Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 19, 2017

"We have heard for ourselves." -- John 4:42

“We have heard for ourselves.” — John 4:42

March 19, Third Sunday of Lent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Exodus 17:3-7

      Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9

      2) Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

      Gospel: John 4:5-42

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

Why are you a Christian? What is it that has causes you to follow a man who walked the earth about 2,000 years ago, never traveled too far from his home and died a criminal’s death? Why do you go to church on Sundays and, for that matter, why are you reading this column?

My guess is that a big part of the answer to those questions is connected to a number of people in your life. Maybe the main people who influenced your faith are your parents. Maybe it was one of your relatives, a friend, a priest or youth minister. I do not think there are many disciples of Jesus who got to that faith totally on their own.

In my own case, I can point to my parents, many priests, my youth minister and a number of friends. Each of them in some way witnessed to me about what Jesus had done for them. Their stories had such an effect on me that I decided to surrender my heart to him as well.

Soon after this surrender, I began to encounter Jesus in a more personal way and before I knew it, my faith in Jesus was not based on the words of others but on my own experience of the living God.

This same story plays out in this week’s Gospel. The woman at the well encountered Jesus in such a powerful way that she went back home and told about her experience. Not long afterward, the people of the town say this: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

This is how the Christian faith spreads. We first hear about God from others, but for faith to have its deepest impact we must believe based on our own experience of the God who, as St. Paul puts it, “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, (he) died for us.”

It is one thing to stand on the shoulders of others, but it is even more important to stand on your own experience of God and his saving love.

QUESTIONS:

Who are the people who have shaped your faith life? What are some reasons you continue to follow Jesus?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: How loving families, strong social support can help

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Seventh in a series)

ROME — If you think the problems facing families today are new, just open your Bible; the common themes remain. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments are stories of the sins, sicknesses and difficulties that have affected families since the beginning of time.

In fact, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis titles one of his chapters “A Path of Suffering and Blood” (p. 15-17) to describe Scriptural accounts of the “presence of pain, evil and violence that break up families and their communion of life and love.” He then lists the numerous stories of biblical families and their struggles, from Adam and Eve in Genesis to the Holy Family in the Gospels.

The Holy Family on their flight into Egypt from a stained-glass window in St. Edward’s Church in Seattle. (CNS photo/Crosiers)

In one of this week’s seminars at the Pontifical Gregorian University, my class discussed the risk factors and protective factors related to the sexual abuse of minors. Risk factors are those characteristics of a child, family or society correlated to a statistically higher rate of abuse, while protective factors are those characteristics correlated to a lower rate.

Many of the familial problems, particularly in the Old Testament, that are quite common today have been identified as risk factors of abuse. They include: ongoing marital conflicts, alcohol or drug problems, criminal backgrounds, women with “early” or “unwanted” pregnancies, separation or divorce, and social isolation of the family. These characteristics can lead to conditions that make children more vulnerable to offenders both within and outside of the family. The list of protective factors is much shorter and more straightforward: warm, predictive and supportive parent/child relationships and sibling relationships, created and nurtured by a loving and stable mother and father. Children living under these conditions are less likely to suffer abuse and more likely to report abuse if it does occur.

Playing football near the Arabian Sea coast of Mumbai, India, March 15, 2017. (CNS photo/EPA)

“The sexual abuse of children is all the more scandalous,” Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia, “when it occurs in places where they ought to be most safe, particularly in families, schools, communities and Christian institutions.” It is true that children ought to be the most safe in these places. Despite the constant problems that seem to face all families, the family unit remains the foundation of society and is the institution which can best lead children to happiness and holiness. For this reason, the “joy of love experienced by the family is also the joy of the church,” as the pope said.

Yet it is also true that many families will encounter the same problems that have been identified as destructive to life, love and happiness since the beginning of time. To prevent abuse, it is not only important for the church to confront the evil that may exist within some of her clergy, but also to provide families with the tools, support and general accompaniment they need to push through hard times.

Sister Leo Therese, a member of the Missionaries of Charity, helping families at a refugee camp in Basagaon, India, in 2012. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Pope Francis notes, “The strength of the family lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love. For all a family’s problems, it can always grow, beginning with love.” Helping family members grow closer to one another and to God must remain a key aspect of the Church’s mission in its fight against abuse. Building strong families, though not fail-safe, is one more way the church can decrease the risk factors that are associated with abuse. The family is the first “church” children experience. What types of “little churches” are we developing in our own homes to help our children grow safely in their faith?

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Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Posted in Protecting Children blog

Two saints’ feasts ‘can cure our amnesia’ on immigration

St. Patrick

Here is a reflection written by the vice president of mission for Catholic Extension, a national Catholic fundraising organization based in Chicago that builds churches and aids the Catholic Church in America’s poorest places. Looking ahead to two important feast days this month, he looks at five timely lessons from our nation’s immigration history.

By Joe Boland

CHICAGO — St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day are fast approaching. These two feast days continue to be big celebrations for two Catholic ethnic groups that flocked to our American shores as immigrants in large numbers over the last two centuries: the Irish and the Italians. When the Irish mark St. Paddy’s Day and the Italians honor St. Joe, they celebrate not only their Catholic faith but also their national heritage.

This year especially, before we unthinkingly put on our green shirts for the Irish March 17 or our red sweaters for the Italians March 19 or 20, we should pause to remember the past and the lessons it teaches us.

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni.

While it seems cliche to say that “history repeats itself,” these two feasts evoke very real and very unkind memories of what our immigrant ancestors endured. Their tenuous status in a new land was strikingly similar to what immigrants experience today.

The Catholic Church in America has always been and continues to be a largely immigrant church. The organization I work for, Catholic Extension, has an enormous stake and interest in this important conversation. Just as we built churches and provided support for Irish immigrant mining communities in the 1910s, we are today doing the same for Latino immigrant farmworkers in the 2010s.

On this year’s feast days of St. Patrick and St. Joseph, let us take a stroll down a less-than-rosy memory lane to see how some of yesterday’s immigrant groups were greeted as they fled their countries. Perhaps this historical remembrance can shed new light on our current national discussions and attitudes about immigrants and immigration.

Lesson No. 1 — Do not forget that St. Joseph, Mary and Jesus were a refugee family

We start this history lesson by going back to the very beginning of our story as a Christian people, by looking at the life of St. Joseph and the family entrusted to his care.

St. Joseph was a dreamer who listened to the angel’s warning in his dreams to take the child Jesus to safety in Egypt. The Holy Family became refugees trying to escape King Herod’s jealous violence in their homeland. Jesus, whose life was saved by this flight into Egypt, in turn, became a DREAMER in the modern sense — someone whose parents took him to a foreign country as a small child. The Scriptures do not tell us whether Joseph had secured the proper visa paperwork before taking his entire family across borders to Egypt.

Perhaps it was Jesus’ own experience as a vulnerable child refugee that helped shape his teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, when he proclaimed, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (25:40).

On Feb. 14, 20 Catholic bishops from the southern U.S. border region signed on to a powerful joint pastoral letter that began by recalling that the Holy Family was a refugee family, not unlike many of the people fleeing violence today. This biblical event has moral implications for us today. Therefore, the border bishops state, “As a church we reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life.”

St. Joseph, patron of the church and head of a refugee household, pray for us!

Lesson No. 2 -– Remember that you, too, were once strangers in a strange land (Exodus 23:9)

A Harper’s Weekly cartoon from 1871 depicts a savage-looking Irish immigrant whose lawless ways threaten to destroy the United States. Holding a bottle of booze in one hand and a torch in the other, he is about to carelessly light a keg of “Uncle Sam’s Gun Powder,” terminating our country.

The article accompanying this cartoon encouraged its readers to defend their country against the immigrant aggressor, saying “Should the Orangemen ever parade in New York, let the citizens who feel aggrieved at the violation of our laws and institutions take whatever measures they choose into their hands to uphold the laws, if they care anything about their country.” Translation? Be a patriot by defending against the un-American Irish.

In a Jan. 29 statement, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, who leads the largely immigrant Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, said: “You and I are children of immigrants who were not much different from those of today. Our ancestors came here because they saw the United States as a beacon of hope, a place to escape the poverty and tyranny of the Old World, … and they are the ones who made our nation great.” He went on to say that those “who persecuted the Irish Catholic potato famine immigrants of the 1850s, they made our nation small.”

St. Patrick, patron of Ireland and its 70 million Irish diaspora, pray for us — and revive the memory of our important story!

Lesson No. 3 -– Building walls is not a new idea

What is ironic about our current public debate is that exactly 100 years ago the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917. That law included a literacy test — a figurative wall, as depicted in a Puck cartoon from 1916 — to keep out certain immigrant groups, especially the Italians.

In those days Italians were arriving by the millions and were seen as diluting the Anglo-Saxon purity of the U.S. Just as past generations developed ways to try to keep many of our Catholic ancestors out of this country, a new wave of immigration prevention measures is emerging today, driven by the same fear that our cultural purity, our values and national identity are at risk of being overwhelmed by immigrants.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, the chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ migration committee, said in a January 25 statement, “Instead of building walls, at this time my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will ‘look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down walls of exclusion and exploitation.’” 

St. Joseph, protector of migrant families past and present, pray for us.

Lesson #4 – Immigrants stealing our elections is a recycled fear

An 1840s cartoon illustrates the fear stoked by the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party that Irish and German immigrants were running away with the ballot box, a charge that sounds eerily familiar to all of us today.

On Feb. 12, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, chancellor of Catholic Extension, stated: “In days not so long ago, our ancestors were victimized as anti-immigrant fears were whipped up, giving rise to quota laws, church burnings, beatings and voting restrictions. Our crime? Adhering to a religion that was foreign and thought to be seditious, a threat to the nation. In hard economic times, we were often made into scapegoats and suffered discrimination because of where we came from and what we believed.”

Cardinal Cupich’s unvarnished historical recollection helps give us renewed perspective on what our ancestors were up against as new immigrants.

On March 17, as we sip our green beer, let us not forget that St. Patrick himself was kidnapped and sent as a slave to a hostile foreign country, a fact that gives new meaning to the traditional prayer we attribute to him. His beautiful prayer surely graced the lips and hearts of many Irish-American immigrants who at one time lived in a foreign country where they too were met with great hostility:

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me … 

I summon today

All these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel and merciless power

That may oppose my body and soul.

 

St Patrick, pray for us!

Lesson No. 5 — Religious groups that we are suspicious of today will give rise to great citizens

In spite of the Know-Nothing nativist party’s insistence otherwise, Catholic immigrants and their descendants ultimately proved to be good citizens of this nation.

Catholics have reached the pinnacle of leadership in the executive (President John F. Kennedy), legislative (Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) and judicial (Chief Justice John Roberts) branches of government. They were able to simultaneously profess Catholic faith while taking an oath to defend the Constitution — something the nativists denied to be possible.

In an 1870 Harper’s Weekly cartoon, Pope Pius IX is hovering over and controlling the mind of a witless, servile immigrant who is threatening the separation of church and state by busily stitching the two back together. Lady Liberty is in chains.

Catholic immigrants were branded as “papists” who were blindly loyal to a foreign power. But it turned out that Catholics could indeed become good Americans.

Learning from our own history, perhaps we Catholics may want to give the benefit of the doubt to other religious groups that are looked upon with great suspicion today.

Catholics proved that religious people are not ideological radicals or easily coerced throngs that will destroy the integrity or safety of this nation.

Pope Francis, on Sept. 24, 2015, in an address to a joint meeting of Congress, told our nation’s leaders: “When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.”

St. Patrick and St. Joseph, pray that we may never forget our story, and give us the strength to help those who are persecuted, as we were once persecuted. Amen!

 

Posted in CNS | 1 Comment

Wanted: Humble shepherd, clear communicator, world traveler

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Pope Francis leaves a meeting with Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano in Rome Nov. 14, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Four years ago today, 115 cardinal-electors chose a new pope. Inspired through prayer and the Holy Spirit, the men sought to elect the best pastor for this particular moment in the church and the world.

We here at the CNS Rome bureau spent days tracking what cardinals, church leaders and lay faithful were saying about the kind of person they believed was needed for today’s new challenges. Have a look and see… how did they do?

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston celebrated Mass at his Rome titular church of Santa Maria della Vittoria March 11, 2013, and was surprising prescient about the pope-to-be’s penchant for certain parables:

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Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, said in his pre-conclave homily the same day:

“There is not just a God of justice, but there is a God of forgiveness and mercy, who goes toward the one who has sinned.” He said the new pope would have to “give the world the great message of God’s love and infinite mercy.”

Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban, South Africa, told me March 1, 2013, that:

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Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier at the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in 2014. (CNS photos/Paul Haring)

nap2 this.JPGCardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna told reporters that despite the need for reforms, the church needed a spiritual leader and “man of the Gospel” rather than a manager or company CEO. Any administrative finesse would be useless without a strong spiritual foundation because reform demands “a kind of pastoral conversion.”

Oblate Father Andrew Small, who was visiting Rome at the time as national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, told CNS March 8, 2013:

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People in St. Peter’s Square waiting for the name of the new pope to be announced March 13, 2013. (CNS photo/Chris Warde-Jones)

Here’s a list of attributes or characteristics many lay faithful and men and women religious mentioned when I spoke with them during the “smoke-watch” in St. Peter’s Square:

“Young people need an example, the elderly should be a priority. We need tranquility and peace.”

“A bit of humility and knows how to speak. He must give hope, optimism because in the end, what is left? One must hope.”

“There’s dirty laundry. Need housecleaning.”

“Someone who will preach the Gospel, to speak to us about Jesus Christ — he is the one who gives us hope and life meaning.”

“An ability to speak the Christian message in terms people can understand, to at least plant a seed.”

“More focus on Third World-countries so a cardinal from there … There’s been a lot of scandal so to restore reputation of the Catholic Church.”

“Someone who knows how to be with the people, down-to-earth with everyone.”

“It’s time we have a pope from Latin America … or Canada” said a Catholic couple from Toronto.

“Needs to be open, modern, charismatic, like John Paul II.”

“I would want a pope the whole world sees as their own.”

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Pope Francis during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 27, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Posted in CNS, Conclave, Latin America, Vatican

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 12, 2017

"He saved us and called us to a holy life ... (according to) the grace bestowed on us … now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus." -- 2 Timothy 1:9-10

“He saved us and called us to a holy life … (according to) the grace bestowed on us … now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus.” — 2 Timothy 1:9-10

 

March 12, Second Sunday of Lent

     Cycle A. Readings:

     1) Genesis 12:1-4a

     Psalm 33:4-5,18-20, 22

     2) 2 Timothy 1:8b-10

     Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

The “mountain” where I recently experienced Jesus transfigured was actually a kitchen table.

My women’s faith sharing group meets only once a month and sometimes not even that often. But we’ve committed to stay together because we love each other and have a deep spiritual connection in which Jesus is always present.

Our last gathering began typically, sitting around Nancy’s kitchen table as women do, eating snacks and chatting about the latest happenings in our lives — catching up on each other’s families and situations.

Topics ranged from light to serious and even contentious: a son joining Cub Scouts, a child finishing an internship overseas, a joyful new marriage, a mother transitioning to assisted living, a prodigal daughter returning home — with a baby, a disabled granddaughter.

Since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, we had a lot to talk about, and we did talk — for nearly two hours. Finally, Nancy took out her Bible and said, “Well, shall we read something?”

Even for a group that was formed specifically to share and encourage each other in our Christian faith, it’s strange how hard it can be to change gears from superficial conversation to prayerful reflection and discernment.

But once we began reading aloud and listening to God’s word together, Jesus showed himself in a different, more powerful way. There was no shining light as Peter, James and John experienced in today’s Gospel. But we sensed Jesus speaking to us and realized that, just as God’s voice commanded the disciples, we must “listen to him.”

In Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, he explains that we are called to a holy life, not by our own works, but through God’s design that will be fulfilled when we trust in his saving grace. Our group recognized this as we listened to Jesus’ words.

Now, all the goodness and concerns of our earlier conversations came back to us with deeper meaning as we reminded each other we must look to God’s grace to strengthen and enlighten us at every turn.

We finished our session in prayer. After the amen, someone commented on the brownies and the discussion lightened up. But Jesus had been transfigured there at the kitchen table and our hearts were newly alive with his grace.

QUESTIONS:

When have you experienced Christ in a new and different way? How was your relationship with him changed?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: Overcoming resistance to usher in positive change

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Sixth in a series)

ROME — During class this week, a student asked the professor why it takes so long for things to get done in the church. The professor answered with an analogy. He asked students to raise their hands if they had changed their seats since the first day of class. Not one hand was raised. The professor then asked how many people would have been happy if he told them to change their seats. Again, no one raised his hand. Lesson learned: people are naturally resistant to change.

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The reality is that real and transformative change does not come about quickly or easily, especially in large institutions. This is not an excuse — it is a fact. It takes the hard work, patience and perseverance of many dedicated individuals, as well as the grace of God, before change begins to take root.

It is also important to note that resistance to change can also be positive — change isn’t always a good thing. Change in the church should only come about when necessary and should find its foundations in Scripture, her own traditions and teachings, as well as reason and science. When it does so, the church is not intrinsically changing but merely becoming a truer version of herself. The church can better serve Christ and his people, and ensure her efforts to protect and heal the most vulnerable resemble those of a loving mother through this type of change.

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When considering how to bring about necessary changes, we must remember that the church is one body, composed of many members. Therefore, steps need to be taken if we are to overcome the natural resistance to positive change at both institutional and individual levels. This is particularly true when considering our efforts in the safeguarding of minors and reconciliation with those who have been abused.

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Painting of Jesus healing a blind man by El Greco (Source: Wikipedia)

In this context, change at the individual level does not simply come from the creation and adherence to new policies and procedures, but rather through repentance and a complete conversion of our hearts. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him.” We cannot rely on ourselves to bring about or even know of all the change that is necessary within the church. Like Bartimaeus, described in the Gospel of Mark, we are often blind to what is most needed. Only by accepting the fact that we are blind and finding the courage to beg God to lead us forward in faith can we provide the best version of protection and healing for those in our parish communities. True conversion or changes for the good can only occur through a “conversion of the heart.” Otherwise, our outward works such as policies and procedures, will be “sterile and false.”

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Bishops and alter servers process out after Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

How can the church ensure individual conversions are maintained and yield fruit at the institutional level? According to the Causes and Context Study, a theoretical framework for understanding how change takes place in institutions was developed in the 1970s called, The Diffusion of Innovations. This framework provides four attributes that enable organizations and their members to accept proposed institutional changes. This framework can empower the church to ensure her methods to institute change are loyal to Catholic values and will be readily accepted in dioceses:

  • First, all innovations must be “compatible” or “perceived to be ‘consistent with the existing values…and norms of a social system.” i.e. All changes must be intrinsically and fully Catholic.
  • Any changes must be put in terms of their “relative advantage” or “the perceived degree of relative advantage over the status quo.” i.e. It must be explained why changes are needed, and why are they needed now?
  • Complexity” or the fact that “innovations that are difficult to understand and use are adopted more slowly” must be taken to account. i.e. Sometimes the simplest approach is best.
  • Of great importance is the “observability” of an innovation: “the easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt.” i.e. The outcome of any change must be transparent if changes are to be made permanent.

The Causes and Context Study states that these four factors, noted as “conducive to ‘innovation’, may have been somewhat attenuated by the culture and social structure of the Catholic Church in the United States.” Going forward, with both this knowledge and our hearts fixed on Christ, I pray our efforts to advance Christ’s mission to protect and heal the most vulnerable lead to meaningful change within the church. As we progress in our course, my classmates and I hope to learn how we might lower any unnecessary resistance that may stand in the way of further protecting children and offering support to victims/survivors, as expressed in the bishops’, “Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal.”

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Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Posted in Protecting Children blog | 2 Comments

Pope Francis’ words on women

By Junno Arocho Esteves

POPE GENERAL AUDIENCE

Pope Francis talks with a woman during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 18 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME (CNS) — International Women’s Day is a day that celebrates the social, cultural, political and economic achievements of women.

Pope Francis has often spoken on their achievements and contributions to the church, but has honored their pivotal role in the history of salvation — from the bravery of Judith who rallied the people of Israel to trust in God to the courage of Mary who through her “yes” to God, brought forth the savior of the world.

Here are just some of the pope’s words on the importance of women in the world and in the church:

Posted in CNS