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Posted on 12/10/2023 10:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
ACI Africa, Dec 10, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).
The emphasis of cultural elements over Christian ones during liturgical celebrations is a distortion of the paschal mystery that defines the liturgy, Cardinal Robert Sarah has said.
In his homily during the opening Mass of the pioneer international Congress of African Liturgists that opened in Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, on Dec. 4, Sarah underscored the importance of liturgy to Christians.
“We are working to sprinkle African and Asian elements into the liturgy, thereby distorting the paschal mystery that we celebrate,” he lamented. He faulted prolonged Eucharistic celebrations, saying: “We place so much emphasis on these cultural elements that our celebrations sometimes last six hours.”
The Guinean cardinal, who until his retirement in February 2021 was serving as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, further lamented: “Our liturgies are often too banal and too noisy, too African and less Christian.”
“If we look at the liturgy as a practical matter of pastoral efficiency, we run the risk of turning it into a human work, a set of more or less successful ceremonies,” he further cautioned.
The Dec. 4–8 congress in Dakar examined Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 60 years after its promulgation, under the theme “The state of the liturgical question in Africa: achievements, challenges, and prospects.”
Reflecting on the diamond jubilee of the December 1963 document that was solemnly promulgated by Pope Paul VI, Sarah decried increased “improvisation of creativity,” which he said does not contribute to the renewal of the people of God.
“For 60 years we note that year after year the liturgical reform allied by much idealism and great hopes by many priests and laypeople turns out to be an avalanche of improvisation of creativity and a liturgical desolation instead of the renewal of the Church and the ecclesial life,” he lamented.
He looked beyond Africa, saying: “We are witnessing today, especially in the West, a dismantling of the values of faith and piety that have been handed down to us and instead of a frequent renewal of the liturgy, we are witnessing a destruction of the forms of the Mass.”
“Let us pray, dear brothers and sisters, that we may rediscover the Trinitarian origin of the liturgy,” the 78-year-old cardinal said.
He went on to laud the five-day Congress of African Liturgists as “historic” and an important milestone for the future of the people of God on the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent.
“This meeting is historic and of vital importance for the future of the Church of Jesus Christ in Africa, because the liturgy is vital to the Christian religion, and these liturgical specialists are here not just as experts but under the watchful eye of God, they want to help us to live our faith and our Christian religion to the full,” Sarah said.
He added: “Sixty years after the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, African liturgists are organizing this first international congress of African liturgists to compare their thoughts on liturgical practice and the fidelity of African communities to the Christian tradition and the authentic values of African cultures.”
The cardinal went on to highlight three things he said are “needed to make up a religion: first, beliefs; second, rules for living; and third, rites of worship.”
“When beliefs reach a stage of high perfection, they become dogmas or truths of faith,” he explained. “When the rules of life are precise and just, they constitute a divine law, and when the rites are fixed and defined, they are not subject to improvisation, creativity or the imagination of the priests; they form a liturgy.”
“Every religion must be judged by these things: its morality and its liturgy. In this threefold respect, the Christian religion fears no comparison; it is far superior to all the others,” he said.
Posted on 12/10/2023 09:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
Detroit, Mich., Dec 10, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
Nicholas Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota Sioux warrior, visionary, and Catholic catechist, is known worldwide but has been misunderstood for decades, according to two Jesuit priests who have emphasized Black Elk’s enduring Catholic faith as his canonization process unfolds.
First published in 1932, the book “Black Elk Speaks” became especially popular in the 1960s counterculture when many Americans and Europeans were searching for spirituality distinct from Christianity. The acclaimed book is based on conversations the Sioux holy man had with Nebraska poet John Neihardt. Black Elk (1865–1950) spoke in Lakota and was translated by his son, Ben Black Elk, whose words were recorded in shorthand. The book has appeared in several editions for decades to acclaim.
However, it has been criticized by the Lakota as well as by scholars.
Indiana University professor Raymond DeMaille, for example, questioned Neihardt’s faithfulness to Black Elk’s words. Later, Nebraska University Press addressed the controversy by publishing an edition titled “Black Elk Speaks: as told through John G. Neihardt (aka ‘Flaming Rainbow’).”
Father Michael Steltenkamp, SJ, an anthropologist and parish priest, has written several books and journal articles about Black Elk and has prepared biographical materials for the canonization process. For Steltenkamp, Nicholas Black Elk is a model for American Catholics.
Steltenkamp told CNA that “Black Elk Speaks” really only chronicled the first 25 years or so of Black Elk’s long, momentous life. Referring to its author, Steltenkamp said: “Neihardt reports that Black Elk was born in the Moon of the Topping Trees (December). In fact, Black Elk was born in the summertime, but he used Dec. 6 as his birthdate because that was the day he was baptized” in 1904.
“In his words, not mine, not some fundamentalist’s words,” Steltenkamp said, “he was born again.”
Dec. 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas and was thus the name Black Elk took as he began a new life, Steltenkamp said.
A series of visions
Black Elk was born on the plains of Wyoming and from an early age had mysterious visions that garnered respect among Lakota medicine men and tribal healers. Hardly more than a boy, and before his conversion, he participated in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, where he scalped a soldier. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men were killed there in 1876. Black Elk’s cousin, Crazy Horse, was the famed Lakota war chief there.
The 1870s saw the influx of white settlers on the Great Plains and the extermination of millions of bison, which was met with armed resistance by Native Americans. The U.S. Army fought the Sioux and other native peoples who were gradually worn down by the war; forced into reservations; died of exposure, starvation, and disease; and made dependent on government handouts.
But there was interest in the eastern United States and Europe in the vanishing Native Americans.
Black Elk joined William Cody’s tour of Europe as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and even gave a command performance for Queen Victoria as part of her 1887 golden jubilee. The monarch solemnly bowed to the Native Americans in a sign of respect shown only to fellow rulers, Steltenkamp said. Black Elk visited European cathedrals where white men worshipped. He understood that not all whites were evil.
“He had a much more ecumenical, rather than a tribalistic, or parochial, Christian vision,” Steltenkamp said. “He was universal in his preaching. He was Christ-like.”
The crisis for Native Americans on the plains produced a spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance and swept through the West in the late 1880s, giving them hope that whites would leave, the bison herds would return, and the old way of life would be renewed by an awaited savior. But the army feared the Ghost Dance would embolden Native American resistance.
Black Elk had a series of visions during a dance — more than a decade before his conversion — in which he saw a man “with wounds in the palms of his hands.” He said: “Once more, I saw the sacred tree all full of leaves and blooming. Against the tree was a man standing with arms held wide in front of him. I looked hard at him and could not tell what people he came from. He was not ‘wasi’chu’ [non-Indian] and he was not Indian. His hair was long and hanging loose… his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light… He spoke like singing: ‘My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me. Your father the Great Spirit has said this. And you too must say this.’”
Steltenkamp said: “He sees this figure calling all people to the flowering tree of ‘Wakan Tanka’ (‘Great Spirit’). That is the resurrected Jesus. He saw all humanity under a flowering tree and the flowering tree as a symbol of the Christian life of all people. I am quoting his daughter, Lucy, on that.”
Serving his people as a healer and holy man, Black Elk rescued the wounded at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, where the army tried to disarm the Lakota, and killed at least 300 — including women and children — on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Native American resistance was effectively at an end. Red Cloud, a Lakota leader, convinced Black Elk to stop fighting and stay at the reservation.
Red Cloud later invited Jesuit missionaries to the Pine Ridge Reservation because of his trust in the Jesuit priests, whom the Lakota called “black robes.” At his request, a Catholic school, which is still in operation, was established there.
As for Black Elk, he married Katie War Bonnet, a convert, in 1892, and their three children were baptized Catholics. In 1903, Katie died. Two years later, after his own conversion, Black Elk married Anna Brings White, who was also Catholic. Among their children was Lucy, who befriended Steltenkamp in the 1970s. Their relationship grew so close in the 1970s that she called Steltenkamp “grandson.”
Black Elk’s Catholicism
Steltenkamp said Black Elk’s Catholic faith only grew after his baptism. He became a catechist at the Pine Ridge Reservation, taking on for nearly 50 years duties resembling those of modern permanent deacons. He preached the Gospel, taught the basics of the faith, and baptized the dying. Steltenkamp said that Black Elk was “really committed to this 24-hours-a-day ministry: a vocation.”
In a 2013 article in U.S. Catholic Historian, Steltenkamp wrote that the “Encyclopedia of Indians” described Black Elk’s Catholicism as calculated in order to “appease his oppressors.” But according to Steltenkamp, Black Elk’s nephew, Pat Red Elk, said that whoever described Black Elk this way “sure didn’t know Uncle Nick.”
Father Joseph Daoust, SJ, who serves at Pine Ridge, said of Black Elk: “He wanted to help his people get the faith which had helped him. He was a man of hope in very difficult times. These were prisoner of war camps and they were deprived of the means of taking care of themselves.”
“Black Elk had credibility,” Daoust continued. “He was used as a missionary even in Wyoming to reservations where they don’t speak Lakota. He didn’t know Arapaho or Shoshone. But he was considered a holy man by them.”
“The memory of him as an old man was of seeing him every Sunday walk from the general store to St. Agnes Church in Manderson, South Dakota, on the reservation, with his friend John Lone Goose. Black Elk began praying the rosary, ‘Hail Mary full of grace,’ and John responded, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God,’ and they would finish the rosary by the time they reached the church. They would remember Black Elk always had a rosary in hand,” Steltenkamp said.
Another example of his devotion, Steltenkamp said, was that despite advanced age and arthritis, Black Elk would always insist on receiving the Eucharist on his knees at the altar rail, getting help from family to genuflect. During an annual retreat for catechists during Holy Week in 1923, Black Elk approached a Jesuit priest with a “very worthy resolution: ‘We catechists resolve never to commit a mortal sin.’”
In a video documentary titled “Walking the Good Red Road,” sponsored by the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, Steltenkamp said: “I can see why Black Elk and the Jesuits got along. Because part of the mystical tradition of the Jesuits is to find God in all things. How do you find God in the midst of tragedy and tears or loss? You have to seek God in that.”
The Jesuits developed a unique catechism for use among the illiterate on the American Plains. In the video, Steltenkamp described the “Two Roads Map”: a chart with colorful depictions of the Old Testament and the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. A black road lead to perdition, while a red road lead through the Church to salvation.
”Black Elk used the Two Roads Map for 30 years and taught many generations of kids and older people what Christians call salvation history … He said, ‘I saw my vocation as leading my people from the Black Road to the Red Road,’” Steltenkamp said.
“It’s a lot of hogwash that Black Elk didn’t live his faith sincerely. His daughter wanted to make it clear that Neihardt’s depiction of him as a 19th-century figure did an injustice to his life as a whole,” Steltenkamp emphasized.
In an interview with CNA, Daoust said Black Elk is recognized among the people of Pine Ridge as a holy man in both the Lakota and Catholic senses.
“We didn’t run into any opposition to canonizing him, especially among his relatives,” Daoust said, adding that a commemorative Mass is said every year at the church in Pine Ridge on Aug. 17, Black Elk’s death date.
“There are some descendants who are not Catholic, but not anti-Catholic, but who believe the Church was part of colonization, who say this is an honor, and ‘go ahead and do it to my grandpa,’” Daoust said.
“His process of conversion was gradual,” Daoust said, adding that not “everything before his conversion was holy. Catholics should know he was a faithful Catholic, a missionary Catholic, somebody who went to reservations with the Jesuits and spoke very well of Jesus Christ and the faith.”
“He was a great model of being both Catholic and Lakota,” Daoust said, noting that Black Elk continued some Lakota practices that are not at odds with Catholic teaching. As for any lingering doubts about Black Elk’s Catholic identity, Daoust pointed out that even St. Ignatius Loyola — founder of the Jesuits — was a soldier who defended his country from outsiders.
Steltenkamp said that Nicholas Black Elk is now honored as a Servant of God and the cause for his canonization is now before the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican.
Posted on 12/10/2023 08:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
St. Paul, Minn., Dec 10, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).
Pointing toward the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Saint Benedict Monastery cemetery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, 61-year-old Patrick Norton recounts the day 13 years ago when he was painting light posts in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother and encountered who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas, OSB.
Zervas, a Benedictine sister, died in 1926 at the age of 26 of a debilitating skin disease.
Norton, who was plucked from the streets of Bombay as a child by Mother Teresa and later adopted by an American family, had been hired by the College of Saint Benedict on Oct. 27, 2010, to do some painting. He told CNA that while finishing up the last light post in front of the grotto he thought to himself, “I wonder if the Blessed Mother thinks I am doing a good job?” When he looked down, there was a nun in full Benedictine habit.
“‘You are doing a good job,’ she told me. We talked a little, but I don’t remember what it was about. Then I watched as she disappeared,” he told CNA.
The encounter was so astonishing that Norton kept it to himself for a year. But in a chance conversation, he was told “there is a holy nun buried in that cemetery” and he came to learn it was Zervas. Eventually, he saw a picture of her and was certain that she was the one who had appeared to him.
An elderly religious sister at Saint Benedict Monastery — who also happened to be named Sister Annella — shared with Norton pictures of Zervas and a booklet about the young sister’s life called “Apostles of Suffering in Our Day” by Benedictine priest Joseph Kreuter, published in 1929.
“Why isn’t she a saint yet?’ Norton asked.
“Oh, I’m in my 80s and I’m the only one promoting her cause,” she replied.
“Sister, why can’t I help you out?” he replied.
Norton said she just looked at him. “I didn’t have any experience but felt compassion for her, and also, I did see Sister Annella, so I felt I had to promote her cause.”
He read in the booklet that Zervas entered the convent at age 15 and died from a painful, unsightly, and odiferous skin disease at age 26. She was also subjected to attacks from the devil and from a heartburn that made it hard to keep food down. At the time of her death, she weighed only 40 pounds. Yet, she asked God to allow her even more suffering and for the strength to bear it so she could offer it up for the Church.
Every week, Norton made 10 copies of the booklet to pass out. “I went to Sister Annella’s grave and told her, ‘If I am going to make more books, I need money.’”
A short time later he had a conversation with someone he had just met and told about Zervas. “How can I help?” the person asked him.
“Can you help me make 20 books a week instead of just 10?”
“How about 20,000?” the donor, who wanted to remain anonymous, replied.
The number of books Norton has now distributed is about 100,000. It was also previously published in French and Sri Lanken.
Another good Samaritan arranged for Norton to be interviewed for a video called “The Sanctity of Two Hearts.”
A friend of Norton’s located Joanne Zervas, a niece of Sister Annella’s, and Norton met with her. She gave him many of her aunt’s personal effects for safekeeping, including family letters, a silver spoon used to give holy Communion when Zervas was incapacitated, her rosary, a book stained with what is believed to be her blood, and candles that burned in her room when she died.
Word spread about the sister and there were reports of answered prayers through her intercession. Yet, it seemed unlikely that a cause for her canonization would open.
Norton recounted that Bishop Donald Joseph Kettler of the Diocese of St. Cloud encouraged him to keep telling his story but declined to take further steps in order to respect the wishes of the Benedictine sisters who were not interested in opening a cause for Zervas.
In a SC Times article in 2017, a spokesperson for the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, said it was not the Benedictine way to promote one sister above another as it would “be contrary to humility.” A spokesperson from the diocese said that without their support, there would be no cause.
But Norton and a small group that had formed to pray that her cause be opened met monthly at the cemetery and kept praying.
After years of disappointment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis informed Norton that he was appealing to the wrong diocese. Zervas had died in her parents’ home in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is in the Crookston Diocese. But again, there was no interest in opening a cause there.
“I went through darkness,” Norton admitted. “I would say, ‘Really Lord, are you hearing me?’ One day I said, ‘I’m not getting any younger you know.’”
Norton questioned if he was even the right person to promote Zervas. “I’m not a doctor or a lawyer; I’m just a painter,” he said. But he had told the Lord: “Let me live each day for you, and I will tell people about her through my nothingness.”
Then in 2021, Bishop Andrew Cozzens was appointed to the Diocese of Crookston. Norton heard that Cozzens had known about Zervas since he was a boy. Then on Oct. 15 Norton heard — through a letter from the bishop that was read at the cemetery to the prayer group — that initial steps are being put in place by the diocese to begin an investigation into Zervas’ life, which will make it possible for a cause to be opened.
Norton has now been promoting Zervas’ story for more than a decade.
“I couldn’t fall asleep that night,” Norton told CNA. “I was overwhelmed. The first thing I did was to thank Our Lord and Our Lady. Before going to bed, every night, I always kiss the cheek of Our Lady of Fátima statue [in his home] and say, ‘Good night, Mother.’ And I kiss the feet of Our Lord on a big crucifix from a monastery in Spain and say, ‘You are my Lord and my God. There is no other God, and I love you.’”
“Even before Sister Annella appeared to me, every Mother’s Day, I brought roses to the grotto and would tell [Mary], ‘You are the best Ma in the whole world. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.’ I’d sit there and look at the big crucifix and pray the rosary.”
Norton said he is at peace with his efforts over the years to make Zervas’ life and holiness known. “Since the diocese is taking over, I’m going to just be silent and do my best to live in humility and pray,” he said. “I will pray a lot and thank the Lord for the work he is doing.”
Posted on 12/9/2023 20:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 9, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).
The Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene earlier this evening, paying special tribute to the origins of the beloved tradition on its 800th anniversary.
The scene in St. Peter’s Square depicts not only Mary and Joseph standing beside the manger but also St. Francis of Assisi, who organized the first Nativity scene in a cave in the Italian village of Greccio on Christmas Eve in 1223.
Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, the president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, presided over the Dec. 9 inauguration ceremony. Over a thousand people gathered in the square for the event, which included moments of catechesis, an explanation of how the scene was put together, and the signing of seasonal hymns.
The Vatican’s Greccio-inspired Nativity scene does not include live animals and people as St. Francis’ original did, but it does feature life-sized terracotta figures, crafted by renowned Neapolitan sculptor Antonio Cantone.
At the center of the scene is the now-empty manger, where a figure of the newborn savior will be placed on Christmas Eve. On one side of manger, Mary kneels, flanked by Joseph, while on the other side, St. Francis of Assisi stands in a pose of wonder.
In addition to Mary, Joseph, St. Francis, and the traditional ox and donkey, the 13th-century mayor of Greccio who helped organize the first Nativity scene, Giovanni Velita, is featured in statue form, along with his wife, Alticama.
Three Franciscan friars, whom St. Francis had tasked with setting up the first Nativity scene as a place where local faithful could come and contemplate the poverty of the incarnate Lord, are also depicted.
The backdrop of the scene is a replica of the fresco that decorates the Chapel of the Nativity in Greccio, which is built into the grotto where St. Francis set up the first Nativity scene. On one half of the fresco, he kneels in adoration of the Christ child; on the other side, Mary feeds the newborn savior while Joseph, the ox, and the donkey look on.
Underneath the fresco, a Franciscan friar is depicted celebrating Mass in the grotto. The friar elevates the body of Christ directly behind the manger.
In another fitting tribute to the Nativity scene’s origins, this year’s Vatican display was provided by the Diocese of Rieti, which is where Greccio is located.
The Vatican’s Christmas tree was also lit at the Dec. 9 ceremony. The tree, an 80-foot-tall fir, had been donated by the Italian community of Macra, located in the northwest of Italy. The tree was adorned with edelweiss flowers that are native to the Alpine region. Upon lighting, it glowed with ever-changing patterns of green, blue, and red.
After the tree’s use in St. Peter’s Square, its wood will be used to make toys for children in need.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis spoke to delegations of the two communities that had donated the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree. The pope said that meditating in front of any Nativity scene should “awaken in us the nostalgia for silence and prayer, in our often-so-hectic daily life.”
The pope also said that the Vatican Nativity scene’s connection to Greccio should in turn prompt people to think and pray for the inhabitants of the Holy Land amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, especially children and their parents affected by the conflict.
“These are the ones who pay the real price of war,” Pope Francis said.
Both the Nativity scene and the tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 7, 2024.
Posted on 12/9/2023 12:26 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 10:26 am (CNA).
Pope Francis has appointed a priest born and ordained in Brazil to serve as the next auxiliary bishop of Boston, the Vatican announced on Saturday.
Father Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa, 47, will join Cardinal Seán O’Malley and four other auxiliaries as bishops of the archdiocese, a territory that includes nearly 1.8 million Catholics.
The Boston metropolitan area is also home to a significant Brazilian population — nearly 64,000 people, according to census figures from 2014. Barbosa was chaplain of the archdiocese’s Brazilian-Portuguese community from 2008–2019.
Currently, Barbosa is the episcopal vicar of the archdiocese’s central region and also serves as the archdiocesan secretary for evangelization and catechesis, roles he will continue in following his episcopal ordination.
O’Malley cited Barbosa’s experience with the local Brazilian community as well as his theological background and extensive parish experience as factors in the pope’s appointment.
“I am grateful to our Holy Father Pope Francis for blessing this archdiocese with the appointment of Bishop-elect Barbosa,” O’Malley said in a Dec. 9 statement provided by the Archdiocese of Boston. “He offers a shepherd’s heart and a wide range of experiences that have prepared him for this new role in the life of the Church.”
In the same statement, Barbosa said he was “humbled” by the “great confidence” shown by the Holy Father in naming him an auxiliary bishop. He also said that he is “happy if I can serve in love God and his people” and described the role of Church ministers as promoting “unity and peace.”
“I want to thank Cardinal Seán for his confidence and for his great love for the archdiocese and its people in all its cultural diversity,” Barbosa said.
Barbosa was born in Adamantina in the Diocese of Maríla, Brazil, on Oct. 11, 1976. He received his education in Brazil, including a master’s degree in psychology, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Bauru on Dec. 22, 2007.
The Brazilian native has served at parishes in Cambridge and Lowell. He earned a licentiate and doctorate in theology from Boston College and was a faculty member at the Pope John XIII National Seminary in Weston and St. John Seminary in Brighton from 2020 until earlier this year. Barbosa was incardinated into the archdiocese in 2021.
According to the archdiocese, Barbosa speaks Spanish in addition to English and Portuguese. Pope Francis has also assigned him to the titular see of Membressa.
Posted on 12/9/2023 11:50 AM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Dec 9, 2023 / 09:50 am (CNA).
Pope Francis said today that the Vatican’s Nativity scene this year should compel people to think of the Holy Land — both of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and also of the conflict currently engulfing the region.
“While we contemplate Jesus, God made man, small, poor, defenseless, we cannot help but think of the drama that the inhabitants of the Holy Land are experiencing, demonstrating to these brothers and sisters of ours, especially to children and their parents, our closeness and our spiritual support,” the pope said.
The pope made his remarks in a Saturday morning audience in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who had donated, respectively, the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene, or creche, that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. The unveiling of the Nativity scene and lighting of the Christmas tree are scheduled to take place this evening.
An annual custom, this year’s Vatican creche pays special tribute to the first known Nativity scene, which was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in the small Italian village of Greccio 800 years ago.
As the pope recounted during today’s audience, St. Francis had just returned from his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1223 and was struck by the similarity of Greccio’s caves to the landscape of Bethlehem. The connection prompted the saint to call together both friars and local men and women to replicate the scene of Christ’s birth.
In turn, this year’s Vatican Nativity scene should help people make the connection to the Holy Land, the pope said, especially to the plight of families caught in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“These are the ones who pay the real price of war,” the pope said, referring to the conflict that began on Oct. 7 and has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people and the displacement of over 2 million more.
The pope also said that reflecting in front of every Nativity scene should “awaken in us the nostalgia for silence and prayer, in our often so-hectic daily life.”
Silence, the pope continued, is the ability to “listen to what Jesus tells us from that singular ‘chair,’ which is the manger.”
Pope Francis pointed to Mary as the model of this kind of prayerful posture before the Nativity scene.
“She says nothing, but she contemplates and adores,” he said.
The pope also commented on this year’s Vatican Christmas tree. The fir tree has been decorated with edelweiss flowers grown in a nursery, as opposed to wild edelweiss flowers, which are legally protected in Italy.
“This too is a choice that makes us reflect, highlighting the importance of caring for our common home,” Pope Francis said. “Small gestures are essential in ecological conversion, gestures of respect and gratitude for God’s gifts.”
The community from Macra, located in the Alps in the far northwest of Italy, provided this year’s Christmas tree. The Nativity scene was donated by the Diocese of Rieti, which is located just north of Rome and is the home of Greccio.
Following this evening’s ceremony, the Nativity scene and Christmas tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 7, 2024.
🎥HIGHLIGHTS | Pope Francis received two delegations from the Municipality of Macra, in the Piedmont Region, and the central Italian Diocese of Rieti, that have gifted this year's Christmas tree and the Nativity Scene inaugurated today in St. Peter's Square. pic.twitter.com/QpwWubmT0d— EWTN Vatican (@EWTNVatican) December 9, 2023
Posted on 12/9/2023 11:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 9, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).
More people are traveling outside of their state to receive an abortion after more than 20 states enacted pro-life legislation amid the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, new data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute found.
The percentage of women traveling interstate to receive an abortion nearly doubled in the first six months of 2023 compared with 2020, according to estimates in the report. It estimates that the number of out-of-state abortions jumped from about 9% of all abortions to about 17% of all abortions. The total number of women receiving out-of-state abortions more than doubled from fewer than 41,000 to more than 90,000.
According to the report, the states with the highest uptick in out-of-state abortion seekers are bordering states that enacted new restrictions on abortion. This includes Florida, which has fewer restrictions than its neighbors Georgia and Alabama; New Mexico, which has fewer restrictions than neighbors Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma; and Kansas, which has fewer restrictions than all of its neighbors, apart from Colorado.
“We knew that more people have been traveling across state lines for abortion since the end of Roe, but these findings are stunning nonetheless and powerfully illustrate just how disruptive the overturning of Roe has been for tens of thousands of abortion patients,” Guttmacher Institute Data Scientist Isaac Maddow-Zimet said in a statement.
“Where people are traveling to get care is an important piece of the puzzle in untangling the post-Dobbs abortion landscape,” Maddow-Zimet, who led the project to produce the report, added. “We hope that this data can prove useful to providers, advocates, and policymakers who have been working tirelessly to improve access to abortion in the face of unprecedented challenges.”
Tessa Longbons, a senior research associate at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA that the report’s findings are “tragic, but unsurprising.”
“After the Dobbs decision, we’ve seen pro-abortion states become even more extreme in their marketing of abortion to women in pro-life states,” Longbons said. “Women deserve to know that there is a network of nearly 3,000 pregnancy centers across the country providing millions of dollars’ worth of services and resources for pregnant women in need. Rather than pushing abortion on demand, states should offer women and their babies real support and comprehensive care.”
The Guttmacher Institute produced these estimates from data samples they received from organizations that perform abortions.
In spite of the increase in out-of-state abortions, pro-life activists have noted that a recent increase in live births nationally shows that pro-life laws are having a positive effect in saving preborn children from abortions.
“Despite the efforts of pro-abortion states, the Institute of Labor Economics recently estimated that states with pro-life laws will welcome approximately 32,000 more babies annually,” Longbons said.
Posted on 12/9/2023 10:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).
Since Dec. 2, the faithful in Barranquilla, Colombia, have been able to visit the staging of “the largest Nativity scene in the world” where 90 actors interpret the moments before and after the birth of Jesus.
The Nativity scene is set up on an 18,000-square-meter park (about 4.5 acres) that in previous years has been installed in other Colombian cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. The initiative began in 2010, promoted by Colombian Fabián Rojas, manager of Nativity World, the company in charge of the tours billed “the largest Nativity scene in the world.”
The company’s website notes it has been recognized four times by Guinness World Records: for being “the largest Nativity scene in the world” and for the “greatest number of figures in a Nativity scene” (Colombia 2010-2011), as well as for the “greatest number of good wishes” written by attendees on a “wailing wall” and the “greatest number of human replicas that move in a Nativity scene” (Mexico 2011-2012).
Nativity World invites families to visit and “recapture the essence of Christmas in a place that gives us the opportunity to travel back in time, to experience a different Christmas for adults and children, interacting in an extraordinary way on the birthday of the baby Jesus, on a life-size scale, in this new century.”
To accomplish this, structures have been built that represent places such as St. Joseph’s carpenter shop, King Herod’s palace, and the manger where Christ was born, among other scenes.
This allows visitors to appreciate biblical passages such as the annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, Herod’s actions, the birth of Jesus, and the visit of the three Wise Men. Beginning Dec. 16, the traditional Christmas novena will be prayed with those attending.
“The largest Nativity scene in the world” will be in Barranquilla until Jan. 8.
This story was first publishedby ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
Posted on 12/9/2023 09:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
With Christmas quickly approaching, it’s time to find gifts for the little ones on your shopping list. Faith-based toys and gifts are quickly becoming more and more popular among Catholic families who wish to instill a love of the faith in their children starting from a young age.
We’ve compiled a list of small Catholic companies that offer a variety of faith-based items for young children on your Christmas list. Many of these offer gifts for older children and adults as well.
Be a Heart
Striving to offer “hope to the hopeless and bring light into the shadows,” Be a Heart designs products for all stages of life. The company started as a simple blog, but Erica Campbell, the company’s founder, says she felt called to design her own products.
Be a Heart offers a wide range of gifts for babies and kids including swaddles, pajamas, dolls, bibs, placemats, and more. The Nativity Wooden Puzzle is a perfect gift for a child who is learning his or her shapes. There are 14 wooden pieces that are thick enough that they can also stand on their own for multiple ways to play.
Shining Light Dolls
Shining Light Dolls was created to teach children Catholicism through proven play-based learning. One of the company’s most popular items are the plush dolls of several saints including St. Joseph, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Francis of Assisi, the archangels, St. Joan of Arc, and many more. These are the perfect gift for any boy or girl who loves to cuddle up with their favorite plush toy. The Catholic company also has books, puzzles, and wooden playsets.
Husband and wife Allan and Veronica Caballero created Theotokos Kids to help parents in their mission of being primary educators of the faith for their children. Their company offers children’s books on the lives of the saints as well as introductions to prayer, heaven, the Eucharist, and God’s love for us. Plus, Theotokos Kids offers books in Spanish for any bilingual families seeking faith-based items in Spanish. The available books tell the story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, Our Lady of Fátima, and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, among others.
Do you know someone who has a little one on the way or who has just given birth? The Chews Life silicone rosary teethers are the perfect gift. Inspired by St. Padre Pio’s words “The rosary is the weapon for these times,” Chews Life strives to equip even the youngest of Catholics with a rosary. Each silicone rosary is made with high-quality components, lab tested for safety, and CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) certified.
The Little Rose Shop
The “quiet books” from The Little Rose Shop introduce kids to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith in a captivating and interactive way. Through the flipping and pulling of moveable objects, children uncover hidden truths of the faith. There are three quiet books to choose from: “Where Is Jesus Quiet Book,” “Catholic Mass Quiet Book,” and “Rosary Quiet Book.” These are sure to keep little ones quietly entertained while fostering a deeper connection with the faith.
Gather and Pray
Inspired by the desire to pray the rosary as a family, Gather and Pray offers tools to aid families trying to pray together as a family with little ones. A rosary popper helps kids to keep their place while praying the rosary. Plus, the popper has the mysteries of the rosary printed directly on it. Gather and Pray also has decade rosary pop-it keychains, a wooden rosary board, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary pop-its, the sacraments pop-its, and much more.
Brick House in the City
A new item from Brick House in the City is bound to keep little ones entertained during Mass while still learning about the faith. The Catholic Mass Felt Book Kit includes 18 pieces that represent a part of the Mass. The compact and portable felt book has plenty of space for kids to place the items on. Some of the pieces you will find are a cross, candle, chalice, Bible, monstrance, Eucharist hosts, tabernacle, altar, stained-glass window, and more.
Posted on 12/9/2023 08:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).
Many are familiar with the story of St. Juan Diego, whose feast is celebrated on Dec. 9 in the worldwide Church. However, the story of the Franciscan friar who baptized this beloved saint is less well known.
In 1521, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes defeated the Aztec empire, tore down the pagan temples, and in their place built Catholic churches. Franciscans were the first missionaries to arrive in the region and began their work sharing the Gospel with the native people in 1524.
One of the first three Franciscan missionaries to arrive in Mexico was Brother Pedro de Gante, also known as Pieter van der Moere. Originally from Ghent, Flanders (present-day Belgium), Gante was trained in the choral style of the low countries — Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. He took this musical foundation to Mexico where he trained the Indigenous singers who worked at the cathedral in Mexico City.
Gante believed that education and religion should be natural parts to one’s everyday life. He studied the native language of the Indigenous people and was able to teach them in their own dialect as well as Spanish.
During this time, Juan Diego — who was a member of the Chichimecas but lived in the region that was part of a vast Aztec empire — and his wife began to attend Mass at the Church of St. Diego. In 1525, at the age of 50, he and his wife were baptized by Gante and took new names: Juan Diego and Maria Lucia. The two are considered one of the first native couples to be baptized in Mexico.
In 1526, Gante founded San José de los Naturales to teach Indigenous boys reading, writing, music, and the Catholic faith. The school also taught them Spanish artisanal skills, which led to many painters and sculptors helping adorn the many churches that were built.
The friar published “Christian Doctrine in the Mexican Language” in Nahuatl, the Aztec language in 1528.
Gante was never ordained a priest and remained a brother his entire life, dying on April 19, 1572, in Mexico City.