January 4, 2022 // National

News Briefs: January 9, 2021

Even when rejected, God seeks out His children, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christians can rest assured that even when they feel unworthy, God is a good shepherd who goes in search of them, Pope Francis said. Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 2 for his Sunday Angelus address, the pope said God persists with His children “because He does not resign Himself to the fact that we can go astray by going far from Him, far from eternity, far from the light. This is God’s work: to come among us,” the pope said. “If we consider ourselves unworthy, that does not stop Him: He comes. If we reject Him, He does not tire of seeking us out. If we are not ready and willing to receive Him, He prefers to come anyway. And if we close the door in His face, He waits.” Reflecting on the prologue of the Gospel of St. John, in which the apostle proclaims that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” the pope said the phrase contains a paradox in that “the Word is eternal” while “the flesh” is “fragile, limited and mortal.” The “polarities,” he said, explain “God’s way of acting. Faced with our frailties, the Lord does not withdraw.”

Vatican pays tribute to 22 church workers murdered in 2021

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In situations of extreme poverty, war or civil tensions, 22 Catholic church workers were murdered in 2021, according to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Presenting its annual list of missionaries killed during the year Dec. 30, the news agency explained, “We use the term ‘missionary’ for all the baptized, aware that ‘in virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples.’” None of the 13 priests, one religious brother, two religious sisters and six laypeople “carried out striking feats or actions,” Fides said, but they gave witness to their faith “in impoverished, degraded social contexts, where violence is the rule of life, the authority of the state was lacking or weakened by corruption and compromises and in the total lack of respect for life and for every human right.” “From Africa to America, from Asia to Europe, they shared daily life with their brothers and sisters, with its risks and fears, its violence and its deprivations, bringing in the small daily gestures Christian witness as a seed of hope,” Fides said. In publishing the list, Fides said it was not looking only at Church workers killed in traditional mission territories and it was not proclaiming any of them as “martyrs” in the technical sense of having been killed out of hatred for their faith. While not included in the count, the Fides report also paid tribute to the 35 “innocent civilians, all of whom were Catholic,” who died Dec. 24, reportedly at the hands of the Myanmar military in Mo So village in Kayah state as they were fleeing fighting in the area. The victims, including elderly women and children, were shot and then their bodies were burned.

Christians in Bethlehem on Christmas: Tell the world we have joy

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — The normal crowds of pilgrims and tourists may not have been able to come to Bethlehem for Christmas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions for a second year in a row, but local Palestinian Christians wanted to assure everyone that the Christmas spirit is still alive and well in the city of Jesus’ birth. “Tell the world that the one word for Christmas would be ‘joy,’ and we have that here. Tell them that Christmas is about family,” Francis Gedeon, 75, said after Christmas Mass as his family posed for family photos in the courtyard of St. Catherine Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. “We pray the pandemic will end soon.” “We are still happy to be able to celebrate Christmas despite everything, especially in Bethlehem,” agreed his son, Fadi. “Christmas is when family gets together, that is the most important thing,” chimed in Rawan, Gedeon’s daughter. “It has been a challenging year due to COVID, but we still have the spirit of Christmas and send prayers to the whole world. I love the Christmas feeling of peace, despite all the difficulties and restrictions.” She said that as the world continued to struggle with the pandemic, she felt especially blessed to be able to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem.

Though problems abound, God-given hope never fails, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christian hope grants those who suffer the assurance that God does not abandon His people in their time of need, Pope Francis said. “Problems do not vanish, difficulties and worries are not lacking, but we are not alone; the Father ‘sent forth His son’ to redeem us from the slavery of sin and to restore our dignity as children,” the pope said Dec. 31. To mark the end of 2021, Pope Francis took part in an evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. Surprisingly, however, the pope did not preside over the prayer service as scheduled; instead, the Vatican press office said, he wanted Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, to preside. Last year, Cardinal Re presided over the traditional end-of-the-year prayer service after the Vatican announced Pope Francis would not attend due to a flare up of “painful sciatica.” Arriving several minutes before the liturgy began, the pope greeted Rome’s new mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, and shook his hand before taking a seat in a white chair set in front of several cardinals. The service included the singing of the “Te Deum” (“We praise you, oh God”) in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year, as well as eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Immigrants’ stories explored in book about sisters’ literacy center

AURORA, Ill. (CNS) — While looking for a project so she could cross “write a book” off her bucket list, Anna Marie Kukec Tomczyk thought about her time as an associate with the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois and decided to focus on the sisters’ work in the Dominican Literacy Center with immigrants. The more women Tomczyk talked with, the more she learned about how their lives changed through their involvement with the center located in Aurora. The book, “We Are Eagles,” was released last spring. Tomczyk sees the stories as belonging to the women. “A lot of these women bootstrapped their lives and set goals for themselves and did it — with the center helping, too, along the way,” she said. “It’s a women’s book (about) women’s issues. That’s how I hoped it would be perceived.”

Catholics hold funeral after Myanmar massacre; attacks continue

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) — For Christians in Chin and Kayah states, there were no Christmas and New Year celebrations due to fighting. They have borne the brunt of a decades-old civil war and faced oppression and persecution at the hands of the military, reported ucanews.com.

On Dec. 29, Catholics in Kayah’s Hpruso Township held a funeral for 35 civilians — all Catholic — killed by troops and their bodies set on fire Christmas Eve in Mo So village. Ucanews.com reported local sources said the funeral was led by catechists, because the military would not allow a local priest to officiate.

The killings shocked the world and drew swift condemnation from Cardinal Charles Bo, who called it a “heartbreaking and horrific atrocity.”

“The fact that the bodies of those killed, burned and mutilated were found on Christmas Day makes this appalling tragedy even more poignant and sickening. As much of the world celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the people of Mo So village suffered the terrible shock and grief of an outrageous act of inhumanity,” he said.

Cardinal Bo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, urged the military “to stop bombing and shelling innocent people, to stop destroying homes and churches, schools and clinics” and to begin “a dialogue with the democracy movement and ethnic armed groups.”

The cardinal was criticized for meeting Myanmar’s military chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and cutting a cake with him Dec. 23 to mark Christmas at the archbishop’s house in Yangon.

Within hours of the Dec. 23 meeting, the military junta launched airstrikes, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes into neighboring Thailand.

Ignoring repeated appeals by the world and religious leaders, including Pope Francis, Myanmar’s military regime has continued attacking villages and ethnic areas where armed resistance has been the strongest.

On Dec. 30, the Assembly of God church and another belonging to the Association of Baptist Churches in the deserted town of Thantlang were burned by soldiers, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization.

The conflict-ravaged town has seen five churches and more than 450 houses damaged by fire so far. Across Chin state, some 22 churches and 350 civilian homes were burned or destroyed by the military between August and November, said the human rights organization.

Kentucky parishioners ride out tornado praying the rosary

(CNS) — Jenny and Bill Rush and other parishioners at Sts. Peter and Paul Church In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, were nearly finished praying the rosary after an early morning Mass on New Year’s Day when an isolated tornado shook the church, much to their surprise.

As the storm roared, the group prayed all the louder, Jenny told Catholic News Service Jan. 3.

“We kept praying even though the lights were flickering,” she said. “It was exhilarating and terrifying, but at the same token it was spiritually uplifting to realize that even as we were praying the ‘Memorare’ she (Mary) was holding us. I honestly believe she was holding us.”

Bill watched what parishioners describe as the “great window,” expecting it to break “because the storm was so loud.” It survived intact.

The storm passed in minutes. Except for a downed tree, a few missing shingles and minor water damage to another building, the church escaped serious harm, Father Richard Meredith, pastor, said in an email.

He described the storm as “roaring like a freight train and the church booming like a drum.”

“Lights went out and it passed in under two minutes,” the priest wrote, adding that the cleanup in the downtown area and the east side of the city of 31,000 where the storm struck was continuing. No injuries were reported.

Nearby homes and businesses, including Mount Olivet Baptist Church, along the storm’s mile-long path, sustained extensive damage, local officials reported.

National Weather Service meteorologists toured the storm’s path to survey damage with Randy Graham, Christian County emergency management director afterward. Meteorologist Christine Wielgos told WHOP Radio that based on the damage, the twister generated maximum winds of 115 miles an hour and stayed on the ground for about a mile.

The areas was not under a tornado watch or warning when the tornado developed at about 9:30 a.m. local time. Wielgos said the tornado developed so quickly that it was on the ground and dissipated before forecasters they saw evidence of the event on weather radar.

The National Weather Service said six other tornadoes struck western Kentucky communities Jan. 1. On Dec. 10, 2021, tornadoes raked the western portion of the state, with one storm causing catastrophic damage and dozens of deaths and injuries along a 200-mile path.

A statue of Mary is seen standing amid the rubble of a Louisville, Colo., home Dec. 31, 2021. (CNS photo/courtesy Leslie Rowe)

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