VATICAN CITY (CNS) – With little fanfare, Pope Francis officially opened the Year of Prayer after Mass for the church’s celebration of Sunday of the Word of God.

“Today we begin the Year of Prayer; that is, a year dedicated to rediscovering the great value and absolute need for prayer in personal life, in the life of the church and in the world,” he said, after praying the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 21.

The pope called for the special year last February to help prepare Catholics worldwide for the Holy Year, which begins with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 24.

Pope Francis prays as he celebrates Mass for Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Jan. 21, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Preparing for the jubilee is not just about the huge construction projects underway throughout Rome to help welcome and facilitate the flow of an estimated 35 million pilgrims expected for the Holy Year 2025.

The year 2024 also should be about rebuilding and renewing spiritual pathways and practices so that the spiritual significance of the jubilee can “emerge more clearly, something which goes far beyond the necessary and urgent forms of structural organization,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization’s section for new evangelization, which is coordinating the Holy Year.

Speaking at a news conference Jan. 23 about the Year of Prayer, the archbishop said 2024 is about preparing the groundwork so the jubilee “spiritually enriches the life of the church and of the entire people of God, becoming a concrete sign of hope.”

The jubilee must be “prepared for and lived in individual communities with that spirit of expectation which is typical of Christian hope,” he said, unveiling several resources the dicastery is providing to help bishops, dioceses, parishes, families and religious communities rediscover the value of and need for daily prayer.

Unlike other years designated by the pope, “this is not a year marked with particular initiatives,” Archbishop Fisichella said. Rather it is a time to get back to basics: to discover how to pray and how to educate people in prayer “so that prayer can be effective and fruitful.”

“It will not be a year which hinders initiatives of the local churches; rather it should be seen as a period in which every planned initiative is supported effectively, precisely because it has prayer as its foundation,” he said.

When asked how the year can complement the U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival underway, Msgr. Graham Bell, undersecretary of the dicastery’s section for new evangelization, told Catholic News Service, “We are well pleased that the American bishops want to call attention to what Vatican II calls the source and summit of Christian life because it must be the foundation of every renewal.”

Therefore, the revival initiative “is very appropriate in view of the 2025 jubilee,” he said.

The dicastery will release ideas, suggestions and resources as the year continues, starting with an eight-volume series of booklets titled, “Notes on Prayer,” that “delve into the various dimensions of the Christian act of praying, signed by authors of international renown,” Msgr. Bell said at the news conference.

As the translations are done, the series will be made available to the world’s bishops’ conferences, the archbishop said.

The first volume, titled “Praying Today. A Challenge to Be Overcome,” was released Jan. 23 and was written by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, retired archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, with a preface by Pope Francis.

“Prayer is the breath of faith, it is its most proper expression. Like a silent cry that comes forth from the heart of those who believe and entrust themselves to God,” the pope wrote.

The other texts, to be released over the next three months, will carry titles such as “Praying with the Psalms,” “The Prayer of Jesus,” “Praying with Saints and Sinners,” and “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us: The ‘Our Father.'”

The dicastery also will send out texts and guides digitally for dioceses to integrate, modify and distribute as they see fit, Archbishop Fisichella said. The different texts will cover many possible aspects of a Christian’s prayer life, including spiritual retreats, shrines and the priesthood.

In addition, he noted, Pope Francis’ 38 general audience talks on prayer, given from May 6, 2020, to June 16, 2021, are available online, reflect on the various forms of prayer and contain many useful suggestions.

Pope Francis will set up a “school of prayer” for 2024, he said. It will be similar to the pope’s “Fridays of Mercy” initiative during the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, when he visited people on the “peripheries,” including babies in a neonatal unit, a center for the blind and a housing project.

“This will be a series of moments of encounter with specific groups of people to pray together and better understand the various forms of prayer: from thanksgiving to intercession; from contemplative prayer to the prayer of consolation; from adoration to supplication,” the archbishop said.

There is “a profound need for spirituality,” he said. And the Year of Prayer is meant to be “a way of fostering the relationship with the Lord, offering moments of genuine spiritual rest.”

“It is like an oasis sheltered from daily stress where prayer becomes nourishment for the Christian life of faith, hope and charity,” the archbishop said.

(OSV News) – Against gray skies and falling snow, thousands of people flocked Jan. 19 to the nation’s capital for the national March for Life, gathering them under the theme “With every woman, for every child,” showing their resolve amid the piercing cold to make abortion eventually “unthinkable” in the U.S.

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Miguel Ángel Leyva, 21, a Catholic and third-year college student from Detroit, told OSV News.

Pro-life demonstrators carry a banner towards the U.S. Supreme Court building while participating in the 51st annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 19, 2024. (OSV News photo/Leslie E. Kossoff)

The March for Life began in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which once legalized abortion nationwide, and gathers pro-life advocates from across the U.S. This year’s march — its second year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022 — took place as winter weather put much of the U.S. in a deep freeze, snarling transportation and canceling flights.

While the crowds appeared smaller than in years past, this year’s march showed a movement eager to up its game to help American society embrace a culture that affirms and supports the dignity of all human life, and not just for the unborn.

Levya said the presence of so many people amid the punishing weather conditions “shows there are many who are willing to serve God and stand up for what is right.”

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and others emphasized during the March for Life Rally that not only was the national march there to stay, but pro-life marches would be multiplying throughout all 50 states in the coming years.

“We will keep marching every year at the national level, as well as in our states, until our nation’s laws reflect the basic truth that all human life is created equal and is worthy of protection,” Mancini told the thousands gathered on the National Mall.

Speaker after speaker at the march rally emphasized its theme of making abortion “unthinkable,” in particular by emphasizing the culture-changing and life-saving work of pregnancy resource centers and related efforts.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., addressed the crowd and shared that he himself was once an unplanned pregnancy for his parents, just teenagers at the time, who chose life.

Johnson said the U.S. House of Representatives passed two important pieces of legislation right before the march: the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act for colleges and universities to follow and another bill that prohibits the Health and Human Services Department from excluding pregnancy resource centers from obtaining federal funds.

Johnson criticized President Joe Biden for his administration’s efforts to prevent pregnancy resource centers from accessing these grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

However, speakers at the march acknowledged that the end of Roe came with both successes and setbacks for the pro-life movement. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a Catholic lawmaker and co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, told those gathered that they should remain “undeterred.”

“We will never quit in our defense of the weakest and most vulnerable,” he said.

Aisha Taylor, author of “Navigating the Impossible: A Survival Guide for Single Moms,” took to the rally stage and reminded the crowd, “It was people like you who helped people like me to choose life for my unborn twins.”

“I am eternally grateful for that pregnancy center,” she said, adding that her presence among them was part of her pledge to “pay it forward” for all the support she had received to choose life.

But March for Life speakers also indicated strongly that changing the culture for life did not just affect the unborn, but extended to all human beings. Rallygoers watched on the screens a preview of the movie “Cabrini” — a film about St. Frances Xavier Cabrini who cared for immigrants, orphans and people of all races — which Mancini said exemplified the march’s theme.

A voiceover in the “Cabrini” trailer reflected that New York, where Mother Cabrini ministered, is a city “built on immigrant bone.”

It said, “Is this bone not ours as well? Did we not all arrive as immigrants? Do we not owe these children, our children, a life better than a rat’s?”

Benjamin Watson, a former NFL tight end, said pro-life advocates must embark on “a new fight for life” that also addresses the factors behind abortion, and he connected those efforts to the wider struggle for peace and justice in society.

“Roe is done, but we still live in a culture that knows not how to care for life,” Watson said.

An unrelated incident underscored Watson’s words. As the March for Life was going on, the District of Columbia’s law enforcement and emergency personnel were responding to a teenager who had been shot just a few blocks from Capitol Hill.

The national march also showcased organizers’ determination to mobilize the thousands gathered for immediate and effective action. At one point, Mancini invited the crowds to pull out their phones and told them to text MARCH to 73075 and “send a message to Congress that you want to protect pregnancy resource centers.”

“We want to make sure Congress hears you are pro-life and we support pro-life policies,” said Mancini. She pointed to the large screens, which featured a map of the U.S. with “pins” showing in real time how many people were texting the number. As pins filled up the map, Mancini cajoled people from states lagging behind in pins.

“I think California needs a little love,” she said. “Come on, Texas!”

More pins popped up on the screens. Marchers also were encouraged to take the time to visit their members of Congress in person and ask them to affirm life-affirming policies.

Thousands of Catholics participating in the march came from prayer vigils and Masses held that day or the evening before.

At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, preached to a crowd of 7,000 gathered for a vigil Mass that was followed by a National Holy Hour for Life.

At the morning Mass in the basilica Jan. 19, Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio, encouraged Catholics not to get discouraged by setbacks in the pro-life movement but to recall how Jesus Christ “fell three times under the weight of his cross but he got back up.”

“Even after defeats we get back up and we march for life in radical solidarity with women and children,” he said.

Sarai Gonzalez, 18, a public school student from Detroit who was attending the national march for the second time, said she was touched by Bishop Fernandes’ homily during the Mass, calling it inspirational and moving.

“I felt at peace and loved. I felt the fire of the Holy Spirit within me,” she said.

Braving the freezing temperatures of the early morning were nearly 6,000 youth and adults who joined the March for Life Rally coming from the second annual Life Fest at the D.C. Armory, where they had fortified themselves listening to inspiring music and personal testimonies, and engaged in Eucharistic adoration and Mass.

As the snow continued to fall, thousands of marchers took to the streets to march between the Capitol and the Supreme Court buildings as the song “God bless America” rang out through the loudspeakers.

Before she went to the rally stage and on to march, Mancini told OSV News what she hoped people take away from the March for Life — besides “a lot of snowballs.”

“I hope that they take away that the pro-life movement is about the full flourishing of both mom and baby,” she said.

Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association told OSV News that the march demonstrates that even with the end of Roe “there’s still a lot of work to be done.” In fact, the theme of the next day’s 25th Annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown University focused on this pro-life challenge: “Discerning the next 25 years.”

“But I think we still have that same kind of youthful energy that we need to finish the work that was started,” she said.

It was a point Gonzalez emphasized as well. “This march shows everyone — women, men, children and politicians — that we do not support abortion,” she said.

“We can’t let peer pressure hold us back,” she added. “We can’t be mediocre. We must fight for life.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The obligation to care for creation is not only about the environment, “it has to do with human life, as the Creator conceived and arranged it,” Pope Francis told a group from northern Italy dedicated to remembering the 1,910 people who died from the Vajont dam disaster.

“One thing is striking,” the pope said; “it was not mistakes in the design or construction of the dam that caused the tragedy, but the very fact of wanting to build a reservoir in the wrong place.”

Pope Francis looks at photos of the aftermath of a massive landslide in October 1963 that killed 1,910 people in northern Italy during an audience with pilgrims from the Diocese of Belluno-Feltre and from the association “Vajont: The Future of Memory,” and local government officials in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Jan. 19, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

In October 1963 a landslide on an unstable mountain on the southern side of the reservoir set off a massive tsunami, wiping out entire towns and villages and killing 1,910 people. The dam, built to generate power, remained intact.

The decision to build and use the dam, despite cautionary studies about its surroundings, put “the logic of profit before the care of people and the environment in which they live,” the pope said during a meeting Jan. 19 with pilgrims from the Diocese of Belluno-Feltre and from the association “Vajont: The Future of Memory.”

The support survivors showed one another and the way people in the region built new towns and have continued to work together to protect the land have set off a “wave of hope” motivated by fraternity whereas the “wave that brought despair was caused by greed. And greed destroys, while fraternity builds,” the pope said.

“This is extremely relevant today,” the pope said. “The care of creation is not simply an ecological factor, but an anthropological issue: It has to do with human life, as the Creator conceived and arranged it, and it concerns the future of everyone, of the global society in which we are immersed.”

The earth, “the common home, is crumbling,” the pope said, “and the reason is once again the same: greed for profit, a frenzy to earn and possess that seems to make people feel omnipotent” when being creatures should mean learning to respect limits.

Pope Francis noted that 2024 marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi writing most of the “Canticle of the Creatures,” the hymn of praise to God for the gifts of creation, a hymn in which he addresses as brother or sister the sun, moon, stars, wind, fire and other elements.

Calling them brothers and sisters, the pope said, makes it clear that all creation is “part of a single ‘living web of good,’ lovingly arranged by the Lord for us.”

In the canticle, St. Francis praises the Lord for “Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.”

And it is useful and humble, the pope said, “yet it became tremendous and destructive in the case of the Vajont and is inaccessible for so many in the world today who suffer thirst or have no drinkable water.”

“We need the contemplative gaze, the respectful gaze of St. Francis to recognize the beauty of creation and to know how to give things their proper order, to stop devastating the environment with the deadly logic of greed and to collaborate fraternally in development,” he said.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The U.S. bishops’ upcoming Collection for the Church in Latin America helps meet the “myriad spiritual and material needs among the most impoverished people in the Western Hemisphere,” said Bishop Octavio Cisneros, chair of the bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America.

“In an era with too much focus on what divides us from our sisters and brothers in Latin America,” he said that U.S. Catholics “continue to strengthen bonds of faith, hope and love” and show solidarity with them.

Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, N.Y., poses with a religious sister and children during a December 2018 visit to the Pope Francis Shelter in the Diocese of Escuintla, Guatemala. Now-retired Bishop Cisneros is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. (OSV News photo/courtesy Bishop Octavio Cisneros)

Bishop Cisneros, the retired auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, New York, made the comments in a column shared with OSV News by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of National Collections.

Parishes in most U.S. dioceses take the collection during Masses the weekend of Jan. 27-28. The #iGiveCatholicTogether campaign also accepts online donations at, where visitors can give by selecting the “Church in Latin America” campaign.

The collection supports pastoral projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2022, it provided 251 grants totaling nearly $6.6 million “to support a region where poverty, political and religious oppression, and other hardships” make the Catholic Church’s work “exceptionally difficult,” Bishop Cisneros said.

He gave some examples of how funds are used, including supporting “crucial ministries” that help people in Mexico build new lives after imprisonment; training for deacons in Brazil who will serve rural areas deprived of priests due to ongoing shortages of celibate clergy; and equipping religious sisters in Colombia who teach families practical and spiritual skills they need “to strengthen and grow in faith.”

The collection also supports efforts by Venezuela’s Archdiocese of Caracas to stop human trafficking and to hold training workshops on prevention and on spiritual and psychological support for survivors of trafficking. In Peru, grants help set up 24 mission posts to serve Indigenous people.

Each program is designed by local church leaders in response to specific needs. An annual report available in English and Spanish online gives a breakdown of how grant funds are used in different countries:

Bishop Cisneros said these ministries and hundreds of others supported by the Collection for the Church in Latin America “bring hope to people whose afflictions are impossible for most people in our nation to imagine.”

In an October 2015 letter to the USCCB marking the collection’s 50th anniversary that year, Pope Francis described it as “a precious means of sustaining, both spiritually and temporally,” the efforts of the church in Latin America and the Caribbean “to proclaim the Gospel and to form missionary disciples imbued with zeal” for spreading God’s kingdom “of justice, holiness and peace.”

SCRANTON – Faithful throughout the Diocese of Scranton will join with members of various Christian congregations of northeastern Pennsylvania for an Ecumenical Celebration of the Word of God on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, at 12:10 p.m. in the Cathedral of Saint Peter.

The event highlights the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which has been celebrated each January since its inception in 1908.

The theme for the 2024 celebration is: “ You shall love the Lord your God … and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will serve as leader of prayer for the traditional ecumenical prayer service. Bishop Bambera is once again serving as Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Guest homilist for this year’s prayer service is Reverend Rebecca A. Barnes, Rector of Saint Luke Episcopal Church, Scranton, and President of the Scranton Multifaith Ministerium.

Students from Holy Rosary School in Duryea will provide the music for the religious gathering, under the direction of David Tighe.

The Ecumenical prayer service will be broadcast live at 12:10 p.m. on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton. It will also be made available on the Scranton Diocese website and across all diocesan social media platforms.

As the universal Catholic Church, including local dioceses, immerses itself deeply into the call for a new evangelization proclaimed by Pope Francis through the 2023 Synod on Synodality, both ecumenism and interreligious dialogue have been given prominence in the discussion.

In the Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality, the Official Handbook for Listening and Discernment in Local Churches, it is stated: “The dialogue between Christians of different confessions, united by one baptism, has a special place in the synodal journey.”

According to Monsignor Vincent Grimalia, Diocesan Coordinator for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity provides not only an opportunity for prayer for Christianity, but a time to learn more about various Christian churches and communities while offering motivation and commitment for year-long participation in ecumenical activities.

“It is an opportunity to renew and re-energize our commitment to Christian unity,” Monsignor Grimalia said. “In a world with so much disunity, there is a need to overcome divisions and polarization and work to get nations and various ethnic, cultural and language groups to work together.”

Saint John Paul II, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, quotes from the Second Vatican council.

He wrote, “This statement of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio is to be read in the context of the complete teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The Council expresses the Church’s decision to take up the ecumenical task of working for Christian unity and to propose it with conviction and vigour: “This sacred Synod exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to participate actively in the work of ecumenism.”

Saint John Paul reflects on the necessity of prayer and dialogue among elements of ecumenism and reminds everyone of its importance because Jesus prayed for unity of his followers.

He continued, “All this is extremely important and of fundamental significance for ecumenical activity. Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does; it must be like the fruit borne by a healthy and flourishing tree which grows to its full stature.”


The Knights of Columbus JFK Council #5517 of St. Michael’s Parish, Canton, Pa., conducted a maternity item drive during the month of December to benefit the Endless Mountains Pregnancy Care Center’s Canton branch. The item drive is part of a featured program of the Knights of Columbus called ASAP or Aid and Support After Pregnancy. Through the ASAP initiative the national Knights of Columbus have thus far donated more than 1,745 ultrasound machines nationwide valued at over $80 million dollars and last year exceeded $6 million dollars in donations going entirely to pregnancy centers and maternity homes.

The Knights of Columbus of St. Michael’s are pleased to present the maternity items donated by the parishioners and friends of the parish in support of the Endless Mountains Pregnancy Care Center’s efforts to serve women and babies, both born and unborn. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their life saving work to care for the most vulnerable. The Knights will continue to be there for mothers and their children and we continue to proclaim the dignity of every human life.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Jesus Christ’s words in the Gospel reading for Jan. 18, “I am with you always until the end of the age,” are critical as “an instruction for how to live in this broken world” and “bring goodness to it,” the U.S. bishops’ pro-life chairman said in his homily at the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life.

“Christ himself” is the “only answer” to better the world “even as it persists in imperfection,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, told the congregation that filled the Great Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington is pictured in a nighttime file photo. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, is the main celebrant of the Mass opening the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 18, 2024, at the basilica. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Nancy Wiechec)

“Christ speaks these words, not as an assurance that all our efforts will succeed by worldly metrics, but as a promise that he will be there in our successes and our failures … , in our victories and our losses. … And he will sanctify it all,” Bishop Burbidge said, according to his prepared text.

The pro-life movement has seen victory with the end of Roe two years ago but also has experienced loss as abortion policies are being pushed more than ever at the federal and state levels, he said.

The Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade in its Dobbs ruling on June 24, 2022, was “a moment of relief, a moment of new life, an exodus from the oppression under which we lived for 50 years,” said Bishop Burbidge, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

But “if the past year and a half has taught us anything, it is this: Dobbs is not the end. It is a victory — a tremendous victory — but not a decisive one,” he said. “The lives of the unborn are still in danger — in some places, more so than ever. The lives of innocent children are being taken. Mothers are still being harmed. Couples, children, and families are still in need of resources, support, and love.”

In negating its own precedent that made abortion access a constitutional right in 1973, the high court returned abortion policy to the states.

“Despite the tireless efforts and hard work of bishops and all the faithful, we suffered a particularly difficult loss for unborn life after Dobbs when several states enshrined abortion rights with radical amendments to their state constitutions,” Bishop Burbidge said. “In addition, Catholic politicians and intellectuals tragically continue to publicly endorse abortion as though it is a ‘right’ and advocate for pro-abortion policies.”

The current administration also “has removed safety protocols on the distribution of abortion pills, endangering women’s health and making vulnerable women more susceptible to coercion and abuse,” he said.

In states where “there are victories to be won,” Bishop Burbidge said, the pro-life movement “must continue to be strategic. … Where states have acted to enshrine extreme abortion policies into law, we must not lose hope. Even in the darkest places, we can be a light.”

Highlighting the theme of the annual March for Life set for Jan. 19, “With every mother, for every child,” he said, “More than anything, we must continue to serve. … The needs of mothers and babies are dynamic, and we must be dynamic too.”

“The work we do in pregnancy centers around the country is at the center of our mission,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We must fortify those efforts and ensure that those who choose life have a home, an income, food, clothing, and provisions for their children. We must help mothers and fathers through the challenges of pregnancy and welcoming a new life. Becoming parents or growing a family often comes with a need for greater emotional and spiritual support. We must be attuned to this need, and creative in how we respond to it.”

Bishop Burbidge was the main celebrant of the vigil Mass, which was attended by nearly 7,000 people and joined by 138 priests, and included three cardinals — Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S. — 19 bishops and archbishops, 31 deacons and 314 seminarians. Among them were also Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, president of the USCCB; and two past chairmen of the USCCB’s pro-life committee, namely Archbishops Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and William E. Lori of Baltimore, the USCCB’s vice president.

Cardinal Pierre read a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, issued on behalf of Pope Francis, who prayed that God would strengthen people’s commitment to protecting human life at every stage. The pontiff imparted his blessing on all those participating in the Jan. 19 March for Life in Washington.

Bishop Burbidge opened his homily with a thank-you to pro-life supporters for their “zeal, perseverance, and love that drives your commitment. ” He praised them for their dedication to pro-life ministries around the country and for offering “prayer, witness, and advocacy … on behalf of the unborn” at the vigil and the next day’s March for Life.

In the face of “our opponents” being flooded with money helping them to “tell falsehoods, to deceive people, and to portray anyone who stands up for life as irrational, radical, and intolerant,” Bishop Burbidge said, the pro-life movement has “the Truth.”

“Yet, we must find new ways of communicating it,” the bishop continued. “How? Without compromise. Where? Even in the darkest places … through service and always with Christ at the center.”

“All of human life is sacred. The right to life is absolutely fundamental,” he said. “No one has a right to directly take the life of another. No one has a right to devalue another. No one has a right to say which lives are worth saving and worth living, and which lives are not.”

“We must never negotiate the Truth, but speak it in love, bring it to the darkest places, and continue to serve mothers, fathers, and families in need,” he added.

After Mass Archbishop Naumann was to lead the National Holy Hour for Life through 8 p.m., followed by a series of Holy Hours of Eucharistic devotion throughout the night in dioceses across the country. An 8 a.m. Mass Jan. 19 to close the vigil will be celebrated by Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio.

ATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis called for dialogue and cooperation between neighboring nations and appealed for restraint against any actions that could escalate tensions in the Middle East.

After missiles struck Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Jan. 15 and killed at least four people and wounded six, the pope expressed “my sympathy and solidarity with the victims, all civilians, of the rocket attack.”

Smoke rises over Gaza as seen from Israel Jan. 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Violence and attacks have spread throughout the Middle East region, including Iran’s launch of ballistic missiles late Jan. 15, 2024, on neighborhoods of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, which has left the Iraqi Catholic community feeling unsettled. (OSV News photo/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

“Good relations between neighbors are not built with such actions but with dialogue and cooperation,” he said Jan. 17 at the end of his general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

“I ask everyone to avoid any step that increases tension in the Middle East and other scenarios of war,” he added.

Iran launched 11 ballistic missiles late Jan. 15 at the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, targeting what it said were Israeli “spy headquarters” in Irbil and launched four other missiles at locations allegedly linked to the Islamic State group in northern Syria, according to the Associated Press.

Cardinal Louis Sako, the Iraq-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said the attack on innocent lives was “reckless and irresponsible,” “a blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty and people’s lives and a grave sin according to Islamic law.”

“The responsibility of states, their forums and peoples is to promote the values of peace and coexistence, and to achieve a dignified and happy life for citizens, and not to create wars and conflicts that do not bring peace,” he said in a statement published on the patriarchate’s website.

“The civilized method for resolving outstanding problems is dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect,” he added.

Meanwhile, Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish region, told reporters Jan. 16 while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, “There is no reason for these attacks and there is no excuse,” according to the AP. “These attacks should not remain without a response.”

At his general audience, the pope asked people to not forget all countries in the world that are at war. “Let us not forget Ukraine, let us not forget Palestine, Israel, let us not forget the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who are suffering so much.”

“Let us pray for so many victims of war, so many victims. War always destroys, war does not sow love, it sows hatred. War is a true human defeat,” he said.



Lenten Holy Hour with Bishop Bambera

For the second consecutive year, all of the faithful in the Diocese of Scranton are invited to a Lenten Holy Hour with the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, to commemorate the Year of Parish Revival for the National Eucharistic Revival.  These gatherings will take place in each of the twelve deaneries of the Diocese of Scranton.

The Lenten Holy Hour for our deanery, the Scranton Deanery, will take place on Wednesday, March 20, at 7 p.m., at Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish (Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church), 1217 Prospect Avenue, Scranton, PA 18505.

During the Year of Parish Revival, which lasts through June 2024, every parish in the country is being invited to offer opportunities to parishioners where they can be healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist – and then be sent out on mission “for the life of the world.”

Mark your calendars and plan on joining Bishop Bambera as we pray for renewal in our devotion to Jesus Christ present to us in the Eucharist. 


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pornography and lust undermine and rob people from experiencing God’s gift of love, Pope Francis said.

“Sexual pleasure, which is a gift from God, is undermined by pornography: satisfaction without relationship that can generate forms of addiction,” the pope said Jan. 17 at his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Pope Francis speaks to visitors during his general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Jan. 17, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“We must defend love, love of the heart, mind and body, loving by giving oneself to another – this is the beauty of a sexual relationship,” he said.

Continuing a series of audience talks about vices and virtues, the pope reflected on the vice or “demon” of lust, which is “a kind of ‘voracity’ with regard to another person, that is, the poisoned bond that human beings have with each other, especially in the sphere of sexuality.”

“Please note,” the pope said, “in Christianity, there is no condemnation of the sexual instinct.”

The Song of Songs in the Bible, “is a wonderful poem of love between two lovers,” he said, and the human experience of falling in love is “one of the purest feelings” and “one of the most astonishing realities of existence.”

“However, this beautiful dimension of our humanity, the sexual dimension, the dimension of love, is not without its dangers,” the pope said.

The “garden” of love “is defiled by the demon of lust,” which destroys relationships and can become “a chain that deprives human beings of freedom,” he said.

“To love is to respect the other, to seek his or her happiness, to cultivate empathy for his or her feelings,” Pope Francis said.

Lust, on the other hand, poisons relationships, he said. Toxic relationships display a sense of “possession of the other, lacking respect and a sense of limits,” and where chastity has been missing.

Lust, he said, “plunders, it robs, it consumes in haste, it does not want to listen to the other but only to its own need and pleasure; lust judges every courtship a bore, it does not seek that synthesis between reason, drive and feeling that would help us to conduct existence wisely.”

A person full of lust seeks only shortcuts and adventure and “does not understand that the road to love must be traveled slowly” with patience that, “far from being synonymous with boredom, allows us to make our loving relationships happy.”

Lust is also dangerous because sexuality “has a powerful voice. It involves all the senses; it dwells both in the body and in the psyche,” he said. “This is very beautiful, but if not disciplined with patience, if not inscribed in a relationship and in a story where two individuals transform it into a loving dance, it turns into a chain that deprives human beings of freedom.”

“Winning the battle against lust, against objectifying the other, can be a lifelong endeavor. But the prize of this battle is the most important of all, because it is preserving that beauty that God wrote into his creation when he imagined love between man and woman,” he said.

Building a life together is better than going on “the hunt,” he said, and cultivating tenderness is better than “bowing to the demon of possession. True love is not possession, it is given, serving is better than conquering.”

“If there is no love,” the pope said, “life is sad, it is sad loneliness.”

In remarks made to Polish-speaking visitors after his main catechesis, Pope Francis praised the teachings of St. John Paul II, “who with great devotion educated young people in mature love.”

Visitors gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall also were treated to a brief performance by marching band members, dancers and gymnasts from Rome’s Imperial Royal Circus.

Meanwhile, outside St. Peter’s Square, cows, horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and a donkey were resting on piles of straw, hopping or butting heads with each other as part of the annual Jan. 17 blessing to mark the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, patron saint of animals and farmers.

Members of an Italian association of farmers and ranchers brought their animals, safely housed in large pens or enclosures, and Rome residents brought their pets, mostly dogs, for the blessing by Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Amid the “paralyzing nature of polarization” in society today and the “tragedy of war” around the world, “the importance of living the love of Christ in our own circumstances cannot be overemphasized,” a U.S. bishop said in a message for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25.

As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, urged Christians throughout the United States to unite across denominational lines and pray for peace.

Each year a different country and theme is highlighted during the weeklong observance. For 2024, the Christians from Burkina Faso in West Africa developed the prayer materials and chose the theme from St. Luke’s Gospel, “You shall love the Lord your God … and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)

“May Christians throughout our country come together across denominational lines to pray for peace in our world and an end to the sad divisions that prevent us from fully loving each other as Christ loves us all,” Bishop Bambera said in his message released Jan. 12.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began as the Church Unity Octave in 1908, initiated by Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, who were Episcopalians and co-founders of the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor in Garrison, New York. They called for an observation of eight days of prayer for an end to divisions between Christians.

In 1909, Father Wattson and Mother White were received into the Catholic Church, along with 15 other members of the Society of the Atonement, or the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement. Pope Pius X gave his blessing to the Church Unity Octave and in 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the universal church.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the weeklong observance has been co-organized by the World Council of Churches and what is now the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

In 1966, the council’s Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the dicastery (formerly secretariat) began collaborating on a common international text for worldwide usage. Since 1968 these international texts, which are based on themes proposed by ecumenical groups around the world, have been developed, adapted and published for use in the United States by the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, according to a news release from the institute.