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Pope Francis expresses sorrow over ‘spiral of death’ in the Holy Land

Pope Francis prayed for peace in the Holy Land at the end of his Angelus address on Jan. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2023 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis appealed for peace in the Holy Land on Sunday, calling the recent spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence a “spiral of death” that accomplishes nothing.

In his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, the pope expressed “great sorrow” for the death of Palestinians killed in an Israeli military raid as well as seven Israelis killed in a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem.

“The spiral of death that increases day after day does nothing other than close the few glimpses of trust that exist between the two peoples,” Pope Francis said.

“From the beginning of the year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed during firefights with the Israeli army. I appeal to the two governments and to the international community so that, immediately and with delay, other paths might be found that include dialogue and a sincere search for peace. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for this.”

The pope spoke following a wave of violence in Israel and Palestine this week. On Friday night, seven Israelis were killed and three wounded in a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabbath, the deadliest attack on Israelis in 15 years, according to the Associated Press.

The synagogue shooting occurred the day after an Israeli military raid in the West Bank killed nine Palestinians and another Palestinian man was shot by Israeli forces in al-Ram, north of Jerusalem.

The Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem joined other Christian leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday in warning that the current “state of affairs will almost certainly bring further atrocities and anguish, driving us away from the much sought-after peace and stability that we all seek.”

In a joint statement issued by the patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem on Jan. 29, the Christian leaders called upon all parties “to practice restraint and self-control.”

“In closely monitoring this regrettable situation, we have concluded that this proliferation of violence that has led to the unwarranted deaths of 32 Palestinians and seven Israelis since the start of the New Year seems to be self-perpetuating. It will surely continue and even escalate unless a robust intervention is resolutely undertaken by community and political leaders on all sides,” it said.

“Everyone must work together to defuse the current tensions and to launch a political process based upon well-established principles of justice that will bring about a lasting peace and prosperity for all. Consonant with this, in these most difficult of times we call upon all parties to reverence each other’s religious faith and to show respect to all holy sites and places of worship.”

The patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem asked God to grant wisdom and prudence to political leaders seeking to find ways to overcome the violence and to bring about “a just and peaceful solution for our beloved Holy Land.”

Where is Mass attendance highest? One country is the clear leader

A group of school girls receiving the sacraments of baptism and confirmation in Onitsha, Anambra, Nigeria, on May 30, 2022. / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 29, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A compilation of new data by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University sheds light on the countries around the world that have the highest Mass attendance numbers. 

CARA researchers used data from the World Values Survey (WVS), a major international study of religious belief that has been conducted for decades, to examine 36 countries with large Catholic populations. Of those countries, the researchers ranked them by the percentage of self-identified Catholics who say they attend Mass weekly or more, excluding weddings, funerals, and baptisms. 

According to the data, Nigeria and Kenya have the highest proportion of Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more, with Nigeria as the clear leader. Ninety-four percent of Catholics in Nigeria say they attend Mass at least weekly. In Kenya, the figure was 73%, and in Lebanon it was 69%.

The level of attendance in Nigeria is notably high given the high number of violent attacks against Christians across the country in recent years. Terrorist incidents inside Catholic churches are not infrequent; notably, in June of last year, gunmen believed to be Islamic extremists opened fire on Catholic worshippers attending Pentecost Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in southwestern Nigeria, killing at least 50. 

More than half of all Catholics attend weekly or more in the Philippines (56%), Colombia (54%), Poland (52%), and Ecuador (50%). But in 29 of the 36 countries examined, fewer than half of self-identified Catholics attend Sunday Mass. The researchers acknowledged that the use of self-reported Mass attendance numbers could inflate the figures slightly, meaning actual attendance numbers could be, in reality, slightly lower across the board. 

The WVS data did not include the U.S., but CARA’s polling data indicated that the percentage of Catholics in the United States who attend Mass weekly or more is 17%, even though more than three-quarters of U.S. Catholics consider themselves to be a “religious person.”

Continuing down from there, the lowest levels of weekly attendance were observed in Lithuania (16%), Germany (14%), Canada (14%), Latvia (11%), Switzerland (11%), Brazil (8%), France (8%), and the Netherlands (7%).

“One might assume that the more religious Catholics are in a country, the more likely they are to be frequent Mass attenders,” the CARA researchers wrote. 

“Yet, there is not a strong correlation between the numbers identifying as a ‘religious’ Catholic and frequent Mass attendance.”

Countries with a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita had lower levels of Mass attendance and vice versa, they noted.

“While there seems to be a disconnect between identifying as a religious person and attending Mass weekly there is a third factor that may explain the comparative distribution of both of these attributes. If you’ve looked closely at the countries you might have noticed some economic clustering,” the CARA researchers wrote. 

“In this small sample of countries, we can surmise that Catholicism is strongest in what is often called the developing world where GDP per capita are lower, while it appears to be contracting in wealthier ‘developed’ countries,” the researchers concluded. 

“The precise mechanisms associated with economic development and wealth that are impacting Catholics’ participation in the faith and identification as religious are unclear. Whatever they are, they matter significantly.”

Letter from Benedict XVI reveals the ‘central motive’ for his resignation, biographer says

Pope Benedict XVI revealed in a letter to his biographer that insomnia was the "central reason" why resigned in 2013. / Paul Badde/CNA

CNA Newsroom, Jan 29, 2023 / 07:15 am (CNA).

According to papal biographer Peter Seewald, chronic insomnia ultimately led to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign in 2013. 

In his last letter to the biographer — dated Oct. 28, 2022 — Benedict wrote the “central motive” for his resignation from office was “insomnia,” Seewald said according to a Jan. 27 report by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

The pontiff, who died Dec. 31, 2022, also wrote that insomnia had accompanied him “continuously since World Youth Day in Cologne.”

The 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne took place a few months after Benedict’s election and was his first papal journey. 

The Bavarian-born pontiff served for nearly eight more years before announcing he was stepping down — citing waning strength — on Feb. 11, 2013.

Confirming a German media report, Seewald told agency KNA that Benedict XVI had not wanted to “make a fuss about the closer circumstances of his resignation, which was justified by his exhaustion,” while still alive.

Since the rumors and speculations about Benedict’s resignation have not died down, Seewald said he was obliged “to publish the decisive detail entrusted to me about the medical history of the German pope.”

The biographer said that Benedict XVI had used strong sleeping pills.

On his trip to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012, Benedict told Seewald, he realized he must have “bumped into something in the bathroom and fallen” after waking up only to discover his handkerchief was “blood-soaked.”

After seeking medical attention, Benedict was able to continue his program. However, following the incident, the pope’s personal physician ordered Benedict to reduce his intake of sleeping pills and stressed that he should only attend public appointments in the morning when traveling abroad.

On this account, Benedict reasoned he should make way for a new pope who would be able to attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. 

Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia elevated to basilica  

The Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia was elevated by the Vatican to the status of basilica this week. / Miraculous Medal Shrine

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2023 / 06:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican recognized the Miraculous Medal Shrine, located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, as the city’s second basilica, elevating its status to a minor basilica this week.  

The shrine, created by the Vincentians in 1927 under the leadership of Father Joseph Skelly, is now known as the Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The Marian title is based on apparitions to St. Catherine Labouré in Paris in 1830. The medal includes a depiction of Mary, the Mother of God, with the prayer “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” encircling her.

“It is an esteemed honor to be recognized by the Vatican as a Minor Basilica,” Father Timothy Lyons, the shrine’s rector, said in a statement. “We are both overjoyed and humbled by this recognition. This historic proclamation marks the next chapter in the Shrine’s history and recognizes the significant role it has played in the Catholic Church, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and the Shrine community.” 

According to a news release from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the elevation to a basilica grants the shrine certain privileges and responsibilities, such as the celebration of the feast of the Chair of St. Peter; the solemnity of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul; and the anniversary of the pope’s election into pastoral ministry.  

Basilicas also have the authority to grant plenary indulgences, which remove all temporal consequences of one’s sin. This is distinct from a partial indulgence, which only removes part of the temporal consequences. The designation also recognizes the shrine as a historic landmark, according to the archdiocese.  

“I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for bestowing this tremendous honor on the Miraculous Medal Shrine,” Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez said in a statement. “This moment is one of great joy for the entire Church in Philadelphia. The Miraculous Medal Shrine is a great gift drawing souls closer to Christ through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. I congratulate the Vincentians and all those working to sustain the Shrine and its ministry. May their work continue to bear great fruit.” 

The shrine had applied for the status of basilica for several years before Pope Francis granted the recognition. The city’s only other basilica is the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, which is on the east side of Logan Square. There are 91 other basilicas in the United States. The shrine was the first American church to be granted the title this year; there were two churches granted the recognition of basilica last year.

Pope Francis decries culture that ‘throws away’ unborn children, elderly, poor

Pope Francis greets the crowd at his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2023 / 05:55 am (CNA).

In his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis decried a culture that “throws away” unborn children, the elderly, and the poor if they are not useful.

“The throwaway culture says, ‘I use you as much as I need you. When I am not interested in you anymore, or you are in my way, I throw you out.’ It is especially the weakest who are treated this way — unborn children, the elderly, the needy, and the disadvantaged,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 29.

“But people are never to be thrown out. The disadvantaged cannot be thrown away. Every person is a sacred and unique gift, no matter what their age or condition is. Let us always respect and promote life! Let us not throw life away.”

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, the pope noted that the “throwaway culture” is predominant in more affluent societies.

“It is a fact that about one-third of total food production goes to waste in the world each year, while so many die of hunger,” he said.

“Nature’s resources cannot be used like this. Goods should be taken care of and shared in such a way that no one lacks what is necessary. Rather than waste what we have, let us disseminate an ecology of justice and charity, of sharing.”

Pope Francis underlined that Jesus’ call in the beatitudes to be “poor in spirit” includes the “desire that no gift should go to waste.” He said that this includes not wasting “the gift that we are.”

“Each one of us is a good, independent of the gifts we have. Every woman, every man, is rich not only in talents but in dignity. He or she is loved by God, is valuable, is precious,” he said.

“Jesus reminds us that we are blessed not for what we have, but for who we are.”

A small stage was set up in St. Peter’s Square ahead of the pope’s Angelus address where young people gathered with balloons and banners singing hymns as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.”

At the end of the Angelus, a young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their commitment to peace.

A young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their efforts as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.” Vatican Media
A young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their efforts as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.” Vatican Media

Pope Francis thanked Catholic Action for the initiative, adding that it is especially important this year with the war in Ukraine.

“Thinking of tormented Ukraine, our commitment and prayer for peace must be even stronger,” he said.

The pope also appealed for peace in the Holy Land, expressing sorrow for the death of 10 Palestinians killed in the West Bank in an Israeli military raid and a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem in which a Palestinian killed seven Israelis.

“The spiral of death that increases day after day does nothing other than close the few glimpses of trust that exist between the two peoples,” Pope Francis said.

“Since the beginning of the year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in firefights with the Israeli army. I appeal to the two governments and the international community to find, immediately and without delay, other paths, which include dialogue and the sincere search for peace. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for this!”

People in the crowd held up a "peace flag" as the pope prayed for peace in Ukraine and the Holy Land. Vatican Media
People in the crowd held up a "peace flag" as the pope prayed for peace in Ukraine and the Holy Land. Vatican Media

Noting that he will soon be traveling to Africa, Pope Francis asked people to pray for his apostolic journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5.

“These lands, situated in the center of the great African continent, have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially in the east of the country, suffers from armed clashes and exploitation. South Sudan, wracked by years of war, longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship,” he said.

“In South Sudan, I will arrive together with the archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, as brothers, we will make an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, to entreat God and men to bring an end to the hostilities and for reconciliation. I ask everyone, please, to accompany this journey with their prayers.”

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Sr Leticia Salazar, Chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino in the US state of California, says the ongoing Synodal process she has participated in has “transformed” her.

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Pope prays for peace in Ukraine, recalls Lachin Corridor crisis

Pope Francis joins thousands of young people in St. Peter’s Square in an appeal for peace in our world, especially in war-torn Ukraine.

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Pope prays for Holy Land as 'death spiral' widens in Jerusalem

Pope Francis is appealing for calm and swift solutions in the Holy Land amid a “death spiral” of violence between Palestinians and Israelis over the past week.

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Pope Francis invites Christians to pray for his upcoming Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, saying the African nations have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts.

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Pope at Angelus: ‘Poor in spirit’ requires us to overcome throwaway culture

At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis reflects on the first Beatitude and says that being “poor in spirit” requires us to welcome everything as God’s gift and strive against society’s throwaway mentality.

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