Commentary: Ecclesial deja vu all over again

Greg Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, writes the CNS column “Amid the Fray.” (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

By Greg Erlandson 
Catholic News Service

After a surprise derailment by the Vatican of a long-awaited vote of the U.S. bishops, tempers were frayed.

“I feel frustrated,” said one powerful cardinal.

An influential archbishop added, “The thinking came a little late. … It makes it a little awkward for us.”

If you think this is a report on the recent meeting of U.S. bishops and the surprising news that the Vatican had nixed a vote on controversial proposals to hold bishops accountable for sins of omission and commission regarding sex abuse, you would be wrong.

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Posted in U.S.

Prayer is a constant learning experience, pope says

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Junno Arocho Esteves 
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Jesus’ way of praying to his father throughout his life is a reminder for Christians that prayer is more than asking God for something but is a way of establishing an intimate relationship with him, Pope Francis said.

Prayer is a longing within one’s soul that is “perhaps one of the most profound mysteries of the universe,” the pope said Dec. 5 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.

“Even if we have perhaps been praying for so many years, we must always learn!” he said.

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Posted in Vatican

Pope expresses condolences for death of former President Bush

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush stand at the flag-draped casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state inside the U.S. Capitol rotunda Dec. 4 in Washington. George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died in his Houston home Nov. 30 at age 94. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

By Carol Glatz 
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis expressed his condolences for the death of the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a telegram to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, telling him the pope was “saddened to learn of the death” of the former president.

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Posted in U.S., Vatican

Special delivery: Vatican Christmas stamps feature inmate’s art

Prison inmate Marcello D’Agata paints an image of the Annunciation for use as one of the Vatican’s 2018 Christmas stamps, at the Opera prison in Milan in this undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy of Danilo Bogoni)

By Junno Arocho Esteves 
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As the Christmas season draws near, the Vatican postal service prepared a unique set of commemorative stamps designed by a talented, yet unlikely, artist: a prisoner serving a life sentence.

The Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office announced Oct. 30 that its 2018 Christmas stamps will feature images of the Annunciation and of Mary holding baby Jesus painted by Marcello D’Agata, an inmate at Milan’s Opera prison.

A brochure for the stamps from the Vatican post office said that choosing artwork painted by a prison inmate was a response to Pope Francis’ call for compassion toward the imprisoned and for efforts to help them see that prison is not just the end of a life of crime but the beginning of a new life.

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Posted in Vatican

Women religious open Christmas season with German Catholic tradition

Elizabeth Christmas, a student at Ferdinand Elementary School, participates in the opening celebration of Christkindlmarkt held at Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind., Nov 16. The celebration is intended to recall the town’s German heritage. (CNS photo/Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter 
Catholic News Service

FERDINAND, Ind. (CNS) — The sights and sounds of Christmas brightened the massive dome of the Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand as six Sisters of St. Benedict rang out “Silent Night” on hand bells.

The gentle chimes of the season soothed the hundreds of people who gathered at the foot of the Ferdinand monastery during the cold Nov. 16 night, while the German tradition launched the Christmas season in the Indiana hamlet.

The Benedictines were heralding the opening of the town’s Christkindlmarkt, a weekend of vendors, concerts and Christmas cheer. The sisters have bolstered Ferdinand’s tradition since the festivities began two decades ago.

“It’s a town celebration and the sisters are very much an integral part of the town of Ferdinand,” said Sister Rose Wildeman, the monastery coordinator and director of the hand-bell choir.

About 10,000 people — more than four times the number of Ferdinand residents — amassed into the small town for its Christkindlmarkt held Nov. 16-18.

The monastery — its arched windows, turrets and towers seeming to come straight out of medieval Europe — provided an appropriate backdrop for the weekend.

Ferdinand city officials founded Christkindlmarkt with the intent of transporting attendees to Old World Germany. The event mimics a celebration by the same name held in Nuremberg, Germany, since the 16th century.

“Ferdinand has so many German characteristics about it. It looks like little Bavaria as you come in over the hills,” said Diane Hoppenjans, the executive director of Ferdinand Tourism and founder of the celebration.

“You see the church steeple in the center of the town and the village is kind of gathered around it and this huge beautiful monastery,” Hoppenjans told Catholic News Service.

The German Catholic community was founded in 1840 by Father Joseph Kundek, a missionary priest from Croatia. The Benedictines, their founding community rooted in Eichstatt, Germany, arrived to teach the local children in 1867.

“I can’t imagine Ferdinand without (the monastery) and without the nuns’ influence,” Hoppenjans said.

“I think it’s because of the monastery that we were able to grow the way we did, the way the town did, and that also kind of kept us with that German tradition,” she said.

For Christkindlmarkt, the sisters supplied their event hall as one of six locations where vendors set up booths filled with crafts and other items. The nuns also offered tours of their monastery and sold baked goods, including German-inspired desserts like “kuchen,” which is a cinnamon or cranberry-topped cake, and springerle and almerle cookies.

“The springerle cookie is a traditional German cookie, it has a licorice flavor. We have molds that some of our sisters brought back in the 1920s,” said Sister Jean Marie Ballard, the quality assurance manager for the religious order’s bakery.

The evening of Nov. 16 — the Friday before the events officially began — the monastery also served as the focal point for Christkindlmarkt Eve. The highlight of the night, accented by the sisters’ hand bells and local choirs, is the moment that “Christkindl” emerged from the monastery’s doors.

Plainly translated “Christ Child” and, at one time, an imaginative portrayal of the Baby Jesus, the modern Christkindl is an angel who many European families still believe is the deliverer of gifts at Christmas.

Ferdinand’s Christkindl is a close replica of the angel that opens the Nuremberg celebration. Dressed in a white, gold-trimmed gown and portrayed by Ferdinand native Hillary Cremeens, the Christkindl emerged from the monastery to the sound of trumpets and sang a welcoming message.

“Ye men and women folk, who once were children too, be child again today, and do rejoice when the Christ Child invites you all to see this market,” she sang, reciting a translated version of Nuremberg’s Christkindl message.

Following the angel’s welcome, the crowds were invited into the monastery for a German dinner and to visit the sisters’ table full of baked goods.

“The sisters are part of our community. They share in a lot of things, they’re involved with the Chamber of Commerce, they’re involved with this Christkindlmarkt event, they open their home and their hearts to everyone,” said Kathy Tretter, a native and member of the committee that organizes Christkindlmarkt.

“This is their home, and their home is Ferdinand,” she said.

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Posted in U.S.

At Advent, make peace, not war, pope says at morning Mass

Pope Francis celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican Dec. 4. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

By Junno Arocho Esteves 
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Advent season is a time of preparation for the coming of the prince of peace and not a time of making war with those around you, Pope Francis said.

As Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they must also reflect on what they do in their daily lives to become “artisans of peace,” the pope said in his homily Dec. 4 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

“What do I do to help peace in the world?” he asked. “Do I always make some excuse to go to war, to hate, to talk about others? That’s warfare! Am I meek? Do I try to build bridges?”

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Posted in Vatican

Cardinal tells COP24 climate needs present ‘challenge of civilization’

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, speaks Dec. 3 during the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. The cardinal told participants “We are standing before a challenge of civilization for the benefit of the common good.” (CNS photo/Kacper Pempel, Reuters)

By Jonathan Luxmoore 
Catholic News Service

The Vatican challenged countries gathered for the 24th U.N. Climate Change Conference to focus on the needs of the present and the future as it worked to take swift action.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, addressed the conference, COP24, in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3 and told participants, “We are standing before a challenge of civilization for the benefit of the common good.”

“The Katowice meeting has the fundamental task of developing the Paris Agreement Work Program. This document should be a solid set of guidelines, rules and institutional mechanisms, aimed at facilitating a fair and efficient implementation of the agreement, particularly at the national level,” the cardinal said, adding, “We are all aware how difficult this endeavor is.”

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Posted in Vatican, World