BALTIMORE (CNS) – The U.S. church today is called more than ever to carry out its centuries-long evangelizing mission at a time of spiritual awakening rising from “under the clouds of the pandemic” and the country’s uncertain future, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told his fellow prelates. “People are starting to examine what they truly believe and what they value most deeply in their lives,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, who spoke Nov. 16 during the opening public session of the USCCB’s Nov. 15-18 general assembly in Baltimore. The questions people have allow the church to continue its mission, even in an increasingly secularized society, the archbishop said. The challenge, he said, is “to understand how the church should carry out her mission.” Archbishop Gomez acknowledged that differences among members of the church exist because of the differing views people hold on how to move forward. Still, he said, “there are also many signs of hope” that present new opportunities to bring the Gospel to others. The archbishop turned to a 19th-century prelate to find inspiration for the path ahead. Archbishop John Ireland, who as a young priest served as a chaplain in the Union Army, was a “powerful advocate for African Americans and for the rights of immigrants,” he explained.
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A billboard will go up in New York’s Times Square during Christmas and New Year’s to promote and celebrate the evermore popular podcast “The Bible in a Year,” but more is in store for the program that topped the charts shortly after its debut in January. The creators of the daily podcast that leads listeners through the Bible’s narrative have announced several new initiatives designed to highlight the show’s success and attract even more listeners. An all-new Spanish-language version of the podcast – La Biblia en un año – with original commentary and a new, native-Spanish speaking host, will be launched Jan. 1. “The Bible in a Year Retreat” virtual event for listeners will take place Feb 18-20. It will have a limited capacity for participants but is “designed to help Catholics cultivate a lifelong relationship with the word of God – one that extends far beyond the podcast.” The planned billboard will be unveiled Dec. 19 in Times Square and will stay up through Jan. 9. “Through distraction and distress, our culture has lost a hopeful, historical biblical worldview – but by the grace of God this podcast has helped thousands rediscover it,” said Father Mike Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, and popular Catholic speaker and author, who hosts the podcast.
BANGOR, Maine (CNS) – “I hope he knows how awesome he is!” said a seventh grader at All Saints Catholic School when students sprang into action to honor Roy Ward of Bangor, a World War II veteran who celebrated his 102nd birthday on Veterans Day itself. All Saints students, who have a special appreciation for veterans, decided to create 102 birthday cards to celebrate Ward’s birthday and honor his service in the process. Ward served in the U.S. Navy in World War II as a machinist mate first class from 1941 to 1947, serving on three different vessels – USS Mizpah, USS Shenandoah and USS Yosemite. “It was too much of an opportunity for community service to pass up,” said Matthew Houghton, principal of All Saints in Bangor. “The cards are warm and creative and showcase the appreciation our students have for those who have fought for our freedom,” Houghton said.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Lasting peace in the world can be achieved only by responding to the needs of current and future generations, the Vatican said as it announced the theme Pope Francis chose for his 2022 World Peace Day message. “Education, work and dialogue between generations: tools for building lasting peace” will be the theme for the Jan. 1 commemoration and for the message Pope Francis will write for the occasion, said a Vatican communique published Nov. 13. The Vatican said education, work and dialogue are consistently evolving and that Pope Francis’ message will “propose an innovative reading that responds to the needs of current and future times.” The pope’s message, the communique said, will be an invitation “to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith, so that the direction of this change awakens new and old questions with which it is right and necessary to be confronted.” Pope Francis will seek to answer questions about education and how it contributes to lasting peace, the Vatican said. He will also address how work can “respond more or less to the vital needs of human beings on justice and freedom.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Visiting Cyprus and Greece in early December, Pope Francis will have several meetings with the countries’ Orthodox leaders and with the migrants and refugees their nations host. While Catholics account for only a small percentage of the Christians in both countries, the pope will hold meetings in both Nicosia and Athens with priests, religious and seminarians and will celebrate public Masses in both cities. The Vatican Nov. 13 released the detailed schedule of the pope’s visit Dec. 2-4 to Cyprus and Dec. 4-6 to Greece, including a return visit to migrants and refugees on the island of Lesbos awaiting resettlement.
HONG KONG (CNS) – A Chinese bishop who was allegedly kidnapped by authorities in late October has returned to his diocese, media reports say. Ucanews.com reported Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou has resurfaced, with church officials and the faithful offering thanksgiving prayers for his return. It is still unknown when the 58-year-old bishop was released following his arrest Oct. 25. The authorities reportedly said the bishop was taken for “tourism.” Bishop Shao, ordained with a papal mandate as a coadjutor bishop in 2011, fell out of favor with the government as his appointment was not approved by the state-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. His refusal to join and collaborate with state-run bodies led to a series of arrests and detentions. Before this detention, he had been arrested six times, including for seven months in 2017. The whereabouts of Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang remain unknown, ucanews.com reported. Bishop Zhang was arrested in May with 10 priests and an unspecified number of seminarians.
ASSISI, Italy (CNS) – With a mix of awe and excitement, pilgrims from many parts of Europe conquered the exhaustion of a long road trip and prepared to celebrate the World Day of the Poor with Pope Francis. Lukasz Baczkowski from Poland was a bit incredulous but proud that other members of his community supported by the Barka Foundation for Mutual Help elected him as one of their 10 representatives to the pope’s meeting with the poor in Assisi Nov. 12. They drove 24 hours in a Volkswagen bus to get to the hilltop town in central Italy. Baczkowski said St. Francis of Assisi is an “inspiration” for him. With his renunciation of his family’s wealth and his total devotion to serving God and God’s poor, the Assisi saint proved that “everyone can change. No one was a saint from the beginning,” Baczkowski told Catholic News Service Nov. 11 at a pilgrim hostel in Assisi. That is a message he clings to as he continues his journey of sobriety and of living in a community rather than on the streets. The faith aspect of the Barka community and of the pilgrimage is a key part of what Baczkowski sees as his redemption. “The most important thing is the soul of a man,” he said. Faith and a helping hand from other Catholics are what helped him move from sleeping on the street, drinking, stealing – and especially from having contemplated suicide, he said.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico (CNS) – Thirteen-hundred miles from home, a group from the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, on a border immersion trip encountered a young woman with two kids and a car with a flat tire in Ciudad Juárez. The group, which included five deacon candidates, their formation director, diocesan bishop and immersion experience leaders, stopped to change the tire. The unexpected encounter reinforced the purpose of the Iowans’ journey: to witness life on the border, to learn about the experience of migrants, and to better minister to migrants back home. “It is one thing to hear their stories, but it is quite another to see and be at one of the main crossing points from Mexico to the U.S.,” said Davenport Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula. “It is important to talk to and learn from people who are ministering to forcibly displaced persons at the border and to the migrants themselves,” he told The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Davenport Diocese. Their journey began Nov. 2 with a 20-hour drive in a van from Davenport to El Paso, Texas, where they took up residence at the Encuentro Project retreat house. The Encuentro Project provides a faith-based, multifaceted immersion program in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border region to give participants a deeper understanding of the complex migration reality and of the community. “Encuentro” is Spanish for “encounter.”