Faith leaders call world to act quickly on Paris climate agreement

People call for action on climate change during a rally in June in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

People call for action on climate change during a rally in June in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

World religious leaders, including a Vatican official and the heads of regional bishops’ conferences, are calling on countries to promptly sign and ratify the Paris climate agreement.

In a statement sent to world leaders ahead of the Paris agreement signing ceremony at the United Nations April 22, Earth Day, some of the world’s most prominent voices in religion said caring for the earth is a shared responsibility.

The Paris agreement emerged from December’s U.N.-sponsored climate change conference — known as COP 21 — after four years of negotiations. Nearly 200 countries agreed to take steps in an effort to hold global warming to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Citing Pope Francis’ encyclical “‘Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and other climate change statements from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other faiths, the leaders stressed that “humanity is a crucial turning point” and urged the world to act immediately on behalf of all people of the planet.

“We are united in our support for the full and ambitious implementation of the Paris agreement and of all other decisions adopted at COP 21,” the statement said in calling governments to accelerate climate action before 2020 and to increase commitment to the nationally determined contributions to slow climate change that each country submitted to the conference.

“Climate change presents our global family with the opportunity to embark on a path of spiritual renewal defined by deeper awareness and greater ecological action. Every act to protect and care for all beings connects us to one another, deepening the spiritual dimension of our lives,” the religious leaders said.

“We must reflect on the true nature of our interrelationship to the earth. It is not a resources for us to exploit at our will. It is a sacred inheritance and a precious home which we must protect, they said.”

Thirty-five Catholics were among the 264 religious leaders lending their names to the statement. Among them were Bishop Marcelo Sanchez, chancellor, pontifical academies of sciences and social sciences; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India, president, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences; Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia, president, CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council; Archbishop John Ribat, of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, president, Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania and Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands; Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manilla, Philippines, president, Caritas Internationalis; Father Joseph Komakoma, secretary general, Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar; Bishop Georges Pontier of Marseilles, France, president, French bishops’ conference; Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, president, Austrian Catholic bishops’ conference; Good Samaritan Sister Elizabeth Delaney, general secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia; and Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 17, 2016

"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." -- John 10:27

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” — John 10:27


April 17, Fourth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 13:14, 43-52

      Psalm 100:1-3, 5

      2) Revelation 7:9, 14b-17

      Gospel: John 10:27-30

      Gospel: John 20:19-31


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

While leading a youth ministry retreat on how to hear the voice of God, I presented an activity that involved one person being blindfolded and then challenged to navigate an obstacle course by listening to directions from others in the group. The catch was each group member played a different role.

One person was the calm assuring voice of God — giving the right directions through the course. But the other voices were: a loud voice of chaos yelling random directions, a quiet voice of deception whispering the wrong information, a voice of confusion giving contradictory directions, a voice of flattery complimenting every move made and a voice of disapproval criticizing every move.

The task was for the blindfolded person to listen to the cacophony and distinguish the “voice of God” in order to make it through the obstacle course.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” As with most aspects of living the Christian faith, this is simple but not easy.

As our retreat exercise showed, there are many voices assaulting us, often all at the same time. It can seem almost impossible to decipher which voice is God’s.

There are no short cuts to learning to distinguish the voice of God: It simply is all about exposure. Imagine that you are in a crowd and many people are calling your name, but one of them is your mother. You have heard your mother call your name hundreds of times, so it will be easier to pick out her voice. In the same way, it takes time to learn the voice of God.

We can grow in our ability to recognize God’s voice by reading and meditating on the Scriptures, listening attentively to homilies, sitting in silence to hear God’s voice inside our hearts and by seeking the counsel of trusted spiritual mentors.

The more exposure we have to the truths of God, the more we will know how God would guide us, and this is the key to recognizing his voice. Just as the sheep know the voice of the shepherd, we too need to know the voice of God if we are to follow him.


Has there ever been a time when you clearly heard the voice of God? How do you know when you hear the voice of God? What is hardest for you about discerning God’s voice?

USCCB among religious organizations urging Congress to support $750 million contribution to Green Climate Fund

On the heels of the White House’s announcement that the United States has made its first $500 million contribution to the Green Climate Fund more than 120 faith-based organizations called on Congress to continue to support the effort in the fiscal year 2017 federal budget.

In a letter to members of Congress April 11, the organizations — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — urged Congress to approve an allocation of $750 million in President Barack Obama’s budget plan submitted in February.

The contributions are part of the four-year $3-billion U.S. pledge to the fund, which is helping developing countries respond to climate change.

A woman and children walk through a drought-stricken rice field April 3 in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Jay Rommel Labra, Reuters)

A woman and children walk through a drought-stricken rice field April 3 in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Jay Rommel Labra, Reuters)

The groups urged congressional action because rising sea levels, caused by a changing climate, threaten small island nations and that extreme weather is occurring more frequently around the world, endangering food security and the political stability of least developed countries.

“Our scriptures and religious texts call us to care for God’s creation and our most vulnerable neighbors,” the letter said. “We believe that climate change presents an unprecedented threat to all of creation, but particularly to those living in poverty around the world.”

Budget negotiations are in the early stages in both houses of Congress. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established the fund in 2010. It particularly funds countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially least developed nations, small island developing states and African nations.

The fund gained wide support during the climate meeting in December in Paris. While the most advanced countries have committed to provide $100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation programs within a decade, by mid-March countries had contributed a bit more than $10 billion to the fund.

The fund is allocating about half of its money for mitigation efforts and half to help communities adapt to the changing climate.

Catholic organizations signing the letter include Catholic Climate Covenant, Catholic Relief Services, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Dominican Sisters of Hope, Franciscan Action Network, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, School Sisters of Notre Dame Cooperative Investment Fund, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team and Society of St. Ursula, American region.

To be blessed by those who suffer, one must walk with them

Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home April 7 to attend a church-run preschool in Ankawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home April 7 to attend a church-run preschool in Ankawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

By Paul Jeffrey

IRBIL, Iraq — Every morning, as her son prepares to leave for preschool, the mother of 4-year old Luis Firas takes a stick of oil and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead.

Blessing is important for this Christian family, which fled from Mosul during the 2014 takeover of the area by Islamic State militants and today — like tens of thousands of other displaced — live in a small modular temporary shelter in Irbil, a town in northern Iraq controlled by Kurds.

As I photographed their morning ritual, Luis grabbed the stick and marked a cross on his mother’s forehead, also blessing her.

Luis Firas, 4, marks the sign of the cross on his mother's forehead April 7 at their home in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Luis Firas, 4, marks the sign of the cross on his mother’s forehead April 7 at their home in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

When the displaced families arrived in Irbil, a booming oil town fallen on hard economic times and the looming threat of Islamic State they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees — they had crossed no international border — they weren’t eligible for assistance from a variety of international agencies. Neither the governments of Iraq nor the autonomous Kurdistan offered much. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from ISIS, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile.

As almost 20 months have gone by, the church continues to be the de facto manager of aid. The displaced camps are managed by priests-turned-mayors, the schools run by nuns who are themselves survivors of what many consider genocide, the clinics staffed by volunteer doctors who go home at the end of the day to a tiny prefabricated house in a camp for the internally displaced.

Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with students April 7 in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with students April 7 in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

To be blessed by those who suffer, one must walk with them. It’s the essence of accompaniment, which comes from the Latin words “ad companis” that could be translated as “breaking bread together.” Here the church has broken bread together with those suffer, and yet I heard no complaints from those who continue to work tirelessly to keep bodies alive and souls fueled with hope. Rather I witnessed joy and radiance and laughter as the faithful served their neighbors, and as they sang hymns in their makeshift chapels. It’s the same look that I glimpsed on the face of Luis’ mother as her son turned her act of love back into a blessing for her.

– – –

Paul Jeffrey’s photos from around the world can be viewed on Instagram.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 10, 2016

"At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing." -- Psalms 30:6

“At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.” — Psalms 30:6


April 10, Third Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41

      Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13

      2) Revelation 5:11-14

      Gospel: John 21:1-19 or John 21:1-14


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

Most moms have their favorite proverbs that, repeated often enough, become embedded wisdom in their children’s brains. One of my mother’s sayings was, “This too shall pass,” and it still pops up into my head whenever I feel stuck in a rut or am going through a tough time. It reminds me that trials are temporary and that there is always hope.

I imagine that in those days following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, his disciples must have been grasping for some way to make sense of their situation. Words alone, while comforting, could not suffice. Jesus’ continued presence — which he had promised them at their last supper together — would be the only thing to sustain them.

At first, Jesus made himself known by way of post-resurrection appearances, usually accompanied by a meal. Today’s Gospel narrative describes one of those appearances in superb detail, noting that the disciples didn’t recognize him immediately. Once Jesus’ identity became apparent, however, Peter literally jumped out of the boat to meet him. The ensuing meal and conversation would serve to strengthen him in the days ahead.

When Peter is later confronted by the Sanhedrin for speaking in Jesus’ name, he boldly counters their accusations with the words, “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” Therein lies the key: We are never asked to be witnesses (literally, “martyrs” in Greek) by ourselves. Even if it takes us a while to recognize it, the promised Holy Spirit has already been poured out, ensuring that Jesus is always present to us.

This same Holy Spirit gives us the hope to carry on in the midst of trial. As the psalmist writes, the weeping of nightfall will enter in — it’s part of living. But just as surely as dawn follows night, rejoicing will come. Jesus’ abiding presence isn’t simply a platitude. It’s a promise. And the sacred sustenance he provides isn’t simply a meal. It’s himself.


Is there a favorite saying or proverb that you rely on when you are in need of comfort or renewed hope? When has the presence of the Holy Spirit brought you from discouragement to joy?

Roadmap for the future of children with HIV

By Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo*


Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage for HIV positive children in Lopburi province, Thailand

Twelve-year-old orphan named Mos during exercise time at the Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage in Lopburi province, north of Bangkok, Thailand. The orphanage cares for children with HIV. March 7, 2016. (CNS photo/EPA/Diego Azubel).


VATICAN CITY  — Massive progress has been made in relation to the diagnosis and treatment of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, since the 1980s. In 2015, UNAIDS announced we reached the milestone of getting 15 million people on anti-retroviral treatment  (ARVs).

Timely diagnosis and effective treatment mean that many people are living with HIV rather than dying from it. However, only 42 percent of children with HIV were receiving ARVs in 2014.

Pregnant women are now diagnosed earlier and receive timely treatment. There’s less mother-to-child-transmission but once women see that their children are born healthy, many may go off treatment and this leaves the child open to infection with HIV through breastfeeding.

Caritas Internationalis cares deeply about the fates of these children and we want them to have a fighting chance of living a long and healthy life. We have joined efforts with UNAIDS, the U.S. President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Vatican’s pediatric hospital Bambin Gesù to organize the conference “Strengthening the engagement of faith-based organizations in the early diagnosis and treatment for children living with HIV.”

At the conference we plan to build the groundwork for a roadmap to improve the diagnosis and treatment of children with HIV.  We will share information with grassroots faith-based organizations (FBOs) so they promote or provide HIV testing for infants born to HIV-positive mothers and get children into treatment early.  Many FBOs are doing this already, but the goal is to have no new HIV infections among children.

We’ve been able to bring HIV rates down in a number of countries across the world. But there are still a number of countries where we need to make progress in reducing mother-to-child-transmission.  It’s not only a case of improving care and treatment but also we need to tackle issues such as stigma and ensure men support mothers when they are on treatment so they continue taking it.

A greater number of medicines have become available for children living with HIV, but we still need greater research on more child-friendly formulas. In some parts of the world certain medicines require refrigeration. For families in low-income countries who barely have enough money for food or schooling, buying a refrigerator is simply beyond their means. Even if they did, they may not have a constant electricity supply.


Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage for HIV positive children in Lopburi province, Thailand

HIV-positive orphans saying a prayer before eating their meal in the dining room at the Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage in Lopburi province, north of Bangkok, Thailand. The orphanage cares for 54 children, most of whom have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. All of the children living in the orphanage are themselves HIV positive with either no family members alive or willing to care for them. March 7, 2016. (CNS photo/EPA/Diego Azubel)

Beyond the practical HIV programs that Caritas runs around the world, we reach out to governments and pharmaceutical firms to urge them to create affordable child-friendly medicines. We developed HAART for Children, a campaign which focuses specifically on creating broad access of child-friendly HIV and TB medicines.

The Holy See has played import role in advocating for the opening up of intellectual property so that affordable medicines are available to a greater number of people. This is a vital issue in saving the lives of children with HIV.

The UN goal is to end AIDS as a public health emergency by 2030. Caritas and FBOs from around the world are putting their hearts and minds into working together to achieve this and ensuring that children living with HIV in 2015 are still healthy and strong when this goal is reached and far beyond.

*Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo works for Caritas Internationalis as both Head of Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva and special advisor on HIV/AIDS and Health.


Wildcat pride in Rome

By Gaby Maniscalco*


While some Villanova students watched from Rome, Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins celebrates with the student section April 4 after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Houston.  (CNS photo/Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

ROME — Feelings of hope and anticipation fill the air each year as students at Villanova University, a Catholic university in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, gather on campus to cheer on the Wildcats at the start of basketball season.

Avid sports fan or not, any Villanova University student can tell you the tale of the 1985 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, which was the last time the Wildcats took home the NCAA tournament trophy.

The students embrace Villanova basketball as a part of campus culture that is instilled in them the moment they step on campus, and while the Cats have made the NCAA tournament the past few years, it’s been more than 30 years since they actually won the tournament or even made the Final Four. Yet, optimistic students consistently place Villanova at the center of their brackets.

So imagine what ran through my mind as a student abroad in Rome this semester while watching the Wildcats win game after game on a low-quality streaming service on my laptop when I’m used to being at games in person.

I mean, while we were truly happy that the team was doing so well, my friends abroad and I couldn’t help but feel pangs of jealousy as our friends at Villanova packed their bags to follow the team to Houston when the Cats progressed to the Final Four and ultimately the championship.

We wanted to complain that the team got this far the one semester we chose to go abroad, and at times we desperately wished that we could be there in person. But then we remembered that we’re living in Rome, having amazing experiences traveling, exploring and interning, and that we really shouldn’t be complaining at all.

Some of my friends studying in other countries felt the need to travel all the way home for the weekend to see the game. But in Rome, my classmates and I found that the deep-rooted sense of community at Villanova isn’t confined to campus borders. The hope and determination to win was felt strongly here, and we all came together as a Villanova family to watch the Cats however we could (even if that did mean spotty streaming services). We created our own Villanova home away from home.

By researching some local pubs, we were able to find a bar in the area that was willing to play the championship game for us. The Highlander Pub agreed to keep its doors open, even though the game was at a ridiculous hour. They even provided free popcorn!

The energy in the room was electric, as more than 30 of us piled into the pub clad in Villanova gear with painted faces at 3:19 in the morning, eager to watch our favorite team make history. The game was a wave of emotions, and with so many Villanova fans in one room sporting blue war paint it felt like we had never left campus. Everyone exploded when we won the game with a three-point buzzer-beater.


The Villanova-Rome watch party.

The staff at the Highlander allowed us to make their pub feel like home, and it was one of my favorite nights this semester. It made me realize how strong the Villanova spirit and culture really are, and although part of me would have loved to be in Houston or Villanova for the game, I am truly lucky to have experienced it Rome, as my abroad classmates and I will forever share unique memories from the historic game.

We realize just how blessed we are to be able to feel such a connection to our school even from over 4,000 miles away, and it’s something none of us will ever take for granted.

Besides, who says the Wildcats can’t do it again next year when I’m a senior and back on campus?

*Gaby Maniscalco is a junior majoring in communications at Villanova University. She hails from New Jersey and loves yoga, traveling and her mini-labradoodle. She is currently studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau.


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