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Pope, English church leaders offer prayers after Manchester Arena attack

Manchester, England

At least 22 people were killed and dozens wounded after an explosion the evening of May 22 at the concert venue. Authorities said it was Britain's deadliest case of terrorism since 2005.

Religious liberty debate: People 'in the middle' need to speak up, panelists say

New York

Fordham University hosted a panel discussion about religious freedom. Speakers invoked the need for dialogue and the avoidance of stereotypes — and to not let extremists dominate the debate.

Is 'The Handmaid's Tale' about today?

Just Catholic

Just Catholic: Margaret Atwood, who wrote The Handmaid's Tale, calls it speculative fiction. What might happen. What could happen. If truth be told, we all think about that.

Geography and geometry: New cardinals fit pope's formula for faith

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis, who described himself as coming from "the ends of the earth," continues to go to the far reaches of the globe to seek those who will advise him and possibly elect the next pope.

Announcing May 21 that he was adding five churchmen to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis said their geographic mix -- two Europeans, an African, an Asian and a Central American -- reflect the catholicity of the church.

After the June 28 consistory, 62 countries will have at least one cardinal elector -- a cardinal under the age of 80 and, therefore, eligible both to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, but also available for membership on various Vatican congregations, councils and dicasteries.

Obviously, Pope Francis is continuing the big push begun under Blessed Paul VI to internationalize the College of Cardinals. The cardinal electors that chose St. John Paul II in 1978 came from 49 countries. The group that elected now-retired Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 came from 51 nations (52 if England and Scotland are counted separately). And the cardinals who gathered in the Sistine Chapel to elect Pope Francis hailed from 47 countries.

But for Pope Francis it is not just about numbers, and he is not looking for some "balanced" geographical mix.

If it is about catholicity, as he said, then it is about the way the faith is lived, expressed and grows in different cultures and how those experiences become riches for the church as a whole.

Here Pope Francis' understanding of inculturation and his favorite geometrical shape -- the polyhedron -- come into play.

A polyhedron is an irregular shape with many sides; the sides do not have to be the same size and they do not have to be spaced the same distance from the center.

As Pope Francis wrote in "The Joy of the Gospel," the 2013 exhortation that laid out his vision for his pontificate, in a polyhedron each part "preserves its distinctiveness" but contributes to the whole.

For Christians, he said, seeing the global church as a polyhedron "evokes the totality or integrity of the Gospel, which the church passes down to us and sends us forth to proclaim."

Every facet or side of the three-dimensional object represents "the genius" of each people who has received "in its own way the entire Gospel and embodies it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration."

Masterpieces of theology and spirituality, music, art and architecture obviously are gifts Catholics are called to share with each other. But, for Pope Francis, so are the experiences of keeping the faith amid crushing poverty or persecution.

The five churchmen who will become cardinals June 28 are: Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74; Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, 67; and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73.

The short biographies the Vatican released May 21 give glimpses of the gifts Pope Francis wants them to share with the rest of the church. For example:

-- Cardinal-designate Rosa Chavez, who worked closely with Blessed Oscar Romero before he was assassinated in 1980, is the president of Caritas El Salvador and president of Caritas Latin America and Caribbean.

-- Cardinal-designate Zerbo played an active role in the Mali peace process, trying to end years of civil strife that began in 2012.

-- Cardinal-designate Mangkhanekhoun is known for training catechists and making pastoral visits to remote mountain villages.

-- Cardinal-designate Arborelius is a convert to Catholicism and the first native-born Swede to serve as a Catholic bishop in Sweden since the Protestant Reformation.

-- Cardinal-designate Omella has been a longtime member and two-term president of the Spanish bishops' social concerns commission.

In Pope Francis' vision, appreciating the polyhedron that is the universal church means not only going out to the "peripheries" with the Gospel, but listening to stories of faith there and giving witness of that experience to Christians living in places often mistakenly considered central, if not the center of the Christian world.

In his homily on Epiphany, Jan. 6, Pope Francis noted that the Three Wise Men first went to Herod's palace in Jerusalem, but they discovered "that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere, both existentially and geographically."

"The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day," the pope said. Off the beaten track, in Bethlehem, "before the small, poor and vulnerable infant," they "discovered the glory of God."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Be prophets of joy, not misfortune, pope tells nuns

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Consecrated women are called to be prophets of hope and joy in the world and avoid putting on a superficial joy that withers the soul, Pope Francis said.

In order to live out the joy of the Gospel, "it must be a true joy, not a counterfeit joy" that brings about "the cancer of resignation," the pope told a group from the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master.

"Please, sisters, no resignation. Only joy! The devil will say, 'We are small, we don't have many vocations.' And your face will grow long -- down, down, down -- and you lose joy," he said. "No, you cannot live like that; the hope of Jesus is joy."

Founded in 1924, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master are part of the nine institutes of consecrated life that form the Pauline Family established by Blessed James Alberione.

The congregation was in Rome April 30-May 28 for their ninth general chapter on the theme "New wine in new wineskins."

After receiving a warm applause from the sisters, the pope asked their pardon for his late arrival.

"I had a meeting with the bishops of Guatemala and these meetings go on and on and on and then, the sisters pay the price," he said as the sisters laughed.

In his speech, the pope expressed his hope that the congregation's general chapter would "bring forth abundant fruit," particularly the fruit of communion.

He asked them to practice "fraternal correction and respect for the weakest sisters" while warning of the dangers of divisions, envy and gossip that "destroy the congregation."

"For this reason, I invite you to cultivate dialogue and communion with other charisms and to fight self-referentialism in every way," the pope said. "It is ugly when a consecrated man or woman is self-referential, always looking at him/herself in the mirror. It's ugly."

The general chapter, he continued, is also a time to live out "the apostolate of the ear," that is, to listen to "the sisters as well as men and women of today." Listening to and sharing with others is necessary "if we want our lives to be fully meaningful for ourselves and the people we meet."

The vocation to consecrated life, he added, is also an opportunity for sisters to fulfill "the prophecy of joy" in their lives, which is both "a beautiful reality" and "a great challenge for all of us."

Pope Francis encouraged the sisters to not unite themselves with "the prophets of misfortune" who damage the church or give in to the temptation of "drowsiness" like the apostles in Gethsemane.

"Awaken the world, awaken the future," he said. "Always smiling; with joy, with hope."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope: Christians without tenderness, respect are serpents who divide

IMAGE: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The sin committed most frequently in Christian parishes and groups is bad-mouthing and backstabbing each other, which not only divides the community, it drives away people who come seeking God, Pope Francis said.

"Truly, this pains me to the core. It's as if we were throwing stones among ourselves, one against the other. And the devil enjoys it; it's a carnival for the devil," he told parishioners in his homily during an evening Mass at a parish on the outskirts of Rome May 21.

Pope Francis told parishioners at the church of San Pier Damiani how important their use of language was. As baptized members of the church, every Christian has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, he said.

People must continue to pray for and safeguard that gift, which includes using a "special language," not Latin, he said, but something else. "It is a language of tenderness and respect" that is also mirrored in one's behavior.

"It is so awful to see these people who call themselves Christians, but they are filled with bitterness" or anger, he said in a homily that was off-the-cuff.

The devil knows how to weaken people's efforts to serve God and safeguard the Holy Spirit's presence inside them. "He will do everything so our language is not tender and not respectful," the pope said.

"A Christian community that does not safeguard the Holy Spirit with tenderness and with respect" is like the serpent with the long, long tongue, who is depicted in statues as being crushed under Mary's foot.

Pope Francis said a priest once told him about some people in a parish whose tongues were so long from wagging gossip that "they could take Communion from the front door; they could reach the altar with the tongue they have."

"This is the enemy that destroys our communities -- chatter," he said, adding it was also "the most common sin in our Christian communities."

A language that boasts or shows off "out of ambition, envy, jealousy" not only divides those already gathered, it drives off newcomers, he said.

How many people step inside a parish in search of God's peace and tenderness, but instead they encounter gossip, competition and "internal fighting among the faithful."

"And then what do they say? 'If these are Christians, I'd rather stay pagan.' And they leave, disappointed," he said. "We are the ones pushing them away."

Before celebrating Mass in the parish, the pope heard the confessions of four penitents, greeted the sick, met with members of the Neocatechumenal Way and spent time with people receiving assistance from the local Caritas.

While poverty or not having enough to get by "is a terrible cross," the pope said, it is the way Jesus chose to come into the world and live.

"We have to pray for the wealthy, for the wealthy who have too much and do not know what to do with the money and want more. Poor things," he said.

It's not about hating the rich, because that is not Christian, but praying for them so they will not become corrupt and they will recognize the wealth "is not theirs, it is God's that he gave them to administer" by being generous, working honestly and living simply and austerely, he said.

Pope Francis also told them he understood why, because of all the red tape, their pastor built without legal permits the kitchen they use to make meals for those in need. Sometimes things are made so complicated as a way to bring in bribes, he said, since "bureaucracy, usually, loosens with payoffs."

Earlier, the pope sat down with children and young adults at the parish-run sports center for a brief Q&A outside in the warm sun.

He reminisced about growing up as one of five children who knew how to have fun.

Wanting to illustrate the happy times they had, he also had to preface his anecdote with a "Don't try this at home" warning, as he told them about a parachuting contest they had which involved jumping off a balcony with an umbrella. One brother went first, and escaped harm by a hair's breadth.

"These are dangerous games, but we were happy," he said, emphasizing how they should cherish having a family and relatives who care about them. They should also obey their parents, he added, because they make many sacrifices for their well-being.

"It's a beautiful thing, it is a beautiful vocation, to have a family," he said.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Bishops tell lawmakers to focus on poor in upcoming budget

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Decrease military spending and help the poor, said the U.S. bishops in a May 19 letter addressed to Congress, before lawmakers prepare to work on the federal budget for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.

The budget requires difficult decisions, but lawmakers must "give central importance to 'the least of these,'" said the letter sent to all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and signed by the chairmen of six USCCB committees.

The letter urged lawmakers to "promote the welfare of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity."

Increasing funding for defense and immigration enforcement while cutting "many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling," said the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, and Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

Respectively, they chair the bishops' committees on pro-life activities, international policy, communications, domestic policy, Catholic education and migration.

Decisions should be "guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity," said the bishops in the letter, and making deep cuts to programs that help the poor "would harm people facing dire circumstances."

"When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker," the bishops said in the letter.

An early budget proposal unveiled in March by President Donald Trump's administration called for a $54 billion increase in military spending and cutting nonmilitary programs by an equal amount. The proposal also asked for more money for immigration enforcement, while seeking deep cuts in social safety-net programs as well as environmental programs and dramatically reducing funding for the State Department and its foreign aid programs.

The early draft of Trump's proposed budget, called the "skinny budget" because of its drastic proposed cuts to certain departments, included slashing by 37 percent the $50 billion budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. Both departments have anti-poverty programs to help foster democratic societies abroad.

"It is hard to reconcile the need for diplomacy and political solutions with significant cuts to the State Department budget," they said.

The bishops said in the letter that diplomacy and international development are "primary tools" for peace, regional stability and human rights and lawmakers should "not adopt deep cuts to these budgets." As it is, the U.S. spends more than any other country on military and its spending is about a third of worldwide military spending, the bishops said.

"Our nation continues to increase spending on nuclear weapons, despite the moral imperative to verifiably disarm from this class of indiscriminate weapons," they said. "Military force should only be employed in a just cause as a last resort within strict moral limits of proportionality, discrimination and probability of success."

Although there isn't enough money to fund everything, spending money elsewhere, or saving money in the budget shouldn't be done by cutting health care, nutrition or other anti-poverty programs, the bishops said.

"The human consequences of budget choices are clear to us as pastors," they said, calling the federal budget "a moral document with profound implications for the common good of our nation and world."

"Our Catholic community defends the unborn and the undocumented, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad," their letter said. "We help mothers facing challenging situations of pregnancy, poor families rising above crushing poverty, refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines."

And in that fight, "we are partners with government," they said, adding that church institutions around the world help the most marginalized of communities.

"The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates," the bishops said. "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good."

It's unclear when Congress will take up talks on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Both parties expressed criticism of the president's initial proposal. The White House said it would release a full budget for the 2018 fiscal year May 23, while Trump is away on his first foreign trip as president and a day before he meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Pope goes door to door, blessing the homes of the poor

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like parish priests throughout Italy do during the Easter season, Pope Francis spent an afternoon May 19 going door to door and blessing homes.

Continuing the "Mercy Friday" visits he began during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis chose a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Vatican press office said Father Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris parish, put up signs May 17 announcing a priest would be visiting the neighborhood to bless houses. The signs, which indicate a date and give a time frame, are a common site in Italy in the weeks before and after Easter.

"It was a great surprise today when, instead of the pastor, the one ringing the door bells was Pope Francis," the press office said. "With great simplicity, he interacted with the families, he blessed a dozen apartments" and left rosaries for the residents.

"Joking, he apologized for disturbing people, however he reassured them that he had respected the hour of silence for a nap after lunch in accordance with the sign posted at the entrance to the building," the press office said.

The pope's Friday visits to hospitals and hospices, homes for children, rehab centers and other places of care were planned for the Year of Mercy as tangible ways for the pope to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Although the Year of Mercy ended in November, the pope restarted making Mercy Friday visits in March when he visited a home and educational center for the blind and visually impaired.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Search for common ground will be key to pope's meeting with Trump

IMAGE: CNS

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite a few pointed comments in the past and fundamental differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy, military spending and climate change, sparks are not expected to fly May 24 when Pope Francis welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to the Vatican.

The two will have a private conversation, with interpreters present, and while anything is possible, protocol dictates that the joint statement issued after the meeting will describe it as "cordial."

Going into the meeting, Pope Francis made it clear he hoped it would be.

On Pope Francis' flight back to Rome from Portugal May 13, a reporter asked him, "What are you expecting from a meeting with a head of state who seems to think and act in a way contrary to your own?"

The pope replied, "I never make a judgment about people without hearing them first. It is something I feel I should not do. When we speak to each other, things will come out. I will say what I think; he will say what he thinks. But I have never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person."

Pope Francis said he would look first for areas of agreement and shared principles -- his basic recipe for creating "a culture of encounter."

"There are always doors that are not closed," the pope said about his meeting with Trump. "We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward. Step by step."

The key, he said, is "respect for the other, saying what we think, but with respect, walking together. Someone sees things in a certain way: say so, be honest in what each of us thinks."

Honesty, even if not completely diplomatic, characterized a couple of pointed remarks Pope Francis and then-presidential candidate Trump made in reference to the other's positions.

Flying in February 2016 to Rome from Mexico, where he had just paid homage to people who have lost their lives trying to cross into the United States, Pope Francis was asked about candidate Trump's promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

"A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said. He added that he would not tell anyone how to vote and that he would "have to see if he said these things, and thus I will give him the benefit of the doubt."

Trump responded by saying that the Mexican government had given Pope Francis only "one side of the story" and was "using the pope as a pawn."

Also, he said, "for a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now."

Efforts to protect freedom of conscience for employers and health-care workers and the need to defend religious freedom are likely to be a starting point for finding common ground.

A discussion about religious persecution could open the door to Pope Francis restating his conviction of the moral obligation to welcome strangers, especially those fleeing persecution, terrorism, war and abject poverty.

Protecting the unborn is another common concern and would provide an opening for Trump to talk about his Supreme Court nominee and his steps to halt funding of abortions overseas. It also would give Pope Francis an opening to talk about the protection of all life -- especially the weakest -- with health care, education, job opportunities and a clean environment where people can thrive.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Ideological fanatics divide the Christian community, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians who turn doctrine into ideology commit a grave mistake that upsets souls and divides the church, Pope Francis said.

From the beginning, there have been people in the church who preach "without any mandate" and become "fanatics of things that aren't clear," the pope said May 19 in his homily during Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"This is the problem: When the doctrine of the church, the one from the Gospel, the one inspired by the Holy Spirit -- because Jesus said, 'He will teach you and remind you of what I have taught!' -- when that doctrine becomes ideology. And this is the greatest mistake of these people," he said.

The pope reflected on the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (15:22-31), in which, after much debate, the apostles and presbyters send representatives to allay the concerns of the gentile converts after they were ordered by overzealous believers to follow Jewish practices if they wished to be saved.

However, the apostles ruled that "it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond" abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols and from strangled animals, blood and unlawful marriages.

The initial debate about how to deal with the gentiles, the pope said, was between "the group of the apostles who wanted to discuss the problem and the others who go and create problems."

"They divide, they divide the church, they say that what the apostles preach is not what Jesus said, that it isn't the truth," he explained.

Those who sow discord and "divide the Christian community," the pope said, do so because their "hearts are closed to the work of the Holy Spirit."

These individuals, he added, "weren't believers, they were ideologues."

Pope Francis said the exhortation sent to the gentiles by Peter and the other apostles encourages all Christians to be unafraid before "the opinions of the ideologues of doctrine."

"The church has its own magisterium, the magisterium of the pope (and) the bishops," and it must follow along the path "that comes from Jesus' preaching and the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit," the pope said.

Doctrine, he said, unites the Christian community because it is "always open, always free" while "ideology divides."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 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.