December 7, 2020 // National

News Briefs: December 6, 2020

Extension’s ‘Advent Alms’ program aims to help poor US Catholic communities

CHICAGO (CNS) — To support poor faith communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic Extension is launching “Advent Alms for America,” a program that aims to match poor parishes in one part of the U.S. with parishes that have more resources in another part of the country. The initiative is seeking 1,000 faith communities to raise $1,000 each during the Advent season. Such monies “would be transformative to the parishes” supported by Catholic Extension, which “were barely surviving economically prior to the pandemic,” according to the Chicago-based organization. “These are areas where a $1,000 gift is the equivalent of 10 weeks of Sunday collections,” Extension said in announcing the program. The funds will allow pastoral leaders to do the core spiritual work of the Church among the poor as well as share the corporal works of mercy with those who are suffering.” The Catholic Extension website has information about the Advent Alms” initiative —

Miami archbishop: Catholic social teaching can bridge divisions

MIAMI (CNS) — Catholic social teaching, “with its understanding of natural law,” can bridge the divisions that exist in U.S. society between religious adherents and secularists, said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami. Archbishop Wenski portrayed the divide this way: “One side, the secularists, holds for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own will. The religious side — our side — holds that men and women are not self-creators but creatures, that truth is not constructed but received, and that it must reflect the reality of things. Catholic teaching proclaims the dignity of every human being but also acknowledges the reality of sin,” Archbishop Wenski said in his column for the November issue of the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper. “Our police forces, our social services agencies, our schools, our courtrooms deal with the consequences of sin every day,” he added. “Today we see much anger in our society. And much of that anger is seen in our streets and expressed in social media,” the archbishop said. “We hear warring slogans: ‘Black lives matter,’ ‘blue lives matter,’ ‘all lives matter,” and from those who identify as pro-life, ‘unborn lives matter.’ And they all do matter — beneath these slogans there is an argument about ‘who truly belongs to our society?’ and ‘who is shut out?’”

Archbishop calls latest California church closures ‘blatant discrimination’

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) — Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco described as “blatant discrimination” a return by California to more severe COVID-19 restrictions that closed churches in two of the three counties that comprise the San Francisco archdiocese. On Nov. 29, the First Sunday of Advent, Catholic churches in San Francisco and San Mateo counties were closed as of noon. The two counties are among the 41 counties deemed to be in a “purple tier” by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in response to an “alarming surge” in COVID-19 cases. These counties account for 94% of the state’s population. Every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its test positivity and adjusted case rate. The purple tier is the most restrictive. With a curfew in place — and set to last until Dec. 21 — all nonessential activity is limited between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., including in-person dining. “After weeks of demonstrating we can celebrate the Mass safely, the state of California has put San Francisco and San Mateo counties into the purple tier, which bans indoor worship altogether” and considers religious worship “nonessential,” Archbishop Cordileone said in a Nov. 28 statement.

Supreme Court says  NY pandemic limits on houses of worship restrict religious freedom

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a 5-4 decision issued just before midnight Nov. 25, the Supreme Court lifted the pandemic restrictions on congregation sizes at houses of worship imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues in separate filings appealed to the nation’s high court, claiming the governor’s executive order violated their free exercise of religion and was particularly unwarranted during a time when area businesses were open. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “I am gratified by the decision of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case. I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in a Nov. 26 statement. The bishop noted the governor’s restrictions “were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe.”

Like their counterparts a century ago, seminarians serve others amid pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — A century ago, seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood helped bury Philadelphia’s dead in the global Spanish influenza pandemic. This year, the young men of St. Charles are helping to keep hungry people alive during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Apostolic work in addition to classroom studies has long been a regular part of the seminarians’ formation in which they fan out two-by-two to schools, senior facilities and other settings to serve people in the community. But because of the social restrictions of COVID-19, those opportunities for service are gone this year. In their place arose a partnership between the seminary’s apostolic formation program, led by Father George Szparagowski, and Caring for Friends, a private multiservice organization feeding hungry people throughout the area for 46 years. Sixteen seminarians of St. Charles’ College Division traveled to Northeast Philadelphia Nov. 5 for a four-hour shift at Caring for Friends, assembling meals and boxing them for distribution to people in the five-county region of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Pandemic, economy worsen situation for Syria’s minority Christians

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — The worsening coronavirus pandemic and economic conditions in Syria are further deepening poverty and hardship for Christians, who find themselves trapped in a political stalemate, religious freedom advocates say. “The situation is becoming worse, people are calling me every day and asking for help. I speak with people in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus, and they don’t know what to expect in the coming days,” a Syrian religious told Catholic News Service by phone. He asked that his name not be used due to security reasons. The Syrian currency’s worth has plummeted against the dollar, leading to what analysts say is a significant rise in prices of basic commodities, like bread, gasoline and heating fuel by more than 15% in November. “Everything now is skyrocketing and there is no electricity,” the religious said. The aid reduction complicates a situation in which Syrian Christians sometimes find themselves treated as second-class citizens in sections of predominantly Muslim Syria.

Mary is depicted in a stained-glass window at Immaculate Conception Church in Jamaica Estates, N.Y. The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patronal feast of the United States, is celebrated Dec. 8, 2020. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

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