Hunger for God, feed the poor, Pope Francis urges Macedonian Catholics

1 week 5 days ago

Skopje, North Macedonia, May 7, 2019 / 04:17 am (CNA).- Following the example of St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, hunger for Jesus, partake in the Bread of Life, and then feed Jesus hidden in the poor, Pope Francis said in North Macedonia on Tuesday.

“Hunger for bread, hunger for fraternity, hunger for God,” he said at an outdoor Mass in Skopje May 7. “How well Mother Teresa knew all this, and desired to build her life on the twin pillars of Jesus incarnate in the Eucharist and Jesus incarnate in the poor!”

“Love received and love given,” he added.

According to Pope Francis, Mother Teresa’s journey was marked by her desire to quench her hunger and thirst for God. She approached the Lord just as she approached “the despised, the unloved, the lonely and the forgotten.”

She knew, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus caritas est, that “love of God and love of neighbor become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God,” Francis said.

The pope celebrated Mass in Skopje on the last day of a May 5-7 visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

According to 2002 estimates, Catholics and other non-Orthodox Christians in North Macedonia are just .4% of a population of over 2 million. The majority religion is Macedonian Orthodox at 65%. Islam is the next largest religion at over 33% of the population.

Local authorities estimated there were around 15,000 people at the Mass, held in Macedonia Square.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the “Bread of Life,” explaining that “The Lord came to give life to the world.”

Jesus, he said, “is the living Bread come down from heaven, who tells us: ‘Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

But instead of answering this invitation to partake in “living Bread,” people often get used to mediocre, stale substitutes, he said.

“We thought that conformism would satisfy our thirst, yet we ended up drinking only indifference and insensitivity,” he said, and “We looked for quick and safe results, only to find ourselves overwhelmed by impatience and anxiety.”

“Let us not be afraid to say it clearly: Lord, we are hungry.”

Like the crowd which witnessed Christ’s miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, people are hungry to experience the multiplication of Christ’s mercy, Francis stated.

He explained that God’s mercy “can break down our stereotypes and communicate the Father’s compassion for each person, especially those for whom no one cares: the forgotten or despised.”

Noting that later in the Mass, Catholics would be approaching the altar for Communion, he said: “In every Eucharist, the Lord breaks and shares himself. He invites us to break and share ourselves together with him, and to be part of that miraculous multiplication that desires to reach out and touch, with tenderness and compassion, every corner of this city, this country, and this land.”

Earlier Tuesday, before saying Mass, Pope Francis visited the Mother Teresa Memorial House, which is built on the former site of Sacred Heart Church where St. Teresa of Kolkata was baptized. Mother Teresa’s childhood home and Sacred Heart Church were both destroyed in an earthquake in 1963.

There the pope met religious leaders and poor and said a prayer in honor of Mother Teresa.

“God, Father of mercy and all goodness, we thank you for giving us the life and the charism of Saint Mother Teresa,” he prayed.

“In your boundless providence, you called her to bear witness to your love among the poorest of the poor in India and throughout the world,” he said. “She was able to do much good to those in greatest need, for she saw in every man and woman the face of your Son.”

Mother Teresa, the pope said, took up the words of Jesus on the cross: “I thirst,” sating “the thirst of the crucified Lord by accomplishing works of merciful love.”

Pope Francis prayed that St. Mother Teresa would intercede for the city of Skopje, her birthplace and the city in which she spent her young life.

“Here you learned from your parents to love those in greatest need and to help them,” he said. “Here, in the silence of the church, you heard the call of Jesus to follow him as a religious in the missions.”

The pope asked for her intercession for the grace to be watchful and attentive to the cry of the poor, those deprived of rights, the sick, the outcast, and the least.

“May [Jesus] grant us a heart capable of loving God present in every man and woman, a heart capable of recognizing him in those who experience suffering and injustice,” he said, praying that God would grant those present the grace “to become signs of love and hope in our own day, when so many are poor, abandoned, marginalized and migrants.”

“Saint Mother Teresa, pray for this city, for this people, for its Church and for all those who wish to follow Christ, the Good Shepherd, as his disciples, by carrying out works of justice, love, mercy, peace and service,” he concluded.

“To follow him, who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life for many: Christ our Lord. Amen.”

‘Bodies were everywhere’: Sri Lanka priests recount the horror of Easter attacks

1 week 5 days ago

Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 7, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- As Fr. Eranga De-Silva finished celebrating Easter Sunday Mass at his parish in Sri Lanka, he noticed policemen guarding the three entrances to the church.

He was celebrating the 8 a.m. Mass, and had just given the final blessing at Our Lady of Lourdes, the parish where De-Silva is a parochial vicar, when his pastor approached the altar, and whispered to him that he had “sad news.”

De-Silva’s pastor, who had just come from celebrating Mass at a different parish, then took to the pulpit, interrupting the final hymn.

The pastor announced the news to the congregation: bombs had been detonated at two different Catholic Churches, St. Sebastian's in Negombo and St. Anthony's in Colombo. Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Raddolugama, where De-Silva was finishing Mass, is just nine miles to the south of Negombo.

“People had no clue and were instructed to move quickly to their residences safely,” De-Silva told CNA. “Then the police asked (us) to close all the gates of the church. All were wondering what was happening and what (they) were to do.”

Around noon, De-Silva decided to head to Colombo to offer his assistance as a priest, despite the risk to his safety. He heard several more blasts by the time he reached the city, he told CNA.

The next day, he headed to Negombo, where priests were needed for help with prayer services and burials. “I saw hundreds of priests gathering, despite the prevailing risk, to help the flock,” he said.

Fr. Sachitra Perera was another priest who rushed toward danger after he heard of the attacks. He was heading to visit his parents on Easter when another priest told him of the bombs.

“My parish priest Fr. Manjula Fernando called me and said that there had been a blast so let’s rush to Katuwapitiya (St. Sebastian’s in Negombo),” he told CNA. It was about 8:45 on Easter morning.

When the priests arrived, they couldn’t believe what they saw, Perera said.

“Bodies were everywhere. People were dumbfounded, scared. Police had rushed to the place...I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said. “(I) felt so sad and for a while I felt numb and speechless.” Perera said he helped clear paths for ambulances and emergency workers to reach the victims. He said he knew one family personally who lost their father, mother, and youngest son in the attacks. The two older children were away in Japan.

The family were faithful, daily Mass goers, Perera said. “And this son who died is very innocent, always with a bright smile. Even though he (was in 10th grade), he is so loving and innocent.”

De-Silva said that while he didn’t know any of the people who were injured or killed, he had heard of a family in which the father and his youngest daughter, Fathima Azla, were Muslim, while the mother and eldest sibling were Catholic.

“Although Fathima Azla was not baptized, she used to come for the Sunday Mass. Prior to this Easter, she had seen Jesus and some angels in dreams, and once very recently she had told the family members that she saw Jesus sprinkling some water on her,” De-Silva recalled. “Her mother has told her may be Jesus wants her to be baptized...and she had drawn some pictures of Jesus. However, Fathima Azla was one of the innocent victims of the terror attack.”

An evangelical church, three hotels, and a private residence were also struck by suicide bombers during the Easter attacks.

Both priests said the attacks have rocked a country that was just getting used to peaceful times, after war and terrorism reigned in the country from 1983 to 2009.

Sri Lanka is a majority-Buddhist country; the small minority of Christians in the country (fewer that 8%) are mostly Catholics. Roughly 10% of the population are Muslims.

It used to be that people saw churches as a place of refuge, Perera said.

“This is a major blow,” he said. “When something happens, people run to the church. In 2004 when the tsunami struck, they ran to church for safety. But now…”

“As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country Sri Lankans could be identified as a relatively rich country. It is well known for hospitality,” De-Silva said.
“But, after these attacks, there is an unnecessary tension. After that day full of surprises, people today are full of (suspicion). The friendly way of approaching has faded away for the past two weeks. I hope this will end soon,” he added.  

Perera said that he wanted to credit Catholics in the country for their peaceful and faithful response to the attacks amidst so much tragedy.

“I must appreciate our faithful,” he said. “Sometimes as pastors we think people are not practicing what they believe, but this is a good example to show how strong we are because no one reacted to the Muslim community with violence.”

“I visited few houses of the affected people, they still have deep faith but they are in trauma. They have not lost their faith,” he noted.

Still, “the fear and uncertainty will slowly fade away but the scars will remain,” he added.

On May 5, for the second weekend in a row, Sri Lankan Catholics stayed in their homes and watched Mass on T.V. instead of going to church, due to ongoing security threats.

Although public schools in the country reopened after the attacks as of May 6, Catholic schools will remain closed until at least May 13. The risk, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith decided, is still too great.

De-Silva said he is not sure when churches will reopen for public Masses, but he and Perera both said they support Cardinal Ranjith’s decisions. Ranjith is the Archbishop of Colombo, and has been thrust into the spotlight as the leader of the Catholic Church in the country since the attacks.

Only on Monday, May 6, did the police chief of Sri Lanka announce that all suspects linked to the bombings were either arrested or dead, according to Reuters, which could effect whether or not Catholic churches open for Mass next weekend.

“It is said, ‘once bitten, twice shy.' So I totally agree with my shepherd Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who officially announced about not having Sunday Masses in our parishes in the Archdiocese,” De-Silva said. “His Eminence postponed the starting date of Catholuc Schools till May 13. Again, in my opinion, a very brave and a great idea.”

“The way he led his flock and the way he instructed us was amazing,” De-Silva added about the leadership of Cardinal Ranjith. “Buddhists appreciate his approach and all are amazed with the grace shared by his thoughts. May God continue to guide us through him.”

De-Silva, while a priest of Sri Lanka, has United States ties. He and several other priests from Sri Lanka spent several years studying in U.S. seminaries, through a partnership with the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, where they were affectionately called the “Sri-Lincolns.”

De-Silva said he was grateful for Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz, who started the program, and was touched to hear from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, who called each of the “Sri-Lincoln” priests to check on them after the attacks.

“Thanks for all who called and checked how we were doing,” he said. “I know that there are many still praying so hard. Please continue!”

Besides prayer, De-Silva asked that Catholics not forget what happened in the Easter attacks.

“Please do not forget what happened. We, as humans have the tendency to forget things easily. But (we’ll) not forget, especially for the sake of our future. Most of all - pray!”

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

1 week 5 days ago
Reading 1 Acts 7:51—8:1a Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it."

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
But they cried out in a loud voice,
covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
"Lord, do not hold this sin against them";
and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Now Saul was consenting to his execution.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 31:3cd-4, 6 and 7b and 8a, 17 and 21ab R.(6a) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
R. Alleluia.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name's sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
R. Alleluia.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
My trust is in the LORD;
I will rejoice and be glad of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
R. Alleluia.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
R. Alleluia.
Alleluia Jn 6:35ab R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the bread of life, says the Lord;
whoever comes to me will never hunger.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Jn 6:30-35 The crowd said to Jesus:
"What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:

He gave them bread from heaven to eat."

So Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."

So they said to Jesus,
"Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Pope commends North Macedonians for respect among cultures, ethnic identities

1 week 5 days ago

Skopje, North Macedonia, May 7, 2019 / 01:54 am (CNA).- Speaking to North Macedonian authorities Tuesday, Pope Francis commended the country for its tradition of peaceful coexistence among its variety of cultures and religious and ethnic communities.

The country's patrimony is “the multiethnic and multi-religious countenance of your people, the legacy of a rich and, indeed, complex history of relationships forged over the course of centuries,” he said May 7 at the Mosaique Hall of the presidential palace in Skopje.

Speaking to the authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps, Francis noted it is the first time a pope has visited North Macedonia. He pointed to the land's time under both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, calling it “a bridge between East and West and a meeting-point for numerous cultural currents.”

“This crucible of cultures and ethnic and religious identities has resulted in a peaceful and enduring coexistence in which those individual identities have found expression and developed without rejecting, dominating or discriminating against others,” he said.

“They have thus given rise to a fabric of relationships and interactions that can serve as an example and a point of reference for a serene and fraternal communal life marked by diversity and reciprocal respect.”

These features are “highly significant for increased integration” with Europe, the pope said. The country has applied to join both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Indeed, its name, North Macedonia, was adopted only last year in an agreement with Greece after a dispute over the use of the name Macedonia.

Pope Francis expressed his hope that North Macedonia's increased intregation with Europe “will develop in a way that is beneficial for the entire region of the Western Balkans, with unfailing respect for diversity and for fundamental rights.”

He said that in North Macedonia “the different religious identities of Orthodox, Catholics, other Christians, Muslims and Jews, and the ethnic differences between Macedonians, Albanians, Serbs, Croats, and persons of other backgrounds, have created a mosaic in which every piece is essential for the uniqueness and beauty of the whole. That beauty will become all the more evident to the extent that you succeed in passing it on and planting it in the hearts of the coming generation.”

“Every effort made to enable the diverse religious expressions and the different ethnic groups to find a common ground of understanding and respect for the dignity of every human person, and consequently the guarantee of fundamental freedoms, will surely prove fruitful,” according to Pope Francis. “Indeed, those efforts will serve as the necessary seedbed for a future of peace and prosperity.”

He welcomed North Macedonia's “generous efforts … to welcome and provide assistance to the great number of migrants and refugees coming from different Middle Eastern countries” in 2015 and 2016.

“With you, they found a secure haven. The ready solidarity offered to those in such great need … does you honour. It says something about the soul of this people that, having itself experienced great privations, you recognize in solidarity and in the sharing of goods the route to all authentic development.”

The pope also pointed to the example of Mother Teresa, “one of your illustrious fellow-citizens, who, moved by the love of God, made love of neighbour the supreme law of her life.”

“You are rightly proud of this great woman,” he said. “I urge you to continue to work in a spirit of commitment, dedication and hope, so that the sons and daughters of this land, following her example, can recognize, attain and fully develop the vocation that God has envisaged for them.”

March for Life events throughout Colombia draws thousands

1 week 5 days ago

Bogotá, Colombia, May 7, 2019 / 12:28 am (CNA).- Thousands attended pro-life marches in cities across Colombia on May 4, under the theme “I choose both lives.”

March events were held in major cities, including Barranquilla, Bogotá, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Popayán, Cartagena, Villavicencio, Cali, Manizales, Pereira, and Bucaramanga.

According to organizers, the 13th annual National March for Life drew more than 500,000 in more than 60 cities across the country.

“We simply want to express our infinite gratitude because we have demonstrated that Colombia is a country that loves and defends life from conception to natural death,” the promoter of the event, United for Life, said in a statement.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, Jesús Magaña, president of the United for Life, said the 2019 march was a “complete success because in the largest cities, the main plazas were filled” and “different politicians, candidates and members of Congress joined us.”

Magaña assured that with the massive support in the streets, they will demand the Constitutional Court strike down ruling SU-096 which “promotes abortion as a 'fundamental right,' something incredible.”

The Constitutional Court of Colombia decriminalized abortion on May 10, 2006 in the cases of rape, fetal deformity and danger to the life of the mother. On October 17, 2018, the court issued a new ruling in which establishing that abortions can be performed at any point throughout the pregnancy.

The demonstrations also protested euthanasia, advanced by the Constitutional Court after a 2017 ruling which asked the Congress to issue a regulation for its administration.

In a statement published April 10, the Colombian Bishops' Conference expressed its support for the march.

“It is appropriate, then, that we apply ourselves to the task of defending life, which involves welcoming it, receiving it as a sacred gift, offering it all the opportunities for it to grow and develop in dignity, personally take on this task with responsibility and commit ourselves to a life project,” the prelates said.

The bishops stressed that every life is sacred “from its inception till its natural end” and warned of various threats to life including abortion, euthanasia, murder, suicide and other acts of violence.


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


Catholic conference supports Iowa budget cuts to abortion providers

1 week 5 days ago

Des Moines, Iowa, May 6, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- A budget bill became law in Iowa last week, adding restrictions to grants for abortion providers and Medicaid for gender reassignment surgery.

Tom Chapman, executive director for the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA the budget was a step in the right direction.

“There is no obligation to fund abortion providers,” said Chapman. “We’ve been working on that part of the issue for many years so we are very pleased to see that.”

Governor Kim Reynolds signed the Health and Human Services budget bill into law May 3 after it passed through the Senate and House in April. According to the Des Moines Register, the state will fund $1.9 million in health programs, including aid for veterans, elderly people, and children.

The law will also remove a five-year waiting period before pregnant women are covered by Medicaid. These women have to be lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States in order to qualify.

The budget will not provide grants to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, to administer sexual education. Des Moines Register reported that it will cease $260,000 from being sent to sex information programs of Planned Parenthood. The law will continue to fund the sexual education of numerous other organizations.

According to the NBC 13, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Executive Director Erin Davison-Rippey claimed that the organization provided the same services as other groups: “We’re delivering the same services that other providers are delivering. These are all age appropriate, medically accurate sex education that is generally provided in school settings to young people, sometimes community settings as well depending on the grant.”

Republican Representative Joel Fry argued that the budget is consistent with public opinion: “We have consistently heard from Iowans that they do not want their hard-earned tax dollars used by organizations whose primary business model is providing abortions.”

Chapman told CNA that funding abortion clinics for these services is unnecessary because other organizations who do not provide abortions administer the same things. He said the new restriction allows for a more objective approach to sex-education.

“I think it presents and opportunity to provide services more objectively if you are separating it from the abortion issue,” he said. “It represents the interests of parents who want to help direct that education,” he further added.

The law would also allow for areas of local government to opt out of Medicaid and other state funds to be used for sex reassignment surgery. Under the bill, the state is not required to fund any “cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedure related to transsexualism, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder.”

Chapman said that while all people deserve compassion, the Church is clear about the definition of sexual identity. He also said there is no requirement on the government's behalf to fund gender reassignment surgery.

“From the Catholic Church perspective, we believe that there really is no separation from the self and the body. You know, we are one integrated unit as men and women,” he said.

“We have to treat everyone with compassion and proper medical care. I think this is something we have to keep in mind as people are treated. At the same time, I think certainly from the governors perspective and the legislators perspective there is no obligation for the government to pay for those surgeries,” he added.

After harassing woman outside Planned Parenthood, Penn. lawmaker says Christians are 'Bible Bullies'

1 week 6 days ago

Philadelphia, Pa., May 6, 2019 / 09:33 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania lawmaker has said that pro-life activists and Christians are bullies, after he faced criticism for a video he livestreamed, in which he angrily confronted a woman praying outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.

“Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values,” Pennsylvania state representative Brian Sims tweeted May 5, after the pro-life group Live Action criticized a video Sims livestreamed May 2.


Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values. #BeReal

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 5, 2019



In the May 2 video, which Sims livestreamed on Twitter and the Periscope app, the lawmaker can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.


Push back against Planned Parenthood protestors, PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege, & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please! #YouAreStrongEnough

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 2, 2019


While Sims solicits donations for Planned Parenthood, he refers repeatedly to the woman as an “old white lady.”

As he approaches her, he says “I have a couple questions for you, ma’am. How many children have you clothed today? How many children have you put shoes on their feet today? Have you fed any children today, or have you say stood out in front of a Planned Parenthood, shaming people for something that they have a Constitutional right to do?”

“You can pray at home,” Sims tells the woman.

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims can be heard saying.

“You’re allowed to be out here,” Sims says to the woman, who can be seen continuing to pray the rosary. “That doesn’t mean you have a moral right to be out here. Shame on you. What you’re doing here is disgusting. This is wrong. You have no business being out here.”

Sims can be seen continuing to speak to the woman for several minutes, while she continues to pray and does not engage him. He repeats the phrase “shame on you,” while calling her an “old, white, lady,” repeatedly.

Later, Sims asks the woman to “talk about your Christian faith. About how your Christian faith believes in shaming people. About your Christian faith believes in telling people that you know what’s right for their bodies. About how your Christian faith believes that you know what’s right for their families.

Several minutes into the video, Sims can be seen obstructing the woman’s path with his camera. “Get out of my way,” the woman says. “Get your camera out of my face.”

“No,” the lawmaker tells her.

He then says to the livestream audience: “If you know who this woman is, and you can give me her address, we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

As the nearly nine-minute video continues, Sims continues to berate the woman, and her religious faith, after she asks him to leave her alone. He calls her prayer “a racist act of judgment.”

“This Planned Parenthood has done more for civil rights in America than this person will ever do for anyone’s rights,” Sims says, while continuing to solicit funds for Planned Parenthood.

“Hasn’t fed a child today. Hasn’t put shoes on a child today. I’m sorry, ma’am, how many Catholic Churches are you protesting, out of 400 priests in Pennsylvania indicted for child molestation. I don’t remember seeing at those protests. I was at them. Instead you’re dragging people for their Constitutional rights. Shame on you,” Sims says to the woman.

“Shame on you.”

400 priests in Pennsylvania have not been indicted for child molestation. Sims seemed to be referring to a July report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, which noted 300 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct during a period of seven decades.

The woman is apparently not the only one to be the subject of videos livestreamed by Sims. In an undated video tweeted by Live Action May 6, Sims can be seen approaching five people, most of whom appear to be teenagers, outside of the same Planned Parenthood. He characterizes them as “white people,” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here.”

Sims says in that livestream video that he will give $100 to anyone who can identify the names and addresses of the young people.


UPDATE: Watch PA Rep @BrianSimsPA offer up $100 for the identities & addresses of 3 TEENAGERS who are fighting for the lives of preborn children.

This is despicable.

— Live Action (@LiveAction) May 6, 2019



“We’re actually just praying for the babies, and we believe that women deserve more,” one of them can be heard saying.

Sims, 40, has represented the 182nd district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. A Democrat, Sims worked as a legal advocate for same-sex marriage and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Shortly before posting his livestream interrogation of the woman, Sims tweeted “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Law enforcement officials have not yet said whether Sims will face charges for his engagement with the woman.


Civil appeals court dismisses legal challenge, says Sheen's body can go to Peoria

1 week 6 days ago

Albany, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The New York Court of Appeals has dismissed an appeal of an earlier judgement allowing Venerable Fulton Sheen’s remains to be moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria, in accordance with his family’s wishes.

The May 2 dismissal of the Archdiocese of New York’s appeal could pave the way for the Illinois-born archbishop’s beatification.

“After almost three years of litigation, the New York Archdiocese’ legal arguments have now been rejected at all three levels of the New York state court system,” the Diocese of Peoria said May 6.

“Although the New York Archdiocese may technically have legal options remaining, they are contrary to the wishes of Archbishop Sheen and his family, and would serve no genuine purpose except to delay the eventual transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains,” it added.

Archbishop Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.” He authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure among Catholics in the U.S. until his death.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002 after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

However, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

The New York archdiocese, however, has said that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is at rest there.

In March 2019, the New York appeals court unanimously ruled that Sheen’s remains be transferred to Peoria.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.

An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.

Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.

In June 2018, the Superior Court of New York ruled in favor of Cunningham’s request that Sheen’s body be moved to Peoria. The Archdiocese of New York then announced that the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were appealing the decision.

Now, a New York appellate court has again sided with Cunningham, ruling 5-0 that Peoria may have the body. The court found that Sheen lived his life with heaven and sainthood as his ultimate goals, which should be considered in the present dispute.

The Diocese of Peoria voiced hope that the beatification efforts for Sheen may now move forward, with Sheen’s body in Peoria. In a March statement, the diocese said that the courts have had ample opportunity to consider the arguments raised by New York, but have ultimately found them unavailing.

Both the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York have repeatedly voiced prayers that the beatification cause may move forward in a timely manner.

Archbishop Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area. In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous – a key step necessary before someone is beatified.

The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

What does the Catholic Church teach about vaccines?

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Washington D.C., May 6, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- More than 760 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year, the CDC says. Currently, 23 states have been affected, with 60 new cases reported in the last week. The majority of cases have been concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, with outbreaks in New Jersey, Washington, and California as well.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But experts say a decline in vaccination rates has left some communities particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, among them communities with religious objections to vaccinations.

As the U.S. continues to faces its worst measles outbreak in a quarter-century, the national debate about vaccines has been reignited, and with it, questions about whether Catholics can and should vaccinate.

One reason that some people decline the measles vaccine in particular has to do with the fact that it was developed from cell lines descending from aborted fetal tissue.

The vaccines for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), hepatitis A, and chicken pox are the only remaining vaccines that were developed in these cell lines, and for which there are no alternatives on the market.

But this does not mean that Catholics are prohibited from receiving these vaccines, explained Dr. Jozef Zalot, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a non-profit research and educational institute committed to applying the moral teachings of the Catholic Church to ethical issues arising in healthcare and the life sciences.

Zalot pointed to a 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life which considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared in cell lines descended from aborted fetuses. The Vatican group concluded that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

This conclusion, Zalot said, is based on a framework for evaluating ethical dilemmas, “when you’re in a situation where you want to do good, but in doing so, there’s some level of cooperation in an immoral act.”

Moral theologians weigh the level and type of cooperation in the evil act – in this case two abortions performed in 1960s from which the cells lines were developed – as well as the good of public health that comes from vaccinating.

“One is morally free to use the vaccine, despite its historical association with abortion, if there is a proportionately serious reason for doing so,” the NCBC says in its Frequently Asked Questions about vaccines, drawing from the conclusions of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“In practice, the risks to personal and public health could permit its use. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

No additional abortions are performed to maintain the vaccines, and no cells from the abortion victims are contained in the vaccines themselves, the NCBC notes.

Other concerns regarding vaccines involve side effects. Internet groups have voiced concerns that vaccines could be linked to negative outcomes including autoimmune disorders, autism, and learning disabilities.

However, the science does not substantiate claims that vaccines pose a significant threat, according to Dr. Paul Cieslak, an infectious disease specialist with the Oregon Health Authority.

Speaking as a Catholic physician and father of six children – all of whom are vaccinated – Cieslak told CNA that while all medications, including vaccines, have the potential for side effects, vaccines are largely safe.

To be approved by the FDA, he said, vaccines undergo clinical trials with hundreds or thousands of people. Once they are licensed for use in the general population, there are additional systems set up to look for possible side effects.

“When you give vaccines to millions of people, some of them are going to develop a disease or get sick [in a way] that’s completely unrelated to the vaccination,” he said, so further examination is necessary to determine whether the vaccine caused the adverse event.

If something concerning surfaces in the reporting system, known as VAERS, it is referred to the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a group of healthcare organizations around the country. They monitor data on patients coming in with certain symptoms and problems, to see if these symptoms are more likely to arise in patients who have recently been vaccinated.

“Those systems give a lot of reassurance that the vaccines are safe,” he said, noting that 15 articles were published last year “looking into various suspicions that were raised, and basically weren’t finding anything.”

Cieslak said that parents making the decision of whether to vaccinate their children should keep the common good in mind.

“I would argue that there is a rationale rooted in social justice that people should get their children vaccinated for the greater good. The Church does tell us that we are our brother’s keeper, and we can protect other people.”

In particular, those who cannot receive vaccines – children who are too young to receive them, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems – benefit from what is called “herd immunity.” If enough of a community is vaccinated, it becomes much more difficult for a disease to spread through a population. This protects those who are most vulnerable to the disease and its complications.

In a 2017 document on vaccines, the Pontifical Academy for Life noted a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others…,especially the safety more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”

Still, some parents maintain religious or philosophical objections to vaccinating. All 50 states currently allow exemptions to vaccine requirements for those with certain medical conditions – such as life-threatening allergies to a vaccine or a chronically compromised immune system. All but a few states allow exemptions for philosophical and religious objections as well.

In the wake of the ongoing measles outbreak, several states have proposed tightening or removing these exemptions. And at least five Democratic presidential hopefuls - Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Eric Swalwell, and Tim Ryan – have indicated that they would favor removing religious and personal belief exemptions from vaccine requirements.

The removal of vaccine exemptions is extremely concerning to people like Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group that says it works to “prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education.”

“Vaccines are pharmaceutical products that carry a risk of harm and failure,” Fisher told CNA. “People should not be forced by law to violate their conscience when making decisions about vaccination for themselves or their minor children.”

“Every person is different, born with different genes and a unique microbiome and epigenetic history. We do not all respond the same way to pharmaceutical products and doctors cannot reliably predict who will be harmed by vaccines,” she continued. “One-size-fits-all vaccine policies discriminate against those who are biologically vulnerable to suffering vaccine reactions.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, has said that the NVIC puts children and vulnerable populations at risk by promoting "unfounded and unscientific information" about vaccines.

Zalot did not endorse the NVIC's scientific perspective, but agreed that requiring people to inject a foreign substance into their children’s bodies without any exemptions is troubling.

“That would raise a lot of concerns for me, to make a blanket statement that a parent has no conscience rights, or parental rights in terms of vaccinating or not vaccinating,” he said, clarifying that he was speaking for himself and not the NCBC.

This becomes tricky when objections are based on arguments that lack scientific backing, he said.

“It really is a balancing act,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make a blanket statement. You have to really look at the individual situation and make a judgment from there.”

Zalot also stressed, however, that parents who do not vaccinate must realize that there may be consequences of that choice – for example, they may not be able to attend certain schools that require students to be vaccinated.

“A parent could exercise a conscientious right not to vaccinate, but at the same time, they have to accept the consequences of that.”

Ceasefire called in Gaza as Vatican UN ambassador sees ‘glimmer of hope’

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New York City, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A ceasefire was called on Monday after days of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, marking an end to a particularly violent weekend that saw approximately 30 people killed.

Over the weekend, approximately 700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip. While the majority of the rocket fire was intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, at least one managed to reach Israel, where four people were killed.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked with fighter jets in response, and killed at least 27. Included in that total were eight members of the Quds Brigade, the militant wing of the Islamic Jihad.

At least two pregnant women were also killed, although it is unclear if their deaths were the result of Israeli airstrikes or from a rocket misfire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for the casualties at Hamas, the governing party of the Gaza Strip. The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

"Hamas bears the responsibility not only for its own attacks and actions but also for the actions of Islamic Jihad, and it is paying a very heavy price for this," said Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Earlier in the week, Archbishop Berandito Auza, the apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, warned about what could happen if the situation in Gaza were to continue unchanged.

Speaking during debate at the UN on April 29, Auza said that “a disastrous humanitarian situation feeds the despair among the Palestinian population,” who are “at times manipulated by extremist groups who resort to violence.”

“Too many innocent civilians, on both sides, have paid the price of the indiscriminate use of violence and force,” said Auza.

Auza, however, said that he saw “a glimmer of hope” with the creation of a new Palestinian government. He believes that “unity is essential for a politically stable and economically viable Palestine. In this regard, the Holy See commends the tireless efforts of neighboring countries for forging talks with the various Palestinian factions and facilitating dialogue among them.”

These talks, explained Auza, are key step for both the Palestinians, who seek statehood, as well as for maintaining security and peace in Israel. The archbishop is concerned, however, at “the increasingly fragmented Palestinian land,” which he believes will present additional challenges relating to a two-state solution to the conflict.

“If the two-State solution is to become a reality, the cycle of violence needs to be broken and both parties must resolve to avoid unilateral actions that would undermine the two-State solution,” said Auza.

Times Square ultrasound draws thousands

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New York City, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A live, 4D-ultrasound of a 36-week gestation baby was broadcast in Times Square on Saturday, as part of Focus on the Family’s “Alive in New York” celebration.

“Alive in New York” was conducted in partnership with the pro-life organizations And Then There Were None and Save the Storks. The event drew a crowd estimated in the thousands, and it is believed to be the largest pro-life demonstration in New York state history.

In addition to the ultrasound, the event included musical performances and speeches from pro-life advocates.

Times Square, widely seen as the center of the nation’s largest city, was chose as a venue in response to New York state’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year. That law deriminalized abortion, while removing almost all restrictions on the procedure in New York.

“Our nation, and our society, is at a crossroads. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. Now is the moment to unite with one voice to proclaim the sanctity of life. The truth will be visible to all in Times Square – at The Crossroads of the World,” said Focus on the Family in a statement released prior to the event.

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the abortion industry to form And Then There Were None, was given an ultrasound as part of the event. Johnson is 36 weeks pregnant with her eighth child.

During the ultrasound, Johnson exclaimed to the crowd “This right here is a baby. It’s not a cat, it’s not a parasite. This is a human being with a heartbeat, with its own DNA that is separate from my body.”

Johnson is also the subject of the new film “Unplanned,” which depicts her story and ideological conversion into the pro-life movement. In the film, she is motivated to leave the abortion industry after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion of a second-trimester pregnancy.

New York’s bishops were extremely critical of the Reproductive Health Act as it made its way through the state legislature.

“Words are insufficient to describe the profound sadness we feel at the contemplated passage of New York State’s new proposed abortion policy. We mourn the unborn infants who will lose their lives, and the many mothers and fathers who will suffer remorse and heartbreak as a result,” the bishops of New York state said Jan. 17.

“The so-called 'Reproductive Health Act' will expand our state’s already radically permissive law, by empowering more health practitioners to provide abortion and removing all state restrictions on late-term procedures. With an abortion rate that is already double the national average, New York law is moving in the wrong direction.”

The bishops recalled their pledge “to offer the resources and services of our charitable agencies and health services to any woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, to support her in bearing her infant, raising her family or placing her child for adoption. There are life-affirming choices available, and we aim to make them more widely known and accessible.”

Tenn. bishops urge governor to stop executions

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Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Tennessee have requested that the new governor halt four executions planned for this year, reiterating the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote April 23 to Governor Bill Lee.

The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.

The letter welcomed Lee's Republican administration and asked him to reconsider a recent plan from the state to fast-track death sentences.

The bishops said the death penalty is both unneccesary and faulty, stating that “nationally, we have seen many people released from death row after they have been found to have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person.”

The bishops added that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society,”

“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” they said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”

Lee’s administration has inherited a two year plan by former Governor Bill Haslam to fast-track the execution of nine men on death row, as the state's supply of lethal injection drugs is in flux.

The first scheduled execution is that of Donnie Johnson on May 16. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. The bishops noted that “even their daughter has spoken against his execution.”

Tennessee has also scheduled the executions of Stephen West Aug. 15, Charles Wright Oct. 10, and Lee Hall Dec. 5.

The bishops drew attention to St. John Paul II's role in commuting the death sentence of Darrell Mease in Missouri in 1999: “At that time, the pope called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary.”

St. John Paul II “said that it is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society,” they said.

The statement encouraged Lee to converse with the bishops and investigate the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. The bishops said they would happily provide further information on the subject and go over any questions the governor may have.

Nebraska dioceses: Privacy law impedes providing AG with some records

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Lincoln, Neb., May 6, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- At a hearing in Lincoln on Thursday, the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln explained that they have not provided the state attorney general with some records because of privacy laws.

The Nebraska attorney general's office issued subpoenas in February to some 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

While the vast majority of requested records have been submitted, psychiatric evaluations, medical records, and confidential settlement agreements have not.

“Those are the only things we have not turned over,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said at a May 2 hearing in Lancaster County District Court, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The pscyh evals and medical records are protected by federal privacy laws, he said: “If the court would order us to turn those records over, we would be happy to do so. But we won’t violate federal privacy laws.”

Similarly, settlements include confidentiality clauses agreed to by abuse victims: “That victim expects us to honor that confidentiality agreement, and that’s what we’re going to do, unless ordered otherwise by a court,” McNeil stated.

In 2018 the attorney general's office asked that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses indicated their cooperation with that request.

This March, the Omaha archdiocese and the Lincoln diocese applied for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope and to set deadlines that can be reasonably met.

At the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post acknowledged that many of the requested records are being submitted.

But he complained of the omissions, and said some records were redacted, with some names being substituted by initials.

McNeil explained that the Omaha archdiocese had not redacted the records and that initials were regularly used in correspondence, in part to preserve victims' privacy.

In March, the archdiocese said it had submitted more than 11,500 pages of records to the attorney general's office.

The Lincoln diocese said in February that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island, the third diocese in the state, said Feb. 26 that “while we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion. The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

The Lincoln diocese announced last month that it is adopting new, comprehensive safe environment policies and that it will investigate the alleged misconduct by Msgr Leonard Kalin, the former vocations director.

The diocese also released a list of diocesan priests against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported.

Pope Francis in Bulgaria: Peace is a gift and a task

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Sofia, Bulgaria, May 6, 2019 / 10:46 am (CNA).- At an interreligious meeting in Bulgaria Monday, Pope Francis told Orthodox, Muslim, and other religious leaders that peace is both a gift and a task.

“Peace requires and demands that we adopt dialogue as our path, mutual understanding as our code of conduct, and reciprocal understanding as our method and standard,” Pope Francis said in Sofia May 6.

A children’s choir sang “We are the world” as Pope Francis entered Nezavisimost Square for the “meeting for peace” with five other religious leaders representing the Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, and Armenian Apostolic traditions.

“Peace is both a gift and a task; it must be implored and worked for, received as a blessing and constantly sought as we strive daily to build a culture in which peace is respected as a fundamental right,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis recited St. Francis’ prayer “Make me an instrument of your peace,” before delivering his reflection on peace.

The pope called St. Francis “a true peacemaker,” who showed “deep respect for the beauty of creation and for all those whom he encountered on his pilgrim way.”

“Each of us is called to follow in his footsteps by becoming a peacemaker, an artisan of peace,” he said. “With the fire of love, we can melt the icy chill of war and conflict.”

The outdoor interreligious meeting included musical performances by Bulgarian singers for a small ticketed audience using umbrellas and ponchos due to the rain.

“Let there be peace on earth: in our families, in our hearts, and above all in those places where so many voices have been silenced by war, stifled by indifference and ignored due to the powerful complicity of interest groups,” Francis said.

Nezavisimost Square, also called Independence Square, is surrounded by former Communist party buildings. The red star and other communist symbols were removed from the buildings during Bulgaria’s democratization following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.

The square is also located above the site of the 4th century Council of Serdica, which was convened at the request of Pope Julius I to address the Ayrian heresy.

“For many centuries, the Bulgarians of Sofia belonging to different cultural and religious groups gathered in this place for meetings and discussions. May this symbolic place become a witness to peace,” Pope Francis said.

The interreligious peace meeting concluded the pope’s second day in Bulgaria. On Tuesday, Pope Francis will travel to North Macedonia. It will be the first papal visit in the history of the recently renamed country.


German Church membership will be halved by 2060, new study says

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Berlin, Germany, May 6, 2019 / 10:43 am (CNA).- The number of Germans who pay a state-administered “Church tax” to the Catholic Church or the country’s largest Protestant group is expected to be halved by 2060, according to researchers at the University of Freiburg.

Researchers say the expected decline can be predicted a dwindling number of baptisms in Germany, the number of Germans who have departed from formal religious enrollment, and a decrease in Germany’s overall population, which is expected by 2060 to be reduced by 21 percent.

In total, the number of Germans who pay the country’s “Church tax” is expected to decrease by 49%. German law collects an income tax on the country’s Church members, which it distributes to Church organizations, among them the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Germany, a federation of Protestant groups, mostly Lutheran, which constitutes the largest Protestant group in Germany.

Taxpayers have the option of opting out of tax payment by notifying state authorities that they have left the religious group in which they are enrolled. In 2017, the Church tax generated $13.5 billion for religious groups in the country. The predicted decline in membership would lead to major budget shortfalls for the Catholic Church in Germany.

Economist Bernd Raffelhüschen, who led the project, told the protestant church portal that there is still potential for change, and the prediction should not be read as a “doomsday prophecy.

Instead, Raffelhüschen said, it presents a “generational task,” since for the next two decades Catholic and Protestant Churches will still have “resources for transformation.”

Likewise, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, has said the report represents a “call to evangelize.”

In March, Eichstätter Bishop Gregory Maria Hanke had called the German bishops to discuss the topic.

"We, the German bishops, urgently need to consider how church taxation can and should continue - I miss this discussion because the Catholic as well as the Protestant Church faces a large number of church departures each year," Hanke said.

"At the latest in ten years, the church tax receipts will collapse."

A better way for the future is for the Church to rely on voluntary contributions, Hanke suggested.

After the study’s report last week, Cardinal Marx encouraged German Catholics, "in view of this project, do not panic."

"The church is always about sharing the gospel, even under changed circumstances, and for me the study is also a call for mission."

A version of this story was originally published on CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language sister agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

The parish should be 'a home with open doors,' Francis tells Catholics in Bulgaria

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Rakovski, Bulgaria, May 6, 2019 / 07:55 am (CNA).- The parish should be at the center of the community, a place where God’s presence is felt and hope and love are shared with the world, Pope Francis told Catholics in Bulgaria, Monday.

“The parish, in this way, becomes a home in the midst of homes,” he said May 6. “It manages to make the Lord present there, where every family, every person tries to earn their daily bread.”

The parish should be “a family among families, open to bearing witness in today’s world… open to faith, hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he has a preferential love. A home with open doors.”

The pope pointed to the testimony he heard from a Catholic Bulgarian family who said the parish, for them, “has always been a second home, the place where they always found strength to carry on, amid community prayer and the support of loved ones.”

“To see things with the eyes of God, we need other people,” he added. “We need them to teach us to look and feel the way Jesus looks and feels, to let our heart beat with his own feelings.”

Pope Francis met with the Bulgarian Catholic community at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Rakovski during a May 5-7 visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Catholics in Bulgaria are a small minority – estimated to be fewer than 50,000 in a population of more than 7 million. Rakovski, a town of around 20,000 people, is mainly Catholic.

In his remarks to the Catholic community, Francis spoke about his experience that morning at a refugee center, where volunteers told him the heart of the center’s life and work “is the recognition that every person is a child of God, regardless of ethnicity or religious confession.”

Love, he stated, does not ask to see someone’s curriculum vitae; it “precedes, it takes the first step.”

“Those who love do not waste time in self-pity, but always try to do something concrete.”

Pope Francis also reflected on Pope St. John XXIII, who served as apostolic delegate in Bulgaria for nearly 10 years while still an archbishop. A relic of St. John XXIII was present in the church, which Francis venerated during the meeting.

“Good Pope John,” he said, “was convinced of the need to trust in God’s providence, which constantly accompanies us and even in the midst of adversity is capable of bringing about his deeper and unforeseeable plans.”

“As Pope John said: ‘I never met a pessimist who managed to do something good.’ The Lord is the first not to be pessimistic. He constantly tries to open up paths of resurrection for all of us. How marvelous it is when our communities become building-sites of hope!” he said.

Every member of the Church “dedicates his or her life to the others. None of us can live only for ourselves; we live for others.”

He noted that “the priestly people can say with its priests: ‘This is my body given up for you.’ That is how we learn to be a Church, a family and a community that welcomes, listens, accompanies, cares for others, revealing its true face, which is that of a mother,” he said.

He said that a Church that is a mother takes on the problems of her children, offering life and reconciliation – not easy answers. The Church community, like a family, takes up “the knotty problems of life,” loving them, making them its own, before untangling them.

“Men and women of God have the courage to take the first step in finding creative ways of directly testifying that Love is not dead, but has triumphed over every obstacle. They get involved because they have learned that, in Jesus, God himself gets involved. He put his own flesh at stake so that no one will feel alone or abandoned,” Francis said.

He noted the important relationship between the laity and priests, who should learn from their community. “A living community, one that supports, accompanies, integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others.”

Pope Francis says First Communion Mass in Bulgaria

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Rakovski, Bulgaria, May 6, 2019 / 05:39 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Monday gave First Communion to 245 boys and girls in Rakovski, Bulgaria, telling them the Lord wants them to share the joy of the Eucharist with others.

"Making your First Communion shows that you want to be closer to Jesus every day, to grow in friendship with him and to lead other people to share in the joy he wants us to feel," the pope said May 6.

"The Lord needs you," he told the first communicants, "because he wants to work the miracle of bringing his joy to many of your friends and family members."

Pope Francis said Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Rakovski as part of his May 5-7 trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia. Catholics in Bulgaria are a small minority -- estimated to be fewer than 50,000 in a population of more than 7 million. Rakovski, a town of around 20,000 people, is mainly Catholic.

According to local authorities, at Mass there were around 700 people inside the church and another 10,000 outside.

In his homily, Francis addressed the first communicants, pointing out that Jesus' miracle of the five loaves and two fish began with "one child who offered all he had."

"Like that child, you too have helped a miracle to take place today. The miracle by which all of us older people have recalled our own first meeting with Jesus in the Eucharist, and are filled with gratitude for that day."

Always pray with the same enthusiasm and joy you feel today, he urged.

He reminded the youth that this is their "first Communion," but it is not their last, and to remember that Jesus is always present and waiting for them in the Sacrament.

"I hope that today will be the beginning of many Communions, so that your hearts may always, like today, be festive, full of joy and, above all else, gratitude," he said.

Pope Francis said he was happy to spend this moment of celebration, friendship, joy, and fraternity with all of them, noting that it is a day of communion with themselves and with the whole Church, which "especially in the Eucharist, expresses the communion that makes all of us brothers and sisters."

"This," he continued, "is our identity card: God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, the Church is our family. All of us are brothers and sisters, and our law is love."

He told the boys and girls he is sure they will always remember this day: their first encounter with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

"One of you might ask me: How can we meet Jesus? He lived a long time ago, but then he died and was laid in the tomb!" Francis said. "It is true: Jesus carried out an immense act of love to save human beings of all times."

But, he explained, after three days, he rose from the dead. "Now Jesus is alive and is here with us. That is why we can encounter him today in the Eucharist. We do not see him with our physical eyes, but we do see him with the eyes of faith."

Early Monday morning, before traveling to Rakovski, Pope Francis made a visit to the Vrazhdebna Refugee Center on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, where he greeted about 50 parents and children from Syria and Iraq.

During the visit, some of the children performed a song for Pope Francis and gave him drawings they had made.

The pope thanked the group for their welcome and the children for their beautiful singing. "They bring joy to your journey," he said. "Your journey is not always beautiful, and then there is the pain of leaving your homeland..."

But, there is always hope, he said, adding that "today, the world of migrants and refugees is a bit of a cross, a cross of humanity; it is the cross that so many people suffer..."

Before parting, Francis asked for their prayers and gave them his apostolic blessing.