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Set another place at the Christmas table for someone in need

(Vatican Radio) Men and women of goodwill across the world are invited to set another place at the Christmas table for someone in need.

Kicking off its annual campaign to offer Christmas lunch to the poor, to the homeless, to families in difficulty, the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio is asking for contributions – whatever they may amount to – in order to be able to offer a tangible sign of closeness and care to our brothers and sisters in need.

The Christmas Lunch across the world

Thanks to the help of Sant’Egidio friends across the globe, the initiative last year saw over 50,00 poor people in Italy, and over 200,000 across the world, invited to celebrate Christmas and enjoy a special lunch together thanks to the “Set another place at the Christmas table” campaign.  


The Christmas Lunch with the poor tradition goes back 35 years when a small group of poor people was welcomed to participate in a banquet set up in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. 

Those invited included some elderly people, a handful of neighbourhood friends who would have spent the day alone, and some homeless people who slept ‘out and about’ in the area.

Since then the initiative has grown and spread from Rome’s Trastevere district where Sant’Egidio has its home, to many parts of the world, wherever the Community is present.

In Rome, lunch still takes place beneath the frescoes in the magnificent Basilica, but Christmas meals are organized for the poor in many different venues as well, including old-age homes, prisons and of course other churches and basilicas.   

Service to the poor

Service to the poor is one of the main missions of the Sant’Egidio Community which sees itself as a family united by the Gospel. That’s why, Sant’Egidio members insist, while families across the world gather around the table to celebrate the coming of the Lord, the Community does so with the poor “who are our friends and family”. 

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Crib donations to help Holy Land Christians

(Vatican Radio) Eight dioceses in England have pledged to support vulnerable Christians in the Holy Land through Christmas crib donations.

Churches in the dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Birmingham, and Hexham and Newcastle will give their crib offerings this year to the Friends of the Holy Land (FHL), a charity that provides relief to Christians living in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan.

Parishes in the dioceses of Leeds, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth, Salford and Southwark will also donate to the charity, which provides practical support to families facing poverty and unemployment in the region.

A spokesperson for FHL said: “Christmas and Advent is a key time in the FHL calendar as Christians across the world focus their attention on the ‘little town of Bethlehem’.

“Unfortunately, ‘peace and goodwill’ is not reflected in the harsh realities lived by many Christians in the West Bank today. Bethlehem’s Christians are increasingly fleeing what has become a virtual prison for their community. Faced with towering walls of separation, water shortages, and an uncertain future for their children, many emigrate if they can.

“The fields surrounding Bethlehem, where shepherds once ‘watched their flocks’, are now barred to their descendants as large areas of land have been confiscated.

“It is FHL’s mission to raise awareness about these difficulties and to let Christians living in the Holy Land know that they are not forgotten. By channeling donations of time and money, we aim to encourage and support these Christian communities, with funds going to a mixture of sustainable projects and emergency relief to help the most desperate cases.”

The charity’s announcement comes amid a new wave of violence in the region in recent days following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

(Richard Paul Marsden)

India’s coastal archdiocese appeals for help for people hit by cyclone ‎

India’s Catholic dioceses in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala states are grappling with the “massive disaster” in the wake of the cyclone Okhi, that swept by Trivandrum and Kanyakumari districts on Nov. 29.  Several hundred fishermen are feared missing, Fr. Deepak Anto, executive secretary of the media commission of the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum, wrote in an email to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication urging for help. 

The cyclone originated as a depression in the Gulf of Thailand on Nov. 21 and packed in more power as it traversed across northern Indian Ocean and ended near the coast of India’s Gujarat state causing damage in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and in Lakshadweep islands.

Fr. Deepak said the affected Trivandrum Archdiocese and Tamil Nadu’s Kottar Diocese “are very much engaged in the rescue operation and relief work” in collaboration with the state and central governments.

Trivandrum Archdiocese has appealed to draw attention to the emergency that the international and national media have “unfortunately” “not given enough coverage,” Fr. Deepak said. 

Archbishop Maria Callist Soosai Pakiam of Trivandrum spoke to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication explaining the situation after cyclone Okhi.

Listen to Arch. Soosa Pakiam:

Arch. Soosai Pakiam said figures so far have reported some 20 dead and over 585 Catholics missing from Kerala alone and the situation in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state is not very different.    He blamed the “intensity of the disaster” on the “lack of proper weather warning” about the approaching cyclone.  Trivandrum Archdioces and Kottar Diocese are engaged in rescue operations in the sea and relief work in collaboration with government agencies. 

Arch. Soosai Pakiam noted that the Kerala Bishops’ Council will observe Sunday, Dec. 10 as a day of prayer for the victms of cyclone Okhi.   The following day, Monday, Dec. 11, a march had been called to the state governor to express their “sorrow, pain and anguish” and to urge rescue operations and rehabilitation work for the affected people. The archbishop appealed for prayers, solidarity and help for all. 

South African youth celebrate their faith at Mini World Youth Day

(Vatican Radio) Thousands of young Catholics from Southern Africa are gathered in the South African city of Durban for a Mini World Youth Day which aims to give them a sense of unity, to celebrate their Christianity and community while experiencing the chosen theme of “Young people, faith and vocations”.

The event opened on Thursday and is due to end on Sunday 10th January.

Organized by the South African Conference of Catholic Bishops, the gathering foresees a programme of community engagement, prayer, discussion groups and pilgrimages. It forms part of a global build-up to World Youth Day, which will be held in Panama in 2019. 

First established in 1985, World Youth Day takes place every three years with Mini World Youth Day events hosted in cities around the world forming stepping stones towards the major event in any one particular host country.

Amongst the participants at Mini World Youth Day is Tim Harris, founder of the Catholic Leadership Academy, an institution that teaches Catholics good leadership skills and talents.

He spoke to Linda Bordoni about how the Durban Mini World Youth Day is engaging young Catholics and encouraging them to express their faith, their joy and also their concerns.


What’s going on and who is attending

Harris describes the set up in the Durban Exhibition Hall as an “exciting place with a big stage, fabulous lighting, interesting and dynamic graphics and four different areas where bishops have places where they can engage in conversations with young people.

He says the participants are split up into groups offering insight into finding vocations and talking about issues, “they are leaving a lot of time for questions and answers” and give you the impression that they are really listening to the young people.

Harris says most of those present come from South Africa but there are definitely others from other countries like neighbouring Zimbabwe flags, and of course, he points out, as the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) covers other countries in the region invitations have gone out to them as well.

The Mini World Youth Day comes to life as an initiative of the SACBC, and Harris explained the bishops already ran one 2 years ago in Johannesburg: “this is the next step and there are plans for a third one” he said the bishops are excited about it “and are putting money into it:  it’s good to see!”

Preparation for 2019 World Youth Day

Harris agrees the event is in preparation for WYD in Panama in 2019: “it gives young people a taste of what they might expect at WYD”.

He points out that those events are very exciting and “perhaps many South Africans don’t really understand why they should think of participating as it certainly is an expense and takes time away from work, school or university” so the event in Durban may represent an extra push.

“It’s an encouragement to go to the big global WYD: “I’ve also heard whisperings – no idea if this is really the case – but there is potential for WYD to be held in South Africa and so these Mini World Youth Days are trial runs to get a sense of the scale and logistics and whether or not we have the infrastructure” he said.

Preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People  

Harris also said the event takes place as millions of young Catholics around the world prepare to voice their concerns at the upcoming “Synod of Bishops on Young People” which will take place in the Vatican in 2018.

That event is certainly mentioned in the Catholic world in South Africa at the moment and there is a call for information to be compiled collated and sent in to Rome: “Those conversations are certainly happening”.

UN call to help refugees in Libya

(Vatican Radio) An urgent appeal has been made by the United Nations for 1,300 resettlement places to be made available by March next year for highly vulnerable refugees stranded in Libya.

Responding to what it calls a “critical humanitarian situation” in the country, the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) strategy will aim to evacuate several groups of displaced people to nearby Niger, including unaccompanied children, single mothers, and single men who have been tortured and maltreated.

UNHCR’s appeal notes that many refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people in Libya are victims of serious violations of human rights and that a large number of them are detained for an indefinite period of time in deplorable conditions. The agency is strongly opposed to routine detention of refugees and continuously advocates for alternative solutions.

Volker Türk, the organisation’s assistant high commissioner for protection, said their appeal was “a desperate call for solidarity and humanity. We need to get extremely vulnerable refugees out of Libya as soon as possible.”

Mr Türk appealed for solidarity on the part of the international community, adding that “we need to explore all sorts of solutions, including resettlement, family reunification, evacuation to UNHCR-run emergency facilities in other countries, or voluntary return.”

A first group of 25 refugees of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese nationalities were evacuated from Libya to Niger in November.

The appeal launch comes one month after a mass funeral in Salerno, Italy, for 26 young Nigerian women who drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. 

Listen to Richard Marsden's report:

UN children's agency publishes report on internet and children

(Vatican Radio) The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has published a report entitled “The State of the World’s Children, 2017. Children in a Digital World.” The report examines the availability and impact of the Internet on children across the world.

According to the report 79% of children have access to the internet, compared to 48% of the total population of the world. Children in Africa are the least connected, with 3 out of 5 children being “offline.” In Europe, the number of connected children is much higher. Only 1 in 25 are considered “offline.”

The report contains both alarming statistics concerning online abuse and exploitation, and hope of a growing awareness of the risks associated with the internet and a willingness to tackle them.

For example, whilst 53% of the children depicted in images of child pornography are under the age of 10, that number is, in itself, down from 69% in 2015.

Although the numbers make for disturbing reading, the report also reveals that awareness of the risks of internet amongst children themselves, is on the increase.

 As part of the report, the children surveyed were asked two important questions, What do you dislike about the internet? And  what do you like about it?

23% of those surveyed  chose “Violence” as the aspect of the internet which they like least. The girls surveyed were more sensitive to violence, with 27% of girls saying they were disturbed by episodes of violence, against on 20% of boys. Both sexes were almost equally disturbed by unwanted pornographic content, 32% for girls and 33% for boys.

When asked what they liked about the internet, the majority (40%) replied with “The opportunities to learn new things for school and health.” A further 20% replied with “The chance to learn things I would not have learned in school.”

Forty-two percent of children reported that they had taught themselves to use the internet, whilst 39% reported help from a friend or family member.  

The Director-General of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, said of the report: “For better or the worse, digital technology is currently an irreversible reality of our lives. In the digital world our challenge is twofold: to reduce damage while maximizing the benefits of the web for every child.”

Some such benefits highlighted in the report include the opportunities for children caught up in poverty or humanitarian emergencies to communicate their needs, as well as opportunities for all children to develop skills to help them work in the digital sector. 

Tantur Institute promoting dialogue amid West Bank violence

(Vatican Radio) Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces continued in cities across the West Bank on Friday, marking a second day of protests against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital city. One Palestinian was reportedly killed and dozens of others injured in Gaza on Thursday, after police opened fire on stone throwing protesters.

For an eye-witness account of the latest flare-up of tensions, Philippa Hitchen spoke to Holy Cross Father Russ McDougall, rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, located on a hill between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The institute was founded following Pope Paul VI's historic visit to Jerusalem in 1964...

Listen to the interview with Fr Russ McDougall:

Fr Russ notes that Bethlehem lies just down the hill from the institute, saying that over the past two days he’s seen and heard “round after round of tear gas” being fired by the Israeli military from towers along the separation wall.

He says there is “a sense of hopelessness” among local Palestinians at “the lack of progress in the so-called peace process”, but despite that, he adds, people do not want a return to a third intifada, as some Palestinian leaders have called for.

People don't want intifada

Fr Russ recalls the peaceful protests that took place last summer following the killing of three Israeli policeman and the subsequent installation of metal detectors around the Al-Aqsa mosque.

He adds that “if people see that President Trump’s action doesn't lead to any kind of rush on the part of world leaders to move their embassies to Jerusalem, they will see [….] it’s America that has isolated itself internationally”, encouraging them to support peaceful protests to bring about change.

Mission to build bridges

Fr Russ says the mission that Tantur was given at its foundation by the Holy See is to be a catalyst working for communion among Christians, but also to build bridges with other faiths. He says that is increasingly difficult “when, at least from the Palestinian perspective, things seem to favour Israelis in a unilateral way”.

President Trump, he says, could have made “a significant gesture” recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, but also as the capital of the State of Palestine. Instead of just making a gesture to Israel, he says, he could have announced the move “as a way of showing that we want Jerusalem to be a place where all segments of the society who live here, whether Muslims or Christians, or Jews, can feel that this is their city, their home, their capital”.

Pakistan: ‘Archbishop’ Joseph Arshad new Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi

Pope Francis on Friday transferred Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad as the Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese in Pakistan. With this appointment the Pope has also conferred on him the “personal title” (ad personam) of Archbishop. Earlier on 12 November 2016, Bishop Arshad was appointed the Apostolic Administrator of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, which was left vacant after the death of Bishop Rufin Anthony on October, 17, 2016.

Archbishop Joseph Arshad was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1964 and was ordained a priest in 1991. After his ordination he was appointed parish priest of St. Joseph's Church and also given charge of St. Peter's School in Gujranwala.

In 1995, he went to Rome for Canon Law studies at the Pontifical Urban University and then underwent training as a Vatican diplomat at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.

He was the first Pakistani priest to join the Vatican diplomatic service. From 1999 to 2002 he served at the Apostolic Nunciature in Malta. From then until 2010, he served at the Apostolic Nunciatures in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Madagascar. He was also the councillor at the Apostolic Nunciature in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pope Francis on July 3, 2013 appointed Fr. Arshad as the bishop of the Faisalabad Diocese.

On December 10, 2016, he received the National Human Rights Award 2016 from Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain for human rights advocacy. Archbishop Arshad who chairs the Commission for Social Communications as well as the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference is also the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan.

Cardinal Napier: Bishops need to listen to young people

Southern Africa’s Mini World Youth Day (MWYD) in Durban, South Africa, ended Sunday with South Africa’s Archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier describing it as a great success.

“Great joy I can tell you at what we have been able to accomplish,” Cardinal Napier remarked when he spoke to Fr. Phemelo Martin Magibisela, the Vatican Radio correspondent at the Durban event. 

Cardinal Napier commended Pope Francis for calling next year’s Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme, “Youth, faith and vocational discernment.” According to the Cardinal, Pope Francis wants Bishops of the world to listen to young people.

“The main thing that Pope Francis is asking us to do, as Bishops, is to ‘listen to the young people.’ I think he (Pope Francis) is a wise man. He is not saying listen to the words they are saying, but listen to what is coming out of their hearts.  Very often the youth will say something with their mouth, but in actual fact, they are looking for something deeper than what they are saying,” Cardinal Napier said. 

The Cardinal further said that apart from the questionnaire already answered and sent to Rome for next year’ Synod, the delegation from Southern Africa will take to the Synod the lived experiences encountered in Durban.

“What we have seen and have heard (as Bishops) from the young people here is what our delegates (to the Synod on the Youth ) will take with full conviction because they know that what they will be saying is backed by the full experience lived during this MWYD,” said Cardinal Napier.

Four thousand young people from the dioceses of South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique converged on South Africa’s third largest city of Durban for the Mini World Youth Day which took place from 6 December to 10 December. The MWYD had as its theme the Blessed Virgin Mary's Magnificat: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name."

Explaining the rationale behind the MWYD, Cardinal Napier described the youth as the future of the Church. 

“All Bishops realise that young people are a key part of the Church. That's where the formation of the future is going to be carried forward. They are the formation of the future. It's like a forest. Unless it has saplings or young trees, it going to die out. Jesus said his Church has to be here forever. We want to keep driving the Church forward. Young people are naturally the place where that growth will take place,” Cardinal Napier said.

(Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)


Pope at Mass: have courage to let go of grudges and complaints

(Vatican Radio) At his morning Mass at Santa Marta on Monday, Pope Francis said we must learn to let ourselves be consoled by the Lord, leaving behind our grudges and complaints.

Reflecting on the day’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah, he said the Lord has come to console us. Just as the first disciples could hardly believe the joy of the Resurrection, we often find it hard to let ourselves be consoled by the miracles that God performs in our lives.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:

It is easier for us to console others, than to let ourselves be consoled, the pope said. So often, we are attached to the negative sins and scars in our hearts and we prefer to remain there on our sick bed, like the paralised man in St Luke’s Gospel, not wanting to hear Jesus telling us to ‘Get up and walk!’

We prefer to stew in our own juice

Pope Francis continued by explaining that we prefer to bear grudges and to stew in our own juice because in that way we are masters of our own hard hearts. Like the paralised man, we prefer the ‘bitter root’ of original sin than the sweetness of God’s consolation.

Such bitterness always leads us to complain, the pope said, with a constant whining as the soundtrack to our lives. He described the prophet Job as the Nobel prize winner of whiners, who complained about everything that God did.

Have courage to let go of complaints

Pope Francis also recalled an elderly priest he knew who complained so much that his companions joked about what he would say to St Peter, upon arriving in heaven. They said his first thoughts would be to ask about hell and to complain that there were too few people denied salvation.

Faced with such bitterness, anger and complaining, the pope said, the Church repeats that we must have courage, just like the friends of the paralised man, who didn’t think about the reaction of the scribes, but only about helping their friend in need.

Let ourselves be consoled by the Lord

The message of today’s liturgy, Pope Francis concluded, is to let ourselves be consoled by the Lord, to be stripped of all our bitter egoisms and complaints. Let us examine our consciences and look into our hearts, he urged, asking if there is any sadness or bitterness there. Do we praise God, or do we always have something to complain about? Let us pray for the grace of courage, he said, asking the Lord to come and console us.