Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass marking World Day of the Poor in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 15, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis plans to prepare for his celebration of the World Day of the Poor by meeting with and listening to some 500 poor people making a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, Nov. 12.

Two days later, on the World Day of the Poor, the pope will celebrate a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with about 2,000 poor people and those who assist them, the Vatican said. Everyone will be offered a hot meal after Mass.

The Assisi pilgrims, assisted by a French and several Italian Catholic charitable organizations, will go home from Assisi with new backpacks containing winter sweaters, scarves, hats and jackets as well as fabric anti COVID-19 masks.

The Vatican said Nov. 8 the gifts will be packaged by the +Three project, “which promotes products made in respect of environmental and economic sustainability within an ethical and socially useful supply chain.”

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, which promotes and organizes the World Day of the Poor, said Pope Francis will pay particular attention this year to 40 groups homes that care for children or children and their mothers, delivering a two-month supply of personal care products and food, especially baby food.

With donations from a grocery store chain and a pasta manufacturer, it said, the group homes and local parishes and charities will share five tons of pasta, one ton of rice, two tons of tomato puree, 1,000 liters of oil and 3,000 liters of milk.

The Vatican also has prepared 5,000 kits filled with common over-the-counter medications for distribution to the poor through Rome parishes, the council said. And an Italian financial services company has made a donation that will allow the office of the papal almoner to help 500 families pay their gas and utility bills, the council said.


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People experiencing depression often need someone to talk to, and they can benefit from psychological counseling and reading what Jesus has to say, Pope Francis said.

“Let us pray that people who suffer from depression or burnout will find support and a light that opens them up to life,” the pope said.

In a video message released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network Nov. 3, the pope offered his prayer intention for the month of November, which he dedicated to people experiencing depression. November and the start of shorter and colder days for the Northern Hemisphere sometimes trigger “seasonal affective disorder” and depressive symptoms, according to many medical experts.

In his video message, the pope said, “Overwork and work-related stress cause many people to experience extreme exhaustion — mental, emotional, affective and physical exhaustion.”

“Sadness, apathy and spiritual tiredness end up dominating the lives of people, who are overloaded due to the rhythm of life today,” he added.

The pope said, “Let us try to be close to those who are exhausted, to those who are desperate, without hope.”

“Often, we should just simply listen in silence because we cannot go and tell someone, ‘No, life’s not like that. Listen to me, I’ll give you the solution.’ There’s no solution,” he said.

“And besides, let us not forget that, along with the indispensable psychological counseling, which is useful and effective, Jesus’ words also help,” he said, such as, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

Pope Francis has spoken candidly in interviews about his own mental health.

He found help from a psychiatrist for how to manage his anxiety and “to avoid rushing when making decisions” when he was a priest in Argentina during the dictatorship, he has said. The stress and anxiety built as he was secretly taking people into hiding to get them out of the country and save their lives, he has said.

“I had to deal with situations I didn’t know how to deal with,” he recalled.

This edition of The Pope Video was created with the support of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, an association which offers spiritual support to people suffering some form of mental illness, and which fosters actions to prevent any kind of discrimination that would impede them from participating fully in the life of the Church.

A study published this year estimates that about one in ten people worldwide lives with a mental health disorder—that is to say, about 792 million people, or 11% of the population. Among the various disorders that exist, the study identifies depression (264 million, 3%) and anxiety (284 million, 4%) as the most prevalent in people’s lives.

The Pope’s message is shared by the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, a lay association of the Christian faithful founded in the United States, whose members are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness. Its president, Deacon Ed Shoener from the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton, explained the need to respond to Pope Francis’ call.

“Our mission is to support the growth of mental health ministry in the Church. Pope Francis has said that we need to fully overcome the stigma with which mental illness has often been branded in order to ensure that a culture of community prevails over the mentality of rejection. We are committed to following the Pope’s call to build a community of warmth and affection where people who live with depression and other mental health challenges can find hope and healing,” Deacon Shoener said.


About the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers

The Association for Catholic Mental Health Ministers is a Lay Association of the Christian Faithful whose members are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness. The Association works to make mental health ministry an integral and common ministry in the Church that is available in every Catholic parish and community. Mental health ministry provides spiritual support to people living with a mental illness to assist them to live in holiness and educates and informs the Catholic community about the issues, struggles and joys that can be found in people living with a mental illness. The Association provides the tools, methods and insights that allow catholic leaders to confidently minister to people with a mental illness without fear or prejudice. You can learn more about mental health ministry by visiting the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers at: catholicmhm.org



WASHINGTON (CNS) – The proposed Build Back Better Act has much-needed provisions “uplifting the common good,” but “it is completely unacceptable” the current House version of the bill “expands taxpayer funding of abortion,” the chairmen of six committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Nov. 3.

“We have been consistent in our position and reiterate that it would be a calamity if the important and life-affirming provisions in this bill were accompanied by provisions facilitating and funding the destruction of unborn human life,” they wrote in a joint letter to all members of the House and Senate.

The six prelates commended “the bipartisan efforts that led to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” which will create millions of jobs, improve global competitiveness and provide new funds for roads, bridges, the electric grid and other major projects.

The bishops also outlined their support for social policies and programs in the Build Back Better Act that would strengthen the social safety net, support workers and families, increase affordable housing, provide affordable health care coverage and protect the environment.

They renewed their requests to Congress — outlined in at least four other letters to lawmakers over the last several months — “to work together toward legislation that promotes the common good and the dignity of every person.”

The Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act was passed by the Senate in August and awaits action in the House, whose members have refused to pass it without also holding a vote on the Build Back Better Act at the same time. The latter measure is still being negotiated in the Senate.

The USCCB chairmen who signed the Nov. 3 letter were: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, Committee on Catholic Education; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, Committee on Migration.

In addition to their opposition on abortion funding in the bill, the bishops also expressed concern about provisions that could effectively exclude faith-based providers from child care and pre-K programs.

Several provisions “do not align” with preserving religious liberty and expanding access to early childhood education, the bishops said.

“Expanded access to early child care and pre-K would be beneficial for many working families,” they said, but “current provisions to do so — in a departure from the approach in existing federal programs — explicitly make providers recipients of federal financial assistance and attach new and troubling compliance obligations.”

They also pressed Congress to include a provision in the Build Back Better bill that would provide for the full integration of people in this country without documents by legalizing their status and providing them with a pathway to citizenship.

“We strongly urge you to adopt provisions in this measure that would achieve this goal,” they wrote.

“While we remain opposed to the existence of a ‘double society,’ in the event that parliamentary constraints preclude permanent protections for the undocumented from being included in this bill,” they said, “we would affirm the value of enacting temporary protections, with the expectation that Congress will work expeditiously to enact permanent relief in subsequent legislation.”

The committee chairmen praised the Build Back Better bill’s expansion of health care coverage, which they have long supported at the federal and state levels, they said.

These provisions include the provision of health care coverage to those in the “Medicaid gap” through Affordable Care Act premium tax credits, the extension of Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months and other investments to address the high rates of preventable maternal deaths in the United States, and support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.

“We are pleased to see the addition of funding for training of health professionals in palliative medicine and hospice care,” they said, but they also strongly urged “the addition of language to ensure that this funding cannot be used for training or promotion of assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

Their letter concluded with reiterating the “fundamental problem” of expanded abortion funding in the measure.

This “must be remedied before the bill moves forward,” they wrote.

Editor’s Note: The full text of the bishops’ Nov. 3 letter, with links to previous USCCB committee letters to Congress, can be found at https://bit.ly/3mJKHwQ


Pope Francis places a white rose on a grave at the French Military Cemetery before celebrating Mass for the feast of All Souls at the cemetery in Rome Nov. 2, 2021. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

ROME (CNS) – The tombstones of soldiers killed in war cry out to people today to end all wars and to stop the production of weapons, Pope Francis said.

“I am sure that all of those who went with goodwill (to war), called by their country to defend it, are with the Lord,” he said, celebrating Mass on the feast of All Souls, Nov. 2, at the French Military Cemetery in Rome.

“But we, who are journeying (on earth), are we fighting enough so there will be no more wars, so there will be no more domestic economies fortified by the arms industry?” he asked.

An easing of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed Pope Francis to resume his usual practice of celebrating Mass on the feast of All Souls in a cemetery — in Rome or nearby — but only about 250 people were in attendance. Last year he presided over a private Mass in a chapel and then visited and blessed graves in a small cemetery inside the Vatican.

The Italian government established the French Military Cemetery to honor the French soldiers who fought against Nazi and fascist forces on Italian soil from 1943 to 1944. Nearly 2,000 French soldiers are buried here, many of them Moroccan soldiers who served under French officers. Among those present at the Mass was Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, prefect of the Vatican’s highest court, who was born in Marrakech, Morocco, to French parents.

The pope arrived by car to the hilltop cemetery just a few miles north of the Vatican and placed white roses on several graves. He prayed in silence before walking slowly through one of the rows marked by marble crosses.

“These tombs that speak, they cry out, cry out by themselves, ‘Peace!'” he said during his off-the-cuff homily at the Mass.

“These graves are a message of peace,” urging people today to stop all war and calling on weapons manufacturers to cease production, the pope said.

As people visit cemeteries on the feast day, he said, they should take time to pause and realize they are on a journey that will end someday.

The journey of life should not be a leisurely “stroll” in the park nor is it an impossible “labyrinth,” he said, but it is a journey that involves effort and understanding there will be “a final step” at the end of that earthly path.

Everyone is on a journey which entails facing “many historical realities, many difficult situations,” and cemeteries are a reminder to take pause and reflect on the nature of one’s own journey and where it is heading, he said.

Looking at the gravestones, the pope said he sees “good people” who died at war, “died because they were called to defend their country, to defend values, ideals and, many other times, to defend sad and regrettable political situations.”

“And they are victims, victims of war which devours the sons and daughters of a nation,” he said, recalling a number of deadly battles fought in the 20th century.

The graves marked “unknown” instead of with a name show “the tragedy of war,” even though God always keeps the name of everyone in his heart, he said.


An offering is seen at the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School June 12, 2021. Researchers — partnered with the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation — located 104 potential graves at the site in Brandon, Manitoba. On Sept. 24, Canada’s Catholic bishops “unequivocally” apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system. (CNS photo/Shannon VanRaes, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis is willing to travel to Canada as part of “the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” the Vatican press office said.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited the pope to visit the country, the press office said Oct. 27, although no date or time frame for the trip was mentioned.

A delegation of Indigenous leaders, accompanied by several bishops, is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in December to listen to their experiences of how they and their people have been treated by Catholics in Canada, with special attention to the impact on the Indigenous communities of Canada’s residential schools, many of which were run by Catholic religious orders or dioceses.

“Pope Francis will encounter and listen to the Indigenous participants, so as to discern how he can support our common desire to renew relationships and walk together along the path of hope in the coming years,” the bishops’ conference said in a statement after their September meeting.

“We pledge to work with the Holy See and our Indigenous partners on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the pope to Canada as part of this healing journey,” the bishops said.

The statement was part of the first formal apology the bishops as a conference made to Canada’s Indigenous people.

Acknowledging the “grave abuses” perpetuated, the bishops acknowledged “the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous peoples.”

In 2015, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action asked for such an apology from the entire church in Canada.

It also said: “We call upon the pope to issue an apology to survivors, their families and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this report and to be delivered by the pope in Canada.”

Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Saskatchewan, who will travel with the Indigenous representatives in December, told Catholic News Service in June that the pope’s involvement is important for many Indigenous people.

First of all, he said, “most Indigenous people, especially Indigenous Catholics, see the pope as the chief,” and “when there is a wound between families, the fathers are engaged in the reconciliation process.”

So, he said, many Indigenous Canadians are looking to the pope “to be connected, to take some ownership and to speak on behalf of the church.”

Asking the pope to make the apology formally on Canadian soil is not an arbitrary request, the archbishop said. “The land is so central to Indigenous spirituality, to meet people on their land is vital in terms of a relationship.”

The residential schools have long been at the heart of discussions and reconciliation efforts between Indigenous Canadians and the Catholic Church. The issue gained urgency in late May when the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported that using ground-penetrating radar an estimated 215 bodies had been found in unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, run by a Catholic religious order until 1969. Similar discoveries followed at the sites of other residential schools.


WASHINGTON (CNS) – Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, is encouraging dioceses to use National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 7-13, as a time to foster vocations in their local faith communities.

“Studies of those recently ordained and religiously professed consistently show that the encouragement of the parish priest is the most influential factor in vocational discernment,” Bishop Checchio said in an Oct. 20 statement about the upcoming weeklong observance.

“But the accompaniment of the whole faith community is key for genuine vocational discernment — from one’s parents and family members, to the Catholic educators, as well as the vital role that youth ministers and fellow parishioners play as the early encounters for young people to the faith,” he added.

National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual celebration of the U.S. Catholic Church dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and calling the faithful to pray for and support those who are considering such a vocation.

Resources for dioceses to utilize during National Vocation Awareness Week, including homily aids in English and Spanish, recommended reading and discernment tips, prayers of the faithful in English and Spanish, and bulletin-ready quotes are available online at https://bit.ly/3jCqTcS.

The observance of National Vocation Awareness Week began in 1976 when the U.S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year to call attention to the importance of upholding vocations and praying for those discerning a religious vocation and celebrating those who were in ordained ministry and consecrated life.

In 1997, the celebration was moved to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and in 2014, the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations moved the observance to November to influence youth and young adults by engaging Catholic schools and colleges.

In his message for the 58th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations April 25, Pope Francis offered St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, as a model for vocational discernment.

He urged the church “to look to St. Joseph as an ‘outstanding example of acceptance of God’s plans.'”

“For St. Joseph, service — as a concrete expression of the gift of self – did not remain simply a high ideal, but became a rule for daily life,” the pope said in his message. “I like to think, then, of Saint Joseph, the protector of Jesus and of the church, as the protector of vocations. In fact, from his willingness to serve comes his concern to protect.”

Pope Francis added: “What a beautiful example of Christian life we give when we refuse to pursue our ambitions or indulge in our illusions, but instead care for what the Lord has entrusted to us through the church! God then pours out his Spirit and creativity upon us; he works wonders in us, as he did in Joseph.”


WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life and religious liberty committees urged U.S. Senate leaders Oct. 22 to include the Hyde and Weldon amendments and “other long-standing, bipartisan pro-life provisions” in appropriations bills being advanced in the chamber.

By eliminating these provisions, “the Senate is staking out an extreme position of forcing taxpayers to pay for the taking of innocent unborn human life and forcing health care providers to participate in this injustice” against their deeply-held beliefs, the prelates said in a joint statement.

In addition, employers and insurers will be forced to cover and pay for abortion, they added.

On Oct. 19, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Appropriations released the text of several appropriations bills which, “like their House counterparts,” they said, currently exclude pro-life measures, such as the 46-year-old Hyde Amendment, which have long enjoyed bipartisan support.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued their statement in response to the Senate committee’s action.

“We recognize and appreciate that these bills also include many life-affirming provisions that help vulnerable people, including pregnant moms, refugees, low-income families and the elderly,” they said. “The laudable concern and support these provisions represent must also extend to our vulnerable brothers and sisters in the womb.”

“We reiterate the fact that funding the destruction of innocent unborn human lives, and forcing people to participate, are grave abuses of human rights,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Naumann added. “We call on the Senate to prevent this injustice by passing appropriations bills that fully support and protect human dignity, and the most vulnerable among us.”

Their statement reiterated a number of earlier statements issued by U.S. bishops over the past several months urging both House and Senate to keep Hyde, Weldon and other pro-life provisions intact in spending bills.

In July, the U.S. House rejected several pro-life riders to spending bills offered by pro-life House members, including Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., and supported by the U.S. bishops and various pro-life organizations.

Hyde first became law in 1976 to prohibit federal funds appropriated through the Labor Department, the Health and Human Services Department and related agencies from being used to cover abortion or fund health plans that cover abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.

Hyde has been reenacted in spending bills every year since it was first passed.

The Helms Amendment — what Smith called “the Hyde Amendment for the rest of the world” — has prohibited using U.S. taxpayer funds to directly pay for abortions in other countries since 1973.”

The Weldon Amendment has been included in the annual appropriation for Health and Human Services since 2005. It allows health care providers as well as insurance plans to refuse to provide abortions, pay for them or refer women to abortion clinics.

An early version of the Senate’s $3.5 trillion spending plan did pass with a pro-life amendment offered on the Senate floor by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. It was approved in a largely party-line vote of 50-49, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joining Republicans to support it.

The Lankford Amendment included Hyde language to prohibit federal funding for abortions and Weldon Amendment language to provide conscience protections for health care providers and medical professionals who object to performing abortions.

But the $3.5 trillion bill is stalled and ongoing negotiations are aimed at trimming the bill; Manchin, whose “yes” vote Democrats would need to pass it, said he won’t vote for anything higher than $2 trillion and is pushing for less.

Though Hyde and the other provisions have for years enjoyed bipartisan support, a number of Democrats in the House and Senate now claim the provisions “discriminate against low-income women who depend on Medicaid and other federal funding for health care and places a disproportionate burden on women of color, especially Black and Hispanic women,” according to an Oct. 6 article in The Hill, a daily news outlet.


The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver is seen Oct. 10, 2021, after it was vandalized. Since February 2020, the Archdiocese of Denver is aware of 25 parishes or ministry locations in northern Colorado that have been the target of vandalism, property destruction or theft. (CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Denver)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Oct. 10 vandalization of Denver’s cathedral basilica that resulted in satanic and other “hateful graffiti” being scrawled on its doors and at least one statue brought to 100 the number of incidents of arson, vandalism and other destruction that have taken place at Catholic sites across the United States since May 2020.

That month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty began tracking such incidents, according to an Oct. 14 USCCB news release.

“These incidents of vandalism have ranged from the tragic to the obscene, from the transparent to the inexplicable,” the chairmen of the USCCB’s religious liberty and domestic policy committees said in a joint statement included in the release.

“There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace,” they said, calling on the nation’s elected officials “to step forward and condemn these attacks.”

“In all cases, we must reach out to the perpetrators with prayer and forgiveness,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“Where the motive was retribution for some past fault of ours, we must reconcile; where misunderstanding of our teachings has caused anger toward us, we must offer clarity; but this destruction must stop. This is not the way,” they said.

“We thank our law enforcement for investigating these incidents and taking appropriate steps to prevent further harm,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Coakley said. “We appeal to community members for help as well. These are not mere property crimes — this is the degradation of visible representations of our Catholic faith. These are acts of hate.”

In a July 2020 joint statement, Archbishop Coakley and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, then acting chairman of the religious liberty committee decried the growing number of incidents of church vandalism.

“Whether those who committed these acts were troubled individuals crying out for help or agents of hate seeking to intimidate, the attacks are signs of a society in need of healing,” the two archbishops said.

“In those incidents where human actions are clear, the motives still are not. As we strain to understand the destruction of these holy symbols of selfless love and devotion, we pray for any who have caused it, and we remain vigilant against more of it,” they said.

“Our nation finds itself in an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict,” they added. “The path forward must be through the compassion and understanding practiced and taught by Jesus and his Holy Mother. Let us contemplate, rather than destroy, images of these examples of God’s love. Following the example of Our Lord, we respond to confusion with understanding and to hatred with love.”

These incidents have ranged from a man crashing his van through the doors of a Catholic church in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, and setting the interior ablaze, to a St. Junípero Serra statue outside Mission San Rafael in San Rafael, California, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, being desecrated with red paint and toppled, leaving just the saint’s feet in place.

In response to such attacks, the Committee for Religious Liberty launched the “Beauty Heals” project featuring videos from various dioceses discussing the significance of sacred art.

At least 10 videos are available on YouTube; a link to the play list of all the videos can be found at https://bit.ly/3peNq3o.

In a June 1, 2021, letter to the respective chairs and ranking members of the Appropriation Committee in the House and Senate , the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty joined with several other faith groups calling for more funding for appropriations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program in fiscal year 2022.

The text of the letter can be found at https://bit.ly/3n6Rz6t.

“As organizations representing Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Protestant, Seventh-day Adventist, and other Christian and communities of faith across the United States, we believe that all people ought to be free from fear when gathering for religious worship and service,” they wrote, urging more funds for the FEMA grant program.

The grants provide funds for “target hardening and other physical security enhancements and activities” for, as the letter stated, “at-risk nonprofits from urban settings to suburban neighborhoods and rural communities, including houses of worship, religious schools, community centers and other charities.”

“There is a critical need and urgency for these grants,” the faith groups said. “Our sacred spaces have been desecrated, and our faithful murdered.”

In a 20-year period starting in mid-1999, there were shootings at an estimated 19 houses of worship resulting in fatalities.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – As Christian missionaries and family members, some as young as 8 months old, were still being held for ransom in Haiti by a gang notorious for group kidnappings, other charities and religious groups examined how they can remain safe while delivering humanitarian aid.

Seventeen members of Christian Aid Ministries, based in Millersburg, Ohio, were kidnapped Oct. 16. The 400 Mawozo, which is considered in control of Croix-des-Bouquets and the surrounding area where the abductions occurred, claimed credit for the kidnapping and is demanding a $17 million ransom — $1 million per person.

The Ohio group was grabbed after their visit to an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a northeast suburb of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

In April, five priests and two nuns were abducted in that same area, and released after 20 days when ransoms were paid. Christian Aid Ministries is connected to Amish and Mennonite groups in the United States.

“This is the worst Haiti has been for a long time,” Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski told The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. “It’s hard to see when it turns around. You think once it hits bottom it would start going on the uptick, but every time we think we hit bottom we find out that bottom is even deeper.”

AVSI, a nonprofit humanitarian relief and development organization based in Milan, Italy, which bills its mission as being based on Catholic social teaching, has had about 300 people in Haiti to address basic needs for food and shelter following the Aug. 14 earthquake there, and also to assist victims of urban violence.

Fiammetta Cappellini, the organization’s Haiti representative, told Catholic News Service that precautions they take for their people range “from reducing travel to stopping any travel during sensitive time slots.”

“We have a curfew at 8 p.m. because most kidnappings took place a few months ago after dark. We can also limit the movements in some regions of the city that are particularly exposed,” she said.

But Cappellini acknowledged, “It is impossible to reduce the risk of kidnappings to zero. The phenomenon is so vast and affects such diversified segments of the population. For example, there have been kidnappings of women in the market with minimal sources of income so that it can affect anyone.”

“What is certain is that statistically, the kidnappings are mainly aimed at the wealthiest population and are concentrated in certain areas at crucial time slots,” she said. “It does not happen exclusively then and there, but it is more frequent.”

The work itself, she said, “explicitly provides the best protection for this phenomenon because we build excellent relations with the community. If we build the best possible relationships, our presence will be considered an added value. It becomes a relationship in which the community understands our work, respects us and in some ways protects us.”

Of the Oct. 16 kidnappings, Cappellini called them “so upsetting because I’m sure these missionaries certainly have an excellent relationship with the community, so when the gangs kidnap those helping their communities, it destabilizes all of us and worries us a lot.”

Should kidnappings become more frequent, she said she expected her organization would be forced to suspend its Haiti operations.

In an Oct. 19 statement released to the media, Christian Aid Ministries said those who were abducted included five men and seven women ranging in age range from 18 to 48 and five children, ages 8 months, 3, 6, 13 and 15.

A White House spokeswoman said Oct. 18 the FBI was working with the U.S. diplomatic team in Haiti in to locate the missionary group and get them freed.


Pope Francis sits next to 10-year-old Paolo after the boy spontaneously walked on to the stage during the weekly general audience at the Vatican Oct. 20, 2021. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis had a special guest help him illustrate the meaning of Christian freedom: a young boy wandered onto the stage during the pope’s general audience and made himself at home.

At his audience Oct. 20, the pope was continuing his series of talks on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and planned to reflect on the freedom that comes from serving and loving others.

As the Bible passage was being read, 10-year-old Paolo walked onto the stage and right up to Pope Francis, who shook his hand.

A papal aide offered Paolo a seat next to the pope, which elicited applause from the crowd, and from the little boy. But he did not stay seated long; after clasping the pope’s hands again, Paolo pointed with amazement at the pope’s zucchetto. Moments later, the young boy could be seen happily bounding down the steps, returning to his mother wearing a brand new zucchetto on his head.

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis said the boy’s courage reminded him of “what Christ says about the spontaneity and the freedom of children.”

“Jesus tells us, ‘If you do not become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.’ It is the courage to be close to the Lord, to be open to the Lord, to not be afraid of the Lord. I thank this child for giving this lesson to all of us,” the pope said.

“There is no freedom without love,” Pope Francis said. “The selfish freedom of doing what I want is not freedom because it comes back to yourself, it isn’t fruitful.”

“It is Christ’s love that has freed us, and again it is love that frees us from the worst slavery, that of the self; therefore, freedom grows with love,” he said.

The freedom St. Paul writes about does not imply “a libertine way of living, according to the flesh or following instinct, individual desires or one’s own selfish impulses,” the pope said. Rather, the apostle speaks of a freedom that is “fully expressed in love.”

“It is the love that shines out in gratuitous service, modeled on that of Jesus, who washes the feet of his disciples and says, ‘I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you;’ to serve one another,” the pope said.

St. Paul, the pope continued, also warns about viewing freedom as “doing what you want and what you like” which only leads to the realization “that we are left with a great emptiness inside and that we have used badly the treasure of our freedom.”

Pope Francis said Christians need to “rediscover the communitarian, not individualistic, dimension of freedom,” especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic has taught us that we need each other, but it is not enough to know this,” he said. “We need to choose it in a tangible way every day. Let us say and believe that others are not an obstacle to my freedom, but rather the possibility to fully realize it because our freedom is born from God’s love and grows in charity.”