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Africa's bishops offer Pope Francis prayers and a warm welcome

Accra, Ghana, Nov 24, 2015 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the papal visit to Africa, the continent’s bishops have sent Francis a message of welcome. They emphasized the importance of the family in African society and the need for peace in regions suffering terrorism and violent conflict.

“As representatives of the Church in Africa we warmly welcome the Holy Father, Pope Francis, as he makes his first apostolic visit to our continent,” said the standing committee of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

They prayed for the success of the Pope’s visit and for God’s “abundant blessings.”

The statement was issued at the close of the bishops’ conferences symposium held in Accra, Ghana Nov. 16-20. Pope Francis will be visiting Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic Nov. 25-30.

“We rejoice that the Holy Father’s visit, coming so soon after the Synod on the Family, will strengthen the faith of our peoples in the Church as Family of God and confirm us in our long-cherished Christian and African values,” the bishops’ committee said.

They stressed that the family is “the fundamental and indispensable pillar” of life in society, the Catholic News Agency for Africa reports.

“We call on all the people of our continent and on all our governments to commit themselves to the sustenance of African families, and protect the fundamental values of our cultures. We reiterate our commitment also to the sustenance and promotion of the institutions of marriage and the family and confirm our unshakeable belief in the sanctity of human life.”

The bishops’ communique welcoming the Pope also responded to recent terrorist attacks in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

“We condemn all acts of terrorism that have occurred in any part of the world and urge the perpetrators and their sponsors to stop,” they said. The bishops prayed for the dead and for consolation for those who are grieving their deaths.

They cited attacks in France, Lebanon, and Mali, as well as attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Libya, and Burkina Faso.

The bishops voiced support peace efforts in African countries with violent conflicts.

“We appeal in the name of God to all parties involved in the conflicts in these areas to lay down their arms and embrace the path of dialogue and peace for the sake of posterity,” the committee said.

The bishops praised a memorandum of understanding between SECAM and the African Union, saying it will advance efforts to secure development, human rights, and peace in collaboration with the union’s 54 member states.

The bishops urged all of Africa to reconcile with one another and to reconcile with God, “our Merciful Father.”

“It is only by this means shall we find God's mercy borne of harmonious co-existence and development,” they said. They prayed that the Virgin Mary will “intercede for us all in our prayers so that our continent, Africa, may experience true love, justice and peace.”

Trial begins for five accused in second 'Vatileaks' case

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2015 / 10:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday a preliminary hearing of the five individuals accused of leaking and disseminating confidential financial documents was held in the Vatican, with the next hearing set to begin Nov. 30.

The defendants are Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, Italian PR woman Francesca Chaouqui, Nicola Maio (Vallejo’s secretary), and journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

The Nov. 24 preliminary hearing for what has been dubbed by media as “Vatileaks 2.0” began at 10:30 a.m. and lasted just over an hour.

On Nov. 21 the Vatican announced that it would officially be pressing charges against the five for their role in obtaining, leaking and publishing private information and documents regarding Holy See finances.

Msgr. Vallejo, Chaouqui and Maio have been accused of working together to form “an organized criminal association” with the intention of “disclosing information and documents concerning the fundamental interests of the Holy See and the (Vatican City) State.”

On Nov. 2 Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui were arrested in connection with the leaks, and are believed to have passed the documents on to Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, who published separate books on the information earlier this month.

Both are former members of the Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA). The commission was established by the Pope July 18, 2013, as part of his plan to reform the Vatican’s finances. It was dissolved after completing its mandate.

For their part, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi have been charged with illegally procuring and subsequently releasing the private information and documents.

Specifically, they are accused of “urging and exerting pressure, particularly on Msgr. Vallejo,” to obtain the private documents and then publish books on the content.

The leaking of documents was officially criminalized by the Vatican in 2013, when Nuzzi published a book containing confidential information given to him by Pope Benedict XVI’s butler in what came to be known as the first “Vatileaks” scandal.

All defendants were present inside the courtroom for the Nov. 24 hearing with lawyers “dall’ufficio,” referring to legal representation given to those who don’t already have it.   

The court consisted of Giuseppe Della Torre, President of the Vatican tribunal; Judges Piero Antonio Bonne and Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, as well as Alternate judge Venerando Marano.
The prosecution, the Office of the Promoter of Justice, was represented by Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano, and Adjutant-promoter Roberto Zannotti.

After the accusations were read aloud, Della Torre announced that Nuzzi and Vallejo had each requested an additional, hand-picked lawyer, and that the request would be forwarded to President of the Court of Appeals.

According to Nuzzi’s twitter account, his request to be represented by his usual lawyer has already been denied.

Two objections were then raised in the court, one by Vallejo’s lawyer that the time needed to prepare evidence for the defense was insufficient.

Fittipaldi himself asked to make a statement in which he protested the charges brought against him, saying they violated his freedom as a journalist to publish news. His lawyer then requested that his indictment be reconsidered for lacking a clear statement on his alleged crimes.

Zannotti responded immediately to the second objection by saying that the intention of the charge is not to violate Fittipaldi’s freedom as a journalist, but rather to hold him accountable for the means in which he obtained the documents and information, which was stated in his indictment.

After a 45 minute deliberation of the objections the court reconvened, and rejected them both.

They announced that the next hearing will take place Monday, Nov. 30, at 9:30 a.m., with several other hearings set to take place throughout the week. It was noted that all hearings will take place in the morning, and that afternoon sessions would be called only if needed.

During Monday’s hearing the defendants will give their testimonies, beginning with Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui. The testimonies of Maio, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi will be given later.

Journalists present inside the courtroom reported that both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi seemed to be more at ease during today's hearing, whereas Vallejo, Maio and Chaouqui were described as being “agitated” and “tense,” particularly the latter two.

Pope names first Catholic bishop to oversee Anglican ordinariate

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2015 / 07:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has appointed Msgr. Steven Lopes, a Catholic priest from California, as the new bishop who will head the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States and Canada.   Bishop-elect Lopes, 40, is originally from the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the United States, and currently serves as an official for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.   He will be taking over for Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012 to shepherd the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.   The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is a special diocese-like structure that allows entire Anglican communities to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining certain elements of the liturgy and other customs.   Ordinariates are similar to dioceses but typically national in scope. Pope Benedict authorized the creation of ordinariates for Anglican communities seeking to enter the Catholic Church in his 2009 apostolic constitution, “Anglicanorum coetibus.”   Based in Houston, Texas, the Ordinariate has more than 40 Roman Catholic parishes and communities across the United States and Canada.   A married Anglican priest can be ordained a Catholic priest but not a bishop. Instead, as in the case of Msgr. Steenson, they become an “ordinary,” who carries all the authority of a bishop except that of being able to ordain priests.   Msgr. Lopes’ appointment, then, marks the first time a Roman Catholic bishop has been named for any of the worlds’ three Personal Ordinariates: Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom; the Chair of Saint Peter in the United States and Canada; and Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.   The announcement that bishop-elect Lopes will be taking over for the retiring Msgr. Steenson came in a Nov. 24 communique from the Vatican.   In a press release shortly after the announcement, Msgr. Steenson said that he had asked the Vatican last year that a bishop be appointed to replace him in leading the Ordinariate.    “I welcome this news with all my heart, for the Ordinariate has now progressed to the point where a bishop is much needed for our life and mission,” he said. “A bishop will help to give the Ordinariate the stability and permanence necessary to fulfil its mission to be a work of Catholic unity, whose roots are to be found in the great texts of the Second Vatican Council.”    From the creation of the Ordinariate, Msgr. Steenson continued, the ultimate goal was that a bishop would eventually be the head.   “It is indeed an encouraging sign that we have reached that goal,” he said.   Born and raised in Fremont, Calif., Msgr. Lopes attended Catholic schools throughout his childhood, as well as the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco.   He entered seminary in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He studied theology at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif. and later in Rome, at the Pontifical North American College.   After being ordained a priest June 23, 2001, and serving in various pastoral assignments Msgr. Lopes went on to obtain both licentiate and doctoral degrees in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.   Since Sept. 1, 2005, the bishop-elect has served as an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and has also taught theology at the Gregorian University. He was named a monsignor in 2010.   Msgr. Lopes’ ordination to the episcopate is scheduled to take place Feb. 2, 2016, in Houston.   Though Msgr. Steenson’s retirement is effective immediately, he will serve as the Ordinariate’s administrator until Lopes officially takes canonical possession in February.   A Nov. 24 press release from the Ordinariate explained that with bishop-elect Lopes’ appointment, Pope Francis “affirms and amplifies Pope Benedict’s vision for Christian unity, in which diverse expressions of one faith are joined together in the Church.”   “By naming Bishop-elect Lopes, the Pope has confirmed that the Ordinariate is a permanent, enduring part of the Catholic Church, like any other diocese – one that is now given a bishop so that it may deepen its contribution to the life of the Church and the world.”   The press released also noted that Msgr. Lopes’ appointment falls just five days before the Ordinariate will begin using a new  book of liturgical texts titled “Divine Worship: The Missal,” which will be used for the celebration of Mass in personal ordinariates throughout the world.   The texts in the missal have been approved by the Vatican and will be used for the first time Nov. 20, 2015, the First Sunday of Advent.   Msgr. Lopes was deeply involved in developing the text, and since 2011 has served as the executive coordinator of the Vatican commission “Anglicanae Traditiones,” which produced the new texts.   In the press release, the Ordinariate called the new missal as “a milestone,” and praised both Benedict XVI’s vision for unity as well as how Pope Francis is concretely implementing it.   Both of these together “demonstrate that unity in faith allows for a vibrant diversity in the expression of that faith. The Ordinariate is a key ecumenical venture for the Catholic Church and a concrete example of this unity in diversity.”   The new bishop-elect will be introduced by Msgr. Steenson at a live news conference in Houston at 10:30 a.m. local time inside the Chancery Offices of the Ordinariate.   After celebrating the Mass on the first Sunday of Advent in Houston with the new missal, Msgr. Lopes will return to Rome to finish to finish his work at the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. He will then then return to Texas at the end of the calendar year.    

Chicago Catholic cemeteries give a proper burial to those who died on the fringes

Chicago, Ill., Nov 24, 2015 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Chicago’s Catholic cemeteries have helped bury the bodies of about 200 unidentified and unclaimed persons in recent years. One of the priests involved has stressed the importance of reducing homelessness and of mourning those who have no one to pray for them.

Father Larry Sullivan, associate priest director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, reflected on the sadness of the situation.

“Obviously these are folks who have been living a marginalized life. They’ve been living on the fringes of society, alienated from family or friends, that they would truly be unknown,” he told CNA Nov. 20.

“Certainly the end of their life was very difficult: they didn’t have anybody to step forward to say that they knew this person,” he continued. “I think it’s very important that even though they’re unknown to us, they’re known to God.”

Father Sullivan presided at the latest committal service at Chicago’s Mount Olivet Cemetery on the afternoon of Nov. 19. The remains of 12 unidentified adults as well as 24 unborn babies miscarried or stillborn were interred. Various city and county officials, funeral directors and others attended the committal ceremony.

The committal service does not differ from an ordinary Catholic burial.

“We do the full rite of Christian burial,” Father Sullivan said. “I really feel that we’re stepping in in the place of loved ones. We’re stepping in the place of mourners,” he said, adding, “everyone has the right to be mourned and prayed for.”

The burials are part of the Chicago archdiocese’s continued response to an overcrowding crisis at the Cook County Morgue. Many bodies were left unclaimed or unidentified and the state of Illinois had made budget cuts to its indigent burial fund.

Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago has donated hundreds of graves to help bury the remains of the deceased.

Since 2012 the cemeteries have helped lay to rest about 200 unidentified or unclaimed adults’ remains, in addition to the fetal remains of about 600 unborn babies who were miscarried, stillborn, or aborted. Many of the adults were homeless.

Cardinal Francis George, who died in 2015, led prayers for the first burials. Archbishop Blase Cupich presided at a committal ceremony in December 2014.

Roman Szabelski, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, said he felt everyone has brought something to society, including those who died unknown.

“They are somebody’s mother, brother, sister spouse, child, whatever, and it’s regretfully because of their own situation that they are left to be street people, so to speak, and to die alone,” he told CNA.

“We as a society, we as a Church, step up and pray for those and mourn for those people who have died, realizing that they are a gift of God and they should be recognized and honored even in death.”

Father Sullivan said addressing the problem of homelessness would help reduce the situations where people die without being known to others. He emphasized the need to ensure that people get proper psychological care and get off the streets.

“We should never see anyone who is homeless. That in itself is a breakdown in our society,” he said.

The priest explained that the Church sees burial of the dead as a corporal work of mercy. This is drawn from the belief that our bodies are “a gift from God” and Christians are responsible for both the spiritual and physical well-beings of others. Prayers for the dead have a spiritual importance, while burial of the bodies is physically important.

This applies after death. “Our bodies are a gift from God to be treated with dignity and respect. We can’t just offer prayers, we have to physically do something to help,” he said.

“It’s not simply enough for me to pray for somebody who is hungry. I have to offer them food. It’s not enough for me to pray for somebody who is suffering. We have to ensure that their physical, medical needs are being cared for as well,” he said.

Szabelski said the archdiocese’s Catholic cemeteries also provide charity assistance for 300 burials a year to ensure that families of the deceased who are entitled to Catholic burial rites can secure them even if their families cannot afford it.

In Australia, bishops face legal complaint for defending marriage

Sydney, Australia, Nov 24, 2015 / 02:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Sydney archbishop has strongly defended the freedom of the Catholic Church in response to a legal complaint claiming the Australian bishops’ pastoral letter on marriage violated Tasmania’s strict anti-discrimination law.   “Australia is party to treaties guaranteeing freedoms of religion and of speech, and regularly exhorts other nations to observe these,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said Nov. 13. “It is therefore astonishing and truly alarming that people might be proceeded against for stating traditional Christian beliefs on marriage.”   “Fair-minded readers of the bishops’ statement on marriage would see it was a very carefully worded and indeed compassionate statement, not designed to provoke or hurt anyone,” he continued. “The concerted campaign that has followed its publication suggests that some people simply cannot tolerate Christian beliefs being held by anyone, spoken by anyone, influencing anyone.”   The legal complaint targeted Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, Tasmania and the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference as a whole. The bishops’ conference had authored the booklet, “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” a pastoral letter issued May 28.    The pastoral letter was sent home with students of Catholic high schools in several archdioceses, including Hobart. It stressed both respect for all and respect for the unique nature of marriage as a union of man and a woman. It also rejected claims that current Australian law and Catholic teaching on marriage wrongly discriminate.   On Nov. 12 Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner said it would investigate the complaint. The following week, the archbishop agreed to go through a conciliation process to address the complaint.   The complaint was filed by Martine Delaney, an LGBT activist and 2016 candidate for the Australian Greens party for the country’s federal House of Representatives.    “I’ve sought an apology and for the Catholic education system to involve itself in LGBTI awareness for students,” Delaney said, according to Australia’s Sky News.   Delaney, who identifies as transgender, charged that the booklet was inappropriate and acted to marginalize same-sex couples and their families.    The Sydney archdiocese said the complaint was filed in Tasmania because of its unique anti-discrimination law. The law bars conduct that could reasonably be anticipated to offend, humiliate, insult or ridicule another person on the basis of several categories, including sexual orientation.    The move comes ahead of an expected national plebiscite on the definition of marriage.    Archbishop Porteous in a Nov. 13 statement said he distributed the book to help Catholics understand Church teaching “at a time when debate on this matter was widespread within the community.”   “The intention was to inform the debate as leader of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, to ensure the Catholic community understood where we stand on the issue of marriage.”   He said it was not his intention to offend.   “I regret if offense has been taken by individuals, and will work with the Commission to resolve this matter,” he said.   After agreeing to conciliation, the archbishop said he wanted to “see if we can find a way forward.”   In reaction to the complaint, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman told parliament that current legislation might need revision to ensure that all viewpoints can be expressed, the Australian Associated Press reports.   Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, speaking at a forum at the Australian Catholic University in October, said the law should be changed to avoid similar complaints.   Professor Michael Quinlan, Dean of Law at University of Notre Dame Australia’s Sydney campus, said that the complaint could have a chilling effect.   “If even Catholic bishops are unable to write to parishioners and parents and students studying in Catholic schools, setting out their views on marriage without fear of prosecution, it is hard to see how the rest of the country can discuss the issues ahead of the plebiscite which has been foreshadowed.”    On Nov. 12 Senator Eric Abetz proposed a motion in the federal parliament to support the Catholic Church’s right to distribute the pamphlet. A vote on the motion was blocked by members of the Labor and Greens parties.   LGBT activists have previously filed a complaint concerning the booklet.   In June 2015 Randy Croome, national director of the gay marriage advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, claimed the booklet is illegal under Tasmanian law.   Archbishop Fisher on Nov. 13 said he was consoled by statements of support from Catholics and other people of good will.   “I intend to keep speaking up for Christian beliefs, always respectfully, never with prejudice or hatred; I hope our democracy will treat me with the same courtesy.”

Photo credit: Ivan Galashchuk via