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Hardened hearts can turn believers into atheists, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Not listening to God's voice can distance Christians from him and lead them instead to seek solace in worldly idols that offer only doubt and confusion, Pope Francis said.

When Catholics are "deaf to the word of God," their hearts are hardened, and "they lose the meaning of faithfulness," the pope said March 23 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The pope began his homily by reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Jeremiah in which God laments the unfaithfulness of his people who "walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me."

"Not listening to and turning our backs -- which hardens our heart -- takes us on that path of unfaithfulness," the pope said.

In the reading, "the Lord says: 'Faithfulness has disappeared,' and we become unfaithful Catholics, pagan Catholics and, even worse, atheist Catholics" without the necessary reference to the love of the living God, the pope said.

Instead of being full of clarity, he continued, Christians on this path of unfaithfulness are filled with confusion, not knowing where God is and confusing "God with the devil."

Those who said Jesus expelled demons "by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons" in the day's Gospel reading from St. Luke, the pope added, are an example of the last step along this path.

"This is blasphemy. Blasphemy is the final word of this path that begins with not listening, which hardens the heart" and "brings confusion; it makes you forget faithfulness and in the end, you blaspheme."

Pope Francis said Christians must ask themselves whether they listen to the word of God or have "lost faithfulness to the Lord and live with the idols that offer me the worldliness of every day."

"Today is a day for listening. 'Listen today to the voice of the Lord' we prayed." the pope said. "'Do not harden your heart.' Let us ask for this grace: the grace to listen so that our heart does not harden."

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Make way for the Gospel: Vatican ensures media give the message

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the Vatican Secretariat for Communication works to unify Vatican media efforts, a key pastoral concern is to keep open all the channels that allow Pope Francis to speak to the world.

"With a pope who is so naturally communicative, if we don't put obstacles in his way, we already are doing our job," said Natasa Govekar, director of the secretariat's theological-pastoral department.

While every large organization and government has a communications apparatus, the Vatican may be unique in having a department like Govekar's. Her office focuses on the theological and pastoral implications of communications in general, as well as in the faith content of what the Vatican communicates.

The number of page views, clicks, followers and "likes" on Vatican websites and social media accounts is, of course, tracked by the Secretariat for Communication, but those statistics are not the key factor in determining success, she said. The secretariat fulfills its mission when the Gospel message shines through the social media posts, photographs, videos and news stories.

"The church has never had a problem with its content; the challenge is how to communicate the content in the best way for it to be heard and welcomed," Govekar said. For the Vatican, "the art of communicating today lies precisely in rediscovering the essence of who we are and what we have to communicate to the world and, then, how to do it. Creativity is always part of the process. You can never just cut and paste from the past and, even less, from the world."

The statistics from the main Vatican accounts -- including the more than 33 million followers on the @Pontifex Twitter accounts and about 3.7 million followers on the "Franciscus" Instagram account -- are the object of pastoral attention, she said. "It tells us if there is someone out there listening or reading. It would be wrong if we didn't ask ourselves why so few people read a certain article or were interested in a particular subject."

Govekar's thesis for her doctorate in missiology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University looked at "The Transmission of Faith through Images," so it is no surprise that she has a particular interest in the pope's Instagram account, which celebrated its first anniversary March 19.

She monitors the account, which regularly garners more than 100,000 likes a day and consistently prompts 800-1,000 comments. She collects the comments and prayers from the account to share with Pope Francis.

The most common comment is simply, "Amen," she said. "But sometimes there are comments that are very profound and requests for prayers that are very moving; people turn to the pope even though they write, 'I know that you won't read this post, but I still feel the need to ask you ...' Clearly, many have an illness. But many also say something like, 'I have done so many bad things in my life that I know I am not worthy to pray, so I beg you to pray for me.'"

"People turn to the pope in a personal way and find in him a reference point and a welcome even though they have never met him," she said.

Her thesis on transmitting the faith through images is confirmed regularly by people's reactions to Pope Francis.

"Pope Francis -- and this is confirmed from the feedback I read, and not just in the comments on social media, but from speaking to people, who say, 'I don't go to church, but I love this pope' -- is able to reach people, even those far from the church, because he is simply transparent," Govekar said.

"It seems his heart is readable on his face. The whole world is able to see his spiritual life from his expression. Every little thing -- his gestures, his smile -- speaks," she said. "For me, this is a great lesson on where we should focus our work: on the heart, on the profundity of Christian spirituality and the spiritual lives of Christians so that it is revealed in everything we do."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Church leaders: Restoration on Jesus' tomb signals new cooperation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Reuters

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Less than a year after restoration work began, the Edicule -- the traditional site of Jesus' burial and resurrection -- was inaugurated in an ecumenical ceremony led by representatives of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian churches, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

The 200-year-old structure was rehabilitated for the first time after Israeli authorities deemed it unsafe and leaders from the three churches that share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher came to an agreement for the work to proceed.

Some did not believe the churches could overcome their centuries-old disagreements, but the project was a sign that "with God, nothing is impossible," Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said at the March 22 ceremony.

"This apparent mission impossible became possible because we allowed God to enlighten our thoughts and our eyes and our relations. Things do not change by themselves. If we are here for this celebration, it is because the different churches and leaders were able to hear the voice of God and understand and realize and accept that it was time to build new relations between us of trust and respect," he said.

Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, said it was "providential coincidence" that this year, as the Edicule is restored, all the Christian denominations celebrate Easter on the same date. It was also fitting, he said, that it was around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that the churches regained a closer relationship.

Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian took the opportunity to mention the three other denominations with a presence in the church -- the Assyrian Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox. He asked that the Anglican and Russian Orthodox churches be allowed to offering their holy liturgy at the Edicule once a year, after Easter.

"We must pray earnestly to Jesus Christ to give us the wisdom to be able to absorb literally between ourselves his greatest commandment of love," said the patriarch. "We have no difference in regard to this commandment and, unless we accept his commandment and express it in our lives and deeds, how can we consider ourselves Jesus' disciples?"

Several hundred local faithful, pilgrims and international dignitaries filled the main area of the basilica where the Edicule is located, taking pictures and videos of the pink-stoned structure. The metal girders that British Mandate authorities added in 1947 to keep it standing have been removed.

"It is a very exciting day which hasn't happened in hundreds of years. It is a very big step, we are all united in celebration," said Marlen Mauge, 53, a Catholic from Jerusalem. "We would like to have more than one united celebration. It is a good message to the world."

Antonia Moropoulou, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens, directed the work at the site.

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U.S. Catholics asked 'to accompany' migrants, refugees seeking better life

IMAGE: CNS photo/Justin Lane, EPA

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States."

Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the reflection was issued "in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands," said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection," said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation's bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

"To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear," it continued. "Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes."

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and "listen to their story, and share your own"; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system" in a way that would safeguard the country's security and "our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: "The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt."

The bishops urged Catholics to "not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future."

"As shepherds of a pilgrim church," they wrote, "we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you."

Those families could include "a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence," they said, adding that "it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

The bishops said that "intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well."

"When we look at one another, do we see with the heart of Jesus?" they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration's rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump's new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was to take effect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find "common dreams for our children" in their "diverse backgrounds."

"Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, 'out of many, one,'" they said. "In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin."

Christ, as the word made flesh, "strengthens us to bring our words to life," they said, and suggested three ways Catholics, "in our own small way," can "bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life": by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

"Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children," the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to "listen to their story and share your own." The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees "both to comfort them and to help them know their rights."

They also urged Catholics to "to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ."

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they "fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland."

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher.

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Famine, worsened by war, threatens South Sudanese, official says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nancy McNally, Catholic Relief Services

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Some 5 million people in South Sudan -- half of its total population -- are on the brink of starvation and a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished, a representative from the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services said.

Famine has already gripped 100,000 people in Unity State and other parts of the nation, and if emergency food and aid don't get to people soon, "people will start starving to death or they will die of dehydration," Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, told Catholic News Service March 21.

Farrell and other representatives from dioceses, CRS, Caritas and other Catholic aid and development agencies working in South Sudan were in Rome for a meeting March 21-22 hosted by Caritas Internationalis to discuss the worsening crisis in the country.

Despite the ongoing civil war, if the security situation does not escalate, Pope Francis hopes to visit the ravaged nation sometime in October, Bishop Erkolano Tombe of Yei, South Sudan, told Reuters March 21.

"We have been informed (by a Vatican official) that he will come in October, but we don't know the exact date yet," said the bishop, who was in Rome attending the Caritas Internationalis meeting. If the security situation "remains as it is now, he will come," he said.

Pope Francis said in late February that he wanted to go to South Sudan and that Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic leaders there had urged him to visit together with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

The pope said officials were studying whether the local situation was "too dangerous. But we have to do it, because they -- the three (Christian communities) -- together desire peace, and they are working together for peace."

With so much fertile land in the country, the food shortages and famine are man-made, Farrell said, a result of almost four years of violence, displacement, climate change and economic collapse with the rate of inflation nearing 800 percent.

The Catholic Church has always been in a unique position to respond to humanitarian disasters no matter how bad the situation escalates, Farrell said.

"The church never closes down. It's extraordinary and it's part of the community," he said.

Parishes and church-run schools, hospitals and other institutions all open their doors to protect and care for people fleeing from violence. Through a network of churches and religious orders, "within 24 hours we can provide assistance" to any newly displaced.

Even with the risk of increasing violence and insecurity, the priests, nuns or church workers "might have to flee in the bush with the people for a day or so. But they come back, celebrate Mass" and immediately mobilize the national and international networks in place to send out appeals and distribute the aid to the neediest or most vulnerable, he said.

"The church is a lifeline in South Sudan, not only spiritually, but also physically. We can distribute medical supplies, food, shelter, water, through the church in communities where you would think nobody could go," he said.

The church and its local partners also know exactly what a community needs, so, for example, when violence struck Wau last year, CRS found out the people there didn't need food aid, but rather kitchen utensils -- portable stoves, pots and pans -- because their homes had been looted.

To be able to respond adequately to such unpredictable disasters, "you have to be able to talk to people with on-the-ground knowledge, and the church has that in spades," he said.

One area along the Nile River is so pristine and abundant, "I can drop a line and pull out a catfish that weighs 50 pounds," said Farrell, who insisted he was not a patient or practiced fisherman. But the people can't fish or eat if they don't have security or equipment.

People will fish, plant and harvest as long as conflict does not prevent their access to the areas and as long as they do not keep losing land and equipment to arson and looting, he said.

The local churches -- Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian communities -- "have credibility and respect" with almost all sides in the civil war, he said. Many church leaders can get feuding groups to at least stop the fighting in their area and have the groups sit down for talks.

"Because the basis of the conflict in South Sudan is political, the solution is also political," he said, "so the church has a very important, critical role in bringing the parties together and does this all the time at the grass-roots level in sponsoring neutral forums."

"Everyone has to stop fighting. The people in South Sudan are so tired, they are bone-weary of fighting and there is a hunger for peace," he said.

In the meantime, South Sudan desperately needs emergency relief, long-term development programs, medical care, schooling and help for people to "strengthen their dignity" by rebuilding their lives and bringing peace.

"As a Catholic organization, we're blessed because we can actual work in all those areas at the same time," he said.

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World needs those who can bring God's hope, consolation, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian hope is built on patiently enduring everything life brings and knowing how to see God's presence and love everywhere, Pope Francis said.

God "never tires of loving us" as he "takes care of us, dressing our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy, meaning, he consoles us and he never tires of consoling us," the pope said during his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 22.

The pope also invited all Catholics to "rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation" during the Lenten season by taking part in the "24 Hours for the Lord" initiative, being held March 23-24 in many dioceses and parishes worldwide. The pope asked people to make time for confession to "experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the father," who welcomes and forgives everyone.

During his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of reflections on how the Apostle Paul describes the nature of Christian hope. In the apostle's Letter to the Romans (15:1-5), he said that it is "by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope."

This endurance or perseverance, the pope said, is the patient ability to remain faithful and steadfast even when dealing with the most unbearable burdens. It is persevering even when "we would be tempted to judge unfavorably and give up on everything and everyone."

The encouragement or consolation St. Paul talks about, the pope said, is "the grace to know how to grasp and show the presence and compassionate action of God in every situation, even in one greatly marked by disappointment and suffering."

When St. Paul says, "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak," he isn't separating the Christian community into a special class of those who are "strong" and a group of "second-class citizens" who are weak, the pope said.

In actuality, the strong are those who experience and understand their fragility and know they need the support and comfort of others, he said. And when people are experiencing their fragility and vulnerability, they "can always offer a smile or hand to a brother or sister in need," showing them strength.

It's about people offering one another what they can and knowing that the truly strong one is Christ, who takes care of everyone. "In fact, we all need to be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and to feel surrounded by his tender and caring gaze," Pope Francis said.

That strength to endure and find encouragement all comes from God and his sacred Scriptures, the pope said, not from one's own efforts.

The closer people are to God with prayer and reading the Bible, the more they will have the energy and feel the responsibility to go to those in need, "to console them and give them strength."

The aim of serving others then will not be to feel proud of oneself, he said, but to "please our neighbor for the good, for building up," as the Apostle Paul says.

People will realize they are "a 'channel for broadcasting' the Lord's gifts and, in that way, concretely become a sower of hope," the pope said.

Planting seeds of hope "is needed today. It's not easy," Pope Francis said. But with Christ at the center of one's life, it will be him who "gives us the strength, the patience, the hope and the consolation" needed to live in harmony.

At the end of the general audience, the pope highlighted that the day also marked World Water Day, established by the United Nations 25 years ago.

The pope greeted participants attending the conference, "Watershed: Replenishing Water Values for a Thirsty World," sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome March 22.

He said he was "happy this meeting is taking place" as part of continued joint efforts to raise awareness about "the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone."

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Don't treat confessional like a dry cleaners, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The confessional is a place where one can go to humbly seek forgiveness; it is not a dry cleaners where one goes to remove the occasional stain, Pope Francis said.

While forgiveness is "God's great work of mercy," Christians can take for granted the power of the sacrament of reconciliation and confess while being "unable to be ashamed" of their sins, the pope said March 21 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"You did not go there ashamed of what you did. You saw some stains on your conscience and you were mistaken because you believed the confessional was a dry cleaners to remove stains," he said.

Reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Daniel in which the people of Israel humbly beg God to pardon their sins, the pope said shame was "the first step" in seeking forgiveness.  

However, he noted, the Gospel reading from St. Matthew recounts Jesus' parable of the ungrateful servant who, although forgiven of a debt, refused to show the same mercy to another.

While forgiveness is "a difficult mystery" to comprehend, the Gospel helps Christians understand that going to confession is more than just making some kind of "bank transaction," the pope said.

"If you are not aware of being forgiven you will never be able to forgive, never," he said. "There is always that attitude of wanting to take others to task. Forgiveness is total. But it can only be done when I feel my sin, when I am ashamed and ask forgiveness of God and feel forgiven by the father so I can forgive."

Like the ungrateful servant in Jesus' parable, Christians can be tempted to leave the confessional thinking that "we got away with it." This feeling, the pope said, is "the hypocrisy of stealing forgiveness, a pretend forgiveness."

For this reason, he added, it is important to "ask for the grace of shame before God."

"It is a great grace! To be ashamed of our own sins and thus receive forgiveness and the grace of generosity to give to others because if the Lord has forgiven me so much, who am I to not forgive?" he said.

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Church experience more than just a cut-and-run flash mob, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young men and women can live a true experience of the church by joining together and reconnecting with the past, Pope Francis told Catholic young people.

"The genuine experience of the church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways," the pope said in his message for World Youth Day 2017.

The message, released March 21 at the Vatican, centered on a verse of the Magnificat: "The Mighty One has done great things for me."

Pope Francis has chosen several verses that reflect on Mary's faith from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke as the themes for World Youth Day 2017-2019. This year and next, World Youth Day will be celebrated on a local level -- on Palm Sunday at the Vatican -- and in 2019 it will be an international gathering in Panama.

The pope reminded young people that another event, the Synod of Bishops in 2018, will also help them to reflect on how they "live the experience of faith in the midst of the challenges of our time."

"It is my hope that the journey toward the World Youth Day in Panama and the process of preparation for the synod will move forward in tandem," the pope said.

Young people are called to follow the example of Mary who, after saying "yes" to becoming the mother of God, did not remain closed in on herself but went out of her way to help her cousin Elizabeth.

"Mary does not shut herself up at home or let herself be paralyzed by fear or pride," the pope wrote. "Mary is not the type that -- to be comfortable -- needs a good sofa where she can feel safe and sound. She is no couch potato!"

Upon meeting her cousin, he explained, Mary proclaims the "Magnificat," a "revolutionary prayer" in that while she is aware of her own limitations, she completely trusts in divine mercy.

Like Mary, young men and women today also can experience "great things" if they allow their hearts to be touched by God in the "journey of life, which is not a meaningless meandering but a pilgrimage that, for all its uncertainties and sufferings, can find its fulfillment in God," the pope said.

To look toward the future God has prepared for them, he continued, young people must look to the past and remember God's mercy and love in their own lives.

"I would like to remind you that there is no saint without a past or a sinner without a future," he said. "The pearl is born of a wound in the oyster! Jesus, by his love, can heal our hearts and turn our lives into genuine pearls."

Although he rejected the notion that young people are "distracted and superficial," Pope Francis said young people today need to reflect on their lives in order to decide their future and not rely on current cultural trends that present a false or incomplete reality.

Social media, he explained, only offers snippets of a person's memories and history and those glimpses are rarely "endowed with purpose and meaning." And reality shows present young people with stories that are not real and are "only moments passed before a television camera by characters living from day to day without a greater plan."

"Don't let yourselves be led astray by this false image of reality!" the pope said. "Be the protagonists of your history; decide your own future."

He also warned of giving in to society's tendency to value the present while dismissing "everything inherited from the past, as for example the institutions of marriage, consecrated life and priestly mission," which are often written off as "meaningless and outdated forms."

"People think it is better to live in 'open' situations, going through life as if it were a reality show, without aim or purpose," he said. "Don't let yourselves be deceived! God came to enlarge the horizons of our life in every direction."

Instead, the pope said, by appreciating the wisdom and memory of the past and nourishing themselves through the sacraments in the present, young people can proclaim their own song of praise, like Mary, for the "great things" God is doing for their future.

"Spread your wings and fly, but also realize that you need to rediscover your roots and to take up the torch from those who have gone before," Pope Francis said. "To build a meaningful future, you need to know and appreciate the past."

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At 50, 'Populorum Progressio' takes on new life through Pope Francis


By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- These days when Pope Francis talks about integral human development and his vision of a church that goes to the margins of the world, he undoubtedly thanks a predecessor of 50 years ago for the inspiration.

Blessed Paul VI addressed "the progressive development of peoples" as "an object of deep interest and concern to the church" in his encyclical "Populorum Progressio" ("The Progress of Peoples") that emerged in the years following the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis has used language similar to that in the encyclical in his admonitions of the world economy and his vision for a more merciful world.

Released March 26, 1967 -- perhaps purposefully on Easter -- Blessed Paul's encyclical rooted the Catholic Church in solidarity with the world's poorest nations. He called for the elimination of economic disparity and reminded people to recognize the common threads that unite humanity in a world with finite resources.

"We are the heirs of earlier generations, and we reap benefits from the efforts of our contemporaries; we are under obligation to all men," Blessed Paul wrote in his only social encyclical. "Therefore, we cannot disregard the welfare of those who will come after us to increase the human family. The reality of human solidarity brings us not only benefits but also obligations."

Such a call has repeatedly echoed throughout Pope Francis' four-year pontificate. A reading of his apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium") and his encyclical on the environment and human development, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," he reminds the human family of the social responsibilities to care for one another. In line with Blessed Paul, he has repeatedly recalled the social injuries caused by an "economic system that has the god of money at its center," as he said in a message to the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California, in February.

While 50 years have passed and the political discussion has shifted to new issues, the message of "Populorum Progressio" has been resurrected in a 21st-century pope and remains as important today as it was in 1967, social policy experts told Catholic News Service as the encyclical's golden anniversary approached.

"'Populorum Progressio' and the whole idea of integral human development is really the cornerstone of everything since (then) in the church," said Dana Dillon, assistant professor of theology at Providence College.

The message, if not the specific words, has resonated through the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but it is Pope Francis who has renewed the call for true human development in a world still experiencing economic inequality and vast pockets of extreme poverty, said Leonard Calabrese, retired executive director of the Commission on Catholic Community Action in the Cleveland Diocese.

"It's not only about economic development. It's also about distributive justice and a concern for fairness for how development and the benefits of development are spread through the society," Calabrese said, comparing the similar calls from both popes.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University, called Pope Francis a "Paul VI pope" because of his reliance on the Holy Spirit in calling the world to mercy and justice.

The timing of the encyclical's release -- less than 16 months after Vatican II concluded -- fed eager laypeople and clergy to go into the world to share the good news through action. Not only did Blessed Paul announce the formation of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace then, but the document inspired the introduction in 1969 of what today is the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development and gave birth to social action offices in many dioceses.

"It had carriers all over the world who were sympathetic to the mood of the council and the themes of the church's involvement in the world of the council. It energized the church and many people in the development field," Father Christiansen said.

Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, suggested it was time for the church to take a deeper look at "Populorum Progressio" at this point in the church's history. "It is relevant because it is a time to rediscover what was the most radical Catholic social teaching of these last 50 years," he told CNS.

The document raised the profile of the church's concern for people in the global south at a time when European colonialism was declining, giving people across Africa, Asia and Latin America greater hope that the church was with them, Faggioli explained.

In the global north, however, the encyclical was panned. Vermont Royster, editor of The Wall Street Journal at the time, called it "warmed-over Marxism" because it challenged capitalism's inherent rush to achieve profit at the expense of human life. Others were critical of Blessed Paul VI's assessment that economic trade must benefit both the developed countries and those emerging from the colonialism that had dominated the world for centuries, feeling it was too judgmental of existing corporate practices.

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan, writing for Crisis Magazine March 3, questioned why Blessed Paul addressed such questions specifically. He questioned the prudential judgments offered by Blessed Paul about such matters because "there's often no single right answer for Catholics."

Still, he credited Blessed Paul for his emphasis on core church teaching on integral human development.

"Paul VI reminded us that while human development has a material dimension, it cannot be reduced to material growth," Gregg wrote in an email to CNS. "We fully develop when we freely choose the goods that are distinctly human and act accordingly. If Catholics lose sight of this truth when we talk about topics ranging from justice to the decisions of political and business leaders to the environment, then we will have nothing distinctive to say about human development."

While the particulars of trade deals may have shifted over the last half-century, the overall issue of the importance of building relationships among people in developed and undeveloped nations remains, said John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

Blessed Paul envisioned that economic development could lead to long-lasting peace, Carr said. "Development and justice is more a matter of being more than having more. Being more a worker, being a husband, mother, a citizen," he said.

Carr points particularly to paragraph 47 of the encyclical as a vital passage that raises questions that resonate today as they did in 1967. In the passage, Blessed Paul explained that simply ending hunger and reducing poverty was not enough. He called on people to build a human community across borders, cultures and economic classes.

Blessed Paul continues: "On the part of the rich man, it calls for great generosity, willing sacrifice and diligent effort. Each man must examine his conscience, which sounds a new call in our present times. Is he prepared to support, at his own expense, projects and undertakings designed to help the needy? Is he prepared to pay higher taxes so that public authorities may expand their efforts in the work of development? Is he prepared to pay more for imported goods, so that the foreign producer may make a fairer profit? Is he prepared to emigrate from his homeland if necessary and if he is young, in order to help the emerging nations?"

Carr said the same questions deserve consideration today.

"Candidly," he told CNS, "the contrast between the dominant message in Washington and the call of the church could not be more stark."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @Dennis Sadowski.

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Northern Ireland political leader Martin McGuinness dies at 66

IMAGE: CNS photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters

By Michael Kelly

DUBLIN (CNS) -- Martin McGuinness, 66, who went from being a paramilitary leader to laying the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland, died March 21. McGuinness was diagnosed with a rare heart condition in December and died in a hospital in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, surrounded by his family.

The Londonderry in which McGuinness grew up was marked by deprivation and gerrymandering that ensured the majority Catholic community in the city was never able to exercise political influence. Discrimination in employment, housing and education was widespread.

McGuinness was an early activist in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, formed in the late 1960s to work for equal rights for Catholics. However, he later joined the Irish Republican Army, which was leading an armed insurrection against British rule in Northern Ireland. The organization was classified as a terrorist group by the British and Irish governments and successive U.S. administrations. In 1973, McGuinness was imprisoned for six months for terrorism-related activates and later claimed he resigned from the IRA the following year.

In the 1970s, he became a key figure in Sinn Fein, the political wing of Irish republicans opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland. He is credited with playing a key role in convincing the IRA to call a cease-fire in 1994 and embrace purely peaceful means. In the political talks that followed, he was named by Sinn Fein as the party's chief negotiator. Politicians said his military background in the IRA was instrumental in convincing militant republicans to keep faith in the peace process, even when they thought too many concessions were being made.

He was a signatory to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which established the Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, and was subsequently appointed minister for education. In 2007, he was appointed deputy first minister of Northern Ireland -- effectively a joint prime minister role with the Rev. Ian Paisley, the leading figure within political Protestantism.

The partnership of the two former political foes became a symbol of how far Northern Ireland had traveled from the days of sectarian violence. McGuinness worked closely with Rev. Paisley's successor as first minister, Peter Robinson. However, when Robinson was replaced by Arlene Foster in 2016, relations turned sour, and McGuinness resigned in January of this year.

His death came as political leaders scrambled to meet a March 27 deadline to make a new deal to re-establish the power-sharing government before the British government intervenes to rule Northern Ireland directly from London.

From a traditional Catholic background, McGuinness was private about his faith but always described himself as a believing Catholic and was a weekly Mass-goer. However, his stance in favor of Sinn Fein's support for same-sex marriage and more liberal laws on abortion drew criticism from within the Catholic community and pro-life activists.

Leading tributes to McGuinness, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland -- president of the Irish bishops' conference -- expressed the hope that a new political deal would be a fitting tribute to McGuinness' legacy.

The archbishop, who also grew up in Londonderry, said he would "remember Martin as someone who chose personally to leave behind the path of violence and to walk instead along the more challenging path of peace and reconciliation."

"As a leader, he was courageous and took risks in order to bring others with him, convincing them that goals could be achieved by politics and persuasion. He channeled his many gifts into creating and sustaining the peace process, of which he was one of the key architects," he said.

Archbishop Martin described McGuinness "a man of prayer, and I am personally grateful for his good wishes and encouragement to me, as a fellow Derry man, in my own vocation."

Father Joe McVeigh, a priest based in Northern Ireland who considered McGuinness a close personal friend, told Catholic News Service that the politician was "one of the people mainly responsible for taking the gun out of Irish politics."

The priest said McGuinness would "be forever remembered for his key role in building the peace after almost 30 years of violent conflict, when many had almost despaired of ever finding a peaceful way forward. ... He remained firm in his republican belief in a reunified Ireland, but he always showed respect to those who differed."

Irish President Michael D. Higgins said "the world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland."

"His death leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill," the president said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said McGuinness played a key role in ending violence.

"While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence. In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace," she said.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at