A Philippine prayer: Rain, rain go away

MANILA, Philippines — The city is abuzz with expectation and preparations for Pope Francis’ arrival this evening.

The papal motorcade route from the airport is barricaded. Many streets are already closed for security reasons. The police are out in force.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has been leading this predominantly Catholic nation in prayers and reflection for months. But Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle issued a new prayer text yesterday. It reads in part:

“God our Father we pray to you for good weather and clear skies when our beloved Pope Francis lands on our shores. We pray especially that when he encounters the people of Tacloban it will be under fair and comfortable situations, so that all may experience fully the warmth of his presence. We know that nothing is impossible to you and we ask this of you with humble and contrite hearts, but confident always of your solicitude and providence.”

The cardinal’s prayer did not come out of the blue. He wrote it when meteorologists were still providing a variety of scenarios for a storm east of the Philippines and heading this way.

(Screen grab from pagasa.dost.gov.ph)

(Screen grab from pagasa.dost.gov.ph)

By the time the newspapers were published late last night, though, the weather bureau said Tropical Storm Amang, also called Mekkhala — with sustained winds of 40 miles an hour and gusts up to 50 mph — was unlikely to make landfall. However, rain is predicted in Tacloban Saturday, the day Pope Francis is planning to travel there to meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

“Let us implore the God of creation to clear the skies when Pope Francis arrives and stays in Tacloban so that all who are there will experience comfort as they welcome and listen to his message,” Cardinal Tagle wrote in a note to his priests and faithful.

Prayers are important, but so is planning. The Philippine security services announced weeks ago that no one would be admitted to a papal event carrying an umbrella — not for shade, not for rain. But no fear: the Archdiocese of Palo, which includes Tacloban, has secured the donation of 1 million plastic raincoats and ponchos. They will be distributed to the crowds.

Pope proclaims Sri Lanka’s first saint, right to religious freedom

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Canonizing Sri Lanka’s first saint, who ministered to Catholics under persecution three centuries earlier, Pope Francis proclaimed what he called the “fundamental human right” of religious freedom.

“Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion,” the pope said Jan. 14, before a congregation of more than 500,000 in a beachfront park on the Indian Ocean.

Pope Francis gave his homily half an hour after canonizing St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary from India who rebuilt the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka after its suppression by Dutch Protestant colonists.

The pope called on Catholics today to emulate the new saint by spreading the Gospel with “missionary zeal.”

“Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility,” the pope said. “We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage of Saint Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples.”

Noting that St. Joseph had won the support of a Buddhist king by caring for victims of a smallpox epidemic, and thus “was allowed greater freedom to minister,” the pope praised today’s Sri Lankan Catholics, who make up only 7 percent of the population, for their charitable service to their neighbors.

The church in Sri Lanka today “makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics and many other charitable works. All she asks is the freedom to carry out this mission,” he said.

“As the life of St. Joseph Vaz teaches us, genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.”

The canonization Mass reflected the multicultural character of Sri Lankan society. The pope celebrated the liturgy in English and Latin, but there were readings in the local languages of Tamil and Sinhalese. Drums and sitars accompanied the choir, and dancers in traditional costume performed before the start of Mass. The altar was housed in a structure whose peaked roof recalled the Buddhist temple architecture of Kandy, the central region of the country where St. Joseph won acceptance for his ministry.

Temperatures and humidity levels were both in the high 70s and attendants held umbrellas over priests as they distributed Communion.

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo addressed the pope, thanking him for the new saint, “God’s precious gem for Sri Lanka.”

Cardinal Ranjith also asked for Pope Francis’ blessing and guidance in the search for reconciliation after Sri Lanka’s two-and-a-half decade civil war between government forces and rebels from the Tamil-Hindu minority, which ended in 2009.

“We call upon you to kindly help us in that search for a true healing of hearts, the strength to ask pardon from each other for the senseless violence unleashed then, to forgive and forget that sad past and to arrive at a process of a give and take to build bridges of understanding between the parties hurt in the conflict. We are still far from reaching that goal,” the cardinal said.

“Our nation, blessed by teachings of the great world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, does possess the moral and spiritual strength and nobility needed to generate such peace, but we will all need to make that leap towards each other with a genuine spirit of reconciliation, trust and a sense of reciprocity,” the cardinal said.

The Mass was Pope Francis’ first public event on his second day in Sri Lanka. In the afternoon, he traveled by helicopter to the northern town of Madhu for a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine that sheltered refugees during the civil war. He was scheduled to fly to the Philippines the next day.

Pope, in Sri Lanka, says reconciliation requires ‘pursuit of truth’

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Arriving in Sri Lanka, a country recovering from two and a half decades of ethnic and religious civil war, Pope Francis said reconciliation would require exploring, not ignoring, its painful recent history.

“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity,” the pope said Jan. 13, at an arrival ceremony at Colombo’s international airport.

Pope Francis addressed his words to Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena, elected Jan. 8 and sworn in the following day. During the election campaign, Sirisena promised an independent investigation into war crimes allegedly committed during the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels belong to the country’s Tamil minority.

The war, which ended in 2009, divided Sri Lanka along religious as well as ethnic lines, since members of the Sinhalese majority are typically Buddhist and Tamils for the most part Hindu. Catholics, who make up 7 percent of the country’s population, include members of both ethnic groups.

“Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife, and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years,” Pope Francis said. “I am convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding which is taking place in this country.”

The pope was scheduled to meet with local Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other Christian leaders later in the afternoon.

Pope Francis’ plane landed at 9 a.m. He was greeted by traditional dancers and drummers, a 21-gun salute and a choir of teenagers who sang a song of welcome in English, the same language the pope and Sirisena used for their remarks. Girls in white dresses and boys in neckties and shorts waved gold-and-white Vatican flags. Nearby stood 40 elephants draped in colorful fabrics, a traditional gesture of honor for distinguished guests.

The pope’s entourage, led by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, wore white cassocks, keeping with the ecclesiastical custom in tropical climates. Temperatures were in the 80s in the bright sunshine.

The pope rode the 17-mile distance to the nuncio’s residence in an open-sided popemobile past crowds waving Vatican flags. The ride took twice as long as expected, leading the pope to cancel a meeting with Sri Lanka’s bishops planned for early afternoon.

The day marked the start of Pope Francis’ second trip to Asia, following a visit to South Korea in August. He was scheduled to spend two full days in Sri Lanka, before flying to the Philippines Jan. 15. The highlights of the Sri Lanka leg were expected to be the Jan. 14 canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz as the country’s first saint and, later the same day, a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which served as a sanctuary for refugees during the civil war.

Service groups help the homeless prepare for pope’s visit to Manila

By Tyler Orsburn

MANILA — Everyone — rich or poor — wants to look his or her best when greeting the pope.

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Today volunteers at a three-year-old program to assist the homeless at Manila’s Ermita Church made sure their clients will be ready for the pope’s arrival Thursday. The program, run by the Knights of Columbus and the Lions’ Club, offered clean clothes, haircuts and a shower.

More than 200 people showed up in the first hour, and in addition to getting spiffed up, they were offered food and a medical checkup. Volunteers also explained the importance of Pope Francis’ visit.

Senen Luna, chairman of the program at Ermita, and Dr. Primitivo D. Chua, the program’s founder and a fourth degree Knight, said they expected to help about 1,000 people today feel prepared to greet the pope and participate in his Mass Sunday at Rizal Park.

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

(CNS/Tyler Orsburn)



Beware structures that reinforce racism, says Catholic group

Protesters square off against police in riot gear during a rally for Michael Brown outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo., Oct. 11. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis urged people to turn away from violence as a new round of demonstrations began over the shooting death of the African-American teenager this summer in the small town of Ferguson. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

Protesters square off against police in riot gear during a rally for Michael Brown outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo., Oct. 11. (CNS/Jim Young, Reuters)

As Americans struggle with claims of law enforcement bias against people of color and retaliatory crimes against police, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has called on white Christians to “open themselves to the voices and experience of people of color to be confronted by the reality of their personal and cultural assumptions and prejudices.”

Lamenting continual violence against people of color by law enforcement authorities, the four-page statement stresses the need to address the systemic racism that persists in the United States.

“That such continual violence against people of color would come from those charged by society with ‘keeping the peace’ should be an apocalypse –- that is an unveiling -– for Americans of the reality of white supremacy and social structures that serve, reinforce and transmit racism in this country,” said the statement, timed for release on the feast of the Holy Innocents this Christmas season.

“Indeed, recent events have revealed to many of us that the faces who represent peace and order in some neighborhoods represent terror and repression in others, especially those inhabited primarily by persons of color,” it said.

“We join with countless persons and communities who explicitly or implicitly invoke the God of life by insisting loudly and clearly that black lives matter and that people of faith cannot merely keep silence at the foot of the crosses of our crucified sisters and brothers,” it continued.

The committee invites white Christians to “conversion in one way or another,” especially conversion which is “both personal and societal, a conversion which confronts our own fears, prejudices and privileges as well as the social structures which express, transmit and perpetuate relationships of domination.”

Jeannie Kirkhope, CCA coordinator, told Catholic News Service the statement is the first on any topic in many years from the committee.

Members had been mulling what to say about the controversial actions of police and decided to speak out because they were not hearing about racism and law enforcement violence from church pulpits, she said.

“The prophetic voice of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has always been there and we wanted to bring that out again,” she explained.

Speaking out on racism is not new for the committee. In 1990, CCA issued a statement on bias, racism and prejudice and called for respect and reconciliation as a wave of hate crimes swept the country.


Pope names 15 new cardinal electors, most from global south

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Underscoring the geographical diversity of his selections, Pope Francis named 15 cardinal electors “from 14 nations of every continent, showing the inseparable link between the church of Rome and the particular churches present in the world.”

The pope announced the names Jan. 4, after praying the Angelus with a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, and said he would formally induct the men into the College of Cardinals Feb. 14.

With the list, the pope continues a movement he started with his first batch of appointments a year ago, giving gradually more representation at the highest levels of the church to poorer countries in the global south. According to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the new cardinals will include the first in history from Cape Verde, Tonga and Myanmar.

The Feb. 14 consistory will bring the total number of cardinals under the age of 80 to 125. Until they reach their 80th birthdays, cardinals are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. Blessed Paul VI limited the number of electors to 120, but later popes have occasionally exceeded that limit.

Three of the new cardinal electors hail from Asia, three from Latin America, two from Africa and two from Oceania.

Of the five Europeans on the list, three lead dioceses in Italy and Spain that have not traditionally had cardinals as bishops — another sign of Pope Francis’ willingness to break precedent. While giving red hats to the archbishops of Ancona-Osimo and Agrigento, Italy, the pope will once again pass over the leaders of Venice and Turin, both historically more prestigious dioceses.

None of the new cardinals hails from the U.S. or Canada. Father Lombardi noted that the numbers of cardinals from those countries have remained stable since February 2014, when Pope Francis elevated the archbishop of Quebec. The U.S. currently has 11 cardinal electors and Canada 3.

The continuing geographic shift is incremental in nature. With the new appointments, cardinals from Europe and North America will make up 56.8 percent of those eligible to elect the next pope, down from 60 percent on Jan. 4.

The shift reflects the pope’s emphasis on Africa and Asia, where the church is growing fastest, and on his native region of Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.

A number of the selections also reflect Pope Francis’ emphasis on social justice. The new Mexican cardinal leads a diocese that has been hard hit by the current wave of drug-related violence in his country.

And one of the Italian cardinals designate, the archbishop of Agrigento in Sicily, leads the Italian bishops’ commission on migration, an issue on which Pope Francis has placed particular importance. In July 2013, the pope visited the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major entry point for undocumented immigrants to Europe, and mourned the many who had died attempting to cross the sea.

Only one of the new cardinals, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, is a member of the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia, which currently accounts for about a quarter of all cardinal electors.

Announcing the appointments, Pope Francis noted that the ceremony to induct the new cardinals will follow a two-day meeting of the entire college, Feb. 12 and 13, “to reflect on guidelines and proposals for reform of the Roman Curia.”

The pope’s nine-member Council of Cardinals is currently working on a major reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, including a new apostolic constitution for the curia.

In addition to 15 new electors, Pope Francis named five new cardinals who are over the age of 80 and, therefore, ineligible to vote in a conclave. Popes have used such nominations to honor churchmen for their scholarship or other contributions.

Pope Francis said he had chosen to honor five retired bishops “distinguished for their pastoral charity in service to the Holy See and the church,” representing “so many bishops who, with the same pastoral solicitude, have given testimony of love for Christ and the people of God, whether in particular churches, the Roman Curia or the diplomatic service of the Holy See.”

The five new honorary cardinals hail from Argentina, Colombia, Germany, Italy and Mozambique.

Here is the list of the new cardinals:

— French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Apostolic Signature, 62.
— Portuguese Patriarch Manuel Jose Macario do Nascimento Clemente of Lisbon, 66.
— Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, 66.
— New Zealand Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, 66.
— Italian Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo, 75.
— Vietnamese Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, 76.
— Mexican Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia, 75.
— Myanmar Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, 66.
— Thai Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok, 65.
— Italian Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, 68.
— Uruguayan Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet of Montevideo, 55.
— Spanish Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, 72.
— Spanish-born Panamanian Bishop Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David, Panama, 70.
— Cape Verdean Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado of Santiago de Cabo Verde, 65.
— Tongan Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi, 53.
— Colombian Archbishop Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, retired, of Manizales, 95.
— Italian Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, 88.
— German Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber, 80.
— Argentine Archbishop Luis Hector Villalba, retired, of Tucuman, 80.
— Mozambican Bishop Julio Duarte Langa, retired, of Xai-Xai, 87.

Pope Francis’ suggested New Year’s resolutions

(CNS/Paul Haring)

(CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis met before Christmas with Vatican employees, mostly lay people with families, he asked them to do 10 things. The list sounded remarkably like suggestions for New Year’s resolutions:

— “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.”

— “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.”

— “Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.”

— “Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.”

— “Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.”

— “Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.”

— “Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.”

— “Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.”

— “Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”

UPDATE because we initially didn’t include No. 10:

— Making sure your Christmas is about Jesus and not about shopping.


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