Pope Francis walks in front of a Marian statue at the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8, 2022, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to join him in entrusting to Mary “the universal desire for peace, especially for the martyred Ukraine, which is suffering so much.”
Reciting the Angelus prayer at midday Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis noted the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.”
“With God’s help, peace is possible; disarmament is possible,” the pope told people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. “But God wants our goodwill. May Our Lady help us to convert to God’s plans.”
The pope also invited people to join him late in the afternoon at the Spanish Steps in the center of Rome, where he planned to pay homage to Mary at a statue of the Immaculate Conception after visiting the Basilica of St. Mary Major. The COVID-19 pandemic had forced the cancellation of the public ceremony at the Spanish Steps in 2020 and 2021.
In his Angelus talk at noon, Pope Francis said that while Catholics talk a lot about original sin, they often overlook the “original grace” of baptism, when “God came into our lives and we became his beloved children forever.”


The feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates Mary having been conceived without original sin, is a good time to remember that “we sinners, too, have received an initial gift that has filled our life, a good greater than anything, an original grace, of which often, however, we are unaware.”

The feast day is a time to listen to God who says, “‘Son, daughter, I love you and I am with you always, you are important for me, your life is precious,'” the pope said. “When things do not go well and we are discouraged, when we are downcast and risk feeling useless or wrong, let us think about this, about this original grace.”

And, he said, it is a perfect day to remember that Mary will be with each person as he or she tries to fight temptation and to live in the fullness of their baptismal “original grace.”

“We who struggle to choose what is good, we can entrust ourselves to her,” the pope said. “Entrusting ourselves, consecrating ourselves to Mary, we say to her: ‘Take me by the hand, lead me: with you I will have more strength in the battle against evil, with you I will rediscover my original beauty.'”

Ukraine was still on the pope’s mind four hours later when he went to the Spanish Steps in the middle of Rome’s major shopping district, where he was joined by thousands and thousands of tourists and Romans enjoying the feast day public holiday.

Instead of making a speech at the foot of the Marian statue, Pope Francis always recites a prayer he has written for the occasion, summarizing the prayers and needs of the city and its residents, especially those who, like him, leave flowers.

The pope asked Mary also to “see and welcome those invisible flowers” representing “so many invocations, so many silent supplications, sometimes stifled, hidden but not from you, who are mother.”

But the pope started crying and had to pause for a moment after he prayed, “Immaculate Virgin, today I would have liked to bring you the thanksgiving of the Ukrainian people for the peace we have long asked the Lord for.”

Encouraged by the crowed to go on, the pope, sniffling, told Mary, “Instead, again I must present to you the supplication of the children, of the elderly, of the fathers and mothers, of the young people of that martyred land.”

Just as Mary was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was dying, “we all know that you are with them” in Ukraine and everywhere people suffer because of war, Pope Francis said.

Looking to Mary conceived without sin, he said, Christians continue “to believe and hope that hatred will be vanquished by love; that over lies, the truth may prevail; that over offense, forgiveness will win; (and) that over war, peace will be victorious.”

This is the cover of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The charter was first approved by the U.S. bishops in June 2002 during their spring assembly in Dallas. It was revised in 2005, 2011 and 2018. (CNS photo/courtesy USCCB)
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Twenty years ago, in 2002, the revelations of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston were the metaphorical bombshell that fell on the Catholic Church in the United States.
The U.S. bishops, when they met that June in Dallas, approved the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
Its one-strike-and-you’re-out policy did just that — permanently removing from public ministry those priests against whom abuse allegations were substantiated.

Twenty years later, at their assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14-17, the bishops acknowledged the charter’s anniversary and said that they have made steps in addressing clergy sexual abuse and would continue to listen, care for and walk with survivors.

Over the past 20 years, the fallout from the Boston revelations has touched nearly every diocese. Dozens of dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection to reach a group settlement on claims filed by abuse survivors. Many of those dioceses, though, have now emerged from bankruptcy.

The most recent diocese to announce it would file for bankruptcy protection was the Diocese of Santa Rosa, California, which said Dec. 5 it would file for Chapter 11 protection between Dec. 31 and March 1.

High-profile clergy also have been accused of abuse. The latest was Father Michael Pfleger, a firebrand priest who is outspoken about gun violence, gangs, poverty and racism. He serves the Faith Community of St. Sabina in Chicago, a historically African American parish.

But the 73-year-old priest in an Oct. 15 letter to parishioners said: “Let me be clear — I am completely innocent of this accusation.”

It is the second time the Chicago Archdiocese has asked him to step aside from ministry over an abuse claim. In January 2021, he was accused of abuse that allegedly occurred 40 years ago. He was restored to ministry after the accusation was determined to be not credible.

In November, retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, announced he has asked the Vatican that he be “returned to the lay state.” He has long been criticized for his handling of abuse cases in the diocese. And because he himself has been accused of abuse, he said, he is forbidden to function as a priest — a policy he noted he backs.

The 84-year-old bishop stated Nov. 18 that he had made the request because of his age and the fact he is retired from active ministry. He also repeated his denial that he abused anyone.

The problem of sexual abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults is not of course just the sole province of the Catholic Church.

The Boy Scouts of America had to declare bankruptcy in 2020 after accusations of abuse roiled the organization.

Abuse has seeped into sports, in particular gymnastics. Former physician Larry Nassar is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison following his conviction five years ago on multiple charges of abuse of young gymnasts. This year, youth hockey was in the headlines about abuse cases.

On Nov. 11, a doctor who spent two decades providing medical care to youth hockey teams in Michigan and Minnesota was charged in multiple sex assault cases.

High-ranking churchmen in other parts of the world have either had to face accusations of abuse or have admitted to abusive acts. In August of this year, the Southern Baptist Convention acknowledged a federal investigation had begun into how it treated abuse accusations. And this just scratches the surface.

In an interview earlier this year with Catholic News Service, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington recalled when he was president of the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2002, when the Boston scandal broke, and his first of 13 visits to the Vatican regarding the charter.

“I was told that this was an American problem. And then it was suggested that it was an English-speaking problem,” he said.

“Well, now it doesn’t just speak English. It speaks Polish, it speaks German, it speaks Spanish,” he said, referring to abuse crises that have emerged in other countries. “The world has come to a much clearer awareness that this is an issue that has touched the church globally. Praise be God, Pope Francis has taken a much more direct, active and, I hope, effective response to these issues.”

The U.S. bishops have revised the original charter three times since its adoption — in 2005, 2011 and 2018.

In 2019, Pope Francis issued the “motu proprio” “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), which revises and clarifies norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable for protecting abusers worldwide.

At a June meeting that year, the U.S. bishops passed three new bishop accountability reforms, and they establish a third-party reporting system for allegations of violations by bishops.

The abuse crisis has few, if any winners. A survivor may feel cheered at having his or her story acknowledged and believed, but it hardly wipes away the original abuse.

“We have suffered serious loss of credibility” as bishops, Cardinal Gregory said in a second CNS interview. “We have many wonderfully generous, honest, open, transparent and believable bishops. But it only takes one or two to undermine all of the hard work they have done.”

“I think one thing that was really great this past year was the information that came forward from all these governmental reports” such as Germany, France and England, said Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

“I think it’s a good sign that governments across the world that stopping sexual abuse is something they have to be involved in, and not shunting off the burdens to the institution,” he told CNS, adding his hopes the United States will conduct an investigation.

But Hiner said he considered as “one particular black mark” on church response to abuse the election in November of Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to SNAP, Archbishop Broglio leads one of the three archdioceses that haven’t published a list of clergy and other church workers credibly accused of abuse.

Hiner called that “unconscionable” and feels “the USCCB sent a message that they don’t really care about that (releasing lists of those credibly accused) anymore, and I find that problematic.”

The military archdiocese, like all U.S. dioceses, has in place a policy to address allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Archbishop Broglio has expressed his shame “for the mistakes that we, the bishops of the U.S. have made in the past” in addressing abuse.

Despite SNAP’s reputation as a confrontational organization, “church officials want to work with SNAP,” but most survivors come to SNAP because it is independent, Hiner said. “Most of our members want that arm’s length relationship.”

“The church will always have to be dealing with issues of abuse in general. The charter from 20 years ago opened a door for folks to be able to address and bring up their memories,” said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, now in his 12th year as executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

Regarding the strain on diocesan operations and budgets due to abuse payouts, Deacon Nojadera said: “I’ve had bishops report to me, tell me that because of the economy, because of monetary shortcomings, bankruptcy, they tell me they’ve had to shut down ministries.”

“But they tell me their ministry for protection is going to be the last ministry to be shut down,” he added.

Deacon Nojadera said he is “eternally grateful for the survivor-victims telling their story and making their reports. That’s the saving grace. They brought to the light what was in the dark. And thank God for the Boston Globe and that movie ‘Spotlight’ and any other opportunity for survivors to feel strengthened.”

The deacon said, “It’s bad the abuse took place. I have every sorrow and apology; that hurts to the core. … to have to hold that in silence out of fear or perhaps thinking they may be the only one.”

“The miracle of that Boston Globe headline is for those survivors who think they were alone, (it) gave power, gave strength to all those other survivors who thought they were alone,” he said.

Today, he added, “every diocese in the United States has a victims assistance office and safe environment coordinator, and a consistent, reliable relationship with law enforcement and elected officials.”

And that, Deacon Nojadera said, is because of “that reality that abuse happens. Abuse is in society, and what the church is doing is providing an example to other segments of the society.”

Members of the gospel choir of St. Saviour High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., sing during the Diocese of Brooklyn’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 5, 2019, at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Christmas carol “O Holy Night” ranked first in a list of hymns most played in December at Christian churches in the United States.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” ranked second and third, respectively.

The list was compiled by Pushpay, which offers electronic giving options for churches and their congregants.

It asked its 15,000 subscribing churches last December what hymns they used that month, and released the results this Dec. 1. A Pushpay spokeswoman, Katie Griffin, could not supply a breakdown of Catholic parishes among those churches.

The top-10 list is filled with carols familiar to Catholics. Following the top three choices are, in order, “The First Noel,” “Joy To The World” and “Angels We Have Heard On High.”

Following those are two songs featured more in the repertoire of non-Catholic churches.

“Glorious Day,” which ranked seventh overall, was recorded by the contemporary Christian group Passion, featuring Kristian Stanfill on vocals. It is more of a salvation narrative without any lyrics taking note of the birth or infancy of Jesus. Still, the song’s official music and lyrics video has received 6.6 million views on YouTube.

There are several versions of the eighth-ranked song, “Goodness of God.” One video of the song has climbed up to 7 million YouTube views. The song is another in the Christian contemporary genre which focuses more on a first-person-singular, personal relationship with Jesus than a first-person plural voice found more often in Catholic hymnody.

Ninth is the gospel melody “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” which has found a home in many Catholic hymnals and parishes.

And, to prove that the list took into account all of December and not just the week beginning Dec. 25, winding up in the 10th spot was “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” an Advent song based on a chant melody familiar to Catholics not only in the United States but throughout the world.

Griffin told Catholic News Service it’s conducting the poll again this December. The top five songs from the 2020 poll were, in order, “Joy To The World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “O Holy Night.”

Web designer Lorie Smith works in her office in Littleton, Colo., Nov. 28, 2022. Smith is the plaintiff in an appeal to the Supreme Court over her objection to creating wedding websites for same-sex couples because of her Christian beliefs about marriage. The high court heard oral arguments in the case Dec. 5. (CNS photo/Kevin Mohatt, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – In a case examining the scope of free speech protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court Dec. 5 ultimately seemed to favor a broad view of free speech.

And in this case, the speech involved what a graphic designer who creates websites should not have to say.

Colorado designer Lorie Smith, who runs a web design company called 303 Creative, has said she should not be required to create wedding websites for same-sex couples based on her Christian beliefs about marriage.

Colorado state law forbids businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Smith contends her First Amendment right to free speech exempts her from the law.

But she lost her case in the lower court when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state has a compelling interest to protect its citizens “from the harms of discrimination.”

Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Smith, before the Supreme Court, specifically argued that companies whose work centers around expression have First Amendment protections from being compelled to say things that go against their personal beliefs.

If Smith’s case sounds familiar, that’s because it is very similar to a recent case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the baker’s refusal to make a wedding cake did not violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.

In its ruling, the court did not specifically deal with First Amendment protections  allowing businesses to refuse clients’ requests based on the owners’ religious convictions.

A ruling in favor of the web designer in this case could give broad leeway to business owners to deny services based on their own beliefs and would trump anti-discrimination laws.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined by the Colorado Catholic Conference and other religious groups, sided with the designer as they did with the baker five years ago. In their amicus brief they said this case gives the court the chance to clarify free speech issues it said the court fell short of doing in the previous case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In the current case, Smith, has not denied a service as the baker did in refusing to bake a custom cake for the same-sex couple. Smith is asking the court to weigh in before she even begins designing wedding websites, saying she has been worried that her refusal to design a same-sex wedding website would violate Colorado’s public accommodations law.

Some of the justices brought up hypothetical cases that could come up if they ruled in the state’s favor asking Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson if people could be forced to write news releases for the Church of Scientology or a Black Santa actor could be forced to pose with a child in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — incidents that Olson said would not apply under the state’s law.

Conversely, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if a ruling in favor of the designer would mean web designers could refuse to work with interracial couples or disabled couples.

A majority of the justices seemed willing to carve out narrow exemptions to discrimination laws.

Justice Clarence Thomas emphasized that this case was distinct from other public accommodations cases because of the speech aspect, pointing out: “This is not a hotel, this is not a restaurant, this is not a riverboat or a train.” Similarly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked about how one would determine even within the wedding industry what types of services count as speech.

In response, Waggoner told the court she wouldn’t be in front of them today representing a caterer, for example, but she would likely represent a custom wedding cake designer, bringing the previous court case to mind.

The USCCB’s brief said there is a “pressing need for the court to clarify how the compelled speech doctrine applies to wedding-vendor cases and other disputes.” It urged the justices to do what they have done in the past: “Apply the Free Speech Clause to protect religious speech, thereby strengthening liberty not just for the religious but for all society.”

It also said the current case “provides an appropriate and especially important opportunity to invoke free speech protections again to address the ongoing tensions in wedding-vendor cases and in the current cultural context more broadly” and implored the court to “protect individuals from compelled speech and to provide space in the public square for minority voices.”

Other groups that filed briefs on behalf of the wedding vendor included Catholicvote.org, the Thomas More Society, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and the Becket Fund.

DignityUSA, an unofficial Catholic support group for gay Catholics and their families, and New Ways Ministry, a Catholic pastoral outreach to LGBTQ people and their families, joined a brief filed by 30 religious and civil rights groups opposing the graphic artist’s case.

“Carving out this broad exemption would allow public businesses to legally exclude customers based on their identities,” it said, adding that “instead of safeguarding every citizen’s right to buy goods and services from businesses open to the public,” the proposed exemption “would further hurt the very people these civil rights laws were designed to protect.”

Twenty states supported Smith in friend of the court briefs. They say that they have public accommodation laws on the books, but their laws exempt those businesspeople who make their living creating custom art. Twenty-two states support Colorado and have similar laws in place protecting people from discrimination, which is also backed by the Justice Department.

A decision in the case is expected in late June.




Cathedral hosts large celebration in honor of Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe



SCRANTON – It has been nearly five centuries since God sent Mary as his messenger – appearing before Blessed Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian – but the importance of that apparition continues to inspire generations.

On Sunday, Dec. 11, hundreds of people filled the Cathedral of Saint Peter to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Cathedral celebration, organized by the parishes of Saint John Neumann and Saint Paul of the Cross in South Scranton, was moved downtown to draw even more people from across the city.

“It was an amazing event. We had a very big crowd come out,” Adriano Torres explained. “If we want to grow this community, it is so important to do events like this.”

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant for the Mass, which was followed by a festival across the street at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

“It is with the deepest gratitude that we thank the bishop for celebrating this Mass with us and for the people of the Cathedral who let us use their wonderful church,” Father Jonathan Kuhar, pastor of the South Scranton parishes, said.

The annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego on December 9, 10 and 12, 1531 in Tepeyac, near present-day Mexico City. The Blessed Mother’s appearance is believed to have resulted in millions of conversions to Catholicism.

Deysi Fuentes attended the Cathedral Mass and celebration with her family, including several children.

“We have to teach our youth our traditions. We guide them in faith towards God,” she explained. “It is a way to show our children where we come from and our traditions that enrich our countries.”

Fuentes pointed out that a milestone anniversary for Our Lady of Guadalupe is quickly approaching.

“We are nine years away from celebrating the 500th anniversary of the first time she appeared to Juan Diego,” Fuentes said.

While the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is especially important to Hispanics, Father Kuhar reminds everyone that she is the Patroness of the Americas, and we should all celebrate her.

“She is our patroness, all of us – North (America), South (America) and Central America – and it is a wonderful thing that we get to celebrate her all together in Scranton,” he said.

In addition to the Cathedral Mass in Scranton, Bishop Bambera also celebrated Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday, Dec. 12 at Saint Nicholas Parish in Wilkes-Barre. Prior to the Mass, the faithful spent two hours processing through the streets of the Diamond City with a statute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Parishes in East Stroudsburg, Meshoppen, Jermyn and Hazleton also held Feast Day celebrations.

“At a time when they needed a savior, Mary brought to them the Good News,” Father Kuhar added.


Hundreds of people gathered for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on Dec. 11, 2022. (Photos/Mike Melisky)


Guadalupana Torch arrives

at Saint Matthew Parish

EAST STROUDSBURG – In what has become an important community tradition, the Guadalupana Torch arrived in the Poconos on Sunday, Dec. 4, just days before the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The torch, officially known as Carrera Antorcha Guadalupana, begins its journey each year in Mexico City, crosses the border into the United States and ends in New York City.

For the last several years, parishioners from Saint Matthew Parish in East Stroudsburg have welcomed the torch into the Diocese of Scranton as part of its long journey.

“It’s a special event. Everybody is included,” parishioner Karla Carrasco, said.

Carrasco said the torch has special significance, connecting families who have relatives on both sides of the United States-Mexico border, that cannot be together for one reason or another.

“All of those people that touch it and bear it and all those families from Mexico who aren’t able to be with their families here in the United States, they are able to touch the torch and know that their loved ones touched it in Mexico,” she explained.

Stephanie Albuja came back from college just to see the Guadalupana Torch arrive locally this year. She participated in a procession with the torch through the streets that ended at Saint Matthew Parish.

“I think it’s very important to have events like this in public because it attracts other people that aren’t from the parish or are from other churches and they can all come and celebrate with us,” Albuja said.

Keyla Carrasco emphasized the torch procession is not just for the Hispanic community.

“It is incredible seeing everyone gathered together, different colors, different races,” she explained. “It is something that touches everybody when they see the replica of the Blessed Virgin Mary that accompanies the torch.”

Carrasco said she grows in her faith each year by participating in the torch procession.

“You see you’re not alone in your faith,” she explained.

Miguel Vaca, who came to the Poconos nearly 30 years ago, is happy to see more people getting involved in the procession each year.

“We have not only Mexican people, but we have people from Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and all those countries that speak Spanish,” Vaca said. “We get together and we experience the love that we give to the Virgin Mary and the love that the Virgin Mary gives to us.”


Parishioners of Saint Matthew Parish escort the Guadalupana Torch through the streets of East Stroudsburg on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. Each year, the torch begins its journey in Mexico City and ends in New York.


Chinellos lead dancing at a festival following Mass at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Scranton.





Pope Francis visits a Nativity scene during an audience with the donors of the Vatican Christmas tree and the Nativity scenes, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 3, 2022. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Stopping to gaze at and perhaps pray before a Nativity scene is one of the best ways to remember the real meaning of Christmas, Pope Francis said.

“In its genuine poverty,” the pope said, “the creche helps us to rediscover the true richness of Christmas and to purify ourselves of so many aspects that pollute the Christmas landscape.”

Pope Francis met Dec. 3 with the artisans who carved the 18-piece Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square; the donors of the white pine Christmas tree; the residents of a psychiatric rehabilitation center who, along with a group of students and grandparents, created the ornaments; and with representatives of the government of Guatemala, which set up another Nativity scene in the Vatican audience hall.

“Simple and familiar, the Nativity scene recalls a Christmas that is different from the consumerist and commercial Christmas. It is something else. It reminds us how good it is for us to cherish moments of silence and prayer in our days, often overwhelmed by frenzy,” Pope Francis told them during a midday gathering.

The group was scheduled to gather in St. Peter’s Square in the evening for the official unveiling of the Nativity scene and the lighting of the Christmas tree. But a major rainstorm with a forecast for more caused the Vatican to move the evening festivities indoors, although hundreds of people still were in the square for the lighting.

Meeting with the donors, Pope Francis encouraged everyone to find some quiet time to spend before a creche at Christmas.

“Silence encourages contemplation of the child Jesus,” the pope said, and “helps us to become intimate with God, with the fragile simplicity of a tiny newborn baby, with the meekness of his being laid down, with the tender affection of the swaddling clothes that envelop him.”

“If we really want to celebrate Christmas,” he said, “let us rediscover through the crib the surprise and amazement of littleness, the littleness of God, who makes himself small, who is not born in the splendor of appearances, but in the poverty of a stable.”

To truly encounter Jesus, the pope said, people must meet him in the manger, leaving their own vanity and pretense behind.

“Prayer is the best way to say thank you before this gift of free love, to say thank you to Jesus who desires to enter our homes and our hearts,” he said. “Yes, God loves us so much that he shares our humanity and our lives.”

“Even in the worst moments,” the pope said, “he is there, because he is the Emmanuel, the God with us, the light that illuminates the darkness and the tender presence that accompanies us on our journey.”

The lights on the Christmas tree, he said, are a reminder that Jesus came “to lighten our darkness, our existence often enclosed in the shadow of sin, fear, pain.”

But, the pope said, the tree also should make people think about the importance of roots.

Like a tree, he said, only a person who is “rooted in good soil remains firm, grows, matures, resists the winds that shake him and becomes a point of reference for those who look upon him.”

The Christmas tree, Pope Francis said, is a reminder of the need to remain rooted in Christ.


Members of the Holy Name Society and St. Anthony’s Playground Association will assemble Christmas gift bags with various items for the children of Friends of the Poor.

Gift bags will be distributed to children in their after-school programs. Members gathered on December 1st at the Parish Hall.

Through the intercession of “Virgen de Guadalupe,” plans for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December are proceeding in many different parishes.

Particularly in the areas of large Latino populations in the Diocese of Scranton, the annual observance commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican Indian peasant — now venerated as Saint Juan Diego — in December 1531 in Tepeyac, near present-day Mexico City.

The Blessed Mother’s appearance is believed to have resulted in millions of conversions to Catholicism, and her message of hope continues to inspire those of Hispanic descent.

In 1946, Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of the Americas.

The Our Lady of Guadalupe feast on Dec. 12 will culminate a host of celebrations being planned throughout the Diocese, especially in those parishes made up of significant Hispanic/Latino communities.

Everyone is welcome to join in the following celebrations:

East Stroudsburg
Saint Matthew Parish

December 1 to December 11
7:00 p.m. Rosary in the Church
(Except December 4 and 5)

December 4
Welcoming of Guadalupana Torch
12:30 p.m. Meeting location: Rite Aid Pharmacy parking lot

2:00 p.m. Solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera

December 5
Departure of Guadalupana Torch
12:00 p.m. The Torch is taken to the town of Suffern, N.Y.
Free bus transportation will be provided for those who would like to join. You must reserve your space in advance. Call (570) 236-2012 or (917) 930-1390

December 11
7:30 p.m. Traditional Mañanitas and vigil in honor to Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12
7:00 p.m. Mass in honor to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Annunciation Parish

December 2 to December 10
6:30 p.m. Novena
7:00 p.m. Mass

December 11
12:00 p.m. Mass

December 12
5:00 a.m. Mañanitas

Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish

December 11
12:00 p.m. Mass; Reception After

Saint Joachim Church

December 10
4:00 p.m. Mass at Saint Joachim

6:00 p.m. Reception in the Hall of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 99 E. Tioga Street, Tunkhannock

December 12
5:00 a.m. Traditional Mañanitas at Saint Joachim Church


December 2 to December 10
6:30 p.m. Novena
Saint Paul of the Cross Church

December 11
Cathedral of Saint Peter
12:15 p.m. Solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera. Reception after at Diocesan Pastoral Center across the street

December 12
3:00 a.m. Street procession begins at the Cathedral of St. Peter and will conclude at St. Paul of the Cross.
4:30 a.m. Mañanitas at St. Paul of the Cross Church
6:30 a.m. Morning Mass.
7:00 p.m. Mass at St. Paul of the Cross

Saint Nicholas Parish

December 11
6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Vigil

December 12
5:00 a.m. Mañanitas
4:00 p.m. Street procession starting at 607 N. Franklin St. Wilkes Barre, (Fortoso Family)
Accompanied by Chinelos, Moras and Dance of the Tacuates.

6:00 p.m. Solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera
7:00 p.m. Reception in the school cafeteria immediately after mass


East Stroudsburg
Parroquia San Mateo

1 de Diciembre al 11 de Diciembre
7:00 p.m. Rosario en la Iglesia
(excepto el 4 y 5 de Diciembre)

4 de Diciembre
Recibimiento de la Antorcha Guadalupana
12:30 p.m. Estacionamiento de la Farmacia Rite Aid, 128 N Courtland St, East Stroudsburg

2:00 p.m. Misa con Monseñor Joseph C. Bambera, Obispo de la Diócesis de Scranton

5 de Diciembre
12:00 p.m. Se despide a la Antorcha Guadalupana y se lleva al pueblo de Suffern, N.Y. Se proveerá transporte gratuito en autobús para los que gusten acompañar. Se requiere reservar su espacio (570) 236-2012
11 de Diciembre
7:30 p.m. Tradicionales mañanitas y vigilia en honor a la Virgen de Guadalupe

12 de Diciembre
7:00 p.m. Misa en honor a Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Parroquia Anunciación

2 de Diciembre al 10 de Diciembre
6:30 p.m. Rosario
7:00 p.m. Misa

11 de Diciembre
12:00 p.m. Misa

12 de Diciembre
5:00 a.m. Mañanitas

Parroquia Sagrados Corazones de Jesus y Maria

11 de Diciembre
12:00 p.m. Misa
Recepción después de Misa

Iglesia San Joaquin

10 de Diciembre
4:00 p.m. Misa en la Iglesia San Joaquín
6:00 p.m. Recepción en el Salón de la Iglesia de la Natividad de la Santísima Virgen María,
99 E. Tioga St. Tunkhannock

12 de Diciembre
5:00 a.m. Mañanitas en la Iglesia San Joaquín


2 de Diciembre al 10 de Diciembre
6:30 p.m. Novena diaria
Iglesia San Pablo de la Cruz
1217 Prospect Ave. Scranton

11 de Diciembre
Catedral de San Pedro
12:15 p.m. Misa Solemne precedida por el Monseñor Joseph C. Bambera, Obispo de la Diócesis de Scranton y concelebrada por varios sacerdotes
Recepción después de Misa en el Centro Pastoral Diocesano

12 de Diciembre
3:00 a.m. Procesión por las calles comenzando en la Catedral de San Pedro y finalizando en la Iglesia de San Pablo de la Cruz
4:30 a.m. Mañanitas en San Pablo de Cruz
6:30 a.m. Misa matutina
7:00 p.m. Misa en San Pablo de Cruz

Wilkes Barre
Parroquia San Nicolas

11 de Diciembre
6:00 p.m. – 9 p.m. Velación

12 de Diciembre
5:00 a.m. Mañanitas

4:00 p.m. Procesión comenzando en el 607 N. Franklin St. Wilkes Barre, (Familia Fortoso)
Acompañada de Chinelos, Moras y Danza de los Tacuates.

6:00 p.m. Misa Solemne precedida por el Monseñor Joseph C. Bambera, Obispo de la Diócesis de Scranton y concelebrada por varios sacerdotes

7:00 p.m. Recepción en la cafetería de la escuela inmediatamente después de la misa













SCRANTON – On Nov. 29, 2022, Peoples Security Bank & Trust made a significant contribution to the Diocese of Scranton Scholarship Foundation in support of need-based tuition assistance for students attending a Diocesan Catholic school. The donation is part of the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program operated by Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

Peoples Security Bank & Trust presented the Diocesan Scholarship Foundation with a $25,000 gift through the EITC program. Over the last five years, Peoples Security Bank & Trust has generously donated $127,500 to Catholic education in the Diocese of Scranton.

“We appreciate the continued generous support of Peoples Security Bank & Trust. This commitment has a significant impact in the lives of our Catholic school families,” Jim Bebla, Diocesan Secretary for Development, said at the check presentation.

Pictured, from left: Thomas Tulaney, President & COO, Peoples Security Bank & Trust; Kristen Donohue, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Education & Superintendent of Catholic Schools; and Jim Bebla, Diocesan Secretary for Development.

A bride in New York City stands in a park across the street from the Manhattan Marriage Bureau Nov. 18, 2021. (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Ahead of the U.S. Senate’s Nov. 29 61-to-36 vote approving the Respect for Marriage Act, the chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees reiterated the bishops’ ” firm opposition” to the “misnamed” measure legalizing same-sex marriage.

In a Nov. 23 joint letter to all members of Congress, the chairmen said they were writing “to implore Congress to reverse course” on H.R. 8404, also known as RMA.

The Senate advanced the measure with a 62-37 vote Nov. 16. Its final vote passing the bill sends it back to the House for a vote. If it passes that chamber, President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

The U.S. House first passed the bill July 19 with a large, bipartisan vote of 267-157, but now the House must take up the Senate’s amended version.

Issuing the joint letter were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

“Tragically, Congress’s consideration of RMA now takes place in the wake of the horrific attack in Colorado Springs,” they said, referring to the mass shooting at an LGBTQ bar in Colorado that left six people dead and many more injured. “We echo the statement of our brother Bishop (James R.) Golka of Colorado Springs in condemnation of this senseless crime.”

“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Barron said. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

The bill codifies the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. It also codifies interracial marriage.

In a Nov. 17 statement after the bill advanced in the Senate, Cardinal Dolan called it “a bad deal for the many courageous Americans of faith and no faith who continue to believe and uphold the truth about marriage in the public square today.”

“It is deeply concerning that the U.S. Senate has voted to proceed toward potential passage of the Respect for Marriage Act,” he said. “(It) does not strike a balance that appropriately respects our nation’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty.”

In their joint letter, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Barron said that measure’s “rejection of timeless truths about marriage is evident on its face and in its purpose.” They repeated the cardinal’s earlier point that it “would also betray our country’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty.”

The text of their letter and a lengthy detailed analysis by the USCCB on how the bill, if it becomes law, endanger religious liberty can be found at https://bit.ly/3H22Z74.

“First, the bill will be used to argue that the government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex civil marriages as valid,” the analysis said.

An amendment to the bill says it “protects all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law, including but not limited to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and prevents this bill from being used to diminish or repeal any such protection.”

It also “confirms that nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

The amendment was worked out by a bipartisan group of negotiators — headed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine — who had asked the Senate for more time to consider “an amendment designed to respond to the concerns of GOP lawmakers who feared the legislation could put churches and other religious institutions at legal risk if Congress voted to codify same-sex marriage rights.”

With the amendment, 12 Republicans joined every Democrat in supporting the marriage bill.

But the USCCB analysis said that even with the amendment, under the bill “religious objectors are likelier to be denied exemptions under the First Amendment and RFRA in cases where they would have prevailed but for the passage of RMA.”

The measure “would have a ripple effect that hurts religious freedom in every context where conflicts with same-sex marriage arise, not just in the context of compliance with RMA itself,” the analysis said.

“Employment decisions, employees’ spousal benefits, eligibility for grants or contracts, accreditation, tax exemptions — it runs the full gamut, even in religious liberty conflicts arising out of state or local laws,” it added.

“Unfortunately, a number of religious groups and senators are asserting that the amended text of RMA sufficiently protects religious freedom,” Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Barron said in their letter.

They added that from the perspective of the USCCB, “whose bishops’ ministries comprise the largest nongovernmental provider of social services” in the U.S., the provisions of the bill “that relate to religious liberty are insufficient.”

“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the two prelates said.

“This bill is needless and harmful and must be voted down,” they said. “At the same time, Congress, and our nation as a whole, must resolve to foster a culture where every individual, as a child of God, is treated with respect and compassion.”

Ahead of the House vote in July, the chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life and marriage and family committees wrote a joint letter to House members urging they reject the measure.

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed into Law by President Bill Clinton. It barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2013.

The push in Congress to codify a right to same-sex marriage in federal law followed an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in the Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Pope Francis delivers his talk during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 30, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – A daily examination of conscience is an important tool for recognizing where God is at work in one’s life and where “the evil spirit” tries to lead one astray, Pope Francis said.

“Learn to read in the book of our hearts what has happened during the day. Do it. Just two minutes, but it will do you good, I promise,” the pope told visitors at his weekly general audience Nov. 30.

After his talk, Pope Francis and the crowd were treated to a performance by the Black Blues Brothers, a group of five acrobats from Kenya. Wearing dark suits and ties, they did handsprings, created human pyramids and did tumbling and dance tricks while jumping rope to songs from the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”

Continuing his series of audience talks about discernment, the pope spoke again about “spiritual consolation” and about using a daily examination of conscience to distinguish between what just feels good and “genuine consolation,” which, he said, “is a sort of confirmation that we are doing what God wants of us, that we are walking on his paths, that is, on the paths of life, joy and peace.”

Relying on the teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, the pope explained that consolation comes from knowing that a thought or impulse is good at its beginning, middle and end, because it inclines one to do something good, is motivated by love for God and others and leads to a sense of peace.

On the other hand, the pope explained, “the evil spirit” can sneak in and distract one from doing good or sow anger toward others or pride.

“When we talk about the ‘evil spirit,’ we are talking about the devil, you know,” the pope said. “The devil exists.”

Pope Francis used the example of the thought or urge to pray, accompanied by “affection for the Lord and my neighbor, it invites gestures of generosity, of charity: it is a good beginning.”

But, he said, if “every time I have to wash the dishes or clean the house, I have a strong urge to pray — this happens in convents” — then the impulse is not all good.

“Go wash the dishes, then go pray,” he said, because “prayer is not an escape from one’s tasks.”

And, the pope said, “if I begin to pray and, like the Pharisee in the parable, I tend to be self-satisfied and to disdain others, perhaps with a resentful and sour spirit, then these are signs that the evil spirit has used that thought as a key to enter into my heart and to transmit his feelings to me.”

In such cases, he said, “the consolation of prayer” is false, and one simply is “a peacock before God,” strutting his or her presumed holiness.

Then, Pope Francis said, one should ask, “Where does that thought take me? For example, it can happen that I work hard for a good and worthy task, but this pushes me to stop praying; I find I am increasingly aggressive and angry, I feel that everything depends on me, to the point of losing confidence in God. Here, evidently, there is the action of the evil spirit.”

The devil’s style is “devious, masked,” the pope said, and he usually starts with something important to the person and then twists it.

“The more we know ourselves, the more we sense where the evil spirit enters, his ‘passwords,’ the entrance to our heart,” Pope Francis said.

“Before ending your day, stop a bit and ask what has happened (that day) — not in the newspapers,” he said, but in one’s heart.

“Noticing what happens is important,” he said. “It is a sign that God’s grace is working in us, helping us to grow in freedom and awareness. We are not alone; the Holy Spirit is with us. Let’s see how things are going.”