• 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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Length30 min.
Age GroupP - Primary
PublisherGospel Films
TopicsSocial Justice

An excellent approach to teaching death and eternal life to children in a way they can readily understand.

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  • IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenNAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- The international community is facing a stark and serious choice, "either to improve or to destroy the environment," Pope Francis said, referring to the Paris Climate Conference. "It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were special interests to prevail over the common good," the pope said Nov. 26 during a visit to the headquarters in Nairobi of the U.N. Environment Program and U.N. Habitat, an agency concerned with urban planning. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Paris conference Nov. 30-Dec. 11 has the aim of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement on measures to stem climate change and protect the environment. Pope Francis spoke at length about the importance of the conference during his visit to the U.N. offices, and his top aides had a meeting the evening before with Kenya's environment minister and other officials to discuss their hopes and strategies for the Paris meeting. On his way into the meeting with U.N. officials and diplomats accredited to the two U.N. agencies, Pope Francis planted a tree. While his speech contained ample quotes from his June encyclical on the environment, the pope also referred several times to the significance of planting trees and borrowed several lines from a speech he in made in Bolivia in July to a variety of grassroots movements advocating for justice for the poor. In fact, just as in the encyclical, "Laudato Si'," the pope insisted in Nairobi that there is a close connection between environmental destruction and unjust economic and political policies that penalize the poor. "We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development," he said, especially because of their emphasis on exploiting natural resources, but not sharing the benefits with local communities. Planting a tree, he said, is an "invitation to continue the battle against phenomena like deforestation and desertification," as well as "an incentive to keep trusting, hoping and above all working in practice to reverse all those situations of injustice and deterioration which we currently experience." The Paris conference, the pope said, "represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content." Pope Francis told those gathered at Nairobi's U.N. offices that he hopes the Paris conference will result in a "global and 'transformational' agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity." To achieve a comprehensive and fair agreement, he said, real dialogue is necessary among politicians, scientists, business leaders and representatives of civil society, including the poorest sectors of those societies. Pope Francis insisted that human beings are capable of changing course, choosing what is good and making a fresh start. The key, he said, will be to put the economy and politics at the service of people, who are called to live in harmony with the rest of creation. "Far from an idealistic utopia, this is a realistic prospect which makes the human person and human dignity the point of departure and the goal of everything," he said. A new respect for human dignity and for the environment are part of the same attitude of giving value to all that God made, he said. Pope Francis called for "the adoption of a culture of care -- care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment -- in the place of a culture of waste, a throw-away culture where people use and discard themselves, others and the environment." The idea of a "throw-away culture" is not simply a strong figure of speech, he said, pointing to "new forms of slavery, human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution and trafficking in organs." "Many lives, many stories, many dreams have been shipwrecked in our day," the pope said. "We cannot remain indifferent in the face of this. We have no right." - - -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 WoodenNAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Respect, unity and service are the foundations of a strong family, a solid democracy and a healthy response to the gift of faith -- any faith, Pope Francis told the people of Kenya. Meeting ecumenical and interreligious leaders, celebrating a large outdoor Mass and greeting priests, religious and seminarians in Nairobi Nov. 26, Pope Francis insisted faith means serving one's fellow human beings. The pope's day began early on the rainy morning with an intimate meeting with 40 representatives of Kenya's Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist communities, as well as with a Masai elder and other leaders of communities that have maintained their traditional African beliefs. During the meeting in the Vatican nunciature, Pope Francis remembered the terrorist attacks on Kenya's Westgate Mall in 2013, Garissa University College in April and Mandera in July, and urged a common recognition that "the God who we seek to serve is a God of peace." The Somali-based militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for all three attacks the pope mentioned. "All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies," the pope said. "How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect." Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, greeted the pope as "a revolutionary-minded man of God" on behalf of the country's Muslims, who, he said, make up about 30 percent of the population. "As people of one God and of this world," he told the pope, "we must stand up and in unison clasp hands together in all the things that are essential for our collective progress as one humanity, one world irrespective of location, culture, language, race, ethnicity, status, politics ... for we are citizens of the same world." Peace in the world is not possible without peace among religions, he said, citing the work of "the German philosopher Hans Kung," a Swiss priest whose authority to teach as a Catholic professor in Germany was withdrawn by the Vatican. The Muslim leader told Pope Francis and the other religious authorities, "There is so much to talk about," but the pope's schedule allotted only 45 minutes for the gathering. Still, El-Busaidy told Pope Francis and the others, "I wish you success in achieving the vision of a better world you have accepted for yourselves and for future generations. Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala thanked the pope for the Catholic Church's efforts to preserve "the apostolic faith" and its commitment to defending marriage and family life "at a time when some of these principles are being called into question." The centrality of the family and the obligation to be missionaries in word and deed were at the heart of Pope Francis' homily during a Mass celebrated with more than 200,000 people on the grounds of the University of Nairobi. Strong rains overnight and throughout the morning turned the campus lawns into a muddy mess, but that did little to dampen the people's spirits as they sang, swayed, danced and ululated. The health of a society depends on the health of its families, the pope said in his homily, which he read in Italian. Msgr. Mark Miles, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State, alternated with Pope Francis, giving an English translation. Welcoming children as a blessing and respecting the dignity of each human being should be the marks of Christian families, the pope said. "In obedience to God's word, we are also called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women and threaten the life of innocent children." "We are called to respect and encourage one another, and to reach out to all those in need," Pope Francis said. The sacraments, he said, not only strengthen people's faith, they are meant to change people's hearts, making them more faithful disciples as seen in the care they show others. As followers of Christ, the pope said, Christians are called to be "missionary disciples, men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel. Men and women who are channels of God's grace, who enable his mercy, kindness and truth to become the building blocks of a house that stands firm," a home where people live in harmony as brothers and sisters. In the afternoon, Pope Francis met with the priests, religious and seminarians of Kenya, a group that included dozens of missionaries, "even from Argentina," said Missionary of Africa Father Felix J. Phiri, chairperson of the Religious Superiors' Conference of Kenya. The country, which has more than 13.8 million Catholics, is served by more than 5,300 religious women, close to 800 religious brothers, some 2,700 diocesan priests, just over 900 religious-order priests and four permanent deacons. Welcomed with cheers and the ululations of hundreds of Kenyan sisters, Pope Francis set aside his prepared text and instead reflected on the importance of priests and religious recognizing that the Lord called them to serve and that serving is what their lives must be about. Ambition, riches and prestige have no place in the life of a priest or religious, Pope Francis said. Anyone who does not think he or she can live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience should leave and start a family, he added. "When we were called, we were not canonized," the pope said. Each priest and religious continues to be a person in need of God's mercy and forgiveness, a person who must devote time to prayer. Without prayer, he said, a person becomes as ugly as "a dried fig." Pope Francis said he could imagine that some of the priests and religious were thinking, "'What a rude pope. He told us what to do, he told us off and did not even say thank you.' So the last thing I want to say to you, the cherry on the cake, is to thank you for following Jesus, for every time you realize you are a sinner, for every caress you give someone in need."- - -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/Tyler OrsburnBy Carol ZimmermannWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Maureen Orth, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine who has written about music icons, world leaders and Hollywood celebrities, tackled a completely different subject for National Geographic magazine: the Virgin Mary. For the magazine's December cover story, "Mary the most powerful woman in the world," Orth visited several countries and interviewed dozens of people with strong devotional ties to the Mary -- including from those who claim to have seen her, those who believe her intercession has healed them and those seeking her spiritual guidance and intercession. In the magazine's Washington office Nov. 24, Orth, widow of Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press,'' who died in 2008, said what made the biggest impression on her while interviewing people for the article was Mary's universal appeal across diverse cultures. "It was a huge journey all over the world," she said, noting that what particularly stands out after a year of visiting Marian devotional sites in Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Mexico, Egypt and Rwanda is that Mary is the "hope and solace of so many people including Muslims." The Muslim appreciation of Mary, as a "holy woman of God," she told Catholic News Service, "is a bridge that ought to be explored," especially in this time of strife caused by religious extremism. Orth, a practicing Catholic, who certainly knew about Mary before this assignment, said she learned a great deal from talking with scholarly experts and reading mystics who wrote about the life of Mary but whose observations didn't make it into the article. She came away with a "more personal relationship" with Mary than an intellectual one, saying she understood Mary more as a person after talking with so many who are devoted to her. She also witnessed the deep faith of many who have traveled great distances to be where apparitions of Mary are said to have taken place such as Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where six village children said they first saw Mary in 1981 and continue to see apparitions there. A Vatican doctrinal congregation is still studying these claims. In the small village, Orth met four stage-4 cancer victims last November: Two have since died, one is under treatment and another shows no signs of the disease. All four spoke of spiritual conversions and inner peace, she said. A 59-year-old hockey dad from Boston told Orth that in 2000 one of the Medjugorje visionaries prayed with him for a cure of the cancer that riddled his body, giving him only months left to live. During the prayer, he felt a sensation of heat in his body. When he went back to Boston a week later, a CT scan at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that his tumors were almost gone. Since then, he's been back to Medjugorje 13 times. The editors at National Geographic wrote in the margin by Orth's account of his story: "Why do miracles happen to some people and not others?" Orth, who doesn't have an answer to that theological query, noted the challenge of explaining spiritual accounts in a scientific magazine. One of Orth's most inspiring stops for the story, primarily because she had not been unaware of it, was the small village of Kibeho, Rwanda, described as the place where Mary appeared to three young girls in the 1980s and foretold the genocide that took place in that country in 1994. In 2001, that Vatican verified the claims of the three girls. One had been killed in the genocide, one became a monastic sister in Italy and the third fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then Kenya during the three-month onslaught when the majority Hutu attacked the minority Tutsi and more than 800,000 people were killed. The girls, Orth writes, "said they spent countless hours in conversations with the Virgin, who called herself Nyina wa Jambo, Mother of the Word. Mary spoke to the girls so often that they called her Mama." But even though Mary is said to have spoken of the love of Jesus and gave these girls motherly advice, she is also said to have shown them images of heaven, hell and purgatory along with horrific images of genocide that she warned could happen if Rwandans did not renew their hearts and dispel evil. Orth said that the people she spoke with who said they saw apparitions all seemed genuine. She approached them as she would an investigative journalist. Their stories have been consistent throughout the years and they also have undergone extensive questioning from Vatican officials. Orth pointed out that very little is known about Mary from the Bible, but as her story reveals, the lack of details about Mary has not stopped people from reaching out to her in prayer and devotion as a way to better understand and approach God. "The number of people who use her as their guide and their way to a higher meaning, that was impressive across the board," Orth said.- - -Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.- - -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/Georgi Licovski, EPABy Dennis SadowskiWASHINGTON (CNS) -- The extensive vetting process that all refugees undergo before arriving in the United States "screens out any possible threat of terrorism," said the executive director of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services."We believe the risk is nil and certainly when we look at this (process) under a microscope, these are the most vetted people that come into our country," William Canny told Catholic News Service.The director said the State Department screening procedure -- which the White House posted on its website Nov. 20 -- is comprehensive and makes security its highest priority."We're highly confident that it's well done, that it screens out any possible threat of terrorism. Based on that, we're very comfortable receiving these families, which by the way, are mostly women and children," Canny said.Questions about the possible entry into the U.S. by extremists tied to Islamic State militants who control large swaths of Syria and Iraq have been raised since a string of violent attacks in Paris Nov. 13 and the downing of a Russian jetliner over Egypt's Sinai desert Oct. 31, all claimed by the organization.Members of Congress, presidential candidates, state legislators and at least 31 governors have called for the federal government to stop the resettlement of Syrians, saying they feared for Americans' security.Republicans in the House of Representatives Nov. 19 secured a veto-proof majority, 289-137, on the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act that would block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S. unless they undergo strict background checks. The Senate was expected to vote on the bill the week of Nov. 30.MRS helped resettle 376 Syrians nationwide between Aug. 15, 2012, and Nov. 24. The agency reported that it also has resettled 13,110 Iraqis since 2008.The agency is under contract with the State Department to resettle about 30 percent of the 70,000 refugees the country accepts annually. In 2014, MRS resettled 20,875 refugees from around the world in the U.S. It is the largest nongovernmental resettlement agency in the world.Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said at a Nov. 19 media briefing that the U.S. resettled 1,682 Syrian refuges in year ending Sept. 30.Overall, more than 4 million Syrian refugees have fled their homeland since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011.President Barack Obama has directed the State Department to prepare to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees during fiscal year 2016, which ends Sept. 30.Henshaw called the effort a "modest but important contribution to the global effort to address the Syrian refugee crisis."Streams of Syrians have fled to Europe this year as their country's civil war showed no signs of ending. Hundreds of thousands of people have made their way to Germany while other European nations have opened their borders, but to lesser numbers. Other countries, however, have denied entry to the refugees.Religious and civil rights leaders in the U.S. have prevailed on federal officials to realize that providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees, including their resettlement, is a moral obligation.The concerns raised by some U.S. elected officials focus almost exclusively on security. They point to the possibility that an extremist could get through the vetting process and eventually team up with other like-minded people to attack innocent civilians.Henshaw said the refugee resettlement program prioritizes admitting the most vulnerable Syrians, including female-headed households, children, survivors of torture and people with severe medical conditions."We have, for years, safely admitted refugees from all over the world, including Syrian refugees, and we have a great deal of experience screening and admitting large numbers of refugees from chaotic environments, including where intelligence holdings are limited," Henshaw said.Jane E. Bloom, head of the U.S. office of the International Catholic Migration Commission, told CNS that many of the refugees her agency is resettling are severely injured and have been devastated by the war."We're seeing a high number of cases that are burn victims, lost limbs, shrapnel injuries needing operations," she said. "Most of the Syrians are traumatized by an act of war. They've lost family and friends.Refugees initially are selected for resettlement by the staff of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The ICMC -- based in Geneva and with its U.S. office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- is one of the worldwide agencies working with UNHCR in processing people chosen for resettlement.ICMC has worked in two refugee support centers in Istanbul and Beirut during the Syrian crisis. Another agency, the International Office of Migration, works with refugees at support centers in Jordan and Egypt.Before the ICMC gets involved with any Syrians, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducts its own screening, Bloom said. After that step ICMC staff members begin vetting under State Department rules, collecting biographical and family information, and learning why a family fled their home in the first place, she explained."When it comes to vetting, refugees -- and in particular Syrian refugees -- are the most vetted I have come to work with in the last 30 years," Bloom told CNS."Resettlement is the most powerful protection tool that we've got in our toolbox. So ICMC uses that very wisely and very preciously for those that are very vulnerable, those who are not officially protected within Lebanon and Turkey," Bloom added.In 2014 ICMC helped resettle 7,365 refugees to the U.S. from the support center for Turkey and Middle East, according to the agency's annual report. The agency did not provide data on how many of those refugees were Syrians.The screening process for any refugee can take 18 to 24 months or more to complete, according to the State Department. It involves gathering identifying documents, personal information and an explanation why a person or family fled in addition to a series of interviews. Iris scans and biometric data are gathered for Syrians and other Middle East people, the White House graphic showed.Refugee families are fingerprinted and undergo a security screening that involves four U.S. agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and State Department. Any one agency can deny entry for any reason.Medical checks also are completed.Once cleared, applicants are required to complete cultural orientation classes. They then are assigned to a U.S.-based nongovernment organization for resettlement. One such NGO is the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, which works in turn with local diocesan resettlement agencies, commonly run by Catholic Charities.Locations selected for permanent resettlement are based on family reunification needs or the presence of an existing community of people from a given country, Canny said.In total, the Syrian-born U.S. population stood at about 86,000 people in 2014, representing about 0.2 percent of the nation's 42.4 million immigrants, according to a fact sheet released Nov. 24 by the Migration Policy Institute.Using U.S. Census data, the institute found that the Syrian population grew by about 43 percent between 2010 and 2014. It attributed the increase primarily to the country's civil war.- - -Editor's Note: Information about the resettlement work of Migration and Refugee Services is online at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/index.cfm. Information about the International Catholic Migration Commission is online at www.icmc.net. The federal process for screening refugees is outlined at 1.usa.gov/1OYqOfD.- - -Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.- - -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/Dai Kurokawa, EPABy Cindy WoodenNAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- With security concerns looming over his visit, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Nov. 25 urging tolerance and respect among people of different religions and different ethnic groups. During the less than seven-hour flight, Pope Francis told reporters the only thing he was worried about were the mosquitoes, and after greeting each of the 74 reporters individually the pope took the microphone again and said, "Protect yourselves from the mosquitoes!" Speaking to a small group of reporters as he made his way around the plane, the pope also confirmed he would visit four cities, including Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexican border, when he visits Mexico in February. In his brief remarks to the whole group, the pope did not mention the security concerns or the travel advisories issued by many governments after the terrorist attacks Nov. 13 in Paris. Pope Francis was greeted at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers, women ululating and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation's first president, for whom the airport is named. After the brief arrival ceremony Pope Francis traveled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came out and lined the road to greet him. The formal welcoming ceremony took place at Kenya's State House, where the pope met with the president, government and civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps. In his speech, the pope focused on the values needed to consolidate democracy in Kenya and throughout Africa, starting with building trust and cohesion among members of the different ethnic and religious groups on the continent. "Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration," he said. "To the extent that our societies experience divisions -- whether ethnic, religious or economic -- all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing." Kenyatta told the pope that colonization left Africa with artificial borders dividing communities, which has created tensions, but war and violence on the continent also has been fueled by "our own selfish politicization of our ethnic and religious identities." As the U.N. Climate Conference was about to begin in Paris, Pope Francis also spoke of the traditional African value of safeguarding creation and of the need to find "responsible models of economic development" that will not destroy the earth and the future. "Kenya has been blessed not only with immense beauty in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests, savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources," the pope said. Kenyans recognize them as gifts of God and have a "culture of conservation," which they are called to help others embrace as well, the pope said. "The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature," he said. "We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received." On a continent where the population is predominantly young, but unemployment among young adults is high, Pope Francis also urged the Kenyan government officials and representatives of other countries to recognize that the young, too, are a gift from God to be assisted with care. "To protect them, to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which are the very heart and soul of a people," the pope said. Knowing that he was speaking in front of the country's political and economic leaders, Pope Francis reminded them that the Gospel insists that "from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded." "Show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country," he told them. - - - 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.