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December 12, 2017
Archive of December 4, 2017

What does it really mean to observe Advent?

Denver, Colo., Dec 4, 2017 (CNA) - With the first Sunday of Advent behind us, the liturgical season of preparing for Christmas is well underway.    But what does it actually mean to “observe Advent?” The observation of other liturgical seasons may be more readily apparent – Lent is clearly a time for prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, while Christmas and Easter are clearly times for celebration.    Search Pinterest for “how to celebrate Advent” and everything from ideas for a do-it-yourself Jesse Tree, to instructions for a handmade Advent calendar bunting, to a tutorial on “how to make your own wreath from foraged materials” appears.   The penitential time of preparation before Christmas seems to have taken on a crafty life of its own over the last few years, thanks to websites such as Pinterest and Instructables. Add in a few glowing shots of your friend’s handcrafted nativity set on her Instagram feed and you’ve got a recipe for some serious Advent-envy. 
While all of these crafts and activities can help one better celebrate Christmas, it’s important not to let them distract from the true purpose of the season: preparation for the Incarnation, said Fr. Mike Schmitz, chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.   Fr. Schmitz told CNA that one of the things that gets easily overlooked about Advent is “that it’s actually a season of penance” and as such, the Church asks us to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.    “That’s kind of like the buzzkill of Advent because it’s like, ‘OK, don’t have too much fun because, remember, this is a penitential season’,” he said.    However, just because it’s a season of penance doesn’t mean we need to be somber.    “I think there’s some great ways that a person or a family can make that – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – a part of the celebration of preparation for Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a dour kind of experience,” he said.   The simplest way Catholics can prepare for Christmas, Fr. Schmitz suggested, is by going to confession during Advent.    “During Advent the faithful are asked not only to prepare themselves to celebrate Christmas, but we’re called to prepare ourselves to meet Jesus at the end of time,” he said.    “There’s a lot of good ways to do that, but I think one of the best ways a person could possibly do that is to go to confession.”   For Kathryn Whitaker of the blog, “Team Whitaker,” observing Advent is all about knowing what works best for your family.    “There are lots and lots of beautiful ideas on Pinterest and other places, but I think you have to find what suits your family and then not apologize or feel badly because someone else is doing it differently,” she said.    In an attempt to dial back the frenzy of Christmas morning, she said her family began look for ways to serve others and be grateful for what they already have in the weeks leading up to it.   “I think for us, it’s just been about pouring a little bit more love, particularly in these next four weeks, in everything that we do.”   The Whitakers pick a local family in need to “adopt” each year by providing gifts and food, or they donate presents to Brown Santa – a tradition named for the brown uniforms members of the Travis County, Texas Sheriff’s Office wear that provides assistance to underprivileged residents, particularly during the Christmas season.   That, plus “lighting” her kindergartner’s Advent wreath – made from tissue paper and toilet paper rolls – and having a Jesse Tree, an ancient tradition of decorating a tree with ornaments that represent the story of salvation, will make up their Advent, which also includes Mass and confession.    Over the years, Whitaker and her family have adapted their Advent season to their “family season.” The year that she and her husband brought their premature son home from the hospital, for example, all they could do was put up the Christmas tree with some ornaments.   “And that was OK,” she said. “And then knowing next Advent, or the next liturgical season that comes up, you can do more. Or you can do less.”   Much like Whitaker, Bonnie Engstrom of the blog “A Knotted Life” said that the best way for a family to observe Advent is by “looking through the options and seeing what will work for them, what will help them create meaningful lessons and memories during that season of their family's life.”   “Then you just gotta walk away from the rest, appreciating that it works for some but confident that you're doing a good job.”   In recent years, the Engstroms have “scaled back our Advent activities by a ton” by just focusing on the Advent wreath and a few saints’ feast days. Festivities that many Americans typically do in the time before Christmas – such as looking at light displays, drinking cocoa and watching Christmas movies – are all saved for the actual Christmas season.    “It has greatly bolstered Christmas beyond December 25th and has brought a lot more peace and joy to our home, while greatly reducing the stress,” she said, which is a definite “win-win.”   Gradually filling the nativity scene, adding ornaments to their Jesse Tree and celebrating St. Nicholas’ feast day with her kids are all fun ways that Engstrom said she can “trick them into learning about her faith.”   While engaging her kids in celebrating Advent is important, she said observing this season has also helped her grow in her relationship with God.   “The silence, the simple beauty, the focus on preparation,” she said, “those things have really helped me create the still in my interior and exterior life for God to speak to me.”    Essentially, there’s not just one way to do Advent, and that’s fine.

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 5, 2015.  

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Mexican-born priest appointed auxiliary bishop of Brownsville

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Monday the Vatican announced Pope Francis' appointment of Oratorian Fr. Mario Alberto Aviles as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville.

He joins Bishop Daniel E. Flores, who has served as the sixth bishop of Brownsville since February 2010.

Aviles, who has served as Procurator General of the Confederation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri since 2012, has also been appointed the titular bishop of the See of Cataquas in modern-day Algeria.

The Oratory of St. Philip Neri is a pontifical society of apostolic life made up of Catholic priests and lay-brothers. There are 86 congregations around the world, including several in the United States.

The Procurator General acts as the representative of the congregations to the Holy See, usually residing in Rome.

Aviles, 48, was born in Mexico City on Sept. 16, 1969. In 1986 he entered the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Mexico City, two years later moving to the Pharr Oratory in the Diocese of Brownsville.

He first attended the Catholic Panamerican University in Mexico City, then transferred to Rome to study philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum University.

He received a master's of divinity at the Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn. in 2000. He also has a master's degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Phoenix.

On July 21, 1998 he was ordained a priest for the Confederation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri.

From his ordination he was Parochial Vicar of the parish of St. Jude Thaddeus in Pharr, Texas until 2002, he then served as parish priest of Sacred Heart parish in Hidalgo.

He was Dean of the Oratory Academy and Oratory Athenaeum in Pharr from 2005-2012 and a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council at Brownsville since 2011.

He has been Procurator General of the Confederation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri since 2012 and speaks Spanish, English and Italian.

The Diocese of Brownsville, formed in 1965, encompasses the counties of Willacy, Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr at the southern border of Texas. Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr also border the Rio Grande River, which divides the Diocese of Brownsville from the dioceses of Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico.

The diocese is 4,226 square miles in area with a population of approximately 978,369 inhabitants, of which 831,613 are Catholic.

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Pope Francis is praying for grandparents this December

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his prayer video for the month of December, Pope Francis prays for grandparents and the elderly, urging people to respect and support them, that their wisdom may continue to be passed down to new generations.

“A people that does not take care of grandparents, that does not treat them well, has no future!” the Pope said in the video. “The elderly have wisdom.”

He also noted that the elderly have a great responsibility to pass on to others their life experiences, and the histories of their family, community and culture.

“Let us keep in mind our elders, so that sustained by families and institutions, (they) may with their wisdom and experience collaborate in the education of new generations,” he concluded.

Released Dec. 4, the video takes a more light-hearted approach than past prayer intention videos, first depicting a young man who ignores several elderly people he passes on the street.

Soon after the young man hears lively jazz music coming from a building, and upon entering, discovers the three he passed earlier all playing music together. They then invite him to join them.

The importance of the relationship between the elderly and the younger generation, particularly between grandparents and their grandkids, is one of Pope Francis’ favorite topics.

Last year in Rome he held an audience with around 7,000 grandparents, urging them to talk with their grandkids about the faith.

“And talk to your grandchildren, talk. Let them ask you questions,” he said. They may be different from you, they may have other hobbies, “they like other music... but they need the elderly, this ongoing dialogue.”

“You are an important presence, because your experience is a precious treasure, essential to looking to the future with hope and responsibility,” the Pope said at that encounter, Oct. 15, 2016.

At a special Mass in June he said that the older generation is called to be spiritual “grandparents” to young people, sharing their experiences, especially of the faith.

“And this is what the Lord today asks us: to be grandparents. To have the vitality to give to young people, because young people expect it from us; to not close ourselves, to give our best: they look for our experience, for our positive dreams to carry on the prophecy and the work,” he said.

“I ask the Lord for all of us that he give us this grace.”  

 

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Pope Francis: God is calling you. Don’t make excuses.

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Do not wait to begin living out your vocation, Pope Francis said on Monday, encouraging people to stop making excuses for not answering God’s call to share in his mission in a particular way.

“The joy of the Gospel, which makes us open to encountering God and our brothers and sisters, does not abide our slowness and our sloth,” the Pope said in a message released Dec. 4.

“It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision. Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!”

Pope Francis’ message was sent ahead of the 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will take place on April 22, 2018, the fourth Sunday of Easter, with the theme of: “Listening, discerning, and living the call of the Lord.”

“Each one of us is called – whether to the lay life in marriage, to the priestly life in the ordained ministry, or to a life of special consecration – in order to become a witness of the Lord, here and now,” Francis said.

The Lord continues to call us to follow him, and we shouldn’t wait to be perfect in order to answer with our “generous ‘yes,’” he continued. We don’t have to be fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead, should open our hearts to the voice of the Lord.

We are each called “to listen to that voice, to discern our personal mission in the Church and the world, and at last to live it in the today that God gives us.”

Quoting from a pre-Synod meeting of bishops, the Pope explained that spiritual discernment is the process “by which a person makes fundamental choices, in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit, starting with the choice of one’s state in life.”

But today it is becoming more and more difficult to listen to the voice of the Spirit in our lives, he noted, especially as “immersed as we are in a society full of noise, overstimulated and bombarded by information.”

Often, this outer noise is accompanied by an interior confusion as well. “This prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation, reflecting serenely on the events of our lives, going about our work with confidence in God’s loving plan, and making a fruitful discernment,” he said.

The Pope also warned about being closed off, or too concerned with ourselves to be open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

“We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world,” he said.

“We would lose the chance to dream big and to play our part in the unique and original story that God wants to write with us.”

Every Christian should grow in the ability to “read within” his or her life, he stressed, in order to understand how and in what way they are being called to share in the Lord’s mission.

The Pope offered reassurance, saying if God “lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to his kingdom, then we should have no fear! It is beautiful – and a grace – to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters.”

 

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The perfect Christmas gift: a wedding dress for a poor bride

Quito, Ecuador, Dec 4, 2017 (CNA) - A Catholic wedding planner has encouraged married women in Ecuador to “put a smile on the face of a poor bride” by donating their wedding dresses this Christmas.

“The goal is to have women give up their wedding dresses, since they don't have a real use for them  anymore. What's better than keeping them is to give them to someone who needs one,” Maria Alejandra Guerra told ACI Prensa.

Guerra explained that the idea came to her Nov. 26, when she went with a group of missionaries from the Bonds of Marian Love Movement to St. Arnoldo Janssen Parish, located in a poor section of Guayaquil, to coordinate a Christmas campaign for the children there.

She said that the pastor, Fr. John Codjoe, told them that one of the parish's ministries was marriage preparation, and that because “most of these women don't have wedding gowns,” that he was looking for  dresses to be donated.

“So that little light went on, because that was something I wanted to do for some time, and so I said to him 'Father, I'm a wedding planner, I'm going to help you and I'm going to promote this for your parish,” Guerra related.

Fr. Codjoe “was thrilled” with the proposal and told her about 19 couples who would soon be getting married in the parish.

“That's why I decided to launch this campaign on my social media. I didn't think I was going to get a good reception because some time ago I did a poll and most women told me they preferred to sell their wedding dresses. But it turned out just the opposite and now seven women have offered to give me their dresses,” she said.

“I'm going to go pick up the dresses and I'll bring them over to St. Arnoldo Janssen parish. I even told Fr. Codjoe that I wanted to attend the couples' weddings,” she commented.

On her Instagram account where she launched the campaign, Maria Alejandra Guerra said  that Christmas is a “joy, it's giving something to someone you don't know but who needs it more...'giving without remembering and receiving without forgetting,' because that bride you give the dress to will be immensely grateful.”

She hopes that “we can put smiles on the faces of the brides most in need.”

Guerra said that “if I succeed in coming up with the dresses that Fr. Codjoe needs for next year and I continue to get more dresses, then I'll be looking for other parishes that will want to receive them as  donations.”

She also invited married women from other Latin American countries to look for churches where they could give their wedding dresses to low-income couples who are preparing for marriage.

For women who live in Mexico, Guerra suggested they give their gowns to the charitable initiative called “Brides with a Cause”  which collects dresses throughout the country to give them to needy young women.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

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Pro-life student assaulted outside Planned Parenthood

Roanoke, Va., Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A 15-year-old student was taken to the hospital after a woman punched her in the face outside of a Planned Parenthood in Roanoke, Virginia on Saturday morning.

The student, Purity Thomas, is a high school leader with Students for Life of America and was “peacefully sidewalk counseling” with a small group of other leaders outside of Planned Parenthood on Saturday morning when a woman sparked the altercation, the group said in a statement.

During sidewalk counseling, Students for Life leaders offer women support, encouragement and resources for pregnancy care instead of abortion.

On Saturday, the students had congregated in a grassy area outside of the abortion clinic where volunteers typically meet. Because that Planned Parenthood location performs abortions on Saturday, pro-life leaders usually offer counseling, prayer and peaceful protest outside of that location on a weekly basis.

The group of student leaders were standing away from the entrance of the Planned Parenthood when a woman reportedly threatened the group and said she would beat them up and “[expletive] them up,” the group said.

The woman reportedly approached the students and stole a sign that read “All people are made in the image of God.” At this point one of the students began filming, and the woman approached the group a second time, attempting to steal another sign before punching Thomas in the face.

The incident was caught on video.

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“This act of violence against a group of peaceful pro-life students who were outside a Planned Parenthood offering love and support to pregnant women serves as a sad reflection on the state of debate today,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement.

“It’s horrific that a minor expressing love for pregnant women was targeted for violence.”

After the incident, one of the student leaders called the police, and Thomas was taken to the hospital for her injuries. She was examined and released Saturday.

Hawkins added that this ”is not an isolated incident. Across the country we are witnessing a rise in the number of incidents of vandalism and violence against peaceful pro-life speech,” she said. “We pray that the assailant from today’s attack is brought to justice swiftly. But we also pray for the protection of those who volunteer their time to speak for the innocent, preborn infants and their mothers.”

 

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Archbishop to UN: Christians are critical to Iraq’s future

New York City, N.Y., Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A UN panel met last week to discuss the aftermath of the Islamic State’s occupation in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, saying that the region’s future depends upon the preservation of the practices of pluralism and diversity.

“During ISIS’ occupation of Nineveh, even as it sought to eliminate the religious minorities completely, many from the majority population were also victimized as their rights evaporated,” stated Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus at the event.

“Without minorities, rights often vanish for everyone,” Anderson continued, according to a press release.

The panel was hosted in a joint effort by the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations and the Knights of Columbus, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The event took place at UN headquarters on Nov. 30 and was titled “Preserving Pluralism and Diversity in the Nineveh Region.” It was also part of the USCCB’s overarching initiative called “Solidarity in Suffering: A Week of Awareness and Education for Persecuted Christians.”

Some of the panelists included Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Edward Clancy, the director of outreach and evangelization for Aid to the Church in Need, USA, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN, and Fr. Salar Kajo, a parish priest from the Nineveh region.

The panelists emphasized that pluralism and the flourishing of diversity are crucial players for the successful future of Iraq, with a particular emphasis on the local minorities.

Archbishop Warda noted that Christians in particular are a “key partner for the future of pluralism in Iraq,” and should be considered “part of the solution, not part of the problem, in terms of bringing peace and humans rights” to the country.

The Nineveh Plain, a territory between the city of Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan, was overtaken by the Islamic State in 2014, forcing tens of thousands of people into exile and displacement. Two years later, Iraqi forces liberated the region, which was known to have a large Christian population.

The situation in the Nineveh Plain still remains uncertain, as many families, religious groups and minorities are questioning the return to their homes. During this delicate time, the UN panel voiced that respect and collaboration with minorities is critically important.

To that end, the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee has been created, in which the region’s three major Christian communities are collaborating to work more effectively. These communities include the Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Catholic and Syrian Orthodox churches.

Archbishop Auza noted that the Holy See would put forth committed efforts to make sure that Christians “can return to their places of origin and live in dignity and safety with the basic social, political and economic frameworks necessary to ensure community cohesion.”

“Daesh sought to eliminate pluralism and diversity from the Nineveh Plain,” Auza said.

“Therefore, the only way to make sure Daesh cannot claim victory is to restore, and restore urgently, pluralism and diversity to the region.”

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Bishops: Congress can still address "fundamental flaws" in tax law

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Senate tax reform bill passed Dec. 2, like its counterpart passed earlier by the House of Representatives, has “fundamental flaws,” according to a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

The bill-reconciliation process, begun in Washington today, offers an opportunity for legislators to address the bills’ shortfalls, the bishops say.
 
“Congress must act now to fix the fundamental flaws found in both bills, and choose the policy approaches that help individuals and families struggling within our society,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a statement released Saturday.

Dewane added that the bishops are reviewing the Senate’s final version of tax reform legislation. They will provide analysis and comments on key improvements they think are necessary to include in the bill’s final version.

Two separate versions of the tax reform bill were passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The versions differ on the specifics of some deductions and credits, and these differences will need to be reconciled before the legislature approves a final bill.

The bishops cautioned that the reconciled version should prioritize poor and struggling families and individuals.  “For the sake of all people—but especially those we ought, in justice, to prioritize—Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets the key moral considerations outlined in our previous letters,”  Dewane stated.

One proposed provision intended to aid struggling families was Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) amendment expanding child tax credit, which did not receive enough support in the Senate to pass.

While the Senate version of the bill raised the child tax credit from the $1,600 proposed by the House to $2,000 for qualifying families, Rubio’s proposal would have expanded the tax credit to payroll taxes, meaning that even the poorest families would benefit from the provision. The plan proposed offsetting the costs of the expanded credit by reducing the typical corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 22 percent, instead of 20 percent, as the bill called originally called for.

David Cloutier, Associate Professor of Moral Theology and Ethics at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that proposals like Rubio’s tax credit highlight the moral issues at play in the tax bill.  Tax relief for families is intended to recognize “that families do important work for the common good, and so government should help them do that work,” he said.

While a high corporate tax rate can have “detrimental effects on the common good because it drives businesses out of the United States,” Cloutier said, Catholics need to carefully consider the needs of those who are struggling the most when making judgements on how to serve the common good.

He said that, in his opinion, “there's a really strong argument” for extending a $2,000 credit to parents in the most pressing financial situations. “It can go a long way.”

Cloutier said that while “some kind of corporate tax cut,” might also benefit the common good, that “quibbling over 2 percent” is a much harder argument when the child tax credit, or similar proposals aimed at promoting the common good and helping those who are struggling most in society, hang in the balance.

In a Nov. 22 letter, the US bishops emphasized the principles of just tax reform. “A change in the tax code should not place families in a worse situation because they have welcomed the gift of life,” they said.

“Congress must take adequate time to analyze the complexities of these proposed reforms, and make certain that the nation does not further enshrine indifference toward the poor into law,” the bishops added.

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Pence meets with Iraqi archbishop ahead of Middle East trip

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil on Monday for a “substantial discussion” on the needs of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

“I updated him on the situation facing our people and expressed our hope that peace would soon come to Nineveh,” Warda said in a statement about the Dec. 4 meeting.

Since 2014, the Islamic State has forced thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee their homes after telling them they must convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant tax, or be killed. Many of these Christians have resettled in or around Erbil.

Warda has often spoken out on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and was in the United States for “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians, an event that began on Nov. 26 and was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a tweet, Pence said his meeting with Warda was an “(i)mportant dialogue...about (President Trump’s) commitment to directly assist persecuted Christians & religious minorities in Iraq. I’m heading to the Middle East this month to discuss U.S. plans to accelerate funding those impacted in the region.”

Warda said that “On behalf of our people, I expressed our gratitude for his promise of swift assistance to our communities who suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS.”

“I also mentioned to the Vice President the importance of the aid and support we have received from the Knights of Columbus in the United States, and Aid to the Church in Need in Europe,” he added.

Pence’s coming trip to the Middle East is part of a series of conferences he has attended regarding the plight of Christians in the region. In October, Pence addressed In Defense of Christians’ annual Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East. The vice president said groups such as the Islamic State have singled out Christians for persecution and noted that Christianity could disappear from some parts of the Middle East.

“Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are – vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ,” Pence said at the time.

Warda said that during their meeting, he gave Pence a crucifix from Karemlesh, a town near Mosul which was “targeted and badly damaged when ISIS invaded.”

“I also assured him of our prayers and told him that if he ever visits Iraq, he is most welcome in Erbil.” 

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