Various Catholic News

In light of faith: Vocational discernment and anxiety

Crux Now - 5 hours 49 min ago

“The purpose of vocational discernment is to find out how to transform (our choices), in the light of faith into steps toward the fullness of joy to which everyone is called.”

These words from the introduction to the Vatican preparatory document for the upcoming synod on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” reiterate Pope Francis’s call to our church today: to live the joy of the Gospel.

However, in my time as a college campus minister, I’ve noticed that discerning one’s vocation is not often associated with joy; quite the contrary, I find that it can even keep one from it.

Vocational discernment often brings forth anxiety in our young people. True, any major life decision can bring about variable levels of stress or worry.

However, I find it is not simply the “traditional” Catholic vocations that stir up this tension. Questions like, “What am I called to do to next semester? Tomorrow? This afternoon?” yield just as much apprehension.

We’ve heard countless times that millennials are the most anxious generation. Regardless of whether this is an exaggeration or a self-fulfilling prophecy, there are very many young people today that suffer from anxiety.

It is important to understand that anxiety is not just feeling anxious. Generalized anxiety disorder as defined by the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders” is prolonged, excessive, apprehensive worrying.

Anxiety can have many causes, sometimes even other mental illnesses. Indeed, social psychologists debate what the causes are for such a spike in anxiety among our young people today.

While vocational discernment is not the only cause for anxiety that I see, it is by far the most common. But since anxiety is not the only mental health issue I find my students struggling with (e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.), I’d like to use my experience as an opportunity to call for greater mental health awareness in professional ministry.

We ministers are charged with the spiritual care of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we cannot do so effectively if we are ignorant of other spheres of reality like mental health. This is not to say that all ministers must also be psychologists. We each have our distinct roles to play.

We must, however, acknowledge that purely spiritual exercises can only do so much to heal one suffering from anxiety or other mental illnesses. Sometimes quoting Jeremiah 29:11 or Philippians 4:6 isn’t enough.

I am cautious not to use the popular dictum, “Prayer is not enough.” However, there is some wisdom in these words if we understand that by saying “Prayer is not enough,” we are not saying that “Christ is not enough.”

In fact, Christ is absolutely enough; and we seek him above all else to heal us. We seek him in the sacraments, in Scripture and in prayer. But what I feel we often forget is that we are the body of Christ (1 Cor 12). “Christ has no body now on earth but yours,” St. Teresa of Avila tells us.

The church, the body of Christ, is made up of priests, religious and ministers, but it is also made up of doctors, psychologists, you and me. Each of us possesses gifts necessary to bring the healing of Christ to one another.

“How (can) the church help young people to accept their call to the joy of the Gospel?” our bishops ask.

My answer: Urge all ministers who accompany young people to take mental health seriously, to take time to educate themselves on these matters and, most important, to refer young people to reputable counselors when necessary.

Lopez is director of campus ministry at the University of Dallas. He is a guest columnist for the Catholic News Service column “In Light of Faith.”

Hindus beat priest, burn vehicle outside Indian police station

Crux Now - 5 hours 50 min ago

BHOPAL, India — Hindu extremists beat eight priests and burned their vehicle outside a central Indian police station.

Ucanews.com reported the victims had been trying to help 30 seminarians and two priests arrested Dec. 14 for allegedly trying to convert non-Christians.

Trouble started when the seminarians from St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna went to a local village to sing Christmas carols.

Father George Mangalappally said that as they were singing, an angry mob started shouting slogans against what they regarded as conversion activities.

“One of them called police and demanded action against us,” Mangalappally said.

A police officer, on condition of anonymity, stated that after the carolers were arrested and charged, they were kept in protective custody because of fears they would be attacked if released immediately.

Father Anish Emmanuel was among those who went to the police station to aid the carolers.

However, about 100 Hindus attacked them in the police compound, Emmanuel said.

“We were beaten up in front of the police, but they did nothing,” he said. “They set our vehicle on fire, forcing us to take shelter inside the police station.”

Father Maria Stephen, a spokesperson for the regional bishops’ council, said this kind of attack raised serious questions about a lack of religious freedom in predominantly Hindu India.

The Catholics were detained on charges of violating a state law that makes it a criminal offense to attempt to convert anyone using fraud, inducement or allurement.

Bishop Joseph Kodakallil of Satna told ucanews.com that a villager had falsely claimed he was offered 5,000 rupees (US$65) to convert to Christianity.

He said missioners in the diocese had been experiencing hostility for the past two years.

Overall, more than 650 attacks on minority Christians have been reported in the Hindu-majority nation so far in 2017.

Bolivian president visits pope ahead of papal trip to Chile

Crux Now - 5 hours 50 min ago

VATICAN CITY — Bolivian President Evo Morales implied in a Tweet that he and Pope Francis had discussed Bolivia’s territorial dispute with Chile during a meeting at the Vatican Dec. 15.

According to the Vatican, the 30-minute private meeting “took place in a cordial atmosphere.”

During their conversation, the Vatican said, “appreciation was expressed for the contribution the church has given and continues to ensure in favor of the human, social and cultural progress of the population of the country, and mention was made of the updating of the framework of agreements between the Holy See and Bolivia.”

In his official Twitter account, President Morales said his meeting with the pope “gives me more strength and more commitment” to serving the most abandoned.

The pope’s “reflections on the poorest, his prayers for peace and against injustice are always for reflection,” he tweeted after the meeting.

Although the Vatican said Morales and the pope spoke about “various themes of common interest,” there was no mention in the Vatican statement of the ongoing dispute between Bolivia and Chile. Francis will visit Chile Jan. 15-18.

Bolivia and Chile share a border of more than 400 miles, but do not have diplomatic relations. The sour relations are the product of a long history: Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific in 1879 and seized a mineral-rich region of Bolivia, turning Bolivia into a landlocked country.

Access to the sea is a common call from Bolivia, but Chile considers the case closed.

Morales has tried to draw Francis into the issue. When he welcomed the pope to Bolivia in 2015, Morales told him, “You have arrived in a country mutilated by its lack of access to the sea,” and gave him a gift, the “Book of the Sea.”

Francis responded by saying, “Dialogue is indispensable,” along with “building bridges instead of building walls.”

In a second tweet Dec. 15, Morales said Bolivia “still has very emotional memories” of the pope’s visit, and he thanked the pope for his support of their claim to sea access, using the hashtag #MarParaBolivia (#SeaForBolivia).

Arriving in the papal library, Morales warmly greeted the pope saying, “Brother Pope, good morning.”

As they sat down, the Bolivian president told Francis that he looked “much younger.”

“Yes, everybody tells me the same thing,” the pope responded.

‘Enough with the deaths’: Mexican clergy reiterate Chiapas is in crisis

Crux Now - 5 hours 51 min ago

MEXICO CITY — Clergy in southern Chiapas reiterated warnings of an escalating humanitarian crisis as a land dispute has driven some 5,000 indigenous Tzotzil from their communities and into the mountains to survive in cold and squalid conditions.

At least nine people among the displaced population have died. Father Marcelo Perez, a priest attending to the displaced Tzotzil, said the dead include a newborn baby, two children aged 2 or younger and several seniors over age 70.

“What Christmas will those from Chalchihuitan experience if they are dying?” Perez said in a Dec. 14 WhatsApp message.

“Enough with the deaths in Chalchihuitan,” the municipality where the deaths and the displacements occurred. “They are children of God. They are humans. They have a right to live.”

The conflict in Chiapas stems from a 1973 decision by Mexico’s Agrarian Reform Secretariat, when it established the boundaries between the Chiapas municipalities of Chenalho and Chalchihuitan.

Displeasure with the decision in Chenalho has caused conflict for decades. The most recent dispute escalated in November, when villagers from Chalchihuitan said they were run off their land at gunpoint.

Caritas in the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas has called for supplies of food, medicine and shelter, but its efforts have been hampered by roadblocks set up by armed groups in Chenalho.

“The humanitarian crisis grows with each day due to shortages … provoked by the blockades of the three entrances to the municipality of Chalchihuitan and adding to the effects of rain, the cold and displacement conditions of numerous families, the vast majority from the municipality of Chalchihuitan,” said a Dec. 12 statement signed by retired Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas, and Dominican Father Gonzalo Ituarte Verduzco, diocesan vicar for justice and peace.

“An armed group acting with impunity has caused a state of siege in the municipality of Chalchihuitan, and we do not understand why the state and federal authorities have allowed it,” the statement said.

The diocesan statement called for all levels of government to find “an integral solution, given that on this occasion the conflict has been aggravated more than on any other occasion in memory by the increasing participation of armed groups.”

On Dec. 13, an agrarian tribunal ruled on the dispute over 740 acres of land, but this time in favor of the Chenalho claimants; it said the 1973 decision benefiting Chalchihuitan was made in error. The federal and state governments subsequently offered compensation to 300 homeowners.

Everything you didn’t know about Christmas

Crux Now - 5 hours 52 min ago

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen.

You know Martin Luther invented the Christmas tree, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized it.

You know the Christmas holiday has strayed from its religious roots and observances.

But, author Judith Flanders says, “Anything you think you know about Christmas is wrong.”

“No, Prince Albert didn’t bring the Christmas tree to England. No, the Dutch did not invent Santa Claus. No, Santa Claus’s red suit did not come from Coca-Cola. You could just go on and on forever.”

Flanders dispels myths and misunderstandings about Christmas in her new book, “Christmas: A Biography.”

She is a scholar of 19th-century history who previously has written about everyday life in Charles Dickens’s London and about Victorian domestic life. She says the holiday was a “natural” topic for her. “The 19th century was a period where a lot of things we understand Christmas to be today crystallized.”

Here’s what she learned about a few familiar traditions.

Religious holiday … but not

More than half of all Americans — and 71 percent of white evangelical Christians — believe that the religious aspects of the holiday, the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, are emphasized less than they were in the past, according to a poll released this week by Pew Research Center.

But from the very beginning, Flanders says, “we have a holiday that has always been about eating and drinking.”

Since the 19th century, the focus of Christmas consumption has been on purchasing and giving gifts, she says. But there are warnings against excesses within decades of the bishop of Rome setting the date of Christmas on Dec. 25, according to the historian.

“We have the archbishop of Constantinople warning his flocks against feasting to excess and too much dancing on the day,” she says.

“We know historically nobody takes time to warn people against things they are not doing. You only see warnings about things that are happening. So we know that within 30 years of the day of the bishop of Rome’s announcement, we had a day that was pretty much given over to feasting, to excess and dancing. So it’s always been that.”

Santa Claus is coming to town

For centuries, Christmas has been part Christian celebration of Christ’s birth and part cultural celebration revolving around Santa Claus and giving gifts, she says.

The story of Santa Claus is popularly thought to have originated in the life of St. Nicholas. The fourth-century bishop of Myra famously threw three sacks of gold through a nobleman’s window to provide dowries to his daughters, according to a 1260 compilation of the lives of the saints called “The Golden Legend.” By the 16th century, the story goes, he was traveling the Netherlands on the eve of his feast day in December, bringing gifts to good children and lumps of coal to others.

But St. Nicholas may not have been a real person. He wasn’t mentioned until hundreds of years after he would have lived, according to Flanders. And it’s unlikely Dutch immigrants brought the jolly old elf with them to America. The official church of the North American Dutch colony was the Protestant Reformed Church, which didn’t recognize the saints or their feast days, she writes.

Flanders says Santa Claus actually arrived in America in “an elaborate confection made up by the writers and historians who were around the circle of Washington Irving.” He included Santa in his 1809 satirical work, “A History of New York.” One writer in that circle was Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas.”

“It was really only as Christmas became more domestic, more about children, in the 19th century that presents became more of a thing,” Flanders says.

Christmas trees and Pinterest-perfect celebrations

Christmas trees are another holiday tradition with a popular backstory that likely isn’t true.

One telling goes that Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was so inspired by the beauty of starlight twinkling in the branches of evergreen trees, he brought one home to his family and decorated it with glowing candles. The only problem with that story, Flanders says, is that Luther lived “several hundred kilometers from Christmas tree country.”

Even so, the first Christmas trees did come from German-speaking countries in the Middle Ages. Catholics would perform outdoor plays for the Feast of Adam and Eve on Christmas Eve, and without any apple trees to stand in for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would hang apples from evergreens. The plays, recalling the original sinners on the eve of the birth of the savior, passed out of fashion, but the trees stuck around, she says.

The first known decorated tree to move indoors was in a home in Strasbourg in 1605, according to the historian. Christmas trees reached Luther’s Wittenberg more than 100 years later and came to the United States with German immigrants.

There were mentions of Christmas trees among German immigrants in Britain, too, but the first account of a tree that can be dated belonged to German-born Queen Charlotte in 1800.

In 1848, an engraving of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gathered around a decorated tree with their children appeared in a London newspaper. Then a popular American magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, used the photo but erased Victoria’s crown and Albert’s sash. The magazine titled the image “The Christmas Tree.” Thus, the image gave middle-class households something to aspire to on both sides of the Atlantic.

“In every town, there were copies of this magazine with this picture, which was basically saying what Martha Stewart does today: ‘This is what your Christmas should look like,’” Flanders says.

“Just like today, we know without a staff of 17 and three photographers and a couple of fluffers, no one is going to produce a Christmas that looks like Martha Stewart’s. But it doesn’t stop us from trying it, the same way this picture. People would’ve known this is not what living rooms look like, but it wouldn’t stop them from trying.”

Pope accepts resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Macaluso of Hartford

Crux Now - 8 hours 28 min ago

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Christie A. Macaluso of Hartford, Connecticut.

The resignation was announced in Washington Dec. 15 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Macaluso, 72, is the vicar general of the archdiocese. He was named an auxiliary bishop of Hartford in 1997. He was appointed rector of St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut, in 2014. He also has served as financial officer for the archdiocese and moderator of the curia.

The Hartford Archdiocese in a statement extended its “best wishes, prayers, and deep gratitude” as Macaluso adjusted to retirement. It said he will continue to reside at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center at the seminary and “will remain active in episcopal ministry to the extent that his health and circumstances permit.”

“From my first days as archbishop of Hartford, Bishop Macaluso has been of invaluable assistance thanks to his knowledge and experience of this local church over many years,” Hartford Archbishop Leonard P. Blair said in a statement. “In the name of all the clergy, religious and laity of the archdiocese, I wish him all the best and God’s blessing in days to come.”

The archdiocese said that Macaluso “has shared his wisdom” as both chair and member of several committees and boards through the years. He has presided at numerous celebrations across the archdiocese, including the sacrament of confirmation and ordinations to the diaconate.

Born June 12, 1945, in Hartford, the bishop attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in sacred theology. He later earned master’s degrees in psychology from New York University and in philosophy from Trinity College. In addition, he studied multiple languages and music.

Following his ordination as a priest of the Hartford Archdiocese May 22, 1971, his assignments included assistant pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hartford and St. Joseph Parish in New Britain.

He also served as a faculty member of St. Thomas Seminary College and was appointed dean in 1980. In 1985, he became rector and president of St. Thomas Seminary. During that time, he also served as a weekend assistant at St. Francis Parish in Torrington and Sacred Heart Parish in Bloomfield. From 1991 until his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in 1997, he was rector of Hartford’s Cathedral of St. Joseph.

In Advent, the Beatitudes help keep the Christmas zombies at bay

Crux Now - 12 hours 56 min ago

The Advent season is a time to keep Christmas zombies at bay. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the limitation of time, and actively live in the present moment. With these efforts in mind, Advent can become a graced opportunity to deepen in the ways of God.

But what exactly does that mean? How does a person discern and know the ways of God?

People of good will can distinguish the various ways of God within the vast array of human activity by seeing the affirmation they give to humanity’s higher nature, the flourishing they bring about within the human person, and the building up of the common good. In summary, the ways of God are good and bring about goodness. They’re civil and civilizing.

And so, what are these ways? Listed quickly, they include possessing a poor spirit, sorrow over loss or evil, meekness, a keen desire for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, working for peace, and a willingness to suffer persecution for what is right and just.

This series can be found in religious traditions throughout human history. In particular, they are present in piecemeal fashion throughout Judaism’s TaNaK and Islam’s Quran. The New Testament, however, contains an almost creedal summary of these divine ways in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Commonly called the Beatitudes in the Christian tradition, the eight dimensioned paths of God are an ensured way to receive blessings and live a life of happiness. They form what Saint Paul later calls “the more excellent way of love.”

In the preaching of the Lord Jesus, he begins with a reference to “the kingdom of heaven.” He indicates that only the poor in spirit will receive it. In the line up, this initial reference is highly significant since the following beatitudes do not mention it. The kingdom is only addressed again in the eighth and final beatitude, namely, a willingness to accept persecution for the sake of righteousness. And so, the two shout-outs to the kingdom are approached pedagogically and are viewed as book ends to the life, ways, and the reign of God in this life and into eternal life.

As book ends, poverty of spirit and persecution for the sake of righteousness are the foundation and purpose of the Beatitudes. One is the key and the other is the mission. The others – grievance over loss or evil, meekness, a hunger and thirst for holiness, mercy, cleanliness of heart, and laboring for peace – all compose the internal dynamics of the ways of the kingdom of God.

For example, by living mercy, one is called to purity of heart. By laboring for peace, one is led to sorrow over the evil of our world. And the exchange and interaction continue. No one Beatitude stands alone. Each one of them points to the others and needs them in order to manifest and spread the kingdom of God, which is a kingdom of love, light, and grace.

Pope Francis stressed the universality and essential role of the Beatitudes in human life when he taught: “The Beatitudes are the path that God indicates as an answer to the desire of happiness inherent in man…”.

To the Christian believer, the pontiff was even more direct about the importance of the Beatitudes: “In fact, the Beatitudes are Jesus’ portrait, his way of life, and they are the way of true happiness, which we also can live with the grace that Jesus gives us… This is one of the fundamental criteria to verify our Christian life, against which Jesus invites us to measure ourselves every day.”

And so, we have these eight markers as both guides and principles of discernment. Each of them individually, and all of them together, help us to see the presence of God and the work of his kingdom in our world.

Advent is a time, therefore, to reread these cherished Beatitudes and recommit ourselves to this way of life. It dispels the zombies and calls us into the present moment. And in this seasonal moment, alert and alive, we are called to see and welcome the abundant life offered to us by God. We are invited to live and let others live within this kingdom of happiness.

Portions of this column were borrowed from my new book, Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life. Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press.

It may be inside baseball, but Vatican financial reform still matters

Crux Now - 12 hours 56 min ago

ROME – This week, a letter emerged written by Giulio Mattietti, a former adjunct director of the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the “Vatican bank,” asking for an explanation of why he was fired on Nov. 27, the same day Pope Francis arrived in Myanmar for the start of a six-day trip to Asia.

At the time, no reason was offered for the move, despite the fact reports suggested security agents not only escorted Mattietti out of the bank but off the physical territory of the Vatican. A few days later, amid mounting speculation, officials of the bank issued a statement saying the firing was “fully legitimate” and “normal and physiological,” and that the reasons had not been communicated “solely to protect the interests of those involved.”

That didn’t really satisfy anyone, apparently including Mattietti.

In the absence of a compelling explanation, many observers – myself included – couldn’t help but connect the Mattietti dismissal with other recent mysterious disappearances of people involved in Vatican financial administration, such as the June ouster of former Auditor General Libero Milone, once again without any motives stated.

RELATED: Latest Vatican mystery raises more questions about pope’s financial reform

To be fair, those of us who drew the connection should have been clear that we were engaging in a somewhat apples-and-oranges exercise.

Milone was a key figure on the Vatican landscape, the number one official in an office that was presented to the world in 2014 as the lynchpin of the pope’s financial reform. It was described as the bulwark of accountability that would keep everyone honest, and Milone’s personal background and integrity were said to be important guarantees.

Mattietti, on the other hand, as an “adjunct” director of the bank, maybe wasn’t quite middle management, but he certainly wasn’t the top dog. That’s French economist and finance expert Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, who’s held the post since July 2014, and who’s very much the one calling the shots.

To be honest, prior to Nov. 27, even most veteran Vatican observers had never heard of Mattietti. To suggest that anything crucial rises or falls with his departure, therefore, probably would be a stretch.

Another factual point that shouldn’t be lost is that enormous strides have been made in recent years to clean up operations at the Vatican bank, beginning with the creation of the Financial Information Authority (known by its Italian acronym AIF) under Pope Benedict XVI to exercise due diligence, including flagging suspicious transactions. By now, most illegitimate accounts at the bank have been closed and industry-standard paper trails have been established.

Also of importance is a memorandum of understanding signed in 2013 between AIF and the Financial Information Unit of the Bank of Italy. The message that sent to the financial community was loud and clear: Don’t try parking your assets in the Vatican bank anymore to avoid Italian tax obligations, because they’re going to know.

In other words, whatever questions the Mattietti case may raise, the overall record of movement in the right direction shouldn’t be lost.

Still, the circumstances of both departures clearly suggest transparency remains a work in progress. Assuming the Vatican has good reasons for forcing these figures out, why don’t they simply tell us?

It won’t do anymore to say the aim is to protect the reputations of those involved, because by now both Milone and Mattietti will be surrounded by a permanent cloud of suspicion until things are cleared up. Frankly, whatever they may have done is unlikely to be as bad as some conspiracy theories already posit.

At this point, many people may be tempted to ask: Who cares?

All this can seem the ultimate in insider baseball, something that only a handful of real Vatican junkies could possibly find relevant. We’re talking about obscure personalities, horribly complicated storylines, and relatively small stakes – to take the Vatican bank, its $8 billion in assets isn’t exactly chump change, but it’s hardly a financial colossus either. By way of comparison, JP Morgan, the largest bank in the U.S., controls $2.5 trillion in assets.

It’s totally reasonable to argue that preaching the Gospel, feeding the hungry, ending war and saving the planet are all far more important than who’s up and down in Vatican power games, or massaging the fine points of how its systems work.

Still, there are at least three reasons why the financial operation of the Vatican matters.

First, the Vatican sets a tone for church operations in other parts of the world. For decades now, dioceses and other church operations that have adopted state-of-the-art financial protocols have done so in spite of the Vatican’s example, not because of it. It would obviously be nice if it were the other way around.

(More times than I can count over the years, I’ve heard cardinals and bishops from around the world laugh over the mysteries of Vatican finances. The thing is, of course, the situation is funny until it isn’t – until some new scandal erupts, creating yet another impediment to getting the Church’s message across.)

Second, financial reform is an important litmus test of Francis’s credibility. He speaks a great deal about the corrupting power of money and the need to resist it, but if he can’t make that stick in the environment over which he has most direct personal control, then one may legitimately wonder whether it’s all just hollow rhetoric.

Third, Catholics the world over have a right to expect that money they donate to the Church will be well-managed. It’s probably a miracle that so many continue donating despite clear evidence to the contrary in far too many cases, but abusing the generosity of the rank-and-file obviously is no excuse for failing to get serious.

To be clear, it may be that getting serious is precisely what’s going on with both Milone and Mattietti. If one pillar of reform is transparency, however, then eventually someone probably is going to have to say so out loud, and to explain why.

No selling hair, teeth or hands of saints, Vatican decrees

Crux Now - 12 hours 57 min ago

ROME — The Vatican’s saint-making office has updated its rules governing the use of relics for would-be saints, issuing detailed new guidelines Saturday that govern how body parts and cremated remains are to be obtained, transferred and protected for eventual veneration.

The instructions explicitly rule out selling the hair strands, hands, teeth and other body parts of saints that often fetch high prices in online auctions. They also prohibit the use of relics in sacrilegious rituals and warn that the church may have to obtain consent from surviving family members before unearthing the remains of candidates for sainthood.

Bodily relics are an important part of Catholic tradition, since the body is considered to be the “instrument” of the person’s saintliness. Beatification and canonization Masses often feature the relic being ceremoniously brought to the altar in an elaborate display case and allowing the faithful to publicly venerate the new blessed or saint for the first time.

Officials said the new guidelines were necessary given some obstacles that had arisen since the rules were last revised in 2007, particularly when surviving relatives and church officials disagreed. One current case before a U.S. appeals court concerns a battle over the remains of Fulton Sheen, an American archbishop known for his revolutionary radio and television preaching in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sheen’s niece went to court to force the archdiocese of New York to transfer Sheen’s body from the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Peoria, Illinois, where Sheen was born, ordained a priest and where his sainthood cause has been launched by Peoria’s bishop.

The New York archdiocese refused and appealed a 2016 lower court ruling in favor of the niece. A decision from the appeals court is expected soon.

Monsignor Robert Sarno of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints said it’s impossible to know what difficulties could complicate a saint-making case, or whether the new guidelines might have helped avoid the legal battle over Sheen.

But Sarno said the Vatican believed the updates were needed anyway to provide bishops around the world with a detailed, go-to guide in multiple languages to replace the Latin instructions that provided only general rules to follow.

New to the protocols is an article that makes clear that bishops must have the “consent of the heirs” in places where the bodies of the dead legally belong to surviving family members or heirs.

The revised instructions lay out in detail how a body is to be unearthed, saying it must be covered with a “decorous” cloth while a relic is being taken or authenticated, and then re-buried in clothes of similar style.

They also make clear that the bishops involved must agree in writing to any transfer of remains and call for absolute secrecy when a body is unearthed and a relic taken for eventual veneration.

The document repeats church teaching that relics from candidates for sainthood can only be venerated publicly once they have been beatified, the first step to possible sainthood, and not before.

The guidance explicitly allows for cremated remains to be used as relics. For most of its 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church only permitted burial, arguing that it best expressed the Christian hope for resurrection. But in 1963, the Vatican explicitly allowed cremation as long as it didn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.

The new instructions only cover the so-called “first class” of relics from the actual body of the saintly candidate. The church also recognizes second- and third-class relics, such as clothes and other materials that came into contact with the would-be saint’s body.

Dec. 17 Third Sunday of Advent, Sunday

"Rejoice: the Lord is nigh." As Christmas draws near, the Church emphasizes the joy which should be in our hearts over all that the birth of our Savior means for us. The great joy of Christians is to see the day drawing nigh when the Lord will come again in His glory to lead them into His kingdom. The oft-repeated Veni ("Come") of Advent is an echo not only of the prophets but also of the conclusion of the Apocalypse of St. John: "Come, Lord Jesus," the last words of the New Testament.

Pope: Coldest hearts can be warmed by Christmas cheer

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 10:04 AM

VATICAN CITY — Christmas joy expressed through music brings a message of peace and brotherhood for those most in need, Pope Francis said.

Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the talents of musicians and artists during the festive season “is a formidable way to open the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas.”

“Christmas is a heartfelt feast, participatory, capable of warming the coldest hearts, of removing the walls of indifference toward one’s neighbor, of encouraging openness toward the other and giving freely,” he said Dec. 15.

The proceeds of the Dec. 16 concert, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations — Scholas Occurrentes and the “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation — to benefit children’s programs in Argentina and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pope thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to “the needs of the needy and disadvantaged who beg for help and solidarity” and for promoting peace and compassion through music.

Francis said he hoped the concert would be “an occasion to sow tenderness — this word that is often forgotten today. Violence, war, no! Tenderness! That it may sow tenderness, peace and hospitality which flows from the grotto in Bethlehem,” the pope said.

Among the international cast of musicians meeting the pope and performing at the concert were Annie Lennox and Patti Smith.

Chaplain says 40 years with bowl-bound Badgers ‘a wonderful experience’

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 10:03 AM

MADISON, Wisconsin — When the Wisconsin Badgers’ football team travels to the Orange Bowl to play Miami Dec. 30, the players will take a 12-1 record with them — one of the best in team history.

Accompanying them will be Monsignor Michael Burke — better known as “Father Mike” to the coaches and players. He has been the team’s chaplain for 40 years.

He began working with the team when he was on the faculty of Madison’s Holy Name Seminary. The Badgers used the seminary fields and facilities for their summer training camp for many years.

Burke was a faculty member, rector, and vocation director during the years from 1977 until the closing of the seminary in 1995.

He remembers the training camps well. “The team was usually at the seminary for over three weeks,” he recalled in an interview with the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Madison. “They were locked in and had to stay there the entire time. They certainly got focused, since there were no distractions.”

Burke believes he was the first team chaplain in the Big Ten Conference. Now, all but three of the schools’ teams have chaplains.

Throughout his years as chaplain for the University of Wisconsin-Madison team, he has offered encouragement and support to the coaches and players of all faiths.

He has performed 104 weddings of players and of coaches and countless baptisms. “They still stay connected with me,” he said. “They send lots of pictures.”

“Football is very intense,” Burke observed. “The players have to balance going to school, practicing, and keeping their head straight when they’re 18 years old. Many of them have issues with their families.”

He said the current head coach, Paul Chryst, and the assistant coaches let him know if players have personal problems. “It could be a father who’s in jail or someone in the family has cancer. I can be there to offer support.”

He said his work with the team is really another parish. “It’s very rewarding,” he said. “They keep me young.”

Burke retired in July as pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison, where he served since 1996. Since retirement, Chryst told him, “We’ll keep you busy.”

The priest’s encouragement of players “has happened thousands of times,” Chryst told the Catholic Herald. “Father Mike really helps our team.”

Burke prays with players of all faiths before the Badgers’ games, including in position groups.

During the games, he stands on the sidelines with the players and coaches. He wears a clerical collar, and recently at the Wisconsin-Iowa game, he got hit and knocked down by an Iowa player.

He said the Iowa player noticed his collar and said, “Sorry, Father,” and helped him up.

He said he has been impressed by the spirituality of the Badgers’ players and coaches. He said the players’ parents have noticed the change in their children, with many of them going to church more frequently.

The coaches and players also put their faith into action. This became evident this year when Wisconsin played Florida Atlantic University when Hurricane Irma hit their state.

The Florida Atlantic coaches and players ended up staying in Madison from game day on Saturday until the following Wednesday.

Wisconsin’s athletic director, Barry Alvarez, and his wife, Cindy, along with Chryst’s wife, Robin, and the wives of other coaches, made the Florida Atlantic crew welcome, as did Burke himself, who was out every day meeting with the visitors.

“It was impressive to see how we all helped the Florida Atlantic people. Many of them were worried about their families back home. Some of them wrote me thank-you notes when they got back,” said Burke. “It was a win-win situation all around.”

Asked to comment on the Badgers’ best football season ever, he said, “This year, they are so focused. They are a determined group, care for each other, and work together. I’ve never seen a coaching staff and players who work so well together.”

He believes a lot of the success is due to the strong spirituality among the coaches and players, starting with Chryst, who is Catholic himself and attributes much of his success as a coach to the influence of his father, the late George Chryst, who died 25 years ago.

Ordained a priest in 1974, Burke said he has been happy. “I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to do what God wanted me to do. I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents, brothers, sisters and friends. I’ve made so many wonderful friends over the years.”

He retired in July but said he’s busier than ever, ministering at a Catholic high school as well as at a Catholic-run nursing facility and a hospice. And he still makes time to serve as chaplain of the Badger football team.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” he emphasized.

The Badgers’ coaches and players thinks he’s “the greatest” and hope he stays around for many more years.

– – –

Uhler is editor of the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Wisconsin.

 

Oral arguments heard in states’ suits on religious exemption to mandate

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 10:02 AM

PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia heard oral arguments Dec. 14 in a suit that aims to take away the exemption granted in October to the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers allowing them to refuse to cover contraceptives for their employees on moral grounds.

A similar hearing took place Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California. As arguments were heard inside, supporters of the religious order gathered outside of both courthouses.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have been in the spotlight for the past several years because of their moral objection to the Department of Health and Human Services requirement that most religious employers cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan.

The Trump administration on Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers.

Days after the rule was issued, Pennsylvania and California filed complaints against the federal government over the exemption. Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined California’s lawsuit to become the first plaintiff group to file a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent the new exemption rule from going into effect.

On Dec. 15, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, Judge Wendy Beetlestone, temporarily blocked the new exemption rule from going into effect.

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, is representing the Little Sisters in both cases filed after the Trump administration handed down its new rules. The cases are Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump and the State of California v. Hargan. “Hargan” is Eric D. Hargan, acting HHS secretary.

“As Little Sisters of the Poor, all we want is to follow our calling to love and to serve and finally put this legal ordeal behind us,” Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement.

The cases are being heard, respectively, by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The lawsuits claim that the exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate pushes the cost burden to states.

In the California suit, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the HHS ruling providing the religious exemption violates constitutional amendments because it allows employers to use religious beliefs to discriminate against employees and denies women their rights to equal protection under the law.

“After the Little Sisters’ four-year fight, a Supreme Court victory, and a new rule that protects women like them, (Pennsylvania) Attorney General (Josh) Shapiro still went to court to take away their rights,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, in a Dec. 14 statement.

“He then argued that the Little Sisters shouldn’t even be allowed to come to this court today to make their case,” she added.

Becket has argued all along that the government has many ways to provide services to women who want them as well as protect the Little Sisters. “Neither the federal government nor the state governments need nuns to help them give out contraceptives,” it said in a news release.

Chile’s women prisoners hope pope highlights realities of their lives

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 10:02 AM

SANTIAGO, Chile — For Estefania, an inmate at San Joaquin women’s prison, the hardest part of being jailed is not being able to live with her son.

“Like most of the women here, I was caught trafficking drugs. It is easy money, but you live to regret it,” said Estefania, who asked that Catholic News Service use only her first name. “I have a 4-year-old boy, and I hate not being able to make his food, be at home with him and take him to kindergarten.” She said she sees her son each Saturday, when he comes to visit with her mother.

“I try to give him the best time I can. He talks to me about how he is getting on at school, we hug each other, laugh together and I make him lunch. But I would love to have him with me all the time,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Sister Nelly Leon, a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, has been chaplain at the prison for the past 13 years, and she agreed that, for most women, “the most difficult punishment of all is not being able to see their children.”

Leon is hoping that the situation will change after Pope Francis visits the prison Jan. 16.

“When we heard Pope Francis was coming to Chile, we hoped that he would visit us here, and I was so proud and happy, when I heard that this was the first female prison he has chosen to visit,” Leon told Catholic News Service.

Of the approximately 50,000 prisoners in Chile, only 4,000 are women.

“Even though there are far fewer women prisoners than men, I think the pope chose us because he wants to highlight their reality and, for 99 percent of the women here, that is being a mother,” said Leon.

Women can have their children with them at the prison until they are 2 years old; after that, they can only come for visits. It is a big issue that Leon hopes will be discussed more, because of the papal visit.

Most of Leon’s day is spent talking to women in the spacious chapel she calls her office. In mid-December, there were candles and Christmas decorations near the altar, and Leon and her helpers were preparing for a special Mass, where they were to give out presents to the prisoners’ children.

But they also were preparing for the pope’s visit. Inmates at the tables at the back of the chapel were surrounded by brightly colored beads and orange, purple and white paper.

“We are making religious bracelets with little crosses on them,” said Estefania, who has been in prison for two years and has three years left. “We want to make enough for all the women who are in prison and ask the pope to bless them, and then give them to the female prisoners.”

The women also were making white paper doves; each will have the name of a female inmate written on them and will be used to decorate the prison gym, along with brightly colored paper flowers for the papal visit.

The prison chaplain has started a charity called Mujer Levantate (Woman, Get Up), which helps former female prisoners get back on their feet.

“After three years of working at the prison, I realized that many of the women kept coming back here, because they found it so hard to get back into society,” Leon said.

The charity has a house in Santiago where 10 former female inmates can live for up to a year and, during that time, they get help with finding work and becoming independent. The charity also helps current prisoners get legal access to their children for prison visits, if the father is being resistant. If it is logistically hard to get children to and from the prison, someone from the charity will bring their children to visit.

The prison is divided into different areas. Estefania and 52 other women are in a special Catholic area, which has the chapel and a garden with brightly colored flowers.

“We like it here, because it is much more peaceful that the rest of the prison. We can come to the chapel to pray and be together,” said Estefania.

“Sister Nelly will always listen to our problems and try to help us. I got baptized and took my first Communion when I was in jail,” she added. “I am glad that I have found God. It gives me peace, and I really want to be able to talk to Pope Francis and receive his blessing when he comes.”

Jaime Rojas, director of prison services in Chile, said he is pleased about the papal visit. While he was checking on preparations, he told CNS: “This is a huge opportunity for us to have such an important visitor here at this prison. It will help people to seek repentance and open their hearts to God.”

But, Leon is looking for more practical help. Not only does she hope the pope’s visit will highlight the issue of mothers in prisons, she also hopes the government will decide to grant some kind of pardon to some of the mothers in jail.

“I would love to see the government reduce the sentences of mothers with young children and to grant them more access,” she said. “I also want older women and ones who are ill to be able to go home and be at peace with their families.”

Renaissance art goes green in two exhibits at the Getty Museum

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 10:02 AM

LOS ANGELES — Think of an illuminated manuscript and a few stock images come to mind: ornate capital letters, high-browed pale ladies, haloed babies and lines of Latin words in Gothic script.

But two current shows at the Getty Center, this city’s white Legoland of a hilltop museum, ask viewers to look beyond those conventions to the backgrounds of illustrated religious manuscripts. There, curators hope, they will find a lushly imagined world of blooming gardens, fecund valleys, babbling rivers and frolicking animals, all designed to convey a religious message as important to the creators as that of the text.

“The goal of these artists was to promote a deeper meditation,” said Alexandra Kaczenski, co-curator of one of the exhibitions. “The hope was that these images would promote an emotional connection in the viewer that would be the equivalent of being there when Christ was crucified.”

That’s a tall order, but judging by the works in the two shows — “Sacred Landscapes: Nature in Renaissance Manuscripts” and “Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice” — it was one artists in Italy, France, Germany and England took seriously.

It is also a message today’s people of faith will recognize — that God’s creation is worth exploring and preserving.

“We hope these beautiful works will show contemporary viewers that our ancestors had a strong connection with the natural world,” Kaczenski said. “For a Christian audience these works connect directly to their faith and practice, but for secular viewers or those of other faiths these works still offer moments of quiet contemplation and awe. We hope that by viewing these verdant or wild scenes anyone might have the same transcendent experience.”

The two exhibitions are in adjacent galleries. Both showcase works from the period between 1450 and 1550 and all feature biblical subject matter.

In the Bellini exhibit, which consists of 13 works on loan from museums in Europe and the U.S., figures of St. Jerome, St. Francis, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist are posed in front of landscapes not of the desert biblical lands, but of the rolling green hills and dales of Northern Italy.

Bellini makes little attempt to accurately convey the dry, brown landscape of the Holy Land — though one of St. Jerome has a foreground of rocky ground and outcroppings — but instead paints the green hills and blue skies of Northern Italy where he worked and painted.

“A naturalized landscape begins to appear in the early 15th century,” C. Griffith Mann, curator of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval art collection, said about the art of this time. “It is often one strategy used to bring the past compellingly into the present. In other words, depicting biblical events as if they took place in a setting familiar to readers brought these events into their lived experience.”

The theological point Bellini and his fellow artists wanted to make is clear: The teachings of the Bible are not long ago and far away, but relevant here and now. The roads winding through some of the landscapes disappear into the misty distance as if to take that same message beyond the viewer and into the broader world.

“Giovanni Bellini knows the earth well, paints it to the full, and to the smallest fig-leaf and falling flower, blue hill and white-walled city, glittering robe and golden hair,” the English art critic John Ruskin wrote in 1856. “To each he will give its lustre and loveliness, and then he proclaims that heaven is bright.”

Across the foyer, at the Sacred Landscapes exhibit, that same message is taken up and expanded in 34 works in prayer books, psalters, books of hours and other pieces drawn from the Getty’s own extensive collection of manuscripts.

As in the Bellini exhibit, the landscapes depicted are contemporary to the artists. The various saints and biblical figures interact with the landscapes in ways intended to convey their groundedness in the real world — Adam and Eve lounge on green grass beside a golden fountain; St. Jerome uses a tree to hang his cloak and hat on; and in “Virgin and Child on a Grassy Bench,” by an anonymous German artist, the seated Mary seems to bloom from the turf, the curling ends of her hair entwined with the grass.

Many are also encoded with flowers, plants, animals and other elements of nature that act as symbols of Christian theology — a white lily for Mary, a dove for the Holy Spirit, a caterpillar for resurrection, and the cedar, the oak and the almond tree are all associated with Jesus.

“These symbols and tropes would have been familiar to the viewer of the time,” Kaczenski said. “The pleasing combinations of these natural elements were intended to convey the harmony of heaven.”

That is a message the museum hopes to take beyond Christians to patrons of other faiths and no faith. It held a gallery talk targeted to both exhibits that focused on the spiritual power of nature that encompassed Christianity, Judaism, Native American faiths and contemporary spirituality.

“Nature can be very powerful in reminding people of their smallness,” said Sara Patterson, an associate professor of theological studies at Hanover College, who was among the panelists. “I think that that sense of being overwhelmed by the natural world can open people up to experiencing the divine in new and different ways because I think we walk around our regular everyday lives with a sense of our bigness and our importance. That stood out to me as a theme that has clearly echoed through the centuries — that nature can remind us how small and vulnerable we are.”

“Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice” continues at the Getty through Jan. 14, and “Sacred Landscapes: Nature in Renaissance Manuscripts” continues through Jan. 7.

news at 8,30

Vatican Radio Morning News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 6:01 AM
English world news at 8,30

On cusp of 81st birthday, Pope calls elderly a ‘patrimony of wisdom’

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 5:20 AM

ROME – Pope Francis on Saturday congratulated a group of Italian Catholic youth, part of the Catholic Action movement, for their efforts to reach out to the group’s grandparents, saying the elderly are the “historical memory of every community.”

“I want to tell you how much I appreciate the encounters of awareness and closeness you’re holding this year – the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Catholic Action” – with the ‘grandparents’ of the association,” Francis said.

“This is a very beautiful and important thing,” the pope said, “because the elderly are the historical memory of every community, a patrimony of wisdom and faith that needs to be heard, cared for and valued.”

Founded in 1867, Catholic Action is the most widespread lay movement in Italy. It numbers around 400,000 active members, and according tor figures from the Italian bishops’ conference, each year about one million people take part in its activities.

Every year, a group of youth from the organization present Christmas greetings to the pope, which was the setting for Francis’s remarks on Saturday.

From the beginning of his papacy, urging youth to forge bonds with the elderly has been a special concern for Francis. He raised the issue, for instance, on the papal plane en route to Brazil in 2013 for his first international journey, in this case the celebration of World Youth Day.

“The elderly, they too are the future of a people,” the pontiff said. “A people has a future if it goes forward with both elements: with the young, who have the strength, and things move forward because they do the carrying; and with the elderly because they are the ones who give life’s wisdom.”

“I have often thought that we do the elderly an injustice, we set them aside as if they had nothing to offer us; they have wisdom, life’s wisdom, history’s wisdom, the homeland’s wisdom, the family’s wisdom. And we need all this!” he said.

It’s a longstanding concern for Francis, reaching back to his years as a cardinal in Argentina. In a book with his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio complained that too often old people “end up being stored away in a nursing home like an overcoat that is hung up in the closet during the summer.”

It’s also an issue with which Francis can identity personally, since he turns 81 on Sunday.

In other remarks to the youth on Saturday, Francis picked up on a campaign within Catholic Action to urge youth to see themselves as “photographs” of Jesus in action.

“Be good photographs,” Francis said, “both of what Jesus did and of the reality that surrounds you, with vigilant and attentive eyes.”

“Many times there are forgotten people,” the pope told the youth. “No one looks at them, no one wants to see them. They’re the poorest, the weakest, relegated to the margins of society because they’re considered a problem.”

From there Francis got concrete, sounding almost like a youth pastor.

“This can be one of your commitments, to ask yourselves: To whom do I pay most attention? Those who are strongest, who have more success in school or in sports? To whom do I pay little attention? Who do I pretend not to see?”

“These are your peripheries,” Francis said. “Try to make you objective the groups and persons that no one ever sees, and dare to take the first step to meet them. Give them a little of your time, a smile, and gesture of tenderness.”

Saturday’s meeting was among the first appointments of what will once again be a busy holiday season for the pope. Informally, the Vatican usually considers the opening act of the pope’s holiday calendar to come with his annual speech to the Roman Curia, which this year falls next Thursday.

Generally, the season is reckoned to end with the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, although informally most also include the pope’s annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See to be part of the lineup as well, which comes on Jan. 8.

Military training on Catholic campuses is wrong

Natl Catholic Reporter - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 4:00 AM
Should you have a liking for antiwar agitators who dizzyingly stay on message, protest after protest and arrest after arrest, you might sign on with Bob Graf. The Milwaukee-based former Jesuit scholastic who has close ties to the Catholic Worker, was and is the organizing force behind a national campaign to rid the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Catholic universities and colleges.

The question of a lifetime

Natl Catholic Reporter - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 4:00 AM
Spiritual Reflections: Getting in touch with our own sense of call is an important form of prayer as it both reminds us of past moments of grace and attunes us to those to come.

Death penalty executions and support near historic low in U.S.

Crux Now - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 1:38 AM

NEW YORK — Two months after Pope Francis’s condemnation of the death penalty as “contrary to the Gospel,” the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) announced on Thursday that executions were at a near historic low in the United States.

In its 2017 annual report, DPIC found that 23 individuals have been executed on death penalty charges in the United States over the past year, the second lowest annual total since 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court suspended death penalty sentences. In addition, DPIC estimates that by the end of 2017, there will have been a total of 39 new death penalty sentences in the United States during the past year, also a second lowest total in more than 25 years.

Drawing on recent polling data from Gallup, the report also stated that public support for the death penalty fell to its lowest numbers in 45 years. According to Gallup, 55 percent of adult Americans favor the death penalty for convicted murderers. The 2017 data evidences a 5-percentage drop from the previous year and a 10 percent drop among registered Republican voters.

In response to the latest DPIC report, the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty, released a statement praising the dwindling support for capital punishment and its declining use.

“Now more than ever, people from across the political spectrum are uniting around the reality that death penalty is a failed public policy that denies the inherent dignity of the human person,” said CMN president Karen Clifton.

The DPIC report also revealed that nearly 75 percent of 2017 executions took place in four states: Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida. In addition, four death row prisoners were exonerated in 2017, now bringing the total of exonerated death row inmates to 160 since 1973.

Of the 23 executions in 2017, an estimated 90 percent of these cases have “presented significant evidence of mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, severe trauma, or innocence.” According to Clifton, “DPIC’s Year End Report clearly shows we are not executing the ‘worst of the worst,’ we are executing some of society’s most vulnerable.”

In recent years, social media has become a major tool for Catholics to express opposition to the death penalty and to lobby for state legislators to stay executions. Leading this charge has been Sister Helen Prejean, a long time anti-death penalty activist who is a spiritual adviser to death row inmates, who has used Twitter as her megaphone, to have direct access to alert the public about upcoming executions and what could be done to intervene.

Francis’s October 2017 remarks on the death penalty came during a 25th anniversary celebration of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which recognized “the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.”

The Catechism also recommended that “bloodless means” are to be used when at all possible, and was formally amended after the release of Saint Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which said the death penalty could only be used when it is “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

In his latest remarks, Francis said the Catechism should be more explicit in its condemnation of the death penalty as “a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor.”

“Let us take responsibility for the past and recognize… remaining neutral today when there is a new need to reaffirm personal dignity would make us even more guilty,” Francis argued.

During his visit to the United States in 2015, Francis explicitly praised the work of the U.S. bishops in their efforts to abolish the death penalty while addressing the U.S. congress.

“Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” said Francis.

“I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said.

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