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‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ initiative comes to Buenos Aires

Fabric “balconera” with the image of the Holy Family / Credit: Facebook page Talleres del Sagrado

CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

At the initiative of the Vicariate Center of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, this Christmas the “balconeras” are arriving in Argentina, a resource to put Christ again at the center of the celebration.

The proposal, which originated in Uruguay, consists of placing an image of the Nativity scene on doors, windows, balconies, stained-glass windows, counters, or vehicles to remind people that “Christmas is Jesus.”

The 28- by 16-inch cloth panels imprinted with an image of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus in the manger are often placed on balconies facing the street, which is why they are called “balconeras.”

The organizers of the initiative want it to be established as a tradition so that the powerful impact of the image will bear witness to the coming of Christ.

The cloth balconeras are made in workshops at Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica, a place where young people in the Barracas neighborhood in Buenos Aires with problematic drug use receive accompaniment.

The pastor of the basilica, Father Sebastián García, told the AICA news agency that the community received the proposal very positively and that requests are increasing day by day.

“Many people who can’t set up a Nativity scene have lost that tradition, or this Christmas are half hopeless, have this proposal that the visible place in our house can be a witness bearing the image of the Nativity,” he said.

The priest highlighted the missionary meaning of the idea, “so that all the people who see it can feel the same thing.” Given the multiplicity of offers that there are at Christmas, “we believe that the Christian one is the best and the most important, and also the one we share,” he said.

The proposal envisions the possibility that people can take more to share with someone who needs one, and thus encourage hope.

In Uruguay, where balconeras have been placed for several Christmases, people are invited to hang them beginning Dec. 8 and also to pray the Dawn Rosary during the Immaculate Conception novena at four locations in the capital, Montevideo.

In addition, people are asked to bring the baby Jesus from the manger to get it blessed, organize a work of mercy in the community, and pray a prayer on Christmas Eve as a family.

Beginning in 2018 in Montevideo, in addition to the balconeras, the faithful began lighting the “Light of Bethlehem” in parishes and homes.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

‘Everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation’: Bishops respond to priests’ fear of false abuse claims

Left to right: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Worth-South Bend, Indiana, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston. / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

A recent survey of priests found growing distrust of bishops and major fears that they would not get their support if faced with false abuse accusations.

Eighty-two percent of priests responding to a survey conducted by The Catholic Project, a research group at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said they live in constant fear of being falsely accused of sexual abuse.

And only 51% of diocesan priests believe their bishop would support them during an abuse investigation, according to the survey, which was released in October. Meanwhile, only 36% are confident their diocese would provide the resources necessary to defend themselves during a legal investigation.

CNA discussed those survey results with bishops attending the fall general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore earlier this month. During the annual gathering, the U.S. bishops marked the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Charter protocols the conference adopted in 2002 for responding to abuse allegations against clergy.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco called the survey’s findings “very troubling,” adding that bishops must “support the priests that are having difficulties and troubles” and “be compassionate and patient with them.”

Cordileone said the possibility of career-ending accusations is even greater in some parts of the country than in others.

“Priests are under a lot of pressure, and we need to appreciate that, especially in the climate in some states, like our own (California), that once again has lifted the statute of limitations. Now everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation,” Cordileone said.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston voiced his sympathy with priests’ concerns, saying that priests live with the knowledge that they are “just one accusation away from retirement” and that in many cases, “if you are accused of something, that’s pretty much the end.”

Priests’ lack of trust in their bishop contributes directly to burnout. Young priests seem particularly vulnerable, with 60% of diocesan priests under the age of 45 voicing at least some level of burnout, according to the Catholic Project survey.

Connecting with and helping individual priests feel supported is a “challenge for bishops,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, told CNA.

“I think it is important,” Rhoades said, adding that he’s had to ask his staff for additional support “so that I can have time with the priests.”

Yet, when it comes to sexual abuse investigations, those challenges are further magnified. “You’re trying to be sensitive to the victim, alleged victim, and be there for them. Then there’s the priest,” Rhoades stated. “So it’s a really, really difficult thing to deal with, but we have to.” 

To Reed, the solution to priests’ distrust of bishops is “less administration, more personal contact.” In Reed’s opinion, there “has to be a missionary aspect” of a bishop’s work. “A cup of coffee, you know, with a priest, celebrate the morning Mass, go out to dinner, maybe stay over the rectory, that kind of thing.”

Though a bishop can work hard to improve the trust with his priests, there is “nothing you really can do” about the one-and-done nature of abuse accusations, Reed conceded.

For Cordileone, it depends on the priest in question and his track record. Cordileone said that if “it’s clear that he’s innocent, and he’s been a respected pastor his whole life … (the priest’s bishop) has to protect his reputation … even despite the vitriol he’s going to receive. I think that that’s one thing that can help to rebuild trust with the priests.”

Shannon Mullen and Zelda Caldwell contributed to this story.

As Church allows for LGBT-employees in Germany, Vatican publishes concerns over Synodal Way

German Bishops at Mass in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls during their visit in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 09:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican on Thursday published the full wording of its latest warnings over another schism coming out of Germany, raising fundamental concerns and objections against the Synodal Way.

Two leading cardinals delivered their theologically argued reservations in direct meetings with the German bishops last Friday, warning the process “hurts the communion of the Church.”

The critiques were published Nov. 24 both in the official newspaper of the Vatican and on the Vatican’s news site. 

They included the suggestion of a moratorium on the process — a proposal knocked back in discussions with German bishops in Rome on Nov. 18, CNA Deutsch reported.

Facing the German bishops in Rome, Nov. 18, 2022: Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer SJ, Prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS, Prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops (from left). Vatican Media
Facing the German bishops in Rome, Nov. 18, 2022: Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer SJ, Prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS, Prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops (from left). Vatican Media

The main concern is one of union with the Church, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, explained.

“Several authoritative critics of the current orientation of the Synodal Way in Germany speak openly of a latent schism that the proposal of your texts threatens to entrench in its present form,” he wrote.

The Synodal Way — which is not a synod — risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations, but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Cardinal Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

Ouellet said Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

The Vatican was receiving messages on a daily basis from Catholics scandalized by this process, he added. 

Inspired by Gender Theory

“It is striking,” the cardinal told the Germans, “that the agenda of a limited group of theologians from a few decades ago has suddenly become the majority proposal of the German episcopate.”

The German agenda, Ouellet said, was the “abolition of compulsory celibacy, ordination of viri probati, access of women to the ordained ministry, moral re-evaluation of homosexuality, structural and functional limitation of hierarchical power, reflections on sexuality inspired by gender theory, major proposed amendments to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” 

In amazement, Ouellet said, many observers and faithful are asking: “What happened?” and “Where did we end up?” 

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised five concerns with the German bishops, including the Synodal Way’s approach to sexuality, power and structure in the Church, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Losing an achievement of Vatican II

Firstly, given the Synodal Way is not a synod, Ladaria said, it was not expected to produce a final document. Still, perhaps it should produce one — or something similar —” that can reflect a more linear approach and less reliance on assertions that are not fully substantiated.”

Secondly, the cardinal cast doubt on the Synodal Way’s assumed “connection between the structure of the Church and the phenomenon of abuse of minors.” 

Ladaria warned the Germans of “reducing the mystery of the Church to a mere institution of power, or viewing the Church from the outset as a structurally abusive organization that must be brought under the control of superintendents as quickly as possible.”

Such an approach risks losing “one of the most important achievements of the Second Vatican Council,” Ladaria wrote: Namely, “the clear doctrine of the mission of the bishops and thus of the local Church.”

Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media

On the question of ordaining women, Ladaria reminded the bishops, as he has stated previously: The teaching of the Catholic Church on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood, now or in the future, is clear – and to sow confusion by suggesting otherwise is a serious matter.

Finally, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told the German bishops to recognize their role in the context of the Apostolic succession. “If it is true that the Magisterium is under the judgment of the Word, it is equally true that it is precisely through the exercise of the Magisterium of the bishops, and especially of the Bishop of Rome, that the Word comes alive and resounds vibrantly,” the cardinal wrote.

The terse warnings published this week were not the first intervention by the Vatican against the Synodal Way. In July, the Vatican issued a warning of a new schism arising from the process initiated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

German response: ‘Not a stop sign‘

Upon their return from Rome last week, some German bishops commented on the objections to their “reform project,” reported CNA Deutsch.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said the Vatican’s warnings were “not a stop sign for the important and necessary discussions we’re having,” such as the Synodal Way’s vote for women’s ordination

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck Photo: Nicole Cronauge / Diocese of Essen.
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck Photo: Nicole Cronauge / Diocese of Essen.

In short, the Synodal Way — Synodaler Weg in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path —is still expected to continue as planned by organizers, with the next (and so far final) synodal assembly to take place in spring of 2023.

In the meantime, German bishops are pushing ahead with making changes across the board to the Church in their dioceses, not just on the Synodal Way: This week, labor laws were amended so that employees of the Catholic Church can identify as LGBT, be “divorced” or not even Catholic. 

While clerics and those in “pastoral care” are still expected to be Catholic, the Church — which employs about 800,000 people in Germany — is “enriched” by this “diversity in church institutions,” the German Bishops’ Conference said on Tuesday. 

According to a report by CNA Deutsch, the bishops also said that “all employees can, regardless of their duties, their origin, their religion, their age, their disability, their sex, their sexual identity and their way of life,” now be representatives of “a Church that serves people.”

Not just for students: Here’s what adults can expect at SEEK23 in St. Louis

Ryan and Sara Huelsing, parishoners at St. Joseph parish in Cottleville, Missouri, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Ryan leads a men's group at his parish and both hope to get involved with FOCUS' Making Missionary Disciples track. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 25, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The upcoming Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference is expected to draw 20,000 people to St. Louis for talks, workshops, entertainment, prayer, and worship, with the goal of encouraging and equipping Catholics to live and share their faith. The Jan. 2–6, 2023, gathering, SEEK23, will be the first in-person national conference for FOCUS since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eileen Piper, FOCUS’ vice president of lifelong mission, told CNA recently that a new conference track called Making Missionary Disciples aims to help adult attendees become equipped to better share their faith.

While most of FOCUS’ programming is geared toward students, the Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for priests, bishops, diocesan and parish staff, FOCUS alumni, parishioners, and benefactors who “long to see their parish, diocese, family, or community experience deep transformation in Jesus Christ and who desire to be a part of the solution,” the organization says.

“This really is a unique opportunity, and you’re going to get hands-on experience,” Piper told CNA.

“This is practical training. It’s made for you to take into your state of life — so if you are a leader in a parish, you are going to be equipped to be able to step into your work in the parish in a brand-new way.”

Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS
Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS

Piper said she, like many Catholics, has friends and family members in her life who are no longer practicing their faith. The Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for those who want to do a better job of sharing their faith, she said, not on “street corners” but primarily with people they already know and love.

“It starts to practically equip you so that you’re feeling more confident and more comfortable entering into faith conversations with those that you are already in relationship with,” she explained.

The track will feature speeches and workshops put on by nationally recognized Catholic speakers such as Father Josh Johnson, Sister Bethany Madonna, and sEdward Sri. Conference attendees will also be given time for prayer and fellowship, daily Mass, and networking opportunities, FOCUS says.

Through the workshops, “you’ll be working on your personal testimony, so you can just in a very comfortable way share your own story of how you like what Jesus means to you, and why it matters.”

Piper said as part of the conference they also hope to create opportunities for parish priests to connect “brother to brother” and discuss with one another what is working well in their parishes. She also said FOCUS will be offering a Lenten Bible study in 2023 for anyone who wants to participate, and they will be especially suggesting that SEEK23 attendees join in on it and invite others to join as well.

Since its founding in the 1990s, FOCUS has sent missionaries to college campuses across the United States and abroad to share the Catholic faith primarily through Bible studies and small groups, practicing what it calls “The Little Way of Evangelization” — winning small numbers of people to the Catholic faith at a time through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same.

FOCUS has since 2015 been in the process of expanding beyond college campuses by creating a track designed to bring their relationship-based evangelization model to parishes. Almost two dozen parishes across the country, including one in the St. Louis Archdiocese, have FOCUS missionaries living and working there.

SEEK23 will be FOCUS’ first in-person conference since Indianapolis in 2019 and a smaller student leadership summit in Phoenix in the earliest days of 2020. Conferences for 2021 and 2022 were held online due to the pandemic.

Brian Miller, director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that St. Louis was chosen for SEEK in part because it is centrally located and convention-friendly, but also because the city is ripe for the kind of renewal that FOCUS aims to provide.

Beyond the young people and students who will attend SEEK, Miller said they hope to use FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a launch pad for getting more mature Catholics excited about sharing their faith as well. He also said his office plans to host follow-up events for St. Louis Catholics to build upon what people will learn at SEEK about evangelization as well as provide them with resources to help them start Bible studies and small discipleship groups.

He said he hopes that as parishes in St. Louis “come together in their new parish realities” after an ongoing major merging and closing process, that “they have some common footing, some common training, and they have a common mission.”

SEEK23 registration is now open and costs $399 total for the full five days, regardless of whether you are a college or high school student or an adult. General passes for St. Louis residents cost $350. All registration options can be found here.

UK woman praying in public asked to ‘move on’ by local authorities

Livia Tossici-Bolt says she was urged by council officers to “move on” after praying in public / ADF International

CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 08:09 am (CNA).

Concerns about religious freedom in the UK are intensifying after local council officers confronted a woman on the south coast of England for praying quietly in a public space and asked her to move away.

Livia Tossici-Bolt was praying with a friend near a local abortion clinic in Bournemouth but had not breached the borders of the censorship zone around the clinic, which the local council had imposed.

Nevertheless, two ‘Community Safety Accredited Officers’ patrolling the buffer zone informed Livia that her actions could cause “intimidation and harassment” and asked her to move away. According to Tossici-Bolt, the officers also expressed concern that there was a local school nearby and that “the children may ask questions.”

In a statement released on November 24, ADF International formally announced their support for Tossici-Bolt and the launch of an official complaint to local authorities for breaching her right to pray on a public street.

The statement comes as parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Clause 9 of the Bill proposes to institute ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression.

Clause 9 faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on November 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed unease with the introduction of buffer zones.

According to a statement from ADF International, Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill prohibits not only “harassment” outside of abortion facilities but “informing,” “advising,” “influencing,” “persuading,” and even “expressing an opinion.”

During the debate on Tuesday, Baroness Claire Fox of Buckley said: “If we pass Clause 9, why will other institutions not demand buffer zones around their special case facilities? If we consider that in Clause 9 a buffer zone is defined very broadly as “150 meters from … any access point to any building or site that contains an abortion clinic”, does that not make protests of all sorts at hospitals potentially unlawful? What if you wanted to organise a vigil outside a hospital in which, for example, babies died due to negligence, such as in the maternity services scandal recently? What about a rally against the use of puberty blockers on teenagers? Would that be banned too?”

Commenting on her own experience, Tossici-Bolt said in a statement on November 24: “Everyone has the freedom to pray quietly in a public place. I would never dream of doing something that causes intimidation and harassment. We complied with the new rules instituted by the council and didn’t pray within the censorship zone. Yet nevertheless, these prayer-patrol officers tried to intimidate us out of exercising our freedom of thought and of expression – in the form of prayer -which has been a foundational part of our society for generations.”

ADF International recently championed the cause of a 76-year-old grandmother in Liverpool, UK, who successfully overturned a financial penalty for praying near an abortion clinic in February 2021.

‘Your pain is my pain’: Pope Francis pens letter marking 9 months of war in Ukraine

Pope Francis holds a flag that he received from Bucha, Ukraine at his general audience on April 6, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 07:50 am (CNA).

In an emotional letter addressed to the people of Ukraine, Pope Francis wrote that he sees the cross of Christ in the tortures and sufferings endured by Ukrainians in nine months of war.

“I would like to unite my tears with yours and tell you that there is not a day in which I am not close to you and do not carry you in my heart and in my prayers,” the pope wrote in the letter.

“Your pain is my pain. In the cross of Jesus today I see you—you who suffer the terror unleashed by this aggression.”

Pope Francis went on to say that “the cross that tortured the Lord lives again in the tortures found on the corpses” and “in the mass graves discovered in various cities.” 

The Vatican published the letter in Ukrainian and Italian on Nov. 25, one day after it was signed by Pope Francis in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

In the letter, Pope Francis recalled his consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.

He said: “May Our Lady, his Mother and ours, watch over you. To her Immaculate Heart, in union with the bishops of the world, I have consecrated the Church and humanity, especially your country and Russia.”

“To her Motherly Heart, I present your sufferings and your tears.”

Pope Francis has frequently prayed for “martyred Ukraine” in his public audiences since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February. 

His letter to the Ukrainian people was signed exactly one week after he met privately with Ukrainian Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv and Bishop Jan Sobiło, an auxiliary bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia in Ukraine and that the Vatican Secretary of State offered a Mass for peace in Ukraine.

The pope’s letter mentioned the “genocide of Holodomor,” the man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine that killed millions of people between 1932 and 1933, and the continued fortitude of the Ukrainian people today.

“Even in the immense tragedy they are suffering, the Ukrainian people have never been discouraged or given over to self-pity. The world has recognized a bold and strong people, a people who suffer and pray, weep and struggle, resist and hope: a noble and martyred people,” Francis said.

“I continue to stand by you with my heart and prayer and with humanitarian concern that you may feel accompanied, that you may not get used to war, that you may not be left alone today and especially tomorrow when the temptation to forget your suffering will perhaps come.”

Christmas shopping? Check out these gifts handmade by monks and nuns

Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, make soap and candles which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. / Jeffrey Bruno

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

If you’re looking for unique handmade gifts for those on your list this Christmas, you’re going to love these delicious treats and original crafts created by Catholic monks and nuns. There’s something for everyone, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you helped support these religious brothers and sisters in their lives of faith and service.

Fruitcake

You know the old joke about how there’s only been one fruitcake ever made — it’s just been passed around and around and never eaten? Well, the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, don’t make that kind of fruitcake. Soaked in brandy and aged for three months, this cake “has converted many a fruitcake ‘atheist,’” according to its creators. Order a one-pound fruitcake for $24.95.

Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.
Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.

Fudge

The monks of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, make their famous fudge with premium chocolate and real butter. Try a 12-ounce gift box for $12.95.

Or try some fudge made with Kentucky bourbon from the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani. A 12-ounce box sells for $16.45.

Chocolates by Monastery Candy.
Chocolates by Monastery Candy.

Cookies

The Capuchin Poor Clare nuns make their famous butter cookies from their monastery in Denver. The “Clarisas” come in a beautiful gift box featuring an image of St. Clare and sell for $24 for a 1.5-pound box.

Clarisas' Cookies.
Clarisas' Cookies.

Caramels

The contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, are known for their delicious caramels, which they make by hand in order to support their way of life. A 9-ounce box sells for $13.75.

Coffee

The Wyoming Carmelites of Mystic Monk Coffee hand-roast their beans in small batches to support their community. The website CoffeeReview.com ranks their coffee among the highest of the coffees they review. A 12-ounce bag of their most popular flavor, Jingle Bell Java, sells for $13.95.

Hot sauce

The monks at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas make a tangy hot sauce from the habanero peppers grown in the monastery’s gardens. Benedictine Father Richard Walz began making his “Monk Sauce” while he was stationed in Belize, Central America. In 2003, he brought back some seeds from the peppers he grew there and created a tangy sauce made from the chilies along with onions, garlic, carrots, vinegar, salt, and “a few prayers thrown in for good measure.” How spicy is it? According to the abbey’s website, their Monk Sauce has a 250,000 Scoville Unit rating, while Tabasco’s habanero sauce earned a mere 7,000 Scoville Unit rating. Available in green, red, and smoked, the 5-ounce bottles sell for $11 each.

Soap

The nuns from the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, live a life of prayer through eucharistic adoration and dedication to the rosary. To support this way of life they create handmade candles and skin-care products, which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Create your own Christmas gift bag of two bars of soap, a hand cream, a jar candle, a face moisturizer, and a handmade rosary made from olive wood beads from the Holy Land for $50. The sisters also make hand-poured beeswax taper candles in small batches at the monastery, which they sell for $10 a pair.

Hand-painted china

The contemplative Sisters of the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York, support themselves by hand-painting chinaware. The exquisite, intricately-designed pieces make lovely Christmas gifts, and the china is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. Check out these gorgeous designs: a hand-painted serving bowl for $119 or this cookie jar for $89.  “All chinaware is done in solitude and in prayer, anonymously, and with love,” reads the sisters’ website.

Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.
Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.

Hong Kong court convicts Cardinal Zen and five other democracy advocates

Cardinal Joseph Zen. / Bohumil Petrik

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 03:02 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others were found guilty on Friday of failing to register a fund that helped pay for the legal fees and medical treatments of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

The 90-year-old cardinal and former bishop of Hong Kong was fined about $500 (HK$4,000). Each of the other trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund was fined the same amount.

Zen told reporters after the verdict on Nov. 25: “Although I'm a religious figure, I hope this (case) won't be associated with our freedom of religion. It's not related.”

The cardinal appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court wearing a pectoral cross, clerical color, and a facemask. He used a cane to walk.

“I'm just a Hong Kong citizen who strongly supports providing humanitarian assistance," he said, according to Reuters.

Zen’s trial from September to November focused on whether it was necessary for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund trustees to apply for local society registration between 2019 and 2021.

The cardinal’s lawyer Robert Pang argued in court last month that imposing “criminal sanctions on the failure to register must be an infringement of freedom of association.”

Magistrate Ada Yim ruled on Friday that the fund was a “local society” and was subject to its rules, but she did not apply the maximum penalty for the offense of a roughly $1,200 fine.

Yim said in her judgment that the fund “had political objectives and thus it was not established solely for charitable purposes.”

Margaret Ng, a lawyer and fund trustee who was convicted with Zen, told reporters outside of the court that the ruling was significant because it is the first time that anyone in Hong Kong had been convicted under the Societies Ordinance for failing to register a society.

“It is also extremely important about the freedom of association in Hong Kong under Societies Ordinance,” Ng said, according to AP.

Along with Zen and Ng, the other convicted trustees of the fund were singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-Keung, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho.

Sze Ching-wee, the former secretary of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, was also charged on Friday with a smaller fine. Sze was arrested earlier in November under Hong Kong’s national security law. He has been released on bail, and is required to report to the police in February.

The cardinal and the other trustees of the fund were arrested in May along with other democracy activists under Hong Kong’s strict national security law and released on bail shortly after.

The South China Morning Post reported that the ruling in Zen’s trial can be seen as “a prelude to more legal troubles … as national security police continue to probe into the group’s alleged collusion with foreign forces.”

What can the Maronite rite offer the Eucharistic Revival? Here’s what two Maronite bishops say

Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist. / Thoom/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 24, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

What can the Maronite Catholic Church offer to aid the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Revival that is currently underway in the United States?

The two Maronite bishops in the United States say the answer is the Maronite liturgy, with its deep reverence and focus on Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist.

The U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative by the U.S. bishops to inspire Eucharist belief, follows a 2019 Pew Research study that suggested that only about one-third of U.S. Catholics believe the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ. 

"I think what we have to offer, of course, is the liturgy, which is the focus of our eucharistic reverence and amazement,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn told CNA at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore Nov. 16.

Mansour said that his parishes offer eucharistic adoration and added that when on retreats the priests will adore the Blessed Sacrament for one hour each night. 

He added that he thinks the Maronite way of receiving Communion by intinction — when the priest dips the Lord's body into his precious blood and places it on the communicant’s tongue — is a “very healthy way” to receive.

“It's almost a way of receiving Communion that you have the best of all the worlds. You have it receiving on the tongue; you have it receiving the body and blood; and you have it where you have a moment just to receive Our Lord and reflect on him,” he said. 

“So I like that practice, and I notice some in the Latin Church have copied it, although I don’t think it’s the norm,” he said.

Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles said that “the Eucharist must constitute our identity,” noting that “all of us are members of that body of Christ.”

Zaidan, who was also at the bishops’ conference, said that the suffering, the needy, the brilliant, and the intelligent are all part of the body of Christ and “we have to share and put everything in common to help others.”

“From that point,” he said, “in our Maronite liturgy, we have that beautiful reverence to the Eucharist. In everything we do, we go back to the source and summit of our faith as well. Christ’s presence, forever present.”Mansour said that to aid Catholics in their faith in the Real Presence, “I feel strongly it’s good for us to see what we can do to bring people back to church.”

“So we have to have beautiful liturgy, good choir, good preaching, welcoming, youth programs, young adult programs, organization, and we can’t just assume that because the church doors are open, people are going to want to come,” he said.

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras

Mansour said that he thinks the Maronite Church had success during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions because his parish doors were left open while abiding by state and local ordinances.

“And I think because we did that, people came from outside and even our own people as well as non-Maronites came in and found a wonderful treasure. The Maronite Church is a treasure and they made their home there,” he said. 

“So I think the Maronite Church has to just keep doing what she’s always done over the ages. That is just to be a church, be an aesthetical, monastic, prayerful, strong witness to Christ, to the world,” he said.

Mansour said that the laity can inspire faith in others by having a devotion to Jesus, “especially in the presence of the tabernacle.”

“You can come early to Mass and stay a few minutes after to give thanks. You can participate in the liturgy. When the parish does have eucharistic adoration, you could be one of the first to be there and to really believe it. I think your witness is such that you could inspire a few people just by being a faithful man or woman,” he said of the laity.

As far as his role as a bishop, Mansour said that he can inspire eucharistic devotion by being devoted to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. 

“I've learned a few things over the years from others. One of them is an older bishop that I could see every time he’d celebrate the liturgy. He’d go kneel after liturgy, in front of the tabernacle, just to give thanks,” he said.

He added that he didn’t cultivate a strong devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament when in seminary, but he eventually did, and said that “it became such a powerful force in my life.”

“I want to be close to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist everywhere I go. So that’s why I’ve asked all of our priests to put the tabernacle back in the center of the churches. A very clear sign of Christ’s presence,” he said.

Mansour said that one of his predecessors, Archbishop Francis Mansour Zayek, “used to say the life of the priest is like a vigil candle in front of the sacrament. His life is consumed in drawing attention to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s the role of a priest.”

Mansour said that the Blessed Virgin Mary can be an inspiration for all to be “a tabernacle for God’s presence” just as she was when Jesus was in her womb. He said he encourages praying the rosary as well.

Zaidan holds the same sentiments about the Mother of God, noting that “there is always a special mention of her in our prayers” in the Maronite Church.

He said that Marian devotions such as the rosary and the Miraculous Medal can aid eucharistic devotion as well. Zaidan said that all of the Maronite patriarchal sees are always placed under the patronage of the Blessed Mother.

“And if you go to every hometown in Lebanon, if the Blessed Mother is not the patroness of that town, you’d see special shine [to her] or something,” he said.

“She senses our needs in so many ways and she knows in her heart to intercede on our behalf as well,” Zaidan said.

Remembering the hundreds of thousands of Christians martyred in Vietnam 

This work of art was displayed at St. Peter's on the occasion of the Vatican's celebration of the canonization of 117 Vietnamese martyrs on July 19, 1988. / Fair use.

Denver, Colo., Nov 24, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Christianity arrived in Vietnam in 1533, and many Vietnamese Christians became saints and martyrs in different waves of persecution. The known and unknown who died for Jesus Christ are honored Nov. 24, the feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

From 1630 to 1886, somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Christians faced martyrdom in the country, often after being held captive and brutally tortured. Others were forced to flee to the mountains and the forests or be exiled to other countries.

The persecutions often came amid political changes and social tensions, especially under emperors who would adopt anti-Christian policies out of fear of foreign influence.

The feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs honors these many unnamed martyrs, represented by 117 known martyrs who died for the Catholic faith in Vietnam during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their number includes 96 Vietnamese,11 Spaniards, and 10 French. Eight of the group were bishops, 50 were priests, and 59 were lay Catholics. The lay Catholic saints include a 9-year-old child and Agnese Le Thi Thành, a mother of six.

Some of the priests were Dominicans, others were diocesan priests who belonged to the Paris Mission Society.

The martyrs are also grouped as “St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions.” St. Andrew Dung-Lac was born to poor non-Christian parents who entrusted him to a guardian who was a Catholic catechist. He was baptized and later ordained a priest in 1823. He served as a parish priest and missionary across Vietnam. He was imprisoned more than once and ransomed by the Catholic faithful.

He was martyred by beheading in Hanoi on Dec. 21, 1839.

Groups of Vietnamese martyrs were beatified by various popes. Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 martyrs together on June 19, 1988, praising their witness.

“How to remember them all? Even if we limited ourselves to those canonized today, we could not dwell on each of them,” the pope reflected in his homily for the canonization Mass. He compared the persecutions in Vietnam to that faced by the apostles and early Christians.

“Once again we can say that the blood of the martyrs is for you, Christians of Vietnam, a source of grace to progress in the faith,” he continued. “In you the faith of our fathers continues to be transmitted to the new generations. This faith remains the foundation of the perseverance of all those who, feeling authentically Vietnamese, faithful to their land, at the same time want to continue to be true disciples of Christ.” 

He added: “From the long line of martyrs, their sufferings, their tears comes the ‘harvest of the Lord.’ It is they, our teachers, who give me the great opportunity to present to the whole Church the vitality and greatness of the Vietnamese Church, its vigor, its patience, its ability to face difficulties of all kinds and to proclaim Christ. We give thanks to the Lord for what the Spirit generates abundantly among us!”

“All Christians know that the Gospel asks us to be submissive to men’s institutions out of love for the Lord, to do good, to behave like free men, to respect everyone, to love our brothers, to fear God, to honor the authorities and public institutions,” the pope said.

John Paul II said the Vietnamese martyrs began “a profound and liberating dialogue” with the Vietnamese people and culture. They proclaimed “the truth and universality of faith in God” and proposed “a hierarchy of values and of duties particularly suited to the religious culture of the whole oriental world.”

“Under the guidance of the first Vietnamese catechism, they bore witness to the fact that it is necessary to adore only one God, as the one God who created heaven and earth,” Pope John Paul II continued. “Faced with the coercive dispositions of the authorities regarding the practice of the faith, they affirmed their freedom of belief, arguing with humble courage that the Christian religion was the only thing they could not abandon, since they could not disobey the supreme sovereign: the Lord.” 

“Furthermore, they forcefully proclaimed their will to be loyal to the authorities of the country, without contravening all that was just and honest; they taught to respect and venerate their ancestors, according to the customs of their land, in the light of the mystery of the resurrection,” the pope said. 

“The Vietnamese Church, with her martyrs and through her own testimony, was able to proclaim her commitment and she will not to reject the country’s cultural tradition and legal institutions; on the contrary, she has declared and demonstrated that she wants to be incarnated in this country, faithfully contributing to the true growth of the homeland,” Pope John Paul II said.

The pontiff invoked the old Christian saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He also noted those who face persecution in the present day. 

“In addition to the thousands of faithful who, in past centuries, walked in Christ’s footsteps, there are still today those who work, sometimes in anguish and self-denial, with the sole ambition of being able to persevere in the Lord’s vineyard as faithful who understand the goods of the kingdom of God.”

The duty to work and pray for the coming of the kingdom of God, the pope said, is a “constant and rigorous interior activity” that “requires the patience and trusting expectation of those who know that God’s providence is working with them to make their efforts and also their suffering effective.”