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Pope Francis asks for prayer for Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has asked people to pray for Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where the United Nations has said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding.”

A communique from the Holy See Press Office Nov. 27 stated that the pope was following the news coming from Ethiopia and asked for prayer for this country. Weeks of violence in the Tigray region have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and forced tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes toward Sudan.

“The Holy Father, in inviting prayer for this country, makes an appeal to the parties in conflict to stop the violence, to safeguard the life, especially of civilians, and to restore peace to the populations,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni said in the statement.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced Nov. 28 that government forces had ceased military operations in the Tigray region, and the Ethiopian state broadcaster reported that the region was under control of the government. But multiple international news outlets have been unable to independently verify these claims due to the communications blackout in the region.

Reuters reported later that night that Tigrayan rebel forces said that they will continue fighting the Ethiopian government, and the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea stated Nov. 29 that six explosions were heard overnight in Asmara, advising caution due to the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, which borders Eritrea.

In the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, the regional government is run by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The group once dominated the ruling coalition of Ethiopia but felt marginalized by Prime Minister Abiy’s political changes after he took office in 2018. He dissolved the ruling coalition and merged its ethnicity-based regional parties into a single party, the Prosperity Party, which the TPLF refused to join.

Tigrayan leaders have said they were unfairly targeted by political purges and allegations of corruption. They have argued that Abiy’s postponement of national elections due to coronavirus have ended his mandate as a legitimate leader, BBC News reports.

On Nov. 4 Abiy announced a military offensive in response to an alleged attack on a military base in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The violent clashes that followed led to a serious humanitarian situation.

The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Babar Baloch,  warned Nov. 17 that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan.”

Baloch said that the UN was also in negotiations with the federal and regional authorities to get humanitarian access to the Tigray region. An estimated 40,000 refugees have crossed from Ethiopia into Sudan, according to the UN.

The conflict has prompted fears of regional destabilization as well as instability, and even civil war, within Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa.

Ethiopia’s Catholic bishops have called for an end to the violence and the start of peaceful dialogue in the Tigray region.

“Conflict between brotherly people does not help anyone. Instead, it destroys lives of innocent people and it is an act that will turn our country into a failure and (create) extreme poverty,” Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa said in a Nov. 9 statement from Ethiopian bishops’ conference.

During his Angelus address on Nov. 8 Pope Francis appealed for peace in Ethiopia.

The pope said: "While I urge that the temptation of an armed conflict be rejected, I invite everyone to prayer and to fraternal respect, to dialogue and to a peaceful resolution to the disagreements."

Pope Francis: 'Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God'

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2020 / 05:40 am (CNA).- On the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis recommended a traditional Advent prayer to invite God to draw close during this new liturgical year.

“Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God who came down to dwell in our midst,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica  Nov. 29.

“Let us make the traditional Advent prayer our own: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ … We can say it at the beginning of each day and repeat it often, before our meetings, our studies and our work, before making decisions, in every important or difficult moment of our lives: ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’” the pope said in his homily.

Pope Francis stressed that Advent is both a time of  “God’s closeness and our watchfulness”.

“It is important to remain watchful, because one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a  thousand things and not to notice God. Saint Augustine said: ‘Timeo Iesum transeuntem’ (I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed). Drawn by our own interests … and distracted  by so many vain things, we risk losing sight of what is essential. That is why today the Lord repeats: ‘To all, I say: be watchful,’” he said.

“Having to be watchful, however, means it is now night. Yes, we are not living in broad daylight, but awaiting the dawn, amid darkness and weariness. The light of day will come when we shall be with the Lord. Let us not lose heart: the light of day will come, the shadows of night will be dispelled,  and the Lord, who died for us on the cross, will arise to be our judge. Being watchful in expectation of his coming means not letting ourselves be overcome by discouragement. It is to live in hope.”

The pope offered Mass on Sunday morning with 11 of the new cardinals created at the ordinary public consistory this weekend.

In his homily, he warned of the dangers of mediocrity, lukewarmness, and indifference in the Christian life.

“Without making an effort to love God daily and awaiting the newness he constantly brings, we become mediocre,  lukewarm, worldly. And this slowly eats away at our faith, for faith is the very opposite of mediocrity:  it is ardent desire for God, a bold effort to change, the courage to love, constant progress,” he said.

“Faith is not water that extinguishes flames, it is fire that burns; it is not a tranquilizer for people under stress, it is a love story for people in love. That is why Jesus above all else detests lukewarmness.”

Pope Francis said that prayer and charity are antidotes to mediocrity and indifference.

“Prayer rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord. Prayer allows God to be close to us; it frees us from our loneliness and gives us hope,” he said.

“Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.”

The pope quoted the opening prayer for the first Sunday of Advent: “Grant [us] … the resolve to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”

“Jesus is coming, and the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity,” he said.

“Charity is the beating heart of the Christian: just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity.”

Following the Mass, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“Today, the First Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. In it, the Church marks the passage of time with the celebration of the main events in the life of Jesus and the story of salvation. In so doing, as Mother, she illuminates the path of our existence, supports us in our daily occupations and guides us towards the final encounter with Christ,’ he said.

The pope invited everyone to live this season of hope and preparation with “great sobriety” and simple moments of family prayer.

“The situation we are experiencing, marked by the pandemic, generates concern, fear and despair in many; there is the risk of falling into pessimism ... How should we react to all this? Today's Psalm recommends to us: ‘Our soul awaits the Lord: He is our help and our shield. It is in Him that our hearts rejoice,’” he said.

“Advent is an incessant call to hope: it reminds us that God is present in history to lead it to its ultimate end, to lead it to its fullness, which is the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis said.

“May Mary Most Holy, the woman of the expectation, accompany our steps at the beginning of this new liturgical year, and help us to fulfil the task of Jesus’ disciples, indicated by the Apostle Peter. And what is that task? To render an account for the hope that is in us."

Ethiopia: Army takes control of Tigray

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announces the end of military operations in the Tigray region after the army took full control of the regional capital.

Mexicans face difficult Christmas due to pandemic

The Christmas Festivities or lack of them is going to leave an ache in the hearts of millions of family orientated Mexicans this year. While many will risk everything and anything to be together and close, for this most holy and cherished festive celebration, many others will remain in isolation, in the midst of pandemic, hoping for a vaccine to return to a normality, which is forever changed.

Pope Francis prays for Central America hit by natural disasters

Pope Francis, following the recitation of the Angelus on this the first Sunday of Advent reiterated his closeness to the people of Central America who are suffering as a result of recent natural disasters.

Archbishop Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2020 / 09:07 pm (CNA).- As surging COVID-19 cases lead to new restrictions in the San Francisco area, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said the treatment of churches is discriminatory and violates the right to worship.

“[W]orship is both a natural and a Constitutional right. My people want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; they need it, and have every right to be free to do so,” the archbishop said in a November 28 statement.

He criticized a new health order from the state of California placing San Francisco and San Mateo Counties into a more restrictive tier of coronavirus restrictions, resulting in a ban on indoor worship services.

The health order treats religious worship as a “non-essential” activity, while allowing hair and nail salons, massage parlors, and tattoo parlors to remain open, Cordileone noted.

“This is precisely the kind of blatant discrimination to which the Supreme Court gave injunctive relief in New York,” he said, referencing a decision Wednesday which blocked New York from similarly closing houses of worship while allowing secular retail venues to remain open.

Cordileone criticized the government for “demoting worship” by designating it as “non-essential.” He stressed that the archdiocese has been meticulous about following regulations regarding masks, social distancing, ventilation and sanitation measures. He said indoor worship services have not resulted in any known cases of COVID-19 transmission in San Francisco.

“But the government still chooses to treat worship as less important than shopping for shoes,” he continued.

The archbishop recognized concerns over rising COVID hospitalizations, and said he is discerning the proper course of action, with advice from his fellow bishops, archdiocesan lawyers, and infectious disease specialists.

Cordileone has been an outspoken critic of San Francisco’s restrictions on religious worship, which he described as “an insult” and “mocking God.” In September, he led Eucharistic processions outside city hall, with banners reading, “Free the Mass!” A petition calling for the lifting of Mass restrictions has drawn more than 40,000 signatures.

Until Sept. 14, public worship in San Francisco was restricted to 12 participants outdoors, with indoor services prohibited. Restrictions were gradually loosened, allowing 50 people at outdoor worship services. However, only one person at a time was allowed inside a house of worship, regardless of the building’s size.

On Sept. 25, the U.S. Department of Justice warned San Francisco officials that the city’s restrictions on public worship may be unconstitutional. The DOJ noted that other venues where people share enclosed spaces - such as gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares - were being allowed to operate at 10-50% capacity, provided that sanitary measures and 6-foot distancing were followed.

Days later, the office of San Francisco's mayor announced that places of worship would be permitted to hold services indoors at 25% capacity, up to 100 people. The change was attributed to a decline in COVID-19 cases.

Cordileone thanked the mayor for the changes at the time, but said further changes were needed.

“California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building is still unjust,” he said in late September. “We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols. But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities.”

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited an article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to the celebration of the Mass, despite more than 1 million Masses being celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines.

“Do not show a lack of compassion for people who are afraid of catching a disease that is quite deadly to many people with comorbidities and the elderly, which we Catholics should particularly respect and protect,” he stressed earlier this year.

Pope at Angelus: Advent is a continuous call to hope

Following Mass with new Cardinals in St Peter’s Basilica on the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis during the Angelus told the faithful that this season is one of expectation and hope.

Pope at Mass: ‘Faith is a love story for people in love!”

Pope Francis and the new Cardinals created during Saturday’s Consistory concelebrate Mass on the First Sunday of Advent inviting the faithful to get close to the Lord and to serve their neighbours.

Vatican Museums: Come, let us worship #1

“The depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.” These words of Pope Francis recall how the birth of Jesus has inspired generations of artists throughout history to evangelize through beauty. Every week the Vatican Museums and Vatican News offer a masterpiece from the pontifical collections, which are accompanied with a reflection from the Popes.

Advent at Home: How Catholics are preparing for a season of joy - even in 2020 

Denver Newsroom, Nov 28, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- Wry jokes and memes about the decided awfulness of the year 2020 - with the pandemic, ensuing lockdowns and economic distress, as well as civil unrest in a turbulent election year - are well known to just about anyone on social media.

Now, Christians find themselves entering into Advent, a season that is supposed to be one of joyful preparation for the celebration of Christmas, as well as preparation for the eventual Second Coming of Christ.

Much like Easter 2020, which landed almost exactly one month after the country shut down in March, this Advent and Christmas season will likely look quite different than normal. With coronavirus cases resurging in many parts of the country, access to the sacraments and Mass may be restricted or blocked, and family plans and other seasonal events canceled.

CNA talked to several Catholics about how to still enter into this Advent season, and live it well, from home.

“What I love most is that Advent is designed to shake us; to wake us up to the extraordinariness of the ordinary,” Fr. Ryan Kaup, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. “God became man, but then the next day, Mary had to change diapers and shortly after flee for their lives.”

Kaup said his favorite book for the Advent season is “Advent of the Heart”, a collection of reflections written by Fr. Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II and eventually killed for his work with the resistance.

The reflections, written by someone experiencing intense suffering, can prompt Catholics today to think about how God may be trying to shake them during these unprecedented times, Kaup noted.

“One of my favorite quotes from Advent of the Heart is: ‘Perhaps what we modern people need most is to be genuinely shaken...So now, God lets the earth resound, and now He shudders it, and then He shakes it, not to call forth a false anxiety…he does it to teach us one thing again: how to be moved in spirit. Much of what is happening today would not be happening if people were in that state of inner movement and restlessness of heart in which man comes into the presence of God the Lord and gains a clear view of things as they really are.’”

Kaup said this quote can be a good starting point of reflection for Catholic families and individuals for Advent.

“Where is God shaking me in my life? Where is He calling my family to refocus on the profound simplicity of the ordinary?” he said.

The Gospel reading on the Sunday before the start of Advent this year is about the corporal works of mercy, Kaup added, which can be a different way to use the tradition of the Advent calendar, by “thinking of one corporal work of mercy that you can perform each day, as an individual or as a family.”

The Sunday before Advent is also celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King, Kaup noted, which invites Catholics to see that “as the things we have placed our hope and security in, these goods that can become idols in our lives, fall by the wayside, we recognize that the only sure foundation in our lives is Jesus Christ. His Kingdom of power, love and peace is where we can live at all times - recognizing that living in his kingdom means we are free from the greatest evil, sin itself.”

“I don’t pretend to completely know the mind of God, but maybe, in part, that’s what He’s telling us: you may be suffering from many things, but you can be free from the power of sin through the incarnation. Do we recognize the greatness of that gift?” he said.

Sr. Katherine Marie Chiara McCloskey, HMSS, said she has been meditating on the image of the Holy Family as Advent approaches.

“With all the uncertainty and the craziness in the world right now, I think a lot of us need comfort and nurturing right now,” she said. “And so you can go to Mary and Joseph and let them be mom and dad to you...if I'm having a day where I'm just really not okay, I’m going to let Mary and Joseph take care of me.”

While Advent and Christmas are joyful liturgical seasons, she added, that doesn’t mean that Catholics should ignore any suffering they are experiencing.

“You have to feel your feelings. The worst thing you can do is suppress them. Jesus wants authenticity, he wants to know how you're really doing. I think about the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem - that wasn't easy. God really wants us to tell him how we're really doing,” she said.

McCloskey said that it is also important to have a place prepared for prayer, especially if Masses are restricted or canceled.

“Create a place (for prayer) wherever you're living, whether it's a house or apartment...or for some people like myself, I like to be outside,” she said.

Sr. Kathryne of the Holy Trinity Lopez, HMSS, said that she would encourage Catholics to select one priest or ministry that speaks to them and follow their Advent homilies or reflections.

“I recommend only choosing one to avoid information overload,” she said.

Lopez added that Advent during a pandemic can help Catholics evaluate what they are really waiting for.

“St. Bernard of Clairvaux talks about this third coming of Christ - his coming into our daily lives. And so I really want to challenge us to have a deeper Advent season,” she said. “What are we waiting for? Are we just waiting to get out of quarantine, waiting to just be ‘free again,’ to go back to what we knew, or are we waiting for (Christ) to come, are we preparing for him?”

On their website this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has compiled numerous resources that Catholics can use for Advent at home, including prayers, saint biographies, and activities, as well as social media posts and bulletin inserts for parishes.

Allison Rubio, the marketing and content coordinator for the USCCB, said she and her team hoped that the resources would be a source of hope and connection for people during this pandemic Advent season.

“We've been thinking a lot about Easter, which was very different. So with this pandemic continuing into the Advent season, how do we ensure that the faithful are still being reached? And how do we help parishes who have maybe cut down on staff or are working remotely and they don't have that collaboration that they're used to?” she said.

The resources include more traditional things, like an Advent calendar and a blessing for the family Nativity scene. It also includes ideas for new traditions, like creating a Gift of Hope Tree, in which a family thinks about what kinds of gifts Jesus’ family may have needed, as a poor family with a new baby. Those gifts are then placed on the tree, and then donated to Catholic Relief Services for families in need.

“I hope that people find them very useful and that they can bring some sense of community to their Advent season this year,” Rubio said.

Dr. Jared Staudt serves as the director of formation for the Archdiocese of Denver’s offices of evangelization and Catholic Schools, and is a husband and father of six children. Staudt told CNA there are many ways that Catholics can prepare at home for the coming of Christ.

“Advent is a time to trace the story of salvation history so that the coming of Jesus makes sense as the culmination of a long preparation,” he said.

One way to learn more about salvation history is by creating a Jesse Tree, which traces the coming of Jesus through the old testament, he said, and children can help make the ornaments for the tree in order to engage their imaginations. Reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah can also be a helpful way to see the different ways Jesus’ coming was prophesied, he added.

Sacrifices can also be offered during Advent, as it is also a penitential season, Staud noted.

There are also several feast days throughout the season that Catholics can celebrate, Staudt said, including the Immaculate Conception and feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“On December 13, we celebrate a saint of light, St. Lucy. It’s a day of candles and crowns, wearing white and red for her purity and martyrdom, and for special food, such as St. Lucy buns. Advent is also a time to reclaim Santa Claus, who arose from the traditions surrounding the gift-giving St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6. He is the patron saint of children for providing a dowry for three destitute young girls, dropping gold down their chimney. Traditionally boys would dress up like bishops and there’d be a procession of the saint (laying the foundation for today’s parades). Putting out their shoes for a gift from their patron saint will brighten up Advent for our kids,” he said.

He added that while it’s tempting to start listening to Christmas music, there are many Advent hymns and carols that can help prepare Catholics for Christmas.

“In England, it’s traditional to have lessons and carols, and it’s also popular to listen to Handel’s Messiah (as the first of its three parts focuses on the coming of Christ). There are a lot of great Advent albums, but I would recommend Advent at Ephesus from the Benedictines of Mary Queen of the Apostles,” he said.

Fr. Edward Looney, a priest in Door County, Wisconsin, told CNA that he would encourage Catholics to take advantage of the ways social media can connect them to Advent resources they may not have had access to otherwise, such as online talks and retreats.

Looney said he recommended an online advent pilgrimage with Parousia Media in Australia, as well as an online three-day Marian retreat starting on Sunday, Nov. 29, with Father Joel Laramie from the World Apostleship of Prayer. The retreat is being recorded and will be available all Advent. For reading, Looney recommended Oriens: A Pilgrimage through Advent and Christmas by Fr. Joel Sember.

Looney added that Catholics who are feeling discouraged by this year can meditate on the message of Advent which is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

“Whatever it is that we’re going through during this Advent season, we want to prepare for Christmas. We don't want to ignore it because then, what spiritual benefit is that to us, if we just ignore it? So we want to engage the season, and it's a unique year unto itself,” he said.

“God is with us, so we can't forget that. We can't forget that God is with us right now in this moment and He hasn't abandoned us. That He's with us in our suffering, He's with us in our pain and everything. And if that means right now, I'm lonely, I'm sad, I'm angry - whatever it is, acknowledge that God is with you right now.”