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Mercy Friday: Pope makes surprise visit to residence centers for the sick

Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2018 / 10:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Continuing his ‘Mercy Friday’ initiative, Pope Francis visited two live-in health centers in the far southern suburbs of Rome today, where he spoke with residents and gifted a 22-pound Christmas cake.

Around 3:30 pm, the pope left the Vatican to visit the CasAmica, a home for people with chronic illnesses who need continual medical care. The facility accepts those with serious economic difficulties, and their families, who need support for daily needs.

The residents of the CasAmica are mostly from southern Italy, with some from North Africa and Eastern Europe.

According to a Vatican press release on the pope’s Dec. 7 visit, the fact that most of the guests are from outside Rome “highlights the phenomenon of ‘health migration,’ with the addition of the burden of hardship and poverty that it entails.”

During his visit, Pope Francis stopped to play and joke with children in the game room of the center and exchanged a few words of comfort with parents.

He also listened to the stories of two children, Achille, 13, and Andrei, 11, who have cancer; of Sandra and Plamen from Bulgaria and Arwa from Morocco, who are each 3-5 years old and suffering from hematological diseases; and of two men and a woman affected by cancer.

Francis greeted everyone, leaving gifts for the families and a special parchment with a message recording his visit.

Following the visit to CasAmica, the pope went to a rehabilitation center called Il Ponte e l’Albero (The Bridge and the Tree), which is in a poor area on the southern outskirts of Rome.

Twelve young people with mental illnesses, and who come from difficult family conditions, live at the center. When he arrived, the pope surprised the boys in the middle of an activity and sat down to speak with them and answer their questions.

Several months ago, three of the boys had written a letter to the pope to tell him about their difficulties living with mental illness and their effort to continue the journey to wellness with their doctors.

For the upcoming holiday, the pope gifted the residents of the center a 22-pound panettone, a traditional Italian Christmas cake.

The Algerian martyrs shed their blood for Christ, pope says

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2018 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the beatification Saturday of Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions, who were martyred in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, Pope Francis said martyrs have a special place in the Church.

“The Church has always paid special devotion to the martyrs, who have faith and love for the Lord Jesus, even to the shedding of their blood as witness,” he wrote in a letter to Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu.

Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Becciu, as the pope’s envoy, will celebrate the Dec. 8 beatification of the 19 Algerian martyrs at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Oran.

In his letter, composed in Latin, the pope recalled the suffering and persecution experienced by Christ, quoting his words to his disciples that “a servant is no greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

These words have been confirmed throughout time and place in the persecution and martyrdom of Christians, he continued.

“Persecutions are not a reality of the past,” he said, quoting his 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, “for today too we experience them, whether by the shedding of blood, as is the case with so many contemporary martyrs, or by more subtle means, by slander and lies.”

He also said that “at other times, persecution can take the form of gibes that try to caricature our faith and make us seem ridiculous.”

But Christians should not be afraid of persecution, Francis said, because Christ told his followers that “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. […] And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The death of these 19 martyrs has acted like a seed planted in the desert, and “the seeds have sprouted,” resulting in the growth of virtues, Francis said. The martyrs loved eternal life more than death, and now “they possess what they loved, and they will possess it even more fully at the resurrection of the dead.”

Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to recognize the martyrdoms in January.

Bishop Claverie, who was a French Algerian and the Bishop of Oran from 1981 until his Aug. 1, 1996 martyrdom, is one of the future blesseds. He and his companions were killed during the Algerian Civil War by Islamists.

In addition to Claverie, those being beatified are: Brother Henri Vergès, Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso, Sister Caridad Álvarez Martín, Fr. Jean Chevillard, Fr. Alain Dieulangard, Fr. Charles Deckers, Fr. Christian Chessel, Sister Angèle-Marie Littlejohn, Sister Bibiane Leclercq, Sister Odette Prévost, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

The best known of Claverie's companions are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were kidnapped from their Trappist priory in March 1996. They were kept as a bartering chip to procure the release of several imprisoned members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, and were killed in May. Their story was dramatized in the 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

After the death of the monks of Tibhirine, Bishop Claverie knew his life was in serious danger. A bomb exploded at the entrance of his chancery Aug. 1, 1996, killing him and an aide, Mohamed Bouchikhi.

Pope Francis explains symbolism of Vatican Christmas tree and sand nativity

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2018 / 09:30 am (CNA).- As the Vatican illuminated its 65-foot Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square Friday, Pope Francis shared the deeper meaning found in the traditional festive spruce.

The signs and symbols found in Christmas traditions can “help us to contemplate the mystery of God made man to be close to each one of us,” Francis said Dec. 7.

“The Christmas tree with its lights reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives away the darkness of animosity and makes room for forgiveness,” he continued.

The great height of this year’s Christmas tree -- cut from Italy’s Cansiglio forest -- symbolizes that the Son of God, who lowered himself in assuming the human condition to draw man up to himself, the pope explained.

God raises man “from the fogs of selfishness and sin” and invites him to “participate in his divine and incorruptible nature.”

The Vatican also unveiled the annual nativity scene in St. Peter’s square, this year sculpted entirely out of sand. The 52-foot-wide sand sculpture of Mary, Joseph, the Child Jesus, and an angel was created by four international artists using around 700 tons of sand brought from the Dolomites.

The concept of a sand nativity originated from a tradition from the Northern Italian beach-town of Jesolo, where professional sand sculptors from around the world create original renderings of the nativity and other Christian stories for locals and visitors to enjoy each Christmas season.

Pope Francis reflected that sand is a humble, poor material that “recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God showed himself at the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem.”

“Contemplating the God child, who emanates light in the humility of the nativity scene, we can also become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness,” Francis said.

Pope Francis encouraged families and communities come together to reflect upon the meaning of  these Christmas traditions:

“The nativity and the tree, fascinating symbols of Christmas, can bring families and meeting places a reflection of the light and tenderness of God to help everyone to live the feast of the birth of Jesus.”

At USCCB conference, advocate explains immigrant recruitment fraud

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An immigrant rights group hopes the Maryland legislature will protect migrant workers in the state from labor trafficking and fraud by banning recruitment fees, licensing recruiters for jobs, and prohibiting discrimination in recruitment.

It is fairly common for migrant workers to be charged a fee by a recruiter to be matched with a job in the United States.

But some migrants have reported paying the fee for a promised job that does not really exist. In other scams, a job is real, but the work is very different than the initial job description.

Rachel Micah-Jones, founder and executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., a transnational migrant rights organization based in Mexico and the United States, explained to CNA that a labor trafficking and fraud bill is important for Maryland because of the number of foreign workers in the state.

Michah-Jones says a labor-trafficking bill could create a system of licensing for recruiters, and a registry of recruitment agencies. This bilingual registry would be a way for a potential worker to verify that the job they are being offered actually exists and that the terms of employment are what they are expecting. This registry would also be a way to track employers, create a level of oversight, and crack down on labor trafficking.

Micah-Jones spoke Dec. 6 on a panel at the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services “Justice for Immigrants” conference held in Arlington, Va.

While similar bills have been proposed in California and New Jersey, Micah-Jones highlighted the importance of this legislation for the Old Line State. Maryland is “a big destination state” for international workers, she explained, and has “the full alphabet soup” of visa holders who work in industries across the state.

“This bill is really important because it would prohibit the charging of fees for workers who are recruited to work in the state of Maryland,” she said. These recruitment fees make migrant workers more vulnerable to abuse, as they are indebted to their employer. Other times, these workers may be discouraged or afraid to speak out about abuse on the job due to fear of losing their visa.

These types of fees “need to be eradicated,” said Micah-Jones. Nearly 37,000 guest workers came to work in Maryland in 2016. The largest percentage of these workers were in the United States on J-1 visas, and worked as au pairs, camp counselors, or in internships.  

In addition to the elimination of fees, a bill could also add transparency to the international labor recruitment system, which Micah-Jones said is “crucial” for the prevention of fraud.

Micah-Jones thinks that the passage of such a bill would be a “huge step forward” to increasing transparency and accountability for recruiters who are bringing workers to Maryland.

“Many workers are recruited for jobs that oftentimes that don’t exist, (even) after paying for those jobs,” she added.

 

What is the Apostles' Creed, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Denver, Colo., Dec 6, 2018 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- During Wednesday's funeral for George H.W. Bush, US President Donald Trump made headlines when he did not recite the Apostles' Creed. Supporters and critics of the president speculated on what his omission might have meant.

But the occasion raises another important question: What is the Apostles’ Creed, and what does it mean?  

The Apostles' Creed is a developed expression of the faith handed down by the apostles, which originated in Rome and is used by the Catholic Church and the ecclesial communities of the West.

The creed took shape in the second or third century in connection with baptism, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, wrote in his 1968 work Introduction to Christianity.

Catechumens in those centuries were asked successively if they believed in each of the three persons of the Trinity, responding, “I believe”.

“Thus the oldest form of the confession of faith takes the shape of a tripartite dialogue, of question and answer, and is, moreover, embedded in the ceremony of baptism,” Ratzinger wrote.

The middle section of the creed, concerning God the Son, was expanded in the second, or, probably, third century, and it was in the fourth century that a continuous text, detached from the question and answer format, began to emerge.

The text of the Apostles' Creed was finalized in Gaul during the ecclesiastical reforms of Charlemagne in the ninth century. That text was received in Rome, and the creed has been used in the same form ever since.

Ratzinger noted that the Apostles’ Creed is focused on salvation history and Christology, and is rooted in the ecclesiastical form of faith: that “faith demands unity and calls for the fellow believer; it is by nature related to a Church.”

The creed was treated by the early Church as a kind of symbolum, a tradition whereby a ring, staff, or tablet would be broken in half, and the corresponding halves used as identification for guests, messengers, or treater partners.

“Possession of the corresponding piece entitled the holder to receive a thing or simply to hospitality. A symbolum is something which points to its complementary other half and thus creates mutual recognition and unity. It is the expression and means of unity,” according to Ratzinger.

“In the description of the creed or profession of faith as the symbolum we have at the same time a profound interpretation of its true nature. For in fact this is just what the original meaning or aim of dogmatic formulations in the Church was: to facilitate a common profession of faith in God, common worship of him.”

The Apostles' Creed's connection to a dialogue between the Church and a catechumen during the ceremony of baptism is thus reflective of the communal nature of faith, which arises in the Church.

It also demonstrates that it is in worship that doctrine “assumes its proper place,” Ratzinger wrote, and that the Church “belongs necessarily to a faith whose significance lies in the interplay of common confession and worship.”

According to the Pope emeritus, the Church herself “holds the faith only as a symbolum ... which signifies truth only in its endless reference to something beyond itself, to the quite other.”

This profession of faith was called the Apostles' Creed at least as early as 390, when a council headed by St. Ambrose used the term in a letter to St. Siricius.

A legend holds that it is known as the Apostles' Creed because it includes 12 articles, each of which was contributed by an apostle before their dispersal.

This legend “has the disadvantage of calling attention to a division ... into twelve articles,” Henri de Lubac wrote in The Christian Faith, “whereas the structure of the Creed is tripartite because Christian faith is essentially faith in the indivisible Trinity.”

Moreover, this legend was discredited when at the Council of Florence in the 15th century, the Latins were surprised to find that the Greeks did not use the Apostles' Creed.

The Apostles' Creed has not been received by the Eastern Orthodox because it was not a subject of the first seven ecumenical councils; their sole profession of faith is the Nicene Creed. This has led at least a few journalists to wonder if perhaps Trump is seeking admission to an Eastern Church.

The Apostles' Creed was used liturgically in the Latin rite of the Church until 1955. Prior to that year's reform of the general calendar and the rubrics of the Roman Breviary, it was recited at the beginning of Matins and Prime, at the end of Compline, and during the preces of Prime and Compline during certain seasons.