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Education key to solving migration crisis, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the celebration of Christmas draws near, the plight of the Holy Family calls to mind the sufferings of the many men, women and children escaping war and persecution, Pope Francis said.

Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the holy season is an invitation to come together to help those in need, especially young migrants who "instead of sitting in school desks, like many of their peers, spend their days doing long marches on foot, or on makeshift and dangerous means of transportation."

Educating young migrants will give them the tools to find "work in the future and participate in the common good as informed citizens. At the same time, we educate ourselves in order to welcome and show solidarity so that migrants and refugees do not meet indifference or, worse, intolerance on their journey," he said Dec. 14.

The proceeds of the Dec. 15 concert, which is sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations: Scholas Occurrentes in Iraq and the Don Bosco Mission in Uganda.

According to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Don Bosco Mission aids refugees from South Sudan escaping civil war and is invested "in the training and professional development of young people."

Scholas Occurrentes, the congregation added, will use proceeds from the benefit concert to continue their educational initiatives in Irbil, Iraq, where, "for thousands of children and young people who live in refugee camps, going to school is their only chance for liberation."

The many musicians and artists scheduled to perform at the Christmas concert included U.S. singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Anastacia, as well as Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano and Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi.

During the papal audience, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the education congregation, said initiatives that help migrants and refugees are a reminder that humanity has a duty "to protect the civilian population, especially children, from the effects of war."

"The languages of music and art, linked to the Christmas season that celebrates the coming of the Son of God, help to manifest our generous support" for those most in need, Cardinal Versaldi said.

In his address, Pope Francis said that Christmas is a time that awakens charity and "calls us to reflect on the situation of so many men, women and children of our time -- migrants, refugees and displaced persons -- who are marching on to escape wars and misery caused by social injustice and climate change."

Just like many migrants and refuges today, he added, the Holy Father experienced "the anguish of persecution" when fleeing to Egypt.

"Little Jesus reminds us that half of today's refugees in the world are children, blameless victims of human injustice," the pope said.

The pope said that initiatives, like those in Iraq and Uganda, are an opportunity for the church to respond to the tragedies that countless men, women and children face and to offer them a chance not only to receive an education, but also the means for them "to get back on their feet" with dignity, strength and courage.

He also thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to "light in every heart the warmth and tenderness of Christmas."

The mission of the church, the pope said, "has always been manifested through the creativity and genius of artists because they, through their works, are able to reach the most intimate areas of the conscience of men and women in every age."

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Ignoring reality of abuse, resisting responsibility must end, says Jesuit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who still believes the abuse crisis is an "American" or "Western" problem must become properly informed, face reality and realize problems may be hidden and explode in the future, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

And those who think too much talk and attention about abuse only blows the situation out of proportion or that it is time to change the topic are following "a mistaken path," he said in the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica.

"If the issue is not fully confronted in all of its various dimensions, the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of (the church) and all of her priests will remain seriously wounded and, above all, the essence of her mission will suffer -- that of proclaiming the Gospel and its educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity," he wrote.

The article, "In the Run-up to the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors," was sent to journalists Dec. 13 ahead of the issue's Dec. 15 publication date. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

Father Lombardi, who served as head of the Vatican press office from 2006 to 2016, is president of the board of directors of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and is a contributing writer to the Jesuit journal.

The article, which as of Dec. 13 was available only in Italian, looked at the aims and intentions of the summit Pope Francis convoked at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 for the presidents of bishops' conferences, representatives of religious orders and heads of Vatican dicasteries.

A major focus, he wrote, will be on helping participants understand they are being encouraged to join together -- not as representatives of their own people -- but as leaders of the people of God on a journey that requires the input and collaboration of lay experts so that there may be "a united response on the universal level."

"The entire church must feel in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with their church communities that have been wounded by the scandals," he wrote.

Pope Francis, he added, has also widened the scope of abuse to include not just sexual abuse but the abuse of power and of conscience and the corruption of authority, which is no longer lived as service but as the wielding of power.

The February summit will give people a chance to share experiences and best practices, he said, and to strongly encourage everyone to make "new urgent steps forward."

While many lessons already have been learned, "there are also many open questions" left to address, he said.

One is recognizing that even though a number of countries have done much in the area of prevention and formation, "it must be recognized that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done."

Every bishops' conference, bishop and religious superior must recognize their responsibility before God, the church and society, he said.

In many cases, the seriousness of the problem of abuse and the deep amount of suffering it causes still have not sunk in, Father Lombardi wrote.

People do not need a theoretical understanding, but actual concrete awareness of the damage caused, and that will push people to overcome "laziness, fears and very dangerous resistance" and to leap into action.

"Often one continues to delude oneself that it is mainly a 'Western' or else an 'American' or 'Anglophone' problem and with incredible naivete, thinks that (the problem) may be marginal in one's own country," he wrote.

People must look carefully and never avoid the presence of problems, which are "sometimes still hidden, but are such that future dramatic explosions are possible," Father Lombardi wrote. "Facing reality is necessary and adequate information will help a lot in this regard."

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Itinerant papal preacher: Capuchin will lead U.S. bishops' retreat

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For more than 38 years, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa has preached to the pope and top officials of the Roman Curia. In early January, he will lead the weeklong retreat of the U.S. bishops.

As they continue to study and discuss ways to respond to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the bishops will gather for the retreat Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980.

In an email Dec. 6, the Capuchin declined to be interviewed about the retreat, saying, "At this delicate moment in the life of the U.S. church, I don't believe it would be opportune for me to give interviews."

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat will be "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" and will draw from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told Catholic News Service, "You can see why the pope asked the bishops to make the retreat together in what he told the bishops of Chile: without faith and without prayer, fraternity is impossible."

"At a moment like this, the bishops need to be united in prayer, and Catholics in the U.S. should see them at prayer," Burke said Dec. 13. "A retreat is always a time for conversion, and perhaps there's been no time in the U.S. with more need for conversion than now."

The job of "preacher of the papal household" is not a fulltime position; each year it requires the priest to give an average of eight meditations -- one each on most Fridays of Advent and Lent -- and the homily during the pope's Good Friday celebration of the Lord's Passion.

The title, and the ministry, has a very long history. Superiors of different religious orders took turns preaching to the pontiff and his aides during Advent and Lent until the mid-1500s, when Pope Paul IV appointed the first preacher of the papal household; his successors followed suit, always choosing a religious-order priest for the job. Pope Benedict XIV decided in 1743 to be more specific, decreeing that the preacher of the papal household always be a Capuchin friar.

St. John Paul II asked Father Cantalamessa to take the job in 1980; since then, the Capuchin has given more than 300 spiritual talks and homilies to the popes and their closest aides in the Roman Curia.

When he is not preaching to the pope, Father Cantalamessa leads retreats around the world, writes books and articles and works with charismatic Catholics; in late October, he was named ecclesial adviser of "Charis," the new international coordinating body for the Catholic charismatic renewal.

In a 2015 interview with CNS, he said the first time he climbed the steps to the lectern in St. Peter's Basilica to preach to the pope on Good Friday, "It felt like I was climbing Mount Everest."

But, he told TV2000, the Italian bishops' television station, "this post of preacher of the papal household says more about the pope than the preacher. He has the humility to set aside all his important tasks on the Fridays of Advent and Lent to come listen to the preaching of a simple priest."

The three popes he has preached to have given him the freedom to choose the topics for his meditations, he told CNS in 2015. "I try to understand, including with the help of prayer, what are the problems, needs or even graces the church is living at the moment and to make my little contribution with a spiritual reflection."

"Putting the word of God into practice must characterize all preaching," he said. "Pope Francis gives us a stupendous example of that with his morning homilies."

While focused on challenging and strengthening the faith of those he is preaching to, Father Cantalamessa's homilies have touched on religious persecution, Christian unity, signs of hatred and prejudice in society, violence against women, war and peace, the defense of human life and the abuse crisis.

His homily in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday in 2010 caused controversy. At the service, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the Capuchin focused on how Jesus broke the cycle of violence and victimizing others by taking on the world's sins and offering himself as a victim.

He had noted that in 2010 the Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Passover coincided, and he told the congregation the Jews "know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence," and they recognize when other groups are being attacked simply because of who they are.

He then read a portion of a letter he said he received from a Jewish friend, who wrote that he was following "with disgust" attacks against the church and the pope, including because of the abuse scandal. The repetition of stereotypes and using the wrongdoings of some individuals as an excuse to paint a whole group with collective guilt reminded the Jewish author of "the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," the letter said.

Father Cantalamessa later said he was sincerely sorry if he offended any members of the Jewish community or any victims of sexual abuse.

The Capuchin also has preached on the need for the Catholic Church to be honest and transparent about the abuse crisis and to repent for it.

In December 2009, just a few hours before Pope Benedict XVI met with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse crisis, Father Cantalamessa gave one of his Advent meditations. He told the pope and other Vatican officials that, as a matter of justice, the church must publicly admit the weakness of some of its priests.

However, he had said, acknowledging weakness is not enough to "launch a renewal of priestly ministry." For that, he said, the prayers of priests themselves and all the faithful are needed as is a renewed commitment by all priests to devoting themselves totally to serving God and their brothers and sisters.

And, in Advent 2006, leading a meditation on the passage from the beatitudes that says, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted," Father Cantalamessa said the church's tears of shame for the abuse crisis must be turned into tears of repentance.

Rather than mourning for the damage done to the church's reputation, he said, the church must weep "for the offense given to the body of Christ and the scandal given to the smallest of its members."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

 

 

 

 

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With a mother's heart, Mary raises up the abandoned, pope says at Mass

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as she did hundreds of years ago from a small hill in Tepeyac, Mexico, Mary accompanies the downtrodden and the lowly like a mother caring for her children.

Mary "is a woman who walks with the gentleness and tenderness of a mother, she makes her home in family life, she unties one knot after another of the many wrongs we manage to generate, and she teaches us to remain standing in the midst of storms," the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Processing into the basilica dressed in white, the symbol of purity, Pope Francis made his way to a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the indigenous saint in 1531. The pope stood before the image, bowing reverently and incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, in which Mary hastily visits her cousin Elizabeth, and subsequently proclaims "the greatness of the Lord."

Through her Magnificat, the pope said, Mary teaches all Christian men and women not only the importance of praising God in the midst of joy, but also how to accompany and walk with others.

From houses and hospital rooms to prison cells and rehabilitation clinics, he added, Mary continues to utter those words she said to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who am your mother?"

"In Mary's school, we learn to be on the way to get to where we need to be: on our feet and standing before so many lives that have lost or have been robbed of hope," the pope said.

Mary, he continued, also teaches her children that problems are not solved with immediate responses and magical solutions, nor through "fantastic promises of pseudo-progress that, little by little, only succeeds in usurping cultural and family identities."

Instead, Christians learn from her the true joy that comes from loving God and neighbor unconditionally and to guard "the sense of God and his transcendence, the sacredness of life" and respect for creation, the pope said.

Mary, he added, taught humility by lifting up lowly people, like St. Juan Diego, by giving them a voice and "making them the protagonists of this, our history."

Pope Francis said that "through Mary, the Lord refutes the temptation of giving way to the strength of intimidation and power" and instead gives dignity to those who have been cast aside.

"The Lord does not seek selfish applause or worldly admiration. His glory is in making his children the protagonists of creation," the pope said. "With the heart of a mother, (Mary) seeks to raise up and dignify all those who, for different reasons and circumstances, were immersed in abandonment and obscurity."

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Don't be afraid to ask for things from God in prayer, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said.

Jesus does not want people to become numb to life's problems and "extinguish" those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.

"He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue" with God, the father, he said.

Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity.

With this prayer, Jesus shows an "audacious" way to address God immediately as "our Father" without any pomp and "preambles," the pope said.

"He doesn't say to turn to God calling him 'O, the All-Powerful' or 'O, the One on high,' or 'O, You who are so far from us and I am the wretched one ....'"  

"No. He doesn't say that, but simply (uses) the word, 'Father,' with great simplicity, like children who turn to their daddy. This word, 'Father,' expresses intimacy, filial trust," he said.

The prayer invites people to pray in a way that "lets all the barriers of subjection and fear fall away," he added.

While the Our Father is rooted in "the concrete reality" of every human being, prayer, in essence, begins with life itself.

"Our first prayer, in a certain way, was the first wail that came with our first breath" as a , and it signals every human being's destiny: "our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our constant search for happiness."

Prayer is found wherever there is a deep hunger, longing, struggle and the question, "why?" Pope Francis said.

"Jesus does not want to extinguish (what is) human, he does not want to anesthetize" the person in prayer, he said. Jesus understands that having faith is being able to "cry out."

"We all should be like Bartimaeus in the Gospel," he said. This blind man in Jericho kept crying out to the Lord for help even though everyone around him told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus, who -- they felt -- ought not be disturbed because he was so busy.

Bartimaeus did not listen and only cried out louder "with holy insistence," the pope said. Jesus listened to his plea and told him his faith is what saved him.

The pope said this shows how the cry for healing is an essential part of salvation, because it shows the person has faith and hope and is "free from the desperation of those who do not believe there is a way out of so many unbearable situations."

"We can tell him everything, even those things in our life that are distorted and beyond comprehension. He promised us that he would always be with us," he said.

When greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope greeted all those from Mexico and Latin America, noting that Dec. 12 marked the feast "of our patroness," Our Lady of Guadalupe. He asked that she help people surrender themselves to God's love and to place all of their hope in him.

Before the audience, the pope blew out a few candles on a birthday cake a visitor had prepared for him. The pope will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 17.

Greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope met with a delegation from Panama, representing the upcoming World Youth Day events in January, and he greeted a delegation of Austrian members of parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of the song "Silent Night," whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.

The pope said that "with its profound simplicity, this song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the savior, born in Bethlehem, reveals to us the love of God the father."

 

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Pilgrimage across U.S. lets peacemaker spread light from Bethlehem

IMAGE: CNS photo/Katie Rutter

By Katie Rutter

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (CNS) -- Brian Duane's maroon Subaru had already covered about 1,800 miles when he pulled into the parking lot at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette Dec. 4.

It was Duane's 18th stop in what would be a weeklong, cross-country journey for the resident of Pembroke, Massachusetts, and his car contained precious cargo with a radiance of goodwill.

This road trip was a mission from Bethlehem carrying a message of peace, contained in a glowing lantern.

This fire had originally been kindled at Christ's birthplace, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Duane is part of a national network of volunteers spreading this "Peace Light from Bethlehem" across the nation.

"It is symbolic of Christ's love for us and of the Prince of Peace," Duane told Catholic News Service. "It serves as a reminder to us."

For more than a decade, volunteers like Duane have driven this flame from coast to coast, lighting hundreds of lanterns along the route.

The effort to spread the Peace Light is spearheaded by Scouts and Scouting advisers, most often associated with Catholic churches.

The goal is to kindle peace in all hearts by remembering Christ's mission began in Bethlehem.

"It's symbolic, but it's the effort, the coming together, the dedication to peace and heading home and spreading the message, even at the family level," said Bob McLear, who lives west of Chicago.

McLear planned to take the light from Lafayette back to his parish in Batavia, Illinois, and pass it off to another volunteer headed to Madison, Wisconsin.

The Peace Light's journey can be traced back to a tradition in Austria. For the past 32 years, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF has sent a child to Bethlehem to kindle a flame from the oil lamps hanging above Christ's birthplace.

The fire, stored in two explosion-proof miner's lanterns, is then flown with a safety adviser back to Europe, where it is spread to more than 30 countries.

"The reaction of the people touched my heart," said Wolfgang Kerndler, a security expert for Austrian Airlines, who has escorted the flame for about two decades.

"Even the crew is proud to be part of the operation," Kerndler told CNS in an email. "It's an honor."

The Peace Light first arrived in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The Austrian government and national Scouting association sent the flame with a VIP delegation to comfort the grieving nation.

"New York City really was devastated," said Paul Stanton, the international representative for New York City with the Boy Scouts of America.

"It was a great sign of kindness from the people of the world," he told CNS in a phone interview from New York City.

The light has been flown by Austrian Airlines to New York every year since. Stanton helps to organize the official reception at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

This year, about 150 adults and children gathered at the airport's Our Lady of the Skies Chapel to welcome the light of peace and kindle their own flames.

"The youth are needing to know that there is hope, but they also need to know if there is going to be a better world, it will start with them," Stanton said.

Duane was at the chapel to light his lanterns and begin his journey.

From New York, he drove as far west as Denver, before heading back to Massachusetts, logging more than 5,400 miles.

Along the way, Duane stopped at 26 locations to meet volunteers, participate in ceremonies and pass on the flame.

"I've walked into so many different places, a very liberal congregation, a very conservative congregation," he said, "and yet we all agree on the need for peace and civility."

Duane arrived in Indianapolis Dec. 4 where more than 60 people, mostly children, gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish to welcome him and spread the flame from Bethlehem. Lanterns and candles lined the altar.

"I think that it's really beautiful and I'm really happy that we came," said Eliza Frank, a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

"We hear about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but we never actually see anything from there or go there, so I thought that was really cool," Frank said.

When Duane arrived at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette later that evening, nearly 100 Scouts and parents were present to spread the light. Even the youngest were challenged to share the flame with at least three other people in their local community, spreading hope and peace in the process.

"To the people out there that don't have a chance to get the peace light," said John Niemann, an Eagle Scout and student at Purdue University, "you can still hold Christ's peace in your heart throughout this Christmas season and really strive to have that, even though you can't physically have the flame with you."

The Peace Light was set to reach California by Dec. 13 and is reported to burn in more than 30 states.

A Facebook page set up by volunteers mapped out the spread of the Peace Light and continues to field requests from individuals wishing to take the flame to their own communities.

In most cases, the lanterns lit by the Peace Light will illuminate congregations and homes through the Christmas season. Duane hopes that those lights serve as a constant reminder that small actions, like small lanterns, have the power to light a darkened world.

"We sometimes feel overwhelmed when there's major conflicts going on in the Middle East or wherever it happens to be," Duane said.

"Like, what can I do? Well, I can be kind and gentle to my family, my neighbors, the lady at the store, everybody else. Be a vehicle of peace, be a vessel of peace," he said.

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High court won't hear states' appeals over defunding Planned Parenthood

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pro-life leaders said they were disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 10 to hear appeals from Kansas and Louisiana on lower court rulings that have stopped the states from blocking Medicaid funds going to Planned Parenthood.

"Complicated legal arguments don't take away from the simple fact that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion," said Jeanne Mancini, who is president of March for Life.

"America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is responsible for more than 300,000 abortions each year and was recently found to be involved with the harvesting and trafficking of body parts from aborted babies," she said in a statement issued shortly after the high court declined to hear the states' appeals.

"Abortion is not health care, it is a human rights abuse," Mancini added. "Until Planned Parenthood ceases to perform abortions, they should not receive any money from taxpayers."

Federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortion, but pro-life advocates say Planned Parenthood should not get Medicaid funding because its facilities primarily perform abortions. Also, the organization has been accused of making a profit on providing fetal body parts to researchers.

Planned Parenthood officials and its supporters say the Medicaid funds are used only to help low-income women receive wellness services, cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and birth control.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said that despite the Supreme Court declining to take the two states' appeals, the pro-life grassroots movement "will not stop fighting until every single tax dollar is untangled from the abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood."

She said the pro-life citizens of Kansas, Louisiana and other states "do not want Medicaid tax dollars used to prop up abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood."

"We support their right to redirect taxpayer funds away from entities that destroy innocent lives and instead fund comprehensive community health care alternatives that outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities at least 20 to one nationwide," Dannenfelser added.

The court issued the 6-3 order in the cases of Andersen v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast.

The three who dissented were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. New Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was in the majority; if the order had been 5-4, the court would have heard the appeals.

"So what explains the court's refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood,'" Thomas wrote in dissent. "That makes the court's decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion."

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is a surgeon, said in a statement: "We regret today's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that it fell one vote short of taking our case against Planned Parenthood. My support of the pro-life movement will not be diminished by today's development, and I look forward to future victories in defense of the right to life."

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West Bank residents work to ensure tourists spend time with locals

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (CNS) -- Bethlehem and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour depend economically on tourism, but traditionally have struggled with keeping visitors in the area for more than half a day. Although the hotels are fully booked for Christmas this year, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into any business for the locals.

Most large tour and pilgrim groups are bused through the Israeli checkpoint straight to the Church of the Nativity and sometimes to the nearby Milk Grotto or Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour. Then tourists get back on their buses and go to one of a select few souvenir shops to spend their money. If the souvenir hawkers hovering in the area are lucky, they may be able to sell the tourists a few trinkets during their brief stay. But for the most part smaller businesses, including shops and cafes, rarely see any rainfall from visitors.

With the memories of the economic difficulties during the second intifada still fresh in their memories, private residents and the three municipalities are starting initiatives to entice visitors to stop, stroll through the towns, eat a local baklava sweet or take a city tour, much like they would in any other city they visit.

Janneke Stegeman, 38, a German theologian, has been to Bethlehem many times. But this time, arriving during the Christmas season, she took advantage of a two-hour Art Walk tour through the old city of Beit Sahour -- one of Bethlehem's sister towns in the Bethlehem "triangle" -- to get to know some of the young artists in the area and hear about the work they are doing.

"For me, coming here as a pilgrim is having a deep connection to the context and people you are visiting," she told Catholic News Service. "People come to the holy places without realizing where they are and who the people are who are living here."

"This experience is really crucial to me ... especially at Christmas," Stegeman added. "It has to do with real people. I want to understand what is happening here, to talk to the people who are living here. To see how people keep their hope and perseverance in a context of a difficult reality."

Just having a cup of coffee at a place like Singer Cafe affords a glimpse into the life of young Palestinians who opt to stay in their city and invigorate their town rather than emigrate, she said, sipping her coffee as she spoke.

"It is important for me that people understand that Palestinians deserve as much time as Israel. There is nothing to be afraid of if they come here. Come, see the Nativity Church, but then come meet the local Palestinians, have a chat with them. People come to see the Biblical stones and then forget to see the living stones," she said.

Dutch expat Kristel Elayyan, 40, who runs the Singer Cafe with her husband, Tariq, started the Art Walk, so people get to know local artisans.

Social media is also taking a role in advertising the events and stirring up interest for both local and international visitors. The Bethlehem Christmas tree was lit to the delight of a crowd of thousands in Nativity Square, with live music and fireworks following. Similar tree-lightings took place a few days later in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

The Latin Patriarchate tweeted about the tree-lighting event in Bethlehem, and the municipal Facebook pages advertise in English the various events taking place in the area during the season: the Art Walk, Christmas markets featuring locally produced crafts and food, an Afro-Dabkeh dance workshop, a pre-Christmas gala dinner, a pub dance party and a Christmas "Santa Run" in Beit Jala, where St. Nicholas is the patron saint.

As rain drizzled, participants in the Santa Run gathered in the parking lot of the Beit Jala Latin seminary Dec. 7, stretching their muscles, buying their red Santa shirts and taking selfies as they waited for the shuttle to take them to the Cremisan Monastery, where the run began.

"Five years ago, you could maybe go to a coffee place to smoke a water pipe and play some cards. Now there are bars for youth and places to meet up. There are a lot of places where you can spend your time here now," said Musa Khatib, 26, a pharmacist from the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa. "Because of social media you can follow the events, schedule your week. The spirit here is nice, the vibe is very positive, and you can see happy people."

A representative from the Beit Jala municipality who declined to give his name told CNS: "Our vision is of strengthening the cultural side of Beit Jala. We want to note the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It is about promoting tourism, and bringing it up to the international level is our dream," he said as upbeat Christmas carols blared in English from a car with oversized loudspeakers.

In the end, some 80 locals and a few internationals took part in the run -- some came just for the fun while others came intent on winning. The Santa Run Facebook page was updated continuously throughout the event.

"This is great," said Elizabeth Purcell, 35, from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, whose husband works for the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. She was there with her three sons and two young friends visiting from the U.S. "If you just go to the church, you are not seeing what is really here. You don't get to meet the people if you don't go to something like this race or to a craft fair. You can see the energy here. It is energizing to see foreigners coming here. It is great for the Palestinian economy."

 

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Vatican official: With migration, cooperation is better than isolationism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Luisa Gonzalez, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican praised the adoption by more than 160 nations of a key agreement on global migration, saying today's migration challenges are better tackled together than with "isolationist" stances.

The U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration "includes a comprehensive framework of best practices and policy instruments to increase international cooperation and sharing of responsibility in the governance of migration," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, head of the Vatican delegation, told government leaders.

The agreement, which is not legally binding, gives countries "the space to respond to their national circumstances and priorities, in full respect of international law and of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status," he said at the gathering Dec. 10.

"Its implementation will help all governments, as well as nongovernmental entities, including faith-based organizations, collectively to manage migration in a more safe, orderly and regular manner, something no state can achieve alone," said the cardinal, who is the Vatican secretary of state. The Vatican released a copy of the cardinal's remarks Dec. 11.

More than 160 nations formally adopted the agreement Dec. 10 at an international conference in Marrakech, Morocco. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Chile and a handful of European countries were among more than a dozen nations that did not support the pact and its provisions.

Cardinal Parolin noted the refusal of some nations to take part in the conference or in the process of drafting the agreement. The Vatican, however, "is convinced that the enormous challenges that migration poses are best faced through multilateral processes rather than isolationist policies," he said.

While the Vatican supported the compact, he said, it will present "its reservations in due time, specifically on those documents in the compact that contain terminology, principles and guidelines that are not agreed language, including certain ideological interpretations of human rights that do not recognize the inherent value and dignity of human life at every stage of its beginning, development and end."

Nonetheless, the global compact is still is a "significant advance in the international community's shared responsibility to act in solidarity with people on the move, especially those who find themselves in very precarious situations," he said, as it allows states to "improve their respective migration policies and, together, the international management of migration."

"As we have seen in recent years," he said, when challenges "are not managed well, crises can form, rhetoric can eclipse reason, and migrants can be seen more as threats than as brothers and sisters in need of solidarity and basic services."

"The Global Compact on Migration attempts to assist the international community to prevent crises and tragedies," he said. "At the same time, it also seeks to improve the governance of migration, which is bound to increase as the international community grows more economically, socially and politically interconnected."

The United Nations estimates that there are over 258 million migrants around the world living outside their country of birth, and, it said, that figure is expected to grow. The compact arose from the awareness that a more global and comprehensive approach was needed to promote the benefits of migration and tackle the risks and challenges facing individuals and communities in countries of origin, transit and destination.

During a dialogue session at the Marrakech conference, discussing concrete ways to create partnerships and implement the pact, Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican urged the international community to help address the root causes of migration by being committed to fostering peace and development around the world.

While it is important to help make migration voluntary and safe, orderly and regular, people still should have the right not to migrate, he said.

Because the compact states, "We must work together to create conditions that allow communities and individuals to live in safety and dignity in their own countries," adequate responses must be given "to the adverse drivers of migration, most especially, violent conflicts and extreme poverty," he said.

"Situations of violence, inhumane living conditions, and economic hardship, as well as natural disasters and environmental degradation, affect not only those countries where they arise but also those countries of transit and destination," he said.

It requires more than just providing international development assistance and humanitarian aid, he said. It "also involves the commitment to the integral human development of every individual, providing each person with the basic conditions and opportunities to live a decent life.

"Few would leave if they had access to jobs, education, health care and other basic goods and services that are fundamental to every person's fulfillment and basic well-being. Also essential to stability are the fundamental rights to be able to practice one's religion freely, without fear of persecution or discrimination, as well as the right to political participation and freedom of expression," Cardinal Parolin said.

The other commitment the Vatican would like to emphasize, he said, is making sure all migrants, regardless of their status, "be guaranteed due process and receive an individual assessment that will determine their status."

"In the case of children and victims of trafficking, such measures are crucial if we are to respond adequately to their needs and be sure that they not find themselves in the very same situation that they sought to leave behind," he said.

Countries must also promote policies that favor family reunification and "prevent their separation throughout the migration process, while working toward ending the practice of detention, particularly of minors," he added.

Since migration very likely will continue in the coming years, "we consider it necessary to widen the regular and sure channels of emigration through generous and responsible policies, inspired by solidarity and co-responsibility," he said. 

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Consolation comes even in martyrdom, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God sends his consolation to those in need of reassurance, even when they are facing death, Pope Francis said.

Just like the early Christian martyrs, who sang as they marched to their deaths in the Colosseum, today's martyrs still give witness to that same joy in the midst of suffering, the pope said in his homily Dec. 11 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"I think of the good Coptic workers on the beach of Libya, slaughtered. They died saying, 'Jesus, Jesus!' There is a consolation within, a joy even in the moment of martyrdom," he said.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's first reading from the prophet Isaiah, in which God sends his messenger to "give comfort to my people" and "speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

This tenderness, the pope explained, is "a language that the prophets of doom do not know."

"It is a word erased from all the vices that drive us away from the Lord: clerical vices, the vices of a few Christians who do not move, who are lukewarm. They are afraid of tenderness," he said.

However, tenderness is precisely what God uses to console his people, like a shepherd who carries a lamb or a mother comforting her child, the pope said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to prepare for Christmas by praying for God's consolation, especially in times of suffering, "because it is a gift from God."

God, he said, "is at the door. He knocks so that we may open our hearts and let ourselves be consoled and be at peace. And he does so gently: he knocks with caresses."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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