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Catholics in Congress: One-third of House, one-quarter of Senate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The religious makeup of the 115th Congress is significantly Christian -- 91 percent -- with Catholics comprising one-third of the House of Representatives and about a quarter of the Senate. Overall, there are six fewer Christians in the new Congress, at 485 members. But there are four more Catholics, who now total 168. The high percentage of Christians in Congress is similar to the 87th Congress in 1961, when such information was first collected. At the time, 95 percent of Congress members were Christian. The data on the religious makeup of the current senators and representatives was collected by Pew Research Center and announced Jan. 3. The Pew report notes that the large number of Christians in Congress has shifted in recent years with a decline in the number of Protestants. In 1961, Protestants made up 87 percent of Congress, compared with 56 percent today. Catholics, conversely, made up 19 percent of the 87th Congress, and now are 31 percent of the legislative body.

U.S. bishops say that prayer, local dialogue key to bringing peace

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Church has a "tremendous responsibility to bring people together in prayer and dialogue, to begin anew the vital work of fostering healing and lasting peace," said a report by a U.S. bishops' task force released Jan. 5 in the wake of last year's incidents of violence and racial tensions. The work to "root out racism and create healthy dynamics in our neighborhoods" is a long-term project, but the scope of it should not cause fear or intimidation, wrote Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, in the report's introduction. He also said "the Church is at her absolute best when she is a bold and prophetic voice for the power of the love upon which our faith is based, the love of Jesus Christ."

Pope to bishops: Defend children from abuse, protect their dignity, joy

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Stand up and protect children from exploitation, slaughter and abuse, which includes committing to a policy of "zero tolerance" of sexual abuse by clergy, Pope Francis told the world's bishops. Wake up to what is happening to so many of today's innocents and be moved by their plight and the cries of their mothers to do everything to protect life, helping it "be born and grow," he said in a letter sent to bishops commemorating the feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28. Just as King Herod's men slaughtered young children of Bethlehem in his "unbridled thirst for power," there are plenty of new Herods today -- gang members, criminal networks and "merchants of death" -- "who devour the innocence of our children" through slave labor, prostitution and exploitation, he said. Wars and forced immigration also strip children of their innocence, joy and dignity, he added.

Providence bishop declares 2017 as Marian Year for Rhode Island diocese

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CNS) -- Catholics in the Diocese of Providence had an additional reason to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Jan. 1, as the feast day also marks the beginning of the upcoming Marian Year for the diocese. "This is an opportunity to renew and to refresh our devotion to Mary that we have as Catholics," said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. "We need her example of all her virtues and we need her prayers," he told the Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. "Catholics for generations have turned to Mary for assistance and inspiration and we need to do that again because of our troubled world and our nation and our community and our church." In October, Bishop Tobin announced that the 2017 calendar year would be celebrated as a Marian Year in the Diocese of Providence following the close of the Year of Mercy in November. Like the Year of Mercy, the Marian Year will provide special opportunities for Catholics in the diocese to increase their devotion to a particular aspect of the Catholic faith.

Vatican says 3.9 million pilgrims visited during Jubilee year

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than 3.9 million pilgrims visited and attended papal events, liturgies or prayer services during the Holy Year of Mercy in 2016, the Vatican said. The Prefecture of the Papal Household, the Vatican office that coordinates the audiences and distributes the free tickets to papal audiences and liturgies, said a total of 3,952,140 people attended a papal event at the Vatican. The Vatican released the statistics Dec. 29. Although the total was slightly higher from the 3.2 million visitors received by Pope Francis in 2015, for a jubilee year it still fell short of the 5.9 million pilgrims who visited in 2014. Terrorist attacks in Europe throughout the year are also thought to have discouraged visitors from traveling during what are typically busy tourist seasons in Italy. The statistics released by the Vatican stand in contrast to the numbers published on the Jubilee of Mercy website, which states that over 21 million participated in the Holy Year of Mercy. The papal event statistics do not include papal events in the city of Rome or international visits made by Pope Francis.

Encounter 2017 gathering in NYC blends talks, music, spirituality

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Members of the Catholic lay ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation are gearing up for their annual gathering in New York City, a three-day event featuring lectures, music and socializing. Labeled a "cultural event," the free gathering takes place Jan. 13-15 in New York City and features talks by scientists, writers, economists as well as exhibits and music. "It's a blend of music and culture a lot of talk about different Catholic topics," said Father Drew Curry, from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana, who attended the event in 2013. Holly Peterson, director of communications for Communion and Liberation in New York, said the event, now in its ninth year, hopes to provide "a place of dialogue and friendship with everyone and anyone, in the heart of the city -- which it truly is, in the heart of Manhattan." Those who participate in the annual event, called Encounter, "have the unique experience of seeing proposals from a diversity of people, from all walks of life; discussions that are not afraid to look at the depth of life, from 360 degrees, and to speak about it together," Peterson told Catholic News Service.

From Father Thomas Mattison, pastor of Christ Our Savior Parish in Manchester Center and Arlington

More than four years ago a child killed scores of other children in Sandy Hook,
Conn. Hundreds of other children, some younger than those of Sandy Hook, some older – but all of them someone’s children -- all of them our children, have been killed in this country. More of them than have died in all the terrorist attacks in Europe in the same time period.
At Christmastime we heard of a Child who was born in a stable because of the indifference of the moneymakers to the plight of the needy; we heard of the murder of little boys in Bethlehem because of the paranoia of their own king; we heard of a family of refugees from the Middle East who were welcomed in Africa.
There are children being born in refugee camps, murdered in some of the oldest cities in the world, driven to flee their homes for fear of religious persecution and civil violence and unwelcome in the most affluent country in the world, afraid that they will be separated from their parents who managed to get them born as citizens of a country that will not accept their parents.
In that same country, one of the leading causes of infant mortality is not a disease, but a choice.
In a world where any child is unwelcome for any reason whatever, then even the Child of Christmas is at risk if He does not meet the narrow and narrowing criteria for what makes a child’s life valuable, defensible, supportable.
I get accused from time to time of being silent on abortion. Let me be loudly – even unpopularly – on record on the sacredness of every child’s life. And let anyone whose heart is not moved to tighten controls on who can possess guns, to open borders to innocent refugees and to make a home for families who are God’s chosen … not dare to clothe himself or herself in the pro-life flag.
For more from Father Mattison’s parish, go to www.christoursaviorvt.com.

Marchers in last year's Rally for Life head toward the Statehouse. (Photo by Cori Fugere Urban)

Rally for Life

MONTPELIER--The Annual Rally for Life Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. (not 9 a.m. as previously advertised) on Saturday, Jan. 21, at St. Augustine Church at 16 Barre St. The Mass will be celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne and will be followed by the march down State Street and the Rally for Life at the Statehouse, sponsored by the Vermont Right to Life Committee and featuring the theme of “Women’s Voices." Speakers will include Jewels Green of Philadelphia, Sarah Zagurski of Colorado and Amy Cochran of Vermont.

March for Life Itinerary Changes

BURLINGTON--Registration continues for the March for Life bus to Washington, D.C.

Due to low youth registrations, the overnight Youth Pilgrimage has been cancelled. Youth and adult travelers instead will ride on a “Combined Adult/Youth Pilgrimage” bus.  This will include overnight bus travel in both directions that will go directly to the heart of the March for Life activities. High school students and their chaperones will also get tickets to participate in the Youth Mass for Life and Youth Rally at the Verizon Center. 
The bus will leave Vermont on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 26, arrive in Washington, on Friday morning and depart to return to Vermont after the Rally events.  After driving through the night, participants will arrive back in Vermont on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 28. 
There will be no hotel stay and no shrine stops on this itinerary.
The cost is $75 per person. Complete details can be found at http://conta.cc/2eLrrt6.
Please note: High school youth registrants not traveling with a parent will still have to be identified with a Safe and Sacred-certified chaperone for this trip.

World Marriage Day

BURLINGTON--The celebration of World Marriage Day in the Diocese of Burlington will take place on Sunday, Feb. 5, at the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral.

Catholic Schools Week

Since 1974, National Catholic Schools Week is the annual weeklong celebration of Catholic education in the United States. It begins on the last Sunday in January; this year is will be observed Jan. 29-Feb. 4. The theme for the National Catholic Schools Week 2017 is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Schools observe the annual celebration week with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members. Through these events, schools focus on the value Catholic education provides young people and its contributions to the Church, communities and nation.   
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