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Vatican cell conference opens with focus on kids, rare disease

(Vatican Radio)  For a child to be born sick is a “scandalous” problem for humanity.  That was one of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s reflections Thursday as he opened in the Vatican day one of the Third International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact.  The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture partnered with the Stem For Life Foundation to organize what has been described as a “historic” three day event 28-30 April to look at the complex cultural and social framework of illnesses and at cutting edge research into cellular therapies. In her opening remarks, the President of Stem For Life, Dr. Robin Smith, pointed to the growing range of therapies currently under study for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune disorders and rare diseases.  The first in the series of conferences was launched five years ago, she noted, to foster a dialogue about the importance of stem cell therapy.  Since then, the sector has progressed exponentially as scientists became increasingly aware of their ability to be “taught” to transform into a wide variety of tissue, cells and even organs. Saving lives or playing God? “Cellular cures are the light in front of us,” she said, but they need to be made more rapidly available to patients.  Super computers and ever-more powerful diagnostic tools are making it easier to identify the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.  The advances in cellular therapy are happening so quickly, she suggested, it will not be long before people begin to ask: can we design our own child?  Choose its hair and eye colour, its height and intelligence?  Can we turn back time and reverse aging?  Are we playing God?  The philosophical and ethical questions abound. Smith invited us to have tissues at the ready for the heart-wrenching stories we were about to hear.  Stories like Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts’ exhausting battle with breast cancer which evolved into any doctor’s worst nightmare: Mylodisplastic  Syndrome (MDS) or pre-Leukemia. She was told she had less than two years to live. But thanks to her sister, Sally, Robin received a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant that saved her life. Transplants and “Reengineering” can transform lives We heard that more than 70 disorders can be treated with bone marrow transplants.  Nearly half of the 50,000 such transplants performed around the world each year require a donor. Though national registries have made matching up donors to patients easier in recent years, finding the right fit can take months. That, even though there are more than 20 million voluntary bone marrow donors worldwide.  Scientists are finding ways to train bone marrow cells to adapt to new hosts so they won’t be rejected by the body’s immune system.  They’re also finding promising new techniques by taking a patient’s own cells and re-programming them to fight off “bad” cells.  One such technique is called “chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy,” a revolutionary but experimental treatment which reengineers the patient’s cells to kill off all cancerous cells. 17 year old Nicholas Wilkins was diagnosed with the most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, at age 4.  After repeated relapses, he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. But even that didn’t work. In 2013, his desperate parents enrolled Nicholas in a trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where doctors reinfused reengineered T-cells back into his body to attack the cancer.  Three years later, he is cancer free and doctors are hopeful he will stay that way because the “good” T-cells are continuing to fight the cancer. Researchers are hopeful this technique can be just as promising in the treatment of other diseases, such as rare and autoimmune disorders. 90% of kids with cancer die in developing nations Georgetown University Health Care Ethics Professor Fr. Kevin Fitzgerald, sj told us that some 80-90% of children with cancer in industrialized countries are cured while 90% die in poor countries.  The moral imperative, then, is to ensure adequate medical care in developing countries: an invitation to policy makers, businesses, the pharmaceutical sector and medical and research communities to collaborate to make this a reality.  And, he reminded us that as the largest health care provider in the world, the Catholic Church is ready to partner with them. Eugene Gasana Jr was 13 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011 and after intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy in New York, he has been in remission. But Eugene wasn’t satisfied with just getting better himself.  He wanted kids in his home country of Rwanda to have access to similar, high quality medical care.  Thanks to a Foundation set up in his name and donors, his paediatric oncologist, Dr. Tanya Trippett of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is heading up a program to provide a hospital and cancer care for children in Kigali for the east African region. According to Trippett, serving cancer patients in Rwanda and other parts of Africa is a challenge because of the lack of quality diagnostic equipment and in some cases, the absence of chemotherapy and cancer drugs.  The infrastructure is poor and oncologists are few.  Patients go hungry in hospitals which also struggle to provide follow-up care for families who live far away.  She wants to see more cooperation between Western hospitals and clinical professionals to provide training to Rwandan and other African doctors, nurses and hospital staff and greater access to funding. Dr. Raphael Rousseau, Medical director of Genentech, a member of the Roche pharmaceutical group, would like to see more clinical trials in developing countries, using the same rigorous standards as Western trials.  He says he’s frustrated that drugs are not getting soon enough to children with cancer and appealed to drug companies to develop new therapies for cancer, especially in developing countries “where cancer is lethal.” This not an area of competition, he said, “we’re all in it for a good cause.” Cord blood’s life-saving stem cells Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University Medical Center works with cord blood stem cells to find cures for brain diseases like cerebral palsy, or autism, and in some cases, with remarkable results.  Not long ago, after a woman gave birth, the placenta used to be thrown out in the trash, she said.  But now, the stem cell-rich material can be frozen and stored, perhaps for decades, in the some 700,000 public cord blood banks around the world until it is needed for therapy. Some four million banks preserve cord blood for private use. Cord blood can be an alternative source, she said, for patients who can’t find a matching donor. Dr. Yong Zhao of Hackensack University Medical Center is finding encouraging results using cord blood cells for multiple autoimmune and inflammation-related diseases. The rare disease challenge The new treatments evolving are many: “nano technology,” “nano chips,” “gene therapy” and “gene editing” were some of the terms thrown out by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s Dr. Stephen Groft who said 4-8% of the population suffers from a rare disorder. Some 8,000 rare diseases have been identified, and most have a genetic origin, but more diseases are occurring and mutating. Multiply that by family and friends, he said, “and you have a big population affected by rare diseases.”  A lack of information on such disorders, misdiagnosis and lack of treatments are the real challenges facing patients with rare diseases. But Dr. Groft is among a number of health experts worldwide who are compiling data bases of patients, doctors, symptoms, and treatment protocols so that the global health community can study these rare diseases and communicate with each other about them.  Social media plays a big part here, he said, as patients exchange their stories and search for clinical trials in which to participate and doctors looking for colleagues who have come across similar patient cases. We heard about 14 year old Johnathan who suffers from a disorder known as “Butterfly disease,” a frightfully painful condition that makes his skin as fragile as powdery butterfly wings but has nothing to do with the beauty of the delicate creature.  Johnathan and his mom spend hours each day dressing him, bathing and changing the bandages covering the sores on much of his frail body. Here was one of the many times  I reached for a tissue on Thursday.   Johnathan knows he probably won’t survive past his mid- 20’s. Then, there were the children with Batten disease, which one father described as a “thief” which comes in the night to steal away your small child’s vision, his brain, his ability to walk and talk.  And, the kids suffering childhood blindness who are receiving encouraging help with gene therapy. Dr. Neil Warma of Opexa Therapeutics, is working with personalized T-cell vaccines to fit each individual’s patient’s profile to treat an array of autoimmune disorders including Multiple Schlerosis and NMO so the body can repair itself. New therapies are also evolving in the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes or juvenile diabetes giving fresh hope to patients suffering from this debilitating disorder too. Tracey McClure (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope advances sainthood causes of Irish Jesuit, Albanian martyrs

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of an Irish Jesuit, who was raised Anglican, and dedicated his life to the sick and the dying as well as the cause of 38 Albanian martyrs killed during the communist persecution of Christians. During an April 26 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope signed 12 decrees, including one recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Jesuit Father John Sullivan. Born in Dublin to a wealthy family in 1861, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 35 and entered the Jesuits four years later. Father Sullivan was known for traveling many miles on bicycle and on foot to comfort the afflicted in County Kildare, Ireland. With the decree regarding the miracle, a beatification ceremony can be scheduled for Father Sullivan. Formally recognizing the martyrdom of the Albanian martyrs and a group of Spanish martyrs, Pope Francis set the stage for their beatification ceremonies as well. The Albanian martyrs include Archbishop Vincent Prennushi, a Franciscan prelate, and 37 other Catholics killed between 1945 and 1974. The religious persecution the atheist state waged from 1944 to the 1990s was so severe that it prompted Pope Francis to make Albania the first country in Europe he visited. During the visit in September 2014, the pope was moved to tears after listening to the stories of two survivors of Albania's communist crackdown against the church; the pope called the country "a land of heroes and martyrs." The martyrs of the Spanish Civil War who will be beatified are Benedictine Father Jose Anton Gomez and three companions who were killed in 1936. In recognizing a miracle attributed to Blessed Alfonso Maria Fusco, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene, Pope Francis cleared the way for his canonization. In causes just beginning their way toward sainthood, the pope signed decrees recognizing the heroic virtues of three men and five women, including: -- Father Thomas Choe Yang-eop, a Korean priest who died in 1861. Known as the "martyr of sweat," he traveled more than 2,500 miles every year and listened to some 4,000 confessions. -- Father Sosio Del Prete, an Italian Franciscan priest and founder of the Little Servants of Christ the King. -- Father Walenty Katarzyniec, a Polish Franciscan priest who died in 1921. -- Mother Emilia Pasqualina Addatis, the Italian founder of the Congregation of Mother of Sorrows Servants of Mary. -- Mother Caterina Carrasco Tenorio, a Spanish nun and founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Flock of Mary. She died in 1917. -- Mother Laura Baraggia, an Italian nun born in 1851 who founded the Sisters of the Family of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. -- Mother Ilia Corsaro, an Italian nun and foundress of the Little Missionaries of the Eucharist. She died in 1977. -- Maria Montserrat Grases Garcia, a Spanish laywoman and member of Opus Dei who died in 1959 at the age of 17.

Tubman pick divides Americans

Turn on whichever brand of cable news you prefer — especially during this contentious election season — and it becomes unquestionably clear that we live in a society that is strongly divided along political lines. Other than the approval rating of Congress (which stands at 15 percent according to the latest Gallup poll), Americans can agree on very little when it comes to the decisions being made by our federal government. Even moves that should be applauded universally, it seems, have an equal number of detractors. On April 20, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, becoming the first woman since the late 19th century to grace paper currency — and the first African American in history to be so honored. Tubman, a former slave and hero of the Underground Railroad, was also a spy and a scout for the Union Army during the Civil War. Still, despite being one of the most respected women in American history, not all are eager to see her become the new face of the $20 bill. According to researchers at, who polled more than 1,500 Americans, slightly more than half (56 percent) believe replacing Jackson with Tubman was the right move. A strong division was seen when linking respondents with their presidential candidate of choice: 7 in 10 supporters of Donald Trump disagree with the move, while supporters of Hillary Clinton (81 percent) and Bernie Sanders (85 percent) back the decision. Tubman, who was known as “Moses” for leading blacks out of slavery, likely wouldn’t be fazed by this division. She saw worse.

Nine witnesses to the beauty of the domestic church

For many years, I have had the great joy to be close to a family named the Pohlmeiers. I met Keith when I worked for the Diocese of Arlington, and we became fast friends, bonding over a love of baseball, March Madness and a preferred 1:15 p.m. lunchtime. I first met Keith’s beautiful wife, Melissa, and their then-two children, Rebecca and Thomas, when Thomas was in a stroller. Rebecca, not much older, stood mostly in the shadow of her parents’ legs, hair in barrettes, eyes more often than not downcast, at least among strangers. (Many of you prayed for Melissa last summer when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am happy to report that, after months of treatments and two surgeries, she is well on the road to recovery and feeling “awesome.”) As time passed, and Keith and Melissa were blessed with additional children, I was privileged to become an occasional caregiver to these little ones. I played whiffle ball with Thomas and Andrew, pushed Rachel on the swings, played in the dirt with James, lost “Sorry!” to Rose and am still working hard to earn the trust of Grace, who reminds me of her oldest sister, way-back-when. Ever-reliable Rebecca was my invaluable helper. As time passed, I found myself at more and more organized sporting games. I was invited over on Easter and for special celebrations. They became my Northern Virginia family. When I moved to Indiana three years ago, one of my biggest heartbreaks was leaving the nine of them behind. I haven’t quite yet recovered. It was at the request of Rebecca, now 14, but still in barrettes to me, that I traveled back to Arlington last month. She had written a letter asking me to be her confirmation sponsor, and I might have cried. It has always seemed to me that a sign of true friendship is that, even after the passage of time, things pick up right where they left off. So it was with the Pohlmeiers. We spent the day playing and reading and talking. That evening, Rebecca was sealed with the oil of chrism by the bishop, my hand firmly on her shoulder. But as beautiful as that moment was, the one that really stands out is this: Before going to the church, Keith’s priest brother, Erik, celebrated Mass in the Pohlmeiers’ living room. The attendees were five adults and seven children. Rebecca did the readings, and we prayed for her and her classmates. There was complete silence as we all, short to tall, big to small, welcomed Jesus into the home so filled with love. It was the domestic church in action, and I will never forget it. This is a tough world, with many reasons for cynicism and despair. That night with the Pohlmeiers was like an antidote to this reality — an opportunity to become awash in grace and gratitude. Life isn’t always easy for them, yet they keep their eyes and their hearts focused on Jesus, and he paves the way. I am grateful for such friends, for such witnesses to love and to faith, and I pray that God may continue to bless them.

Pope: No to Double lives: Christians are people of light

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis warned Christians against having double lives, displaying an outer facade of light but having darkness in their hearts. He urged them to walk in the light and not tread dark paths, saying God’s truth cannot be found there. The Pope’s remarks came during his homily at Mass celebrated on Friday morning in the Santa Marta residence. Taking his cue from the reading of St John’s First Letter, Pope Francis reflected on the eternal struggle against sin, saying we must be pure like the Father but even if we sin we can count on his pardon and his tenderness. He stressed the Apostle’s warning to believers to tell the truth and not have double lives, saying one thing but doing another.     Walk in the light “If you say you are in communion with the Lord, then walk in the light.  But no to double lives!  Not that! That lie that we are so used to seeing and where we too sometimes fall (into temptation), don’t we?  To say one thing and do another, right?  It’s the never ending temptation.  And we know where that lie comes from: in the Bible, Jesus calls the devil ‘the father of lies’, the liar. It’s for this reason that this grandfather says with infinite tenderness and meekness to the ‘adolescent’ Church: ‘Don’t be a liar! You are in communion with God, walk in the light. Do works of light, don’t say one thing and do another. No to double lives and all that.” Bigger than our sins Noting how John began his Letter with the greeting, ‘children’, Pope Francis said this affectionate beginning is just like the tone of a grandfather towards his ‘young grandchildren’ and reveals the tenderness and light contained in this reading. It also recalls Jesus’ words when he promised “rest” to all those “who labour and are overburdened.” In the same way, the Pope continued, John urges his readers not to sin but if somebody does, to not be discouraged by this. “We have a Paraclete, a word, an advocate, a defender at the Father’s side, it’s Jesus Christ, the Upright One. He makes us righteous. It is He who pardons us. A person may feel like saying to this grandfather who gives us this advice: ‘But is it such a bad thing to have sins?’ ‘No, a sin is a bad thing! But if you have sinned, look at who is waiting to pardon you.’ Always! That’s because He, our Lord, is greater than our sins.” The Pope concluding by saying this is God’s Mercy and his greatness and it’s from Him alone that we can get our strength.    “We must walk in the light because God is Light.  Don’t walk with one foot in the light and the other in darkness.  Do not be liars.  And one other thing: we have all sinned. Nobody can say: ‘This man is a sinner, this woman is a sinner.’  I, thanks to God, am upright.’ No, only one is Upright, He who paid for us. And if somebody sins, He is waiting for us and pardons us because He is merciful and knows very well what we are shaped from and remembers that we are but dust. May the joy that this Letter gives us, carry us forward in the simplicity and the transparency of the Christian life, above all when we turn to the Lord… with truth.” (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope addresses conference on regenerative medicine

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday addressed participants of an International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact. The Conference is being sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Stem for Life Foundation, and the STOQ Foundation. The 2016 conference focused on pediatric cancers and rare diseases, as well as diseases that occur with aging. It featured talks and discussions with leading cell therapy scientists, physicians, patient advocates, ethicists, philanthropists, leaders of faith and government officials. In his address, Pope Francis focused on three aspects of the commitment of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the institutions working with it. “It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society,” the Pope said, “and not remain indifferent to our neighbour’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease.” Pope Francis described this aspect of their work as “increasing sensitivity.” The Holy Father also emphasized the importance of research, in terms of “education and genuine scientific study.” Education, he said, is necessary not only to develop students’ intellectual abilities, but also to ensure “human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree.” Research, meanwhile, “requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person.” The third aspect highlighted by Pope Francis was “ensuring access to care.” A desire for profit should never prevail over the value of human life. This, the Pope said, “is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy.” By drawing attention to and educating people about rare diseases, by increasing funds for research, and by promoting “necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift,” he continued, “the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered.” Pope Francis concluded his address with a word of encouragement for those participating in the Conference. “During this Jubilee Year, may you be capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy.” Below, please find the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ remarks: Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants of the International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican City   Friday 29 April 2016   Dear Friends,             I am pleased to welcome all of you. I thank Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi for his words and, above all, for having organized this meeting on the challenging problem of rare diseases within today’s social and cultural context. During your discussions, you have offered your professionalism and high-level expertise in the area of researching new treatments. At the same time, you have not ignored ethical, anthropological, social and cultural questions, as well as the complex problem of access to care for those afflicted by rare conditions. These patients are often not given sufficient attention, because investing in them is not expected to produce substantial economic returns. In my ministry I frequently meet people affected by so called “rare” diseases. These illnesses affect millions of people throughout the world, and cause suffering and anxiety for all those who care for them, starting with family members.             Your meeting takes on greater significance in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy; mercy is “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life” ( Misericordiae Vultus , 2). Your work is a sign of hope, as it brings together people and institutions from diverse cultures, societies and religions, all united in their deep concern for the sick.             I wish to reflect, albeit briefly, on three aspects of the commitment of the Pontifical Council for Culture and institutions working with it: the Vatican Science and Faith Foundation–STOQ, the Stem for Life Foundation, and many others who are cooperating in this cultural initiative. The first is “increasing sensitivity”. It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society, and not remain indifferent to our neighbour’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease. We know that we cannot always find fast cures to complex illnesses, but we can be prompt in caring for these persons, who often feel abandoned and ignored. We should be sensitive towards all, regardless of religious belief, social standing or culture.             The second aspect that guides your efforts is “research”, seen in two inseparable actions: education and genuine scientific study. Today more than ever we see the urgent need for an education that not only develops students’ intellectual abilities, but also ensures integral human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree. From this pedagogical perspective, it is necessary in medical and life sciences to offer interdisciplinary courses which provide ample room for a human formation supported by ethical criteria. Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person. Formation and research, therefore, aspire to serve higher values, such as solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life, and fraternal and selfless love. The third aspect I wish to mention is “ensuring access to care”. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I highlighted the value of human progress today, citing “areas such as health care, education and communications” (52). I also strongly emphasized, however, the need to oppose “an economy of exclusion and inequality” (53) that victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life. This is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy. We are called to make known throughout the world the issue of rare diseases, to invest in appropriate education, to increase funds for research, and to promote necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift. In this way, the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered. Thanks to coordinated efforts at various levels and in different sectors, it is becoming possible not only to find solutions to the sufferings which afflict our sick brothers and sisters, but also to secure access to care for them.             I encourage you to nurture these values which are already a part of your academic and cultural programme, begun some years ago. So too I urge you to continue to integrate more people and institutions throughout the world into your work. During this Jubilee Year, may you be capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy. I accompany you and bless you on this journey; and I ask you, please, pray for me. Thank you. (from Vatican Radio)...

Honor thy Mother

On March 13, 2015, in his homily for a Lenten penitential service, Pope Francis announced his plan for a Jubilee Year of Mercy running from the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8, 2015) until the solemnity of Christ the King (Nov. 20, 2016). The month of May this year falls at the very center of the Year of Mercy. This provides an opportune time to make a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine or plan a pilgrimage to one during the Year of Mercy. In Misericordiae Vultus , the bull of indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis noted that “pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life” (No. 14). In this same document, the Holy Father points us toward Mary, the Mother of Mercy, “because her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh” (No. 24). To make a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine is a beautiful way to celebrate the Year of Mercy. Unfortunately, not all people have the time or money to make a pilgrimage to one of the great Marian shrines of the world such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, Our Lady of Lourdes in France or Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. There are, however, numerous Marian shrines of special importance spread throughout the United States. Here are some shrines worth considering. Robert Fastiggi is a professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. The current shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans was consecrated in 1928. Courtesy Photo Our Lady of Prompt Succor New Orleans The National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor is located on the campus of the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans. Although the present shrine was consecrated in 1928, its origin goes back to a promise made in 1810 to Our Lady by the Ursuline sister, Mother St. Michel Gensoul. The Ursuline Sisters first came to Louisiana in 1727, and they established Ursuline Academy to educate children of European colonists and the local Creole people whether slave or free. In 1803, Louisiana was purchased by the United States, and President Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to the Ursuline Sisters assuring them that they could retain their property. More Info Website: Phone: 504-866-0200 The Sisters, though, were short on personnel, and the superior, Mother St. André Madier, wrote to her cousin, Mother St. Michel Gensoul, in France asking her to come to New Orleans to help the community. Mother St. Michel asked Bishop Nicolas-Marie Fournier of Montpellier, France, for this permission, but he said only the pope could give this authorization. Pope Pius VII, however, was being held captive by Napoleon during this time, and it was uncertain whether he could be reached to give permission. Mother St. Michel prayed before a statue of Our Lady asking that her request might be received by the pope. If her request was granted, she promised to honor the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Her request was granted. She sent a letter to Pius VII from Montpellier on March 19, 1809. On April 28, a letter from a cardinal authorized by the pope granted permission to go to Louisiana. Mother St. Michel had a statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor carved, and it was blessed by Bishop Fournier. This statue, along with Mother St. Michel, arrived in Louisiana in 1810. Many miracles and graces have been associated with the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans. When a fire raged through the city in 1812, the Ursuline Sisters prayed before the stature and the fire shifted direction. During the War of 1812, the British forces seemed sure to defeat the outnumbered American troops in New Orleans. On the night of Jan. 7, 1815, the Ursuline Sisters prayed before the statue. During Mass the next morning, a courier came in to announce that the American troops under Andrew Jackson had miraculously defeated the British. A fog had moved into the area where the British had lodged, and ...

Pope: There is always resistance in the Church to surprises of the Spirit

(Vatican Radio) There is always resistance to the surprises of the Spirit, but it’s the Spirit who continues to lead the Church forward. That was Pope Francis’ message at Mass on Thursday at the Santa Marta chapel as he reflected on the reading about division and resistance within the early Church in Jerusalem. Commenting on today’s reading from Acts about the Council of Jerusalem, Pope Francis said the protagonist in the Church is always the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit who, from the very beginning, gives strength to the apostles to proclaim the Gospel and it’s the Spirit who carries the Church forward despite its problems. Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report Even when there is an outbreak of persecution, the Pope said, it’s the Spirit who gives believers the strength to stand firm in the faith, even if they face resistance and anger from the doctors of the law. In the passage from Acts, the Pope noted, there was a double resistance to the Spirit, from those who believed that Jesus came only for the chosen people and from those who wanted to impose the law of Moses, including the practice of circumcision, on those who had converted. There was great confusion over all this, the Pope said, but the Spirit led their hearts in a new direction. The apostles were surprised by the Spirit, he said, as they found themselves in new and unthinkable situations. But how were they to manage these circumstances? Pope Francis said the passage begins by noting that ‘much debate had taken place’: no doubt heated debate, because on the one hand they were pushed on and on by the Spirit, but on the other, they were facing new situations that they had never seen or even imagined, such as pagans receiving the Holy Spirit. The disciples were holding a ‘hot potato’ in their hands and didn’t know what to do, the Pope said. Thus they called a meeting in Jerusalem where each one could recount their experiences of how the Holy Spirit had been received by the Gentiles. And in the end they came to an agreement. But first , the Pope noted, “The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.” Never be afraid to listen with humility, the Pope said. When you are afraid to listen, you don’t have the Spirit in your heart. When the apostles had listened, they decided to send several of the disciples to the Greeks, the pagan communities, that had become Christians to reassure them. Those who converted, the Pope continued, were not obliged to be circumcised. The decision was communicated to them in a letter in which the disciples say that “The Holy Spirit and we have decided….” This is the way of the Church when faced with novelties, the Pope said. Not the worldly novelties of fashion, but the novelties of the Spirit who always surprises us. How does the Church resolve these problems? Through meetings and discussions, listening and praying, before making a final decision. This is the way of the Church when the Spirit surprises us, Pope Francis said, recalling the resistance that emerged in recent times during the Second Vatican Council. That resistance continues today in one way or another, he said, yet the Spirit moves ahead. And the way the Church expresses its communion is through synodality, by meeting, listening, debating, praying and deciding. The Spirit is always the protagonist and the Lord asks us not to be afraid when the Spirit calls us. Just as the Spirit stopped St Paul and set him on the right road, so the Spirit will give us the courage and the patience to win over adversity and stand firm in the face of martyrdom. Let us ask the Lord for grace, the Pope concluded, to understand how the Church can face the surprises of the Spirit, to be docile and to follow the path which Christ wants for us and for the whole Church. (from Vatican Radio)...

Editorial: On paid family leave

One of the criticisms of the recent discussions surrounding the synods on the family was that so much attention was being given to the issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried that not enough was being given to broader challenges threatening the stability and welfare of the family. One such issue in this country is the question of paid parental leave. That the wealthiest nation in the world dwells at the very bottom of a long list of countries whose governments provide varying amounts of paid and unpaid leave is not news. It is, however, shocking. The United States remains the only country in the developed world not to offer paid assistance to families welcoming new children, dealing with a family death, or facing any crisis in-between. While some private-sector companies are beginning to offer such support, particularly in higher paying or more competitive industries, there is growing pressure for increased government regulation in this area. Even on the campaign trail, more is being said about this issue that is fundamental to the support of families. The advantages of paid family leave are undeniable. Study after study show that families and children only benefit when provided with both paid parental leave and job protection: a reduction in the infant mortality rate, an increase in breast-feeding and its many benefits, an increased chance for the child to receive critical vaccinations, and greater mental stability for the mother. Such statistics do not take into account the many spiritual and developmental benefits that come from the bond that is formed between mother and child during the critical weeks and months after birth. Only a groundswell of public opinion can help bring this issue to its deserved prominence, and the Church, with its pro-life, pro-family teachings and advocacy, is uniquely positioned to be a leading force. Pope Francis has indicated such a priority. “We cannot call any society healthy when it does not leave real room for family life,” he said in prepared remarks for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia last year. “We cannot think that a society has a future when it fails to pass laws capable of protecting families and ensuring their basic needs, especially those of families just starting out. How many problems would be solved if our societies protected families and provided households, especially those of recently married couples, with the possibility of dignified work, housing and health care services to accompany them throughout life.” Of course, economic challenges exist when it comes to enacting such policies. Such a change requires a thoughtful and responsible reprioritization of resources, flexibility and a willingness to consider creative solutions. It is important here to recognize the many parish and diocesan programs and volunteers that attempt to fill in the gaps left behind by the lack of more formal solutions. Leaders of such efforts work tirelessly to assist and support young families economically, physically and spiritually, but private charitable efforts can only help a fraction of those in need. As we prepare to celebrate the great gift of our mothers in the U.S. on May 8, may this be an opportunity for further reflection, discernment and action when it comes to supporting families through the implementation of paid family leave. The Church in this country has often been in the forefront of economic reform. With so many social and economic pressures on the well-being of families in our society, helping to lift up families facing economic burdens can only assist in this critical effort, the fruits of which benefit us all. Editorial Board members: Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief

Exploring purgatory

Question: I have Catholic family members and friends who say purgatory does not exist and that the Church no longer teaches it. Several of them insist that their priest told them this. What is the truth here? — Gregory Rolla, Oak Lawn, Illinois Answer: That any Catholic today, especially a priest, would say that purgatory does not exist is lamentable. Purgatory is a dogma of the Faith, consistently taught and believed through every age of the Church. It is set forth clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1030-1032). Scripture sets forth the need and fact of some sort of purifying process for most. Jesus promises that when his work is complete, we will be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). Scripture attests that nothing imperfect or impure shall enter heaven (Rv 21:27). Yet most of us will admit that godlike perfection is rarely observed in those who die, even the very pious. Though I can reasonably conclude I love God and am not aware of mortal sin on my soul, I am far from godly perfection (ask anyone who knows me). For this reason, the Catechism states: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. ... The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire” (CCC, Nos. 1030-1031). Thus, St. Paul teaches that our works will all be revealed and tested by fire. And some of our works, though built on the foundation of Christ (i.e., not conceived in mortal sin), are ignoble, they will be burned away, but the pure works will bring reward. And though the builder will suffer loss, he yet will be saved — though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:15). Thus, some sort of purgation after death is taught by Scripture, which also lays the foundation of the need for it. Further, instinct of the faithful to pray for the dead and solemn teaching authority of the Church also testify to the truth that purgation (and, thus, purgatory) is a needed gift of the Lord to us. A time for blessings? Question: During a funeral Mass recently, the celebrant invited those who were properly disposed Catholics to come forward for Communion. He asked all others to stay in their pews. This struck me as cruel and unnecessary. Could he not have invited them to come forward with arms crossed to receive a blessing? — Dianne Spotts , via email Answer: The most certain answer is no. Holy Communion is a time for those who are going to receive communion to come forward, that is its purpose. It is not really a time to confer blessings. There is a practice that has developed in many parishes where people do go forward for blessings, and while not sinfully wrong, the honest answer is such a practice is at variance from the norms of the Church. At funerals, something does need to be said, given the large numbers of non-Catholics usually present. Perhaps the priest could simply and clearly invite practicing Catholics to come forward and omit telling others to “stay in their pews.” Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at . Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to . Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.

The gift of a mother's love

Perhaps more has been written about motherhood than on any other subject. Given the dignity and importance of motherhood, this is both understandable and justifiable. Nonetheless, more will continue to be written about motherhood because its depth can never be exhausted. The eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar opens the third volume of his “Explorations in Theology” with this intriguing sentence: “The little child awakens to self-consciousness through being addressed by the love of his mother.” From a biological point of view, the child’s parents account for his existence. But the child’s awareness that he is a unique self, von Balthasar explains, is the work of the mother. A mother's love is truly a gift of God. Shutterstock photo How does she do this? If I may borrow the “I-thou” terminology of Martin Buber, the mother is the “thou” who, through her tender love, awakens the “I” of the child to self-consciousness. The child becomes aware that he is a partner in a love-to-love relationship. The mother’s love elicits a response that is the child’s love. The child’s response is spontaneous. He does not consider whether to respond to his mother’s love with love or something else. His response is antecedent to any reflection. His core nature as a being of love, one created by a loving God, is touched. His response is a pure indication of his nature. He responds with love because his mother’s gift of love is not something that he can refuse. Just as the sun entices green growth, the mother’s love summons forth the child’s love, thus completing the “I-Thou” bond. But there is something far more profound that occurs in the mother-child relationship. As von Balthasar states, the mother’s love is delivered as a “lightning flash of the origin with a ray so brilliant and whole that it also includes a disclosure of God.” This helps to explain what Pope St. John Paul II meant when he remarked that “an ounce of mother is worth a ton of priests.” God has an “I-Thou” relationship with man. However, the adult response to God’s love usually requires reflection and decision-making. But the early loving response of the child to his mother’s love is something that the adult can build on. Along with mother’s milk, the mother is awakening in her child a sense of God. The child interprets his mother’s smiling and her whole gift of self as coming from another, thereby distinguishing the “thou” of the mother from the “I” of the child. In this way, the love-to-love bond is achieved. The child responds to his mother’s love with love of his own, thus awakening him to the realization, however dim, that he is made to love. This is a moment that is central and sacred to human beings. It is their origin and starting point. It is more fundamentally humanizing than any other human relationship. A British poet by the name of Anne Ridler (1912-2001), who at one time served as a secretary for T.S. Eliot, authored 11 volumes of poetry over a 50-year span. A mother to two sons and as many daughters, she penned a number of poems that reveal her own acute sensitivity to the mother-child relationship. In “Choosing a Name,” she beautifully expresses the mother-child relationship to which von Balthasar alludes, where generous love embraces receptive child: “Frail vessel, launched with a shawl for sail, / Whose guiding spirit keeps his needle-quivering / Poise between trust and terror, / And stares amazed to find himself alive; / This is the means by which you say I am ...” As Ridler implies, love summons “trust,” whereas its absence suggests “terror.” Motherhood is the gift of self that summons a loving response that requires no deliberation but comes straight from the heart. It is an example and prototype that we can never exhaust but must continually honor. Donald DeMarco writes from Connecticut.

​‘Annuario 2016’ and ‘Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014’ are in bookstores-The living Church in a changing world

The Annuario 2016 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014 , edited by the Central Statistics Office, is has become available in book stores. Both volumes are printed by the Vatican Printing Press. The data reveal several new aspects that emerged between 15 February and 31 December 2015 in the life of the Catholic Church in the world. During that period one eparchy was elevated to metropolitan status, three new dioceses, three eparchies and two apostolic exarchates were created, and one apostolic exarchate was elevated to eparchy. The statistics presented in the Annuarium Statisticum , relevant to the year 2014, provide a brief analysis of the chief dynamics regarding the Catholic Church in the 2,998 ecclesiastic circumscriptions throughout the world. Over the past nine years the number of baptized Catholics worldwide grew by 14.1%, exceeding the growth rate of the world’s population for the same period (10.8%). The presence of Catholics in the world, therefore, increased to 17.8% in 2014, from 17.3% in 2005. In absolute terms this amounts to approximately 1.272 billion Catholics in 2014 as compared to 1.115 billion in 2005. Since the statistics varied considerably in the various geographical areas, this explains the heterogeneous overall figure. While Europe hosted nearly 23% of the world’s Catholic community in 2014, it now appears to be the least dynamic area overall, with an increase in the number of Catholics for the entire period of only slightly over 2%. The Catholic presence in the territory remained fixed at roughly 40%, with a minor correction with respect to 2005. This takes into account the fact that the demographic dynamic in the same period is several decimal points below that of the number of Catholics. With reference to the entire 2005-2014 period, the number of baptized Catholics in Oceania increased at a slower rate than the population (15.9% and 18.2%, respectively), while the contrary was seen in the Americas (11.7% versus 9.6%) and in Asia (20% versus 9.6%). The African continent undoubtedly showed the most growth: the number of baptized (about 215 million in 2014), increased at a pace more than double that of Asian countries (nearly 41%) and is far higher than the population growth rate for the same period (23.8%). Thus, apart from different demographic dynamics there was obvious confirmation of the increased percentage in Africa (where the number of baptized faithful rose from 13.8% to almost 17% of the worldwide population) and of the net drop of that in Europe, falling from 25.2% in 2005 to 22.6% in 2014. Although 2014 marked a minimal fall, the American continents continue to be home to almost half of baptized Catholics. Asia, with over 60% of the global population, showed moderate growth in the incidence of Catholics, with approximately 11% of Catholics in the world. In Oceania the incidence of baptized faithful remained stable at less than 0.8% of the worldwide Catholic population. Between 2005 and 2014 the number of bishops rose from 4,841 to 5,237, an increase of 8.2%. This increase was marked in Asia (over 14.3%) and Africa (over 12.9%), while in the Americas (over 6.9%), in Europe (over 5.4%) and in Oceania (over 4%) the figures were below the worldwide average. Regarding these varied trends, however, the distribution of bishops by continent remained substantially stable throughout the period studied, with a higher concentration of the total in the Americas and Europe. Also in Asia, where the number of bishops grew considerably, the overall demographic statistics showed limited growth, from 14.3% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2014. There was a more homogenous and balanced distribution by continent in the number of baptized faithful per bishop, passing from 230,300 to 242,900 between 2005 and 2014; except for the singular case of Oceania (where the low population density in the fragmented territory of numerous islands and archipelagos creates completely unique situations), the trend in Africa and Asia, continents where the spread of Catholicism is more dynamic, is converging toward the global average. From the statistics regarding diocesan and religious priests, the first striking figure is that the overall consistency in the number of priests increased by 9,381 between 2005 and 2014, from 406,411 to 415,792, and seems to have been consistent in recent years. This applies globally, since the figures vary widely among individual continents. In contrast with the notable increases in Africa (more than 32.6%) and Asia (more than 27.1%), Europe showed a fall of over 8%, and Oceania less than 1.7%. Different growth rates were recorded worldwide over time in the number of priests: the increase was stronger in the first six years of the period under study, but practically null in the last three years. In particular, the growth in the figures shows that, following the steady rise up to 2011 in the number of ordinations to the priesthood, there has been a steady, gradual decrease to date. The negative aspects of the trend show that defections have progressively decreased in number, while the death of priests, after a period of annual fluctuation, has risen in recent years. In particular, the trends of diocesan priests show overall growth in comparison to priests of the religious orders; moreover, while the initial data showed a growing trend in Africa, in the South and Central America, in Asia and Oceania, they reveal, by contrast, a declining trend in the remaining areas, Europe in particular. Religious priests, on the contrary, registered a downward trend in the Americas as well as in Europe and in Oceania. The data regarding diocesan and religious priests demonstrate favourable trends overall in the areas previously studied, while the remaining areas show a downward trend. Thus, when viewed in relative terms, trends in the overall number of priests showed changes in the following geographical areas: from 2005 to 2014, an increase was seen in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America; numbers in the Middle East and Oceania remained virtually unchanged; lastly, downward trends were recorded in North America and Europe — the latter, in particular, showed a drop from 48.8% in 2005 to 43.7% in 2014. The pastoral work of bishops and priests is supported by other pastoral figures: permanent deacons, professed men and women religious. The composition of these three groups of pastoral workers is quite diverse. At the end of 2014, there were, worldwide, 44,566 permanent deacons, 54,559 professed men religious who are not priests, and roughly 683,000 professed women religious. The evolutionary trends also presented different characteristics. Permanent deacons constitute the most rapidly changing group over the course of the period: they grew from approximately 33,000 in 2005 to almost 45,000 in 2014, with a relative variation of over 33.5%. Although the increase is manifest everywhere, its pace varied among the continents: in Europe the number of permanent deacons increased significantly over nine years, rising from less than 11,000 to 15,000. The American continents also showed an increase: in 2014 the number rose to nearly 29,000 from approximately 22,000 in 2005. There are no significant changes to report in the territorial distribution of permanent deacons during the period examined: only a slight decrease was shown in the relative number of deacons in America and a growth in Asia. It is of interest to note that permanent deacons are well represented in the Americas (North America in particular) with 64.9% of all deacons in the world, and also in Europe (32.6%). This category, however, is scarce in Africa and Asia: these continents hold barely 1.7% of the worldwide figure. The practical ability of permanent deacons to assist priests in performing pastoral work effectively in the territory, however, is still limited. In the world, the distribution of deacons per 100 resident priests, in fact, was just 10.7 in 2014, with a minimum of 0.48 in Asia and a maximum of 23.5 in America. In Europe the quotient is about 8%, while in Africa, 1.1 deacons serve alongside 100 priests. Therefore, the dimension of the phenomenon is still rather modest for their work to have a significant effect on the balance between the demand and offer of ministry to the baptized faithful residing in the area. In terms of development, however, it should be noted that there tend to be a greater number in the territory precisely where the ratio between baptized faithful and priests is reduced. Instead, a slight decrease was reported in the number of professed men religious who are not priests. In 2005 there were 54,708 worldwide, decreasing thereafter to 54,559 in 2014. It is also noteworthy that the drop was concentrated in the Americas (less than 5%), in Europe (less than 14.2%) and in Oceania (less than 6.8%). On the contrary there was an increase in Africa (over 10.2%) and in Asia (more than 30.1%). Overall, in 2014, Africa and Asia represented almost 38% of the total (up from 31% in 2005). Conversely, the group comprised of Europe, the Americas and Oceania decreased to almost 10% over the period under examination. Professed women religious in 2014 represented a population of 682,729, with almost 38% in Europe, followed by the American continents with over 177,000 consecrated women and Asia with 170,000. In comparison to 2005, this group showed a decrease of 10.2% which likewise involved the Americas, Europe and Oceania, with significant negative variations (around 18-20%). On the contrary, there was a decidedly steady increase of approximately 20% in Africa and of approximately 11% in Asia. In light of these greatly varied trends, the portion of the worldwide total of women religious grew in Africa and Asia from 27.8% to 35.3%, as compared to Europe and America, where the combined figure dropped from 70.8% to 63.5%. The temporal development observed in the world between 2005 and 2014 for the number of major seminarians (diocesan and religious) showed an initial growth that continued until 2011, when the total recorded was equal to 105.4% of the 2005 total. This was followed by a slow but steady decline, which brought the 2014 figure down to 102.2%. With regard to consistency, the number of candidates to the priesthood worldwide rose from 114,429 in 2005 to 120,616 in 2011, and then dropped to 116,939 in 2014. The decrease observed in the overall number of major seminarians between 2001 and 2014 involved all the continents except Africa, where the number of seminarians increased by 3.8% (from 27,483 to 28,528). However, when the entire period from 2005 to 2014 is considered, the differences between the territorial areas appear more evident. While Africa, Asia and Oceania show dynamic upward trends (with growth rates of 21%, 14.6% and 7.2%, respectively), Europe registered a 17.5% reduction over the same period, and the Americas (particularly due to the negative trend in the southern hemisphere) showed a drop of 7.9% compared to the start of the period. As a result, a general re-evaluation of the role of the European and American continents in the potential growth and renewal of priestly figures is observed, with Europe’s share falling from 20.2% to 16.2%, and the Americas’ from 32.2% to 29.1%, in contrast with the expansion in Africa and Asia which represents an overall percentage of 53.9 of the worldwide total for 2014 (24.4% and 29.5%, respectively). Also in relative terms with respect to the number of Catholics, the greatest movement was shown in Africa and Asia, with 133 candidates to the priesthood per one million Catholics in Africa in 2014, and about 247 in Asia. European and American figures (66 and 55, respectively, which are far less significant and in decline in comparison with 2005, would suggest a reduced offering of pastoral services. Lastly, from the number of major seminarians per 100 priests, one can form an idea of the generational replacement in the effective exercise of pastoral ministry. Thus, also in this context, Africa and Asia retain their primacy with 66 and 54 candidates per 100 priests respectively, while in Europe the figure is 10, confirming an ongoing stagnation in priestly vocations. The Americas and Oceania maintain an intermediate position with 28 and 22 candidates to the priesthood per 100 priests in 2014. Overall, however, thanks to the upturn in Africa and Asia, the total has gone from 28.16 to 28.12 major seminarians per 100 priests. At the end of the quantitative survey conducted overall and for large geographical areas both in terms of consistency and of variations, one can draw approximate conclusions regarding the most obvious phenomena regarding current trends. Firstly one can note from most of the phenomena analyzed, a certain dichotomy between the dynamics of the emerging continents, Africa and Asia, and those of Europe, which is progressively losing its centrality as the model of reference. This is not surprising. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that the development of the Church in the world cannot ignore the major trends underlying worldwide development, especially for demographics. Thus, Europe has become the most static continent, hindered by the net aging of its population and by its low birth rate. The Americas as a whole are in an intermediate position, but were the analysis to distinguish between North and Latin America, divergences would likely arise, enabling at least a partial comparison, first to Europe and second to Africa and Asia. Oceania constitutes a reality unto itself, also due to its far more limited demographics. In the 2005-2014 period, the number of priests increased overall, even if the significant increase of diocesan priests and the marked decrease of religious priests should be noted. Europe registered a heavy loss, which was largely compensated by the lively trend shown by Africa and Asia regarding diocesan priests. The Americas presented, for the same period, a 1.6% growth: they have addressed the loss of 4,000 religious with just over 6,000 diocesan priests. The average pastoral figure worldwide, expressed by the number of Catholics per priest, grew noticeably and is higher in Africa and the Americas, while in Europe it has been far more limited. The situation may plausibly be modified in the coming years, since the European clergy is older and weakened by lower renewal rates, while in Africa and Asia the number of candidates to the priesthood is clearly growing. The relatively recent phenomenon of the considerable increase in the number of permanent deacons is of great importance. The dynamic trend shown by these workers is certainly not attributable to temporary or contingent motivations, but seems to express new and different choices in performing the work of spreading the faith. Indeed, the increase of deacons is seen generally in Europe and the Americas, less positive continents in terms of development in other categories of pastoral workers. Candidates to the priesthood present a positive trend overall, however in this case as well, there are several reasons for concern in Europe and the Americas, where a decline has been clearly shown in recent years. Conversely, Africa and Asia show great vitality....

Lyrics to live by

Misericordes sicut Pater! I’d heard it before. I sang along with it before. But I didn’t get consumed by the official hymn for the Year of Mercy until a Saturday Year of Mercy event with Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a Marian shrine — Our Lady Help of Christians — about 40 miles outside Manhattan in April. The archbishop of New York had just returned from a Jubilee Year pilgrimage to Rome and his first trip to Iraq, visiting Christians who had been forced to leave their homes, now living on Church property in Kurdistan. After hours of meditation and confessions, Mass broke out with this hauntingly powerful prayer. Translated, Misericordes sicut Pater! is “Merciful like the Father!” Forgive me, but I felt a little bit like the man at the end of the infamous Twilight Zone episode. “‘To Serve Man’ ... it’s a cookbook!” he exclaims. “ Misericordes sicut Pater !” is a command I seemed to be hit over the head with in the most tender of ways! Be merciful like the Father! It’s a recipe for eternal life. And he gives us himself in his mercy to make it possible. Interspersed throughout the mercy hymn is “In aeternum misericordia eius” (“His mercy is everlasting”). You sing it again and again in thanksgiving. This Holy Year of Mercy is an opportunity for conversion. It’s also a reminder of who we are and who we need to be. I warn you: That hymn, if you haven’t noticed already, is an earworm of a song. But even if it doesn’t get stuck in your head, you might just consider letting it become the background music to your life. It was not only in my head, but it seemed to propel me as I entered the beckoning Holy Doors of the Cathedral of Sts. Simon and Jude in Phoenix. If you go to the website of the cathedral, there’s a calendar of events, and each day — today, tomorrow — is an opportunity to pilgrimage. I happened to be in town to give a talk, and the people I encountered on a weeknight in the adoration chapel in Phoenix sure seemed to know what this “his mercy endures forever” business is all about. For the time I was there on a Monday night, it was frequently an overcapacity, overflowing crowd. That’s really how it always should be — at every tabernacle of the world. A man knelt up close in a posture that witnessed to trust. Men and women — many sitting with Spanish Bibles and praying softly in Spanish (often to Our Lady — most taking the rosaries from around their necks to pray; they keep her close to their hearts, so her son will always be). They were so clearly there for strength and relief. Once again, I thought of the mercy hymn and where it works on our Easter and Pentecost living. The third verse of the hymn, which can be found on the website for the Year of Mercy ( ), goes like this: “Let us ask the Spirit for the seven holy gifts … Fount of all goodness and the sweetest relief … Comforted by him, let us offer comfort … Love hopes and bears all things.” (I’ve removed the references to the hymn’s repeated lyric “in aeternum misericordia eius,” but you won’t forget that reality, will you?). Remembering that last bit from the well-known passage on love from Corinthians, I saw husbands and wives and thought: These words weren’t just for the wedding day for them. This is real. This is enduring. This is the only way to fly — to flourish in his love. Misericordes sicut Pater! We need to sing by how we live our lives. Going to his beckoning arms in the sacraments will make it so. Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and co-author of “ How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).

Yearlong volunteer program changes hearts, lives

When a 12-year-old girl from Guatemala told her mentor that boys in her school were pushing her books around, calling her a “dirty illegal” and telling her to “go back to her country,” Tracy Medrano Gonzalez was breaking apart inside because she had similar experiences as an immigrant child living in the United States. “This girl was one of the first children I ever mentored,” said Gonzalez, 22, a former member of the Change A Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program that partners with nonprofit organizations to serve socially vulnerable neighborhoods in western Pennsylvania. “As an immigrant child, it was difficult for me because most of the Hispanic children had lighter skin shades or looked more indigenous,” recalled Gonzalez, who emigrated with her father at the age of 9 from the Dominican Republic. “One time a boy spilled chocolate milk all over me at lunch. I was a light brown girl with curly hair. The students didn’t like the way I looked or that I didn’t speak English well.” Gonzalez A year later, she returned to the Dominican Republic to live with her mother until the age of 12 and then came back to permanently reside with her father and cousins in New Jersey. Her mother waited seven more years for paperwork to be processed and reunite with them. In school, she noticed people seemed focused on her nationality and the color of her skin. This was unusual to her because in her native country, she was never told she was black or white growing up. “I was just Dominican,” she said. She grew up and earned an undergraduate degree from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, but didn’t feel ready to get a job or go back to school. “I felt I needed time to explore and give back to the community,” she said. “I wanted to experience what it was like to give of myself for a year or more.” The Franciscan way A member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities for 53 years, Sister Donna Stephenson founded Change A Heart in 1999 and served as its director until 2008. Volunteer Applications to become a volunteer member at Change A Heart are accepted on a rolling basis. The service year begins with a one-week orientation in mid-August to July of the following year. For more details, visit , call 412-821-0861, or email . The nonprofit Christian organization has a Catholic foundation and a Franciscan identity but is an interdenominational program. It offers a way for the Franciscan sisters to maintain contact with young adults and pass on the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi to live out the Gospel values of service and justice among those on the margins of society. Change A Heart volunteers are single, recent college graduates and young adults with little work experience from the ages of 21-30. They come from all over the country to live out the four core values of the program: service, spirituality, simple lifestyle and community. So far, 84 members (volunteers) have completed service in the last 17 years. Sister Donna hopes they become empowered to follow a countercultural lifestyle similar to that of St. Francis. “They are challenged to be open to the ways the grace of God can change their hearts; this is how St. Francis was converted by his encounter with a person who had leprosy,” Sister Donna said. The faith-based program is aptly named, Sister Donna said. “By the end of the program, hearts are changed — both the hearts of those served and the hearts of the members themselves,” she said. Director Patricia Moran, says the Franciscan mission is to serve the poor, be out there with the people on the streets and to live simply. By living in community, the members are encouraged to try to modify their lifestyle. “We want them to get a sense of what it’s like to be poor,” said Moran. “Their life should reflect those they serve.”In her work with young adults, she finds they really care about the needs of those around them and in the world. “They are beautiful souls,” she ...

Program outfits kids with clothes for first Communion

A program providing new or gently used first Communion outfits for children whose families cannot afford them is having great success in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. This spring, the program, which is in its third year, has received more than 500 dresses, 250 suits, 125 veils and 20 pairs of shoes, said Lynn Gully, the associate director of development for the archdiocese, who spearheads the program. “We had not one piece left over here last year.” The program began by chance when a local boutique called the archdiocese to ask if they would be able to accept several donated first Communion dresses. As Gully carried them into the chancery buildings, people inquired about them. The program grew from there. “I wasn’t surprised at the generosity of the people of Newark,” Gully said. “But I was taken aback by the need.” When one woman came to pick up a dress for her daughter, she “gave me a box of Girl Scout cookies because we gave her a dress. She was almost in tears.” Free of worry The Communion dresses and suits are donated by individuals or through parishes, Gully said. Twenty parishes participated this year; approximately 15 participated in 2015. How to Help For more information, including donation instructions, visit the Archdiocese of Newark’s website at . “To us, it doesn’t matter what your situation is,” added Kelly Marsicano, public relations specialist for the archdiocese. “This is a day of celebrating the Sacrament of first holy Communion. It’s a special day, and these kids will now get to enjoy that instead of worrying about what they are going to wear.” St. Augustine Parish in Newark is one of the churches that received Communion outfits this year. A religious order of sisters based out of the church, the Missionaries of Charity, run the religious education program at the parish. “Whenever there was someone who could not afford an outfit, the sisters would provide an outfit. But now that we know about this program, and actually I mentioned it at the meeting to the parents, more people raised their hands,” said Diana Pendas, director of religious education at St. Augustine. “The parents picked them up this past Sunday — and the children’s eyes when they saw their dresses! These children are poor ... and they live in troubled homes and the parents struggle to live day to day.” A holy day Brianna Inga is one of the children who received a dress from the program this year. She is one of 85 children in the CCD program at St. Augustine and will receive her first holy Communion on May 22. “Brianna is one of my students, and she is a very quiet, cheerful child, who likes to participate and answer questions during our catechism classes,” Pendas said. “When she saw her new dress and veil for the first time, her eyes lit up, and she said, ‘I love it!’ Her brother, Reyli, who was standing right next to her, immediately exclaimed, ‘You’re going to look beautiful!’” Brianna’s mother, Melida, told Pendas that receiving the dress meant so much to her. “Because it is the day that my daughter receives the holy sacrament — her first Communion. It is such an important day. I give thanks to the archdiocese for helping us, because everything costs so much now. We could not have bought something like that for her. Now my daughter is so happy waiting for her holy day. And I am, too.” Several other parishes in the area have already contacted Gully to learn how they can participate next year. She received an email from a parish in Vermont wanting to learn more about how the program is run. “It’s something that people didn’t give much thought to or didn’t think there was a need for, and now that we’ve brought it to their attention, people are willing to give, and that’s what matters,” Marsicano said. “Many of these children are poor, living in run-down housing and playing in troubled neighborhoods,” Pendas said. “The Missionaries of Charity provide a little oasis for them, where they are ...

Vatican media reform must 'open windows'

(Vatican Radio) The head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, Mgr Dario Viganò spoke about the ongoing reform of the Holy See’s media operations on Wednesday at a seminar for Catholic communicators which is taking place this week at the ‘Holy Cross’ Pontifical University. Beyond simply reforming structures, Mgr Viganò stressed the need to renew the process of bringing the Good News of the Gospel to all people. Every euro spent in this field, he said, must be used to ensure that the Gospel and the teaching of the Pope reaches the hearts of all people. The goal, he said, is not to substitute for local churches but to support those communities that have the greatest needs. Mgr. Viganò spoke of the reform ‘timeline’, which focuses this year on a closer integration of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Centre, of which he is the former director. The reform process, he stressed, must go beyond a mere makeover and a change of names.  Instead it must lead to a greater efficiency and interactivity through the use of new technologies, yet without forgetting those facing serious communications challenges. Above all, he said, it is essential to “open the windows” and make sure we are responding to the questions of our users, rather than engaging in a navel-gazing exercise. In this effort, he said the keys are to be found in formation, reorganization, team building, participation and sharing. Finally he stressed that instead of a hierarchical leadership, the new Secretariat is placing the emphasis on a wide network which makes best use of the resource of all its members.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Conference on Regenerative Medicine opens in Vatican

(Vatica n Radio)  Advances in regenerative medicine will top the agenda of an international conference opening in the Vatican Thursday.  “ Cellular Horizons: How Science, Technology, Information and Communication will Impact Society” 28-30 April is the third in a series of conferences (2011 and 2013) organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture’s office for Science and Faith and The Stem For Life Foundation on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact . Researchers, doctors, patients, policy makers, business leaders and philanthropists will look at successful new therapies and attempt to identify ways to make them more available. Listen to the report by Tracey McClure: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture , says: “In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we would like to challenge all of society to search for the cures to human illness.  The advancement of regenerative medicine holds great promise for the future, and together, we must bring these vital cellular therapies to the hundreds of millions of people suffering from disease around the world, especially those from under-served and developing nations.  With this event, we sound a clarion call to humanity that tomorrow’s cures can be found today in the human body, and that we have an obligation to bring these cellular therapies out of the clinic and into the real world.” “Whether immunotherapies for cancer or stem cell treatments for rare diseases, there are now over 30,000 cell therapy trials in development noted on the website,” says Dr. Robin Smith, President of The Stem For Life Foundation.   “This event will rally the world around a powerful idea – that the cells of our bodies hold the potential to vanquish disease, reduce global suffering and inspire hope for people around the world living with illness.” 3 Days focusing on the “cellular revolution” The focus on Thursday,  the opening day of the conference, will be on ground-breaking therapies offering new hope in the treatment of pediatric cancer, rare diseases and diabetes.  On Friday, speakers will present cellular and technological breakthroughs in cancer and autoimmune disorders, and discuss the delivery of health care using technology and big data.  Pope Francis is expected to greet participants in an audience Friday. Also Friday: talks on “The Dawn of Next Generation Health Care” and “Humans 2.0” exploring societal, ethical psychological and spiritual implications of how technological advances in life sciences are poised to challenge even what it means to be human. On Saturday, the final day of the conference, speakers will concentrate on “Cellular Frontiers” with emphasis on research, regulation and funding. Talks will focus on stem cell research, and include “Rebuilding and Restoring the Human Body,” “Aligning Stakeholders to Build a Regenerative Care Model,” “Facilitating Cellular Innovation and Distribution,” “Healthy Aging,” “Feeding Cells, Starving Cancer and Aging Well,” and “Cell Therapy Philanthropy.” (from Vatican Radio)...

Matter of conscience

As Catholics, we hear over and over again — especially during an election year — that we have to vote our conscience. Unfortunately, according to a new and extensive survey, even Catholics who say they pray daily, attend Mass at least once a week and “consult their conscience,” it appears they have no idea what “voting one’s conscience” means — or what conscience itself means. The responses — along with the percentages of Catholics inadvertently admitting their lack of conscience-based catechesis — in the Pew Research Center’s Religion in Everyday Life report are alarming. This is especially crucial in an important and tumultuous election year with so much at stake. Core teachings such as marriage, family and life issues are increasingly under attack. And since we should always be following the proper steps in forming our conscience (not only when elections roll around), the results are obviously chilling. Pew based the results primarily on a survey of nearly 3,300 participants and found that practicing Catholics are not very likely to consult Church teaching or Scripture, or turn to guidance from the pope and other Church leaders, when making important moral decisions. But they still believe they are “consulting their conscience.” They also express confidence in the way they make decisions. Heaven help us. From the survey: “Three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (73 percent) say they look to their own conscience ‘a great deal’ for guidance on difficult moral questions. Far fewer Catholics say they rely a great deal on the Catholic Church’s teachings (21 percent), the Bible (15 percent) or the pope (11 percent) ... .” “Catholics who are highly religious are more likely than less religious Catholics to turn to Church teachings, the Bible or the pope for guidance on difficult moral questions. Still, far fewer highly religious Catholics say they rely a great deal on any of these three sources for guidance on tough moral questions than say they rely on their own conscience,” the Pew Center researchers stated. Did you catch that last sentence concerning highly religious Catholics, defined as those who go to Mass every week and pray on a regular basis? They think they’re just fine talking to friends and family, reading a few articles, watching a few news programs and then making up their minds on whatever moral dilemma they’re facing. But if they’re not consulting Scripture and the Church, what are they using for their moral compass? While the Church encourages dialogue with others when it comes to forming your conscience, it is clear that it hardly ends there, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “In the formation of conscience, the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. ... We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church” (No. 1785). The Catholic dictionary also says what conscience really is and isn’t: “The judgment of the practical intellect deciding, from general principles of faith and reason, the goodness or badness of a way of acting that a person now faces.” It is an operation of the intellect and not of the feelings or even of the will. An action is right or wrong because of objective principles to which the mind must subscribe, not because a person subjectively feels that way or because his will wants it that way. It looks like we have a very big problem and a lot of work to do heading into the presidential election — and beyond. Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.

Opening the Word: Uplighting occasion

The feast of the Ascension is puzzling. The full presence of the risen Lord made available during the season of Easter is now interrupted by Christ ascending. The bodily presence of Jesus is no longer immediately available to the disciples. Yet, in both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (describing the exact same event), the Apostles are not sorrowful about this absence. In Acts, they are told by the angels, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). They are experiencing a hopeful bewilderment, waiting with wonder for what will happen next. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear what they do during this in-between time. They do not just sit around, but as Christ ascends, they worshipped him and “then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Lk 24:52-53). Why do the apostles praise the Father for Jesus’ absence? The Ascension of Our Lord May 8, 2016 ACTS 1:1-11 PS 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9 EPH 1:17-23 OR HEB 9:24-28; 10:19-23 LK 24:46-53 Turning to Psalm 47, we begin to understand the hope that they have in seeing the risen Lord disappear from their sight. Psalm 47 is a great enthronement psalm, celebrating the kingship of the God of Israel over all the nations: “God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the Lord, amid trumpet blasts” (Ps 47:6). In Jesus’ ascension, the Church experiences the Word made flesh’s enthronement as king of the cosmos. The Apostles celebrate at the feast of the Ascension not because Jesus has taken up a home far away in heaven. Instead, the Ascension is that feast in which Christ is enthroned as head of the Church, which is now “the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way” (Eph 1:23). The resurrected Christ still is showing himself to all the world through the Church, where all of humanity is lifted up into God’s very life. This activity of lifting up all of humanity, all of creation, in a sacrifice of love continues. Hebrews notes, “Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). And because he is our priest, the one who knew our weakness, the one who is still offering us up in love to the Father, we can approach God’s throne with the confidence that we are sons and daughters of the triune God. The Ascension is not a feast of sorrow or disappointment. It is a festival in which we celebrate that the Word has become flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus, fully human and fully divine, offered back to the Father our humanity, cleansing our entire selves from the punishment of sin and death. And even now, this offering of love takes place for us in the Mass, where we eat his body and drink his blood. We enter into his sacrifice of love in this act of eating, and we commit ourselves to make available to the whole world our flesh and blood as sign of his presence. At the Ascension, Christ may disappear from sight. But as the head of the Church, he is still available to us: in the Scriptures, in the Eucharist, in the Christian family, in the poor. We celebrate this pervasive presence in the Ascension. And we long for the day when we gaze upon him face to face with the angels and the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem. The one we have seen so many times before with the eyes of faith. Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy. May 8, 2016 ACTS 1:1-11 PS 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9 EPH 1:17-23 OR HEB 9:24-28; 10:19-23 LK 24:46-53

Catholic groups seek harmony on paid leave

The debate about paid parental leave in the United States is gaining momentum after a wave of announcements about companies, cities and states expanding their leave benefits. Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), some full-time employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to spend time with a new child, recover from illness or care for a sick family member. Studies show that children’s health is better when parents can be with them in the first weeks and months of life. Most countries mandate paid parental leave in the case of the birth of a child, which allows working families to take time off (benefitting mother and child) without risking their economic stability. In the United States, however, only 12 percent of private sector employees have access to paid family leave, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. During his visit to Philadelphia last September, Pope Francis said, “[W]e cannot call any society healthy when it does not leave real room for family life. We cannot think that a society has a future when it fails to pass laws capable of protecting families and ensuring their basic needs, especially those of families just starting out.” The next month, he asked Italian businesses to promote harmony between work and life, emphasizing the “right to work and the right to motherhood.” Church’s role In many circles, the issue of paid parental leave is considered a challenge for the Church. Like its secular counterparts, Christian organizations, most of which are pro-life and pro-justice in nature — offer a range of policies on parental leave. Often, parishes, schools, nonprofit organizations and diocesan offices find it difficult to offer adequate paid leave because of small budgets or staff shortages. CRS president on family leave Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), said offering paid leave could be a hardship for an organization but that it is “a short-term inconvenience for a longtime gain.” Woo CRS offers six weeks of fully paid parental leave (eight weeks in the case of C-section). Fathers and parents of adopted children also receive benefits. “We all know the development of a child is very important,” Woo said. “Statistics show that countries with paid parental leave have lower infant mortality rates. As a society, we must welcome the next generation.” Some challenges organizations face when a parent goes on leave include finding qualified temporary personnel or paying overtime to those covering for lost labor. Another challenge is paying salaries and benefits to parents on leave. This could be difficult and expensive for companies that run on tight budgets, with little room for additional expenses, said Miguel Olivas-Luján, professor at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Though some dioceses offer financial support through short-term disability, other dioceses rely on the employee’s accrued vacation and sick time or alternate ways to support families financially. Most, as a Washington Post article reported last November, would gladly offer paid leave if they could afford it. Some dioceses do offer some paid maternity/paternity leave. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati offers three weeks of paid leave for its chancery and parish employees. “This recognizes what the Church teaches: that family is important,” said Robert Reid, archdiocesan director of human resources. Susan Moss, human resources generalist at the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said its policy includes 20 days of paid leave starting on the day of the birth or adoption of a child. This allows employees to have a work-month of bonding with a child. “The policy is very supportive of the Church’s respect life position,” she said. Some Catholic organizations in states with mandated paid leave ­— California, Rhode Island and New Jersey — go beyond state requirements to help part-time and full-time employees. John Bittner, human resources director for the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, said ...

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