope Benedict "collaborated on this book for several months," the Ignatius Press statement said. "A joint work as defined by the Chicago Manual of Style is 'a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contribution be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole,'" therefore, "Ignatius Press considers this a coauthored publication."

Given Pope Benedict's declining health and energy, many questions were raised about just how much of what was attributed to him was written by him and about the decision to list "Benedict XVI" as co-author of the book, rather than "Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI," the form he used for his series of books on Jesus of Nazareth.

At the end of a day of questions and accusations posted on Twitter, Cardinal Sarah tweeted early Jan. 14: "Attacks seem to imply a lie on my part. These defamations are of exceptional gravity."

And, as "the first proofs of my close collaboration with Benedict XVI to write this text in favor of celibacy," he tweeted photographs of correspondence from the retired pontiff.

In the first letter, dated Sept. 20, Pope Benedict said that before receiving a letter from Cardinal Sarah dated Sept. 5, he already had "begun to write a reflection on priesthood. But while writing I increasingly felt my energies would no longer allow me to edit a theological text."

"Then your letter arrived with the unexpected request for a text precisely on priesthood with particular attention to celibacy," the retired pope continued. "So, I took up my work again and will send you the text when it is translated from German into Italian. I will leave it up to you to decide if these notes, whose inadequacy I strongly feel, can have some usefulness."

In a brief note posted by Cardinal Sarah and dated Oct. 12, Pope Benedict wrote that "finally I can send you my thoughts on the priesthood. I leave it up to you if you can find some usefulness in my poor thoughts."

In a formal statement released Jan. 14, Cardinal Sarah said that after meeting Pope Benedict Sept. 5, he wrote to the retired pope saying that with debate about mandatory priestly celibacy already begun before the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, he realized Pope Benedict might not think the timing was right for him to intervene on the subject because of "the polemics it could provoke in the newspapers."

Nevertheless, the cardinal said, he believed a contribution from Pope Benedict would be a gift to the whole church and "could be published at Christmas or at the beginning of 2020."

Cardinal Sarah said Pope Benedict gave him "a long text" on Oct. 12 and he realized that rather than publishing it in a journal or magazine, it would be more appropriate as part of a book.

"I immediately proposed to the pope emeritus integrating his own text and mine for the publication of a book that would be an immense good for the church," the cardinal said.

After several exchanges, he said, on Nov. 19 he sent "a complete manuscript to the pope emeritus comprising, as we had decided by mutual agreement, the cover, an introduction and a common conclusion, the text of Benedict XVI and my own text."

The cardinal tweeted a photo of a letter dated Nov. 25 in which Pope Benedict thanked him "for the text added to my contribution and for the whole elaboration you have done."

"For my part, the text can be published in the form you envisaged," Pope Benedict added.

The chapter attributed to Pope Benedict is about 25 pages long, including a six-page reprint of the homily he gave at the chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in March 2008 on the meaning of "being a priest of Jesus Christ," specifically in standing in the presence of God and serving him. The homily did not mention celibacy.

In a chapter originally attributed to both the retired pope and the cardinal, they said the book resulted from an exchange of "ideas and our concerns," particularly related to the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, which heard repeated calls for considering the ordination of married elders to serve far-flung communities and provide greater access to the Eucharist and other sacraments.

Pope Francis' response to the requests of the synod is expected early in the year. Observers noted how unusual it was for the retired pope to intervene publicly on an issue the reigning pope is considering.

Cardinal Sarah and Pope Benedict seemed to recognize how unusual the move was, but the introduction said, "'Silere non possum!' I cannot be silent!"

The introduction said the two offered their reflections "in a spirit of love for the unity of the church" and in "a spirit of filial obedience to Pope Francis."

In a separate interview with Le Figaro, Cardinal Sarah said: "If this book is a cry, it's a cry of love for the church, the pope, the priests and all Christians. We want this book to be read as widely as possible. The crisis facing the church is striking."

According to the published excerpts, the chapter signed by Pope Benedict noted how today many people assume the gradual adoption of the discipline of priestly celibacy was a result of "contempt for corporeality and sexuality." The error of that thinking, he said, is demonstrated by the church's high view of the sacrament of marriage.

And, while acknowledging that celibacy has not always been a requirement for priesthood, he said that married priests were expected to abstain from sexual relations with their wives.

Renouncing marriage "to place oneself totally at the disposition of the Lord became a criterion for priestly ministry," he said.

The published excerpts did not discuss the continuing practice of ordaining married men in the Eastern Catholic churches nor the exceptions granted by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict to married former ministers of the Anglican Communion and other Christian denominations who become Catholic.

Last January, speaking to reporters flying back from Panama with him, Pope Francis said, "Personally, I believe that celibacy is a gift to the church."

"I'm not in agreement with allowing optional celibacy," he said. "A phrase St. Paul VI said comes to mind: 'I would rather give my life than to change the law on celibacy.'"

However, he did say "there could be some possibility" of ordaining married men in very remote locations where there are Catholic communities that seldom have Mass because there are no priests. But, even for that situation, much study would need to be done.

Responding to journalists' questions Jan. 13, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said, "the position of the Holy Father on celibacy is known," and he quoted the pope's comments to journalists last January.

But Bruni also included Pope Francis' statement that "some possibility" could exist for exceptions in remote areas "when there is a pastoral necessity. There, the pastor must think of the faithful."

In addition, Bruni noted that when Pope Francis addressed members at the end of the synod in October, he said he was pleased that "we have not fallen prisoner to these selective groups that from the synod only want to see what was decided on one or another intra-ecclesial point" while ignoring all the work the synod did in analyzing the problems, challenges and hopes on the pastoral, cultural, social and ecological levels.

 

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Love of baking, culinary skills and prayer make religious brother a winner

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard

By Richard Szczepanowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The oven timer dings, alerting Capuchin Franciscan Brother Andrew Corriente the chocolate layer cake he is baking needs to be checked.

A quick test with a toothpick tells him the cake needs about five more minutes in the oven, more than enough time for him to soften the butter that will eventually become the buttercream icing that will top the confection.

The enticing aromas in the kitchen at Capuchin College in Washington signal that Brother Andrew is busy creating another treat for the men who call the friary home.

Brother Andrew knows his way around a kitchen. In fact, he was crowned this year's baking champion on ABC's "The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition." The program, which aired during the month of December and concluded Jan. 2, is an adaptation of the wildly popular "Great British Bake Off."

Brother Andrew said he wanted to participate in the program "because I love to bake, and I wanted to learn from the others" who were part of the production. "They were very good, incredible cooks," the brother said of his competition. Several of them have since become good friends of his.

"The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition," now in its fifth season, features 10 amateur bakers who compete in a series of challenges in which they must produce outstanding baked goods. Contestants are eliminated one by one until a champion is selected.

Brother Andrew emerged as the victor after he and the other two finalists were charged with making three individual party desserts of their choice. He earned the crown with chocolate cookies with lime cream and blackberry jam, sponge cakes with fresh cream and fruits, and a puff pastry.

Brother Andrew was given the nod to appear on the show last June, but he applied for the program in 2017.

"In 2018, they (producers of the show) called me, but I said no because I was taking my final vows," he told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. "They called me again this year, and I did it."

He said he spent the month of July "recipe developing and recipe testing" before traveling to London in August, where the entire season was taped over the course of that month. "Filming sometimes took up to 14 hours a day," Brother Andrew said. "I had to stay focused so that I could get my prayers in, Mass in and meditation in."

Although it was very hot in the kitchen where the contestants competed, Brother Andrew chose to wear his distinctive brown Capuchin robes as he baked.

"I love my life so much, and I wanted people to see that," he said. "My ability to bake is so tied to my way of life. Everything I have is from God, and I wanted people to see how all of that is integrated."

The friary where Brother Andrew regularly creates his bakery masterpieces is part of the St. Augustine Province of the Order of Friars Minor. The 30 men who live at Capuchin College are either studying nearby at The Catholic University of America, preparing for the priesthood, serving in various ministries throughout the Archdiocese of Washington or are retired.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Paul Dressler, the province's guardian and director of formation at Capuchin College, called Brother Andrew's appearance on the program "part of the new evangelization."

"Brother Andrew wanted to be on the show as a witness. He went to evangelize and put before the world the Gospel and our order," Father Dressler said.

Capuchin Father Tom Betz, the provincial of the St. Augustine Province, gave the nod and Brother Andrew was on his way.

"Brother Andrew brought attention to the goodness of God and the goodness of religious life," Father Dressler said.

He added that it is not unusual for a religious to be familiar in the kitchen. "Religious life has long been a source of nourishment," Father Dressler said. He also pointed to the ancient tradition of monks brewing beer, making wine and even giving coffee lovers everywhere the eponymous cappuccino.

"It is connected to the fact that all good things come from God," Father Dressler said.

In episode four of "The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition," Brother Andrew struggled with the challenge of creating a cheesecake tower with at least three tiers, with two of one flavor and one of a different flavor. As he struggled to construct his tower, Brother Andrew stopped, lifted his hands in prayer and uttered the word, "surrender."

Brother Andrew is a third-year seminarian. After studying filmmaking in college, the now 31-year-old native of California, "had a desk job in the entertainment industry," working for a talent agent.

"I was searching for other jobs, but never thought about religious life," he said. "A friend of mine from college became a nun, and when I went to see her profess her vows, I met a Capuchin." That spurred Brother Andrew to give the order a try. "I met the guys, and the rest is history," he said.

Brother Andrew regularly bakes for the residents of the friary and one of his specialties is "kouign amann," a French pastry made with multiple layers of buttery croissant pastry caramelized with slightly burnt sugar.

Baking, he said, "is in a way eucharistic."

"Jesus gave us himself in the bread and wine," Brother Andrew said. "For me, I put myself out there with my cooking. It is kind of a sacrificial love."

His interest in baking, he added, was spurred during his postulancy.

Brother Andrew said he finds time for prayer as he cooks. For example, in preparing meringue -- a confection made of whipped egg whites and sugar -- he discovered "the best way to time my stirring is by praying the Hail Mary."

The "guys," as Brother Andrew calls his fellow Capuchins, sent their favorite baker off to compete in London with "a really nice blessing and prayer." Brother Andrew's family -- mother Elna, father Rodel and sister Theresa -- flew to London to watch the finale.

When he won, Brother Andrew was sworn to secrecy; for more than four months he was not allowed to tell others that he had won.

The residents of the friary would gather each week to watch the show together, cheering their brother on. Father Dressler said it was akin to watching the Super Bowl. The friary, he said, exploded with whoops and shouts and cheers when Brother Andrew was named the winner.

In addition to his baking, Brother Andrew uses his culinary skills to help the less fortunate and the working poor. He and a group of brothers and lay volunteers cook and serve dinner every Sunday for the day laborers who congregate at a local Home Depot looking for work.

After he is ordained to the priesthood in two years, Brother Andrew is unsure whether his priestly vocation will permit him as much time to pursue his baking avocation. "God has already zigzagged my life in so many ways that I am open to anywhere he leads me," he said.

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Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

 

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Bishops visiting Holy Land get look at complexities of Gaza Strip

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In addition to a sense of isolation, young people in the Gaza Strip are experiencing an unemployment rate of 70 percent, and most see emigration as their only solution, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

"This is a challenge for young people," he told Catholic News Service Jan. 13. "They are facing uncertainty and insecurity about their future."

Archbishop Broglio was one of 15 bishops -- mostly from Europe and North America -- taking part in the annual weeklong Holy Land Coordination visit to support the Holy Land's local Christian communities. Several talked to Catholic News Service after visiting Gaza.

"The future for the young people is very tenuous," Archbishop Broglio said. "Basically, the only solution they see is getting out. But that is very problematic, because once they do get out, there is no coming back (because of travel restrictions.) Leaving means an indefinite separation for families."

Basics such as water and electricity are interrupted daily, he said.

The Gaza Strip has been under an air, land and sea blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007, when Hamas took control of the Palestinian area from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The 1.8 million Palestinian residents of the coastal Gaza Strip are cut off from the remainder of the Palestinian territory by the blockade, which also restricts their free travel access to the rest of the world.

The United States, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Egypt, Israel and other countries list Hamas as a terrorist organization, charging that it is funded by Iran.

The bishops began their visit in Gaza and celebrated Mass with members of Holy Family Catholic Parish there Jan. 12. They also met with local families and religious sisters working in Catholic charitable institutions and visited the Daughters of Charity, the Thomas Aquinas Training Center and the Caritas Medical Center.

With just over 1,000 people, the Christian community in the Gaza Strip is very tiny, but the educational, vocational and health services it provides to the general population are highly regarded.

Archbishop Broglio said that just over 10 percent of the 700 students attending Catholic school are Catholic; the majority of students are Muslim.

Irish Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor noted that while the Thomas Aquinas Training Center provides advanced training for young people, the availability of good jobs is so minimal that often thousands of applicants vie for one position.

"Opportunities are so limited ... the current situation is not sustainable," he said. "A solution must be found. Though the Catholic community is vibrant, the number of Catholics has gone down drastically ... and the fact so many people are leaving has an impact on the Christian population."

But finding a solution to the situation in Gaza is no easy task, said Canadian Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"We need to try to educate people as to the situation here. It is a very complex issue, where you have the internal issue of Gaza and the approach and thinking by the current (Hamas) government, and there is a confrontational situation where there is tension between the Gaza territory and the government of Israel, and this also needs to be brought within context. It is very complicated."

Since 2001, thousands of missiles have been launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel border towns, sometimes resulting in Israeli retaliatory attacks that have caused overwhelming destruction in Gaza.

Still, despite the political complexity and economic difficulties people face in their daily lives in Gaza, Archbishop Gagnon said, he was struck by the real sense of joy and positivity he sensed within the Catholic community.

"They have a real sense of who they are and what their identity is," said Archbishop Gagnon. "They provide wonderful opportunities for people in Gaza, both Christians and non-Christians, through their schools and charitable organizations."

During their stay in the Holy Land the bishops will also meet with young Palestinians in East Jerusalem; visit Holy Family Parish in Ramallah, West Bank; visit a kindergarten run by the Comboni Sisters under the shadow of the Israeli separation wall in East Jerusalem; and tour the Jerusalem Old City Basin to review Israeli settler activity in the contested area.

 

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