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Pope Francis decries men who sustain ‘reprehensible’ trade in preface to trafficking victim’s biography

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has written the preface to a biography of a human trafficking victim in which he decries the men who sustain the “reprehensible” trade by their choices.

Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry that profits off of 25 million victims worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. 

A new book, “Io sono Joy” (“I am Joy”), by Mariapia Bonanate, tells the story of one of these victims: a girl from Nigeria who hopes to go to Italy to find a job but ends up being trafficked.

Pope Francis said that he accepted the invitation to write a preface for the book “with the specific intention of delivering Joy’s testimony to readers as a ‘heritage of humanity.’”

“The crossing of the desert, the months spent in the Libyan detention camps, the journey at sea, during which she was saved from the shipwreck … Joy’s is a story that unites many other people, like her, kidnapped in an infernal chain and struck by the tragedy of the invisibility of trafficking. A story as unknown as it is omnipresent in our globalized societies,” Pope Francis wrote in the book’s preface, published by L’Osservatore Romano on Jan. 21.

The pope said that traffickers were “unscrupulous individuals who thrive on the misfortunes of others [and] take advantage of people’s desperation to subjugate them to their power.” But he also had a message for consumers who sustain human trafficking.

Pope Francis wrote: “At this point, I cannot help but ask the reader a question: since there are countless young women, victims of trafficking, who end up on the streets of our cities, how much does this reprehensible reality derive from the fact that many men, here, require these ‘services’ and show themselves willing to buy another person, annihilating her in her inalienable dignity?”

He continued: “In reading this memorial we are led to discover, page after page, how much Joy’s testimony nails us before the prejudices and responsibilities that make us conniving actors in these events.”

“It will do us good to stand beside Joy and stop with her on her ‘places’ of helpless and innocent pain. After stopping there, it will be impossible to remain indifferent when we hear about the boats adrift, ignored and even rejected from our shores. Joy was on one of them.”

The pope thanked “all the people and organizations who, even at the cost of their safety, help the victims of today’s slavery.”

“With their tireless dedication, they restore self-worth to those who have been deprived of personal dignity; they bring back the trust and hope in the life of those who have been deceived and have experienced the imposition of terror by those who, after having presented themselves as savior, have revealed themselves to be executioners,” he said.

The pope also thanked Joy for sharing the testimony of “her via crucis” (way of the cross) and allowing people to share her “experience of absolute courage that allows us to better understand those who suffer from trafficking.”

He wrote: “‘Your name is Joy,’ you have been the joy of your mother since you were in the womb, and so you received from her this beautiful name which is also one of the proper names of God.”

“Io sono Joy” will be published in Italian by Edizioni San Paolo on Jan. 27.

Two 20th century Italians advance on the path to sainthood

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2021 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- Two Italian contemporaries, a young priest who resisted the Nazis and was shot dead, and a seminarian who died at age 15 from tuberculosis, are both closer to being declared saints.

Pope Francis advanced the beatification causes of Fr. Giovanni Fornasini and Pasquale Canzii Jan. 21, together with six other men and women.

Pope Francis declared Giovanni Fornasini, who was assasinated by a Nazi officer at age 29, a martyr killed in hatred of the faith.

Fornasini was born near Bologna, Italy, in 1915, and had one older brother. He is reported to have been a poor student, and after leaving school to have worked for a time as a lift boy at the Grand Hotel, Bologna.

He eventually entered the seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1942, at the age of 27. In his homily at his first Mass, Fornasini said, “The Lord has chosen me, rascal among the rascals.”

Despite beginning his priestly ministry among the difficulties of the Second World War, Fornasini gained a reputation as a go-getter.

He opened a school for boys at his parish outside the city of Bologna in the town of Sperticano, and a fellow seminary classmate, Fr. Lino Cattoi, described the young priest as seeming “always to be running. He was always around trying to free people from their difficulties, and to solve their problems. He had no fear. He was a man of great faith, and was never shaken.”

When the Italian dictator Mussolini was overthrown in July 1943, Fornasini ordered the church bells to be rung.

The Kingdom of Italy signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943, but north Italy, including Bologna, was still under the control of Nazi Germany. Sources on Fornasini and his activities during this period are incomplete, but he is described as being “everywhere,” and is known to have at least on one occasion provided shelter in his rectory to survivors of one of three bombings of the city by the Allied powers.

Fr. Angelo Serra, another parish priest in Bologna, recalled that “on the sad day of Nov. 27, 1943, when 46 of my parishioners were killed in Lama di Reno by Allied bombs, I remember Fr. Giovanni working as hard in the rubble with his pickaxe as if he had been trying to rescue his own mother.”

Some sources claim the young priest was working with Italian partisans fighting the Nazis, though accounts differ about the degree of his connection to the brigade.

Some sources also report that he intervened on several occasions to save civilians, especially women, from mistreatment or being taken by German soldiers.

Sources also provide different accounts about the last few months of Fornasini’s life and the circumstances of his death. Fr. Amadeo Girotti, a close friend of Fornasini, wrote that the young priest had been given permission to bury the dead at San Martino del Sole, Marzabotto. Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, 1944, Nazi troops had carried out a mass killing of at least 770 Italian civilians in the village.

According to Girotti, after giving Fornasini permission to bury the dead, the officer killed the priest at the same site on Oct. 13, 1944. His body, shot in the chest, was identified the next day.

In 1950, the president of Italy posthumously conferred upon Fornasini the country’s Gold Medal of Military Valour. His cause for beatification was opened in 1998.

Just one year before Fornasini, another boy was born several regions to the south. Pasquale Canzii was the first son born to devout parents who had struggled to have children for many years. He was known by the affectionate name of “Pasqualino,” and even from a young age he had a calm temperament and an inclination toward the things of God.

His parents taught him prayers and to think of God as his Father. And when his mother would bring him to church with her, he would listen and take in everything that was happening.

Twice before his sixth birthday, Canzii had accidents with fire which burned his face, and both times, his eyes and sight were miraculously unharmed. Despite sustaining severe injuries, in both cases, his burns eventually completely healed.

Canzii’s parents had a second son, and because he was struggling to financially provide for the family, the boy’s father decided to immigrate to the United States for work. Canzii would exchange letters with his father, though they never met again.

Canzii was a model student and started to serve at the altar at the local parish. He always participated in the religious life of the parish, from Mass to novenas, to the rosary, to the Via Crucis.

Convinced he had a vocation to the priesthood, Canzii entered the diocesan seminary at the age of 12. Once questioned contemptuously about why he was studying for the priesthood, the boy answered, “because, when I am ordained a priest, I will be able to save many souls and I will have saved my own. The Lord wills, and I obey. I bless the Lord a thousand times who called me to know and love him.”

In seminary, as in his early childhood, those around Canzii noticed his uncommon level of holiness and humility. He would often write: “Jesus, I want to become a saint, soon and great.”

One fellow student described him as “always easy to laugh, simple, good, like a child.” The same student said the young seminarian “burned in his heart with lively love for Jesus and also had a tender devotion to Our Lady.”

In his last letter to his father, on Dec. 26, 1929, Canzii wrote, “yes, you do well to submit to the Holy Will of God, who always arranges things for our good. It doesn’t matter if we have to suffer in this life, because if we have offered our pains to God in consideration of our and others sins, we will acquire merit for that Heavenly Fatherland where we all yearn.”

Despite obstacles to his vocation, including his weak health and his father’s desire that he become a lawyer or physician, Canzii did not waver in following what he knew to be God’s will for his life.

At the start of 1930, the young seminarian became ill with tuberculosis, and on Jan. 24 he died at the age of 15.

His cause for beatification was opened in 1999, and on Jan. 21, Pope Francis declared the boy “venerable,” having lived a life of “heroic virtue.”

Canzii’s younger brother, Pietro, moved to the U.S. in 1941 and worked as a tailor. Before his death in 2013 at the age of 90, he spoke in 2012 to the Catholic Review, of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, about his extraordinary older brother.

“He was a good, good boy,” he said. “I know he was a saint. I know his day will come.”

Pietro Canzi, who was 12 when his brother died, said Pasqualino “always gave me good advice.”

Ex-Vatican bank president given 9-year prison sentence for money-laundering

Rome Newsroom, Jan 21, 2021 / 09:47 am (CNA).- The former president of the institute commonly known as the “Vatican bank” has been given a sentence of eight years and 11 months in prison by the Vatican court.

The sentence was handed down at a hearing on Thursday by the president of the Vatican City State tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone. The conclusion of the trial, which began in 2018, marks the first time that the Vatican has issued a prison sentence for financial crimes.

Angelo Caloia, 81, was president of the Institute for Religious Works -- also known by its Italian initials, IOR -- from 1989 to 2009.

Caloia, and his lawyer, 97-year-old Gabriele Liuzzo, received the prison sentence for the crimes of money-laundering and aggravated embezzlement. They were also ordered to pay a fine of 12,500 euros ($15,204).



Liuzzo’s son, Lamberto Liuzzo, 55, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 8,000 euros ($9,731) for money-laundering. He was acquitted of the charge of self-laundering.

The sentences were given in the first instance, meaning that the defendants, who were not present at the hearing, may appeal. Caloia’s lawyers confirmed on Jan. 21 that they had lodged an appeal.

The Vatican court also ordered the confiscation of the 32 million euros ($39 million) which had already been seized from Caloia and Liuzzo’s IOR accounts and ordered compensation be paid to the IOR and its Italian-registered real estate company, SGIR, to the amount of about 23 million euros ($28 million), as part of a separate civil suit.

The exact amount of the damages to be paid will be determined in the civil court.

The three defendants were also permanently banned from holding public office.

According to a report by the HuffPost in December, the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, had requested an eight-year sentence for Caloia and his 96-year-old lawyer at the final two hearings of the trial on Dec. 1-2, 2020.

The Vatican court ordered Caloia and Liuzzo to stand trial in March 2018. It accused them of participating in “unlawful conduct” from 2001 to 2008 during “the disposal of a considerable part of the institute’s real estate assets.”

Caloia and Liuzzo were acquitted on Jan. 21 of charges of embezzlement and aggravated embezzlement related to the sale of 29 of the IOR-owned properties between 2001 and 2008.

The HuffPost said that the two men allegedly sold the IOR’s real estate assets to themselves through offshore companies and firms in Luxembourg via “a complex shielding operation.”



Former IOR director general Lelio Scaletti, who died on Oct. 15, 2015, was part of the original investigation, launched in 2014 after complaints were lodged by the IOR.

In February 2018, the institute announced that it had joined a civil suit, in addition to the criminal proceedings, against Caloia and Liuzzo.

The trial began on May 9, 2018. At the first hearing, the Vatican court announced plans to appoint experts to assess the value of properties that Caloia and Liuzzo were accused of selling at below-market rates, while allegedly making off-paper agreements for higher amounts to pocket the difference.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Pope Pius XII but can trace its roots back as far as 1887. It aims to hold and administer money designated for “religious works or charity,” according to its website.

It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State. The main function of the bank is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

The IOR had 14,996 clients as of December 2019. Nearly half of clients are religious orders. Other clients include Vatican offices, apostolic nunciatures, episcopal conferences, parishes, and clergy.

Pope Francis recognizes heroic virtues of pioneering French geneticist Jerome Lejeune

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis recognized on Thursday the heroic virtues of Jérôme Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome.

The step, announced on Jan. 21, means that Lejeune can now be referred to as “Venerable.” 

Heroic virtue is one of the requirements for beatification in the Catholic Church. A verified miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession is also usually required.

Lejeune was born on June 13, 1926, in Montrouge, in the southern Parisian suburbs. In 1958, he deduced that Down syndrome was caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.

He dedicated the rest of his life to researching treatments to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.

He firmly opposed the use of prenatal testing to identify unborn children with Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities for abortion. 

When he received the prestigious William Allan Award for his work in genetics in 1969, he gave an impassioned speech opposing abortion. 

“For millennia, medicine has striven to fight for life and health and against disease and death. Any reversal of the order of these terms of reference would entirely change medicine itself,” he said. 

“It happens that nature does condemn. Our duty has always been not to inflict the sentence but to try to commute the pain. In any foreseeable genetical trial I do not know enough to judge, but I feel enough to advocate.”

After the speech, which received a cool reception, he reportedly told his wife: “Today, I lost my Nobel Prize in medicine.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II named Lejeune as the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The physician died just 33 days later in Paris, on April 2, 1994, at the age of 67.

The Fondation Jérôme Lejeune in Paris welcomed the progress in Lejeune’s cause, describing it as “an immense joy.”

But it said that the news came at an “alarming” time for respect for life in France, with the advance of a new bioethics bill that would further dehumanize “the embryo, the youngest member of the human species.”

“Jérôme Lejeune had led this fight for the respect of the embryo throughout his life, as a historical opponent of the Veil Law which legalized abortion in France in 1975, and as a researcher and physician, he had seen from the first bioethics law in 1994, just before his death, where in vitro fertilization and research on the embryo would lead us,” the foundation said.

The pope also advanced seven other causes on Thursday.

He recognized the Italian priest Giovanni Fornasini (1915-1944) as a martyr killed in hatred of the faith. Fornasini served in the resistance during the Second World War and was shot dead by a Nazi soldier. 

The pope recognized the heroic virtues of six other candidates. 

They included Elizabeth Prout (1820-1864), founder of the Passionist Sisters, who served impoverished workers in England’s deprived industrial towns. Prout, also known by her religious name Mother Mary Joseph of Jesus, is buried alongside Ignatius Spencer and Dominic Barberi, two other candidates for canonization who played major roles in the revival of English Catholicism in the 19th-century.

The pope also acknowledged the heroic virtues of the Italian priests Fr. Michele Arcangelo Maria Antonio Vinti (1893-1943) and Fr. Ruggero Maria Caputo (1907-1980). 

He also recognized the heroic virtues of Santiago Masarnau Fernández (1805-1882), a pianist and composer who established the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Spain. 

Also recognized was the Italian seminarian Pasquale Canzii (1914-1930), who died at the age of 15 while studying for the priesthood.

The final candidate recognized by Pope Francis was Adelaide Bonolis (1909-1980), an Italian lay woman who founded the Opere di Assistenza e Redenzione Sociale, an organization offering social assistance.

Pope Francis congratulates Italian soccer team on win against Roma

Rome Newsroom, Jan 20, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met on Wednesday with players of the northern Italian soccer club Spezia after they eliminated the fourth-seeded A.S. Roma from the country’s annual cup competition.

“First of all, congratulations, because yesterday you were good. Congratulations!” the pope told them at an audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Jan. 20.

Spezia Calcio, a professional soccer club based in the town of La Spezia, joined the top Italian league Serie A for the first time in its history in 2020.

The 13th-seeded Spezia’s 4-2 win on Tuesday in the Coppa Italia against Roma -- one of Rome’s two big clubs -- puts them in next week’s quarter-finals, where they will play against Napoli.



Pope Francis said, “in Argentina, we dance the tango,” pointing out that the music is based on “two-by-four,” or two-quarter time.

Referring to their result against Roma, he added: “Today you are 4 to 2, and that’s good. Congratulations and keep going!”

“And thank you for this visit,” he said, “because I like to see the effort of young men and women in sport, because sport is a wonder, sport ‘brings out’ all the best that we have inside. Continue with this, because it leads you to a great nobility. Thank you for your witness.”

Complimenti e coraggio!
Con queste parole, @Pontifex_it ha accolto lo #SpeziaCalcio al gran completo, ricevuto questa mattina in udienza privata nelle stanze vaticane

➡️ https://t.co/saNErz4HU4 pic.twitter.com/87Rc8jLXWZ

— Spezia Calcio (@acspezia) January 20, 2021 Pope Francis is a well-known soccer fan. His favorite team is San Lorenzo de Almagro in his native Argentina.

In a 2015 interview, Francis said that in 1946 he went to many of San Lorenzo’s games.

Speaking to the Argentine online sports news site TyC Sports, Francis also revealed that he played soccer as a child, but he said he was a “patadura” -- someone who is not good at kicking the ball -- and preferred to play basketball.

In 2008, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he offered Mass for players at the team’s facilities to mark San Lorenzo’s 100th anniversary.

In 2016, Pope Francis spoke at the opening ceremony of a Vatican conference on sports.

He said: “Sport is a human activity of great value, able to enrich people’s lives. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, she is working in the world of sport to bring the joy of the Gospel, the inclusive and unconditional love of God for all human beings.”

Pope Francis prays Biden will respect 'dignity of every person' in inauguration message

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 11:11 am (CNA).- In a message to Joe Biden on inauguration day, Pope Francis said he is praying the new United States president will make decisions which respect the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor and most vulnerable.

“At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice,” the pope said Jan. 20.

Biden, a Catholic, was sworn into office as the 46th president of the United States outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20.

For the occasion, Pope Francis sent Biden his good wishes and “the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.”

The pope wished that under Biden’s leadership the American people would draw strength from the “lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”

Francis added that he is asking God, “the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good.”

The pope closed his message by invoking blessings upon Biden, his family, and the American people.

Shortly prior, the U.S. bishops’ conference released the full text of a prepared statement on Biden’s inauguration as president, after initially withholding it from publication.

Although it was expected to be released at 9 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the statement was not published by the bishops’ conference at that time. According to The Pillar, Vatican Secretariat of State officials stepped in to prevent its publication.

The conference published the full statement shortly after noon.

The U.S. bishops’ prepared statement said they planned to engage the new administration on issues including abortion, religious freedom, racism, and poverty.

According to sources at the conference, figures within the conference pushed back on language in the prepared statement that had highlighted areas of concern with the incoming Biden administration on abortion, gender, and religious freedom.

In particular, sources at the conference told CNA that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago opposed the inclusion of language noting abortion as a problem with the incoming Biden administration. Biden has pledged to support taxpayer-funded abortion, among other pro-abortion policies.

In January 2017, Pope Francis sent a message to then-U.S. President Donald Trump on the occasion of his inauguration.

Archbishop Cordileone prays for Biden, states his support for USCCB president

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 20, 2021 / 10:47 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of San Francisco on Wednesday stated his support for the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) president, who had noted areas of collaboration and concern with incoming President Joe Biden.

 

In a prepared statement that was not released on Wednesday morning as scheduled--but published later in the day after the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States--USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles prayed for Biden. He noted areas of both agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden, who is Catholic.

 

According to sources at the conference, figures within the conference pushed back on language in the prepared statement that had highlighted areas of concern with the incoming Biden administration on abortion, gender, and religious freedom.

 

 In particular, sources at the conference told CNA that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago opposed the inclusion of language noting abortion as a problem with the incoming Biden administration. Biden has pledged to support taxpayer-funded abortion, among other pro-abortion policies.

 

On Wednesday, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco welcomed Archbishop Gomez’s “timely call for healing as a country as the new administration assumes office.”

 

“In particular, I am grateful to him for stating clearly once again that opposing the injustice of abortion remains our ‘preeminent priority,’ while acknowledging that ‘preeminent’ does not mean ‘only’,” Cordileone stated.

 

Gomez on Wednesday had praised Biden’s witness of relying upon his faith in difficult times, and his commitment to the poor.  

 

At the same time, Gomez said, “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”

 

“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today.

 

He added that religious freedom is “[o]f deep concern” to the bishops.

 

Cordileone on Wednesday also said he was praying for new President Biden.

 

“Catholics must and do speak out on many issues affecting the equal dignity of us all, but if life at its most vulnerable beginnings is not protected, then none of us is safe,” he said. “Affirming this equal human dignity at every stage and in every condition is the path to healing and unity.”

 

In a letter accompanying their 2020 document on voting, “Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ conference stated that “[t]he threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

 

“At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty,” the letter stated.

UPDATED: US bishops release prepared statement on Biden inauguration

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2021 / 07:04 am (CNA).- After initially withholding from publication a prepared statement on Joe Biden's inauguration as president, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) eventually released the statement early Wednesday afternoon.

Although it was expected to be released at 9 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the statement was not published by the bishops' conference at that time. According to The Pillar, Vatican Secretariat of State officials stepped in to prevent its publication.

CNA published the prepared remarks when the 9 a.m. embargo lifted. The conference published the full statement shortly after noon.

“Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in the statement.

In the prepared Jan. 20 statement, Gomez said he is praying that God may grant the incoming president wisdom and courage in pursuing unity, healing, liberty, and equality.

Gomez stressed that the role of the Catholic bishops is not to endorse parties or candidates, but to offer principles that can guide consciences.

“Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” he said. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”

The bishops’ conference, he said, has worked for years to address a wide variety of issues, including abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, peace and economic development, racism, immigration, poverty, the environment, and criminal justice reform.

“On these and other issues, our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties,” he said.

“On some issues we find ourselves more on the side of Democrats, while on others we find ourselves standing with Republicans. Our priorities are never partisan. We are Catholics first, seeking only to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and to advance his vision for human fraternity and community.”

Gomez noted that the bishops’ conference works with every president and Congress, but added that working with Biden will be unique, since “he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith.”

The archbishop said he finds hope and inspiration in Biden’s personal witness of relying on faith in difficult times and commitment to the poor. 

At the same time, he said, “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Stressing that the bishops must preach the truth of the Gospel even when doing so is unpopular, Gomez said that the issue of abortion merits special attention as a grave evil in society. 

“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today.”

“Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family,” he said. “It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.”

The U.S. bishops will engage with the president in the hopes of beginning “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Gomez said.

He voiced hope that Biden will be willing to work with the Church and avoid expanding abortion and contraception.

“My hope, too, is that we can work together to finally put in place a coherent family policy in this country, one that acknowledges the crucial importance of strong marriages and parenting to the well-being of children and the stability of communities,” the archbishop said. “If the President, with full respect for the Church’s religious freedom, were to engage in this conversation, it would go a long way toward restoring the civil balance and healing our country’s needs.”

Gomez praised Biden’s call for healing and unity in America, saying that such healing is “urgently needed as we confront the trauma in our country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that has only worsened the intense and long-simmering divisions among our fellow citizens.”

True healing can only come from God, the archbishop said, and requires forgiveness and dialogue.

“Christian love calls us to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves,” he added.

The president of the bishops’ conference concluded by entrusting the country’s transition to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“May she guide us in the ways of peace and obtain for us wisdom and the grace of a true patriotism and love of country,” he said.

The full text of the USCCB statement on the inauguration of Joe Biden: Statement on the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as 46th President of the United States of America
Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
January 20, 2021 My prayers are with our new President and his family today.

I am praying that God grant him wisdom and courage to lead this great nation and that God help him to meet the tests of these times, to heal the wounds caused by this pandemic, to ease our intense political and cultural divisions, and to bring people together with renewed dedication to America’s founding purposes, to be one nation under God committed to liberty and equality for all.

Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics. We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors. In every community across the country, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and ministries form an essential culture of compassion and care, serving women, children, and the elderly, the poor and sick, the imprisoned, the migrant, and the marginalized, no matter what their race or religion.

When we speak on issues in American public life, we try to guide consciences, and we offer principles. These principles are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of his Church. Jesus Christ revealed God’s plan of love for creation and revealed the truth about the human person, who is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.

Based on these truths, which are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the bishops and Catholic faithful carry out Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbors by working for an America that protects human dignity, expands equality and opportunities for every person, and is open-hearted towards the suffering and weak.

For many years now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has tried to help Catholics and others of good will in their reflections on political issues through a publication we call Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The most recent edition addresses a wide range of concerns. Among them: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, immigration, racism, poverty, care for the environment, criminal justice reform, economic development, and international peace.

On these and other issues, our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties. We work with every President and every Congress.

On some issues we find ourselves more on the side of Democrats, while on others we find ourselves standing with Republicans. Our priorities are never partisan. We are Catholics first, seeking only to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and to advance his vision for human fraternity and community.

I look forward to working with President Biden and his administration, and the new Congress. As with every administration, there will be areas where we agree and work closely together and areas where we will have principled disagreement and strong opposition.

Working with President Biden will be unique, however, as he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith. In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring.

At the same time, as pastors, the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, in season and out of season, even when that teaching is inconvenient or when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture. So, I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.

Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable. For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the “preeminent priority.” Preeminent does not mean “only.” We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.

Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.

Rather than impose further expansions of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families. My hope, too, is that we can work together to finally put in place a coherent family policy in this country, one that acknowledges the crucial importance of strong marriages and parenting to the well-being of children and the stability of communities. If the President, with full respect for the Church’s religious freedom, were to engage in this conversation, it would go a long way toward restoring the civil balance and healing our country’s needs.

President Biden’s call for national healing and unity is welcome on all levels. It is urgently needed as we confront the trauma in our country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that has only worsened the intense and long-simmering divisions among our fellow citizens.

As believers, we understand that healing is a gift that we can only receive from the hand of God.

We know, too, that real reconciliation requires patient listening to those who disagree with us and a willingness to forgive and move beyond desires for reprisal. Christian love calls us to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves.

We are all under the watchful eye of God, who alone knows and can judge the intentions of our hearts. I pray that God will give our new President, and all of us, the grace to seek the common good with all sincerity.

I entrust all our hopes and anxieties in this new moment to the tender heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ and the patroness of this exceptional nation. May she guide us in the ways of peace and obtain for us wisdom and the grace of a true patriotism and love of country.

Pandemic forces changes to Roman Curia’s annual Lenten retreat

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has asked members of the Roman Curia to make their own arrangements for a private retreat at the beginning of Lent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The pope typically spends five days on retreat together with members of the Roman Curia participating in Lenten spiritual exercises. For the past seven years, the retreat has taken place in a retreat house in the town of Ariccia in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome, although the pope was unable to participate in 2020 due to a cold.

A statement from the Holy See Press Office on Jan. 20 said that the retreat would not take place in Ariccia this year due to “the current health emergency.”

In its place, the pope has invited all cardinals residing in Rome to spend time in prayer from Sunday, Feb. 21, to Friday, Feb. 26. All papal events will be canceled between the two dates, including the general audience on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Last year, Pope Francis participated in the Lenten retreat “from home,” following along with the spiritual exercises and reflections from his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta.

The practice of the pope going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries in Lent began around 90 years ago under Pope Pius XI. The spiritual exercises were held in the Vatican, but beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

According to the Pauline priest who runs the Casa Divin Maestro retreat center, where the papal retreat has taken place since 2014, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass. After breakfast, the bishops and cardinals listen to the first meditation in the chapel. 

The second meditation is heard after lunch, Fr. Olinto Crespi told CNA in 2017. Other time is devoted to prayer. The retreat house also offers internet access, so dicastery heads who need to answer emails or do some work during the week may do so.

Pope Francis: Ask God for unity to ‘overcome scandal of division’ among Christians

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged Christians to pray for “the gift of unity” on Wednesday, saying that the devil always seeks to sow division and discord.

“During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity,” Pope Francis said in his general audience address on Jan. 20.

“The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but because we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near to everyone,” the pope said.

The Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. Pope Francis said that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held on Jan. 18-25, is “dedicated specifically to this: to ask God for the gift of unity to overcome the scandal of division between believers in Jesus.”

The pope stressed that prayer for unity involves a spiritual battle both with the divisions within oneself and with the temptation of the devil.

“To pray means to fight for unity. Yes, fight, because our enemy, the devil, is the one who divides, as the word itself says. He is the divider. Jesus asks for unity through the Holy Spirit, to create unity. The devil always divides … He fosters division everywhere and in any way, while the Holy Spirit always joins in unity,” Pope Francis said.

“In general, the devil does not tempt us with high theology, but with the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters. He is cunning: he magnifies others’ mistakes and defects, sows discord, provokes criticism and creates factions.”

“God has another way: He takes us as we are, he loves us so much … he takes us as different, as sinners, and always nudges us towards unity.”

In his virtual Wednesday audience, broadcast live from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope encouraged people to “evaluate ourselves and ask ourselves if, in the places in which we live, we nurture conflict or fight for an increase of unity with the tools that God has given us: prayer and love.”

Pope Francis insisted that “unity can only be achieved as a fruit of prayer,” saying that “we are not able to obtain unity with our own strength.”

"In fact, we know that we are not capable of preserving unity even within ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul felt a painful conflict within himself: wanting the good but inclined toward evil (see Romans 7:19). He had thus grasped the root of so many divisions that surround us -- between people, in families, in society, between nations and even between believers -- and inside us,” he said.

“The Second Vatican Council stated, ‘the imbalances under which the world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. […] Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society’ (Gaudium et spes, 10).”

“Therefore, the solution to these divisions is not to oppose someone, because discord generates more discord. The true remedy begins by asking God for peace, reconciliation, unity.”

The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.”

“The root of communion and love is Christ who makes us overcome our prejudices to see in others a brother or sister to be loved always,” Pope Francis said.