• Why a Year of Mercy?

    In recent months, Bishop Edward Weisenburger has had several people ask why our Holy Father has announced a Holy Year, focused on the mercy of God.

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  • ¿Por qué un Año de la Misericordia?

    En estos meses, muchas personas me han preguntado por qué el Santo Padre anunció un año santo enfocado especialmente en la Misericordia de Dios.

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  • Bishop reflects on the pope's encyclical

    It is rare that a much-anticipated document lives up to its expectation, but having studied the encyclical of his holiness Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, I conclude that the document exceeds my expectations and actually gives the human community truths to ponder well into the future.

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Kansas Bishops' Message on the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees

There is great controversy today over the policy of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have served as a reminder, if any was needed, that terrorism remains a grave threat and that all people of good will should stand in solidarity with one another against such deplorable acts of violence and murder.

While emotions are understandably running high, the plight of our brothers and sisters in Syria must not be ignored. The Syrian people are on a daily basis bearing the brunt of the Syrian civil war, the Assad regime’s ruthless tactics and ISIS’s reign of terror. Christians are being persecuted and even martyred in brutal fashion. Members of other faiths are suffering enormous hardships as well, as ISIS terrorizes anyone who does not share its radical extremist ideology. It is estimated that around 11 million people in Syria and surrounding countries have had to flee their homes, making this a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. The 10,000 refugees in question represent a tiny fraction of those who have been displaced.

Our great country has long been a beacon of hope for the oppressed peoples of the world. What a terrible tragedy it would be for humanity if America suddenly became a country that turns away even women and children fleeing the horrors of war and terrorism.

At the same time, it is entirely legitimate, and indeed obligatory, for public officials to make the security of our nation and the safety of Americans a paramount consideration. This is why all of the refugees must undergo a thorough, multi-agency vetting process that takes on average 18 to 24 months. Undoubtedly this process will continue to be examined and improved upon; however, the mere possibility that someone admitted as a refugee could commit an act of terror is not reason enough to cease resettlement of all Syrian refugees. There are other, and perhaps considerably easier, avenues for a determined enemy of the United States to enter the country than to submit to a two-year review by American intelligence, defense and law enforcement agencies. We should not stop helping some of the world’s most desperate people in a vain effort to make America perfectly safe.

We do not in any way wish to deny the seriousness of the threat of terrorism or ISIS’s determination to attack America. Nor do we consider it impossible that someone who wishes America harm could infiltrate the United States through the refugee program. But given the scale of human suffering in Syria and the security measures in place to scrutinize refugees, we believe that resettlement should continue. We cannot allow fear to harden our hearts.

Finally, it is already sadly evident that some are using this issue to attempt to gain political advantage. We the Catholic bishops of Kansas hope and pray that all elected officials, on all sides of this issue, will respect each other’s sincere concerns and act with the common good, and not political opportunism, in mind.

Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas

Most Reverend John B. Brungardt, Bishop of Dodge City

Most Reverend Edward J. Weisenburger, Bishop of Salina

Most Reverend Carl A. Kemme, Bishop of Wichita

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  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Orbis BooksBy ALTAMONT, N.Y. (CNS) -- Father Joseph Girzone, who became far more prominent in retirement than during active ministry because of his "Joshua" series of novels, died Nov. 29 at St. Peter's Hospice Inn in in Altamont. He was 85.A funeral Mass will be celebrated Dec. 12 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany as principal celebrant. Father Girzone, a priest of the Diocese of Albany, retired from active ministry in 1981 because of a heart ailment. After retiring, he picked up his pen and wrote "Joshua," which was published in 1983. It was a success, selling tens of thousands of copies in hardcover before a paperback edition was issued. The premise of "Joshua" and several novels that followed in the series is that Jesus comes back to earth disguised as itinerant carpenter Joshua, distilling simple wisdom and challenging the prevailing order on a variety of issues so that the books' characters can get closer to God. He told Catholic News Service in a long-ago interview that he wrote "Joshua" to heighten awareness that the church will "lose more of our people if we don't show more gentleness." "Christ was the good shepherd -- he used to bring people home, not drive them away," he said.Some objected to the character Joshua's questioning of church policies, he told CNS, but those who read his books carefully find they are "not attacking the church but the way it's run," he added. Other books in the series included "Joshua and the Children," "The Shepherd," "Joshua's Family," "Joshua and the City," "The Parables of Joshua," "Joshua in a Troubled World," "Joshua in the Holy Land" and "Joshua: A Homecoming."Father Girzone did not restrict himself to fiction. He also wrote "Jesus, His Life and Teachings: As Recorded by His Friends Mathew, Mark, Luke and John," "Joey" and "My Struggle With Faith." Even before the 20th century was over, his books had sold more than a million copies. One estimate of the total books sold under Father Girzone's name has been put at 3 million. He used the royalties from his books to establish Joshua Mountain Ministries in Altamont in an effort to get people to learn more about Jesus. In talks around the country to promote his books, Father Girzone regularly said most people fail to remember that Jesus also was fully human. In one such talk in 1998 in Washington, he said he wanted people to know that the son of God "didn't come off as someone who was self-righteous but as a person who was free and joyful and happy and had tremendous love and compassion for others." Hollywood even made a movie based on the novels. The G-rated "Joshua" bowed in 2002 starring Tony Goldwyn, currently featured as the U.S. president in the ABC drama "Scandal," as Joshua, with F. Murray Abraham, Kurt Fuller and Colleen Camp co-starring. Father Girzone, who agreed to take no pension or health care from the Albany Diocese as a condition of his early retirement, started his own publishing company because no book publisher liked his concept of Jesus returning in today's society and making an impact. After the initial success of "Joshua," Doubleday signed him to a contract and gave him million-dollar advances, he told the Albany Times-Union in a 2011 interview. But as the publishing industry changed, Father Girzone became one of its casualties. Doubleday dropped him after 2007's "Joshua's Family." He donated the 21-room house he had been living in, with its 100-acre spread and $26,000 annual heating bill, to his foundation and moved to an apartment above the manor's garage. Father Girzone then wrote for Orbis Books, a Catholic publishing house in Maryknoll. The last book published during his life was "Stories of Jesus: 40 Days of Prayer and Reflection," which was released in late 2013.- - -Copyright © 2015 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/Edgardo AyalaBy Edgardo AyalaSAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- Representatives of U.S. religious and human rights organizations called for the Salvadoran government to reopen the investigation of the 1980 killing of three U.S. nuns and a lay missionary. It is important to "ask the Salvadoran government and prosecutors to open this case, so that the masterminds of this crime do not walk free, with impunity," said Claire White, who came on behalf of her father, former Ambassador Robert White, who died in January. White told Catholic News Service the U.S. government should pressure the Salvadoran authorities to do a proper investigation and not let the intellectual authors go unpunished. On Dec. 2, 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan were abducted, raped and murdered by members of the National Guard, when the North Americans traveled by car from the airport. Civil war in El Salvador had erupted earlier that year. The churchwomen were in El Salvador to work with refugees of that conflict, but were regarded as leftist by the government. The U.N. Truth Commission, established in 1992 to investigate cases of political violence during the civil war, concluded that then-Col. Eugenio Vides Casanova, director of the National Guard, knew that a unit from his command had carried out the assassinations and facilitated the concealment of the facts, which hampered the investigation. In 1984, four guardsmen were found guilty of the killings and convicted to 30 years in prison, but those who planned the murders and gave the orders have never been brought to justice, said some of the more than 100 North Americans who traveled to El Salvador to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the murders. "There may be justice if we North American women go back and do what we need to do in terms of strategizing to make that happen," Ursuline Sister Janet Marie Peterworth of Louisville, Kentucky, told CNS during a Nov. 30 memorial service held in San Salvador's Parque Cuscatlan. She recalled the last letters she received from Donovan from El Salvador and added, "It's cold and rainy in December in the States, and I can't stop thinking of Jean Donovan and what she said in one of her last correspondence: 'I would come home, but where else can you find roses in December?'" "She did not come home, she decided to stay," she added, with tears rolling down her cheek. Sister Peterworth said Donovan used to say that the Salvadoran military would not killed "an American blond." "But they did," Sister Peterworth added. Isabel Hernandez, El Salvador office director of the SHARE Foundation, said: "We don't want revenge, because we are Christians, but we do want justice, the truth, we want to know who gave the order." She said the 1992 Salvadoran amnesty law must be repealed because it protects those responsible for the murders of the churchwomen and many other victims. In 2002, Vides Casanova and former Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia, who were both granted residence in the United States, were found responsible by a Florida jury in a federal civil case for the torture of three Salvadorans. In April 2015, Vides Casanova was deported to El Salvador for participating and assisting the torture and assassination of thousands of victims, including the four churchwomen. The four guardsmen were convicted because they were not eligible for amnesty, as their case was regarded as nonpolitical. During the current visit, U.S. delegates visited the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in March 1980. They also went to Central American University, where six Jesuit priests and two women were killed in November 1989 by a military unit. On Dec. 2, they were to travel to Santiago Nonualco, a small town in La Paz department, to attend a memorial service at the very spot where the three nuns and the lay missionary were shot dead.- - -Copyright © 2015 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/ReutersBy Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Heads of state discussing carbon emission limits must create a global and "transformative" agreement built on justice, solidarity and fairness, a papal representative told the U.N. climate conference in Paris. Pope Francis has said "it would be tragic" if special interests "manipulated information" and won out over the common good, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Nov. 30. The cardinal delivered a speech on behalf of the pope during the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 Conference of Parties, or COP21, in Paris. The Vatican released a copy of the speech Dec. 1. A global agreement must have three interrelated goals in mind: "alleviate the impact of climate change, fight poverty and let the dignity of the human person flourish," the cardinal said in a speech delivered in French. A meaningful global pact must be guided by a clear ethical vision that sees all of humanity as belonging to one human family, and has "no room for the so-called globalization of indifference," he said. "Given the urgency of a situation that requires the broadest collaboration possible in order to reach a common plan," it is important the agreement recognize everyone's responsibility to help others and according to one's abilities and means. An agreement must send "clear signals" to governments, businesses, the scientific community and local communities ton how to adjust or change their behavior and policies in ways that leads to a low carbon economy and integral human development, he said. Finally, the cardinal said, the COP21 endeavor must be part of an ever-evolving commitment to future generations with constant updates, follow-up and enforcement. "It's necessary to take into serious consideration the realization of models of sustainable production and consumption and new behaviors and lifestyles," he said. "Technical solutions are necessary but not enough," he said, adding that teaching and supporting sustainable lifestyles are critical. People must become more aware of their responsibility and that today's lifestyles based on an unsustainable "culture of waste" have no place in new models of education and development.- - -Copyright © 2015 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 WoodenABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM AFRICA (CNS) -- Pope Francis told reporters he is well aware that God is a god of surprises, but he had not been prepared for what a surprise his first visit to Africa would be. Obviously tired, but equally content, Pope Francis told reporters he prayed in a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, and rode around a Muslim neighborhood with the imam seated with him in the popemobile. Both were spontaneous initiatives of the pope Nov. 30, his last day in Africa. Returning to Rome from Bangui later that day, the pope spent more than 60 minutes with reporters in the back of his plane, responding to their questions. "The crowds, the joy, the ability to celebrate even with an empty stomach" were impressions the pope said he would take home with him after his six-day trip to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. After two years of civil war, the pope told reporters, the people of the Central African Republic want "peace, reconciliation and forgiveness." "For years, they lived as brothers and sisters," the pope said, and local Catholic, Muslim and evangelical Christian leaders are doing their best to help their people return to that situation of peace, coexistence and mutual respect. Leaders of every religion must teach values, and that is what is happening in Central African Republic, Pope Francis said. "One of the most-rare values today is that of brotherhood," a value essential for peace, he said. "Fundamentalism is a disease that is found in all religions. We Catholics have some," he said. "I can say this because it is my church." "Religious fundamentalism isn't religion, it's idolatry," he told the press. Ideas and false certainties take the place of faith, love of God and love of others. "You cannot cancel a whole religion because there is a group or many groups of fundamentalists at certain moments of history," the pope said. As the pope ended his trip, global representatives were beginning the U.N. climate conference in Paris to discuss the possibility of forging a binding international agreement to reduce climate change. Pope Francis said he was not sure what would happen at the conference, "but I can say this, it's now or never." Too little has been done over the past 10-15 years, he said, and "every year the situation gets worse." "We are on the verge of suicide, to put it strongly," he said. Given his visits to Uganda and Kenya, where new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths continue, Pope Francis was asked if he thought the church "should change its teaching" about the use of condoms. Pope Francis responded that an ongoing question for Catholic moral theology is whether condoms in that case are an instrument to prevent death or a contraceptive -- in which case they would violate church teaching on openness to life. But, he said, the question is too narrow. People are dying because of a lack of clean water and adequate food. Once the world takes serious steps to solve those problems, then it would be "legitimate to ask whether it is licit" to use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. Pope Francis said that at various moments of his trip, he visited the very poor, people who lack everything and have suffered tremendously. He said he knew that a small percentage of people -- "maybe 17 percent" -- of the world's population controls the vast majority of the world's wealth -- "and I think, 'How can these people not be aware?' It's such suffering." To say the world's economy has put profits and not people at the center and to denounce "the idolatry of the god money," he said, "is not communism. It's the truth." The pope also was asked about the Vatican trial underway in connection with the leak and publication of confidential documents related to Vatican finances. "I haven't lost any sleep" over the leaks and the arrest of a monsignor, his assistant, a woman who served on a former Vatican commission and the two authors who wrote books allegedly based on the material, Pope Francis said. However, he said, he had hoped the trial would be over before the opening Dec. 8 of the Year of Mercy, but he does not think that will be possible because the defendants' lawyers need adequate time to defend their clients properly. As for future trips, Pope Francis was not full of surprises. He said he plans to go to Mexico and visit cities where St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI never went. The trip is expected in late February. Pope Francis said he has to go to Mexico City, "but if it wasn't for Our Lady I wouldn't." So he will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, then go to Chiapas, Morelia and, "almost for sure, on the way back to Rome, I will spend a day or part of a day in Ciudad Juarez," on the Mexican-U.S. border. - - - Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.- - -Copyright © 2015 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/Simone OrendainBy PARIS (CNS) -- Hundreds of thousands of people in at least 150 countries around the world demanded action on climate change on the eve of a U.N. conference that aimed to find agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Heads of state traveled to Paris for the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 Conference of Parties, or COP21, in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget. Catholic organizations advocating to protect the world and its people from the impact of climate change said the terror attacks in Paris had not dissuaded them from attending a major U.N. summit there. Interfaith leaders gathered in Saint-Denis, France, Nov. 28 to hand over a petition with more than 1.8 million signatures -- 800,000 collected by Catholic organizations -- calling for action on climate change. At the event, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, referred to Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," and to an October appeal by Catholic bishops worldwide that called "for a fair, binding and truly transformational climate agreement in Paris." "We ask for drastic cuts of carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C," the cardinal said. "As the bishops' appeal states, we need to 'put an end to the fossil fuel era' and 'set a goal for complete decarbonization by 2050.' "And we ask wealthier countries to aid the world's poorest to cope with climate change impacts, by providing robust climate finance," he added. Originally, hundreds of thousands were expected to march in Paris Nov. 29, but the march was canceled after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. Instead, Parisians and others from around the world donated shoes and set them up at Place de la Republique. The display was disrupted as Paris police used tear gas to break up an unauthorized demonstration. Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who works at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, confirmed Pope Francis donated a signed pair of shoes to the display. Cardinal Hummes and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, also signed and donated shoes. From Seoul, South Korea, to Ottawa, Ontario; New York to Sao Paulo, people marched to demand climate change. Some, like those in Oakland, California, marched more than a week ahead. Most advocates gathered Nov. 28-29, such as in Nairobi, Kenya, where people planted trees in Uhuru Park. In Washington, about 500 people, including members of parishes in Washington, Maryland and northern Virginia, came out for a march around the White House Nov. 29. One couple, members of a parish in Los Altos, California, joined them after learning about the march from the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Many participants carried signs referring to "Laudato Si'." In Ottawa, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia, church leaders joined environmentalists and First Nations members in marches Nov. 29. In London, hundreds of supporters of CAFOD, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, braved wind and rain to join more than 50,000 marchers. CAFOD said the march included an interfaith service at Westminster Synagogue involving about 200 campaigners from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions, who reflected on the issues that united them and "recommitted themselves to caring for creation, for our neighbors and to tackling climate change." In Manila, Philippines, dozens of religious added their voices to the cry of mostly Catholic activists during a climate march on a humid, overcast morning. In the plaza across the street from Our Lady of Remedies Church, Sacred Heart Missionaries seminarian Reynon Ajero held up colorful signs that said "Resist the plunder of our environment" and a reference to the pope's "Laudato Si'." Ajero said he grew up in a mountainous village in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte populated with "plenty of diversity" in animals, trees and wild flowers. On Nov. 29, he lamented the significant loss of trees to mining and the disappearance of the animals from his childhood. "I want to ask all the people to be awake," he told Catholic News Service. "I want make the people know that we are suffering for what is our mistake to our mother earth. So whatever we do to ourselves, we do to the mother earth, it will return to us." This message in the plaza was played out over and over in singing, dance numbers and dramatizations of the impacts of the earth's rising temperatures. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo opened an outdoor Mass with a prayer of hope during the lighting of the first candle on an Advent wreath. "Hope for the enlightenment of all peoples, that we are just a strand in the web of life, that what we do to the environment, we do to ourselves," said Bishop Pabillo. Lou Arsenio, head of the Manila Archdiocese Ecology Ministry and one of the originators of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, since the movement started about a year ago, she has seen greater awareness among Catholics, but she told Catholic News Service there is more work to do. In Melbourne, Australia, Nov. 27, more than 40,000 people marched in the city's central business district to call for action on climate change. A statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Melbourne said Catholics were at the forefront of the march. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, former president of Caritas Internationalis, told the crowd: "We were given a garden. We may not deliver back a desert." - - - Contributing to this story were Simone Orendain in Manila and Simon Caldwell in Manchester, England. - - -Copyright © 2015 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.