Pope Francis releases a white dove near during a memorial prayer for the victims of the war at Hosh al-Bieaa (church square) in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2021. The large gold cross at right was made by Iraqi architect Omar Carona. A sculpture of a white dove sits on top of the cross; two hands, representing Mosul’s men and women, hold the Christian symbol. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Despite years of suffering due to war and terrorism, the people of Iraq continue to look to the future with hope, Pope Francis said.

Recalling his recent visit to the country during his weekly general audience March 10, the pope said that while he saw “the opened wounds of destruction,” he also saw “around me the joy of welcoming Christ’s message.”

“I saw the hope of being open to a horizon of peace and fraternity, summed up in Jesus’ words that were the motto of the visit: ‘You are all brothers,'” he said.

In his talk, the pope said he was grateful to God for the March 5-8 visit, a trip that his predecessor, St. John Paul II, had wanted to make.

Pope Francis swings a censer near a partially restored statue of Mary from a parish in Karmless as he celebrates Mass at Franso Hariri Stadium in Irbil, Iraq, March 7, 2021. The Islamic State militants decapitated the statue and cut off its hands. The restoration re-attached the head, but left the hands dangling. Having witnessed or even experienced persecution for their faith, the Christians of Iraq must be careful not to harbor thoughts of revenge, Pope Francis said during Mass. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Never before has a pope been in the land of Abraham,” he said. “Providence willed that this should happen now, as a sign of hope, after years of war and terrorism, and during a severe pandemic.”

Affirming the right of the Iraqi people to live in peace, Pope Francis praised the country’s rich history as the “cradle of civilization.”

Nevertheless, despite its cultural significance in the world, Iraq was destroyed by war, which is “always the monster that, as the ages change, transforms itself and devours humanity,” he said.

Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope denounced arms dealers who profit from war and sold weapons to terrorists not only in Iraq, but in other parts of the world suffering from violence.

“Today, who sells weapons to terrorists, who is carrying out massacres in other parts of the world, such as Africa for example? It is a question I would like someone to answer,” the pope said.

The answer to war, he added, is fraternity, which is a challenge for Iraq and “for many regions in conflict and, ultimately, for the entire world.”

Continuing his talk, the pope said the interreligious meeting in the ancient city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, was a significant moment that brought together the spiritual descendants of “our father in the faith.”

In Ur, the pope said, “standing together under those luminous heavens — the same heavens (from which) our father Abraham saw us, his descendants — the phrase you are all brothers and sisters seemed to resound once again.”

Recalling his visits to Mosul and Qaraqosh, two cities devastated by Islamic State militants, the pope called for

Pope Francis and Iraqi President Barham Salih arrive for a meeting with authorities, civil society leaders and members of the diplomatic corps in the hall of the presidential palace in Baghdad March 5, 2021. To consolidate peace and ensure progress, the government and people of Iraq must never treat anyone as a second-class citizen and must work each day to promote harmony, the pope said. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

prayers for the people so that God may give them the strength to rebuild.

He also appealed to those who fled those cities and urged them to “keep the faith and hope. Be weavers of friendship and of fraternity wherever you are.”

“And, if you can, return” to Mosul and Qaraqosh, the pope said.

Pope Francis said that, in Iraq, “despite the roar of destruction and weapons, the palm, a symbol of the country and of its hope, has continued to grow and bear fruit.”

Pope Francis and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of Shiite Islam’s most authoritative figures, meet in Najaf, Iraq, March 6, 2021. The 90-year-old ayatollah, who turns down most meeting requests, issued a statement after the meeting, saying that world religious leaders should work to hold “great powers” to account, calling upon them “to give priority to reason and wisdom, to reject the language of war, and not to expand concern for their self-interests over the rights of people to live in freedom and dignity.”  (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The same goes “for fraternity: It does not make noise, but is fruitful and makes us grow,” the pope said. “May God, who is peace, grant a future of fraternity to Iraq, the Middle East and the entire world!”


March 5, 2021

WASHINGTON— Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been joined by the chairmen of seven USCCB committees in a statement on abortion funding in the American Rescue Plan.

Joining Archbishop Gomez were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Justice, Peace and Human Development; Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, of Oakland, chairman for the Committee on Catholic Education;  Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, chairman of the Committee on Migration.

The full statement from the bishops follows:

“Our nation needs to heal, come together, and help one another. The American Rescue Plan is an important step in the right direction. It should provide much needed assistance for American families and businesses hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

“However, we are deeply concerned that this important legislation, as written, risks creating new divisions by abandoning a longstanding bipartisan compromise that respects the consciences of millions of Americans.

“For 45 years, the United States Congress – whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans – has maintained that taxpayers should not be forced against their conscience to pay for abortions. Abandoning this compromise in a time of national emergency only serves to divide people in the very moment we should be united. Please, let us instead focus on delivering the COVID relief so desperately needed.

“We urge President Biden and the leadership on Capitol Hill not to force upon Americans the wrenching moral decision whether to preserve the lives and health of the born or unborn, all of whom are our vulnerable neighbors in need. We ask that our leaders please not pit people against one another in such a way. We ask all Members of Congress to include the same protections against abortion funding that have been present in every COVID relief bill to date, and every annual spending bill for almost half a century.”


L-R IHM Sisters- Giovana Fuentes Bendivez, Mindy Welding, Denise Montagne, Mary Elaine Anderson, and Amanda Del Valle sorting socks for the homeless with THE JOY OF SOX.

Whole communities of consecrated women religious have blessed the Diocese of Scranton. In fact, the sisters were here before Scranton became a diocese.

These dedicated sisters arrived with a mission to serve the needs of the people of northeastern Pennsylvania and change their world for the better. They are celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14, 2021.

For the sisters, it is a time to articulate their charism (their unique spirit), to reach out to new people and to remind the people of our community that they love them and still serve them in any way they can. Sisters invite people to be in touch with them and to reach out in service to others to pay back and to pay forward.

As Sister Draru Mary Cecilia, LSMIG, Executive Director of the African Sisters Education Collaborative, (ASEC) says in her article, “During Catholic Sisters Week, we celebrate the charism of the sisters, which is the unique gift God entrusted to each congregation to share with humanity. We celebrate their spirituality, a specific divine aspect of God that drives sisters’ altruistic service to humanity and the mission into which God invites them…”

Eldercare has become a primary ministry for the Sisters of St. Cyril and Methodius. Sister Madonna Figura spends time with their dear Sister Susan.

ASEC is a perfect model of the way Sisters meet needs today – i.e. collaboratively. It is something the pandemic is teaching our world, but it something the sisters have known all along.  We are better together!

Whether sisters are in Archbald or Africa, when they come together in prayer, in unconditional love, joyfully reaching out to the smallest needs or the largest endeavors, they CAN change the word! They already have!

It starts with a mission to which God invites them in prayer, the foundation of all good works.  God called, and the sisters began to come to northeastern Pennsylvania – Sisters of Christian Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Franciscans, Religious Teachers Filippini, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHMs), Sisters of St. Cyril and Methodius – to teach the children the faith and the tools of life-long learning, and to keep them safe.

Sisters opened hospitals and health clinics, day cares, alternative schools, high schools, nursing schools, colleges, and universities. For the little ones, sisters set up day cares, orphanages, adoption agencies, residences and day centers for special needs children and adults, homes for impoverished pregnant women, mother infant homes for young and desperate new moms, shelters for homeless women and children.

A happy, energetic, prayerful community of eight Sisters of Christian Charity who live together at St. Nicholas Convent and staff various ministries in the Wilkes-Barre area. Left to Right: S. Marie Jose, S. Josephine, S. Mary Theresa, S. Anna, S. Maria, S. Ellen, S. Chiara Marie, S. Maria Angeline celebrating Vietnamese New Year.

The needs are still endless, soup kitchens for the hungry, food pantries, Friends of the Poor for those who fall through the cracks. All the communities who came lent a hand in the parishes, helping to build the American church and accompany the people on their journey of faith, on the privileged task of raising children and caring for elders.

Throughout diocesan history, the contemplative Passionist Nuns and the retired elders of all the congregations provided the powerhouse of prayer that sustained the grand collaboration surging among generous women of faith who became the face of God among the people of the diocese.

Today, native African sisters are changing the face of Africa through participation in ASEC, an international collaborative ministry founded by American Sisters. How proud and happy we are to cheer on their marvelous accomplishments through diligent study, hard work, creative energy and trained leadership.

Together, Sisters are a force for good in our world. With the help of God, the support of their communities and the generosity of people of good will, sisters have something to celebrate, during not only this National Catholic Sisters Week, but every day of their lives.

Sister Mary Theresa watches carefully as one of the little students receives ashes during the COVID pandemic.

Celebrate with the Sisters; be in touch with a sister who made a difference in your life, support their ministries and if you feel called, become a sister yourself!

As a symbol that little things count and make a difference in many lives, in celebration of National Catholic Sisters Week, the IHM Sisters are partnering with “The Joy of Sox.” Socks are the number one request from those who are homeless!  It is important for the health and wellbeing of feet to have dry, warm, clean socks.

In collaboration with “The Joy of Sox” can you provide new socks for those who cannot always afford them?

IHMs will collect new socks for the following local agencies: Saint Francis Soup Kitchen, Saint Joseph Baby pantry, McAuley Center for Homeless Women and Children, NEPA Youth Shelter, The Women’s Resource Center, and Friends of the Poor.

Drop donations at the side door of McCarty Hall (1409 College Avenue) just inside the side gate of Marywood University, first house on the left.



“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous grief and fear in our country and world over the last year, leaving more than 500,000 dead in the United States alone.

“I want to be clear and concise in my pastoral guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Given the grave danger this virus poses, it is morally acceptable to receive any of the current COVID-19 vaccines that have been determined to be clinically safe and effective. This position is supported by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“People should not delay getting a vaccine. Receiving a vaccine not only protects an individual’s health but also serves the common good by protecting the community – including the weak and vulnerable.

“While fully recognizing the complex moral and ethical issues involved in vaccine development, at this time, most people are not being given a true choice of which vaccine they receive, and likely won’t be able to make such a choice without a lengthy delay.

“Given that risk to public health, the faithful can in good conscience receive any of the current vaccines.”

To view the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s December 2020 Note on the Morality of Using some anti-COVID vaccines, please click here.



HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference today responded to questions that many people have asked about whether it is permissible to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

When people have no choice about which COVID vaccine to receive, it is morally acceptable to receive any vaccine they are offered. This is based on the December 2020 guidance from the Vatican, stating that “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

The position of some bishops in Pennsylvania has been inaccurately reported in some news media, resulting in confusion among Catholics and the public.

Our position has never changed, nor has that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said, “While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

In essence, we recognize that at this time individuals are not given a choice of which vaccine to receive and that this should not prevent Catholics from getting vaccinated as soon as possible.  Catholics may in good conscience, receive any vaccine, in order to protect themselves.  Once again, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is based in Harrisburg and is the public affairs arm of PA’s Catholic bishops.



SCRANTON (March 4, 2021) – The Diocese of Scranton has once again been found to be in full compliance with U.S. bishops’ policies to prevent sexual abuse of children by clergy and other church personnel.

The Diocese has passed independent audits of its child protection procedures every year since the policy was adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002.

The USCCB spells out the policies that dioceses must follow in its “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The Charter is a comprehensive action plan for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse.

The audit was conducted by StoneBridge Business Partners, a private auditing firm based in New York, which has been contracted to conduct compliance audits of the nation’s 195 dioceses.

The findings are a result of a review of data collected for the 2019/2020 Charter audit period. The annual audit evaluates each diocese’s efforts to ensure the protection of children, including criminal background checks and educational awareness programs on recognizing and preventing abuse.

Among the information reported to the auditors: 11,526 students currently enrolled in Catholic schools in the Diocese or in parish religious education programs have received Safe Environment training.

A total of 232 priests who are in active ministry, along with 72 permanent deacons and 25 seminarians and candidates for the Diaconate have also received that training.

More than 425 educators and administrators in Diocesan schools, more than 1,160 employees of the Diocese of its parishes across 11 counties and 3,598 volunteers at schools, parishes and Diocesan facilities have also received valuable information to keep children safe.

More than 3,180 individuals also completed training on Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse in Pennsylvania.

In receiving the compliance audit results, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera stated, “This independent verification highlights the ongoing commitment that the Diocese of Scranton, along with its parishes and schools, has in protecting children. Our long record of compliance emphasizes that reliable reporting mechanisms are in place to ensure our zero-tolerance for any misconduct by a bishop, priest, deacon, lay employee or volunteer.”

The Diocese of Scranton’s Safe Environment Office ensures that Charter standards are continually met.

For more information on the Diocese of Scranton’s Safe Environment Program, or for a full overview of all policies and protocols, visit www.dioceseofscranton.org.


Pope Francis is pictured in a video screenshot delivering a message to the people of Iraq in advance of his March 5-8 visit. Pope Francis said he will visit as a pilgrim of peace and reconciliation, hoping to strengthen a sense of fraternity among all the nation’s people of every ethnicity and religion. (CNS screenshot/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis told the people of Iraq he was going to their country as a “penitential pilgrim,” asking God’s forgiveness for years of war, persecution and destruction, and as a “pilgrim of peace,” hoping to remind people that they are all brothers and sisters no matter their ethnic or religious identity.

“I will finally be among you,” he said in a video message, released by the Vatican March 4, the day before the trip was to begin.

“I come as a pilgrim, as a penitential pilgrim to implore forgiveness and reconciliation from the Lord after years of war and terrorism, to ask God for consolation for hearts and healing for wounds,” the pope said. “And I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat: ‘You are all brothers and sisters.'”

His March 5-8 pilgrimage of peace, he said, would aim to strengthen a sense of fraternity, “animated by the desire to pray together and to walk together, including with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions,” under the gaze of Abraham, who was born in Iraq and is recognized as patriarch by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

A man sprays water at a poster of Pope Francis in Baghdad March 3, 2021. When the pope visits Iraq March 5-8 he will undertake a risky trip to a war-torn country that has seen recent rockets attacks and is surging with new COVID-19 cases. (CNS photo/Khalid al-Mousily, Reuters)

Speaking directly to the nation’s dwindling Christian population, which has suffered discrimination and persecution over the past two decades, Pope Francis praised them for bearing “witness to faith in Jesus in the midst of the most difficult trials.”

“I am honored to meet a martyred church,” he said. “May the many, too many, martyrs you have known help us to persevere in the humble strength of love.”

Still, he told them, “go forward” and do not allow the pain of the past to destroy hope and trust in God.

Pope Francis said that throughout the years of war and the reign of terror of the Islamic State militants, he thought often of the Iraqi people, especially the Christians, Muslims and Yazidis who suffered so much.

“Now I come to your blessed and wounded land as a pilgrim of hope,” he said.

Pointing to the story of Jonah — recognized as a prophet by Jews, Christians and Muslims — and Nineveh, an ancient city in what is now Iraq, Pope Francis contrasted the threatened destruction with the hope that came from the people turning to God.

“Let us be infected by this hope, which encourages us to rebuild and begin again,” the pope said. “And in these hard times of pandemic, let us help each other to strengthen fraternity, to build together a future of peace — together, brothers and sisters of every religious tradition.”


U.S. Bishop Chairmen for Doctrine and for Pro-Life Address the Use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine

March 2, 2021

WASHINGTON– On March 2, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for use in the United States:

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.[1]

“However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

For further details, we refer people to our earlier December 2020 statement, to our Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines, to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Note, and to the statement of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life.

[1]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines” (17 Dec 2020), no.2.



Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 28, 2021. In his Angelus address, he encouraged people to read the Gospel during Lent and fast from gossip. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People should fast from gossiping and spreading hearsay as part of their Lenten journey, Pope Francis said.

“For Lent this year, I will not speak ill of others, I will not gossip and all of us can do this, everyone. This is a wonderful kind of fasting,” the pope said Feb. 28 after praying the Sunday Angelus.

Greeting visitors in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said his advice for Lent included adding a different kind of fasting “that won’t make you feel hungry: fasting from spreading rumors and gossiping.”

“And don’t forget that it will also be helpful to read a verse from the Gospel every day,” he said, urging people to have on hand a pocket-size edition to read whenever possible, even if it is just a random verse.

“This will open your heart to the Lord,” he added.

The pope also led a moment of prayer for the more than 300 girls who were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen Feb. 26 in Jangebe in northwestern Nigeria.

Adding his voice to statements made by Nigeria’s bishops, the pope condemned the “vile kidnapping of 317 girls, taken away from their school,” and he prayed for them and their families, hoping for their safe return home.

The nation’s bishops had already warned of the deteriorating situation in the country in a Feb. 23 statement, according to Vatican News.

“We are really on the brink of a looming collapse from which we must do all we can to pull back before the worst overcomes the nation,” the bishops wrote in response to a previous attack. Insecurity and corruption have put into question “the very survival of the nation,” they wrote.

The pope also marked Rare Disease Day, held Feb. 28 to raise awareness and improve advocacy and access to treatment.

He thanked all those involved in medical research for diagnosing and coming up with treatments for rare diseases, and he encouraged support networks and associations so people do not feel alone and can share experience and advice.

“Let us pray for all people who have a rare disease,” he said, especially for children who suffer.

In his main address, he reflected on the day’s Gospel reading (Mk 9:2-10) about Peter, James and John witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and their subsequent descent back down to the valley.

The pope said pausing with the Lord on the mountain “is a call to remember — especially when we pass through a difficult trial — that the Lord is risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.”

However, he added, “we cannot remain on the mountain and enjoy the beauty of this encounter by ourselves. Jesus himself brings us back to the valley, amid our brothers and sisters and into daily life.”

People must take that light that comes from their encounter with Christ “and make it shine everywhere. Igniting little lights in people’s hearts; being little lamps of the Gospel that bear a bit of love and hope: this is the mission of a Christian,” he said.