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USAID gives $900,000 to feed the hungry in Italy amid pandemic

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The United States’ international aid agency has given a $900,000 grant to a Catholic group to provide food to people suffering from hunger in Italy because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Catholic Sant’Egidio community said it had increased its food donation projects with the help of the USAID funding and in collaboration with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG).

Speaking at a video press conference Thursday, Mauro Garofalo, head of Sant’Egidio’s international relations, said: “In this period of health and social emergency, Sant’Egidio has increased its street service, the distribution of food to the homeless, the elderly and vulnerable families.” 

“The pandemic has had serious consequences on the Italian social and economic fabric,” he said, noting that, thanks to the contribution of USAID, Sant’Egidio has been able to double the number of meals it serves in its soup kitchens and the number of take-away meals it hands out.

“In addition, thousands of families were reached every month with the distribution of food parcels in a dozen neighborhoods in the Roman suburbs and in 25 cities in 15 Italian regions,” Garofalo said. 

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich also spoke at the press conference. She highlighted the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the world, observing that in Italy more than 1.6 million people have been infected and 50,000 people have died.

“The United States and Italy enjoy a strong and friendly relationship, enriched by our shared history, values, and culture,” she said.

Gingrich said that the U.S. was honored to give the grant “to provide critical humanitarian assistance to those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy.”

The ambassador said that the project, which began in July, had been able to provide clothing and personal protection equipment to the homeless, the elderly, and other at-risk people.

“They have also provided counseling services and virtual medical assessments,” she said.

Garofalo added: “COVID-19 has highlighted the centrality of proximity and solidarity networks, which are even more essential today to combat the loneliness and isolation of many people.” 

He said that the widespread presence of Sant’Egidio in Italy had allowed the group to respond quickly to increased needs. 

Sr. Patricia Murray, IBVM, the executive secretary of the UISG, said she had been “very touched by the testimony of so many elderly nuns, whose lives have been completely changed by COVID-19.”

“They don’t live in a protected situation, but they share the same fears and anxieties as everyone,” she said. “They draw on their deep faith in Christ and depend on the generosity of others to help the poor personally and as a community.”

“I express deep gratitude to those who have worked to support our congregations and ensure that our convents are safe places at this time, especially for those who are elderly and frail.” 

New Vatican guide for bishops addresses common challenges to Christian unity

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2020 / 09:40 am (CNA).- The Vatican published Friday a guide with suggestions for Catholic bishops to promote unity with other Christian communities, offering practical advice for how to overcome common challenges to ecumenism.

The 26-page “ecumenical vademecum” was approved by Pope Francis and issued Dec. 4 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The document emphasizes the responsibility of diocesan bishops to promote unity among Christians within their jurisdiction and gives practical suggestions for how this can be achieved.

The vademecum recalls that ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious dialogue have different aims. Dialogue with different religious traditions aims at establishing “good relations and cooperation,” but dialogue with different Christian communities “aims at restoring the unity Christ willed for his Church,” it says.

The guide also addresses questions such as marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian, “communicatio in sacris,” and the use of Catholic church property by other Christian communities.

“Communicatio in sacris” means to participate in Holy Communion with a church or Christian community outside one’s own tradition. The document restates Church law, which says that a Catholic bishop may allow a non-Catholic Christian to receive the Eucharist in “exceptional” cases, such as danger of death or “grave necessity,” provided that the person shares the Catholic belief in the Eucharist.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in a press conference Dec. 4 that “the Catholic Church holds that Eucharistic communion has as a prerequisite ecclesial communion.” 

This is why, he said, canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law -- which indicates the conditions under which a Christian not in full communion with the Catholic Church may receive Holy Communion from a Catholic minister -- states that the person must “manifest Catholic faith” in the Eucharist and be properly disposed.

The vademecum notes that a bishop’s judgment about what constitutes a “grave necessity” and “when exceptional sacramental sharing is appropriate” always requires “pastoral discernment,” because it has to do with “the care and the salvation of souls.”

“Sacraments may never be shared out of mere politeness. Prudence must be exercised to avoid causing confusion or giving scandal to the faithful,” the document says.

Cardinal Koch said it was his opinion that the issue of whether there is valid ordination in Christian communities outside the Catholic Church is “the biggest obstacle” to resolving the theological question of intercommunion. 

He cited, for example, the fact that the Anglican community has allowed the ordination of women as priests and bishops, which the Catholic Church cannot accept.

“We must work on this situation very hard in the future, but we have not resolved this situation today,” he said.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, also said that the problem of episcopal ordination was “fundamental, and so it is at the core of ecumenical dialogue.”

Another place where the guide addresses giving scandal is in the use of a Catholic church by another Christian community. The bishop may offer that possibility if the need arises, but he must discern that it “will not cause scandal or confusion to the faithful,” the vademecum says.

In January of this year, a controversy erupted over a Virginia bishop’s decision to allow an Episcopalian diocese to use a Catholic parish for the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop, Susan Haynes.

Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic diocese of Richmond defended the decision to allow the Episcopalian Diocese of Southern Virginia to use St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg, citing Vatican II documents on ecumenism. But the location of the event was changed after an internet petition objecting to the event drew national attention. 

The new document may help bishops navigate situations like this in the future.

The guide for bishops also addresses what it calls “interchurch marriages,” when a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian marry. It says these marriages “should not be regarded as problems for they are often a privileged place where the unity of Christians is built. However, pastors cannot be indifferent to the pain of Christian division which is experienced in the context of these families, perhaps more sharply than in any other context.”

The document recommends that bishops meet with and listen to interchurch families in their dioceses, especially during marriage preparation and as couples have children and prepare them to receive the sacraments.

Koch said that the idea for the vademecum came about during the pontifical council’s 2016 plenary meeting, attended by bishops from around the world. He explained that some members of the council asked for a practical document for bishops to learn from and reference on the topic of ecumenism. The guide then took three years to write, in consultation with other curial departments.

“The ministry of the bishop is the ministry for unity,” the cardinal said. “Not just for his own diocese or for the Catholic Church, but unity for the whole of Christians.”

The new document also notes the obligation of lay Catholics to work for unity with other Christians and promotes “practical ecumenism,” which it describes as Christians serving together to promote a common cause or to address injustices, such as human trafficking, mistreatment of immigrants, and attacks on the sanctity of life, among other issues.

“The experience of bishops in many parts of the world is that cooperation between Christian communities in service of the poor is a driving force in promoting the desire for Christian unity,” it says.

“Our common service manifests before the world, therefore, our shared faith, and our witness is more powerful for being united.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, emphasized the importance of Christians being united in order to give authentic witness to people of other religions.

“Lack of unity among followers of Jesus … undermines evangelization and obscures the person of Jesus. The non-Christians are confused: ‘How many Christs are there?’” he said in the press conference.

“The non-Christians are scandalized, really scandalized, when we all claim to be followers of Christ and they see how we are fighting one another,” he continued. “It weakens -- the lack of unity and even this almost outright anger toward one another -- it weakens evangelization.”

The vademecum stresses “the long history of Christian divisions and the complex nature of the theological and cultural factors that divide Christian communities” and the challenges they present to those engaged in ecumenism, noting that “the obstacles to unity are beyond human strength; they cannot be overcome by our efforts alone.”

“But the death and resurrection of Christ is God’s decisive victory over sin and division, just as it is His victory over injustice and every form of evil. For this reason Christians cannot despair in the face of Christian division, just as they cannot despair in the face of injustice or warfare. Christ has already defeated these evils,” it says.

“The task of the Church,” it continues, “is always to receive the grace of the victory of Christ. The practical recommendation and initiatives suggested in this vademecum are ways in which the Church and, in particular, the bishop can strive to actualise Christ’s victory over Christian division.”

The document highlights prayer, noting that by “praying for unity, we acknowledge that unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something we can achieve through our own efforts.” It also lays out some of the common beliefs among different Christian communities, such as in the saints and martyrs, liturgical feasts, and Sacred Scripture.

It also explains that ecumenism is not based on compromise, “as if unity should be achieved at the expense of truth. On the contrary, the search for unity leads us into a fuller appreciation of God’s revealed truth.”

“The bedrock of ecumenical formation, therefore, is that ‘the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand,’” it states.

Ecumenism also requires the virtue of charity, the guide says, urging Catholics to “avoid polemical presentations of Christian history and theology” and to “seek to emphasize the Christian faith that we share with others and to present the theological differences that divide us with balance and accuracy.”

The guide ends with an appendix of the names and descriptions of different Christian communities with which the Catholic Church conducts bilateral dialogue, as well as a list of the ecumenical groups with which it engages in multilateral dialogue.

Notre-Dame choir to return to fire-damaged cathedral for Christmas concert

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Notre-Dame Cathedral choir will return to the damaged cathedral on Christmas Eve to perform a concert that will be broadcast live from Paris.

A year and a half after a fire burned through the spire and roof of Notre-Dame, reconstruction efforts continue on the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral. 

Nearly 200 tons of metal scaffolding on the roof of the cathedral, deformed by the heat of the fire, was successfully removed on Nov. 24 in what was considered a crucial step in ensuring its safe restoration.

The removal of the melted scaffolding on the cathedral’s roof was scheduled to begin in March but was repeatedly delayed due to France’s coronavirus measures.

This Christmas Eve concert will be the first time the choir has returned to the cathedral since the fire. Before April 2019, the choir performed around 60 concerts per year. 

Twenty singers, two soloists, and an organist will perform in an empty Notre-Dame Cathedral on Dec. 24. 

The cathedral’s 8,000 pipe Grand Organ is currently being restored, so a small organ will be brought into Notre-Dame for the Christmas concert.

The concert is only the third event to take place in the cathedral since April 2019. 

In June of that year, the archbishop celebrated Mass inside the cathedral attended by around 30 people wearing hard hats.

On Good Friday this year, Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris displayed the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns for veneration in a live broadcast during France’s coronavirus lockdown. 

The Archdiocese of Paris has created a multidisciplinary team, led by Fr. Gilles Drouin, to oversee the cathedral’s development in a way that will lead future visitors to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the cathedral.

“The project we are building for Notre-Dame must continue this history and make intelligible for our century the faith that led to the building of this masterpiece,” Aupetit said.

“Open to all, according to the correct understanding of the word Catholic, the cathedral has been, and will remain, constant in its raison d’être for eight centuries: the celebration of the Christian mystery.”

Benedict XVI has not lost his voice, says Archbishop Gänswein

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2020 / 07:05 am (CNA).- Archbishop Georg Gänswein has denied media reports that Benedict XVI has lost his voice.

The Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress reported Dec. 4 that Benedict XVI’s personal secretary had confirmed that the 93-year-old pope emeritus was still able to speak clearly.

Reports had circulated in the Italian press and on social media suggesting that the German theologian, who served as pope from 2005 to 2013, was no longer able to speak.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, said that Gänswein told Kathpress that Benedict’s voice had, however, become “very weak and thin.”

The reports emerged after the pope emeritus met with new cardinals at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, his Vatican residence, on Nov. 28. Benedict had addressed words of encouragement to the cardinals using a microphone.

In August, German media reported that he was suffering from facial erysipelas, or facial shingles, a bacterial infection of the skin which causes a painful, red rash. 

Reports said that he had developed the condition following a farewell visit to his older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, in Bavaria in June. His brother died July 1 at the age of 96. 

But the Vatican said that Benedict’s condition was not serious, though he was suffering from a painful disease.

The Vatican press office quoted Gänswein as saying that “the health conditions of the pope emeritus are not of particular concern, except for those of a 93-year-old who is going through the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, disease.”

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast at age of 76

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis accepted Friday the resignation of 76-year-old Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. 

The pope confirmed Dec. 4 that Archbishop Marcel Damphousse, 57, would succeed Prendergast as Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall, an archdiocese in Ontario formed in May this year.

Prendergast submitted his resignation in 2019, when he turned 75. Pope Francis accepted his retirement notice “nunc pro tunc” (now but to take effect later), allowing him to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination at a Mass on Dec. 3.

“I am honored to have served as leader of the Archdioceses of Ottawa and Ottawa-Cornwall for 13 years,” Prendergast said, according to the website of his archdiocese.

“This large and generous community of faithful Catholics will continue to encourage me in my faith journey.”

Prendergast, a native of Montreal, was born on Feb. 19, 1944. He began his Jesuit novitiate in 1961 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1972.  

From 1992 to 1994, he served as executive secretary of the Vatican’s Apostolic Visitation of Canadian seminaries (English sector). 

In 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed him as an auxiliary bishop of Toronto.

He was named archbishop of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1998. Four years later, he was also appointed as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Yarmouth. 

Pope Benedict XVI chose Prendergast as archbishop of Ottawa in 2007. The archbishop also served as the Canadian member of Vox Clara, a committee advising the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship of the English translation of liturgical texts.

In 2016, Prendergast was also asked to serve as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in Ontario. Pope Francis formally merged Prendergast’s two dioceses on May 6, 2020, forming the archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, which covers 2,247 square miles and is based in the Canadian capital. 

As recently as last Sunday, the pope entrusted Prendergast with new responsibilities, appointing him apostolic administrator of the troubled diocese of Hearst-Moosonee in Northern Ontario.

Archbishop Prendergast will continue as Apostolic Administrator of Hearst-Moosonee.

He was born March 19, 1963, in Saint Joseph, Manitoba, and ordained a priest in 1991 for the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface.

Benedict XVI named him bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall in 2012. Three years later, Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Sault Ste. Marie.

On May 6 this year, the pope announced that Damphousse would serve as coadjutor archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall, alongside Prendergast.

Damphousse’s inaugural Mass will take place on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass will be livestreamed due to coronavirus restrictions.

A tribute to Prendergast on Ottawa-Cornwall archdiocese’s website said: “Archbishop Prendergast leaves a considerable legacy of accomplishments in the archdiocese. He is a staunch supporter of the pro-life movement, publicly opposing euthanasia and defending the life of the unborn.”

“He has made the Church present to people at public events, greeting parishioners after every Mass and appearing at conferences locally and across the country. He encouraged Communion and Liberation to institute the Way of the Cross on Good Friday in the streets of Ottawa, as they had in Halifax.” 

“He was a columnist in the Catholic Register, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Ottawa Sun. He pioneered social media -- blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and has appeared on YouTube -- to reach a new generation.”


Editor's note, 2020 Dec. 4 10:53 am: An earlier version of this story indicated that Archbishop Damphousse would also succeed Archbishop Prendergast as Apostolic Administrator of Hearst-Moosonee. It has been corrected.