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Olaf Scholz sworn in as Germany's new chancellor

Center-left leader Olaf Scholz has been sworn in as Germany's ninth chancellor since World War Two. But he faces significant challenges.

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Pope's meeting with Canadian indigenous peoples postponed

The indigenous delegation due to Visit the Vatican and meet with the Pope from 17-20 December is postponed due to Covid-19

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Pope Francis makes early morning visit to Immaculate Conception statue in Rome

An Italian firefighter places a wreath of flowers on the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, Dec. 8, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Dec 8, 2021 / 01:17 am (CNA).

Pope Francis made an early morning visit on Wednesday to the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna.

The pope made the private visit shortly after 6 a.m. on Dec. 8, days after the Vatican announced that, for the second consecutive year, he would not make his customary public afternoon trip to the site on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception due to the pandemic.

The Vatican said on Nov. 27 that, in place of a public visit, Pope Francis would mark the feast day by asking the Virgin Mary in prayer “to protect the Romans, the city in which they live, and the sick who need Her maternal protection everywhere in the world.”

The Holy See press office said on Dec. 8 that the pope left white roses at the base of the column, before asking for the Virgin Mary’s intercession for the healing of the sick and respite for those affected by wars and the climate crisis.

He also prayed for the grace of conversion for “those who build walls to distance themselves from the pain of others.”

The press office said that the pope left at around 6:20 a.m. and traveled to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary Protection of the Roman People, before returning to the Vatican shortly after 7 a.m.

After Pope Francis departed the Piazza di Spagna, a firefighter ascended a ladder to place a wreath of flowers over the statue’s arm.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The statue of the Immaculate Conception sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column. It was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Since 1953, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue for the feast day. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles on foot from the Vatican.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.

In past years, Pope Francis left floral wreaths for the Virgin Mary, one of which was placed on the outstretched arm of the statue by firefighters. The pope also offered an original prayer for the feast day.

As is customary for Marian solemnities, Pope Francis will still lead the Angelus prayer from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 8.

At Angelus, Pope recalls Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece

Following the recitation of the Angelus for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis looked back on his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece, which concluded on Monday.

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Pope at Angelus: Be humble like Mary to attract God’s eye

Pope Francis addressed the faithful on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and urged them to be like Mary in her humility, and therefore closeness to God.

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Caritas Asia: Witness to charity and dialogue between religions

Caritas Internationalis is marking 7 decades of its service with a series of 7 regional or continental webinars. The last of these virtual seminars took place on December 7 on Asia.

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Victoria anti-discrimination bill 'unfairly targets' religious organizations, archbishop says

Parliament House for the state of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. / Stock photo via Shutterstock

Melbourne, Australia, Dec 7, 2021 / 16:31 pm (CNA).

Catholic leaders in Australia expressed concern this week about a new set of laws passed in the state of Victoria which prevent religious groups and schools from making hiring decisions based on protected attributes such as marital status.

Melbourne’s Catholic archbishop said following the bill’s passage that “not a single problem of discrimination” has been identified in the state’s Catholic schools. 

Under the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021, religious organisations and schools will no longer be able to fire or refuse to hire people based on protected attributes such as sexuality, gender identity, or marital status, a Dec. 2 announcement from the Victorian premier reads. 

The new laws do not apply to priests, ministers, or religious leaders or their members, the premier said. Religious organizations that receive Victorian government funding to provide services will not be able to refuse to provide those services to people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement says religious organisations and schools will only be able to make employment decisions based on an employee’s religious beliefs where those beliefs are “inherent to the job such as a religious studies teacher, or a principal.” 

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne called the new laws “a serious overreach by the Victorian Government into the rightful freedoms of faith-based organisations.”

“It unfairly targets and undermines the ability of faith organisations to confidently manage employment matters according to their mission,” Comensoli wrote, adding that “A rushed law, with inadequate consultation, and with no amendments in parliament, is not something to be celebrated.”

The archbishop reiterated his commitment to working with others “to shape and promote a fair and just society in which pluralism is valued and respected.”

The state’s ​​Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, said in a statement that “These laws send a clear message that discrimination against LGBTIQ+ Victorians based on who they are or who they love is simply not acceptable.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that people with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should be "accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

A 2003 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught that "in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty...One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws.”

In the United States, federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination – Title VII – includes an exception for ministers of religion. In a June 2020 ruling in the case Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Supreme Court found that Catholic school teachers, even if not given the formal title of "minister,” can fall under the ministerial exception because the essence of their job is to transmit the faith to students.

Canadian Indigenous leaders' trip to Vatican delayed by Omicron variant concerns

Amemorial in Ottawa, Canada, in tribute to 215 indigenous children whose remains were found in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, June 1, 2021. / meandering images/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2021 / 15:32 pm (CNA).

The scheduled meeting between Pope Francis and a delegation from Canada has been delayed to 2022, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announced in a joint statement on Tuesday, Dec. 7. 

“After careful assessment of the uncertainty and potential health risks surrounding international travel amid the recent spread of the Omicron variant, the Canadian Bishops, Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have jointly decided to reschedule a delegation to the Vatican in December 2021 to the earliest opportunity in 2022,” they said. 

“It is also important to note that the delegation is postponed, not canceled,” said the statement, adding that the Holy See advised that safety concerns of the delegates should be paramount in deciding when to travel to the Vatican. 

The delegation of approximately two dozen First Nations, Inuit, and Métis elders, knowledge keepers, survivors of residential schools, and young people, along with a “small group of Canadian bishops,” was due to meet with Pope Francis and other officials in the Vatican from Dec. 17-20. The visit had been in the works since June 2021, following the discovery of many unmarked gravesites at the site of former residential schools. 

“The decision to postpone was a heartbreaking one, made after careful consultation with

delegates, family members, community leaders, public health officials and the leadership of

each of the three National Indigenous Organizations,” said the statement, adding that there were additional concerns about the safety of elderly members of the delegation and those who live in remote communities in light of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

“As more information becomes available, we will continue to assess the feasibility of future travel plans, based on guidance from the Canadian government and relevant international authorities,” they said. 

The Omicron variant was formally named at the end of November. It was first identified in South Africa, and scientists are still unsure about the transmissibility and lethality of this new variant.

Despite the delayed plans, the statement said the “shared commitment to walking together towards healing and reconciliation remains strong.”

“We understand that the Holy See is very much committed to rescheduling this visit in the new

year and we look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers,

residential school survivors, and youth to participate in private meetings with Pope Francis,” they said. 

Once the delegation arrives in the Vatican, they intend to ask Pope Francis for an apology for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system, as well as for the release of all records that relate to the residential schools, and for the return of any Indigenous items from Canada that the Vatican may possess in its archives.

In 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic, requested that Pope Francis issue an apology for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system. The pope declined to give an apology, but has repeatedly expressed “sorrow” at the various atrocities which occurred at the Church-administered schools. 

In late October, Pope Francis said he would be open to the idea of a papal visit to Canada. Should the visit happen, it would be the first time a pope has visited Canada since 2002, when St. Pope John Paul II visited the country for World Youth Day. 

Canada’s residential school system operated from the 1870s until 1996. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and sent to the schools, established by the federal government and run by Catholics and members of Protestant denominations, to force assimilation and strip them of familial and cultural ties.

The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools.

According to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an estimated 4,100 to 6,000 students died as a result of neglect or abuse in the schools. Many unmarked graves located on or near the locations of the former schools were discovered during the summer of 2021.

Pope Francis prays for the sick and suffering before Our Lady

Pope Francis performs a private act of veneration to Our Lady on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

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PHOTOS: Los Angeles, San Diego pay tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe with processions, Masses after year hiatus

This year's procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles was well attended after a limited, cars-only procession in 2020 during the pandemic. / Víctor Aleman/Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2021 / 14:36 pm (CNA).

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles held its 90th annual procession and outdoor Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. The celebration, which is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles, was established by Catholics who fled persecution by the Mexican government during the Cristero War in 1931.

“It’s a joy to be reunited this year to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez in a release.

This year’s event is part of the archdiocese’s Jubilee Year, “Forward in Mission,” which celebrates 250 years of Catholic faith in the region.

“We are gathered here with the desire to go ‘always forward and united in mission and hope,’ which is  the theme of our procession this year, and as you know, it’s a historic year,” Gomez said. 

Five East L.A. students from Bishop Mora Salesian High School kicked off the procession with a 6-mile relay run and the carrying of the Guadalupano torch from Mission San Gabriel to East Los Angeles College Stadium, where the Mass was held. 

The procession included musicians, Aztec dancers, and many colorful floats honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, who has been a symbol of “hope, compassion, unity, and love” during a difficult year, Gomez said.

“Her image has been a symbol of unity, peace, compassion, and hope for people  around the world,” said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in a statement.  

The procession and Mass commemorated the 490th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and marked the culmination of a months-long pilgrimage of the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego throughout Los Angeles. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an exact digital reproduction of the original image in Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and was blessed by Pope St. John Paul II. 

“Whenever I am in the presence of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I feel like a child who is loved,” said Archbishop José Gomez on Twitter in preparation for the event. “When you are in her presence, you can feel the warmth of her tender eyes gazing down upon you. It is a powerful feeling—a beautiful sense of being protected.”

Last year, a limited number of participants were able to participate in the procession by car only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gomez offered his prayers for the end of the pandemic during this year’s event. 

“Today, especially, we elevate our prayers for the end of the pandemic,” said Gomez in Spanish during the bilingual celebration. “We dedicate special prayers for the eternal rest of those who have died and also for those who are sick and for those who assist them.”

During the homily, Gomez called the faithful to keep following Jesus. 

“We need to increase more and more in  our love for Jesus, in our understanding of what God wants in our lives, in our desire to do his will,” he  said. 

 

The Diocese of San Diego also celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession and Mass on Sunday. Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano participated in the procession and celebrated the bilingual Mass, which was held in the gym at St. Augustine High School. 

“We estimate that around 1,000 faithful participated in our procession, and nearly 2,000 attended the Mass, one of the largest turnouts in recent years,” said Aida Bustos, director of the Office of Media for the Diocese of San Diego.

Last year, the San Diego Mass was held outside with limited attendance due to the pandemic, and no procession took place. According to one report, this year, the San Diego celebration had floats from 32 Catholic organizations and parishes in the area, along with mariachi bands and dancers. 

Following the Mass, the diocese held a tribute to former Auxiliary Bishop Gilbert Chavez, who died in March of 2020. Chavez was the second Mexican-American to be appointed auxiliary bishop in the United States, and advocated for Latinos in his ministry.