This is a meditation with a St. Joseph candle from the “Advent Box” booklet by Banafsaj Christian Designs in Lebanon. The booklet comes with an accompanying set of the Holy Family figurine candles. (CNS photo/courtesy Banafsaj Christian Designs)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CNS) – In the past several years, an increasing number of Providence College graduates have pursued a vocation with the Dominican order that runs the Rhode Island university. “During the five years I was in Providence, we had at least one student enter the novitiate at the end of each year,” said Dominican Father Michael Weibley, whose first assignment after ordination was as a chaplain and professor at Providence College. “An average of a novice a year like that is a tremendous blessing for the order,” said the priest, who this year was named pastor of SS. Phillip and James Parish in Baltimore. The increased number of vocations coming from the college emerges in a climate of declining rates of new vocations, particularly for religious orders: In the past 60 years, the total number of active religious priests in the United States has been reduced by more than half. In the past 20 years, the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, which comprises the Northeastern corner of the United States, has been reporting steadily increasing vocations, with many of the new recruits being drawn directly from Providence College. For the novices currently emerging from Providence College, the call to preaching seems to be coming at a much younger age. Seeing “younger and younger friars on campus or students your own age going directly into the novitiate after graduating” makes it “easier to envision yourself actually pursuing that lifestyle,” said Dominican Brother Nicodemus Thomas, a 2018 graduate.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis told Italian students to “dream big” like St. John XXIII and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about the world of peace and justice they would like to see. And at the same time, he wished them a good Advent journey “made up of many small gestures of peace each day: gestures of acceptance, encounter, understanding, closeness, forgiveness and service. Gestures that come from the heart and are steps toward Bethlehem, toward Jesus, who is the prince of peace.” Pope Francis met Nov. 28 with some 6,000 Italian schoolchildren, teens and their teachers, who have been participating in the program of the National Network of Schools for Peace. The program is focusing on the theme, “For Peace. With Care,” and Pope Francis told them that the second part is essential. “Usually, we talk about peace when we feel directly threatened, as in the case of a possible nuclear attack or a war being fought on our doorstep,” the pope said. And “we care about the rights of migrants when we have some relative or friend who has migrated.” But even when war is not near or threatening someone known, “peace is always, always about us! Just as it always concerns another, our brother or sister, and he or she must be taken care of,” the pope told the students.

BEIRUT (CNS) – Violette Yammine aims to illuminate Advent and Christmas hope for Lebanese facing tough times. The graphic designer has launched an “Advent Box” that includes a “Meditations for Advent with the Holy Family” booklet, with an accompanying set of Holy Family figurine candles. Separately, there is also a children’s Christmas story. The two Christmas season family participation projects are the first offerings of Yammine’s Catholic design firm “Banafsaj,” which is how Violette is pronounced in Arabic. Yammine, a Maronite Catholic, considers her enterprise – Banafsaj Christian Designs – a way “to offer beautiful violets, and scents, to the Lord.” In Lebanon, she noticed, most Christian family-oriented publications are produced by evangelical churches. So, she decided “to put all my talent in the service of Christ.” The Advent booklet and accompanying Holy Family candles are intended for the three Sundays preceding Christmas. Yammine said she hopes it will spark “an Advent well spent in prayer.” The first Sunday reading concerns the Annunciation, intended for the Mary candle. The second Sunday reading is the revelation to Joseph, and thus the Joseph candle. The birth of Jesus is the third and final Sunday reading, with the candle of baby Jesus in the manger.

ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) – As Ghana’s national soccer team, the Black Stars, joins other national teams for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, some Ghanaian citizens have been talking about Iñaki Williams, who was named after a Catholic priest. His parents, Ghanaians Felix Williams and Maria (Mary) Arthuer, crossed the Sahara and, when they got to Morocco, jumped the border fence to Melilla, one of two Spanish cities in North Africa. The Guardian reported that, on the advice of a lawyer, they said they were from Liberia to apply for political asylum. They ended up in Bilbao, Spain. A Caritas volunteer, then-Deacon Iñaki Mardones, was instrumental in helping them when they arrived in Bilbao. “I went to pick them up at Abando (railway) station,” Father Mardones told La Provincia, a Spanish magazine. At the time, Maria was seven months pregnant. “I remember them with the suitcase and the uncertainty on their faces,” Father Mardones told La Provincia. The report on them said they understood Spanish, “but when I started to speak they looked at me without understanding anything. When I switched to English they sighed in relief.” He helped them to an apartment used by Caritas, and even helped them get to the hospital for their child’s birth.