Monday, March 31, 2014

Five Things To Remember March 31

1. The Mass at the U.S.-Mexican border tomorrow will be live streamed on
or can be accessed directly via this link:
The stream goes live Tuesday at 11:30 am Eastern/8:30 am Pacific in preparation for the noon Eastern/ 9 a.m. Pacific Mass. It will be up for the press conference too. The Mass, which will be celebrated by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and several other bishops, commemorates the more than 6,000 persons who have died crossing the desert in search of a homeland in the United States.

2. Pope Francis emphasized the need to reach out to marginalized youth during a meeting today with the Salesians of Don Bosco. He spoke of the life of exclusion many young people face and the vast reality of unemployment. he also spoke of "addictions, which sadly are manifold, but stem from a common root of an absence of true love. Reaching marginalized youth requires courage, maturity and prayer," Pope Francis said.

3. The season of Lent is a particular time for going to confession, as Pope Francis showed March 28 when he surprised people in St. Peter's by going to confession himself before hearing the confessions of others. A Catholic News Service video captures this moment.
4. U.S. dioceses and religious orders in 2013 increased what they spent on child protection by more than 50 percent over what they spent the year before, according to the 2013 report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). In 2013, dioceses and religious orders spent $41,721,675 for child protection efforts, an increase of more than $15 million over the previous year, when they spent $26,583,087. The numbers were reported in the “2013 Survey of Allegations and Costs: A Summary Report for the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” The Georgetown University-based research organization has gathered information since 2004, as part of an annual report required by the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” Most cases reported last year occurred 30-40 years ago, some go back half a century. More than 4.6 million children, 99 percent of priests have had safe environment training. USCCB President Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville pledges to heal, educate, prevent abuse, hold abusers accountable.  The full report can be found at

5. God loves you.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pope John XXIII and a Christian's Unfinished Business

By Don Clemmer

When Pope Francis approved the canonization of Pope John XXIII, one reason given was that he is already universally proclaimed a saint around the world. Canonization is one way the Church says "this is a Christian life well lived and worth imitating." John XXIII offered much in that department: joy, humility, simplicity, patience, creativity and confidence, among other virtues.

The life of Angelo Roncalli also bears another hallmark of life: unfinished business. For much of his ministry, Father, then Archbishop, then Cardinal, then Pope Roncalli repeated several steps:
  • Step 1: He would receive a difficult new assignment, often in a place very far away.
  • Step 2: He won people over with the holiness of his witness, hard work, and personal charm.
  • Step 3: Just as things are starting to hum along nicely, he'd get another new assignment.
Examples abound:
  • As a young priest in the Diocese of Bergamo, Father Roncalli was happily enmeshed in the life of his diocese when the letter came in 1920 that Pope Benedict XV was calling him to Rome to be the director of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in Italy. This was a surprising assignment that called the young priest away from his home diocese and brought him, for the first time, into the Vatican's orbit.
  • Five years later, Roncalli's life abruptly changed again when he appointed the first apostolic delegate to Bulgaria. While this meant he would be consecrated a bishop (which he was on March 19, 1925), it also meant he would leave a comfortable life in Rome for a strange new land fraught with political conflict and a divided Christian community of Bulgarian Orthodox, Byzantine and Roman Catholics, with the Catholics comprising a scattered minority. Archbishop Roncalli set to work, preaching love for one another and reaching out not only to the local Catholics but to the Orthodox as well. When Roncalli was appointed apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece in 1934, he left a far more harmonious scene in his wake, with both Catholic and Orthodox sorry to see him go.
  • When Roncalli got to Turkey in 1935, he faced another unfamiliar country, a government hostile to the Church, an Orthodox Church hostile to Catholics and a Catholic community fractured into numerous rites hostile to one another. In 1938 he was able to arrange a visit to Ecumenical Patriarch Benjamin I in Istanbul, which was a historic breakthrough for the times. In Greece, he faced another scattered, impoverished Catholic community. During these years, he also worked to save many Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Again it came as a surprise to him when he was abruptly named nuncio to France in 1944.
  • In France, Roncalli faced the extremely situation of navigating a divided episcopacy, some of whom had resisted under Nazi occupation and some of whom had cooperated. Once again, it was his good humor, superb diplomacy and authentic loving concern for all people that empowered him to navigate perilous waters.
The only "cushy" assignment he ever got was what he assumed would be his retirement as Cardinal Patriarch of Venice. Of course God had other plans.

Elected pope on October 28, 1958, Roncalli was once more handed an impossible task: renewing the entire Church and readying it to face the challenges of the modern world. True to form, he immediately set about initiating change that no one would have thought possible in such a short time, announcing an ecumenical council only months after becoming pope and planting seeds of reform on issues including the liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith matters, and the role of the laity.

Also true to form, he was once more called away just as the work began to bear fruit, dying in June of 1963.

"In this life, all symphonies remain unfinished," said the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, who played an influential role at the Council. Pope John's life reflects this mystery, that Christians are called to serve God in their daily lives, but more often thatn not, what we start will inevitably end up someone else's concern. John XXIII had the holy serenity to see that the big, final picture was in God's hands alone.

CNS Photo/Catholic Press Photo

Many biographical details for this post were gathered from "A Man Named John," by Alden Hatch, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1963.


Don Clemmer is the USCCB's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Five Things To Remember On March 28

1.. Sister Mary Ann Walsh writes, "The data shows that our nation’s effort to cope with undocumented persons does not work. It is costly, most especially, I fear, for the soul of a nation. "

2. Get more information on the Mass at the Border, including participants and locations, at

3. Save these Tuesday's Mass at the Border will live stream at and

4. Listen to bishop-led audio retreats based on the readings for the Sundays of Lent in English and Spanish. The retreat leader for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

5. God loves you.

The Soul-Threatening Immigration Story

First Published by Religion News Service. A Spanish language version of this blog can be read here.

 By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

 The saga of immigrants in 2014 may go down in history as a blight on America. Tragedies abound, from thousands who have died trying to cross the desert into the United States from impoverished Mexican towns, to little children born here and fighting for their parents to remain in the country with them. The government is setting records separating families, approaching 2 million deportations in the past five years.

Los Angeles’s Archbishop Jose Gomez wants “a moratorium on any further deportations or immigration raids and arrests, except in cases of violent criminals.” In his archdiocesan newspaper Archbishop Gomez noted that “one in every four persons who is being arrested or deported is being ripped out of their homes — taken away from their children, their wives and husbands, all their relatives.”

Children have brought him letters they had written to Pope Francis, which he sent to the Vatican. He quoted from a letter from Jersey, whose dad had been in an immigration detention center for two years and now is being deported.

“Dear Pope Francisco, Today is my birthday. My birthday wish is I would like to have my dad to be with me. …It has been so long that he hasn’t been with me on two of my birthdays, last year and today. … Since my father isn’t here my mom and sister have been trying to find a job. … Since you are the closest to God, I beg you to help my family. … Sincerely, Jersey.”

That’s heartrending, as are accounts of the more than 6,000 people who have died in the past 15 years crossing the desert to our Land of the Free. On April 1, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and several other U.S. bishops will pray at the border wall in Nogales, Arizona for those immigrants who have died trying to earn bread for their children. They will also pray for the family members who are without loved ones because of the deportations.

The United States loves data, but I hope it won’t be judged by its damning statistics.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has deported close to two million persons in the past five years, an average of over 400,000 persons a year. How many families were wrenched apart?

U.S. Office of Management and Budget reports that the U.S. Border Patrol budget has increased tenfold since 1993, from $363 million to 3.5 billion. Given that the undocumented population has tripled since 1986 to 11-12 million people today, by economic standards this is a weak return on investment.

Department of Homeland Security reports that as of February 2014, almost 700 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing has been completed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Perhaps a boon for the confinement industry.

The Congressional Record Service reports that 208,939 unauthorized immigrants were prosecuted as criminals under Operation Streamline from 2005 to the end of fiscal year 2012. They are sentenced in “group” trials that provide apprehended immigrants few legal rights. Aren’t guaranteed legal rights one of the hallmarks of our democracy?

In fiscal year 2012, Department of Homeland Security incarcerated over 477,000 persons, a record. Since 2003, about 2.5 million immigrants have been detained in the U.S. detention system. Surely they did not comprise 2.5 million threats to the U.S.

The data shows that our nation’s effort to cope with undocumented persons does not work. It is costly, most especially, I fear, for the soul of a nation.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Five Things To Remember On March 27

1. Pope Francis met with President Obama today at the Vatican. While the meeting was private, the Vatican released a statement on the nature of the meeting soon after. The president gave the pontiff several gifts, including one connected to America's oldest cathedral.

2. At a meeting on March 13, the USCCB's Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America approved funding for 127 projects, totaling over $1.7 million. The funds will be disbursed as grants to aid the pastoral work of the Church in the Caribbean and Latin American region.

3. The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) is a “modest first step in reforming our nation’s broken sentencing policies,” said the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the president of Catholic Charities USA in a March 27 letter to the U.S. Senate supporting the bill.

4. Catholics are called to seek ways to work with their dioceses and communities to combat human trafficking. This can be done through prayer, education, and responsible consumerism. They're being encouraged to visit to help educate their parish and community about human trafficking.The toolkit is now available in both English and Spanish.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Five Things To Remember On March 26

1. A Philadelphia contingent meeting with Pope Francis today presented him with a replica of the Liberty Bell.

2. Tomorrow is the meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. Read about past meetings between presidents and popes, plus see why Sister Mary Ann Walsh says it's worth a prayer.

3. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. See what the Church is doing to protect young people.

4. There was lots of coverage of yesterday's Supreme Court plea hearings on the Hobby Lobby-HHS mandate case. See what USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz thinks is at stake.

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Five Things To Remember On March 25

1. The Catholic Church is absolutely committed to the safety of children. Together we can make a Promise to Protect, and a Pledge to Heal. Watch this infographic video about our continuing efforts:

2. Interest is growing in the planned visit of President Barack Obama to Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 27. Meetings between U.S. presidents and popes have a long history, which you can read about here.

3. The list of Bishops participating in the upcoming Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border continues to rise. Get the latest details on the April 1 Mass.

4. The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year will be open to families and people of different faiths, including no faith at all, to engage the wider society in dialogue and to serve and strengthen all families, organizers said.

5. God loves you.

Pope, President at the Vatican: It’s Worth a Prayer

Note: First printed by Religion News Service.
By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Thirty years ago the United States established diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Critics of the move fell into two camps. One worried that the Vatican would try to unduly influence the U.S., where anti-Catholicism lies barely beneath the skin. Indeed, Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. once called anti-Catholicism is “the deepest bias of the American people.” Poet Peter Viereck of Mt. Holyoke College called anti-Catholicism “the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals.”

Those in the other camp worried that the U.S. would try to unduly influence the Vatican. They complained, for example, that the U.S. would lobby the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences to make them refrain from criticizing the now barely remembered Star Wars program, which the U.S. was promoting in the eighties as part of our national defense system.

The issues come to mind now, with the news that on March 27 Pope Francis and President Obama will meet at the Vatican, as have popes and presidents before them, even before formal diplomatic ties existed. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, met with Pope John XXIII, and President John F. Kennedy met with Pope Paul VI.

What can come of the top super power and top spiritual power coming together?

The Vatican brings moral suasion to the table. It raises concern for the human needs of people around the globe – people starving for lack of food, fighting dysentery for lack of clean water; people lacking for a homeland as war and forced migration drive them from their roots into nations ill-equipped or unwilling to shelter them.

The Vatican also holds honest broker status. With a Diplomatic Corps concerned more for human development than trade agreements and military build-up, the Holy See becomes the peacemaker who builds bridges between the United States and nations with which the United States barely speaks.

The Vatican offers a beacon of hope. It cannot promise legions of Swiss Guards as military advisers to bolster a nation’s armed forces, but it can urge nations, such as the United States, to tap into its well-known generosity, to defend the weak, and to promote human dignity. The United States brings material power to the table, a lot of it. The United States is generous – to a point. Right now our foreign aid budget is small – less than one percent of the federal budget. A mere one percent increase can mean provision of basic sustenance, such as food and water, for many more people.

Two smiling, confident and charismatic leaders will meet at the Vatican March 27. Face-to-face meetings always trump report-to-report encounters. Pope Francis will have the opportunity to touch the heart of President Obama. President Obama will have the opportunity to advise the leading churchman of what the Land of the Free can do to improve life for many more of humankind. Both Pope and President have hopes for the meeting, and given the will that exists, something good can come from it. It’s worth a prayer.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Five Things to Remember on March 24


1. Cardinal Seán O’Malley and bishops who serve on the U.S.-Mexico border will join members of the USCCB Committee on Migration to remember the deaths of migrants in the U.S. desert and to pray for immigration reform. Their actions follow the example given by Pope Francis at the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he remembered migrants from Africa who have died trying to reach the island and Europe. The U.S. bishops will call attention to the humanitarian consequences of the broken U.S. immigration system and to call upon Congress to pass immigration reform. They will gather for Mass Tuesday, April 1 at the Border wall on International Street in Nogales, Arizona.

2. The visit March 27 of President Obama to Pope Francis at the Vatican is a moment of pride for our country.  The U.S. bishops appreciate the Administration's collaboration on such matters as comprehensive immigration reform and international peace. There remain areas of concern, such as religious liberty, marriage and the right to life. The bishops have been encouraged by Pope Francis in their efforts to address these issues. The bishops look forward to the meeting and the opportunity for President Obama to meet and visit with Pope Francis.  
3. All ears will be on the U.S. Supreme Court March 25 for oral arguments on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases, in which owners of for-profit businesses argue that their religious beliefs preclude their providing abortion-inducing drugs and devices in employee health plans, despite a mandate from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 
4. Almsgiving is a traditional way to observe the season of Lent. One worthy charity is Catholic Relief Service and its Operation rice Bowl.
5. God Loves you.



Friday, March 21, 2014

Five Things To Know on March 21

1. Father John Crossin head of the bishops Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs offers an important insight on criminal justice issues in his blog post on ecumenism on the margins
2. Pope Francis in his morning homily reminds people that prayer and humility are needed in a world that can hold out an unrealistic view of self-sufficiency.
3. The USCCB Lenten calendar today points out that destitution is not the same as poverty because destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. The message comes from Pope Francis' message for Lent 12014.

4. Dioceses around the country are now preparing thousands of men and women to enter the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

5. God loves you.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ecumenism on the Margins

By Father John Crossin, OSFS

Solidarity with those imprisoned, people who Pope Francis would describe as on the margins, has become an ecumenical priority. When they are incarcerated, human beings made in the image and likeness of God are often forgotten, downgraded, given exorbitant sentences and not offered real opportunities to reform.

These and many other sad conclusions came to me after spending three long and intense days studying mass incarceration at the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together. The 80 delegates of the 40 churches and church organizations that make up this broad-based ecumenical coalition met in Newark, New Jersey in February. As I listened to the depressing data being presented I concluded that the change, which is already in the political winds, should be “fast-tracked.”

The press release of CCT gives the basic conclusions of our study days and lots of startling documentation. The release from the USCCB refers to our own Catholic teaching about respecting the life of prisoners.

One insight that has stayed with me in the weeks since our annual meeting is the importance of family, friends and clergy to those who are incarcerated. Even a single visit by a priest or pastor can have a profound impact. The imprisoned appreciate the love and concern of church leaders. The visits of family and friends, often made difficult by distance and cost, are highly correlated with success after the prison term is over. Relationships count. Personal visits give people hope.

We carry the effects of our past dehumanization of people of color. We must be vigilant to avoid unjust social structures, “structures of sin,” as Blessed John Paul II would say. Our current system impacts the poor, the marginalized and immigrants disproportionately.

For several years now, the member churches of CCT have concerned themselves with poverty. An initial consensus statement on poverty has been followed by related statements on immigration and racism (with a study guide for parishes). One thing that must bring Christians together is love for the poor. By extending their concern to the incarcerated, CCT has found still another avenue for that love.
Father John Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and head of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Activities.

Five Things to Remember on March 20

  1.  As Spring begins, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins comes to mind, especially his poem praising God for His creation, “Pied Beauty.” 
  2. Pope Francis stressed the need to trust in the Lord, not yourself, in his homily at Mass this morning. Said the pope: "The one who trusts in himself, in his own richness or ideologies is destined for unhappiness. The one who trusts in the Lord, on the other hand, bears fruit even in time of drought."  
  3. The Catholic News Service blog posted a video featuring Jesuit Father Jim Martin and his top ten things to know about Jesus. Father Martin recently published  the book "Jesus: A Pilgrimage."
  4. Concern for immigration enforcement has prompted the bishops' Committee on Migration to meet at the U.S.-Mexican border March 31-April 1, to pray where thousands of immigrants have died trying to cross the desert. Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston will be the main celebrant at the April 1 Mass in Nogales, Arizona. The U.S. Border Patrol reports that 6,000 people have died trying to cross the desert. Border groups say it's thousands more. Their plight is reminiscent of those who drowned near the Italian island of Lampesusa as they fled Africa for Europe in overcrowded rickety boats.
  5. God loves you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Five Things To Remember March 19

1. Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. At his Wednesday audience at the Vatican Pope Francis sent special greetings to all the fathers of the world, thanking them for what they do with their children. "Be close to your children" - the Pope said - "they need you. Just as St. Joseph was close to Jesus in his physical, psychological and spiritual growth, you too must be guardians in age, wisdom and grace."

2.  The U.S. bishops have designated the Washington-based facility dedicated to Pope John Paul II as a national shrine. Beginning April 27, the day set by Pope Francis for the canonization of Pope John Paul II. The shrine will be known as the "St. John Paul II National Shrine." The Knights of Columbus took ownership of the facility in 2011 to create a shrine dedicated to John Paul II and his contributions to the Church and society. A centerpiece of the shrine will be a relic consisting of a vial of John Paul II's blood. The shrine's lower level will feature a 16,000-square-foot permanent exhibition on the pope's life and teaching slated to open later this year. The main floor will be converted into a church and the current chapel will serve as a reliquary chapel. Both will feature floor-to-ceiling mosaics.

3. Interest is growing in the visit of President Barack Obama to Pope Francis at the Vatican, March 27. Meetings between U.S. presidents and popes have a long history, which we outline on our blog.

4. Father John Crossin, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and head of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, offers a brief video reflection on St. Joseph as part of the USCCB's daily video reflections on the Scriptures of the Day.

5. God loves you.

CNS Photo/Paul Haring

When a Pope Meets a U.S. President: 2014

Note: This post is an update of an earlier piece we wrote in anticipation of President Obama's July 10, 2009 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

President Obama's upcoming meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, March 27, marks the 28th time  a sitting U.S. President has met with a pope. The meetings, which will now include 12 presidents and 6 popes, are replete with historical odds and ends:

1. Woodrow Wilson met Benedict XV, the Vatican, January 4, 1919. Meeting just after the end of World War I, Wilson had pushed for a lasting peace via his League of Nations proposal, and Pope Benedict had been a powerful advocate for peace throughout the war.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower met John XXIII, the Vatican, December 6, 1959. Following a 40-year hiatus, this meeting would begin in earnest the precedent of every pope (except John Paul I) and every president meeting. While apparently very genial, this meeting also faced the challenge of Eisenhower not knowing Italian and John XXIII not knowing English.

3. John F. Kennedy met Paul VI, the Vatican, July 2, 1963. While Jacqueline Kennedy met John XXIII in a private audience, JFK missed him by a month, instead visiting the newly-elected Pope Paul. They reportedly discussed civil rights.

4. Lyndon Johnson met Paul VI, New York, October 4, 1965. This meeting took place in the historical context of the first visit by a pope to the United States. Paul VI would visit and address the United Nations while he was in town.

5. Lyndon Johnson met Paul VI, the Vatican, December 23, 1967. This was the first repeat encounter between a particular pope and president. Johnson's record will be matched by Nixon and shattered by the likes of Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush. Pope Paul will go on to meet two more presidents.

6. Richard Nixon met Paul VI, the Vatican, March 2, 1969.

7. Richard Nixon met Paul VI, the Vatican, September 29, 1970.

8. Gerald Ford met Paul VI, the Vatican, June 3, 1975. Ford was the fourth and final U.S. president met by Pope Paul. John Paul II would meet five.

9. Jimmy Carter met John Paul II, the White House, October 6, 1979. Along with being the first of 15 meetings between Pope John Paul and a sitting president, this was the first time a pope visited the White House, which would go unrepeated until 2008.

10. Jimmy Carter met John Paul II, the Vatican, June 21, 1980.

11. Ronald Reagan met John Paul II, the Vatican, June 7, 1982.

12. Ronald Reagan met John Paul II, Fairbanks, Alaska, May 2, 1984. Pope John Paul was stopping to refuel on his way to Seoul. President Reagan was on his way back from China. While quick and in passing, this meeting still allowed the two to speak about the pressing issues of the time. It also followed shortly after the U.S. and the Holy See formally opened diplomatic relations.

13. Ronald Reagan met John Paul II, the Vatican, June 6, 1987.

14. Ronald Reagan met John Paul II, Miami, September 10, 1987.

15. George Bush met John Paul II, the Vatican, May 27, 1989.

16. George Bush met John Paul II, the Vatican, November 8, 1991.

17. Bill Clinton met John Paul II, Denver, August 12, 1993. Pope John Paul was in town for World Youth Day.

18. Bill Clinton met John Paul II, the Vatican, June 2, 1994.

19. Bill Clinton met John Paul II, Newark, October 4, 1995.

20. Bill Clinton met John Paul II, St. Louis, January 26, 1999. President Clinton met with the pope more times on American soil than any other president. Of course, one could argue a traveler like JPII made it easy for him.

21. George W. Bush met John Paul II, Castel Gandolfo, July 23, 2001. This is the first and only time a pope received a president at the papal summer residence in Italy.

22. George W. Bush met John Paul II, the Vatican, May 28, 2002.

23. George W. Bush met John Paul II, the Vatican, June 4, 2004. President Bush presented Pope John Paul with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

24. George W. Bush met Benedict XVI, the Vatican, June 9, 2007. It's worth noting that Bush, along with former Presidents Bush and Clinton, also attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April of 2005, which was also attended by then-Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., the future Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, respectively.

25. George W. Bush met Benedict XVI, the White House, April 16 2008. Bush also greeted Pope Benedict upon his arrival at Andrews Airforce Base. The White House reception included a birthday celebration for the pope.

26. George W. Bush met Benedict XVI, the Vatican, June 13, 2008. Until next week's meeting, Bush holds the distinction of being the only sitting U.S. president to meet two popes. He has also met with the pope the more times than any sitting president, six.

27. Barack Obama met Benedict XVI, the Vatican, July 10, 2009. Obama held a roundtable discussion with religion writers at the White House in anticipation of the meeting. Benedict presented Obama with a gift of the Vatican's recent document on bioethics.

CNS Photo.

Hat tip to AP for the list of historic dates and places.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Five Things to remember March 14

1.     Speaker of the House John Boehner on March 13 offered Pope Francis an open invitation to address members of Congress. Were the pope to accept the invite, it  would mark a first in U.S. history.

 2.     Today’s message from USCCB Lenten calendar: “It has been said that the only real regret  
lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.” From Pope Francis’ 2014 Lenten message.

3.     Pope Francis inspires renewed spirit of giving among U.S. Catholics, according to a Zogby survey funded by the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of National Collections. Among findings: one in four (24%) have increased their giving from last year; of those who have increased their giving in the past year, 77% say Pope Francis has inspired their giving; including 42% who say the Pope has had a significant impact on their giving. And, half (50%) say they are motivated to help others because of the Pope’s message of compassion to the poor. Survey was released by FADICA March 13.

4.     An exhibit on Irish immigration to the US at the turn of the last century, "The Irish Mission at Watson House," highlights the Archdiocese of New York, that set the gold standard for welcoming immigrants to the United States," said historian Maureen Murphy. This was “a unique phenomenon in Western civilization," said Murphy, in an news story carried by Catholic News Service.  It was an emigration of siblings whose families did not "re-form in the United States." The women sent money home to help relatives stay on the land, which distinguished them from other groups, Murphy said. Other emigrants from Western Europe "came out as families, or, as the Italians, the men came out first and then sent for the women." From 1883 to 1908 almost 308,000 Irish "girls," ages 14 to 44, immigrated through the Port of New York. Statistical highlights: Average age of the girls, 19. Ten percent traveled as sisters, and 25 percent were picked up by someone with the same last name. The counties with the greatest representation were Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and Cork." Noel Kilkenny, Ireland's consul general in New York, told CNS that this is a woman's story as much as a Catholic story “about the church and the role it played as a sanctuary," he said. "The Irish are the only ethnic group of European immigrants where the females outnumbered the males. It's a story of great strength.”

5.     God loves you.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Five Things To Remember On March 13

1. Today is the first anniversary of Pope Francis' election. The U.S. bishops expressed their thanks earlier this week to the pontiff. Read Catholic Relief Service president Carolyn Woo's reflection on the pope's reminders about the poor.

2. Our Facebook followers are sharing their own memories of the moment Pope Francis debuted last year.

3. In his trademark, simple style, Pope Francis tweeted, "Please pray for me."

4. Get a comprehensive roundup of the pope's first year.

5. God loves you.

Following Pope Francis' lead after a year

Note: This blog first appeared as a column in the USA Today.

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

In his first year in office, Pope Francis has shown he knows how to lead. While people in our political systems demonize one another and grind government to a halt, Pope Francis reaches across the table. No one is unapproachable. No one is an enemy.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president of Argentina, went head-to-head with him when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, but she was one of the first visitors he welcomed to the Vatican after his election. For him, no one is all bad or all good. He doesn't enshrine polarization. A major hallmark of his first year in the papacy is that he has broadened the conversation. He listens to people and has inserted mercy into the equation.

The result? In political terms he has stratospheric poll numbers of which politicians can only dream. In late December a CNN/ORC (Opinion Research Corporation) International poll found that 88% of American Catholics approved of how he was handling his role and nearly three in four Americans, whatever their religion, viewed him favorably. Another study reported Pope Francis was the most talked about person on the Internet last year. He was Time Magazine's Person of the Year and made the cover of the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and even of The Advocate, a publication for the gay and lesbian community.

People respond to him. As he listens to them, they hear him. He touches something inside of them.

Being heard is no small accomplishment in the din that surrounds us. Hearing another is the first step in any encounter. It helps people put their guard down, recognize nuances and see that perhaps there is another perspective. Strangers become a little less strange. My neighbors are not just the people whose property abuts mine. My neighbor is also is someone struggling across the border, someone starving in Sub-Saharan Africa, dodging a bullet in Israel or eking out an existence in a Palestinian refugee camp. When we integrate that awareness, it changes us.

Pope Francis, who by definition has near absolute power, chooses a collaborative style to lead. The pope has the College of Cardinals with 120 voting members to advise him. However, Pope Francis also has established a working group, the Council of Cardinals. This group of eight leaders from outside his Vatican curia, including Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, advises him on the needs of the church and how to address them. Working with them he established a body to advise him on one of the church's most neuralgic problems, clerical sexual abuse of children.

Pope Francis is a realist, too. He understands that a bureaucracy is a needed structure in a large organization but he fights it becoming a tool that stops people being served. The Vatican has a reputation of moving at glacial speed, but it didn't take Pope Francis very long to go to the island of Lampedusa last July, after people drowned escaping from North Africa on a crowded inflatable raft. He saw the tragedy of lost lives and the broader tragedy of people forced to migrate from their homes. He didn't need months of analysis to tell him what to do. He went to hear from the survivors and to pray with them and for the many refugees who die crossing the sea in rickety boats. He used the power of his position and a simple gesture of listening and prayer and drew attention to the plight of refugees.

Pope Francis doesn't hold up a finger to the wind to see which way political winds blow. Yet the polling numbers are with him. His secret may be in listening to the people, who, in return, listen to him. He may have found the secret of wise leadership.

Pope Francis After One Year: the Poor Have Much to Teach Us

By Carolyn Woo, Ph.D.

The first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been particularly meaningful for all of us at Catholic Relief Services. He has reminded us that the preferential option for the poor is a central mission of the Church, built on a foundation laid by Jesus in the Gospels.

As Francis has said, “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”

By his own actions – washing the feet of prisoners, visiting refugees from Africa on the island of Lampedusa – Francis has demonstrated that it is necessary to go beyond words to deeds. He did not ask if those in need were Christian. That did not matter. He saw their need and knew that we, as Catholics, must help them.

Pope Francis recognizes that Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 6:37 to feed the poor “means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.” He encourages us not to be intimidated by the “messiness” of the situations we encounter as we reach out. We should let love lead.

Every day around the world, thousands of employees of CRS work to alleviate the burden of poverty, not just for an hour or for a day, but for a lifetime and for generations to come. Standing with the Catholic community of the United States, they understand, as Francis said, that, “True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer.”

Pope Francis has inspired our work in many ways. One is to remind us that the poor have “much to teach us” and that “We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”

At CRS, we know it is a privilege that we are allowed to embrace this mysterious wisdom and participate in God’s miracles every day as we strive to protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of God’s family.

Carolyn Woo, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. bishops.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Five Things To Remember On March 12

1. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Pope Francis' election and National Catholic Education Association president Brother Robert Bimonte, FSC says schools are trying to form leaders like Pope Francis. Read entries from USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Father Larry Snyder as well.

2. Did you know that Pope Francis is on retreat this week? See what he's learning.

3. “Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They May All Be One” is the newest resource created by the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. Its goal is to assist pastors and pastoral teams in welcoming diverse communities and building unity in diversity.

4. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz is concelebrating the 7 a.m. Thursday Mass with previous USCCB president Cardinal Timothy Dolan, on Thursday for the one year anniversary of the pope’s election. It will be held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and live streamed.

5. God loves you.