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For Lent, Irish Catholics urged to abandon 'weapons of mass distraction'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Nick Bramhill

DUBLIN (CNS) -- Alcohol, smoking and chocolates are some of the most well-known vices that people traditionally give up during Lent. But now Massgoers in Ireland are being urged to make what might be an even harder sacrifice throughout the penitential six-week period -- switching off their mobile phones.

Parishioners in Navan, County Meath, are being urged to "reconnect with their families" in the weeks leading up to Easter by talking to one another rather than texting and browsing online. The "Invitation for Lent 2019" urges churchgoers to "reduce screen time in order to increase family time."

Father Robert McCabe of St. Mary's Church, Navan, said he hopes parishioners will make a permanent lifestyle change, rather than just putting down their devices during Lent.

"Everybody can benefit from spending less time on their phones and laptops and using that time to communicate instead with their families," he said.

"Even members of the clergy are guilty of being on their phones too much, and Pope Francis himself has highlighted this point when he chastised priests and bishops who take pictures with their mobiles during Masses, saying they should lift up their hearts rather than their mobiles."

Father McCabe, a former military chaplain, said mobile phone etiquette has even been introduced in the pre-baptism courses he runs in his parish.

"One of the things we stress in the course is that just one person should be taking photos of the baptism, while everyone else relaxes and enjoys the occasion," he said. "If people are holding up their phones to take photos of the event, then they are not properly engaging with it.

"The same can be said of weddings. The last thing a bride wants to see as she walks down the aisle is loads of people with taking photos with their phones. The only person that should be taking pictures is the wedding photographer."

While Father McCabe acknowledges that some people -- including those on call for their work -- are not in a position to turn off their smartphones, he insists everyone could all benefit from spending less time staring into devices.

"A good description of phones that I've heard is that they are 'weapons of mass distraction.' If you're in a position to switch them off, then do so and use that time positively," he said.

"I hope people will heed this message during Lent, and that people will make changes for life, and not just for this period. People are spending too much time in the virtual world, and need to come back to the real world."

 

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Update: Judge sentences Cardinal Pell to six years in prison on abuse charges

IMAGE: CNS photo/Erik Anderson, Reuters

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MELBOURNE, Australia (CNS) -- Cardinal George Pell, 77, was sentenced to six years in prison March 13, just over two weeks after a Melbourne court allowed the publication of news that he had been found guilty of sexually abusing two boys.

Cardinal Pell, who continues to maintain his innocence, will try to appeal the verdict. The court has set June 5-6 as the dates to consider the basis for the appeal.

In December, a jury had found him guilty on five charges, each of which carried a maximum jail term of 10 years.

The jury unanimously found that Cardinal Pell, shortly after being named archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, sexually assaulted two choirboys in the sacristy of Melbourne's St. Patrick's Cathedral. The guilty verdict regarded one count of "sexual penetration," in this case oral sex, and four counts of indecent acts with or in the presence of a minor under 16 years of age.

Judge Peter Kidd spent more than one hour explaining the reasoning behind his sentencing and the factors he considered. He repeatedly referred to the cardinal's position of authority over the choirboys and the breach of trust his actions caused.

"You were a pillar of St. Patrick's Cathedral by virtue of your position," Kidd told the cardinal.

"The brazenness of your conduct is indicative of your power over the victims," he said.

The judge also said he had to consider the cardinal's age and health problems, including noting that the stress of imprisonment would exacerbate his hypertension and heart condition.

He said he realized that "each year you spend in custody" would represent a large portion of the remainder of his life.

"You may not live to be released from prison," he said.

The judge said he did not consider Cardinal Pell a risk to offend again and noted that it had been more than 20 years since the incidents in the trial. He also referred to character references he had received.

However, he ordered the cardinal to register as a sex offender and told him he would remain on that registry the rest of his life.

The cardinal will be eligible for parole after three years and eight months.

The verdict in this case was withheld from the public while Cardinal Pell was awaiting trial on other abuse allegations, but when prosecutors decided not to go forward with the second case, a judge lifted the ban on publishing the verdict Feb. 25.

The cardinal's legal team has lodged an appeal that will be heard by the Victorian Supreme Court (Appeal Division) on three grounds. The first is that the conviction by a 12-person jury is "unreasonable" because it relied on the "word of one complainant alone."

"The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence," the appeal says.

"On the whole evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone."

On this ground, the three appeals judges can overturn and expunge Cardinal Pell's conviction and set him free.

The second ground for appeal is a complaint from his defense team that it was stopped from using a visual aid it wanted to use to show it was impossible for the sexual activities to have taken place in the back rooms of the cathedral.

A final ground is that there was a "fundamental irregularity" by the judge that saw Cardinal Pell not physically enter a not-guilty-plea in front of the jury. Lawyers said this was likely because he had done so in a previous trial where the jury was dismissed after being unable to reach a verdict, and the judge advised the new jury of the cardinal's plea.

On the last two grounds -- which are of legal error -- the appeals judge can overturn the verdict but must order a fresh trial.

The Australian cardinal took a leave of absence from his post as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy in June 2017 to return to Australia to face the charges. The cardinal's five-year term as head of the secretariat expired Feb. 24.

On Feb. 27, just after the verdict was published and Cardinal Pell was taken to jail, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that it was beginning a canonical investigation of the cardinal. The congregation handles the church process for allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

One of the two victims is now deceased. Ahead of the sentencing, his father, who is now suing Cardinal Pell, released a lengthy statement.

"On the eve of George Pell's sentencing, my determination to see that man rot in jail is stronger than ever," the statement read in part.

"It will mean that he can no longer hurt any children. It will not bring my son back, but if Pell is in jail forever, he will not be able to destroy any more families the way he destroyed mine.

Apart from the civil suit, Cardinal Pell could face further legal battles. When he was in Melbourne, the cardinal set up a fund for sexual assault victims, who, when compensated, signed away rights to sue the church. The government in the state of Victoria is considering whether to restore the rights to sue. Other complainants whose allegations did not get as far as a trial could also sue him under Victoria's civil laws.

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Contributing to this story were Michael Sainsbury in Sydney, Cindy Wooden in Rome and Barb Fraze in Washington.

 

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CLINIC says South Sudan TPS extension should have included new arrivals

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andreea Campeanu, Reuters

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SILVER SPRING, Md. (CNS) -- Officials with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network criticized the federal Department of Homeland Security for its March 8 decision granting an 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status for South Sudan because it does not include recent arrivals from the war-plagued country.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the TPS extension would cover only the 84 South Sudan refugees who currently benefit from the program and have been in the United States since Jan. 25, 2016.

To include the new arrivals from South Sudan, Nielsen would have had to "redesignate" the TPS program, a decision that CLINIC's executive director called "morally reprehensible."

"South Sudan is experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world," said Anna Gallagher, head of CLINIC since February, in a March 8 statement. "This conflict is notorious for the violent targeting of civilians as well as sexual and gender-based violence regularly used as a weapon of war."

"Redesignation would have been in keeping with the law and congressional intent," Jill Marie Bussey, CLINIC director of advocacy, said March 8. "Redesignation would have allowed people who have more recently fled from the conflict to apply for protection. That could be hundreds of people. South Sudanese who currently have TPS and more recent arrivals from South Sudan are in equal need of protection and safety. This is why TPS exists."

The Christian and animist population South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, had prior to independence been routinely been subjected to targeting and deprivation from Sudanese military forces, especially in the Darfur region.

Today, though, South Sudan has an ongoing civil war, massive displacement and a devastating food insecurity crisis. It also lacks clean water, a viable health care system and suffers from inadequate public infrastructure.

Nielsen's extension of TPS to the 84 South Sudan refugees who currently qualify for it, came five days after the legal deadline of March 3. To be eligible under the current designation, "along with meeting the other eligibility requirements," these individuals must have continuously resided in the United States since Jan. 25, 2016, and have been continuously physically present in the United States since May 3, 2016, according to a DHS news release.

They can "register for an extension of their status for 18 months," which goes through Nov. 2, 2020, the agency said. "Prior to the conclusion of the 18-month extension, the secretary will review conditions in South Sudan to determine whether the TPS designation should be extended again or terminated."

CLINIC, which is based in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, was among the more than 300 organizations and individuals across the religious spectrum who signed a letter in February asking Nielsen to grant an 18-month extension to current TPS beneficiaries from South Sudan status and redesignate TPS for the African nation.

A statistical analysis issued last September by a five-member team from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said the conflict in South Sudan has likely led to 400,000 "excess deaths" since the civil war began in 2013, close to half of them in 2016-17 alone.

The findings, the study said, "point to a conflict that, for civilians, has been arguably even more violent than has been reported, and that has caused massive waves of displacement. Violence itself appears to be the key driver of overall mortality and of deaths indirectly attributable to the war."

 

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Encore: USCCB publishes revised translation of rite for blessing holy oils

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By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The preparation, blessing and distribution of oils are central to the Catholic Church's sacraments and rites -- and are among some of the church's most ancient traditions and rituals witnessed during Holy Week.

The oils include the oil of the sick, used in the anointing of the sick; the oil of catechumens, which is for those preparing to be baptized, and the chrism oil, which is consecrated and used for baptism, confirmation and holy orders.

Ahead of this annual blessing ritual -- which takes place at a special liturgy called the chrism Mass usually celebrated on Holy Thursday -- comes the publication of a new book titled "The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism" by the publishing division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The book is the revised translation of the rite for blessing the holy oils that the Vatican approved in 2017. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, which was March 6 this year, this text became the required English translation for use in the United States. It will be necessary for dioceses' celebration of the chrism Mass.

"USCCB Publications has produced an attractive book that is worthy of a ceremony as important as the chrism Mass. The use of the holy oils is a striking part of the church's prayer in various moments of a person's life and in important moments in the life of a parish," Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat of Divine Worship, said in a statement.

"All of these ceremonies throughout the diocese are linked together through those oils blessed by the bishop," he added.

This ritual book is intended primarily for U.S. bishops and their diocesan worship offices, but also will be useful for seminaries, theological libraries and "those who are interested in this important moment in the liturgical life of the Catholic Church," the USCCB said.

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Editor's Note: "The Order of Blessing the Oil" can be ordered at https://bit.ly/2SR2ftP. The 32-page book is a leather-bound, hardcover volume and costs $29.95. The product code is 7-624.

 

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Actress calls her deafness 'a gift'; remembers Catholic school as 'family'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Michelle Martin

CHICAGO (CNS) -- When Lauren Teruel Ridloff stepped through the door at Children of Peace School, she said she felt like nothing had changed.

"It was a little overwhelming," said Ridloff, 40, who was last in the school -- then known as Holy Trinity School for the Deaf -- when she graduated from eighth grade in 1991.

Now Ridloff is perhaps best known for playing Connie on "The Walking Dead," a post-apocalyptic horror show that airs on AMC, and for her Tony-nominated performance in the 2018 Broadway revival of "Children of a Lesser God."

Father Joseph Mulcrone, director emeritus of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Catholic Office of the Deaf, said that Ridloff, in some ways, had not changed either.

"She always had that smile," said Father Mulcrone, who was at the school with retired principal Phyllis Winter to greet Ridloff when she returned to her elementary school Feb. 22 to speak to students.

Ridloff was born in Chicago, the second child of hearing parents, and was 2 years old before she was diagnosed as being deaf. A year later, she started preschool at Holy Trinity School for the Deaf.

"This school is family," she said, before stepping into the gym where she once participated in classes and Christmas shows. "I grew up here."

Ridloff uses American Sign Language to communicate; Chicago-based interpreter Candice Hart-Hathaway voiced her words for Children of Peace's hearing students, staff and guests.

When she was in school, the teachers welcomed her and her family, she said, visiting them at home and helping her family learn to communicate with her as she learned to communicate herself. They encouraged her love of reading, and to make the leap to attend a boarding school for deaf high school students on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, before heading to California State University-Northridge to study creative writing.

She taught kindergarten in New York for 10 years, working in a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children and hearing children of deaf parents, and then became a stay-at-home mother. Her husband, Douglas Ridloff, and her two sons, now 5 and 7, are also deaf. Along the way, she was crowned Miss Deaf America in 2000.

It was while she was home with her boys that she began to consider acting more seriously. She had a small part in the 2017 movie "Wonderstruck," but her break came when "Children of a Lesser God" director Kenny Leon hired her as a sign-language tutor. Since he had not cast the female lead -- a plum role for a deaf actress -- he asked her to participate in a table reading. Just like that, she got the part.

While the play got mixed reviews and had a short run, Ridloff won raves.

"I feel I discovered my passion doing this," Ridloff told the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. "I feel so proud. I didn't see this coming."

Speaking to the elementary school students at Children of Peace, she told them about her role on "The Walking Dead," but told them that their parents shouldn't let them watch it. Later, speaking to an audience of mostly high school students from various programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the Chicago area, she asked how many watched the show. Most hands went up.

She's glad, she said, that there are two deaf characters on the show, because they can show different ways of being deaf. While Ridloff used hearing aids and had speech therapy as a child, she no longer speaks aloud conversationally.

"That's my deafness," she told the high school students. "Your deafness is different. Everyone's deafness is different. But I do feel a responsibility to represent deaf people."

But, she said, her deafness is not something sad to her.

"My deafness is a gift," she said.

Ridloff told both audiences that she was going to share a secret with them. "I'm very bashful," she said. "Painfully shy."

That makes acting a challenge, but one she has learned to accept and conquer. She encouraged the students to follow that example.

"Even if we're feeling scared about something, we don't let that stop us," Ridloff said. "If someone asks us to do something new, we should do it. And if we make a mistake ' mistakes are good. When you mess up, you learn something."

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Martin is a reporter at Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Update: Four CRS staffers, humanitarian workers aboard Ethiopian jet that crashed

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Four Catholic Relief Service staff members on their way to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, were among the passengers aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed moments after takeoff in the east African nation.

The accident March 10 claimed the lives of 157 people on board, many of them from humanitarian agencies.

Others on the jetliner included a Georgetown University law school student who was serving as a campus minister and 19 staff members of U.N. agencies.Two Kenyan religious, Mariannhill Father George Kageche Mukua and an unidentified nun, were also among those killed in the crash.

Pope Francis offered prayers for the passengers from 35 countries in a telegram March 11.

"Having learned with sadness of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash, His Holiness Pope Francis offers prayers for the deceased from various countries and commends their souls to the mercy of almighty God. Pope Francis sends heartfelt condolences to their families, and upon all who mourn this tragic loss he invokes the divine blessings of consolation and strength," said the telegram from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

In a statement March 11, Catholic Relief Services shared the news of the tragedy involving its staffers, all Ethiopian nationals.

The dead include Getnet Alemayehu, Mulusew Alemu, Sintayehu Aymeku and Sara Chalachew. They worked in various administrative positions for CRS.

"Although we are in mourning, we celebrate the lives of these colleagues and the selfless contributions they made to our mission, despite the risks and sacrifices that humanitarian work can often entail," CRS said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and all of those who lost loved one as a result of this tragedy."

Catholic Relief Services is the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency. In Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed sadness at the "deaths of four of our esteemed colleagues."

In a letter to Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour, chairman of the board of CRS, the cardinal said he had asked all bishops in the U.S. to pray for the repose of the souls of the four workers.

"May the consolation of the Savior's embrace be now a source of comfort to their loved ones and co-workers on this difficult and painful day," Cardinal DiNardo wrote March 11.

Cedric Asiavugwa, a third-year law student at Georgetown University and campus minister, was among the passengers. A letter sent to the Georgetown community late March 10 said he was on his way home to Nairobi because of the death of his fiancee's mother.

"With his passing, the Georgetown family has lost a stellar student, a great friend to many, and a dedicated champion for social justice across East Africa and the world," said the letter from Jesuit Father Mark Bosco, executive vice president and dean at Georgetown's law school.

Asiavugwa was a residential minister at Georgetown. He had served as assistant director of advancement at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, a free high school for orphans with HIV/AIDS in Nairobi, before enrolling at the law school. He also had served refugees and marginalized people Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and Zimbabwe before enrolling at Georgetown, the letter said.

During the current semester at Georgetown, Asiavugwa was enrolled in the Center for Applied Legal Studies clinic, working with refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

"Cedric's goal was to return to Kenya after his studies to pursue a career promoting the rights of refugees in East Africa and beyond," Father Bosco wrote.

The day of the crash, the Ethiopian Catholic bishops also sent condolence and offered prayers "for those who have lost their lives, that they may rest in peace in heaven."

"We ask our Lord to console the hearts of the families of those who died, all the staff of Ethiopian Airlines and the people of Ethiopia," said the bishops' statement, issued in the country's Amharic language.

"We particularly pray for the staff of Ethiopian Airlines, so that the Holy Spirit may grant them the strength to continue their well-praised services to all the clients of Ethiopian Airlines," the bishops said.

David Beasley, World Food Program executive director, mourned the loss of his agency's seven staffers in a March 10 statement.

"As we mourn, let us reflect that each of these WFP colleagues were willing to travel and work far from their homes and loved ones to help make the world a better place to live. That was their calling, as it is for the rest of the WFP family," he said.

A list of the dead released by Ethiopian Airlines included 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, eight from the United States and others from China, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

Aviation officials from Ethiopia were investigating the accident, the second in recent months involving the brand-new Boeing 737 Max jet. In October, a Lyon Air flight killed 189 people in Indonesia.

The plane has been the workhorse for airlines worldwide and has been the company's best-selling aircraft. China and Ethiopia grounded all flights involving the modern airliner March 11.

Four investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Security Board were dispatched to Ethiopia to assist in the investigation, an NTSB spokesman said March 10.

Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs among worldwide agencies serving poor and marginalized people, refugees and migrants.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Benedictine abbot leads pope, curial officials in Lenten retreat

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis asked 50-year-old Benedictine Abbot Bernardo Gianni to lead his Lenten retreat, the abbot said he told the pope he felt "very inadequate."

"The pope responded to me that that was a great precondition for doing it well," the abbot of Florence's Abbey of San Miniato al Monte told the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis and 64 members of the Roman Curia left the Vatican March 10 and were driven out to the Pauline Fathers' retreat house in Ariccia, about 20 miles south of Rome, for the retreat, which was to run through March 15.

Before leaving the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter's Square and asked them to remember in prayer him and his collaborators from the Curia.

During the retreat, Abbot Gianni was scheduled to give 10 meditations. Most of the rest of the time, the pope and curial officials were to spend in silence. They would celebrate Mass together each morning and end the day with eucharistic adoration.

Pope Francis met Abbot Gianni in 2015 when the Benedictine helped organize the national pastoral convention of the Catholic Church in Italy, and Pope Francis gave several major talks there.

For the theme of the Lenten retreat, the abbot chose a verse,  "The city of ardent desires," from the late poet Mario Luzi, as well as ideas from Giorgio La Pira, a former mayor of Florence whose sainthood cause is underway.

Abbot Gianni told L'Osservatore that by combining Luzi and La Pira with the teaching of Pope Francis in "The Joy of the Gospel," he planned to focus on the Christian vocation to transform cities and other earthly realities into places where people would experience God and God's blessings.

It is not unlike what Benedictine monasteries are called to do, he said. The monks are dedicated to "witnessing love for time, the care of spaces, diligence in work, fraternal life and welcome."

Everyone in the church, "from the pope on down," is called to ignite "ardent desires" -- holy desires and a longing for virtue -- in cities, towns and communities, he said.

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Pope meets top leaders of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis welcomed top officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Vatican the day before the officials inaugurated their first temple in the city of Rome.

The Vatican included the pope's meeting with Russell M. Nelson, president of the Latter-day Saints church, in a list of Pope Francis' encounters March 9, but did not provide further information.

Catholic and Mormon leaders, especially in the United States, have increased their official contacts in recent years, working together on many social projects and joining forces to promote issues of common concern, particularly policies to support traditional families.

But the Catholic Church does not recognize the baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a valid Christian baptism.

The Catholic position was issued formally in 2001 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

While the Mormon baptismal rite refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mormon beliefs about the identity of the three persons is so different from Catholic and mainline Christian belief that "one cannot even consider this doctrine to be a heresy arising from a false understanding of Christian doctrine," said a Vatican explanation of the ruling.

Nelson, who Mormons consider a prophet, and other top officials of the Latter-day Saints church were in Rome for the March 10 inauguration of a new temple, where special marriage, baptism and other rites are performed.

While the Vatican issued no statement on the meeting with the pope, the Latter-day Saints' official website -- lds.org -- carried a long piece and a video interview with Nelson, along with ample coverage of the temple dedication.

The website reported that the meeting with the pope lasted 33 minutes.

"We talked about our mutual concern for the people who suffer throughout the world and want to relieve human suffering," Nelson said. "We talked about the importance of religious liberty, the importance of the family, our mutual concern for the youth (and) for the secularization of the world and the need for people to come to God and worship him, pray to him and have the stability that faith in Jesus Christ will bring in their lives."

Describing Pope Francis, Nelson said, "What a sweet, wonderful man he is, and how fortunate the Catholic people are to have such a gracious, concerned, loving and capable leader."

 

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Group's immigrant solidarity project 'not about politics,' organizers say

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Patricia Vice

By Jacob Comello

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On March 4, Cristobal Cavazos and his companions on the "DuPage Solidarity With the Asylum Seekers" project departed from the headquarters of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, and began a long trek to the U.S-Mexico border where they planned to deliver supplies to those who had made a much longer and more dangerous journey to get there.

With a truckload of clothes, shoes, toiletries and other goods in tow, they were seeking to seize "a chance to do a radical act of compassion" toward asylum-seekers from Honduras and other Central American countries who have arrived at the U.S. southern border, Cavazos told Catholic News Service.

"This is the front-page news" Cavazos declared in a phone interview. "Our brothers and sisters are showing up here." He sees the plight of Central American immigrants as one that was similarly recounted in the Bible in the Book of Exodus.

"They are going to the promised land," he said.

Groups involved in the solidarity project for asylum-seekers include the Diocese of Joliet's peace and justice ministry as well as Lutheran, Mennonite, Episcopal, Unitarian and Methodist churches.

Cavazos downplayed the idea that caring for migrants ought to be a partisan issue amid contentious debates over border security.

"This isn't about politics here," he said. "Christ was the intersection of the left and the right. ... There are no need for scapegoats."

He instead stressed that the selfless work being done by the Catholic Church at the border stems purely from the faith and goodwill of those who have dedicated themselves to this mission, despite human nature often rigging us to pursue more self-interested motives.

"There is a part of human nature that says, 'This is mine.'... It has always been the role of the Christian to say, 'No,'" and rather increase one's generosity, Cavazos stated.

Cavazos and those with him had just arrived in McAllen, Texas, in the Diocese of Brownsville, where they were about to deliver their load to a Catholic respite center. There, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, headed by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, operates a respite center for migrants. (The center recently had to find a new location as per an order by the McAllen City Commission.)

The center is "doing incredible work," Cavazos said, "taking in almost 100 people a day and giving them food and water. ... They are women and children. ... They need the love."

And that love is certainly needed as evidenced by the stories of asylum-seekers, many of whom are escaping extreme poverty, gang violence, unemployment or what some claim is persecution by corrupt governments.

"(Many of them) come from Honduras," Cavazos reported, where people have few property rights and live under a "very corrupt government," which came about as the result of a coup, he added. Cavazos additionally noted that children are often caught in the most wretched situations. "There are a lot of unaccompanied minors" and "a lot of abuse," he said.

Migrants "are living with the same pure intention of living a good life" as others in the United States do, Cavazos remarked.

After McAllen, he and his companions planned to head to El Paso, Texas, where they hoped to help connect migrants with a network of resources, including helping them access pro bono immigration law firms.

"We are trying to get people connected to the resources of the Catholic Church," Cavazos added.

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Update: Christians and Jews must join to fight hatred, promote women, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Engaging in any form of anti-Semitism is a direct contradiction with the Christian faith, Pope Francis said.

Meeting members of the American Jewish Committee March 8, the pope shared his "great concern" over "the spread, in many places, of a climate of wickedness and fury, in which an excessive and depraved hatred is taking root," including "the outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks in various countries."

"It is necessary to be vigilant about such a phenomenon," he said, because, as the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews said, "History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah, in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated."

Cultivating good relations, showing respect for others and being vigilant against any sign of hatred and prejudice is "a call from God," the pope said.

Christians and Jews, he said, must transmit to their children "the foundations of love and respect. And we must look at the world with the eyes of a mother, with the gaze of peace."

Meeting the group on International Women's Day, Pope Francis spoke of "the irreplaceable contribution of women in building a world that can be a home for all," a home where believers strive to fulfill God's command in Deuteronomy to "love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength."

"Women make the world beautiful, they protect it and keep it alive," the pope said. "They bring the grace of renewal, the embrace of inclusion and the courage to give of oneself."

"If we take to heart the importance of the future, if we dream of a future peace, we need to give space to women," Pope Francis said.

Interreligious dialogue, he said, is an important part of efforts to fight hatred and anti-Semitism. The dialogue aims to promote "a commitment to peace, mutual respect, the protection of life, religious freedom and the care of creation."

Pope Francis urged Jews and Christians to work together, countering the spread of "a depersonalizing secularism" by "making divine love more visible for humanity" and engaging in common works of charity "to counter the growth of indifference."

"In a world where the distance between the many who have little and the few who have much grows every day," he said, "we are called to take care of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the weak, the sick, children and the elderly."

Pope Francis also encouraged Catholics and Jews to involve young people in interreligious dialogue as "an effective means of countering violence and opening new paths of peace with all."

John Shapiro, president of the American Jewish Committee, thanked Pope Francis for deciding to open to scholars in March 2020 material in the Vatican Secret Archives covering World War II and the papacy of Pope Pius XII.

"We look forward especially to the involvement of the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. to objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as valiant efforts during the period of the Shoah," Shapiro said, according to a statement from the AJC.

Members of the group also presented Pope Francis with a certificate testifying that a grapevine dedicated to him would be the first in a "vineyard of the nations," a vineyard in Israel where each vine is sponsored by a Christian outside of the country. In addition, they told the pope, each year he would receive a bottle of wine from his vine.

 

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