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Pope offers prayers for Trump as he becomes 45th U.S. president

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis sent best wishes and prayers to incoming President Donald J. Trump shortly after he took the oath of office.

"I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office," the pope's message said.

Saying that the human family faces "grave humanitarian crises" that demand "far-sighted and united political responses," the pope said he would pray that Trump's decisions "will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have the history of the American people and your nation's commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide."

The pope also said he hoped that America's "stature" continued to be measured by "above all its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door."

The message concluded with the pope saying he would ask God to grant the new president, his family and all Americans "peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity."

Poor but ‘never alone’

At a Mass packed mostly with immigrants, Washington, D.C., Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville tried to get the crowd to focus on the plight of the Holy Family.

They had no home, he said. Many closed their doors to them when they were seeking shelter and running from persecution, he said. But he reminded them also of God’s promise.

“We might be poor, but we’ll never be alone,” Bishop Dorsonville said to those in the pews, some who were likely facing similar situations.
At a weekend Mass to mark the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he assured them that God and the Catholic Church would be with them “in these difficult moments.” Millions, he acknowledged, are waiting for relief in the form of immigration reform. But with a president-elect who made campaign promises to form “deportation forces” and remove 11 million immigrants, many faced 2017 with trepidation.
 
The landscape for immigrants in 2016 already had been a rough one. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court States deadlocked on a case dealing with plans by President Barack Obama to shield 4 million from deportation through executive action. Without being able to break the 4-4 tie, the high court essentially left in place an injunction blocking the immigration policy from being implemented.

Various polls also reflected an increasing reluctance by some groups in the country to welcome immigrants from the Middle East. The Brookings/Public Religion Research Institute Immigration Survey, released in June, showed that while 58 percent of Americans surveyed opposed a temporary ban on Muslims from other countries entering the U.S., non-white Americans were the ones most opposed.

“Close to half (46 percent) of whites express support for a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.,” the survey said, “while only 30 percent of Hispanics and 25 percent of blacks support a ban.”

Some say these views in part helped President-elect Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, win, since they were able to mobilize those who felt fears and concerns about immigrants from Latin America and Muslims.

But just what will happen after Trump takes over the presidency remains a mystery. In a TV interview shortly after his election, he said he would deport 2 million to 3 million “people that are criminal and have criminal records” but didn’t mention the 11 million in the country without legal permission that he had originally quoted as deportation targets. He also removed his call for a “Muslim ban” from his website shortly after winning the presidency.
In a recent Time magazine interview, after the publication chose him as “Person of the Year,” Trump said he is “going to work something out” on childhood arrivals, young people who were brought into the U.S. as children by their parents but have no legal documentation.

Using executive action, Obama in 2012 created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, which allows certain undocumented young people to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.

More than 720,000 have been approved for the program. In November 2014, Obama took executive action to expand DACA to allow more young people to benefit from its provisions. He also implemented a program for parents of citizen children — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA.

Trump said he would end these policies. Some who meet the qualifications to apply for the DACA have not done so, fearful of what the new administration could do to them and those who already have enrolled. But in the December Time magazine interview, Trump said some of the youths were good students, some have wonderful jobs.

“And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, adding that “we’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.”

Trump also correctly noted during the campaign that President Obama’s administration has been fierce on deportations. The Department of Homeland security, which tracks the number of people deported each year, says from fiscal years 2009 to 2014, there have been more than 2.4 million “removals.”
But Catholics groups that work with immigrants, such as Washington’s Faith in Public Life, say they are concerned about what Trump said as a candidate and they vowed in a statement to continue “advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, and will continue to work with leaders of both parties to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their status, are treated with dignity and respect.”

Others joined the organization in the statement, including Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, who said: “We are deeply concerned by threats and proposals — such as the increased use of detention and deportation.”

Such attitudes, he said, sow fear, and “threaten the unity and well-being of families and communities. Instead, we call on the Trump administration and Congress to develop and uphold humane policies that honor the dignity and contributions of those among us who live at the margins of society.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops have not directly spoken out against Trump and what he said while campaigning, but they have voiced their support for immigrants. They declared the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of prayer with a focus on the plight of refugees and migrants.

“To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recognizing in a statement addressing the uncertain future many are fearing.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., addressed a letter to those “who at the present time find themselves in a miserable condition because of a change of the administration of our nation which has threatened many with deportation.” Walls are not solutions, he said, and deportations do not guarantee the country’s security.

California Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton also called attention to similar fears and to racism.

“The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States,” he said. “Many have friends and family members who are without papers. Many are without papers themselves. Children in school are being bullied and young immigrants who signed up for DACA are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation.”

Racism, too, “has raised its ugly head in many communities,” Bishop Blaire continued.

“I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you,” he said. “You are the Church. I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets.”

“I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our interfaith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way,” he said. “The way of God is the way of love.”

Alejandra Catalan, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of the Americas in Washington, said she felt the support the Archdiocese of Washington and the Church in general was trying to convey during Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The reality for immigrants is difficult as Bishop Dorsonville pointed out, she said, but as she stood Dec. 10 with her husband, Francisco, and son Samuel at Washington’s Marian basilica, all dressed in indigenous clothing to honor the Virgin, she said she could only depend on one thing: faith.
 
 

Monitoring needs of migrants, refugees

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairmen of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.

In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.

He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.

“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”

The working group also will spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts, and engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.

The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

He added that the Chicago Archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for their families.”

National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.

National Migration Week

WASHINGTON—The following is a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on National Migration Week, taking place Jan. 8-14.

The full messages as follows:

Beginning Sunday, the Catholic Church in the United States marks National Migration Week.  The observance began more than 25 years ago as a way to reflect upon the many ways immigrants and refugees have contributed to our Church and our nation. This year, we are invited to create a culture of encounter where citizens old and new, alongside immigrants recent and longstanding, can share with one another their hopes for a better life. Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew life as refugees, so let us also begin this encounter within our very own families.

Migration is, more than anything, an act of great hope. Our brothers and sisters who are forced to migrate suffer devastating family separation and most often face dire economic conditions to the point they cannot maintain a very basic level of living. Refugees flee their countries due to war and persecution which inspires them to risk everything for an opportunity to live in peace. As Catholics in the United States, most of us can find stories in our own families of parents, grandparents or great-grandparents leaving the old country for the promise of America. Take time this Migration Week to seek out those stories. Let us remind ourselves of those moments when our loved ones were forced to seek the mercy of others in a new land. 

Americans have a great national heritage of welcoming the newcomer who is willing to help build a greater society for all. Fear and intolerance have occasionally tested that heritage. Whether immigrating from Ireland, Italy or countless other countries, previous generations faced bigotry. Thanks be to God, our nation grew beyond those divisions to find strength in unity and inclusion. We have kept dear the words of scripture, “do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Heb 13:2).

This National Migration Week is an opportunity to embrace the important work of continuing to secure the border, to welcome the stranger and serve the most vulnerable—all components of a humane immigration policy.
 

A New Year

Responding to editors' requests for a regular sampling of current commentary from around the Catholic press, Catholic News Service provided an unsigned editorial titled "A new year" from Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Ind.
 
By the grace of God, Catholics can obtain a "fresh start" in the Christian life every time we freely participate in the sacrament of reconciliation. As we flip the calendar to a new year, we have a different kind of opportunity before us -- one that challenges us to look at how we will spend the empty days, weeks and months facing us in 2017. Will we live the Christian life to our fullest potential?
 
Here are five ways to begin:
 
+ Be a Christian witness. The United States just completed one its most contentious elections in history. The country is divided by race, class and even within individual families, and, at times, it seems everyone has forgotten what it means to participate in civil dialogue. As Christians, we have the ability -- indeed the obligation -- to offer a different path. Instead of contributing to the fighting, we can demonstrate what Pope Francis means when he asks us to encounter one another with respect and love. When we look at our fellow human beings as those who have dignity rather than treat them with rancor, we give witness to what Jesus meant when he said, "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).
 
+ Carry on the message of mercy. The Year of Mercy may have ended in November, but the message of mercy carries on. If you developed a habit of living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in 2016, don't abandon them because the "year" has reached its end. If you never got into the habit, it's never too late to begin. Living and acting mercifully in our daily lives means witnessing perpetually to the Father's love on earth.
 
+ Give of yourself. What better way to start the new year and continue the Christmas season than by thinking of others? Men, women and children in Syria, in particular, are in need of both great financial assistance as well as many prayers. So, too, are Christians in the Middle East. Both of these populations can be assisted through organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Many opportunities for involvement and assistance exist closer to home, too, and it's never too early to teach young children or grandchildren the importance of generosity and selflessness.
 
+ Participate in formation. Our Catholic faith is a treasure, and one of its great gifts is that there is always more to learn. The start of a new year can be an opportune time to recommit to learning more about the faith.
 
+ Rediscover the rosary. This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Mary had much to say to us, but one of her primary messages was for us to pray the rosary every day for peace. If we are not heeding her direction perhaps as often as we should, this anniversary year affords us the perfect opportunity to once again take her words to heart. If praying once a day is too much at first, work up to it by beginning once a week and then extending the practice as it becomes more habitual.
 

Father Rupp's Nativity scene

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Traditional Nativity scenes focus on the Holy Family in a stable where they found shelter.
 
Father Dan Rupp, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, has taken that concept one step further.
 
The priest created the town of Bethlehem -- adjacent to points of interest in Sioux City -- on two 15-foot-by-5-foot boards. It consumes a space about the size of a double-car garage in the church's meeting room.
 
Father Rupp began assembling the project Dec. 16. Armed with more tools that one could purchase in the Craftsman department at Sears, Father Rupp measured and re-measured to ensure visitors would fully appreciate the village. It was far more than inserting "slot A into slot B."
 
"Nope, no union help today," he quipped. "But it did take a minivan, pickup and my (Chevrolet) HHR to transport everything. Normally, it's in the basement," he told
The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.
 
Father Rupp got the idea for the village while visiting Naples, Italy, where artisans literally embrace the sentiment "it takes a village" to display a Christmas crib, or "presepe" as the locals call it. He has been working on his presentation for about two years.
 
Father Rupp confessed he took a great deal of artistic license with the project.
"It's a Bethlehem of sorts," he said, of his eclectic choices.
 
Down the street from the inn, which is more like a Hilton than a Motel 6, is a three-story Jewish temple. Across the perfectly carved cobblestone road is the Roman Coliseum, with flags waving around the circumference.
 
"No, there are no Hawkeye or Big Red pennants," he said, referring to the universities of Iowa and Nebraska, respectively.
 
"Besides, I'm a Cyclones fan," said the priest of the mascot at Iowa State University in Ames, where he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
 
It was while working as an engineer in Burlington, Vt., that Father Rupp decided to enter the seminary. Those engineering skills did not languish. He was in charge of the portable sound equipment at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., when St. Teresa of Kolkata visited in 1995.
 
Ordained in 1998, Father Rupp was assigned to parishes in Vermont before returning to Iowa in 2013. He was named Blessed Sacrament's pastor the following year.
 
To create the elaborate replicas for Bethlehem, Father Rupp used Styrofoam and heavy cardboard. He also showed off his plumbing and electrical chops.
 
A fountain sports running water. Power cords may be hidden from view, but when discovered, would be enough to make any audiovisual aficionado drool.
 
The dainty white lights that can be seen -- and there are tons of them -- glisten in the night sky, which is a blue board behind Bethlehem. Red lights make it appear as if the home fires are burning in the houses.
 
Father Rupp couldn't calculate exactly how much sweat equity has gone into the construction of the display. "I do know just constructing the Cathedral of the Epiphany took 40 hours," he said.
 
The cathedral is joined with other notable Sioux City buildings on its own platform.
There, one can see the Woodbury County Courthouse, the former Central High School, the Peirce Mansion, First National Bank, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and Blessed Sacrament Church, which also appears in Bethlehem by the choice of the artist.
 
As they say in architecture, "God is in the details," and Father Rupp agreed with that.
Outside the stable is a field of sweet corn, sunflowers, cauliflower and lettuce. Peek inside a palatial home and there is a miniature table and chairs. Outside the same structure is a modern bicycle, contrasting the wealth of the owners who used this mode of transportation rather than the donkey Mary and Joseph rode.
 
Hundreds of figurines -- most are from Naples -- inhabit the village. Others that are not time-sensitive, including Chewbacca from Star Wars, grace the display with their presence.
 
"Why not?" Father Rupp questioned. "I have two Swiss Guards, better known for taking care of the pope, guarding the baby Jesus."
 
The finished product, the pastor added, also has therapeutic results.
 
"Last year, only the Bethlehem side was set up, so when kids started acting up in church, parents would bring them in here to look at the display," he said. "It has a calming effect, apparently."
 
 

Some fleeing scene of wildfires describe it as escaping 'gates of hell'

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (CNS) -- St. Mary Catholic Church was at ground zero in the wildfires that devastated parts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Nov. 28, and while flames reached to within yards of the tourist city church, it appears to have been spared.
 
Some parishioners weren't as fortunate.
 
Its pastor, Carmelite Father Antony Punnackal, was forced to evacuate St. Mary's as intense fires came within 300 yards of the church that sits in the heart of Gatlinburg.
The church and rectory have been closed since then, but the priest has received reports that the buildings were spared from the blaze but sustained smoke damage and possible damage from high winds that fueled the flames.
 
The wildfires left a swath of destruction in and around the city of Gatlinburg, causing at least 13 deaths, more than 50 injuries and tens of millions of dollars in property damage. Dozens of residents and visitors to the tourist destination still are missing. Three people who suffered serious burns were transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
 
As of midday Dec. 2, the city of 5,000 residents still was closed down, with only emergency personnel allowed to enter as well as residents and property owners on a limited basis.
 
"I know of seven families in our parish that lost everything," Father Punnackal told The East Tennessee Catholic, the magazine of the Diocese of Knoxville. "Five of them lived in apartments that burned to the ground. They lost their housing and all their belongings. They're also jobless because the businesses where they worked burned."
 
Many evacuees reported fleeing through horrific infernos with intense flames licking at their vehicles as they fled down narrow mountain roads to safety. But a number of residents and tourists perished in the flames, and rescue workers still were trying to account for everyone.
 
Some members of Holy Cross Parish in Pigeon Forge also lost their homes, belongings and businesses. The fires burned nearly 16,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
 
Father Punnackal was told he could re-enter Gatlinburg Dec. 2 to assess the church and rectory. But he could only stay for a few hours.
He said that as he monitored the spreading fires Nov. 28, smoke was entering the church and rectory to the point it became unsafe to breathe. Shortly thereafter, he was forced to evacuate with just an overnight bag as fire threatened the property.
Father Punnackal has been staying at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Newport while his parishioners were spread out in shelters and hotels or with family or friends.
 
"I'm now far away, and I can't get to my parishioners. I have tried to go back, but I've been unsuccessful," the priest said. "I greatly appreciate everyone offering help. I'm doing what I can, but we have a long way to go."
 
While a severe drought over several months prompted many of the recent eastern Tennessee woodland blazes, officials are investigating whether some of the wind-whipped fires above Gatlinburg were caused by individuals, either accidentally or intentionally.
 
The wildfires raced down the mountains, eviscerating everything in their path: homes, condominiums, chalets, cabins, apartments, businesses, automobiles.
 
As a stream of vehicles exited Gatlinburg and surrounding areas, shelters were set up to accommodate those displaced, which numbered as many as 2,000 at one point. Evacuees were receiving food, clothing and other help in shelters set up by the American Red Cross, said Father Andres Cano, pastor of Holy Cross.
 
"Many people are showing solidarity and generosity toward the people affected by the fires," he said, adding that "there is a longtime recovery ahead for the people and the local community."
 
Father Cano was assessing the impact of the wildfires on his parish. As of Dec. 1, the parish knew of one family that lost their home to fire, but more could be affected. He also said parishioners' employers in and around Gatlinburg were affected, and those parishioners are now out of work.
 
Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika has been working with volunteers from around the diocese to get assistance to the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge communities.
On Dec. 1, the bishop announced a $25,000 grant for fire victims through the Diocese of Knoxville's St. Mary's Legacy Foundation. The $25,000 grant is in addition to $735,000 that the St. Mary's Legacy Foundation will be distributing to charities and nonprofit groups throughout eastern Tennessee in 2017.
 
"What happened in the Gatlinburg area was unexpected, and each day we're hearing about more lives lost, more property destroyed, and more heartache for many, many people. The St. Mary's Legacy Foundation has a very precise way of evaluating grant distributions before they're announced. In this case, the foundation felt it was best to react to this tragedy immediately," Bishop Stika said.
 
 

Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be day of prayer with focus on migrants, refugees

Prayer services and special Masses will be held in many dioceses across the country as the U.S. Catholic Church has asked that the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe be a day of prayer with a focus on migrants and refugees.
 
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas.
 
"As Christmas approaches and especially on this feast of Our Lady, we are reminded of how our savior Jesus Christ was not born in the comfort of his own home, but rather in an unfamiliar manger," said a Dec. 1 statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
The day of prayer is intended to be a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears and needs of all those families who have come to the United States seeking a better life.
 
"So many families are wondering how changes to immigration policy might impact them," Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, said in a Dec. 1 statement. "We want them to know the church is with them, offers prayers on their behalf, and is actively monitoring developments at the diocesan, state, and national levels to be an effective advocate on their behalf."
 
The USCCB suggested that Catholics unable to attend such a service or Mass Dec. 12 or who live in an area where one is not being held should "offer prayers wherever they may be." The USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services office has developed a scriptural rosary called "Unity in Diversity" that includes prayers for migrants and refugees. It can be accessed at the Justice for Immigrants website at tinyurl.com/hldg3o9.
 
Another resource suggested by the USCCB is "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope," the 2003 pastoral letter issued jointly by the bishops of the United States and Mexico. Summary versions of the pastoral are available online in English at tinyurl.com/zpd4tex and in Spanish at tinyurl.com/hy2e69m.
 
"To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season," Cardinal DiNardo added.

Our Elders Are Lonely: Do We Care?

Recently I’ve been asked to speak about loneliness in the elderly on numerous occasions. I was even quoted in a recent article by Catholic journalist Mary Rezac, entitled “Our Elders Are Lonely – Do We Care?” As we look forward to Christmas, let’s hope we can all say, “Of course we do!”
 
The issue of loneliness in the elderly may not be as clear-cut as it seems. While one recent study reported that nearly half of people over 60 said they feel lonely on “a regular basis,” another asserted that only 6 percent of American seniors said they “often” feel this way. Contradictory statistics aside, in our country roughly one third of those over 65 and half of those over 85 live alone.
 
Sociologists see this trend as a sign of social progress. Improved health care, increased wealth and the emergence of retirement as a relatively long stage of life, they say, have created more choices for seniors and enabled them to live independent of their adult children. This situation, often referred to as “intimacy at a distance,” respects the life choices and autonomy of both older persons and their adult children, fostering more positive and supportive emotional bonds for all.
 
In his book, “Being Mortal,” surgeon and author Atul Gawande wrote, “The lines of power between the generations have been renegotiated….The aged did not lose status and control so much as share it. Modernization did not demote the elderly. It demoted the family. It gave people –- the young and the old –- a way of life with more liberty and control, including the liberty to be less beholden to other generations. The veneration of elders may be gone, but not because it has been replaced by the veneration of youth. It’s been replaced by veneration of the independent self.”
 
The problem is that our exultation of personal autonomy over family and community fails to acknowledge that sooner or later each of us will need the help of others to survive and enjoy a meaningful life. This brings us to Christmas. What is Christmas without family and community?
 
And yet this season can also be a time of stress for those who are estranged from their loved ones, those who cannot afford to fulfill their children’s wishes, those whose holiday joys are but a distant memory and those who find themselves alone in this world.
 
Christmas is the perfect time to begin promoting (rather than demoting) family and practicing what our Holy Father asked in his apostolic letter for the closing of the Year of Mercy, “Misericordia et Miseria.” As we gather in our families, social circles and faith communities –- even at our office parties -– may we look around to see who is standing on the periphery, who is at risk of being excluded from the joys of this season. Inspired by mercy, let us offer a word of consolation and begin restoring joy and dignity to those who feel left out. God’s mercy, Pope Francis suggested, finds expression in the closeness, affection and support that we offer our brothers and sisters and in the strength of family. “The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped,” he wrote.
 
Mercy leads us to see each person as unique. “We have to remember each of us carries the richness and the burdens of our personal history;” Pope Francis wrote; “this is what makes us different from everyone else. Our life, with its joys and sorrows, is something unique and unrepeatable that takes place under the merciful gaze of God.”
 
If you are young, you can share God’s mercy this Christmas by patiently listening to your grandparents’ stories or offering them a hand in a way that says, “You are important to me.”
 
If you are a grandparent, look to see which one of your children or grandchildren is waiting for your affirmation or your words of wisdom.
 
Even if you are infirm or in need and feel that you have nothing to give, you can still offer your smile, your thanks or a word of kindness to those who help you.
 
Our Holy Father reminds us that God never tires of welcoming and accompanying us, despite our sins and frailties. Let our loving presence be the gift we give others this Christmas.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 

Pope calls new cardinals to be agents of unity in divided world

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church’s 17 new cardinals must dedicate their lives to being ministers of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world — and sometimes a Church — often marked by hostility and division, Pope Francis said.

Even Catholics are not immune from “the virus of polarization and animosity,” the pope told the new cardinals, and “we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts.”

Creating 17 new cardinals from 14 nations Nov. 19, the pope said the College of Cardinals — and the Catholic Church itself — must be a sign for the world that differences of nationality, skin color, language and social class do not make people enemies, but brothers and sisters with different gifts to offer.

Three of the new cardinals created during the prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica were from the United States: Cardinals Blase J. Cupich of Chicago; Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the new Vatican office for laity, family and life; and Joseph W. Tobin, whom the pope asked to move from being archbishop of Indianapolis to archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

Only 16 of the new cardinals were present for the ceremony. The Vatican said 87-year-old Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoarai, the retired bishop of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho, was created a cardinal although he was unable to travel to Rome.

After reciting the Creed and taking an oath of fidelity to Pope Francis and his successors, each cardinal went up to Pope Francis and knelt before him. The pope gave them each a cardinal’s ring, a three-cornered red hat and a scroll attesting to their appointment as cardinals and containing their “titular church” in Rome. The assignment of a church is a sign they now are members of the clergy of the pope’s diocese.

After the consistory, Pope Francis and the new cardinals hopped in vans for a short ride to visit retired Pope Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, his residence in the Vatican gardens. The retired pope greeted the cardinals, thanked them for stopping by and assured them, “My prayers will accompany you always.”

Cardinal Mario Zenari, the pope’s ambassador to Syria, spoke on behalf of the new cardinals, promising Pope Francis that they and the entire Church would continue to be envoys of God’s mercy, bending down to help those “left half dead on the side of the road, wounded in body and spirit.”

The Gospel reading at the consistory was St. Luke’s version of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

“They are four things we can easily do for our friends and for those more or less close to us, people we like, people whose tastes and habits are similar to our own,” Pope Francis said. But Jesus, not mincing his words, calls his followers to more.

“With people we consider our opponents or enemies,” the pope said, “our first instinctive reaction … is to dismiss, discredit or curse them. Often we try to ‘demonize’ them, so as to have a ‘sacred’ justification for dismissing them.”

In God, he said, there are no enemies. There are only brothers and sisters to love.
 
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