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Colombian priest works for recovery from civil war in his homeland

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Sterlin Londono has been a priest for 21 years among his fellow Afro-Colombians in his home region of Choco in Colombia, which is rich in gold -- but also rich in coca.

Choco also is home to Father Londono's Diocese of Quibdo -- and to a rebel group still trying to find its own way in the midst of a three-year-old peace process that has emphasized reconciliation between the people who work the land, the rebel groups that tried to take the land, and the government, which has a minimal presence in the region.

The work "is very enriching," Father Londono said through an interpreter during a Sept. 18 interview with Catholic News Service in Washington, where he was speaking as part of an annual Washington Office on Latin America symposium on Colombia, "Protecting Peace: Progress and Challenge for the Full Implementation of the 2016 Colombia Peace Accords."

During his presentation, he told of a FARC rebel -- FARC is the Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- who had taken part in a killing in the region several years ago. In 2017, a year after the peace accord was reached, the rebel returned to Colombia from Cuba, where he had been in hiding, Father Londono said.

"He did not know what would happen," the priest told his audience in Spanish. "He wanted to apologize" for his role, "but what if the people rejected his apology?" Worse yet, Father Londono suggested, what if it were a trick and the man would have to face justice for his crime?

"The biggest surprise" the rebel had, according to Father Londono, was that "the people listened. They wanted to hear what he had to say. Everybody has a truth; they wanted to hear his truth."

Despite three years of peace following armed conflict that dates back to the 1960s, Colombia has its work cut out for it. There are 8 million internally displaced people in Colombia -- a figure higher than Syria or Iraq, which were ravaged by multisided civil war earlier this decade. Moreover, roughly 1.75 million Venezuelans have poured across the border into Colombia seeking relief from their own country's political and economic turmoil.

Beyond FARC, there is a paramilitary group, the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym ELN, operating in Choco. It, too, wants to be involved in the peace process, Father Londono told CNS, but it has not decided what its priorities are in negotiating an accord.

In his multiple roles as pastor, advocate and mediator, Father Londono has observed how the treatment of past wrongs can have an impact on the present.

His region is still dealing with the consequences of a 2002 bomb blast that killed about 75 people and wounded twice as many. The dead, many of whom could not be positively identified, were buried, but later exhumed and the remains sent to Medellin, where autopsy specialists determined that some people's remains had been inadvertently mixed in with those of others.

A more painstaking process of identification of the remains is nearly complete. Father Londono said he hopes the remains can be reburied in November. "The families have been grieving, and not grieving, for a long time. And the survivors," he said, "they need a chance to complete their grief."

Father Londono's brother was himself killed in the civil war, and the priest has been subject to numerous death threats. That has not appeared to deter him in the slightest.

Both Pope Francis and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspire Father Londono's work for peace and reconciliation.

The memorial to Rev. King in Washington appeared on a slide during the priest's presentation at the symposium. Father Londono said he greatly admired the civil rights figure's focus on nonviolence, and sees Rev. King's "I Have a Dream" speech as embodying the principles of equality he wants to see embraced in Colombia.

Besides being "the first pope from Latin America," Father Londono said, Pope Francis' theological worldview comes "from the peripheries" and from his calls for peace and justice as well as for environmental protection.

To mark his 20th anniversary in the priesthood, Father Londono said he was able to accompany the pope and concelebrate Mass with him when Pope Francis visited Colombia in 2017. "It was a great thing to share the holy Eucharist with him," he added.

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Amazon inhabitants hope synod will address lack of priests

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) -- The upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Amazon will focus on the devastating effects of climate change on the environment and on indigenous communities, but it also will look at ways to meet the spiritual needs of the region's people.

One of the big challenges in evangelization and ministry is the lack of missionaries and priests, which some people in the region believe can be resolved by the ordaining of married "viri probati," or men of proven virtue.

The ordination of married "viri probati" would "respond to a concrete challenge in a concrete reality, for example, in the Amazon," Spanish Bishop Rafael Cob, apostolic vicar of Puyo, told journalists in Quito Sept. 14.

The journalists were on a study trip organized by REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, in advance of the synod Oct. 6-27.

"The Amazon is a geographically difficult region to evangelize first because of its distance, its inaccessibility," the bishop said. But there also is a "lack of candidates who can or want to be priests with that discipline (celibacy). So, logically, the church is looking for new methods to respond to concrete challenges."

The synod's 45-page working document, published by the Vatican June 17, suggested studying "the possibility of priestly ordination for elders -- preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by the community -- even if they have an established and stable family."

While Pope Francis has made it clear that he did not agree with allowing "optional celibacy" for priests, he did say he was open to studying the possibility of ordaining married men for very remote locations, such as the Amazon and the Pacific islands, where Catholic communities seldom have Mass because there are no priests.

One of those remote locations is the Kichwa indigenous community of Sarayaku, located deep in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon region and accessible only by small plane or a four-hour canoe ride.

Franco Tulio Viteri Gualinga, former president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon and a member of the Sarayaku community, told journalists Sept. 17 that sometimes a priest or a bishop will come every two weeks or sometimes just once a month.

In the absence of a priest, a nun living in the village will lead the community in a liturgy of the word, he said.

When asked about the possibility of having an ordained married elder person in the community, Viteri said, "that's what the church needs to do." He cited the example of his uncle, who is a catechist in Sarayaku, as a possible candidate.

However, for 58-year-old Sister Rosa Elena Pico, ordaining married men is not the only solution in an area that is "a challenging place to evangelize."

Sister Pico, a member of the Missionaries of Mary Co-Redemptrix, and two other sisters arrived in Sarayaku in 2017 and often lead the Liturgy of the Word in the absence of a priest.

While nearly all the area's inhabitants identify as Catholic, many prefer to keep the church's influence on the Sarayaku's culture at arm's length, she said Sept. 18.

"Many do not want to commit to what the church demands," Sister Pico told journalists.

One example is that out of the 1,400 members of the Sarayaku indigenous community, only six couples have received the sacrament of marriage. Many of the others, she said, believe that people who marry eventually will separate or divorce and would not be able to keep the lifelong bond of sacramental marriage.

Although she said she feels welcome in the community, she said she was asked to leave on two occasions for explaining the church's teaching on marriage. Nevertheless, she told them she would stay "until the bishop tells me to leave."

Sister Pico said that Christian formation, particularly among those who want to fulfill a ministry within the community, was very important in the region and that while there is a lack of priests, ordination of married "viri probati" isn't the only solution.

"I believe that it is necessary that if there isn't a priest, there must be somebody who should be a representative, for example, a permanent deacon who can administer the sacraments," she said. "There should be permanent deacons in the communities."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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The Lumineers’ New Album III Is Horribly Depressing, and That’s Okay

If you’re looking to curl up on a lonely Saturday night with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and some headphones, then the Lumineers’ newly released album is perfect for you. Even the “happy” songs are sad.

Review of Canadian Caritas is hurting its credibility, says ex-president

IMAGE: CNS photo/Francois Gloutnay, Presence

By Francois Gloutnay

MONTREAL (CNS) -- The former president of Development and Peace, the Canadian member of the international Caritas organization, said the Catholic bishops' attitude toward their charitable agency is hurting its membership and credibility.

Development and Peace is being criticized by a handful of Canadian bishops who suspect the organization might be supporting partners that do not conform with the church's moral values, especially regarding women's sexuality and abortion. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Development and Peace are conducting a joint review of these partnerships; their conclusions regarding 52 of the 180 partners are expected to be made public by the end of September.

Some expect the information to be released during the CCCB's annual plenary assembly in Cornwall, Ontario, Sept. 23-27.

In 2018, these doubts led a dozen bishops to freeze Lenten donations collected in their dioceses for Development and Peace. The donations have since being given to the organization, which promised they would not be used to support the 52 partners being studied.

"If a negative decision is taken on Development and Peace and its partners, the bishops and the church will have to live with it," warned Jean-Denis Lampron, who was president of the organization's National Council from 2015 to 2018, when cancer forced him to step down. "Will they destroy Development and Peace? Will they commit to continuing their work? I don't know.

"I'm not saying Development and Peace is perfect. Far from it. But it seems to me they're (bishops) trying to kill a fly by using an atomic bomb. It's discouraging, it's demotivating, it's even criminal. The word is hard, but we're touching the very integrity of people here," said Lampron.

No document in the dispute was made public. However, documents leaked last November showed a deep disagreement between the CCCB and Development and Peace about whether or not these partners might adhere entirely to the church's moral teachings.

Lampron said the CCCB seemed more prone to listen to pro-life lobbies such as LifeSiteNews than to trust its own charitable aid agency.

"This whole story will have an impact on members and donors. We already feel a demobilization among the members. And people stopped giving. An irreparable harm has been done," said the former president.

These past months, as part of the review process, some of Development and Peace's partners received letters from leaders of the agency and the CCCB, expressing some "concerns" about their work. Some partners felt insulted.

"It certainly wasn't a letter of solidarity with our work," wrote Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno, known as Padre Melo, director of Radio Progreso and a Jesuit center for reflection, research and communications in Honduras. "And even less a note of compassion for the threats we face all the time -- including the death threats received by our team members because of their defense of human rights and environmental rights."

On July 30, the Canadian Jesuits voiced their support for Padre Melo's work in a public letter.

"We are concerned that the allegations currently circulating and a potential loss of support from certain groups and leaders in our church may put their lives at even greater risk," wrote the Canadian Jesuits.

"What information we have about the 2018 CCCB research findings on (Development and Peace) partners is of great concern to us. Our hope is that the criteria being used in the current process of review is comprehensive in its understanding of the church's social teaching and its defense of life in all of its dimensions, at every stage, and in all its diversity; denouncing poverty as an affront to the dignity of women and men, promoting peace, protecting human rights as well as the environment," they wrote.

On Aug. 1, Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, Peru, president of the Latin American bishops' council, or CELAM, expressed his support in a letter to Development and Peace, thanking the organization for its work with partners in Latin America, even with those who are not necessarily Catholic.

Also in August, the CCCB explained in an email sent to the Canadian agency Presence info that "since the launch of the joint review initiated by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP)-Caritas Canada, the object of the exercise has remained clear: to ensure that the work of CCODP, and that of its direct international partners, do in fact adhere to the principles and values of Catholic social and ethical teaching."

CCCB communications coordinator Lisa Gall said Canadian bishops see themselves as "stewards of the funds collected in Catholic parishes or from individual Canadian Catholics" for Development and Peace.

"The partnership review is, therefore, only seen correctly when it is understood in terms of fiduciary responsibility; it represents the kind of accountability, transparency and responsibility donors expect of any organization like (Development and Peace) ... consistent with the highest expectations of best practices in international development work today," said Gall.

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Contributing to this story was Philippe Vaillancourt.

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Gloutnay is a reporter for Presence info in Montreal. Vaillancourt is editor of Presence info.


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'They have lost absolutely everything,' say volunteers back from Bahamas

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tom Tracy

By Tom Tracy

PORT OF PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) -- An expert in disaster search and rescue who recently concluded a 13-day post-Hurricane Dorian operation in the Bahamas said that if there are scores of undiscovered fatalities there, their bodies were likely claimed by the sea.

The government of the Bahamas says that the official death toll following Dorian has reached 50, and hundreds remain officially listed as missing while search-and-rescue teams continue to comb through widespread wreckage.

"An old man was looking for his grandchild, but we couldn't find the boy and the fishermen say that the water was so high that many of the bodies went into the ocean," said Hector Mendez, one of Mexico City's famous Los Topos ("the Moles"), which formed spontaneously in response to the deadly 1985 earthquake that flattened 30,000 buildings in Mexico City and killed thousands.

"Our specialty is to go inside the buildings when they fall down, and working in the sun and swamp was very hard on us, but we stayed there and we did find one (deceased) lady inside the middle of a building," said Mendez, who spoke with the Florida Catholic diocesan newspaper, after he caught a ride to Florida courtesy of the Florida-based Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line.

The company, through its Mission Resolve program formed after Dorian, concluded its second humanitarian round-trip mission by providing the transportation from Florida to Freeport, Grand Bahama, carrying some 400 volunteers and 200 visa-carrying Bahamas evacuees.

Mendez added that his team of four Central Americans had arrived in the Bahamas by yacht and airplanes to join a larger group of 20 rescue professionals working on the east side of Grand Bahama Island. He said the 2010 Haiti earthquake was a more devastating situation to work in but that Hurricane Dorian was significantly devastating for key parts of the Bahamas.

"The east side (of Grand Bahama) was completely destroyed; the hurricane was there for 40 hours smashing everything," Mendez said. He was heading back to Mexico City for a three-day training event but said his organization was likely to send a fresh team and search dogs back to the Bahamas, probably to the hard-hit Abaco Islands.

Mendez said his instincts tell him there may not be much to discover in the rubble there.

"We had the dogs with us, and I am 35 years working on this all over the world and I know how it smells and we couldn't smell it," Mendez said of the search for the deceased.

Also returning from the Bahamas on the cruise ship was Richard Raines, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force and recently retired from the City of Margate Fire Rescue Services northwest of Fort Lauderdale. He said his team helped clear debris from wrecked homes, provide medical support and compassionate outreach with a Christian-based team of disaster volunteers.

"I have been through all the hurricanes locally, including Hurricane Andrew (in 1992), and it was just as bad," Raines said. "The water line was up high and there were a lot of tragic stories, but I have to say that the people were the most positive."

Raines noted that long-term relief and rebuilding coordination is what is most needed in the Bahamas now.

"You can give somebody water and you give them food, but they will be hungry again and they will be thirsty again, but we can give them living water and they won't thirst again and they will have hope for tomorrow," he said, adding that the Florida cruise ship transportation provided a good point of reference for coordinating team efforts.

"As you are going over on the ship, you are able to talk to other people and find out other groups that are helping out and you find other ways you can help as well," Raines said. "You aren't standing around talking, you can actually do something."

John Marshall, an electrical engineer from Mobile, Alabama, went with a team of Christian volunteers from around the U.S. He drew some comparisons of the situation to his firsthand experience in working in the post-Hurricane Maria disaster in Puerto Rico in 2017.

Marshall said he felt called to be on the ground after seeing the post-Dorian images in the Bahamas.

"We meet basic needs first including solar lights, water filtration, food," he said. "The electrical system on the Bahamas is in much better shape than in Puerto Rico -- except for east of the canal in Grand Bahama, where it was just total devastation. Freeport is coming online very quickly."

Water filtration is a huge need in the Bahamas, he noted.

But the devastation in the Bahamas -- because it was contained to a much smaller area than in Puerto Rico and because it is so close to Florida -- will recover much quickly, according to Marshall.

"Three weeks from now when the Bahamas is off the news, that is when it will get critical for the Bahamas: People forget about it and it falls off the press radar screen, but they will still need food and still need water and so many people have lost absolutely everything," he said. "They are sleeping in cars, friends have taken them. Repairing houses is going to be huge.

"What impressed me about these people is that they started self-help and cleaning out their houses but they do need their electrical systems fixed."

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Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Archdiocese of Miami.

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Priesthood is a gift, not a job, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being a priest is not a job or fulfilling an employment contract but is a gift from God that should be contemplated and treasured as such, Pope Francis said.

Those who turn ordained ministry into an occupation "lose the heart of the ministry, lose the gaze of Jesus who looked upon all of us and told us, 'Follow me,'" he said Sept. 19 during morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The pope focused his homily on the day's first reading in which St. Paul writes to Timothy (1 Tim 4:12-16), "Do not neglect the gift you have."

Ordination is a freely given gift from the Lord, the pope said; it is not "a job" or "an employment contract" in which one "must do" something.

"Doing is secondary," he said. First and foremost, "I must receive this gift and safeguard it as a gift and from that -- in the contemplation of the gift -- everything else springs."

When ordained ministry is not seen and treasured as a gift, he said, "deviations" emerge, starting with "the worst ones, which are terrible, to the more everyday ones that makes us base our ministry on ourselves and not on the gratitude of gift and love for he who gave us this gift, the gift of ministry."

Effort, intelligence and "also a bit of shrewdness" are needed to safeguard this gift properly, he added.

The pope also briefly commented on the day's Gospel reading, Luke 7:36-50, in which Jesus corrects his host who has forgotten to perform the customary rituals associated with welcoming a guest. Jesus instead praises the "sinful woman" who showed Jesus "great love," including by using her tears and hair to bathe and dry Jesus' feet.

The pope said the Pharisee hosting Jesus was a good man, "but he had forgotten the gift of kindness, the gift of coexistence, which is also a gift. These gifts are always forgotten when there are some underlying motives, when I want to do" or achieve something.

It is true that priests have things they must do, "and the first task is proclaiming the Gospel," Pope Francis said, "but it is necessary to take care of the core, the source from which this mission springs, the gift we have freely received from the Lord."

The pope concluded by praying priests see their ministry first as a gift then as a service and that they not become "businessmen ministers, fixers" or adopt other attitudes that make them stray from the Lord.

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Jenky: Real Presence not 'opinion,' but 'foundational' to Catholic faith

IMAGE: CNS photo/Daniel Sone

By Tom Dermody

PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Acknowledging evidence that "for several generations" the Catholic Church has not sufficiently taught its core truths, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky has called for all ministries of the Diocese of Peoria to be "intentionally centered" on the Real Presence in the holy Eucharist.

The bishop's 2,100-word teaching document, titled "The Real Presence," was released Sept. 16, six weeks after the publication of a Pew Research Center survey showing that a majority of Catholics in the United States do not believe that the bread and wine used at Mass become the body and blood of Christ.

"This failure in faith and conviction has happened despite the fact that the received teaching goes back to apostolic times and has always been held as foundational to our Catholic identity," wrote Bishop Jenky. "So as your bishop, I believe it is a grave personal obligation for me to try to state as clearly as I am able some basic truths about the Blessed Sacrament."

Bishop Jenky outlined "persistent evidence" of the Real Presence found in Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the witness of the saints.

"It is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church, revealed by the Holy Spirit and preserved from any possibility of error, that the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ are truly and substantially present in the most holy Eucharist," he wrote. "This is not an opinion to be measured against any opinion poll, but rather divine revelation as expressed by the absolute authority of Scripture and tradition."

Bishop Jenky also had strong words for Catholics who would deny the teaching.

"The Lord once said: 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall live forever, and I will raise him up on the last day,'" he said, quoting the Gospel of St. John. "So for any Catholic to deny the Real Presence is in a certain sense to deny Jesus and place themselves outside of the convictions of our faith."

Since his installation as bishop of Peoria in 2002, Bishop Jenky has issued an annual teaching document called a "Festival Letter," usually near the start of the calendar year. In an introductory letter to "The Real Presence," the bishop said his 2020 Festival Letter was being released early to set the tone for the diocese's various ministries as programs resume this fall.

The full text will be printed in the Sept. 29 issue of The Catholic Post, Peoria's diocesan newspaper, and a downloadable version will be posted at

"While every doctrine of our faith is important, faith in the Eucharist is clearly foundational for Catholic Christianity," Bishop Jenky wrote in the introductory letter. "I therefore ask that this year and in coming years ... our entire local church look for ways to reinforce our teaching and witness regarding the Blessed Sacrament."

In the main document, Bishop Jenky said Catholics share "a perennial responsibility before Almighty God" to pass on divine truth "in season and out of season, uncompromised and undiminished."

And while the church's teaching on the Real Presence hasn't changed, Bishop Jenky pointed to a "noticeable decline in our ritual reverence and recognition" in recent decades.

"How we pray is certainly integral to how we believe," he wrote. Attentive silence in church -- as well as rituals including genuflecting, blessing with holy water, and prayers before and after Mass -- "encouraged a kind of shared awe before something experienced as numinous and wondrous."

But contemporary American culture tends to be "relentlessly informal," said the bishop, and "sometimes our churches may seem more like hotel lobbies than an awesome House of God."

In addition to regular instruction, Bishop Jenky listed several ways that reverence for the Real Presence can be enhanced, including eucharistic devotions such as Holy Hours, Benediction, processions and quiet times of personal prayer.

He said Masses at weddings and funerals provide "great opportunities to witness to our faith in the Eucharist as a pastoral gift to those who may have been poorly catechized or even have fallen away." And he encouraged that holy Communion be offered under the forms of both bread and wine when possible "for the sake of the fullness of the sign instituted by Christ.

Listing the benefits to individual and community faith that take place at every Mass, Bishop Jenky asked: "How could we ever dare to neglect Sunday Mass or fail to share with future generations the infinite treasure of the Real Presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament?"

"We are a Eucharistic Church, whose life and service revolve around the gift of the Eucharist," wrote Bishop Jenky.

Explaining how the Eucharist empowers Catholics to appreciate and live all the other sacraments, he added that "just as truly as Christ ascended into heaven, so truly he descended into the sacraments, until he comes again in glory."

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Dermody is editor of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.

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Despite human sinfulness, God's projects will endure, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church will endure, despite the frailty and sins of its members, because it is God's project, Pope Francis said.

Continuing his series of audience talks about the Acts of the Apostles and the early Christian community Sept. 18, Pope Francis looked at the story of Gamaliel, a Pharisee who tried to teach members of the Sanhedrin a key aspect of "discernment," which is not to rush to judgment, but rather to allow time for something to show itself as worthy or not.

As recounted in Acts 5, Gamaliel told the Sanhedrin not to execute the apostles for preaching Christ, "for if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God."

"Every human project can initially drum up consensus, but then go down in flames," the pope said. But "everything that comes from on high and bears God's signature is destined to endure."

"Human projects always fail, they have a (limited) time, like we do," he said. "Think of the great empires. Think of the dictatorships of the past century; they thought they were so powerful and dominated the world, and then they all crumbled."

The most powerful governments and forces today also "will crumble if God is not with them because the strength human beings have on their own is not lasting," the pope said. "Only the strength of God endures."

The history of Christianity and of the Catholic Church, even "with so many sins and so many scandals, with so many ugly things," illustrates the same point, the pope said. "Why hasn't it crumbled? Because God is there. We are sinners and often, often, we give scandal," but "the Lord always saves. The strength is God with us."

The story also shows just how much courage the presence of the Holy Spirit brings, the pope said. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples "all ran away, they fled," but after the Resurrection, when he sent the Spirit upon them, they became courageous.

Pointing to the 21 Coptic Orthodox beheaded on a beach in Libya in 2015, Pope Francis said the same courage is still seen today in martyrs, who continued to repeat the name of Jesus even as their fate becomes clear. "They did not sell out their faith because the Holy Spirit was with them."

In the Acts of the Apostles, Gamaliel tells the Sanhedrin that if Jesus was an imposter, his followers eventually would "disappear," the pope said, but "if, on the other hand, they were following one who was sent by God, then it would be better not to fight them."

The "wait and see" attitude of Gamaliel is a key part of discernment, Pope Francis said.

"His are calm and farsighted words," part of a process that urges people to "judge a tree by its fruits" rather than acting hastily, the pope said.

Pope Francis asked people at the audience to join him in praying that the Holy Spirit would "act in us so that, both personally and as a community, we can acquire the habit of discernment" and learn to notice God acting in history and in our brothers and sisters.


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Despair’s Elixir

If, when it is all over...and we somehow come to find out that there is no God after all, I am going to be absolutely livid.

Renowned journalist Cokie Roberts, lifelong Catholic, dies at age 75

IMAGE: CNS photo/Randy Sager, ABC photo archives

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cokie Roberts, a broadcast journalist and political commentator who spoke publicly about her Catholic faith and her admiration for the Sacred Heart sisters who taught her, died Sept. 17 due to complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

Roberts, who died at her home in Bethesda, Maryland, was an Emmy award-winning reporter, author and frequent keynote speaker at Catholic college graduations. She was described as "a true pioneer for women in journalism," by James Goldston, president of ABC News, her longtime employer. He said her "kindness, generosity, sharp intellect and thoughtful take on the big issues of the day made ABC a better place and all of us better journalists."

She was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame and was listed one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting by the American Women in Radio and Television. She also was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2008.

Roberts started her radio career at CBS and in 1978 began working for NPR covering Capitol Hill, where she continued to work as a political commentator until her death. Roberts joined ABC News in 1988 and during her three decades there, she was a political commentator, chief congressional analyst and co-anchor with Sam Donaldson of the news program "This Week" from 1996 to 2002.

She was born in New Orleans in 1943 with the full name Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs and was nicknamed "Cokie" by her brother.

Roberts attended Catholic schools in New Orleans and Bethesda, run by the sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart. During her career, she also wrote eight books, including a book with her husband, Steve Roberts, also a journalist, called "From This Day Forward'' about their interfaith marriage. Steve is Jewish.

Cokie Roberts' roots are both political and Catholic. She is the daughter of Hale Boggs, the former Democratic House majority leader and representative from New Orleans, who died in a plane crash in 1972. Her mother, Lindy, was elected to fill his seat and served nine terms. Lindy Boggs, who died in 2013, was appointed U.S. ambassador to the Vatican in 1997, a post she held until 2001.

Over the years, Roberts addressed big Catholic gatherings including those of the National Catholic Educational Association, Catholic Charities USA and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

In a 2014 interview with America magazine by Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who died the following year, Roberts said: "There is no way to talk about my faith absent the Society of the Sacred Heart. The women who were my teachers and remain my dear friends mean the world to me. They took girls seriously in the 1950s -- a radical notion, so there was never any 'grown-up' need to reject them, only to thank them -- and they keep the faith."

When asked about her family's Catholic and Democratic background, Roberts said it's "an interesting balancing act in all kinds of ways to try to convince people that I am a fair-minded journalistic observer while coming from a family that has been strongly identified for many decades both politically and religiously."

She said she also had made clear her "continuing commitment to Catholicism -- as opposed to many who say, 'I was raised Catholic.'" She said she didn't think she had been "discriminated against officially" as a Catholic woman, but she also answered the question about this with her own question: "Are there people in this society still who think that to be a believer is to be a little bit simpleminded? Sure. And to be a Catholic, still a little simpler still? Yes," she said.

That didn't stop her though from being public about the role of faith in her life and in others' lives.

During a 2009 LCWR meeting in New Orleans, she told the sisters that their vitality extends beyond their numbers and can best be seen in the lasting effects they have had on students and others they are serving.

"You wonderful, holy, awe-inspiring women -- you women of spirit -- have taught us well. Your teaching will go on, constantly creating a better world for the people of God, corralling the chaos to create a better quality of life for others that you can be proud of."

She also praised the church's efforts to help the poor at a 2006 Catholic Charities USA convention in Minneapolis where she said: "It seems to me that your issues are actually the ones that Jesus talked about." She also challenged the conference participants to educate parishioners about the "option for the poor," a Catholic social teaching that puts the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Roberts is survived by her husband, her children, Lee and Rebecca, and her six grandchildren.

A statement released by her family said she will be missed "beyond measure, both for her contributions and for her love and kindness."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.


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