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March for Life Message from the Bishop


Family life and children staying, leaving the church

I had the recent blessing of being invited to a symposium at Notre Dame University. The topic was recapturing the Catholic imagination. In short, in a previous era Catholics were formed in a Catholic culture: committed Catholic parents, strong parish life, Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, extended Catholic family, Catholic friendships, Catholic sporting and other pleasure activities; all of these helped to embed the Catholic faith in our young people. Today we live in a highly secularized environment where the Catholic faith is perceived as one very small piece of the pie. The result is that we see many young adults wandering from the church. One of the best lectures of the symposium was by Dr. Chris Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, who has done a multi-generational study with thousands of Catholics. I do not pretend to list his work in great detail but I hope to share with you some of the information that I found intriguing, challenging, and at times quite hopeful. 

I would recall that the Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses that parents are “the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith.” Dr. Smith’s research seems to confirm this in a unique way. He noted that there was a previous time when parents could sort of  “plug our children in” to the Catholic culture and support them somewhat passively in the background. By plugging them in to Catholic schools, Sunday Mass, Catholic sporting events, Catholic extended family, Catholic neighborhoods, and all the rest … the faith was woven into the fabric of their lives. Today, with that Catholic subculture mostly gone, extensive research reveals that the likelihood of teenagers and young adults embracing the Catholic faith is heavily dependent now upon the witness of their parents. Indeed, in Dr. Smith’s research, parental commitment emerges as the number one determining factor on whether or not children embrace the faith.

I must note that there are wonderful and noble examples of excellent Catholic parents who have experienced the pain of seeing an adult child wander from the church. Likewise, there have been young adults — especially in college environments — who overcame very challenging, if not negative parental example to embrace the faith with great passion. In short, there are no guarantees, perfect predictions, or impossibilities. But Notre Dame’s ongoing research does confirm powerful trends about young people remaining or leaving the Church, and the primary influence is indeed parents. 


Couple draws on more than 20 years of marriage when giving retreats to engaged

Fo­r The Register

Colby — Chad and Angela Zimmerman have been married for 20 years and counting, but they have participated in 50 Engaged Encounter weekends.

“People ask us if we’re ever going to stop, but we just keep coming back,” Chad said.

Members of Sacred Heart Parish, the couple is entering their 13th year of service with Engaged Encounter. 

The retreat takes place over a weekend and involves 20 engaged couples, two married couples and a priest. The purpose is to allow the engaged couple to deepen their relationship with not only one another, but also God as they prepare for marriage. Typically there are five Engaged Encounter weekends from September through June. 

The couple has guided 497 couples over their 13 years of service. They mentioned that the weekends not only help the couples attending the retreat, but them as well. It is a key factor as to why they have kept participating in the program.

“We probably as a couple get more out of the weekend than the couple themselves if I am being honest,” Chad said. “It is a time where we can get away from the kids and relax.”

Father Damian Richards, a priest who oversees the retreat weekend with the Zimmermans, said the sacramental aspect of the weekend is important for those preparing to wed.

“We have Confession as part of the weekend,” Father Richards said. “There’s an opportunity for them to go and it’s a very moving moment. Sometimes they haven’t been for years, maybe since a CYO camp. It’s a powerful moment to be a part of those Confessions. It is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a priest.”


Russell CYO aids foster care children

For The Register

Russell — End of the year festivities and celebrations are starting to head into full gear, but not everyone is able to celebrate the holidays as much as they would like.

The Catholic Youth Organization of St. Mary Queen of Angels in Russell decided to help foster kids who visit the KVC Wheatland Hospital in Hays this holiday season. The CYO bought duffle bags and filled them with teddy bears, blankets, toothbrush kits, coloring books and crayons.

Michelle Farmer, sponsor for CYO, explained she was on Facebook one day and came across Together We Rise, an organization that helps foster care children, and saw that they have a “sweet case” project. The project was created to  give the children duffle bags rather than only two trash bags to carry their personal items in. She had heard about the project before seeing it on social media from Stephanie Cross, who is the Milieu Manager at the KVC Wheatland Hospital.

“Everything they say on that website is exactly what Stephanie said to me,” Farmer said. “These kids have nothing.”

Cross said that the hospital receives many foster care children on a daily basis and most come in with little to no belongings.

“Most of the kids show up at our facility with merely the clothes on their back and a trash bag full of all of their belongings,” she said. “Many have been to so many different placements that they cannot keep track. We get children with significant trauma who are no longer able to be in the community for the time being. Many do not have any biological family involved in their lives anymore. Any and all acts of kindness to these children helps to provide hope in their lives.”


Corey Lyon named Family Life Director

The Register

Salina — The new face of the Office of Family Life won’t be a new one for the Diocese of Salina.

Starting Jan. 1, Corey Lyon will assume the duties of the office vacated by Reg and Jan Konrade’s retirement.

“The domestic church, the family, is the foundation of the Catholic world,” Lyon said. “It’s an area where people are struggling at the moment. If you don’t have strong families, you don’t have  a strong church.”

He is currently the Vice Chancellor, Director of the Office of Safety and Security and is a canon lawyer in the Marriage Tribunal.

While his multiple positions might seem disparate, Lyon said there is unifying element of each.

“They’re all intimately related to family,” he said. “It gives a full spectrum of life from birth to death. This ranges from someone’s birth, to their marriage to when they have a family — their  children and the education of the children and their family.”

Lyon began working in the Chancery in July 2015 in the Marriage Tribunal as a canon lawyer.


Year of Mercy concludes

The Register

Salina — With a simple prayer, Bishop Edward Weisenburger concluded the Year of Mercy celebration in Salina Nov. 12 during Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“The holy doors are closed, but the closing does not mean that we quietly put the business of mercy behind us and move into the future unchanged,” Bishop Weisenburger said during the homily. “Love is the essence of our God. The number one attribute of love is mercy.”

The Year of Mercy, which is an Extraordinary Jubilee, was from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016. In each diocese throughout the world, specific Jubilee Doors were designated. The doors at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina and the Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria were designated Holy Doors in the Diocese of Salina. The doors in Victoria were closed Nov. 13 by Capuchin Father John Schmeidler at the 10 a.m. Mass.

“Our Holy F­ather had what I think is a vision of the saints,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “I think he looked out as soon as he became pope and he saw so much suffering in the world. The greatest gift working through him could be for us to each recognize that we have a God who is merciful.”

Pauline and Abe Holzmeister are parishioners at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina and attended the closing Mass.

Pauline Holzmeister said she appreciates the pope’s focus on mercy.

“When life gets tough and things hare hard, we can forget God, but he doesn’t forget us,” she said. “We don’t have to be holy to be loved by God.”

Bishop Weisenburger said when Pope Francis announced the Year of Mercy, it was within the context of a homily Luke 7, when Jesus extended mercy to the sinful woman and she washed his feet, drying them with her hair.

“He’s all about merciful love and he doesn’t wait for that woman to repent first before he loves her any more than with the parable of the prodigal son. He doesn’t wait for the son to repent before the father loves him,” the bishop said. “(God is) always loving us and giving us mercy first.”

Reg and Jan Konrade retire from diocese

The Register

Salina — After eight years of focusing on promoting and fostering family life for the Diocese of Salina, Reg and Jan Konrade will retire from being coordinators of the Office of Family Life.

While the Konrades have enjoyed their years with the diocese, they said they are looking forward to pursuing other interests, especially spending more time with their 21 grandchildren.

“We haven’t always had enough time to spend with them or take advantage of going to their different activities,” Jan said. “We hope to do more of that.”

Their last day in the office is Dec. 15.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger said he appreciates the leadership the couple brought to the office.

“The Konrades have made a profound and lasting commitment to the quality of family life in our diocese,” he said.  “I am grateful for their dedication and service.” 

The Konrades began working for the Diocese of Salina in 2006, when they were in charge of the Respect Life Office. In 2009, the couple took over responsibility for the Office of Family Life.

Archbishop Paul Coakley, who was Bishop of the Salina Diocese at the time, tasked the Konrades with focusing on marriage preparation, marriage enrichment and natural family planning.

Jan said family life is a foundation of the work that happens within the diocese.

“Unless you have strong families, I don’t think you’re going to have a strong church or a lot of vocations,” she said. “You need strong family life to promote those things. Parents need to teach children about their faith in order to carry it on.”


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  • IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although she was just a humble young woman from a small town, Mary's total "yes" to God was "the most important 'yes' of history" and overturned Adam and Eve's prideful "no," which unleashed sin into the world, Pope Francis said. "With generosity and trust like Mary, may each of us say this personal 'yes' to God today," Pope Francis prayed Dec. 8 as he recited the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Even when they do not say "no" to God, human beings can be experts in saying, "yes, but ..." to God, the pope said. "To avoid saying 'no' outright to God, we say, 'Sorry, but I can't,' 'Not today, but maybe tomorrow,' 'Tomorrow I will be better, tomorrow I will pray, I'll do good tomorrow,'" he said. But in responding that way, "we close the door to what is good and evil profits." Nevertheless, Pope Francis said, God keeps trying to reach out and save us. And through the "yes" of Mary, he became human, "exactly like us except for one thing, that 'no,' that sin. This is why he chose Mary, the only creature without sin, immaculate." In the late afternoon, the pope made his traditional visit to a statue of Mary erected in the center of Rome, near the Spanish Steps, to celebrate the official church recognition that Mary was conceived without sin. Thousands of Romans and tourists crowded around the statue where people had been laying flowers all day. Early Dec. 8, Rome firefighters with a truck and ladder hung a wreath of white flowers from the outstretched arms of the statue. Pope Francis composed a prayer to Mary for the occasion and read it, standing under the statue's watchful eyes. He offered special prayers for children who have been abandoned and are exposed to exploitation, for all families who give life and contribute to society, often in hidden ways, and especially for those who are underemployed or unemployed. "We need your immaculate gaze," he told Mary, in order to "rediscover the ability to look at people and things with respect and recognition and without selfish interests and hypocrisy." "We need your immaculate heart to love unconditionally, without any aim besides the good of the other, with simplicity and sincerity, renouncing masks and ploys," he said. "We need your immaculate hands to caress with tenderness, to touch the flesh of Jesus in our brothers and sisters who are poor, sick, despised, to help up those who have fallen and steady those who waver." "We need your immaculate feet to set out to meet those who cannot take the first step, to walk along the paths of those who are lost, to go and find those who are alone," he prayed.- - -Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Ashleigh Buyers, Catholic HeraldBy Michael F. FlachARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said that during these unsettling times, Catholics must imitate the witness of St. Thomas More by bringing the joy of the Gospel to the public arena with conviction and love. "We do so as we protect the unborn and the sacredness of life at every stage, as we uphold the dignity of each and every human person without exception, as we protect our religious freedom and lift up the beautiful vocation of marriage and its sanctity as Jesus taught," Bishop Burbidge said, "and of course, as we reach out in love to the poor and the needy and most vulnerable." The bishop was installed as Arlington's fourth bishop Dec. 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More. He succeeds Bishop Paul S. Loverde, who retired after heading the Arlington Diocese for 17 years. Bishop Burbidge said there's often a price to pay when we refuse to compromise our faith. "We might be labeled unfairly or even outright rejected," he said. "But what St. Paul tells us today is, don't rely on your own resources; rely on the strength that God supplies. So call upon that gift daily, so that we can say here in this diocese, here in our lives, this is what you will see: the spirit, the witness, the example of St. Thomas More forevermore." In his homily, Bishop Burbidge reflected on the close bond that his family has with St. Thomas More, the patron saint of the Arlington Diocese. The bishop's father, Francis, was a graduate of St. Thomas More High School in Philadelphia, where he was challenged daily to imitate the courageous witness of the saint. The school closed in 1975, but the spirit of the alumni remains strong, Bishop Burbidge said. "Their motto, which appears on license plates, and banners and other items, is respectful and very dear to their heart: St. Tommy More Forevermore," he said. The bishop said that St. Nicholas "helps us remember the gifts that God has given to us and the call to imitate his charitable deeds." Bishop Burbidge said his mother, Shirley, spent the last year of her life in an assisted-living facility run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. "She made a new friend, and each and every day, they would help each other down the hall, take the elevator, and go down to the gift store, and they would buy a gift -- a trinket, an ornament, a stuffed animal -- only to give it away to another resident or to a family member," he said. "I think that is a beautiful image for all of us: In the midst of the trials, and struggles, and crosses in our lives, God is there, bestowing gifts to us to behold," he said. "And on this joyful day in the life of our diocese, I am aware of the many gifts for which I must be thankful," the bishop said. "I'm so thankful to the Holy Father Pope Francis for assigning me to this faith-filled and vibrant diocese. Bishop Burbidge, who was named to Arlington Oct. 4 after 19 years as the bishop of Raleigh, North Carolina, recognized the generous service of his predecessors in the Northern Virginia diocese -- Bishops Thomas J. Welsh and John R. Keating. He thanked Bishop Loverde for "the gift that you have been and always will be to our diocese. "What unites us today is our thanksgiving to God for the most precious gift of all, the gift of his only-begotten son, Jesus Christ, who sustains and nourishes us, most especially in this precious gift of the holy Eucharist," he said. "It is the same Lord who teaches us today how to move forward as a diocese." Jesus sent his disciples in the company of one another to proclaim the good news and he instructed them not to take anything that would weigh them down -- in other words, to travel lightly, the bishop said. "May we imitate the courageous and faithful example of St. Thomas More forevermore, with the strength that God supplies, so that, together, we may walk humbly with our God and travel lightly today and always," he said. The installation Mass began when Bishop Burbidge knocked on the cathedral door and was welcomed by Father Robert J. Rippy, cathedral rector and a seminary classmate of Bishop Burbidge, who presented him with a crucifix for veneration. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore was the installing prelate. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the apostolic letter on the new bishop's appointment from Pope Francis. Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis recites the prayer of St. Thomas More on a daily basis. The nuncio called Bishop Loverde an apostle who has shared the joy of the Gospel with the church in Arlington. "Bless you in the years ahead," the archbishop said. He then gave the apostolic letter to Bishop Burbidge, who presented it to the congregation and the College of Consultors. The two archbishops then escorted Bishop Burbidge to the cathedra, or bishop's chair, where he received his crosier. Msgr. Frank E. Mahler and Father Colin P. Davis represented diocesan priests as they greeted Bishop Burbidge. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy were among the dignitaries in attendance, along with Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington. Diocesan, ecumenical and interfaith representatives greeted Bishop Burbidge. The prayers of the faithful were read in Spanish, Vietnamese, Ghanaian, Korean, Tagalog and English. - - - Flach is editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church needs holy, healthy and humble priests and that requires prayers for vocations and the careful selection and training of candidates, said the Congregation for Clergy. Updating 1985 guidelines for preparing men for the Latin-rite priesthood and ensuring their continuing education, training and support, the Congregation for Clergy Dec. 7 released "The Gift of the Priestly Vocation," a detailed set of guidelines and norms for priestly formation. The updated document draws heavily on St. John Paul II's 1992 apostolic exhortation on priestly formation, as well as on the teaching of and norms issued by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and by Vatican offices over the past three decades. It reaffirms an instruction approved by Pope Benedict in 2005, which said, "the church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.'" The document insists that through courses in pastoral theology, the example of priests and practical experience, candidates for the priesthood learn that priestly ministry involves -- as Pope Francis says -- being "shepherds 'with the smell of the sheep,' who live in their midst to bring the mercy of God to them." Highlighting lessons learned over the past 30 years from the clerical sexual abuse scandal, the new guidelines state, "The greatest attention must be given to the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, being vigilant lest those who seek admission to a seminary or to a house of formation, or who are already petitioning to receive holy orders have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behavior in this area." Seminars and courses on the protection of children and vulnerable adults must be part of both seminary education and the continuing education of priests, it says. And bishops must be very cautious about accepting candidates for the priesthood who have been dismissed from other seminaries. In the end, each bishop is responsible for determining which candidate for priesthood he will ordain, but the guidelines strongly encourage bishops to accept the judgment of seminary rectors and staff who determine a certain candidate is unsuitable. "Experience has shown that when ordinaries (bishops) have not accepted the negative judgment of the community of formators, it has been the cause of great suffering in many cases, both for the candidates themselves and for the local churches," the document says. Reaffirming the requirement that seminarians study Catholic social teaching, the document says the education must include a study of climate change and other environmental threats. "Protecting the environment and caring for our common home -- the Earth -- belong fully to the Christian outlook on man and reality," the document says. Catholic priests must be "promoters of an appropriate care for everything connected to the protection of creation." Seminarians should be encouraged to use social media to build relationships and for evangelization, the guidelines say, but seminary personnel will need to help the students use the media wisely and in a way that is healthy. Psychologists, whether or not on the staff of the seminary, can provide valuable help to the seminary rector and diocesan bishop "in the assessment of personality, expressing an opinion as to the psychological health of the candidate and in therapeutic accompaniment, in order to shed light on any problems that may emerge and to assist in growth in human maturity," the document says. The Congregation for Clergy recommends that women be on the staff of seminaries or teach at the universities where the candidates study and that seminarians' ability to relate to and work with women be considered in the candidate's evaluation, since the majority of parishioners with whom the future priest will work are women. The guidelines, which are to be adapted by national bishops' conferences, include an outline of the stages, prayer life and specific subjects to be studied during the six or more years of preparation for priestly ordination. But the guidelines also acknowledge that many of the skills needed to be a good priest cannot be learned in a classroom. They are the result of prayer, self-discipline and seeking to model one's behavior on that of Christ, the document says. "The call to be pastors of the people of God requires a formation that makes future priests experts in the art of pastoral discernment, that is to say, able to listen deeply to real situations and capable of good judgment in making choices and decisions," it says. "To make pastoral discernment effective, the evangelical style of listening must take central place. This frees the pastor from the temptation of abstraction, to self-promotion, to excessive self-assurances and to that aloofness that would make him a 'spiritual accountant' instead of a good Samaritan."- - -Editors: The text of the document in English can be found at: http://www.clerus.va/content/dam/clerus/Ratio%20Fundamentalis/The%20Gift%20of%20the%20Priestly%20Vocation.pdfThe text in Spanish is available at: http://www.clerus.va/content/dam/clerus/Ratio%20Fundamentalis/El%20Don%20de%20la%20vocaci%c3%b3n%20presbiteral.pdf - - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New WorldBy Joyce DurigaDES PLAINES, Ill. (CNS) -- With thick, wet snow falling down and live mariachi music to greet them, around 400 riders on horseback rode up to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines Dec. 4 to pay homage to Mary. Some wore ponchos bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other riders carried their cellphones and were recording the ride. Once in front of the outdoor shrine, each rider handed over a red rose for Mary and was blessed with holy water by shrine rector Father Esequiel Sanchez. The priest himself entered the shrine on horseback and was wearing a traditional Mexican sombrero. It's the fifth year for the pilgrimage, which is organized by Club Los Vaqueros Unidos (United Cowboys Club) in Wadsworth. The horseback pilgrimage is the unofficial kickoff of celebrations at the shrine that culminate with 24 hours of Masses and visits to the outdoor shrine Dec. 12 for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The pilgrimage usually includes a three-hour ride through the forest preserve in Lincolnshire and ends at the shrine, but this year that portion was canceled because the forest preserve was conducting a "deer management" program, said club member Maria Anguiano. Despite the wet and heavy snow that soaked the riders and horses, there were many smiles as the riders made their way past the shrine. "What everyone really wants to do is thank the Virgin for the blessings throughout the year and acknowledge her presence in their lives," Anguiano told the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Having the riders and horses visit the shrine is fitting to the history of the church in the United States. "All the evangelization in America happened on horseback so as we bless the horses today we remember that tradition," Father Sanchez said. "The key element in the life of a lot of people was a sturdy horse, to be able to make a living and get around. Now it's become a symbol of a way of life that is very much still treasured and valued." In the evening of Dec. 4, a group of tractor-trailer drivers went to the Des Plaines shrine for their own pilgrimage. The two pilgrimages are held before the Dec. 12 feast day since more than 120,000 pilgrims usually visit the shrine over Dec. 11 and 12 and accommodating the horses and trailers would be difficult. In Mexico City, it's a tradition for groups or clubs to make a pilgrimage to the Guadalupe shrine there on the feast day, which commemorates Mary's appearance to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill near modern-day Mexico City. Mary appeared to Diego for the first time at dawn Dec. 9, 1531, and said she wanted a church built in her honor on that hill. Diego went to the bishop to share this news, but was put off by the prelate. She appeared again, and Diego -- who was called by name by the lady in the apparition -- again approached the bishop. The bishop asked for a sign from this lady of Diego's and Mary produced enough roses in December to fill Diego's cloak, or "tilma." When he emptied them in front of the bishop, he found that she had left her image on the tilma, which remains today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The local shrine in Des Plaines began in the mid-1980s. The shrine is officially connected to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and is the only place in the United States where pilgrims can receive the same special indulgence that is offered to pilgrims visiting the basilica. - - - Duriga is editor of Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian hope is not the same as being optimistic about the future, but is knowing that whatever dark or frightening things are going on in one's life, God is there offering protection and light, Pope Francis said. Holding his general audience in the Vatican audience hall decorated with Nativity scenes and Christmas ornaments from the state of Queretaro, Mexico, Pope Francis announced Dec. 7 that he was beginning a series of audience talks about hope. Especially during Advent and in preparation for Christmas, he urged people to read the second half of the Book of Isaiah, "the great prophet of Advent, the great messenger of hope." The audience began with a reading of Isaiah 40, which starts: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God." When the prophet was writing, the pope explained, the people of Israel were in exile, they had "lost everything -- their homeland, freedom, dignity and even their trust in God. They felt abandoned and without hope." Isaiah not only proclaims God's love and fidelity, but calls on those who still have faith to offer consolation to others and help them "reopen their hearts to faith." The desert -- literally and figuratively -- "is a difficult place to live, but it is precisely the place where one can walk to return not only to one's homeland, but to God, return to hoping and smiling," the pope said. "When we are in darkness and difficulty, it's hard to smile. "Hope teaches us to smile," the pope said. "One of the first things that happens to people who withdraw from God is that they are people without smiles. They might be able to laugh out loud -- tell one joke after another and laugh -- but their smile is missing." "When we are with a baby, a smile comes spontaneously because a baby is hope," he said. "We smile even if it's a bad day because we see hope." Hope does not come with power or wealth, but with trusting in God, the pope said. It is knowing that "God, with his love, walks with us. I hope because God is alongside me. And this is something all of us can say. I have hope because God walks with me, he walks alongside me and holds my hand." The key players in the Christmas story, he said, prove that "history is not made by the powerful, but by God together with his little ones, those small and simple people whom we find around Jesus, who is about to be born: Zachariah and Elizabeth, who are old and marked by sterility; Mary, the young virgin engaged to Joseph; the shepherds, who were despised and counted for nothing." They had hope, the pope said, and they turned the dark and twisted paths of life around them into "a highway on which to walk toward the glory of the Lord." "There's no denying that there is a crisis of faith in the world today," he said. "People say, 'I believe in God. I'm Christian.' 'I belong to that faith.' But their lives are far from being Christian, far from God! Religion, faith has turned into an expression." Those who believe must convert, constantly turning their hearts to God and "following that path toward him. He awaits us."- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.