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Pope Francis sends aid to migrants at Belarus border and victims of typhoon in Philippines

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Jan. 5, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has sent 100,000 euros (around $114,000) in aid to migrants at the border between Poland and Belarus, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced on Jan. 18 that the pope had also given the same sum to victims of a devastating storm in the Philippines.

The Vatican department said in a press release that the pope had earmarked the funds for migrants living in freezing winter conditions along the roughly 250-mile border separating Poland and Belarus.

It said that the money would also help Caritas Poland, the country’s biggest charitable organization, “to address the migratory emergency on the border between the two countries.”

The border crisis flared up last summer when thousands of people, largely from Middle Eastern countries, sought to enter the European Union by crossing the Belarus-Poland border.

The Polish government and the EU accused Belarus of helping the migrants to gather at the frontier and enter Poland, an EU member state since 2004. The Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, denied the claim.

Polish officials argued that Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country, fomented the crisis in response to sanctions imposed by the EU after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election in August 2020.

The border crisis has also affected Lithuania and Latvia, both EU member states neighboring Belarus.

Poland responded to the crisis by declaring a state of emergency in the area, fortifying the border, and repelling groups seeking to force their way across with tear gas and water cannons.

The Belarusian government appeared to take steps to de-escalate the crisis in November. Almost 4,000 Iraqi citizens have been repatriated from Belarus, Iraq’s foreign minister said on Jan. 16.

Médecins Sans Frontières announced earlier this month that it had withdrawn its teams after Polish authorities repeatedly denied them access to migrants living in a forested border area in sub-zero temperatures.

“We are concerned that the current policy of restricting access to aid organizations and volunteer groups could result in yet more migrants and refugees dying,” it said on Jan. 6.

“These policies are yet again another example of the EU deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people to seek asylum at its borders.”

Papal funds will also help relief efforts in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Rai struck the southeast Asian country in December.

The tropical cyclone, known locally as Typhoon Odette, killed more than 400 people and has affected more than 7 million others, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Vatican dicastery said that the funds would be sent to the worst-affected dioceses with help from the apostolic nunciature in the Philippines.

“It is intended to be an immediate expression of the Holy Father’s feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement towards the people and territories affected,” the dicastery said, recalling that the pope prayed for victims at his Sunday Angelus on Dec. 19.

“This contribution, which accompanies the prayer in support of the beloved Filipino population, is part of the aid that is being activated throughout the Catholic Church and that involves, in addition to various episcopal conferences, numerous charitable organizations,” it said.

Vatican asks bishops to invite local Protestant and Orthodox leaders to participate in synodal path

Cardinal Kurt Koch and Cardinal Mario Grech. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA and Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 04:05 am (CNA).

The Vatican has issued a letter asking Catholic bishops to invite local Orthodox and Protestant leaders to participate in the diocesan stage of the two-year process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, wrote a letter together asking Catholic dioceses to embrace the “ecumenical dimension” of the synodal process.

“The dialogue between Christians of different confessions, united by one baptism, has a special place in the synodal journey,” said the letter highlighted by the Vatican on Jan. 17.

“Indeed, both synodality and ecumenism are processes of ‘walking together.’”

Offering “some practical suggestions to ensure the ecumenical dimension of the synodal journey,” the cardinals encouraged bishops to reach out to leaders of other Christian communities in their area.

“After identifying the main Christian communities present in the area, [the bishop] should prepare and send a letter to their leaders (or better visit them personally for this purpose),” their letter said.

The bishops should then invite local Christian leaders to send delegates to pre-synodal diocesan meetings and submit written reflections on questions included in the preparatory documents.

National bishops’ conferences are likewise asked to invite representatives from other Christian communities and national councils of churches to participate in the synodal process.

The Synod on Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” that began in October 2021. The first stage is a diocesan phase expected to last until Aug. 15.

The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents. At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

The letter, signed on Oct. 28, was referred to in a Vatican press release on Jan. 17 ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place on Jan. 18-25.

The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer is “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Cardinal Grech and Cardinal Koch said: “Like the Magi, Christians too journey together (synodos) guided by the same heavenly light and encountering the same worldly darkness.”

“They too are called to worship Jesus together and open their treasures. Conscious of our need for the accompaniment and the many gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we call on them to journey with us during these two years and we sincerely pray that Christ will lead us closer to Him and so to one another.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity shared a prayer which it said could be added to the other intentions of the Week of Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
as the Magi journeyed towards Bethlehem led by the star,
so by your heavenly light,
guide the Catholic Church to walk together with all Christians during this time of synod.
As the Magi were united in their worship of Christ,
lead us closer to your Son and so to one another,
so that we become a sign of the unity that you desire for your Church and the whole creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ahead of trial, Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse says case a test of religious freedom

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015. / Screenshot from ADF International’s YouTube channel.

Helsinki, Finland, Jan 18, 2022 / 03:15 am (CNA).

A former government minister facing jail after tweeting a Bible verse said that her trial next week will be a test of religious freedom.

Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, explained that she had a “calm mind” ahead of the criminal trial beginning on Jan. 24.

“I trust that we still live in a democracy, and we have our constitution and international agreements that guarantee our freedom of speech and religion,” said Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015.

“If I win the case, I think that it is a very important step for freedom of speech and religion. I think it’s not only important for Finland but also in Europe and other countries.”

“If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship.”

“So, now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows.”

According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that is supporting her, Räsänen could be given a two-year prison sentence for the tweet, after the Finnish Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against her on April 29, 2020.

The MP could also face additional jail time if convicted of two other alleged offenses relating to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet and on a 2018 television program, the group said.

The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

ADF International noted that Räsänen’s comments did not violate Twitter’s policies or the rules of the national broadcaster that screened the 2018 program, which is why they remain available on their platforms.

Finland is a country with a population of 5.5 million people, bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Around two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.

The 62-year-old MP, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

“The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church,” she told the journal First Things in 2020.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was also charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet “Male and Female He Created Them.”

The International Lutheran Council issued a statement in July 2020 describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen as “egregious.”

It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, said: “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society.”

“Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. These sorts of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common throughout Europe.”

“We hope and trust the Helsinki District Court will uphold the fundamental right to freedom of speech and acquit Päivi Räsänen of these outrageous charges.”

Filipino community in Los Angeles celebrates 500 years of the Santo Niño de Cebú

Attendees at a Mass for the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Calif., Jan. 16, 2022. / Victor Alemán/Angelus News

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 17, 2022 / 17:42 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles said Mass Sunday in honor of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, celebrating the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú.

“Today, we especially entrust ourselves to the Divine Infant, Santo Niño, as we continue to give thanks to God for opening the door of faith to the people of the Philippines, five hundred years ago,” the archbishop said during his Jan. 16 homily at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“And of course, we also recall that shortly after the door of faith was opened, the first Filipinos to come to America, arriving at Morro Bay, in 1587. It is beautiful to think about it and to reflect that Filipinos were here, worshipping and working in our country long before our country had a name.”

He added that “we give thanks to God today also for the rich Catholic heritage of the Philippines that has become such a beautiful part of our Catholic life here in Los Angeles, and in America.”

The Santo Niño de Cebú is a statue that was given to Juana, wife of the king of Cebu, after their 1521 baptism. It is widely venerated in the Philippines, and is now housed in the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City.

Preceding the Mass, Filipino traditions were displayed on the cathedral plaza, and images of the Santo Niño were blessed during the Mass.

During his homily, Archbishop Gomez reflected on the wedding at Cana, saying that through the miracle performed there Christ “wanted to show us that the marriage of man and woman is a symbol of how much God loves each one of us.”

“God loves all of us, you and me, without conditions and without exceptions. God delights in you! You are a special treasure to him. This is the amazing truth of our Catholic faith.”

As a result, he said, “God has a mission for your life,” a vocation.

“Each one of us, no matter who we are, has a part to play in building up God’s kingdom of love and life. And it’s also interesting because that’s the meaning of the servants in today’s Gospel.”

“Like those servants, we need to fill the water jars of our lives with the waters of love, with the waters of good works, works of mercy and service. And we do that in simple and ordinary ways. In our daily lives. Jesus wants to work with us, and through us. Through our good works, through our works of love. In our families. In our places of work. In our society,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“And this is the water that he will transform — that he will turn into new wine … But as we know, my dear brothers and sisters, everything starts from our obedience to the word of Jesus. This is especially — as we reflect on today’s passage of the Gospel — what Mary tells us in the Gospel today, when she tells the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ This is the key to the Kingdom. This is the key to holiness, to our vocation. To entering into the divine life — to do the will of God, to do whatever Jesus tells us.”

The day preceding the Mass, a food drive was held at Our Lady of Loretto parish in the city’s Historic Filipinotown. The food drive was organized by the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council and the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Community Advisory Council.

Jesuit journal criticized for article supporting assisted suicide bill in Italy

null / nito/Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, Jan 17, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Almost 60 organizations have criticized an article supporting the passing of an Italian bill to legalize assisted suicide, which was published last week in the Catholic, Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

A group of 57 associations, mostly based in Italy, have signed a statement voicing their opposition to the article, titled “The Parliamentarian Discussion on ‘Assisted Suicide.’”

The article was part of the periodical’s Jan. 15 edition, but published online on Jan. 13.

La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1850 and published twice a month, is produced by the Jesuits in Rome and approved before publication by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

“We cannot remain convinced by an article published today in La Civiltà Cattolica on the subject of assisted suicide norms,” the Jan. 13 statement said. “It is surprising, in fact, that an authoritative publication, from which one expects an echo of the Magisterium of the Church, risks positions that — albeit indirectly — may in fact give field to that ‘culture of waste,’ from whose negative effects Pope Francis constantly calls out.”

In the statement, the organizations argue that the assisted suicide bill also gives an opening to the legalization of euthanasia in Italy.

“The protection of life and the support of those who suffer is a battle of reason and civilization, which should, therefore, affect everyone, and should certainly move those who bear in name the ideal of a Catholic civilization,” the statement continued.

In the La Civiltà Cattolica article, Father Carlo Casalone, SJ, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a moral theology professor at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, argues that what he considers to be a serious cause for concern in a proposed referendum on euthanasia and assisted suicide in Italy, as a reason for lawmakers to support a bill for assisted suicide legislation.

The referendum, which seeks to decriminalize assisted suicide for adults, has a “huge flaw,” according to Casalone.

Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in Italy, where the criminal law says, “anyone who causes the death of a man, with his consent, is punished with imprisonment from six to fifteen years.”

“The request [of the referendum] is to repeal the related sanctions, except in cases of minor age, mental illness or alteration of conscience, and consent obtained by deceit or extorted by violence,” Casalone wrote. “The result would be to allow murder without subjecting it to conditions other than those that guarantee the validity of the consent.”

Casalone said there is no guarantee that further legislative constraints would be applied if the referendum should pass, and this would allow even a healthy person to commit medically-assisted suicide after meeting the requirement of consent.

If the Italian court will allow the referendum to be put to vote, Casalone posited that there will be a high level of support among the Italian public, given the large number of signatures in support of the referendum.

The referendum petition had over 1.2 million signatures when it was submitted to Italy’s supreme court in October 2021.

The priest argued that the bill on assisted suicide, which parliament is scheduled to vote on in February, could be a way to ensure the law includes conditions in its application.

“At this juncture, the PdL [bill] could constitute a barrier, albeit imperfect and itself problematic,” he said.

Debate on the legislation started in mid-December in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, and is expected to go to vote in February.

Opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Italy, including pro-life and pro-family group Pro Vita e Famiglia, hope the bill will be voted down.

In La Civiltà Cattolica, Casalone questions whether the assisted suicide bill may be “an acceptable ‘imperfect’ law.”

While acknowledging that the law under discussion “diverges” from the Catholic Church’s teaching on the illegality of assisted suicide, he suggests that the law could be tolerated if “motivated by the function of embankment in the face of a possible more serious damage.”

Casalone also said he believes the sinking of the bill or inaction by legislators would deal another blow to the credibility of Italy’s institutions “in an already critical moment.”

“In the current cultural and social situation, it seems to the writer that support for this PdL [legislative bill] does not conflict with a responsible pursuit of the possible common good,” he stated.

The nuns who witnessed the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr

We March with Selma. Via Flickr CC BY NC 2.0. / null

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2022 / 12:04 pm (CNA).

Sister Mary Antona Ebo was the only black Catholic nun who marched with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

“I'm here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness,” Sister Mary Antona Ebo said to fellow demonstrators at a March 10, 1965 protest attended by King.

The protest took place three days after the “Bloody Sunday” clash, where police attacked several hundred voting rights demonstrators with clubs and tear gas, causing some severe injuries among the non-violent marchers. 

She died Nov. 11, 2017 in Bridgeton, Missouri at the age of 93, the St. Louis Review reported at the time.

After the “Bloody Sunday” attacks, King had called on church leaders from around the country to go to Selma. Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter of St. Louis had asked his archdiocese’s human rights commission to send representatives, Ebo recounted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2015.

Ebo’s supervisor, also a religious sister, asked her whether she would join a 50-member delegation of laymen, Protestant ministers, rabbis, priests and five white nuns.

Just before she left for Alabama, she heard that a white minister who had traveled to Selma, James Reeb, had been severely attacked after he left a restaurant.

At the time, Ebo said, she wondered: “If they would beat a white minister to death on the streets of Selma, what are they going to do when I show up?”

In Selma on March 10, she went to Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joining local leaders and the demonstrators who had been injured in the clash.

“They had bandages on their heads, teeth were knocked out, crutches, casts on their arms. You could tell that they were freshly injured,” she told the Post-Dispatch. “They had already been through the battle ground, and they were still wanting to go back and go back and finish the job.”

Many of the injured had been treated at Good Samaritan Hospital, run by Edmundite priests and the Sisters of St. Joseph, the only Selma hospital that served blacks. Since their arrival in 1937, the Edmundites had faced intimidation and threats from local officials, other whites, and even the Ku Klux Klan, CNN reported.

The injured demonstrators and their supporters left the Selma church, with Ebo in front. They marched towards the courthouse, then blocked by state troopers in riot gear. She and other demonstrators then knelt to pray the Our Father before they agreed to turn around.

Despite the violent interruption, the 57-mile march would draw 25,000 participants. It concluded on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, with King’s famous March 25 speech against racial prejudice.

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.

King would be dead within three years. On a fateful April 4, 1968, he was shot by an assassin at his Memphis hotel.

He had asked to be taken to a Catholic hospital should anything happen to him, and he was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis. At the time, it was a nursing school combined with a 400-bed hospital.

There, too, Catholic religious sisters played a role.

Sister Jane Marie Klein and Sister Anna Marie Hofmeyer recounted their story to The Paper of Montgomery County Online in January 2017.

The Franciscan nuns had been walking around the hospital grounds when they heard the sirens of an ambulance. One of the sisters was paged three times, and they discovered that King had been shot and taken to their hospital.

The National Guard and local police locked down the hospital for security reasons as doctors tried to save King.

“We were obviously not allowed to go in when they were working with him because they were feverishly working with him,” Sister Jane Marie said. “But after they pronounced him dead we did go back into the E.R. There was a gentleman as big as the door guarding the door and he looked at us and said ‘you want in?’ We said yes, we’d like to go pray with him. So he let the three of us in, closed the door behind us and gave us our time.”

Hofmeyer recounted the scene in the hospital room. “He had no chance,” she said.

Klein said authorities delayed the announcement of King’s death to prepare for riots they knew would result.

Three decades later, Klein met with King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at a meeting of the Catholic Health Association Board in Atlanta where King was a keynote speaker. The Franciscan sister and the widow of the civil rights leader told each other how they had spent that night.

Klein said being present that night in 1968 was “indescribable.”

“You do what you got to do,” she said. What’s the right thing to do? Hindsight? It was a privilege to be able to take care of him that night and to pray with him. Who would have ever thought that we would be that privileged?”

She said King’s life shows “to some extent one person can make a difference.” She wondered “how anybody could listen to Dr. King and not be moved to work toward breaking down these barriers.”

Klein would serve as chairperson of the Franciscan Alliance Board of Trustees, overseeing support for health care. Hofmeyer would work in the alliance’s archives. Last year both were living at the Provinciate at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka, Indiana.

For her part, after Selma, Ebo would go on to serve as a hospital administrator and a chaplain.

In 1968 she helped found the National Black Sisters’ Conference. The woman who had been rejected from several Catholic nursing schools because of her race would serve in her congregation’s leadership as it reunited with another Franciscan order, and she served as a director of social concerns for the Missouri Catholic Conference.

She frequently spoke on civil rights topics. When controversy over a Ferguson, Mo. police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, a black man, she led a prayer vigil. She thought the Ferguson protests were comparable to those of Selma.

“I mean, after all, if Mike Brown really did swipe the box of cigars, it’s not the policeman’s place to shoot him dead,” she said.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis presided at her requiem Mass in November, saying in a statement “We will miss her living example of working for justice in the context of our Catholic faith.”

A previous version of this article was originally published on CNA Jan. 14, 2018.

Pope Francis: The story of the Holy Land is the 'Fifth Gospel'

Pope Francis met a delegation affiliated with the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land on Jan. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has urged journalists in the Middle East to keep telling stories from the Holy Land, calling it the “Fifth Gospel.”

“Making the Holy Land known means transmitting the ‘Fifth Gospel,’ that is, the historical environment and geographical area in which the Word of God was revealed and then made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, for us and for our salvation,” the pope said in the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 17.

“It also means making known the people who live there today, the life of the Christians of various Churches and denominations, but also those of Jews and Muslims, to try to build, in a complex and difficult context like that of the Middle East, a fraternal society.”

The phrase “the Fifth Gospel” has been invoked by popes from Paul VI to Benedict XVI to describe the Holy Land.

In his speech, Pope Francis quoted Benedict XVI’s description of the Holy Land as the place where the history and geography of salvation meet.

“There ‘we can see, indeed, tangibly feel the reality of the history that God brought about with men and women; beginning with the places of Abraham's life and including the places of Jesus' life, from the Incarnation to the empty tomb, the sign of his Resurrection. Yes, God entered this land, he acted with us in this world,’” Pope Francis said, quoting Benedict’s Regina Coeli address from May 17, 2009.

“And the Paschal Mystery also illuminates and gives meaning to today's history, to the journey of the peoples who live in the Holy Land today, a journey unfortunately marked by wounds and conflicts even today, but which God's grace always opens to hope, the hope of fraternity and peace,” Francis said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

The pope met with a group of journalists from the Jerusalem-based Christian Media Center as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of its flagship Italian magazine, “La Terra Santa.”

Fransican Father Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, led the delegation.

“The service you carry out today is on the line of continuity with the communicative intuition that 100 years ago guided the Custos Ferdinando Diotallevi, and consists - as he wrote in the first issue of the magazine - in ‘making the Holy Land better known, the Land of God, the cradle of Christianity, the venerable sanctuaries where the Redemption of mankind was accomplished,’” Francis told the journalists.

“Through the means of social communication you can enrich the faith of many, even of those who do not have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the holy places,” he said.

Both the media center and the magazine are affiliated with the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1217.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Before his speech, Pope Francis apologized that he had to speak while sitting because his leg was in pain.

“Excuse me if I stay seated, but I have a pain in my leg today ... It hurts me, it hurts if I'm standing,” the pope said.

The 85-year-old pope has suffered from sciatica for a number of years. He spoke about it during an in-flight press conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.

Pope Francis thanked the journalists in particular for telling the stories of people from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Gaza, where the realities are “most difficult.”

“I know that you try to present stories of the good – those of active resistance to the evil of war, those of reconciliation, those of restoring dignity to children robbed of their childhood, those of refugees with their tragedies but also with their dreams and hopes,” the pope said.

“Thank you because, in order to work in this way, you have not spared the soles of your shoes, and I know that you will not spare them in the future either, in order to be able to tell all of this.”

“When you tell the story of the Holy Land, you tell the ‘Fifth Gospel,’ what God continues to write in history,” Pope Francis said.

Burlington priest asks parishioners to tell bishop of his pastoral care, mental health

Fr. Peter Williams, pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vt. / Holy Family Parish Springfield Vermont screenshot via Youtube.

Burlington, Vt., Jan 17, 2022 / 09:10 am (CNA).

Father Peter Williams says the Diocese of Burlington is trying to remove him as pastor of his parish because he will neither be tested regularly for COVID-19 nor be masked. He is asking his parishioners to testify on his behalf, because he says the diocese, and his family, are trying to prove that he is physically and mentally unfit for the job.

The priest, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, is pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vermont, 120 miles southeast of Burlington.

“Being more of the ilk of a patriot and being one who is in support of freedom and personal rights, I balk at any incursion into my rights as a human being, certainly a U.S. citizen, and that was my objection when the bishop started directing matters of my health,” Williams said in a Jan. 5 video.

Williams is referring to Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne’s September 2021 letter to clergy in which he requested that they all be vaccinated. Coyne said that alternately, any cleric who choose to remain unvaccinated must test for COVID-19 every other week and be masked during ministry. Williams, who chose to remain unvaccinated, refused.

Williams said that he then received correspondence from Coyne which stated that he had 14 days to comply, or Coyne would suspend him. 

Williams, who maintained he has canonical rights as a pastor to remain in his post, has since hired a canon lawyer and said he will fight the case until Coyne officially removes him through a canonical process. 

“I have no intention of resigning as pastor because that is my job,” Williams’ said. “That is what I do.”

Now, he said, his family and the diocese are trying to prove that he is physically and mentally unhealthy. But he maintains he’s as healthy as ever. 

“Now, I’m not aware of how my family members made that assessment,” he said. “All they needed to do was to watch the videos of Mass that we have ongoing or give me a call, none of which happened.”

Now, he said, “the case seems to be revolving around my health and my mental health.”

Williams said that for the sake of maintaining normalcy in his parish, he chose to keep his correspondences with the bishop to himself. But the pressure became too much of a burden. He added that it broke his heart when his family got involved.

Williams said that his canon lawyer suggested that he gather some names of people who would be willing to testify on his behalf to Coyne.

“So I'm asking all of my parishioners, if you are inspired or if you are interested, to write a letter on my behalf stating how you think I’m doing as a pastor and how you would evaluate my mental health,” he said. 

In the diocese’s statement issued to CNA, Coyne declined to speak on the contents of the video “in order to protect the good name and reputation of all involved.”

“The present pastoral situation in Springfield is a sad and difficult situation that Bishop Coyne is addressing with care for all concerned, most especially the people of Holy Family Parish,” the statement said.

“The number one priority of the Diocese of Burlington is to offer the Sacraments and the fullness of parish life to the Catholic community in a safe environment that protects the health and well-being of our priests and parishioners,” the diocese said.

When asked if Williams’ claims are true, the diocese told CNA it is not commenting on the content of Williams’ video and added that personnel issues are confidential and it cannot discuss any details.

Pope Francis looks ahead to the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025

Pope Francis meets with ecumenical delegation from Finland on Jan. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2022 / 05:30 am (CNA).

In an ecumenical meeting with a Lutheran delegation on Monday, Pope Francis pointed to the upcoming 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea as a source of unity between Christians.

“Dear friends, we have set out on a journey led by God’s kindly light that dissipates the darkness of division and directs our journey towards unity,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 17.

“We have set out, as brothers and sisters, on the journey towards ever fuller communion.”

Pope Francis received an ecumenical delegation from Finland at the Vatican. The group traveled to Rome on pilgrimage for the feast of Saint Henrik, a 12th century bishop of Finland who is revered by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.

In the meeting, the pope pointed to the upcoming anniversaries of two major events in Church history as moments that can help Christians to see the goal of unity more clearly.

“In 2025, we will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. The Trinitarian and Christological confession of that Council, which acknowledges Jesus to be ‘true God from true God’ and ‘consubstantial with the Father,’ unites us with all those who are baptized,” Pope Francis said.

The First Council of Nicaea held in 325 A.D. was called by emperor Constantine to confront the Arian heresy, which denied Christ’s divinity. The council promulgated the Nicene Creed, which is still accepted by Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations.

“In view of this great anniversary, let us renew our enthusiasm for journeying together in the way of Christ, in the way that is Christ. For we need him and the newness and incomparable joy that he brings. Only by clinging to him will we reach the end of the path leading to full unity,” the pope said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Pope Francis also highlighted that 2030 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.

The Augsburg Confession included 28 articles presented by Lutheran princes in 1530 for approval by the Catholic Church. The Church responded with a Confutation that accepted 9 articles, approved 6 with qualifications, and condemned 13 articles.

“At a time when Christians were about to set out on different paths, that Confession attempted to preserve unity,” Pope Francis said.

“We know that it did not succeed in preventing division, but the forthcoming anniversary can serve as a fruitful occasion to encourage and confirm us on our journey of communion, so that we can become more docile to God’s will, and less to human strategies, more disposed to prefer to earthly aims the route pointed out by Heaven.”

The delegation from Finland included Jukka Keskitalo, the bishop of Oulu in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and Bishop Teemu Sippo, the retired Catholic bishop of Helsinki.

Sippo was the first Finnish-born Catholic bishop to be appointed since the 16th century. More than 68% of Finland’s population is Lutheran, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Representatives from the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people – the only indigenous people of the European Union – were also present for the papal meeting.

“It is with particular joy that I welcome and greet the Sámi representatives,” Pope Francis said.

“May God accompany you on the journey towards reconciliation and healing of memory, and make all Christians free and determined in the earnest search for truth.”

The ecumenical meeting occurred one day ahead of the official start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25.

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their “difficulties and sufferings” during this week for the unity of Christians.

“When will unity be achieved? One wonders, isn't that right? A great Orthodox theologian who is a specialist in eschatology said, ‘Unity will be in the eschaton.’ But the path to unity is important. It is very good that theologians study, discuss,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.

“But it is also good that we, God's faithful people, go together on the journey. Together. And we make unity through prayer, through works of charity, through working together. I know you are going down that path, and I thank you so much,” he said.

“Let us keep our gaze ever fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and remain close to one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said.

Blessed Mother statues still stand at Colorado family home destroyed by wildfire

A concrete statue of Mary stands near the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. / Bob and Tina McLaren

Denver, Colo., Jan 16, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

As Bob and Tina McLaren fled the Superior, Colorado neighborhood they had called home since 1992, Tina looked back and saw flames at the end of their street. 

As the Catholic couple, their daughter and two grandchildren made their way to safety, driving through clouds of ash and smoke, Tina hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe, their house would be spared. 

But a few days later, after the authorities permitted them to return, their fears were confirmed. Their house was ash. 

And yet, amid the rubble, two concrete statues of Mary that had stood on their property remained. 

A statue of St. Jude, who holds special significance for the family, also survived. Bob said when they were first building their house, their original plan for financing the build fell through. He said he credits the intercession of St. Jude — the patron of impossible causes— with helping them get a new financing plan to build their family home. 

The burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren
The burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren

The McLarens, like nearly 1,000 of their neighbors, lost their home in the Marshall Fire, a fast-moving wildfire that consumed hundreds of buildings and businesses in Boulder County, Colorado during the last days of 2021. The towns of Louisville and Superior, roughly halfway between the larger cities of Denver and Boulder, were hardest hit. 

At least one person is confirmed dead as a result of the fires, the most destructive in state history. The initial cause of the fire, which spread rapidly due to high winds and an exceptional drought, remains under investigation. 

The McLarens are currently staying with relatives in Northglenn, Colorado. Bob says they built their Superior home in 1992 and raised their four daughters there— there are “many hearts broken by its loss,” he said. 

A burned-out car sits at the parking lot of the Oerman-Roche Trailhead, overlooking Superior, Colorado, on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire burned some 6,000 acres and 1,000 homes in Boulder County beginning on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
A burned-out car sits at the parking lot of the Oerman-Roche Trailhead, overlooking Superior, Colorado, on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire burned some 6,000 acres and 1,000 homes in Boulder County beginning on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Despite the tragedy, the family has been able to find some respite from their local Catholic parish, which set up a donation center to help those in need in the wake of the fire. 

The McClarens have been active parishioners at St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville for nearly 40 years. Tina said they have received a tremendous amount of help from their local faith community; they’ve been almost overwhelmed by donations of basic necessities like clothes, she said. 

And while the monetary and material donations are “incredible,” Tina said the prayers they have received have been even more so. She said old friends that they haven’t spoken to in years, some that they never thought they would hear from again, have reached out to ask how they’re doing, and to offer prayers. 

Sign outside St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The parish has been operating an emergency center to distribute supplies to people in need since the Marshall Fire, which destroyed some 1,000 homes, began on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
Sign outside St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The parish has been operating an emergency center to distribute supplies to people in need since the Marshall Fire, which destroyed some 1,000 homes, began on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Tina said many family members, some of whom have fallen away from the Catholic faith, have also reached out to offer prayers. 

Colorado’s housing market, spurred by years of high demand as well as by the pandemic, was extremely tight even before the fire displaced 1,000 or so families. Bob says they plan to stay in Superior, in the community they have come to love so much. In the meantime, the family is looking for temporary housing. 

Tina McLaren surveys the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren
Tina McLaren surveys the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren

Tina describes herself as a giving person by nature, but she said being on the receiving end of such an outpouring of support from her fellow Catholics has been an extremely humbling experience. 

She also noted that despite the terrifying ordeal and the loss of their home, the love and memories associated with their happy home of 30 years “can't be burned up.”

She also said she has seen God’s hand working amid the chaos. 

"No matter how bad the situation is, there's always good. He's promised that something better will come from something bad that you're going through,” Tina said. 

The brick archway of a ruined home near the corner of N McCaslin Blvd and Via Appia Way in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire consumed some 6,000 acres of land and 1,000 homes in Boulder County starting on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
The brick archway of a ruined home near the corner of N McCaslin Blvd and Via Appia Way in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire consumed some 6,000 acres of land and 1,000 homes in Boulder County starting on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA