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Today's news dispatch: Dec. 23, 2015

Pope's Christmas Liturgy Schedule

Here is the Pope's schedule of liturgies for Christmas and the New Year, provided by the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

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Thursday 24: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. At 9.30 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Holy Mass.

Friday 25: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. Central loggia of the Vatican Basilica, at 12 p.m., “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.

Sunday 27: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. At 10 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Holy Mass for Families.

Thursday 31: Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. At 5 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, First Vespers and Te Deum, in Thanksgiving for the past year.

JANUARY

Friday 1: Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. 49th World Peace Day. At 10 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Holy Mass.

Friday 1: Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. At 5 p.m. in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Holy Mass and opening of the Holy Door.

Wednesday 6: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. At 10 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Holy Mass.

 

 

Charlemagne Prize Awarded to Pope Francis

Pope Francis has been awarded the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen, the oldest and best-known prize awarded for work done in the service of European unification. The announcement was made today in the city of Aachen; the Pope will physically receive the award at a date still to be set, in Rome.

A communiqué by the Prize Committee said that Pope Francis has sent “a message of hope and encouragement” at a time in which “many citizens in Europe are seeking orientation.”

The Pope – it continues – is a witness for a community based on values which include a sense of humanity, the protection of resources and dialogue between cultures and religions at a European level. The Committee explains that in “recent years Europe has experienced great weaknesses, crises and setbacks” that have seriously pushed back “all the achievements of the European process of integration.” 

To all this – it says – Francis provides a contrasting message of hope. Quoting from his discourse to the European Parliament in November 2014, the communiqué says the Pope’s message is a wake-up call for Europe: “The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed.”

And again: “The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values.”

The Pope – said Marcel Philipp, the Mayor of Aachen speaking to the press upon the announcement of the Award – is the “voice of conscience” that demands we put people at the center of our concerns, “he is an extraordinary moral authority.”

Previous winners of the International Charlemagne Prize include St. Pope John Paul II who received a special edition of the award in 2004, Czech dissident and Statesman Vaclav Havel and Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical community of Taizé.

This report is provided by Vatican Radio.

 

 

Leader of US Bishops Responds to Failure to Pass 'Abortion Non-Discrimination Act'

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, today released a statement in response to the government's failure to pass legislation to protect conscience rights. Here is the full text of his statement:

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The bishops of the United States are gravely disappointed that the 2016 omnibus funding bill did not include the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). While the omnibus bill certainly addresses other critical issues, the modest reform that ANDA represents — to make federal conscience laws on abortion workable and enforceable — was an urgent legislative priority in these final months of the year.

Many Catholic and other institutions, including those that provide health care and other human services to the poor and vulnerable, have joined in our support of ANDA. Without ANDA, these caring organizations face legal threats to their very existence, as they lack clear and enforceable protection for their freedom to serve the needy in accord with their deepest moral convictions on respect for human life. Such threats to conscience also pose a threat to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society — the poor and the sick, as well as the unborn.

I am deeply concerned that a foundational principle that has received long-standing, bipartisan support in the past has suddenly become partisan. No one should be forced by the government to actively participate in what they believe to be the taking of an innocent life. This is not about “access” to abortion. The principle at stake is whether people of faith and others who oppose abortion and abortion coverage should be compelled to participate in them. Federal law has long supported the rights of conscientious objection, and even in recent years, President Obama and many members of Congress have publicly declared their support for these existing laws. ANDA merely sought to give them a more consistent means of enforcement.

Despite this, ANDA was caught in the partisan polarization gripping Washington. To those who supported ANDA, we offer our gratitude and applaud your commitment to maintaining our national consensus in support of conscience protection. To those who opposed ANDA, we urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider your position, which stands in opposition to even the modest enforcement of a venerable principle that is rooted in the constitution and has long enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. 

We join Pope Francis in “call[ing] for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States,” a cooperation that must be undertaken “with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”  [Address to Congress, Sept. 24, 2015] We call upon our elected officials to rise above partisan divisions and to renew their support for this most basic right. ANDA should be enacted as soon as possible. Without it, current federal conscience laws are, now for the first time, being enforced erratically or not at all in places such as California.

The mission of the Church in the public square is to witness to the dignity of every human life and advocate for the freedom to act in accord with one's moral and religious convictions in defense of those lives, no matter how young or vulnerable. We will continue to reach out to the White House and Congressional leaders untiringly until proper protections are guaranteed.

 

 

Tent Confessions Draw Youth to Sacrament in South Korea

Last Friday, a line of 30 tents outside Myeongdong Cathedral caught the attention of tourists and intrigued passerby.

As one of the celebrations for the Jubilee of Mercy and Advent, the “Sacrament of Reconciliation for Young People” aimed to provide young Catholics the opportunity of confession— not in a traditional confessional, but outdoor confessional tents.

“Young people are precious assets to the Catholic Church,” said Fr. Peter Yang Jang-ook, the director of the Youth Department of the Archdiocese of Seoul, and the chief organizer of the event. “In our modern society, however, it is not easy for the young people to keep their faith. Therefore, we would like to offer them a chance to feel the mercy of God.”

The event began at 7:30pm, with the “Time of Reflection” inside Myeongdong Cathedral. Young people were asked to take the time to pray, reflect, and repent on their wrongdoings. At the same time, Bible readings and Taizé hymns were played throughout the 30-minute ceremony. 

At 8:00pm, young people were led by volunteers one by one for confession.

Maria Kim (27), one participant of the event, said that she started to tear up as she sat in the cathedral listening to the Taizé hymns.

“At first I thought there won’t be much to say. But as I sat in the cathedral, all those thoughts and reflections started to flow into my mind. I was sobbing very hard when I sat in front of the tent, beginning my confession,” Maria said.

“The whole process was like a time of healing for me. The voice coming from inside the tent was so gentle and warm. I felt like Jesus was hearing my confession.”

According to the Youth Department, the “Sacrament of Reconciliation for the Young People” ended around 10pm. About 30 priest, 50 volunteers, and 450 young people participated in the event. Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung and Bishop Peter Chung Soon-taek took part in hearing the confession.

 

 

Kosovo’s ‘Crypto-Catholics’ Are Making Their Way Back to the Church

This article is contributed by Esther Gaitan-Fuertes of Aid to the Church in Need.

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Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is home to a little known remarkable community of “crypto-Catholics.” Though considered Muslims, their roots, explained Magda Kaczmarek—who oversees a number of countries in Eastern Europe for the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need—are in Catholicism.

Their stories go back hundreds of years: in the 16th century, conquering Ottomans forced the region’s population to convert to Islam. Most complied to avoid discrimination—but in their hearts they remained Christian. The majority hailed from the region of Rugova, which was the childhood home of the late former president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova. It is public knowledge that he was baptized shortly before his death; he also gave a plot of land to the Church in the heart of the capital city of Pristina, where now stands the new Cathedral of St. Mother Teresa.

There are some 50,000 regular Catholics in the fledgling nation, whose population of 1.9 million is largely Muslim. However, says Kaczmarek, a growing number of Muslims, especially young people, are discovering their Christian roots and are joining the Church, which “expects these young people to spread their faith in their personal networks and later on within their families,” said Ms. Kaczmarek.

Father Marjan Uka is a Kosovo priest charged with looking after the newly baptized ‘crypto-Catholics.’ He has to make do with very little funding from the Church, relying on aid agencies instead. Mass stipends are one form of income. Adnan (not his real name) is one of the priests’ charges. Along with his wife and two children, he was recently baptized. 

“Compared to Islam,” he said, “Christianity has a depth that is filled with God’s light.” “It is as if he wants to pray day and night,” said Ms. Kaczmarek, “as if he wants to make up for the years that, until his baptism, he has officially lived as a ‘Muslim.’” Unfortunately, Adnan’s village does not yet have its own church. 

Veton, a small business owner in the same village, said that “before the Ottomans Islamicized the region of today’s Balkans, we were Christians.” Veton has never been to a mosque and was never religious. He is currently taking catechism classes, but is not sure if his adult children will make the step with him. “Their friends may not understand,” he said.

Ms. Kaczmarek said that “'crypto-Catholics' are not badly considered by Kosovo’s Muslims; on the contrary, when someone is baptized they are congratulated. It is considered a big celebration, as the Catholic Church in Kosovo is well respected.” 

However, she added, “we have learned that lately an ‘imported Islamism’ is bringing with it an intolerant attitude toward other religions.”

Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)

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