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Preaching peace amid violence: Pope heads back to Africa

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' fifth trip to the African continent will highlight gestures of peace and reconciliation, consoling the victims of violence but also emphasizing the importance of each person sowing peace in the family, the neighborhood and the nation.

The pope is scheduled to travel to Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 31-Feb. 3 before making an ecumenical pilgrimage to Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 3-5 with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

"It is enough, or it should be enough, that the pope is going to support the peace process; but the fact that he and his colleagues have committed to doing this as a joint visit should be understood to be a spectacular commitment to the peace process itself," said Chris Trott, the British ambassador to the Holy See and former British envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.

Although the civil wars in both Congo and South Sudan officially have ended, the people continue to suffer from horrific acts of violence, which force the large-scale displacement of communities and keep much of the population in poverty.

Both countries are rich in natural resources, which makes the poverty even more glaring, but also gives the powerful or the disgruntled something else to fight over.

Pope Francis frequently decries the notion that "Africa is to be exploited." As he told the Comboni Missionaries' magazine in an interview published Jan. 14, the world's powerful nations gave Africa "independence halfway: they give them economic independence from the ground up, but they keep the subsoil to exploit," extracting oil or minerals and paying only a pittance.

Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, the nuncio to Congo, told reporters in Kinshasa Jan. 10 that Pope Francis' plan to visit the country is an acknowledgement of Congo as the African nation with the most Catholics -- close to 50 million faithful -- and "the country of the first black bishop of the African continent," Nzingo Mpemba, also known as Bishop Henrique de Portugal, the son of the ruler of Kongo who was ordained a bishop in the early 1500s.

The theme of the pope's visit, "All reconciled in Jesus Christ," he said, is a call to the Congolese to set aside grudges and unite to end the great suffering of their compatriots who live under the constant threat of violence, particularly in the eastern part of the country.

Pope Francis will stay in Kinshasa, the capital, but his original itinerary for Congo included a day trip east to North Kivu province for Mass and a meeting with the survivors of the conflicts there.

But the violence in North Kivu has flared up again, canceling that part of the papal trip.

In early December Catholics and other Christians took to the streets in a protest supported by the Congolese bishops. In a message read at the rally, the bishops accused Rwanda, and to some extent Uganda, of perpetrating the violence in the East through the M23 rebel militia.

The Congolese government also has blamed Rwanda and Uganda for sponsoring the rebel movement and using the rebels as cover to steal minerals that are abundant in eastern Congo.

But M23 is one of only dozens of armed groups operating in the area. The Allied Democratic Forces, a group affiliated with Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Pentecostal church in Kasindi Jan. 15, which killed at least 14 people.

In November Bishop Placide Lubamba Ndjibu of Kasongo issued a public appeal to the government to restore order in the East.

People need lasting solutions to the disputes over gold mining in eastern Congo, which, he said, are "sowing a climate of terror and desolation, accompanied by deaths, rapes, school closures, the destruction of food reserves and looting of livestock."

Looting livestock is a major problem in South Sudan as well and is related to the problem of forcing young women into early marriage, a problem Irish Loreto Sister Orla Treacy has been fighting for decades.

In 2005, six years before South Sudan achieved its independence from Sudan after 50 years of war, Sister Treacy and two other Irish sisters arrived in Rumbek to open a school for girls. The students were accepted only if their parents signed a promise to allow the girls to complete high school and not marry them off in exchange for cattle, which is the most stable currency in the land and the chief sign of wealth.

Sister Treacy told Catholic News Service Jan. 15 that so far, "we have had a good year in Rumbek, the best, I can say" in terms of peace and of keeping students in school. "We have a new, strong governor who has worked with the different communities to try and help to build peace. He has also passed a bill against early and forced marriage. We still get troubles but at least now we can quote the governor and tell families to go to him if they don't like our answer!"

The Irish sister and some 50 students and members of justice and peace committees in the Diocese of Rumbek were in training in mid-January. They are planning a nine-day, 200-mile walk to Juba to join Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and the Rev. Greenshields for an ecumenical prayer service for peace.

The visit, she said, can "help to shine a spotlight on South Sudan. We hope that it will generate world interest and also help push our leaders to keep working for peace and development."

Ambassador Trott, who was involved in negotiating the 2018 peace agreement among the major actors in South Sudan's civil war, said the ongoing conflicts have an ethnic element because they are regional, but "at its heart is about access and control of resources," including oil, minerals, water and rich farmland. "This fight has always been about who benefits from those resources and who controls them."

"This is where the churches come in," he said, because a peace process can address power and resource sharing, but the success of an agreement depends on a willingness to implement it and to reconcile with former enemies for the good of the nation.

"Diplomats can only talk to their heads or about their pockets," the ambassador said. "But I think the three ecumenical leaders can really appeal to people's sense of responsibility" and what they want their legacy to be.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

 

U.S. Bishops’ Pro-Life Chairman Expresses Support for “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion”

WASHINGTON - Earlier today, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’  (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities sent a letter to House and Senate sponsors of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” (H.R.7 and S.62), in support of the legislation.

“Protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for abortion in violation of their conscience is a principle that has enjoyed historically broad support among Americans, regardless of their otherwise passionately divided views on the topic. It has also been life-saving,” said Bishop Burbidge in his letter. Rather than funding abortion, he continued, “Congress can better serve the common good by prioritizing policies that comprehensively assist women, children, and families in need in ways that will not only encourage childbirth but make it easier to welcome and raise a new child.”

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which has also been supported by the USCCB in previous sessions of Congress, would make long-standing prohibitions on federal funding of elective abortion permanent and government-wide, rather than having to depend on various appropriations, which can put these funding protections or other programs for those in need at risk. 

The full letter is available here.

Additional information and resources on taxpayer funding of abortion are available at the following:  https://www.notaxpayerabortion.com/learn and https://www.respectlife.org/no-taxpayer-abortion.

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God 'suffers' when believers injure, ignore those God loves, pope says

ROME (CNS) -- God suffers and grieves when those who profess to believe in him do not love the people he loves and do not work for the justice he desires, Pope Francis said.

"God suffers when we, who call ourselves his faithful ones, put our own ways of seeing things before his, when we follow the judgments of the world rather than those of heaven, when we are content with exterior rituals yet remain indifferent to those for whom he cares the most," the pope said in his homily Jan. 25 at an ecumenical evening prayer service.

Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant representatives joined the pope at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls for vespers closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions joined the mostly Rome-based religious leaders for the service.

The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches entrusted the preparations of the 2023 week of prayer to a group convened by the Minnesota Council of Churches.

Acknowledging "the injustices perpetrated in the past against native peoples and in our own day against African Americans," Pope Francis said, the group chose as the theme for the week "Do good; seek justice" from Isaiah 1:17.

In the face of "various forms of contempt and racism, before indifference, lack of understanding and sacrilegious violence, the word of God admonishes us: 'Learn to do good, seek justice,'" the pope said. "It is not enough to denounce, we need also to renounce evil, to pass from evil to good."

"In other words," he said, God's "admonishment is meant to change us."

In Isaiah's time -- and even today, the pope said, "it was generally thought that the rich, who made great offerings and looked down upon the poor, were blessed in God's eyes. Yet this was, and is, completely to misunderstand the Lord. It is the poor that Jesus proclaims blessed, and in the parable of the final judgment, he identifies himself with those who hunger and thirst, the stranger, the needy, the sick and those in prison."

Even more, Pope Francis said, God is offended by "sacrilegious violence," the violence of destroying another person, made in God's image and likeness.

"We can imagine with what suffering he must witness wars and acts of violence perpetrated by those who call themselves Christians," the pope said.

With all the knowledge people have of spirituality and theology, he said, "we have no excuses" to believe that God would want faith to be used to harm another.

"Still, there are those who appear to feel encouraged or at least permitted by their faith to support varieties of narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different," the pope said.

In fidelity to God, he said, "we must be opposed to war, to violence and to injustice wherever they begin to appear."

Pope Francis prayed that St. Paul would "help us to change, to be converted; may he obtain for us something of his own indomitable courage."

Such courage is needed to continue on the path to full Christian unity, he said, and to overcome the temptations to be impatient or to focus only on the needs of one's own church.

Pope: Defeat racism with Christian unity

Pope: Defeat racism with Christian unity

Pope Francis said that Christian unity can defeat nationalism and xenophobia.

Mission begins by meeting Jesus in the Scriptures and Eucharist, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Having come to know Jesus through the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, Catholics are called to share with others the hope and joy that come from faith and that endure even when life gets difficult, Pope Francis said.

"What the world needs is the love of God, to encounter Christ and believe in him. For this reason, the Eucharist is not only the source and summit of the life of the church, it is also the source and summit of her mission," Pope Francis wrote, quoting the late Pope Benedict XVI.

The connection between the missionary call of every disciple and the gift of Jesus present in the Eucharist was at the center of Pope Francis' message for World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated Oct. 22. The Vatican released the text of the message Jan. 25.

The theme the pope chose for the 2023 celebration is "Hearts on fire, feet on the move," which he said was inspired by the story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection. The Bible says the disciples' hearts "burned within them" as Jesus explained the Scriptures and how they recognized him when he broke bread with them, and they set off to share the good news with others.

World Mission Sunday 2023 will be celebrated during the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, and Pope Francis also used his message to talk about the missionary profile of the synod.

"The urgency of the church's missionary activity naturally calls for an ever-closer missionary cooperation on the part of all her members and at every level. This is an essential goal of the synodal journey that the church has undertaken, guided by the key words: communion, participation, mission."

The synodal process, he said, is "not a turning of the church in upon herself, nor is it a referendum about what we ought to believe and practice, nor a matter of human preferences. Rather, it is a process of setting out on the way and, like the disciples of Emmaus, listening to the risen Lord. For he always comes among us to explain the meaning of the Scriptures and to break bread for us, so that we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, carry out his mission in the world."

While Pope Francis often warns against proselytism -- using pressure or coercion to get someone to convert -- he insisted that the church exists for mission and that every person in the world has the right to hear the Gospel.

"Today more than ever, our human family, wounded by so many situations of injustice, so many divisions and wars, is in need of the good news of peace and salvation in Christ," he said. "I take this opportunity to reiterate that 'everyone has the right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to announce it without excluding anyone, not as one who imposes a new obligation, but as one who shares a joy, signals a beautiful horizon, offers a desirable banquet.'"

A person who has truly encountered the risen Lord necessarily will be "set on fire with enthusiasm to tell everyone about him," the pope said.

So, for the Catholic Church, "the primary and principal resource of the mission are those persons who have come to know the risen Christ in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, who carry his fire in their heart and his light in their gaze. They can bear witness to the life that never dies, even in the most difficult of situations and in the darkest of moments."

Just like the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus immediately went to tell others about their encounter with him, the pope said, "our proclamation will be a joyful telling of Christ the Lord, his life, his passion, his death and resurrection, and the wonders that his love has accomplished in our lives."

Pope Francis thanked those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel with people far from their homelands and thanked all Catholics who pray for and donate to the church's missionary outreach.

"Let us set out again with burning hearts, with our eyes open and our feet in motion," the pope said. "Let us set out to make other hearts burn with the word of God, to open the eyes of others to Jesus in the Eucharist, and to invite everyone to walk together on the path of peace and salvation that God, in Christ, has bestowed upon all humanity."

 

Christians must not be oppressed by guilt, but filled with joy, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must not "put pressure on others" to convert or induce in them "feelings of guilt," but take a weight off their shoulders through joyfully sharing the Gospel, Pope Francis said.

At his general audience Jan. 25, the pope explained that Jesus frees people from all forms of oppression and that this freedom is cause for joy.

"Oppressed is the one who feels crushed by something that happens in life: illness, struggles, burdens on the heart, feelings of guilt, errors, vices, sins," said Pope Francis. "Let us think, for example, about feelings of guilt. How many of us have suffered from this?"

"If someone feels guilty about something they did and they feel bad," he said, "the good news is that with Jesus this ancient evil of sin, which seems unbeatable, no longer has the last word."

"God forgets all of our sins, he has no memory of them," the pope said. Even if someone repeatedly commits the same sins, God also "will always do the same thing: forgive you, embrace you."

Pope Francis added that Christians must be joyful in sharing the Gospel, since "the faith is a stupendous love story to be shared."

Bearing witness to Jesus, he said, involves communicating "a gift so beautiful that words cannot express it. But when joy is missing, the Gospel does not come through" since the Gospel itself is a proclamation of joy.

"A sad Christian can speak about beautiful things, but it is all in vain if the message he or she conveys is not happy," he said.

Christians are called to be guides who lead others to accept God's love. For Christians, he said, "life is no longer a blind march to nowhere" determined by chance, health or even finances, but an invitation to love.

Pope Francis urged Christians to joyfully share the message to the poor and said that God calls on each person to make themselves interiorly poor. The quickest way to encounter Jesus, he said, is to "put yourself in need: in need of grace, in need of forgiveness, in need of joy, and he will come to you."

Ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 27, Pope Francis also remembered the "extermination of millions of Jewish people, and those of other faiths, that cannot ever be forgotten or denied."

"There cannot be a commitment to building fraternity without first eliminating the roots of hate and violence that fueled the horror of the Holocaust," he said.

 

Pope: God always forgives

Pope: God always forgives

During his general audience Jan. 25, Pope Francis said God always forgives sin.

U.S. Bishops’ Collection for Church in Central and Eastern Europe Brings Hope to Ukraine and Beyond

WASHINGTON - When the first bombs struck Ukraine nearly a year ago, aid was already coming in from Catholics in the United States through the U.S. bishops’ Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

On Ash Wednesday, February 22, Catholics are again encouraged to give to this annual collection, which for three decades has helped churches in 28 nations to recover from communist oppression. Some dioceses will take the collection on a different date. #iGiveCatholicTogether also accepts donations.

“As the war began, Catholics in the United States quickly mobilized to help Ukrainians. I pray that you will continue that generosity to central and eastern Europe, bringing healing where there is war, hope where there is despair, and faith that will lead to justice and peace,” said Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of Steubenville, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

“Last year, thanks to your generosity, some dioceses doubled or even tripled their giving, but as the war in Ukraine continues, the need continues there, and in other countries within the region, the need has also grown substantially.”

In the first few months of the war in Ukraine, the U.S. bishops expedited nearly 50 emergency grants for war-related relief to churches and Catholic organizations in Ukraine and several neighboring countries.

One such grant, approved on the day of Russia’s invasion, helped the Catholic relief organization Caritas Ukraine to expand and improve its network of shelters, equipping them with heat, food, basic supplies, and social assistance to minister to the traumatized masses. Another immediate grant provided satellite communications so the leadership of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church could coordinate the efforts of its priests to continue their ministry and offer pastoral care and first aid to the wounded, as well as provide food, shelter, and psychological support.

Another country in the region that seeks help from the collection is Moldova, which has a high poverty rate, a small Catholic population, and only 20 Catholic parishes in the entire country. Despite these challenges, Moldovans opened their arms in welcome to the highest number of Ukrainian refugees per capita among countries in the region. Before the war, the Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe was already financing a collaboration between the parishes and Caritas Moldova to create a network of centers where children at risk of abuse or neglect can experience a supportive Christian environment.  

The last full financial report is from 2021 when the collection made 348 grants totaling nearly $6.5 million for pastoral and humanitarian work, fostering vocations, and seminary education.

In some of the countries in central and eastern Europe, Catholics are a tiny minority of the population. Estonia has approximately 7,000 Catholics, but a grant helps five parishes on the Russian border to care for people who are poor and marginalized. In Bulgaria, where there are too few Catholics to fully staff the social services of Caritas Bulgaria, a grant provides non-Catholic staff and volunteers with formation in Catholic social teaching.

Nations with a historically strong Catholic presence also need assistance. A grant helped the Diocese of České Budějovice in the Czech Republic to launch an innovative evangelization initiative, teaching parish leaders new ways to invite non-believers to explore the faith. In Slovenia, a grant is revitalizing religious education by financing the translation and publishing of manuals and workbooks of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which introduces children to the mysteries of faith and life through the Bible and the Liturgy.

For more information and resources to promote the Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe see www.usccb.org/ccee.

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Mass media needs more kindness, truth spoken with charity, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The media and the field of communications need to exercise more kindness and share the truth with charity, Pope Francis said.

"Kindness is not only a question of 'etiquette' but a genuine antidote to cruelty, which unfortunately can poison hearts and make relationships toxic," the pope wrote in his message for World Communication Day.

Just as kindness is needed in social relationships, "we need it in the field of media, so that communication does not foment acrimony that exasperates, creates rage and leads to clashes, but helps people peacefully reflect and interpret with a critical yet always respectful spirit, the reality in which they live," he added.

"We are all called to seek and to speak the truth and to do so with charity," he said in the message released at the Vatican Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.

The theme of the 2023 celebration -- marked in most dioceses the Sunday before Pentecost, this year May 21 -- is "Speaking with the heart. 'The truth in love.'"

"We should not be afraid of proclaiming the truth, even if it is at times uncomfortable," the pope said, but communicators should fear "doing so without charity, without heart."

Communicating should be done "in a cordial manner," he said, one that is rooted in love for the other and caring about and protecting the other's freedom.

The world today is marked by polarization and division, and even the church is not immune, he said.

"We Christians in particular are continually urged to keep our tongue from evil," he said, choosing instead words that edify, fit the occasion and "may impart grace to those who hear."

"In the church, too, there is a great need to listen to and to hear one another," he said. When people listen attentively and openly without prejudice, it "gives rise to speaking according to God's style, nurtured by closeness, compassion and tenderness."

There is a "pressing need in the church for communication that kindles hearts, that is balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters" as well as that lets itself be guided by the Holy Spirit, he said.

The church, he wrote, needs communication that: is both gentle and prophetic; finds new ways to proclaim the Gospel today; puts the faithful's relationship with God, with others, especially the neediest, at the center; lights "the fire of faith rather than preserve the ashes of a self-referential identity"; is based on "humility in listening and 'parrhesia' (boldness) in speaking"; and never separates truth from charity.

And, the pope said, the wider world needs people who speak from that heart and promote "a language" or culture of peace, especially where there is war, as well as make way for "dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity rage."

"True peace can only be built in mutual trust," which needs "bold and creative" communicators who are willing "to take risks to find common ground on which to meet" and "helps create the conditions to resolve controversies between peoples," the pope said in his message.

Because words can often turn into "warlike actions of heinous violence," he said, "all belligerent rhetoric must be rejected, as well as every form of propaganda that manipulates the truth, disfiguring it for ideological ends."

St. Francis de Sales still provides an important reminder that "we are what we communicate," he said.

St. Paul VI said the saint's writings are "highly enjoyable, instructive and moving," which are precisely the things every article, report, television or radio program and social media post should include, Pope Francis said.

"May people who work in communications feel inspired by this saint of tenderness, seeking and telling the truth with courage and freedom and rejecting the temptation to use sensational and combative expressions," he said.

God's word, mercy must be shared with everyone, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Word of God, which heals and raises people up, is meant for everyone, Pope Francis said.

Jesus "wants to reach those far away, he wants to heal the sick, he wants to save sinners, he wants to gather the lost sheep and lift up those whose hearts are weary and oppressed," the pope said.

"Jesus 'reaches out' to tell us that God's mercy is for everyone," he said in his homily during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Jan. 22, the church's celebration of Sunday of the Word of God.

During the Mass, the pope also formally installed seven men and women in the ministry of catechist and three others in the ministry of lector. Pope Francis gave each of the lectors a Bible and the catechists a crucifix.

In his homily, the pope said the Lord invites everyone to conversion and invites his disciples to actively "spread the light of the word" to everyone.

Jesus is "always on the move, on his way to others," the pope said. "On no occasion in his public life does he give us the idea that he is a stationary teacher, a professor seated on a chair; on the contrary, we see him as an itinerant, we see him as a pilgrim, traveling through towns and villages, encountering faces and their stories."

Jesus preaches in places where there are "people plunged into darkness: foreigners, pagans, women and men from various regions and cultures," showing that his word "is not only destined for the righteous of Israel, but for all."

"Moreover, if salvation is destined for all, even the most distant and lost, then the proclamation of the Word must become the main priority of the ecclesial community, as it was for Jesus," he said.

"May it not happen that we profess a God with an expansive heart yet become a church with a closed heart -- this, I dare say, would be a curse," he said. "May it not happen that we preach salvation for all yet make the way to receive it impractical; may it not happen that we recognize we are called to proclaim the kingdom yet neglect the Word, losing ourselves in so many secondary activities or discussions."

"Place your life under the Word of God," he said. "All of us, even the pastors of the church, are under the authority of the Word of God. Not under our own tastes, tendencies and preferences."

The word of God "molds us, converts us and calls us to be united in the one church of Christ," so the faithful must ask themselves, "Where does my life find direction"? "From the many 'words' I hear, from ideologies, or from the word of God that guides and purifies me?"

When people recognize God's presence and make room for his word, "you will change your outlook on life."

After the Mass, the pope prayed the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter's Square. Before the prayer, he said that following Jesus is a journey that requires leaving the status quo behind.

"What must we leave behind? Our vices and our sins, certainly, which are like anchors that hold us at bay and prevent us from setting sail," he said, but also those things that keep one from "living fully, for example, fear, selfish calculations, the guarantees that come from staying safe, just getting by."

He asked people to reflect on "what are the material things, ways of thinking, attitudes I need to leave behind so as to truly say 'yes'" like Mary and to follow Jesus better. "We will always find that we are better."

Pope: The church's open-hearted mission

Pope: The church's open-hearted mission

During Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God, Pope Francis said the church should have an expansive heart.

Representatives of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church in North America Meet for Ecumenical Theological Exchange

WASHINGTON – In October 2022, members, consultants, and staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs met with members of the Anglican Church in North America’s (ACNA) Committee on Ecumenical Affairs in Chicago. The meeting marked the second theological exchange between the committees, and mutual affirmation by both organizations was expressed towards future meetings to explore ways to draw closer together and expand the Kingdom of God.

Following a time of fellowship and prayer, papers were presented for discussion on the Roman Catholic and Anglican understanding of the Episcopacy. The papers may be found below:

Presenting for the ACNA was Fr. Greg Peters, who teaches at Biola University as Professor of Medieval and Spiritual Theology in the Torrey Honors College. Fr. Peters is also a Visiting Scholar at the Von Hügel Institute, St Edmund’s College in the University of Cambridge. Presenting for the USCCB was Fr. James Puglisi, SA who teaches at the Pontifical Athenaeum, San Anselmo, Rome, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, Venice and directs the Centro Pro Unione in Rome.

Participants at the meeting representing the ACNA included: The Rt. Rev. Eric Menees, The Rt. Rev. Clark Lowenfield, The Rev. Dr. Greg Peters, and The Rev. Dr. Hans Boersma. Participants at the meeting representing the USCCB included: The Most Rev. David P. Talley, The Most Rev. Alfred Schlert, The Most Rev. John-Michael Botean, The Most Rev. Richard Sklba, Rev. Donald Rooney, Rev. Walter F. Kedjierski, Rev. James Puglisi, SA, Dr. Anthony Cirelli, and Ms. Rebecca Cohen.

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Pope prays God will strengthen commitment to defending all human life

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the Biden administration and state governments look at ways to expand or restrict access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling, Pope Francis prayed that God would strengthen people's commitment to protecting human life at every stage.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis is "deeply grateful for the faithful witness shown publicly over the years by all who promote and defend the right to life of the most innocent and vulnerable members of our human family."

The message was sent to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of the Military Services, to be read at the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 19 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The main celebrant of the Mass was Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The vigil precedes the annual March for Life, which was celebrating its 50th march in 2023 under the theme, "Next Steps: Marching into a Post-Roe America," looking at the pro-life work that remains after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ruled that women do not have a constitutional right to access abortion.

"The building of a truly just society rests upon respect for the sacred dignity of every person and the welcome given to each one as a brother or sister," Cardinal Parolin wrote. "In this regard, His Holiness trusts that Almighty God will strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to persevere in their efforts aimed at protecting human life in all its stages, especially through adequate legal measures enacted at every level of society."

"To those taking part in the March for Life, and to all who support them by their prayers and sacrifices, the Holy Father gladly imparts his blessing as a pledge of strength and joy in the Lord," the message said.