Catholic News Service

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  1. IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis, adopting a suggestion made at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, has decided that every priest preparing for service in the Vatican diplomatic corps must spend a year in ministry as a missionary.

    In a letter to U.S. Archbishop Joseph S. Marino, president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains Vatican diplomats, Pope Francis said the year of missionary service should be added to the academy's curriculum beginning with students entering in the 2020-2021 academic year.

    "I am convinced that such an experience could be helpful to all young men who are preparing for or beginning their priestly service," Pope Francis wrote in the letter released Feb. 17. In a special way, he continued, mission experience would be helpful "for those who in the future will be called to collaborate with the pontifical representatives and, later, could become envoys of the Holy See to nations and particular churches."

    Currently students -- all already ordained priests -- usually spend four years at the academy in central Rome. They earn a license in canon law from one of the pontifical universities in the city and then a doctorate in either canon law or theology. If they already hold a doctorate, then their time at the academy is only two years.

    In addition to their university courses, the students study diplomacy, Vatican diplomatic relations, languages, international law, papal documents and current affairs.

    Vatican diplomats represent the Holy See to individual countries around the world as well as to international organizations, such as the United Nations. But they also represent the pope to the local Catholic Church and coordinate the search for new bishops.

    At the end of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis said he had "received in writing" a suggestion that "in the Holy See's diplomatic service, in the curriculum of the diplomatic service, young priests should spend at least one year in mission territory, but not doing an internship at the nunciature as happens now, which is very useful, but simply at the service of a bishop in a mission area."

    In his letter to Archbishop Marino, the pope quoted from a speech he gave to students at the academy in 2015 when he reminded them of the missionary focus of all that the church does, including its diplomatic activity.

    He had told the students, "The mission to which you will be called one day to carry out will take you to all parts of the world: To Europe, in need of an awakening; Africa, thirsting for reconciliation; Latin America, hungry for nourishment and interiority; North America, intent on rediscovering the roots of an identity that is not defined by exclusion; Asia and Oceania, challenged by the capacity to ferment in diaspora and to dialogue with the vastness of ancestral cultures."

    Pope Francis told Archbishop Marino that he was certain that, "once the initial concerns" about changing the formation program are overcome, "the missionary experience that it aims to promote will be useful not only for the young academicians, but also for the individual churches they will collaborate with and, I hope, it will give rise in other priests of the universal church a desire to make themselves available for a period of missionary service outside their dioceses."

     

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  2. IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

    By Rhina Guidos

    HAVANA (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan met privately with the president of the Republic of Cuba Feb. 11, the last full day of a six-day visit to the island nation mostly filled with visits to Cuban prelates and humanitarian organizations and facilities where the island's Catholics operate services for the poor and elderly.

    "The meeting went very well, and it was no surprise because he's always extraordinarily cordial," the archbishop of New York said in an interview with Catholic News Service following the meeting with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez in Havana. "I said I'm not here as a politician. I'm here as a pastor, Mr. President. I want you to know how much I admire my brother bishops (in Cuba).

    "We've been very thrilled to meet priests and women religious, lay leaders and the faithful and they are happy, and they love Jesus and his church. I'm so grateful for the openness of Cuba to allow priests and sisters and lay faithful leaders into Cuba to help in the mission of the church."

    The meeting lasted 50 minutes, Cardinal Dolan said, adding that he reiterated the ardent desire of the church "to just be a partner in the public square in any project that enhances the dignity of the human person, human life, the dignity of the family, the importance of marriage, and the real deep heritage of faith found in the Cuban people."

    He said he found the president to be "realistic" but also "yearning to see if there could be good relations."

    Cardinal Dolan said he'd met Diaz-Canel twice before and the last time was in 2018, the year he took over the helm as head of Cuba from Raul Castro. Diaz-Canel visited New York later that fall and spoke before the United Nations. He asked for a meeting with Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's Cathedral and during that visit, he gave the prelate a present: a statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

    Though church members, along with other religious groups on the island, suffered persecution after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, Cuba's Catholic Church underwent a wave of openness from government officials following the 1998 visit of St. John Paul II to the island. Then Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012, followed by Pope Francis in 2015 -- all with messages of salvation.

    The Vatican, with the help of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana, who died in July 2019, played a major role in the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. and the two countries announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in late 2014, which included the reopening of their respective embassies in Havana and Washington.

    The Catholic Church has constantly held that it's better to engage Cuba instead of isolating it, and efforts -- from the Vatican to the U.S. bishops -- have emphasized diplomatic solutions.

    However, with a Donald Trump presidency came sanctions and new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. Cardinal Dolan said that Diaz-Canel said he was appreciative of the efforts by the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying that dialogue is always better than antagonism and that mutual exchanges in commerce and culture are beneficial to the understanding of people, "and I affirmed that," he said.

    Cardinal Dolan said he agreed that those who suffer the consequences of measures such as the embargo are not the government leaders but the common people of Cuba.

    "And when you see the huge shortages of food and medicine, it does strike one as unfair," he said.

    To those who would criticize his meeting with Diaz-Canel, he said he has plenty on his plate, but if he's invited to visit a place and the visit might do some good, that's his interest as a pastor.

    "I don't sit around wanting to make trips. I got enough to do. I've got a full-time day job," he said.

    He said that during the meeting, Diaz-Canel told him that Cuba was the only place in the Americas where three popes have visited.

    "And I said 'No, no. There's one where four popes have been, namely St. Patrick's Cathedral. Then I gave him a gift" from the cathedral, he said.

    Cardinal Dolan said if others could pay visits like his to the island, including educational leaders, business leaders, artists, writers and leaders of other faith communities, "I think how things would warm up."

    The meeting made headlines in the government newspaper Granma Feb. 12, which published two stories about the cardinal's visit saying he had been welcomed to the island with "hospitality and respect," and mentioning his meetings with Cuban bishops and his visits to "places associated with church activities" in Cuba.

    A second article mentioned the cardinal's "visit of solidarity with the Cuban people for whom he has declared affection on more than one occasion."

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  3. IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Camales-Torrijos family

    By Agnieszka Ruck

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) -- The morning routine hasn't changed for Marichu and Ding Camales-Torrijos since they and all other passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were quarantined following discovery of the coronavirus on board.

    The couple has breakfast delivered by mask-wearing cruise staff, they listen to live updates from the captain about the spread of the virus, they send online messages to family and friends, and they pray.

    "We start the day with prayer thanking God that we are symptom-free," Marichu told The B.C. Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Feb. 13. The couple, parishioners at St. Matthew Parish in Surrey, boarded the ship for a Southeast Asia cruise 26 days earlier. It was a gift to Ding ahead of his 65th birthday.

    They made stops in Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, when on the last day of the trip a case of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, was discovered on board. The ship was placed on quarantine, docked in Tokyo, and anchored for the next two weeks. The couple don't expect to leave the ship until Feb. 19.

    On Feb. 13, 44 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on board, bringing the total number of infected individuals to 218 of the 3,700 cruise passengers and crew.

    "We are taking this in stride on a day-to-day basis," Marichu said.

    The couple is confined to their 200-square-foot cabin during the quarantine. They must wear masks when their meals are delivered and during the single hour a day they are allowed to walk outside. The rest of the time they stay inside, praying, sending messages to other passengers through online chat groups, and trying to stay positive.

    Marichu is unaware of any Catholic priests on board the ship, but as a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and member of Couples for Christ at St. Matthew, she is trying to minister to her fellow travelers by offering an optimistic outlook.

    When an elderly passenger was taken off the ship and sent to hospital for treatment, Marichu reached out to the man's wife, who remained on board. Through online messages, Marichu tries to provide comfort and encouragement.

    "Without faith, I don't think I would last this long," Marichu said.

    Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller has called for prayers for those suffering from the virus.

    "As Chinese health and political officials struggle to contain the virus, please pray that they see in the response of the global community a solidarity rooted in Christian charity. May God grant wisdom and healing as the countries of the world work to prevent a global epidemic," he prayed.

    Although Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia's deputy provincial health officer, has said just four cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in the province and the risk of contracting the illness is low, some Catholic communities have taken precautions.

    Father Richard Au, pastor of Canadian Martyrs Parish in Richmond, British Columbia, has obtained a dispensation from attending Mass for members of his largely Chinese congregation who have recently traveled to regions affected by the virus, have been in contact with anyone who might be infected, or are coughing or feverish. Those who do not attend Mass "must practice other forms of piety for an hour" such as reading the Bible or praying the rosary.

    Since the announcement, Father Au has noticed a decrease in attendance at Sunday Mass, while the hand sanitizer dispensers are in high demand, as are the automatic door openers, with parishioner using their elbows instead of hands to push the button.

    "Everyone has someone or has a connection" to someone in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus, he said. The constant information and misinformation about new cases, compounded by fear, has led to parishioners showing up at the church "at nighttime, knocking on the door and pouring their hearts out and their tears out."

     

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  4. IMAGE: CNS photo/Indiana Office of the Attorney General

    By Ann Carey

    SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) -- A cold, gray, wintry day in South Bend seemed like an appropriate setting for the burial of 2,411 aborted babies, whose remains were interred in Southlawn Cemetery in the city Feb. 12.

    The babies had been aborted between 2000 and 2003 by the late Dr. Ulrich "George" Klopfer, who operated abortion clinics in Indiana since the 1970s and performed an estimated 30,000 abortions before having his license revoked in 2016.

    The medically preserved remains of those fetuses had been transported across state lines and stored for years on Klopfer's Illinois property, in his garage and in the trunk of a car. The grisly discovery of the remains was made after his death Sept. 3 last year.

    Neither his family nor authorities have been able to determine why Klopfer kept the remains instead of properly disposing of them. Indiana law now requires fetal remains to be cremated or buried.

    Records found with the remains indicated the abortions had taken place in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Gary, so Indiana Attorney General Curtis T. Hill Jr. took possession of them.

    Originally, an effort was made to determine in which city each abortion took place so that the remains could be returned home for burial. The state received several offers of burial locations, including an offer by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend for space and services at Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne.

    However, Klopfer's records were so incomplete and inaccurate that Hill's office was unable to determine where each abortion occurred. Thus, it was decided to bury the remains together, "each connected by their common fate," Hill explained at the burial service. South Bend was chosen as the site because it is the most central of the three cities involved.

    In his opening remarks at the burial service, Hill told a somber crowd of over 200 mourners: "The shocking discovery of 2,411 medically preserved fetal remains in Illinois left in a garage and in the trunk of a car was horrifying to anyone with normal sensibilities. Regrettably, there is no shortage of depravity in our world today, including due regard for the most vulnerable among us. And so, we brought them home, back to Indiana."

    The attorney general said that not only was it Indiana law that fetal remains be buried, it was fitting and proper for the aborted babies to receive a final resting place, just as it is appropriate for any human being. He observed that people hoped it could never happen that 2,411 unborn human beings would been terminated, discarded, lost and forgotten.

    "But friends, we will not forget," Hill said. "We therefore honor and memorialize these unborn that their lives be remembered not for their brevity, but for how their discovery has impacted our collective conscience. May each of the 2,411 buried here rest in peace."

    Hill thanked Indiana, Illinois and local authorities who worked together to bring the babies to their final resting place and acknowledged the many offers of assistance by countless others across the state.

    Palmer Funeral Home donated the burial space at its Southlawn Cemetery and a memorial stone, which reads: "In memory of the 2,411 precious unborn buried here on Feb. 12, 2020." The funeral home also provided a tent with chairs for family members, chairs that remained empty during the brief burial service.

    The attorney general also thanked the 200-plus mourners for coming to "personally honor and memorialize these 2,411 precious unborn who now stand as a reminder of the fragility of life and of the obligation of the state and of the nation to preserve human dignity and respect for all."

    After Hill left the podium to conduct a news conference, a multifaith prayer service took place, led by a variety of religious leaders. Among them was Father Glenn Kohrman, pastor of South Bend's Holy Family and St. John the Baptist parishes and a board member of Catholic Charities and Right to Life Michiana.

    Father Kohrman offered a modified version of the Catholic Church's prayer of Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Baptism.

    Sister Agnes Marie Regan of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Indiana, attended the burial service with several of her Franciscan sisters, and probably spoke for the hundreds of mourners when she told Today's Catholic, diocesan newspaper of Fort Wayne-South Bend, that she attended because, "These are our brothers and sisters."

    A memorial service at the gravesite will take place Feb. 23, sponsored by the right to life groups of Lake County, Michiana and Northeast Indiana.

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    Carey writes for Today's Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  5. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told a group of U.S. bishops that, like them, he is accused of not being courageous or not listening to the Holy Spirit when he says or does something someone disagrees with -- like not mentioning married priests in his document on the Amazon.

    "You could see his consternation when he said that for some people it was all about celibacy and not about the Amazon," said Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

    "He said some people say he is not courageous because he didn't listen to the Spirit," the bishop told Catholic News Service Feb. 13. "He said, 'So they're not mad at the Spirit. They're mad at me down here,'" as if they assume the Holy Spirit agreed with them.

    Bishop Wack was one of 15 bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina who spent close to three hours with Pope Francis Feb. 13 as part of their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. They were joined by two from Arizona -- Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix -- who had been unable to meet the pope with their group Feb. 10.

    During the meeting, one bishop asked Pope Francis for three or four points he would like them to share with their people from the document "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), which was released the day before and offered the pope's reflections on the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

    Auxiliary Bishop Joel M. Konzen of Atlanta told CNS that the pope said the most important message in the document for U.S. Catholics is to care for the planet, "that this is a grave matter."

    Then, he said, the pope told the bishops that months or even years go into producing documents and what gets reported by the media "is one line" or that "the pope didn't have the courage to change the rules of the church."

    Bishop Wack said the pope told them the synod met "'to talk about the issues of the church in the Amazon. Other people wanted me to talk about celibacy. They made that the issue. But that wasn't the issue of this synod.'"

    Pope Francis told the bishops that they and their priests must teach and preach about care for the environment, Bishop Wack said. "He said even if people don't want to hear it. How can we deny that things are changing? How can we deny that we're hurting our future? And he said, if we don't talk about these things, well, shame on us. We have to preach the Gospel, and this is part of the Gospel."

    Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said Pope Francis also talked about what he means by "synodality" and members of the church listening to each other, praying about issues and trying to discern a way forward together. The synod, he said, is not "a parliament in which people take majority votes on a whole bunch of issues."

    Among the reactions concerning the exhortation that caught Pope Francis' eye, he said, was a commentary that said "the pope lacked courage" on the issue of ordaining married men.

    "But the synod is not about the courage of the pope or the lack of the courage of the pope," Archbishop Wenski paraphrased the pope as telling them. "The synod is about the action of the Holy Spirit and discernment of the Holy Spirit. And if there is no Holy Spirit, there is no discernment."

    If discernment and the action of the Holy Spirit are missing, then it is just "a meeting and it's people sharing opinions and maybe research, but it's not necessarily a synod unless it's in some way governed by the Holy Spirit," Bishop Konzen said.

    Bishop Wack said Pope Francis also explained that synodality and discernment are processes that continue even after a synod has met and a document has been published.

    "He said, 'You can't just meet once and then say, "Oh, we have all the answers," but the conversation continues,'" the bishop said. "And so, he said, 'What we did is we raised these issues, and now we have to deal with them,'" continuing to invoke the Holy Spirit and discern the path for the future.

    As with the 13 groups of U.S. bishops that preceded them, the bishops also spoke with the pope about the clerical sexual abuse crisis, immigration, youth and young adult ministry and what it means to be a bishop.

    Bishop Wack said he asked for advice about finding balance as a bishop since "we are supposed to be shepherds, we're supposed to be priests for the people, other Christs. And yet, just like with our pastors, like so many people working in the church, as well as parents and people working in world, we are so busy with so many other things."

    Pope Francis spoke at length about being a bishop, he said. "He said if we're too busy doing other things, we put those aside; we pray, and we preach, and we serve our people."

    Archbishop Wenski told CNS that in covering the church or Pope Francis' teachings, the press often uses "categories from the world, and they don't fully appreciate that we're dealing with a different way of being, a different way of thinking."

    The bishops' meeting with the pope, he added, was a moment to "be with the pope, see the pope and to hear the pope" in a relaxed atmosphere and discuss issues "that concern us bishops throughout the world."

    "That was a great opportunity because often times, as bishops, we experience the pope through the filter of the news media. And it's good to experience him without that filter; (to) experience him face to face," he said.

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    Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden, Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz.

     

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  6. IMAGE: CNS Photo/Francis Wong

    By

    HONG KONG (CNS) -- The threat of spreading the coronavirus has forced Catholic officials in Hong Kong to suspend all church programs Feb. 15-28, including Sunday Masses and the Ash Wednesday liturgy that marks the beginning of Lent.

    Ucanews.com reported Cardinal John Tong, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, said the "disappointing" decision had been made "because the next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic."

    "Some church members may be disappointed" with the diocesan move, the cardinal said in his Feb. 13 pastoral letter. "This is not an easy decision."

    The move comes amid global fears that the epidemic, now called COVID-19, has worsened in China against the prediction of experts. The epidemic, first reported in Wuhan city of Hubei province, has spread across the world and claimed more than 1,300 lives, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases as of Feb. 13, mostly in China.

    Hong Kong, which has open borders with China, has reported 50 confirmed cases and one death. The densely populated Hong Kong city-state of 7.4 million people is on high alert to check the virus, as thousands have crossed over from mainland China to avoid the infection, ucanews.com reported.

    "At this difficult time," Catholics must "deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbors and all people," the cardinal's message said.

    Cardinal Tong said he wanted Catholics to fulfill their Mass obligation by participating in Mass online, receiving Holy Communion spiritually and meditating on the Scriptures or saying the rosary at home.

    He also urged Catholics to help each other; share anti-epidemic materials; live the Gospel virtues of faith, hope and love; and pray for each other.

    As part of efforts to arrest the outbreak, Hong Kong has set up a slew of mass quarantine camps to isolate victims. So far, around 2,200 people have been placed in quarantine camps in Hong Kong, and some people have criticized the government for setting up the camps in residential areas.

    The new mandatory quarantine rules took effect Feb. 8, with people arriving from the mainland required to be quarantined for 14 days to curb outbreaks in the community. People leaving the camps without permission commit a criminal offense punishable with a six-month jail term and a fine of $25,000 (US$3,220), the government has said.

    With the prices of essential goods soaring and unavailability of medical masks, residents have raided supermarkets and pharmacies, braving chilly winds.

    Schools in Hong Kong will extend closures until March 16, Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's education secretary, said Feb. 13.

    The government has given its 176,000 civil servants the option of working from home until Feb. 23 to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

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    Editors: The original story can be found at www.ucanews.com/news/hong-kong-cancels-church-gatherings-ash-wednesday-liturgy/87218.

     

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  7. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and top officials of the Roman Curia will leave the Vatican March 1-6 for their annual Lenten retreat, the Vatican announced.

    And, as is customary when first publishing the pope's calendar for Holy Week, the Vatican did not provide the time or place for his celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, April 9. Pope Francis has made it a tradition to celebrate the Mass and foot-washing ritual at a prison or detention center, refugee center or rehabilitation facility.

    Here is the schedule of papal liturgical ceremonies for February, March and April released by the Vatican Feb. 12 (times listed are local):

    -- Feb. 26, Ash Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. penitential procession from Rome's Church of St. Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for Mass with the imposition of ashes.

    -- March 1-6, Lenten retreat with the Roman Curia at the Pauline Fathers' retreat center in Ariccia, southeast of Rome.

    -- March 20, 5 p.m., penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica.

    -- April 5, Palm Sunday, 10 a.m. Mass in St. Peter's Square.

    -- April 9, chrism Mass, 9:30 a.m. in St. Peter's Basilica.

    -- April 10, Good Friday, 5 p.m. liturgy of the Lord's passion in St. Peter's Basilica.

    -- April 10, Way of the Cross, 9:15 p.m., Rome's Colosseum.

    -- April 11, Easter vigil Mass, 8:30 p.m., St. Peter's Basilica.

    -- April 12, Easter morning Mass, 10 a.m., St. Peter's Square, followed at noon by the pope's blessing "urbi et orbi" (the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

    -- April 19, Divine Mercy Sunday, Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10:30 a.m.

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  8. IMAGE: CNS photo/Father Stephen Ries

    By Rhina Guidos

    HAVANA (CNS) -- The moment was anything but intimate, but it was probably the best chance Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan had to pay respects to a revered Cuban-born priest who helped Irish immigrants in New York.

    The archbishop of New York, followed by a crowd of press Feb. 11, approached the place where the remains of Father Felix Varela are interred in a great room on the campus of the University of Havana and began to pray. Cardinal Dolan spoke of Father Varela's accomplishments as a scholar, teacher and thinker, one who made great contributions in his home country but also in his adoptive home.

    Father Varela was born in Havana Nov. 20, 1788, but carried out his ministry in New York. He is a candidate for sainthood, and in 2012, the Vatican declared the priest "Venerable," recognizing his heroic virtues.

    Cardinal Dolan made the stop during the last full day of a Feb. 7-12 mission trip to the island nation. He was accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York, who was born in Cuba and is the vice postulator of Father Varela's canonization cause.

    "He was a great thinker, but he was a man who would take the shirt off his back for others," Bishop Cisneros told reporters.

    And that's what Bishop Cisneros wanted to emphasize, that Father Varela was a priest above all. Father Varela was ordained a priest in Havana but served in New York, including in a post as vicar general, as the church helped with an influx of Irish immigrants and refugees from other countries.

    Though many Cubans on the island may associate his name with being a patriot or a scholar, he was primarily a pastor, Bishop Cisneros said. His remains were first buried in St. Augustine, Florida, where he died Feb. 18, 1853, at age 64. His remains were later returned to the island and interred on the campus.

    Those who traveled with the cardinal from the Archdiocese of New York gave out prayer cards of Father Varela during Masses in Cuba where Cardinal Dolan presided.

    The priest who helped the poor, the downtrodden and the immigrants in the U.S. -- "that's Father Varela" -- may not be a saint canonically, he is a saint in the hearts of many, Bishop Cisneros told reporters who had gathered around Cardinal Dolan to ask about U.S.-Cuba relations.

    Cardinal Dolan made the stop after a brief tour of the campus of the University of Havana, where he met with university and government officials.

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

  9. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis released his document on the Amazon region on the 15th anniversary of the assassination in Brazil of U.S. Notre Dame Sister Dorothy Stang, a missionary who defended the poor and the environment.

    Her life and sacrifice are emblematic of what many participants at the October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon had said: Women in the region are leaders of both community and religious life; their defense of the poor and the natural environment is consistent and consistently results in threats to their lives.

    In his postsynodal apostolic exhortation, "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), which was published Feb. 12, Pope Francis said consecrated men and women in the Amazon are "closest to those who are most impoverished and excluded."

    The pope devoted an entire section of the document to praising the way women -- lay and religious -- have kept the faith alive in the Amazon region. But he flatly rejects a request made by several synod participants to consider ordaining women deacons; the request did not receive enough support to be included in the synod's final document.

    At the end of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, and on numerous other occasions, Pope Francis has said Catholics still have not understood how and why women are important in the church.

    "We have not yet realized what women mean in the church," but instead "we focus on the functional aspect" -- what offices they are permitted to hold -- "which is important," but is not everything, he said at the end of the synod in October.

    Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has acknowledged the essential and irreplaceable contribution of women to the church, their equal dignity and the importance of having their voices and talents contribute to decision-making.

    But the pope also understands that in the way the Catholic Church operates in most places today, the traditional Catholic tie between ordination and power has meant that sometimes women are consulted and sometimes they aren't.

    In his exhortation, Pope Francis tried again to lay out his vision for a church in which priesthood is equated with service, not power.

    But clearly, until that vision becomes more of a reality, it will be up to priests and bishops to determine the extent to which the contributions and expertise of women -- and laypeople, in general -- will be welcomed.

    Cardinal Michael Czerny, who served as secretary of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, said Pope Francis' caution in the apostolic exhortation about thinking women will be valued only if they can be ordained must read within his "extensive magisterium" stressing "the need to separate power from the priestly ministry, since this combination is at the origin of clericalism."

    "This relationship between ministry and power is what leaves women without a voice, without rights and often without the possibility to decide," the cardinal told Vatican Media. "So, it is not a question of giving them access to an ordained ministry in order to have them gain a voice and a vote, but of separating power from ministry."

    Pope Francis frequently has told people that ordination and the offices that go with it are not a measure of a person's importance in the church; in fact, he often insists "Mary is more important than the apostles."

    In the exhortation, Pope Francis said, "In the Amazon region, there are communities that have long preserved and handed on the faith even though no priest has come their way, even for decades."

    That happened, he said, "because of the presence of strong and generous women who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries. For centuries, women have kept the church alive in those places through their remarkable devotion and deep faith."

    Their example, the pope said, "summons us to broaden our vision" beyond seeing ordination as the best way to encourage and recognize women leaders in Catholic communities.

    Still, while warning about the temptation "to clericalize" women or focus solely on functions, Pope Francis did say in the document that women "should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs."

    Those positions, he said, should be established in a stable manner, be publicly recognized and include a formal "commission from the bishop."

    While the positions should make it possible for women to have "a real and effective impact" on decision-making, he said, it should be done "in a way that reflects their womanhood."

    Pope Francis does not explain in the document what he means by that other than by saying, "Women make their contribution to the church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother."

    Reparatrix Sister Augusta de Oliveira, a Brazilian and vicar general of her order, was the only woman chosen by the Vatican to present the pope's document to the press Feb. 12.

    Throughout the Amazon and in Amazonian Catholic communities, she said, women are "conquering and occupying spaces for decision making, reflection and service in defense of threatened life."

    In the most difficult areas of the Amazon basin, she said, "we find the female presence" in religious communities "animating, supporting and serving."

    Pope Francis, in his document, urged Catholics to trust that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Catholic communities of the Amazon. "For wherever there is a particular need, he has already poured out the charisms that can meet it."

    The church, the pope wrote, simply must "be open to the Spirit's boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay."

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  10. IMAGE: CNS photo/Maria Cervantes, Reuters

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis acknowledged the serious shortage of priests in remote areas of the Amazon, but he insisted not all avenues have been exhausted to address the issue.

    In his apostolic exhortation, "Querida Amazonia" ("Beloved Amazonia"), which was released by the Vatican Feb. 12, the pope said that confronting the priest shortage simply by "facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist" would be "a very narrow aim."

    The members of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in October asked Pope Francis to open the way for the priestly ordination of married permanent deacons so that Catholics in the region could go to Mass and receive the sacraments regularly.

    In response, Pope Francis wrote in his new document that the priest shortage must be seen as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to "awaken new life in communities."

    "We need to promote an encounter with God's word and growth in holiness through various kinds of lay service that call for a process of education -- biblical, doctrinal, spiritual and practical -- and a variety of programs of ongoing formation," he said.

    In an interview with Vatican News Feb. 12, Cardinal Michael Czerny, who served as secretary of the synod in October, said Pope Francis believes that "the question is not one of numbers and that a greater presence of priests is not the only requirement."

    "What is needed is a presence of laypeople at the local level who are animated by a missionary spirit and capable of representing the authentic face of the Amazonian Church. This, he seems to indicate, is the only way that vocations will return," he said.

    Cardinal Czerny told journalists that while there is no mention in the pope's document of ordaining married men to the priesthood or to women deacons, the pope "has not resolved them in any way beyond what he has said in the exhortation."

    The synod is a journey "with long roads ahead as well as roads already traveled," Cardinal Czerny said Feb. 12 during a briefing at the Vatican press office. "So, if there are questions that you feel are open or that the church feels are open, thanks to the exhortation they will continue to be debated, discussed, discerned, prayed over and when mature presented to the appropriate authority for decision."

    Pope Francis urged bishops, especially in Latin America, to encourage those who wish to be missionaries "to opt for the Amazon region."

    Much like in past exhortations, the pope drove the point home in the footnotes.

    "It is noteworthy that, in some countries of the Amazon Basin, more missionaries go to Europe or the United States than remain to assist their own vicariates in the Amazon region," he said.

    While the shortage of vocations is an issue felt throughout the church, even the severe shortages in places like the United States pale in comparison to their Amazonian counterparts.

    The Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, for example, has an estimated 900,000 Catholics and a total of 103 priests, which is an average of one priest for every 8,737 people. It has one of the lowest priest-to-Catholics ratios in the United States.

    In comparison, the Diocese of Caxias do Maranhao, Brazil, has only 25 priests for a population of 825,000 Catholics, an average of one priest for every 33,000 people.

    And remote villages, such as the Kichwa indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazonian region, are difficult areas for priests to visit since they are accessible only by small plane or canoe.

    In his exhortation, the pope said that priests are essential for the full life of Catholic communities since they are the only ones who can consecrate the Eucharist and grant absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.

    "If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness," the pope said.

    Nonetheless, Pope Francis also called for a renewal "of both initial and ongoing priestly formation" before considering other suggestions.

    While priests are necessary, religious women, lay people and permanent deacons -- "of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region" -- could perform other functions necessary for Catholic life "with the aid of suitable accompaniment," he said.

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