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Posted on 09/21/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During an ecumenical prayer service at the assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, the Vatican's chief ecumenist and the federation's general secretary formally called for a joint reflection on the Augsburg Confession, a fundamental statement of Lutheran faith.
"A common reflection could lead to another 'milestone' on the way from conflict to communion," said Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Rev. Anne Burghardt, the federation's general secretary, as they read a "Common Word" declaration to the assembly Sept. 19.
The assembly, held Sept. 13-19 in Krakow, Poland, is the main governing body of the Lutheran World Federation, which represents 150 Lutheran churches in 99 countries.
The Augsburg Confession was drafted in 1530 in an attempt "to bear witness to the faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," the declaration said. "At the time of its writing, ecclesial unity was probably endangered, but ecclesial separation was not yet finally accomplished."
Because the statement of faith was meant to witness to the unity of the church before the final ruptures of the Protestant Reformation, the declaration said, it is "not only of historical interest; rather, it holds an ecumenical potential of lasting relevance."
The declaration acknowledged both theological and practical obstacles on the path to full unity.
The Catholic Church's "excommunication of Martin Luther is still a stumbling block for some today," it said. "It maintains its place in confessional memory, even though the excommunication has long since lost its immediate effect with the death of the reformer and Lutherans are not enemies or strangers for Catholics, but brothers and sisters, with whom Catholics know themselves to be united through baptism."
In a similar way, it said, "the fact that Martin Luther and the Lutheran confessional writings refer to the papacy as 'anti-Christ' is a stumbling block even though today the Lutheran World Federation does not support that view."
The two issues, the declaration said, ultimately raise questions about the role and ministry of the pope and "the question of the mystery of the church, its unity and uniqueness," questions the official Catholic-Lutheran theological dialogue continues to study.
That dialogue, the two leaders said, allows Lutherans and Catholics "to discern areas of consensus where our predecessors only saw insurmountable oppositions. We are able to recognize that the journey toward full communion is far greater than the contingencies of a particular epoch."
The "Common Word" also noted how Pope Francis, meeting leaders of the federation in 2021, expressed hope that a joint study of the Augsburg Confession in preparation for the document's 500th anniversary in 2030 could strengthen Catholics' and Lutherans' ability "to confess together what joins us in faith."
"It will be important to examine with spiritual and theological humility the circumstances that led to the divisions, trusting that, although it is impossible to undo the sad events of the past, it is possible to reinterpret them as part of a reconciled history," the pope had said.
Posted on 09/20/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inspired by the dignity of each human being as revealed by Jesus, Christians are called to fight "every form of slavery," whether physical, social or spiritual, Pope Francis said.
"Jesus, God made man, elevated the dignity of every human being and exposed the falsehood of slavery," the pope told people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his general audience Sept. 20. "As Christians, therefore, we are called to fight against every form of slavery."
Continuing his weekly catechesis on zeal for evangelization, the pope discussed the life of St. Daniele Comboni, a 19th-century Italian bishop who dedicated his life to establishing and supporting missions in Africa, where Pope Francis said the saint witnessed the "horror of slavery."
"Comboni, by the light of Christ, became aware of the evil of slavery; he also understood that social slavery is rooted in a deeper slavery, that of the heart, that of sin, from which the Lord delivers us," he said.
Pope Francis stressed that "slavery, like colonialism, is not a thing of the past," and recalled his address to South Sudanese political leaders during his visit to the country in February in which he called for an end to the economic colonialism that followed the end of political colonialism in Africa.
St. Comboni, the pope said, understood that those he evangelized in Africa were "not only 'objects' but 'subjects' of the mission" and praised the saint's philosophy about evangelization in Africa contained in his missionary slogan: "Save Africa through Africa."
"How important it is, even today, to advance the faith and human development from within the contexts of mission instead of transplanting external models or limiting oneself to sterile welfarism," Pope Francis said. "Take up the way of evangelization from the culture of the people. Evangelizing the culture and enculturating the Gospel go together."
The pope highlighted St. Comboni's efforts to involve laypeople, families and catechists -- "treasures of the church" -- in evangelization as a way of "making all Christians protagonists of evangelizing action" and preventing clericalism.
After his catechesis, Pope Francis mentioned a meeting he had before his general audience with Brazilian lawmakers working on behalf of the poor. "They do not forget the poor; they work for the poor," he said. "To you I say, 'do not forget the poor,' because they will be the ones who open the door to heaven for you."
The pope also noted the "worrying news" from the South Caucasus region "where the already critical humanitarian situation was aggravated by further armed conflict" after Azerbaijan attacked the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh Sept. 19.
"I call on all involved parties and the international community to silence weapons and make every effort to find peaceful solutions for the good of people and respect for human dignity," he said.
Pope Francis Accepts Resignations of Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Wypych
Posted on 09/19/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has accepted the resignation, having reached age 75, of the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. Pope Francis has also accepted the resignation, for health reasons, of the Most Reverend Andrew P. Wypych, from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago.
The resignations were publicized in Washington on September 19, 2023, by Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Posted on 09/19/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesuit Brother Bob Macke, a Vatican astronomer and meteorite expert, has built a custom device for studying material from the first U.S. mission to collect a sample from an asteroid.
The unmanned spacecraft Osiris-Rex was launched in 2016 to collect samples on the near-Earth asteroid, Bennu.
After collecting about a cup of material in 2020, the spacecraft is now approaching Earth and, before it continues its space voyage to orbit the Sun, it is due to release its cargo to send the sample back to Earth Sept. 24.
Because of Brother Macke's known expertise in the field, Andrew Ryan, the lead of the mission's sample analysis working group, asked him if he could build the device needed to analyze the density and porosity of the samples to help identify the mysterious rocks on the asteroid's surface, according to Mashable.com Sept. 16.
NASA had strict requirements for this device, called a pycnometer, and the companies Ryan contacted were only willing to sell what they had in stock, not do a custom build, he told Mashable.
Brother Macke, however, was game and he posted his progress and success with a number of videos on his YouTube channel, Macke MakerSpace. He said he built it in five weeks with the help of students at the University of Arizona, which collaborates with the Vatican Observatory's advanced technology telescope in Tucson.
He delivered the device to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston in March for a trial run. Curators for the mission will handle the samples and the device, while Brother Macke will operate the software program he built to measure the samples' porosity and density, he said in his April 21 video.
"Our job is to examine it and to find out what's in there. We're trying to answer some basic questions like, are there more than one type of rock inside? Or is everything the same kind of rock? From what we saw on the surface of the asteroid Bennu, we expect to find two and maybe more," he said.
The results of the initial analysis, he said, "will help inform the selection of specimens for more detailed science to be done in laboratories around the world."
U.S. Bishops’ Pro-Life Chairman Asks for “Radical Solidarity” with Mothers in Respect Life Month Statement
Posted on 09/18/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON – Since 1973, the Catholic Church in the United States has observed October as “Respect Life Month.” This year, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities invites Catholics to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Respect Life Month by embracing “radical solidarity” with women facing difficult or challenging pregnancies.
Bishop Burbidge echoes Saint John Paul II, who coined the term “radical solidarity” in reference to the care owed to vulnerable pregnant women: “In firmly rejecting ‘pro-choice’ it is necessary to become courageously ‘pro woman,’ promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. … The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman.”
While our efforts must remain strong to end legalized abortion, Bishop Burbidge affirmed the personal responsibility of all Catholics to “thoroughly surround mothers in need with life-giving support and personal accompaniment.”
Read Bishop Burbidge’s full statement, “Living Radical Solidarity” here.
Posted on 09/18/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Forgiveness, received freely and constantly from God, is a "fundamental value" for Christians that must be practiced and passed on to others, Pope Francis said.
"Forgiveness is the oxygen that purifies the air of hatred; forgiveness is the antidote to the poisons of resentment; it is the way to defuse anger and heal so many maladies of the heart that contaminate society," the pope said before praying the Angelus with some 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square Sept. 17.
Reflecting on the day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells St. Peter to forgive his brother not seven times but 77 times, Pope Francis said Jesus' response shows that "when one forgives, one does not calculate; that it is good to forgive everything, and always."
People are called to act "just as God does with us, and as those who administer God's justice are required to do: Forgive always," he said. "I say this a lot to priests, to confessors: Always forgive, as God forgives."
Pope Francis continued his reflection by looking at the Gospel parable in which a servant, cleared of debt by his master, sends a fellow servant to prison for failing to repay him a smaller sum. The servant is later punished by the master for his lack of mercy.
Like the master who canceled his servant's debt out of compassion, the pope said, God "acts out of love, and gratuitously."
"God is not bought, God is free, he is all gratuitousness," the pope said. "We cannot repay him but, when we forgive a brother or a sister, we imitate him."
"Forgiving is not, therefore, a good deed that we can choose to do or not do: forgiving is a fundamental condition for those who are Christians," he said. "By forgiving one another, we can bear witness (to God), sowing new life around us."
Pope Francis then invited the crowd in St. Peter's Square to think of someone who has hurt them and to ask God for the strength to forgive that person. "Let us forgive them out of love for the Lord. Brothers and sisters, this will do us good; it will restore peace to our hearts," he said.
After praying the Angelus, the pope mentioned his trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22-24 for a meeting of bishops and government leaders from the Mediterranean region, a meeting that he said will give "special attention to the phenomenon of migration."
At the end of a week in which some 7,000 migrants arrived on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, overwhelming reception centers and available humanitarian resources, Pope Francis said that migration "represents a challenge that is not easy, as we also see from the news in recent days, but which must be faced together, since it is essential for the future of all, which will be prosperous only if it is built on fraternity, putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place."
Posted on 09/17/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis told a group of U.S. community organizers that their work was "atomic," Jorge Montiel said, "I thought, 'Oh, you mean we blow things up?'"
But instead, the pope spoke about how the groups associated with the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation in the United States take issues patiently, "atom by atom," and end up building something that "penetrates" and changes entire communities, said Montiel, an IAF organizer in Colorado and New Mexico.
Pope Francis' hourlong meeting Sept. 14 with 15 delegates from the group was a follow-up to a similar meeting a year ago. Neither meeting was listed on the pope's official schedule and, the delegates said, both were conversations, not "audiences."
"It was relaxed, it was engaging," said Joe Rubio, national co-director of IAF. "Often you don't see that even with parish priests," he told Catholic News Service Sept. 15, garnering the laughter of other delegates.
Elizabeth Valdez, an IAF organizer in Texas, said the delegates told the pope about their work to promote a living wage, to welcome immigrants, to protect the environment, to improve schools and to get more people access to mental health services -- all efforts that grew out of listening to people in their communities talk about what they needed and then building partnerships with churches, synagogues or mosques, unions, local nonprofits and community service providers.
Rubio said the group has an 80-year history in community organizing and "in the last 50 years, parishes have become really integral to the work," much of which echoes the tenets of Catholic social teaching.
One thing Pope Francis noted at last year's meeting with the group is how it also models key parts of his vision of a "synodal church," one where people listen to each other, empower each other, take responsibility and work together to respond to concrete needs. Several bishops in Texas used local community organizing teams to conduct their diocesan listening sessions at the start of the process for the current Synod of Bishops, said Father David Garcia, who has spent decades working in San Antonio, Texas, with Communities Organized for Public Service.
Pope Francis was eager to hear an update on the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation's five-year-old "Recognizing the Stranger" program, a parish-based project to identify, train and mentor immigrant leaders to build connections among themselves and with nonimmigrant allies in their parishes and the broader community. Supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the project is active in 19 Western U.S. dioceses.
While most of the delegates who met the pope at his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, were Catholic and work closely with Catholic parishes and dioceses, the group was ecumenical.
Sally Boeckholt, from AMOS -- A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy -- in Des Moines, Iowa, is a member of the First Unitarian Church and said community organizing work has been "transformational for me in my relationships with the folks that I've gotten to know who are Catholic or members of other faiths. I have a much deeper appreciation for how faith animates what they do."
Sonia Rodriguez, who has been a leader in San Antonio's Communities Organized for Public Service "on and off since the 1980s," said it had been "quite a ride" working with her neighbors to "make changes in the city and really begin to shape the culture of the city in a way that nobody had dreamed of."
The pope, she said, summed up their work as "creating a culture of solidarity," and "it was perfect; that's exactly right."
Posted on 09/15/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' trip to the French port city of Marseille Sept. 22-23 is another stop on a decade-long Mediterranean pilgrimage, which began with his maiden voyage as pope to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013 followed by a dozen other port cities and coastal countries.
For a pope who prefers going to the peripheries, this sea is one of them. He has called it the "biggest cemetery in Europe" as it has become a final and forgotten resting place for thousands of migrants who have died crossing its waters.
"There is a problem that worries me, which is the problem of the Mediterranean," he told reporters Aug. 7 on his return flight from Lisbon, Portugal. "The exploitation of migrants is criminal" as is their detention in "the lagers of North Africa."
"I am going to Marseille for this," he said, highlighting a week-long gathering there. "The bishops of the Mediterranean are meeting, with some politicians, too, in order to reflect seriously on this tragedy facing migrants."
Pope Francis will address the meeting's final session Sept. 23.
This year's "Mediterranean Meetings," which began in Bari, Italy, in 2020, will bring together about 70 bishops and 60 young people of all faiths from 30 countries surrounding the Mediterranean to dialogue together, Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille told reporters Sept. 13.
They will discuss social-economic issues, ecology, immigration and civil or political conflicts affecting them directly and the region at large, he said during a press briefing in Rome.
The Catholic Church has a role in bringing all sides together to focus on concrete ways to promote the common good, to see and respect the dignity of all human beings and to recognize everyone is part of one human family, he said. Many of the young people sitting down together will be coming from countries historically at odds with each other: like Israel and Palestine, Greece and Turkey, Algeria and Morocco, he added.
The meetings' theme, Mosaic of Hope, is very much in line with Pope Francis' emphasis on encounter and the beauty of diversity pieced harmoniously together. And it is expected the pope will continue his message of plurality as an opportunity, not a threat, specifically for the countries and communities dotting the Mediterranean, which has been the byway of great civilizations who co-mingled and clashed for millennia.
"Three continents meet in the Mediterranean. These shores are the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions, and throughout history have witnessed numerous exchanges, as well as serious and recurring conflicts," Cardinal Aveline said in an interview with the Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, Aug. 31.
The cardinal himself is a mosaic of the Mediterranean; born in Algeria when it was a French colony, he grew up and was ordained in Marseille, worked extensively in formation, vocations, higher education and interreligious dialogue, founded an institute for the study of the theology of religions and led the Catholic Institute of the Mediterranean.
In fact, as a theologian, Cardinal Aveline has long been involved with pursuing what Pope Francis has called "a theology of the Mediterranean."
The cardinal said it is "a Christian theology developed from the shores of the Mediterranean and adapted to its context" that tackles the same questions in the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity: "How can we care for one another within the one human family? How can we nurture a tolerant and peaceful coexistence … ensure that our communities welcome others" and help religions be "paths of brotherhood instead of walls of separation?"
All these themes are expected to be touched upon by Pope Francis during his two-day trip, which will feature just four main events and be a kind of prelude to the church's celebration of World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 24.
Arriving in the late afternoon, the pope will head to the city's historic Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde -- a 19th-century landmark set atop the foundations of an ancient fort on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The monumental gilded copper statue of Our Lady holding baby Jesus perched atop the bell tower is affectionately called the "Bonne Mère" ("Good Mother") and is traditionally seen as a protectoress of the city.
The pope will greet clergy in the basilica after a Marian prayer service there and then will meet with religious leaders from the city. There will be a moment to pray at a monument dedicated to all those lost at sea.
The next day, he will meet privately at the archbishop's residence with about 30 people experiencing economic insecurity and then he will give a major address at the closing session of the "Mediterranean Meetings" at Pharo Palace, a 19th-century complex built by Napoleon III, the first president and last emperor of the French. He will later sit down with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of that meeting.
The pope's day will end with an afternoon Mass celebrated at the city's Vélodrome Stadium, which holds 60,000 people, and then he returns to Rome.
Cardinal Aveline told La Civilità Cattolica that the region has a deep heritage and "happy memory of Mediterranean conviviality, the memory of peaceful and fruitful coexistence."
"Many would like to erase this happy memory and replace it with fear, to better impose their domination and ideology," he said. "But we bear witness to the fact that, while the threats are real, good is also at work, through a mosaic of people and action."
Posted on 09/15/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON – The Catholic Church in the United States will observe National Migration Week from September 18-24. Each year, this week-long celebration culminates with the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, established by the Holy See over 100 years ago and commemorated by Catholics across the globe. Throughout this week, the faithful and others of good will are encouraged to reflect on the challenges facing migrants, refugees, and others impacted by the complex phenomenon of forced displacement, the ways these newcomers enrich welcoming communities, and how we are each called to respond to them as members of the same human family.
For this year’s observance, Pope Francis selected the theme “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay,” underscoring the natural right not to emigrate from one’s homeland. While frequently overlooked within the U.S. immigration debate, this right has long been an integral part of the Catholic Church’s social teaching on migration. Emphasizing the intersection between this right and the root causes of forced displacement, the Holy Father observed in his annual message:
“The decision to migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, even in our day, it is not. Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified and prosperous life in one’s native land is forcing millions of persons to leave.... Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each.”
Ahead of National Migration Week, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued the following statement
“For millennia, people have been forced to flee their homelands, seeking safety and security, because of factors beyond their control. Pope Francis reminds us that Sacred Scripture reveals the Holy Family’s own flight into Egypt was not the result of a free decision, nor were many of the migrations that marked the history of the people of Israel. Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge, but efforts to manage migration—even when predicated on the common good—require that we also address the coercive forces driving people to migrate. Only through collective efforts to alleviate these forces and by establishing the conditions required for integral human development can people truly avail themselves of the right to remain in their country of birth. May God, through the intersession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sustain us in these pursuits and protect those whose lives depend upon their success.”
Visit the Justice for Immigrants website for resources, including a toolkit for National Migration Week to aid in group discussions. Additional resources are available from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Posted on 09/14/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
ROME (CNS) -- When Pope Francis said he wanted the focus of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to be "something very different" from the dicastery's reputation as a stringent watchdog, he was not saying anything goes, Cardinal-designate Víctor Fernández, the dicastery's new prefect, said in an interview.
"It is clear that at no time does the pope say that the function of refuting errors should disappear," he told the Rome-based Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, in an interview published Sept. 14.
When Pope Francis named the Argentine theologian to the post in July, he released a public letter saying the dicastery's "central purpose is to guard the teaching that flows from the faith in order to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns."
Cardinal-designate Fernández said the dicastery's approach is key.
"Clearly, if someone says that Jesus was not really human or that all immigrants should be killed, a decisive intervention will be necessary," he said. "But at the same time this will provide an opportunity to grow, to enrich our understanding."
As an example, he said, a person who denies Jesus' humanity may have a "legitimate intention to better show the divinity of Jesus Christ," and one who is against immigrants may be trying to draw attention to flawed laws and policies.
"A fundamental criterion to be preserved is that 'any theological conception that ultimately questions God's omnipotence and, especially, his mercy' must be considered inadequate," Cardinal-designate Fernández said, quoting Pope Francis' letter to him.
The pope also asked him "to bring theological knowledge into dialogue with the life of the holy people of God," responding to new challenges and questions.
For that dialogue to work and for the church to effectively communicate the response of Christian faith, the cardinal-designate said, Catholics must be willing to embrace "an asceticism: to tolerate with charity the recurring aggressiveness that assails us."
"Might society's questioning be a mediation that God himself uses to disarm us, to open us to something else?" he asked.
The Catholic Church, he said, cannot "ignore the fact that the verbal violence of some groups is an understandable outburst after many centuries of our own verbal violence," for example, by using "insulting, very offensive language, or of manipulating women as if they were second-class."
Pope Francis is a model of the kind of patience needed, he said, a patience that "comes from his heart as a father" and hopes that "with time a better balance will be found."
The church also insists on "the value of reason and the need for dialogue between faith and reason, which are not contradictory," Cardinal-designate Fernández said.
However, there is a danger that an individual or group of individuals espousing what they claim is reason propose "a set of principles that govern everything, even if it is ultimately a 'forma mentis' (mindset), more philosophical than theological," he said. Their way of thinking "ultimately takes the place of revelation!"
Such a group, he said, believes "they alone are 'serious,' 'intelligent,' 'faithful.' This explains the power that some churchmen arrogate to themselves, going so far as to determine what the pope can or cannot say, and presenting themselves as guarantors of the legitimacy and unity of the faith. After all, the 'forma mentis' of which they consider themselves absolute guardians is a source of power that they want to safeguard."
But, he said, "it is not reason, it is power."
Pope Francis "asked me to safeguard the teaching that flows from faith," he said. "The words 'guard' and 'care' are among Francis' favorite words. It's no accident that he is especially devoted to St. Joseph. Care, for him, is a fundamental attitude that flows from the Gospel. Just as one cares for people, one must do the same with the doctrine that emerges from faith."
The first step, he said, must be "a deep appreciation of what is to be cared for, that is, it implies that one loves doctrine as a precious treasure and that one is rightly proud of that divine gift."