Pope Francis walks near a figurine of the baby Jesus as he celebrates Mass on the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 6, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In times of doubt and suffering, Christians must not focus on their problems, but instead lift up their eyes to God, who leads them toward the hopeful promise of great things to come, Pope Francis said on the feast of the Epiphany.

“This does not mean denying reality, or deluding ourselves into thinking that all is well. Rather, it is a matter of viewing problems and anxieties in a new way, knowing that the Lord is aware of our troubles, attentive to our prayers and not indifferent to the tears we shed,” the pope said.

The pope celebrated Mass with a little over 100 people, all wearing masks and seated socially distanced from each other, at the Altar of the Chair St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6.

In accordance with an ancient tradition, after the proclamation of the Gospel on Epiphany, a singer from the Sistine Choir chanted the announcement of the date of Easter 2021 (April 4) and the dates of other feasts on the church calendar that are calculated according to the date of Easter.

After celebrating Mass, the pope prayed the Angelus in the library of the Apostolic Palace.

In his Angelus address, the pope said that Christ is “the star who appeared on the horizon, the awaited Messiah, the one through whom God would inaugurate his kingdom of love, of justice and of peace.

“He was born not only for some, but for all men and women, for all peoples,” the pope said.

Christians, he added, “must also be the star for our brothers and sisters” and shine bright “by drawing near to the other, encountering the other, assuming the reality of the other. This is the only way that the light of God, who is love, can shine in those who welcome it and attract others.”

“Woe to us if we think we possess it, that we only need to ‘manage’ it!” he exclaimed. “Like the Magi, we too are called to allow ourselves to be fascinated, attracted, guided, illuminated and converted by Christ.”

Earlier, in his homily at Mass, the pope focused on three phrases proclaimed in the day’s readings that offered “a few useful lessons from the Magi” on “what it means to be worshippers of the Lord.”

“Like them, we want to bow down and worship the Lord,” he said.

Reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, the pope said the words of encouragement — “lift up your eyes” — spoken to the exiled people of Israel are a call to “lay aside their weariness and complaints, to escape the bottleneck of a narrow way of seeing things, to cast off the dictatorship of the self, the constant temptation to withdraw into ourselves and our own concerns.”

Trusting in the Lord, despite problems, gives rise to gratitude, he said, and “our hearts become open to worship.”

On the other hand, he said, focusing exclusively on problems and not looking to God for hope causes “fear and confusion to creep into our hearts, giving rise to anger, bewilderment, anxiety and depression.”

“When we lift up our eyes to God, life’s problems do not go away, but we feel certain that the Lord grants us the strength to deal with them,” the pope said. “The first step toward an attitude of worship, then, is to ‘lift up our eyes.'”

The second phrase — “to set out on a journey” — recalls the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem to worship baby Jesus, he continued.

A journey, he said, always sparks a “transformation, a change” in which one learns new things and finds “inner strength amid the hardships and risks” he or she may encounter along the way.

“Like the Magi, we too must allow ourselves to learn from the journey of life, marked by the inevitable inconveniences of travel,” he said. “We cannot let our weariness, our falls and our failings discourage us.”

Even one’s sins, when one recognizes and repents of them, “will help you to grow,” the pope added.

Pope Francis said the final phrase — “to see” — invites Christians to look “beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive,” and instead follow the example of the Magi who observed the world with a “theological realism” that allowed them to perceive “the objective reality of things and leads to the realization that God shuns all ostentation.”

It is “a way of ‘seeing’ that transcends the visible and makes it possible for us to worship the Lord who is often hidden in everyday situations, in the poor and those on the fringes,” the pope said. It is “a way of seeing things that is not impressed by sound and fury, but seeks in every situation the things that truly matter.”

 

Supporters of President Donald Trump climb on walls at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 6, 2021, during a protest against Congress certifying the 2020 presidential election. (CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters)

ROME (CNS) — The breach of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 sent shock waves around the world.

As Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference tweeted: “I didn’t realize just how much the integrity of and respect for the democratic institutions of the U.S. matter to the rest of the world until this pandemonium erupted in D.C. From the other side of the world, I find myself shaken and disbelieving.”

“Washington: Democracy wounded” read the large headline on the front page of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 7. In smaller type, it explained that Congress reconvened to certify the presidential election of Joe Biden “after the violent assault committed by supporters of Trump and during which four people died.”

Under the headline, “A fragile good,” the newspaper’s assistant director, Giuseppe Fiorentino, wrote that the assault on the Capitol shows that “politics cannot ignore individual responsibility, especially on the part of the person who is in power and is able — through a polarizing narrative — to mobilize thousands of people. ‘He who sows the wind reaps the storm’ and at this point it is easy to tie the events in Washington to the accusations of fraud launched by Trump after the voting Nov. 3, accusations that never found objective confirmation.”

But the key lesson, Fiorentino wrote, is what Joe Biden said when he addressed the nation during the siege: “Democracy is a fragile commodity that must always be defended, even in countries, just like the United States, where democracy itself seems a largely acquired commodity.”

“The first step in defending democracy lies in accepting its rules,” he wrote, especially the rule of a peaceful transfer of power.

“Democracy under siege” read the banner headline on the front page of Avvenire, the daily newspaper owned by the Italian bishops’ conference.

In a video commentary, Andrea Lavazza, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said that whether outgoing President Donald Trump stays in office until the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Biden or is subjected to a “lightning impeachment,” the United States will have to grapple with “the heavy, negative heritage Donald Trump will leave behind. He has poisoned the wells of democracy, calling into doubt the results of an election that absolutely does not appear to have been compromised by fraud or conspiracies.”

Vatican News described what occurred as an “assault on Congress.”

Carlos Herrera, a famous morning show host on COPE, the radio network owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference, told his listeners Jan. 7 that he had “to chronicle the unheard of.”

“Who would have thought that one would speak of a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent the ratification of the winner of the presidential election in that country?” he said, calling the breach of the building and the deaths and injuries there “a grotesque end to the era of Donald Trump.”

At the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Romanian Orthodox Father Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary, issued a statement Jan. 6 saying, “The divisive populist politics of recent years have unleashed forces that threaten the foundations of democracy in the United States and — to the extent that it represents an example to other countries — in the wider world.”

“These developments have implications far beyond domestic American politics and are of serious international concern,” he said.

Father Sauca prayed that “the churches of America be empowered with wisdom and strength to provide leadership through this crisis, and on the path of peace, reconciliation and justice.”

In England, the violence at the Capitol also was the focus Jan. 7 of the popular early morning BBC Radio 4 program, “Thought for the Day,” which is described as “reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news.”

Anglican Bishop Nicholas Baines of Leeds began his segment saying, “To be surprised by events in Washington is to ignore the fragility of democracy. If COVID has taught us that both human life and a stable economy are vulnerable, then the incited mob attack on the Capitol must reinforce the vital need for democracy, the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power to be treasured at all times.”

“The ancient wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures dig deeply into the cry for justice, generosity, peace and the common good,” he said. “The prophets weep over how easily people can be seduced by words of strength or power or security that in the end undermine that very security itself.”

Bishop Baines also remarked on how many of the protesters were carrying signs proclaiming their faith in Jesus.

In Christianity, “strength and power have been powerfully reinterpreted in the scandal of a man on a cross. Not a man with a gun,” he said. The story of Jesus “challenges me to re-imagine what power looks like when colored by love and mercy rather than entitlement and fear.”

 

Pope Francis delivers his Christmas message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the Hall of Blessings at the Vatican Dec. 25, 2020. Also pictured are Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, and Msgr. Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — On a Christmas like no other, Pope Francis prayed for people who could not be with their families because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he urged everyone to recognize and help those who are suffering even more.

From inside the Hall of Blessings — a long, gold-hued room above the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica lined on the east with enormous windows and balconies facing St. Peter’s Square — Pope Francis delivered his Christmas message and his blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

As announced by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, the solemn blessing included a plenary indulgence for everyone watching on television, listening by radio or following by computer.

Because of Italy’s renewed lockdown to slow the spread of the virus, the pope read his message in the presence of a representative group of about 50 people. The tens of thousands of people who usually would throng the square for the midday appointment Dec. 25 were all ordered to be at home, and St. Peter’s Square was closed to the public.

“My thoughts at this moment turn to families: to those who cannot come together today and to those forced to remain at home,” the pope said. “May Christmas be an opportunity for all of us to rediscover the family as a cradle of life and faith, a place of acceptance and love, dialogue, forgiveness, fraternal solidarity and shared joy, a source of peace for all humanity.”

In a last-minute addition to his text, Pope Francis called for “vaccines for all,” especially the world’s most vulnerable people.

“At Christmas, we celebrate the light of Christ that comes into the world, and he comes for all, not just for some,” the pope said. “Today, at this time of darkness and uncertainty because of the pandemic, there appear different lights of hope, such as the discovery of vaccines.”

“But so these lights may illuminate and bring light to the whole world, they must be available to all,” he said. “I cannot put myself before others, placing the laws of the market and of patents above the law of love and the health of humanity.”

Pope Francis pleaded with the leaders of governments, pharmaceutical companies and international agencies “to promote cooperation and not competition” in ensuring the widespread availability of the vaccines.

Peace and family — in the sense that all people are brothers and sisters — were the central themes of the pope’s message, echoing the teaching in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

“A birth is always a source of hope; it is life that blossoms, a promise of the future,” he said. But Jesus’ birth is even more powerful since he was born “‘to us’ — an ‘us’ without any borders, privileges or exclusions. The child born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem was born for everyone: he is the ‘son’ that God has given to the entire human family.”

“Thanks to this child, we can all call one another brothers and sisters, for so we truly are,” the pope said. “We come from every continent, from every language and culture, with our own identities and differences, yet we are all brothers and sisters.”

Recognizing that connection, he said, is even more important “at this moment in history, marked by the ecological crisis and grave economic and social imbalances only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.”

As children of God and brothers and sisters to one another, the pope said, the kinship existing between everyone is not sentimental, but is “grounded in genuine love, making it possible for me to encounter others different from myself, feeling compassion for their sufferings, drawing near to them and caring for them even though they do not belong to my family, my ethnic group or my religion.”

“For all their differences, they are still my brothers and sisters,” he said “The same thing is true of relationships between peoples and nations.”

Pope Francis prayed that the newborn Jesus would help everyone “be generous, supportive and helpful, especially toward those who are vulnerable — the sick, those unemployed or experiencing hardship due to the economic effects of the pandemic, and women who have suffered domestic violence during these months of lockdown.”

Migrants, refugees and the innocent victims of wars around the world were also on the pope’s mind as he celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace.

The faces of the suffering children in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, he said, should touch people’s consciences and make them pray and work for peace.

“May the Babe of Bethlehem grant the gift of fraternity to the land that witnessed his birth,” the pope said. “May Israelis and Palestinians regain mutual trust and seek a just and lasting peace through a direct dialogue capable of ending violence and overcoming endemic grievances, and thus bear witness before the world to the beauty of fraternity.”

Pope Francis also made specific pleas for reconciliation and an end to conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Ethiopia, northern Mozambique, South Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon.

“May the Eternal Word of the Father be a source of hope for the American continent, particularly affected by the coronavirus, which has intensified its many sufferings, frequently aggravated by the effects of corruption and drug trafficking,” he prayed. “May he help to ease the recent social tensions in Chile and end the sufferings of the people of Venezuela.”

Praising those who “work to bring hope, comfort and help to those who suffer and those who are alone,” the pope insisted that Jesus’ birth “tells us that pain and evil are not the final word. To become resigned to violence and injustice would be to reject the joy and hope of Christmas.”

 

Forgiveness is love, as Pope Francis declared in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” when he refers to “the Christian ideal” as “a love that never gives up.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As the fifth anniversary of his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” approaches, Pope Francis announced that the Catholic Church will dedicate more than a year to focusing on the family and conjugal love.

During his Sunday Angelus address Dec. 27, the pope commemorated the feast of the Holy Family and said that it served as a reminder “of the example of evangelizing with the family” as highlighted in his exhortation.

Beginning March 19, he said, the year of reflection on “Amoris Laetitia” will be an opportunity “to focus more closely on the contents of the document.”

“I invite everyone to take part in the initiatives that will be promoted during the year and that will be coordinated by the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life,” he added. “Let us entrust this journey, with families all over the world, to the Holy Family of Nazareth, in particular to St. Joseph, the devoted spouse and father.”

According to the dicastery’s website, the “Amoris Laetitia Family” year “aims to reach every family around the world through several spiritual, pastoral and cultural proposals that can be implemented within parishes, dioceses, universities, ecclesial movements and family associations.”

The dicastery said that the goals of the celebration include sharing the contents of the apostolic exhortation more widely, proclaiming the gift of the sacrament of marriage and enabling families to “become active agents of the family apostolate.”

The “Amoris Laetitia Family” year will include forums, symposiums, video projects and catechesis as well as providing resources for family spirituality, pastoral formation and marriage preparation.

The commemoration will conclude June 26, 2022, “on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families in Rome,” the dicastery said.

Pope Francis already had declared a year of St. Joseph, which began Dec. 8 and ends Dec. 8, 2021.

In his Angelus talk, the pope said that the Holy Family is a model in which “all families of the world can find their sure point of reference and sure inspiration.”

Through them, he said, “we are called to rediscover the educational value of the family unit; it must be founded on the love that always regenerates relationships, opening up horizons of hope.”

Families can experience sincere communion when they live in prayer, when forgiveness prevails over discord and “when the daily harshness of life is softened by mutual tenderness and serene adherence to God’s will,” he added.

“I would like to say something to you: If you quarrel within the family, do not end the day without making peace,” the pope said. “And do you know why? Because cold war, day after day, is extremely dangerous. It does not help.”

Pope Francis also reflected on the theme of forgiveness during his Angelus address on the feast of St. Stephen Dec. 26.

Recalling St. Stephen’s martyrdom, the pope said that although it may seem that his death was in vain, among those who witnessed and consented to his stoning was St. Paul, who eventually became “the greatest missionary in history.”

St. Stephen’s example “was the seed” of St. Paul’s conversion, he said. “This is the proof that loving actions change history: even the ones that are small, hidden, every day.”

Christians, he added, can become witnesses of Christ through their everyday actions, “even just by fleeing the shadow of gossip” or refusing to speak ill of others.

“When an argument starts at home, instead of trying to win it, let’s try to diffuse it,” and forgive one another, Pope Francis said. Small efforts and gestures, he said, “change history because they open the door, they open the window to Jesus’s light.”

 

 

 

A health care worker at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 17, 2020. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican’s doctrinal office said that when alternative vaccines are not available, it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines developed or tested using cell lines originating from aborted fetuses.

However, “the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses,” said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Both pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies are therefore encouraged to produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated,” it added in a note published Dec. 21.

The note “on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines” had been reviewed by Pope Francis Dec. 17 and he ordered its publication, the doctrinal office said.

As vaccines against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are being distributed in some parts of the world, the doctrinal office said it has been receiving requests for guidance regarding the use of vaccines which, “in the course of research and production, employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from two abortions that occurred in the last century.”

The “diverse and sometimes conflicting pronouncements in the mass media by bishops, Catholic associations, and experts have raised questions about the morality of the use of these vaccines,” the congregation said.

Even though there are already some notes and instructions by the doctrinal office and the Pontifical Academy for Life regarding vaccines prepared from such cell lines, it said, “this congregation desires to offer some indications for clarification of this matter.”

The Catholic Church teaches that there are differing degrees of responsibility of cooperation with evil. That means that the responsibility of those who make the decision to use cell lines of illicit origin is not the same as those “who have no voice in such a decision,” the doctrinal office said, quoting from its 2008 instruction, “Dignitas Personae.”

“When ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available — e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated — it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” the doctrinal congregation wrote in the new note.

Using these vaccines is morally licit when the “passive material cooperation” with the evil of an abortion “from which these cell lines originate is, on the part of those making use of the resulting vaccines, remote.”

“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent — in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19,” it said.

Therefore, in such a case, “all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion,” it said.

However, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that “the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines.”

The congregation repeated the Vatican’s call on pharmaceutical companies and governmental agencies to produce, approve and distribute ethically acceptable vaccines, that is, without using morally compromised cell lines at all.

The doctrinal office also said that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

From an ethical point of view, “the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good,” it added.

If there are no other means to stop or prevent an epidemic, the congregation said, “the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.”

Those who wish, for “reasons of conscience,” to refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, “must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission” of the virus.

They must avoid putting at risk the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and who are the most vulnerable, it said.

Lastly, the congregation said it is “a moral imperative for the pharmaceutical industry, governments and international organizations to ensure that vaccines, which are effective and safe from a medical point of view, as well as ethically acceptable, are also accessible to the poorest countries in a manner that is not costly for them.”

Otherwise, this lack of access would become yet another sign of discrimination and injustice “that condemns poor countries to continue living in health, economic and social poverty.”

 

 

John Hambrose, left, and his wife Meg, middle, parishioners of the Church of Saint Gregory, deliver dozens of gifts collected by members of their parish to Sonya Sarner, Refugee and Immigration Services Program Manager of Catholic Social Services on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The gifts will be distributed to local refugee families. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

CLARKS GREEN – Nearly 60 refugee children, many from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will have gifts this holiday season thanks to the kindness of parishioners from the Church of Saint Gregory.

For the last several weeks, the parish has been collecting gifts for refugee families and their children, who range in age from newborns to teenagers.

“We created an Angel Tree at Saint Gregory’s and the parish adopted all the kids,” parishioner John Hambrose said.

Over the course of two days, Friday, Dec. 11, and Monday, Dec. 14, Hambrose and his wife delivered all of the gifts to the Catholic Social Services Immigration Program Office in Scranton.

“I’m very fortunate that Saint Gregory’s is working with us and my clients,” Sonya Sarner, Refugee and Immigration Services Program Manager of Catholic Social Services, said.

Sarner provided the Church of Saint Gregory’s Service Commission with the names and ages of children, along with their clothing sizes and some things that would make good gifts for them. Parishioners handled the rest. In addition to toys and practical gifts, the parish is giving each family a Walmart gift card so that they can purchase other items they need.

“It really elevates everybody’s Christmas spirit,” parishioner Meg Hambrose said. “This is what it’s all about – giving to others, welcoming people who are foreign to our community and making them feel welcome. That is part of what Saint Gregory’s mission is.”

In recent years, Scranton has become home to many new communities, including Congolese, Bhutanese, Syrian, Afghani, Somali, Burmese and other refugee groups who have resettled here with assistance from Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton.

This is not the first time the Church of Saint Gregory has assisted local refugees. For the last several years, the parish has sponsored a large Christmas Party for refugee families. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the party could not take place this year.

The Christmas Party has been a favorite annual event for both parishioners and the refugee children. For many Congolese kids, it was the first time they were able to see Santa Claus.

Outside of the holiday season, the Church of Saint Gregory also helps refugee families whenever Sarner is in need of assistance.

“I recently had a single grandmother, she lost her job, no food, no money,” Sarner explained. “They stepped in immediately and provided gift certificates and donations.”

As they dropped off dozens of bags of beautifully wrapped presents, John Hambrose took pride in being able to help his new neighbors.

“We hope the generosity reflects how fortunate we are,” he said.

 

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The ministry of a Catholic bishop must reflect the Catholic Church’s commitment to Christian unity and must give ecumenical engagement the same kind of attention as work for justice and peace, said a new Vatican document.

“The bishop cannot consider the promotion of the ecumenical cause as one more task in his varied ministry, one that could and should be deferred in view of other, apparently more important priorities,” said the document, “The Bishop and Christian Unity: An Ecumenical Vademecum.”   “El Obispo Y La Unidad De Los Cristianos: Vademécum Ecuménico”

Prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the 52-page document was released Dec. 4 after its publication was approved by Pope Francis.

The text reminds each Catholic bishop of his personal responsibility as a minister of unity, not only among the Catholics of his diocese, but also with other Christians.

As a “vademecum,” or guidebook, it provides lists of practical steps the bishop can and should take to fulfill that responsibility in every aspect of his ministry, from inviting other Christian leaders to important diocesan celebrations to highlighting ecumenical activities on the diocesan website.

And, as the chief teacher in his diocese, he must ensure that the content of conferences, religious education programs and homilies at the diocesan and parish level promote Christian unity and accurately reflect the teachings of the church’s partners in dialogue.

Demonstrating the importance of the document, the online news conference to present it featured not one, but four top Vatican officials: Cardinals Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

With its explanations and its concrete suggestions, Cardinal Ouellet said, the booklet provides the tools for realizing “the ecumenical conversion of bishops and every disciple of Christ who wishes to better incarnate the joy of the Gospel in our time.”

Cardinal Tagle said the vademecum reminds bishops in missionary lands that they must not import Christian divisions to new parts of the world and asks Catholics to understand just how much the divisions within Christianity turn off people who “are looking for meaning in life, for salvation.”

“The non-Christians are scandalized, really scandalized, when we Christians claim to be followers of Christ and then they see how we are fighting one another,” he said.

But ecumenism is not seeking a truce or “compromise as if unity should be achieved at the expense of truth,” the document explained.

Catholic doctrine insists there is a “hierarchy of truths,” a prioritizing of essential beliefs based “on their relation to the saving mysteries of the Trinity and salvation in Christ, the source of all Christian doctrines.”

In conversations with other Christians, the document said, “by weighing truths rather than simply enumerating them, Catholics gain a more accurate understanding of the unity that exists among Christians.”

That unity, based first on baptism into Christ and his church, is the foundation on which Christian unity is built step by step, the document said. The steps include: common prayer; joint action to alleviate suffering and promote justice; theological dialogue to clarify commonalities and differences; and a willingness to recognize the way God has worked in another community and to learn from it.

The document also treated the question of sharing the Eucharist, an issue that has long been a thorny one in ecumenical dialogue as well as within the Catholic Church itself, as demonstrated by recent Vatican efforts to caution the bishops of Germany about issuing broad invitations for Lutherans married to Catholics to receive Communion.

Catholics cannot share the Eucharist with other Christians just to be “polite,” but there are pastoral situations in which individual bishops may decide when “exceptional sacramental sharing is appropriate,” the document said.

When discerning possibilities for sharing the sacraments, it said, bishops must keep two principles in mind at all times, even when those principles create tension: a sacrament, especially the Eucharist, is a “witness to the unity of the church,” and a sacrament is a “sharing of the means of grace.”

So, it said, “in general, participation in the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing is limited to those in full communion.”

However, the document noted, the Vatican’s 1993 “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms of Ecumenism” also stated that “by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities.”

“‘Communicatio in sacris’ (sharing in sacramental life) is therefore permitted for the care of souls within certain circumstances,” the text said, “and when this is the case it is to be recognized as both desirable and commendable.”

Cardinal Koch, responding to a question, said the relationship between the sacraments and the full unity of the churches is the “basic” principle, meaning that in most cases eucharistic sharing will not be possible until the churches are fully united.

The Catholic Church, he said, does not see the sharing of the sacraments as “a step on the way,” as some Christian communities do. However, “for one person, a single person, there can be an opportunity for sharing this grace in different cases” as long as the person meets the requirement of canon law, which says a non-Catholic must request the Eucharist of his or her own accord, “manifest Catholic faith” in the sacrament and be “properly disposed.”

The Catholic Church recognizes the full validity of the Eucharist celebrated by the Orthodox Church and, with many fewer restrictions, allows Orthodox Christians to request and receive the sacraments from a Catholic minister.

Cardinal Sandri, speaking at the news conference, said the document “is a further affirmation that it is no longer legitimate for us to be ignorant of the Christian East, nor can we pretend to have forgotten the brothers and sisters of those venerable churches that, together with us, constitute the family of believers in the God of Jesus Christ.”

 

Pope Francis uses incense as he celebrates Mass marking the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this Jan. 1, 2017, file photo. Conflict, climate change and poverty are driving the demise of the tree that produces frankincense resin. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will celebrate the Vatican’s traditional Christmas “Mass during the Night” Dec. 24, but will begin the liturgy at 7:30 p.m. local time so that the few people invited to attend can get home in time to observe Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew.

The curfew is one of many measures the Italian government has employed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to the early start time, the Vatican’s COVID-19 measures are still in force: only a small congregation will be allowed inside the basilica; people’s temperatures are checked as they arrive; masks are required for the congregation and servers; the seating is socially distanced.

While the nighttime Mass often is referred to as “Midnight Mass,” it has not been celebrated at midnight at the Vatican since 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI moved it to 10 p.m. Pope Francis moved it to 9:30 p.m. in 2013, his first Christmas as pope.

The pope’s Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) will be given, as usual, at noon Christmas Day from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Other liturgies announced by the Vatican Dec. 10 include:

— Dec. 31, 5 p.m., evening prayer and the singing of the “Te Deum” in St. Peter’s Basilica to thank God for the past year.

— Jan. 1, 10 a.m., Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day.

— Jan. 6, 10 a.m., Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany.

 

This 2016 file photo shows the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — With the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe closed for her feast to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Pope Francis said Catholics still can receive a plenary indulgence Dec. 11 and 12 for their Marian devotion if they follow certain conditions.

Mexico City Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes’ letter announcing the indulgence was accompanied by the formal proclamation by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience and with indulgences.

To receive an indulgence, a remission of the temporal punishment one deserves for one’s sins, the following conditions must be met. A person must:

— Prepare an altar or place of prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe at home.

— Watch a livestream or televised Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City Dec. 12, “actively participating … with devotion and with exclusive attention to the Eucharist.” It said Masses could be accessed at www.youtube.com/user/BasilicadeGuadalupe at midnight or 12 p.m. CST.

— Complete the usual conditions for an indulgence by praying for the pope’s intentions, being in a state of grace after confession, attending a full Mass and receiving Communion. The letter said the last three conditions “can be fulfilled when public health guidance allow.”

The indulgence would be for anyone in the world, but Cardinal Aguiar acknowledged that people in the United States and the Philippines have special devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast is Dec. 12.

In late November, Mexican church and civic officials canceled public feast celebrations for Mexico’s patroness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration normally attracts 10 million pilgrims to the basilica, the world’s most-visited Marian shrine.

Mexico’s health secretariat reports more than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths — fourth most of any country — and the numbers are increasing.

The Archdiocese of Mexico City organized a virtual pilgrimage and asked people to submit photos with their intentions and share images of their home altars and small celebrations closer to home.

At the news conference announcing the closure, Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, president of the Mexican bishops’ conference, said, “We already know that the Virgin moves and moves to where her sons and daughters are, especially those who are grieving.”

 

 

A social media campaign by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life aims to encourage young people to reach out to their grandparents and older people. You can participate in the campaign by using the hashtag #aGiftOfWisdom. (CNS photo/Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — One present young people should ask for this Christmas is words of wisdom from older people they know, a Vatican dicastery said.

“Today, in the difficult circumstances of a Christmas still overshadowed by the pandemic, we are proposing that young people post on social media a memory, a piece of advice or a ‘gift of wisdom’ they have received from one of the elderly people with whom they have formed a bond in recent months,” said the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

The invitation was part of a new campaign launched Nov. 27 aimed at encouraging young people to reach out to their grandparents and other older people, not only to help alleviate the isolation and loneliness caused by pandemic restrictions, but also to create new and creative bonds.

The unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic means “there is an opportunity for young people to receive a special gift” for Christmas this year, the dicastery said in a news release.

“Because of the pandemic, there are more elderly people who live alone. We can create bonds with each of them — this is a treasure waiting to be discovered!”

The Vatican office asked that people reach out to older people and ask for “the gift of their wisdom.” People can then take the advice, memories and nuggets of wisdom they collect and post them on social media using the hashtag #aGiftOfWisdom.

“Some of the best posts will be shared” on the dicastery’s social media accounts @laityfamilylife, it said.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, because of the health regulations in force, visiting can only take place remotely, via telephone, video calls and messaging. But it is possible to participate in this campaign” by sharing “the wise words of grandparents and the elderly on social media,” it added.

The latest campaign follows a similar effort the dicastery launched in July in which it “collected virtual hugs sent by many young people to both their own grandparents and to ‘adopted grandparents,'” it said. The effort was meant to encourage young people to show kindness and affection to older people who may be feeling lonely.

For other ideas and guidance, the dicastery has posted on its website, laityfamilylife.va, a free e-book, “The Richness of Many Years of Life,” which offers a toolkit in multiple languages “for the development of a true pastoral ministry that reaches out” and involves the elderly as active participants in the church.

The e-book includes the proceedings of the first international conference on the pastoral care of the elderly the dicastery held in January 2020 to promote a “renewed concern for the pastoral care of the elderly in every ecclesial community.”