Christians oriented toward light, hope

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The ancient practice of orienting church buildings East to West — with the entrance facing West and the altar toward the East — was symbolic of the connection that exists between light and hope, Pope Francis said.
“What does it mean to be a Christian? It means looking toward the light, continuing to make a profession of faith in the light, even when the world is wrapped in the night and darkness,” Pope Francis said Aug. 2 at his weekly general audience.
With temperatures moving toward a forecasted 100 degrees, the pope resumed his audiences indoors after a month’s hiatus. He also resumed his series of audience talks about Christian hope.
He began by explaining how in ancient times the physical setting of a church building held symbolic importance for believers because the sun sets in the West, “where the light dies,” but rises in the East, where “the dawn reminds us of Christ, the sun risen from on high.”
In fact, he said, using the “language of the cosmos,” it was customary to have those about to be baptized proclaim their renunciation of Satan facing West and their profession of faith in God facing East.
Pope Francis did not touch on the debate about whether priests should celebrate Mass facing East, with their backs to the people, but focused on light as a symbol of Christian hope.
“Christians are not exempt from the darkness, either external or even internal,” he said. “They do not live outside the world, but because of the grace of Christ received though baptism, they are men and women who are ‘oriented’: they do not believe in the darkness, but in the light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but long for resurrection; they are not crushed by evil because they always trust in the infinite possibilities of goodness.”
Receiving the light of Christ at baptism, he said, Christians are called to be true “Christophers” or Christ-bearers, “especially to those who are going through situations of mourning, desperation, darkness and hatred.”
Christians who truly bear the light of Christ’s hope, he said, can be identified by the light in their eyes and by their serenity “even on the most complicated days.”

Vatican to bishops: check your hosts, wine

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Vatican recently published a circular letter, “On the bread and wine for the Eucharist,” sent to diocesan bishops at the request of Pope Francis. Dated June 15 – the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ – the letter was made public by the Vatican July 8.
Because bread and wine for the Eucharist are no longer supplied just by religious communities, but “are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet,” bishops should set up guidelines, an oversight body and/or even a form of certification to help “remove any doubt about the validity of the matter for the Eucharist,” the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said.
In response to the Vatican statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Divine Worship has answered some of these frequently asked questions.
Q: Why is the Vatican worried about what makes up a Communion host? Doesn’t it have more important things to focus on?
A: To say that the Eucharist is important to Catholics is an understatement; the bishops at the Second Vatican Council referred to it as the “source of and summit of the Christian life.” On the night before he died, Jesus considered it important enough to spend time with his apostles at the Last Supper, telling them to continue to celebrate the Eucharist, instructing them to “do this in memory of me.” So the Vatican is naturally interested in making sure that this instruction is carried out properly, and this requires not only a priest who says the correct words, but also the use of the correct material. Therefore, the Catholic Church has strict requirements for the bread and wine used at Mass.
Q: Has the validity of the materials used for the Eucharist been a problem in the United States?
A: The circular letter is addressed to the entire church, to bishops all over the world. Circumstances are very different in various places around the globe, so it’s difficult to know whether the Holy See’s letter is a response to particular problems in certain places. It’s important to note that the letter does not introduce any new teachings or regulations – it simply reminds bishops of their important duty to ensure that the correct materials are used in the celebration of the Mass. We’re fortunate in our country, insofar as it’s not difficult to find bread and wine that are clearly suitable for the Mass.
Q: Concerning low-gluten hosts, how much gluten is in them? Are they safe for someone with celiac disease?
A: The gluten content in low-gluten hosts can vary by producer, but they typically contain less than 0.32 percent gluten. Foods with less than 20 parts per million gluten can be marketed as “gluten-free,” and some low-gluten hosts – while containing enough gluten to satisfy the church’s requirements for Mass – would even fall into that category. The amount of gluten present in low-gluten hosts is considered safe for the vast majority of people with gluten-related health difficulties.
Q: For someone who does not want any exposure to gluten, the church says that Communion may be received under the species of wine alone. What happens if a diocese does not offer Communion under both species?
A: Parishes are more than willing to make special arrangements to assist people who need to receive the Precious Blood instead of the host for medical reasons, even if the parish doesn’t normally offer Communion under both kinds. It can take a little advanced planning to organize the procedures, but pastors are happy to do this. If for some reason a person in this situation runs into difficulties at the parish level, he or she should contact the bishop’s office for assistance.
Q: What about someone, especially a priest, who has alcoholism? Is grape juice allowed?
A: Grape juice is not allowed for the Catholic Mass, but the use of “mustum” can be permitted. Mustum is a kind of wine that has an extremely low alcohol content. It’s made by beginning the fermentation process in grape juice, but then suspending the process such that the alcohol content generally remains below 1 percent, far lower than the levels found in most table wines.
Q: Who do I talk with if these issues are a concern of mine? Must my pastor accommodate my needs?
A: Someone who suffers in this way should talk to his or her pastor. Naturally, if someone arrives with this kind of request at the last second before Mass is set to begin, the pastor might not be able to accommodate his or her needs. But if someone reaches out in a reasonable manner, pastors are happy to help. Again, if someone runs into difficulties in this regard, he or she should contact the bishop’s office for assistance. One of the greatest duties and privileges of bishops and priests is making the Eucharist available to the Catholic faithful, and they do their best to make this possible.

Bishops ask for youth input for 2018 Synod

The theme for the worldwide bishops’ synod in 2018 is youth ministry. Preparations include asking young people for thier input now. The Vatican has posted a survey for young people aged 16-29. Bishop Joseph Kopacz is putting out a call for participation throughout the Diocese of Jackson. The survey is available in English, Spanish, French and Italian on the synod’s official site: youth.synod2018.va/content/synod2018/it.html and is open to any young person, regardless of faith or religious belief.

Catechesis is a vocation of service, not a job

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Catechists are called to live their mission as a service, by preaching the Gospel through concrete actions rather than treating it as just a job, Pope Francis said.
Like St. Francis, who preached through his deeds, the “vocation and task of the catechist” is found when “we visit the poor, helping children and giving food to the poor,” the pope told participants of a conference on catechesis in his native Argentina.
“In fact, to be a catechist is a vocation of service in the church; what has been received as a gift from God must in turn be transmitted,” he said in the message published by the Vatican July 12.
The message was addressed to Archbishop Ramon Dus of Resistencia, Argentina, president of the Argentine bishops’ commission on catechesis and biblical ministry.
The commission sponsored the July 11-14 international symposium on catechesis taking place in the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.
In his letter, the pope said that for catechists to effectively preach the Gospel, they must “constantly return to that first announcement or ‘kerygma,’ which is the gift that changed their lives.”
“Kerygma” a Greek word that means “preaching of the Gospel,” must “not only resonate again and again in Christian life, but even moreso on those called to announce and teach the faith,” the pope said.
“This announcement must accompany the faith already present in the religiosity of our people,” the pope said. In doing so, the gift of faith can be nourished so that “actions and words reflect the grace of being disciples of Jesus.”
A catechist, he continued, does not “start from his or her own ideas and tastes” but rather “walks from and with Christ.”
“The more we make Jesus the center of our life, the more he makes us come out of ourselves, de-centers us and makes us close to others,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also said that catechists must also be “creative” and look for different ways to proclaim Christ and transmit the faith, like Jesus, who “adapted himself to the people in front of him to make them closer to God’s love.”
Adapting to others, he added, does not change the message “because God does not change; instead, he renews all things in him.”
“In the creative quest to make Jesus known, we should not be afraid because he precedes us in this task. He is already in the people of today, and there he is waiting for us,” the pope said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Convovation format: part retreat, part pep-rally aimed to inspire leaders

By Carol Zimmermann
ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) – From July 1-4 the main floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Orlando was transformed into a huge parish hall with places for worship, prayer, discussion, and even coffee and doughnuts during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

At the convocation 3,500 church leaders – men and women religious, bishops and laypeople – gathered to set a new course for the U.S. Catholic Church.
Following a retreat format, each day started and ended with group prayer. Mass was celebrated each day in the hotel ballroom, and there were plenty of scheduled times for the sacrament of reconciliation and private prayer in a large room turned into an adoration chapel.
Many of the keynote sessions took the form of pep talks encouraging delegates to share their faith boldly with the world at large and within their own families and parishes. The numerous breakout sessions provided the working aspect of the gathering: closely examining what the church is doing and where it can do more.
More than 155 bishops attended the gathering, sitting with their delegations for meals and breakout sessions. Cardinals and bishops who spoke at keynote sessions or in Mass homilies encouraged participants that this was their time, their moment, stressing the urgency to bring God’s message of love to a divided world.
At the final Mass, described as a “Mass of Sending,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the church is called to achieve great things in the face of the impossible – to unite people together by going to the peripheries of society and sharing the good news of Jesus through action rooted in faith.
“Sisters and brothers, we are in a very, very significant time in our church in this country,” said Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he urged the delegates to receive God’s grace for the work ahead.
None of the homilists or keynote speakers sugarcoated the challenges for the modern church and more than once speakers pointed out that Catholics are leaving the church in greater numbers, particularly young adults, than those joining the church.
But as Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles pointed out: “The saints always loved a good fight and we should like a good fight too.”
The bishop, who addressed the crowd through a video hookup July 4, told them it was an “exciting time to be an evangelist” but that they also should pick up their game to evangelize effectively.
Throughout the convocation Pope Francis was pointed out as a model for modern Catholics to follow in inviting others, especially those on the peripheries, to Christ. Speakers also were quick to quote his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization – or missionary discipleship – in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged, unborn and forgotten.
Two homilies during the convocation specifically quoted the pope’s admonition in “Evangelii Gaudium” that Catholics shouldn’t be “sourpusses” but should reflect joy.
Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable with the idea of evangelizing, but said they need to be willing to step out of themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter the pope speaks about.
Part of this simply involves listening to people, caring for them and leading them to Jesus, said speaker Sister Miriam James Heidland, a sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.
Delegates were repeatedly encouraged to reach out to the peripheries especially to immigrants and the poor, but also to all members of the church’s diverse family – people of all races, women and young people.
Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, said it is time for the church to start building a “language of communion” rather than dividing the church community into different groups and individually responding to those needs.
“It’s the church serving the church,” he said. “We all are the church.”
That message inspired Sister Kathleen Burton, a Sister of St. Joseph who is co-director of the Office of Faith Formation, Family Life and Lay Ministry Formation in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, who said: “The walls need to come down.”
“There’s a renewed sense of evangelization and re-evangelization,” the delegate told Catholic News Service. “We’re being challenged that we don’t wait for people to come to us, but we’ve got to go out to them.”
For many delegates, seeing the church’s diversity – Latinos, African-Americans and Africans, Native Americans, and Asians from across the continent at the convocation – was an inspiring sight, helping them better understand the idea of the church as family.
Vanessa Griffin Campbell, director of the Office of Ministry to African American Catholics in the Diocese of Cleveland, said the key to embracing diversity and going to the peripheries will be teamwork among laypeople, clergy and diocesan staff.
The church should “not just open the doors on Sunday,” she said, “but make sure our doors are open Sunday to Sunday.”
At the end of the closing Mass, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who attended all four days of the convocation, congratulated attendees for the invigorating discussion.
He called it a “kairos,” or opportune moment, in the life of the U.S. church and said he would tell Pope Francis: “the Spirit is alive in the church in the United States.”
“I will tell him of the commitment of many missionary disciples and their love for the church,” he added.
(See related stories on pages 3 and 6. Contributing to this report was Dennis Sadowski in Orlando.)

Pope envisions Cardinals as grandfathers

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN LETTER (CNS) – The Catholic Church is not a “gerontocracy” ruled by old men, 80-year-old Pope Francis said; “we aren’t old men, we are grandfathers.”
“We are grandfathers called to dream and to give our dreams to the young people of today. They need it so that from our dreams, they can draw the strength to prophesy and carry out their task,” the pope told about 50 members of the College of Cardinals.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop June 27, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.
Most of the cardinals present were officials of the Roman Curia or retired curial officials living in Rome. Many of them needed assistance up and down the small steps to the altar at Communion time.
The Mass was celebrated the day before Pope Francis was to create five new cardinals: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73; and Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74.
With an average age of 71.6 years, the new cardinals would lower by two months the average age of the entire College of Cardinals. However, the new members would increase slightly the average age of the cardinal electors, the group of those under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
On the day of the pope’s anniversary Mass, the average age of the 116 cardinal electors was 71 years, four months and 15 days; the five new members would raise the average by 11 days.
Before the new members were added, the entire College of Cardinals had 220 members and an average age of 78 years, five months and 23 days. The five new members would lower the average to 78 years, three months and one day.
None of the new cardinals, though, are as old as the patriarch Abraham was when God called him to leave his home and set out for a new land.
The Bible says Abraham was 75 years old when he got the call, the pope noted at his anniversary Mass. “He was more or less our age. He was about to retire.”
At 75, “with the weight of old age, that old age that brings aches, illness,” Abraham heard God call him “as if he were a scout,” the pope said. God tells him, “Go. Look. And hope.”
God says the same thing to the pope and the cardinals, he said. “He tells us that now is not the time to shut down our lives or to end our stories.”
Instead, the pope told the cardinals, God continues to call each of them to keep moving forward and continues to give each of them a mission.
And every mission, he said, involves the three imperatives God gave Abraham: “Get up. Look. Hope.”
God tells Abraham, “Get up. Walk. Don’t stay still. You have a task, a mission, and you must carry it out walking. Don’t stay seated,” the pope said.
Abraham’s tent is a key symbol in the story, he said. The only thing Abraham built solidly was an altar “to adore the one who ordered him to get up and to set out.” His tent was his mobile shelter.
“Someone who does not like us would say that we are the gerontocracy of the church,” the pope told the cardinals. “He doesn’t understand what he is saying.”
The cardinals are not just old men, but are grandfathers in the church, the pope said. “If we don’t feel like we are, we must ask for that grace.”
As grandfathers, the cardinals should know that their grandchildren are watching them and looking to them, he continued. They must help young people find meaning in their lives by sharing their experiences.
For that to happen, the pope said, the cardinals cannot be focused on “the melancholy of our story,” but must be dreamers who continue to look to the future with hope, knowing that God continues to act in human history.    
(Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.)

Behind hatred, violence: an unloved heart

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Violence and hatred often are signs that a person is unhappy and feels unloved and unwanted, Pope Francis said.
In today’s world, people – especially children and youths – often feel that unless “we are strong, attractive and beautiful, no one will care about us,” the pope said June 14 during his weekly general audience.
“When an adolescent is not or does not feel loved, violence can arise. Behind so many forms of social hate and hooliganism, there is often a heart that has not been recognized,” he said.
Despite a heat wave that brought temperatures close to 90 degrees, an estimated 12,000 pilgrims donning colorful hats and umbrellas cheered and waved as the pope entered St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis took a moment to greet the sick who were watching the audience from indoors because of the hot Roman weather.
“They are in the Paul VI hall and we are here,” the pope told the crowd in the square. “But we are all together; we are connected by the Holy Spirit who always unites us.”
In his talk, the pope focused on the certainty of hope that comes from feeling loved as children of God.
When men and women do not feel loved, he said, they run the risk of succumbing to the “awful slavery” of believing that love is based solely on one’s appearance or merits.
“Imagine a world where everyone begs for reasons to attract the attention of others and no one is willing to love another person freely,” he said. “It seems like a human world but, in reality, it is a hell.”
Feelings of loneliness, he added, often lead to “man’s many narcissisms” and can be conquered only by an “experience of love that has been given and received.”
God, who never needs a reason to love his children, has that kind of unconditional love for each person, the pope said. “God does not even bind his benevolence to our conversion; if anything that is a consequence of God’s love.”
Recalling his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the pope said he saw God’s unconditional love reflected on the faces of mothers who went to the local prison to visit their children.
“I remember so many mothers in my diocese who would get in line to enter the prison. So many mothers who were not ashamed. Their child was in prison, but it was their child and they suffered so many humiliations, “the pope recalled.
“Only this love of a mother and father can help us understand God’s love,” he said, adding that “no sin, no wrong choice can ever erase it.”
Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis asked the crowd, “What is the medicine that can change an unhappy person?”
“Love!” the crowd exclaimed.
“Very good, very good,” the pope said. Christian hope comes from knowing “God the father who loves us as we are. He always loves us, everyone, good and bad.”
    (Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

La pobreza requiere acción, no palabras, dice el papa

By Carol Glatz
CIUDAD DEL VATICANO (CNS) –  La gente no debe ser indiferente, ni faltar de responder ante la creciente pobreza en el mundo mientras una minoría privilegiada acumula “riqueza ostentosa”, dijo el papa Francisco.
    Dios creó el cielo y la tierra para todos; son los hombres, por desgracia, quienes han levantado fronteras, muros y vallas, traicionando el don original destinado a la humanidad sin exclusión alguna,” dijo el papa en un mensaje para la primera Jornada Mundial de los Pobres.
    La recién establecida conmemoración y el periodo de reflexión y acción que sigue tienen el propósito de ayudar a los cristianos a desarrollar y mantener un estilo de vida más consistente y sincero cimentado en el compartir, en la simplicidad, y las verdades esenciales del Evangelio, dijo el papa en un mensaje emitido el 13 de junio, día de la fiesta de San Antonio de Padua.

People receive food rations in 2014 at a community soup kitchen in a Buenos Aires, Argentina. World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated Nov. 19 this year, will focus on the apostle John’s call to love “not with words, but with deeds.” (CNS photo/Enrique Marcarian, Reuters) See POPE-POOR-MESSAGE June 13, 2017.

La Jornada Mundial de los Pobres, que será observada cada año el domingo 33 del tiempo ordinario, se observará este año el 19 de noviembre y se enfocará en el llamado del apóstol Juan de amar “no de palabra, sino con obras”.
Hay muchas formas de pobreza material y espiritual que envenenan los corazones de la gente y perjudican su dignidad, dijo el papa en su mensaje, y “se debe responder con una nueva visión de la vida y de la sociedad”. Muy a menudo los cristianos han asumido una “mentalidad mundana” y han olvidado mantener su vista y sus metas enfocadas en Cristo, quien está presente en los que son frágiles y vulnerables.
“La pobreza tiene el rostro de mujeres, hombres y niños explotados por viles intereses, pisoteados por la lógica perversa del poder y el dinero”, él dijo. “Qué lista inacabable y cruel nos resulta cuando consideramos la pobreza como fruto de la injusticia social, la miseria moral, la codicia de unos pocos y la indiferencia generalizada”.
“Hoy en día, desafortunadamente, mientras emerge cada vez más la riqueza descarada que se acumula en las manos de unos pocos privilegiados, con frecuencia acompañada de la ilegalidad y la explotación ofensiva de la dignidad humana, escandaliza la propagación de la pobreza en grandes sectores de la sociedad entera”, dijo el papa. “Ante este escenario, no se puede permanecer inactivos, ni tampoco resignados”.
Los cristianos tienen que acercarse a los pobres como Cristo lo hizo y mandó, dijo el papa. Los pobres, de hecho, “no son un problema, sino un recurso” rico en dignidad y en los dones dados por Dios que pueden ayudar a los cristianos a entender la verdad esencial del Evangelio. “Si deseamos ofrecer nuestra aportación efectiva al cambio de la historia, generando un desarrollo real, es necesario que escuchemos el grito de los pobres y nos comprometamos a sacarlos de su situación de marginación”, escribió el papa en su mensaje.
Días antes que terminara el Jubileo Extraordinario de la Misericordia, el papa Francisco habló de su deseo de tener un día especial dedicado a los pobres.
El arzobispo Rino Fisichella, presidente del Pontificio Consejo para la Promoción de la Nueva Evangelización, le dijo a reporteros que el papa veía el día como una manera para que toda la iglesia piense en el sentido de la pobreza del Evangelio –  buscando y recibiendo solamente lo esencial –  y entonces actúe y comparta concretamente el tesoro esencial del amor y la misericordia de Dios.
Las iglesias locales deben dedicar la semana antes de la Jornada Mundial de los Pobres a iniciativas creativas que fomenten el encuentro, la amistad, la solidaridad y la ayuda concreta, dice el mensaje del papa. El consejo pontificio publicará en septiembre una guía pastoral para ayudar a las parroquias en su planificación, dijo el arzobispo.
El papa celebrará Misa en la Basílica de San Pedro el 19 de noviembre con los pobres y los voluntarios y después ofrecerá almuerzo para “por lo menos 500 pobres” en la sala de audiencias Pablo VI del Vaticano, dijo el arzobispo Fisichella, añadiendo que muchas iglesias y organizaciones católicas de Roma estarían ofreciendo gestos similares de una comida compartida.

Archbishop Gregory asks survivors for forgiveness

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz participated in this Mass during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s gathering. See related stories on pages 1 and 3.)
WASHINGTON – As they began the spring general assembly, bishops from across the U.S. gathered June 14 at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for a Mass of Prayer and Penance for survivors of sexual abuse within the Church. The Mass was held in response to a call from Pope Francis for all episcopal conferences across the world to have a Day of Prayer and Penance for victims of sexual abuse within the Church.
The bishops gathered together in solidarity to pray for victims and to acknowledge the pain caused by the failures of the Church in the past. The Mass marked the opening for the June plenary assembly of bishops held June 14-15 in Indianapolis.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the principal celebrant.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory delivers the homily during Mass June 14 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual spring assembly. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, of Atlanta, and former president of the USCCB, was the homilist.
Following is the full text of Archbishop Gregory’s homily.
In the very same chapter of his Gospel in which St. Matthew presents his rendition of the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that He has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Clearly, the Beatitudes are in fact a startling new edition of God’s Law. Jesus is Himself both the new law and the fulfillment of the old law. He calls us to see with new eyes how to live in a world so continually filled with sorrow, injustice and violence and how important it is to acknowledge our own share in causing or compounding the sorrows, suffering and violence that often seem to surround us.
We bishops have learned a great deal about the sorrow and pain of those we love and serve, even as we have to acknowledge humbly, publicly and pitifully our share in bringing much of that pain to bear. We feel, we see, we live with, as they do in much greater measure, the impact of behaviors, responses and revelations that have no place in Matthew’s Gospel, in the Beatitudes, or in the narrative of Jesus’ promise to fulfill God’s Law. And yet only there, by His Grace and His unwavering example, can we begin to learn to heal and to reconcile — to bind the wounds and to assuage the sorrow. We recognize this even as Paul reminds us that we have been qualified for this ministry only by God’s purpose and designation.
Pope Francis has summoned us as bishops to find occasions and opportunities to pray earnestly for God’s grace to bring about the healing and the reconciliation of those who have been harmed in this tragedy that has hurt far too many of His people and far too much of His Church. The Holy Father has called us respectfully to acknowledge our own share in causing the pain that so many are still enduring.
At this Mass, we bishops humbly and sincerely ask for the forgiveness of those who have been harmed, scandalized or dispirited by events that, even if they happened many years ago, remain ongoing sources of anguish for them and for those who love them. We humbly seek forgiveness from the faith-filled people of our Church and from our society at-large — and especially from those whose lives may have been devastated by our failure to care adequately for the little ones entrusted to us and for any decision that we made or should have made that exacerbated the sorrow and heartache that the entire Church has felt and continues to feel — for what we have done, and for what we have failed to do. We can never say that we are sorry enough for the share that we have had in this tragedy of broken fidelity and trust.

Clergymen pray during Mass at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual spring assembly June 14 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/Mike Krokos, The Criterion)

With hearts that are contrite we ask the forgiveness of God, our Almighty Father, under whose purpose and designation we are entrusted with this ministry, and whom we disgrace most profoundly when we fall so woefully short.
There have been many procedural and educational expressions of our commitment to reform and renewal that have been put into place in the past 15 years. They are sincere, state-of-the-art, and effective. Nevertheless, this expression of our sorrow is far more important at this time, in this place, than any administrative process or training effort, however beneficial to the Church and to the world.
While we have had many opportunities to pray in our own dioceses with survivors, their families and our people, we gather this evening as a community of bishops to pray together for the grace of healing and reconciliation that only the Lord Jesus Himself can bestow upon His Church. While there is still more, always more, that must and will be done to assure our people of our dedication and commitment to safeguarding the innocent lives of our young and vulnerable faithful, this evening we acknowledge that ultimately it must be the Lord Himself who heals and reconciles the hearts of those who live with the pain of God’s law unheeded.
For that Grace, with sincere hearts, with contrite spirits and with a renewed promise to protect, we simply pray this evening. Amen

Clergymen pray during Mass at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual spring assembly June 14 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/Mike Krokos, The Criterion)

Bishops also address religious liberty, healthcare, sacramental guidelines

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) tackled a number of issues during its spring meeting in Indianapolis. Here is a brief outline of some of their actions other than the safe environment report.
• The bishops voted June 15 to make the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty a permanent standing committee. The bishops’ action came less than a week before the start of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom June 21-July 4. It is a two-week period of prayer, advocacy and education on religious freedom.
• Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, briefed his brother bishops on the sobering topic of international persecution and human rights violations, and what his committee has been doing the prelates behalf to improve the situation. Bishop Cantu’s trips are called “solidarity visits.” His mandate as chairman “includes sharing and promoting the social teaching of the church, especially human rights and religious freedom.”  
• As the country awaits the U.S. Senate’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in the coming weeks, the U.S. bishops made it clear that their efforts are focused on “ensuring the fundamental right of medical care” for all people. The Conference also reinforced its stand that the American Health Care Act passed by the U.S. House May 4 needs major reform – to provide quality health care for the “voiceless,” especially children, the elderly, the poor, immigrants and the seriously ill. “Within two weeks, we may see a federal budgetary action with potentially catastrophic effects on the lives of our people, most especially children and the elderly, the seriously ill, the immigrant and our nation’s working poor,”said Bishop George L. Thomas of Helena, Montana, in his remarks to his fellow bishops.  
• The body overwhelmingly approved revisions to the guidelines governing the celebration of sacraments for people with disabilities that take into account medical and technological developments. The revisions in the “Guidelines for the Celebration of Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities” updates a document that was adopted in 1995. The guidelines were developed as a tool to improve access to the sacraments by persons with disabilities and reduce inconsistencies in pastoral practice.