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
"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
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
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 email@example.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.
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
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,
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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 email@example.com.