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Egypt bans niqab in schools

The debate on the dress of Muslim girls and women is not limited to France or European countries. Last week, the Egyptian Ministry of Education imposed a ban on the wearing of the niqab (a veil that also covers the face, leaving only the eyes uncovered) in public schools and educational establishments. The ban affects female students, but not female teachers.

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Pope Announces Second Part of Encyclical “Laudato Si” Will Be Called “Laudate Deum”

Rectors of universities engaged with Pope Francis at the Vatican on climate and environmental issues. In his responses, the Pontiff revealed these details: the name and category of the document.

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Macao: Opening Ceremony of the “Art for God” Artworks and Spiritual Reflections Exhibition

Placing Fr. Tham’s artworks within the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and Christian spirituality, the exhibition features the traditional Chinese theme of harmony between heaven, earth and humanity in Chinese calligraphy, brush painting and seal carving, revealing the glory and mysteries of God through arts. Fr. Joseph is not only a Catholic priest, a doctor, and a professor of bioethics, but also an artist, with outstanding achievements in Chinese painting, calligraphy and seal carving

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Inside, outside: Synod to focus on the church and its role in the world

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis was introduced to the world from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, he spoke to the crowd about taking up a journey, "bishop and people," a "journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us."

He did not mention the Synod of Bishops in that greeting March 13, 2013, nor did he issue one of his now-frequent appeals to ensure a more "synodal church."

But the inspiration behind the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which opens Oct. 4, can be seen in his very first words as pope and in his course-setting exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), which emphasized the responsibility of all the baptized for the life of the church and, especially, its evangelizing mission.

Unlike earlier meetings of the Synod of Bishops, which focused on a specific issue or a specific region of the world, the "synod on synodality" is focused on the church itself: Who belongs? How are leadership and authority exercised? How does the church discern God's call? How can it fulfill its mandate to share the Gospel with a changing world?

Members of the synod assembly are being asked to reflect on the characteristics they believe are essential for building a "synodal church" by starting from what they heard from people who participated in the local, diocesan, national and continental listening sessions.

It's not a synod on whether and how Catholic parishes can be more welcoming of LGBT Catholics, how it can recognize and encourage the leadership of women or how it can foster the involvement of young people -- but those questions are part of the discussion about how to increase a sense of unity or communion, promote participation and strengthen the missionary outreach of the church.

2018 synod assembly
Pope Francis attends a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people in the Vatican synod hall in this file photo from 2018. The October assembly of the "synod on synodality" has been moved to the larger Vatican audience hall where members will sit at round tables, rather than in rows. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The questions, and dozens more, have come up repeatedly in the synod process, which began in October 2021 with parish and other local listening sessions and is scheduled to go through October 2024 with a second assembly at the Vatican.

Almost every time someone mentions the synod within earshot of the pope, Pope Francis insists "it's not a parliament."

And the pope, the synod secretariat and the synod preparatory commission have spent months working on ways to ensure the 378 full members of the synod, the eight special guests and 75 experts, facilitators and staff have an experience of "spiritual conversation," which the synod office describes as intense, prayerful listening that pays attention at the same time to spiritual movements in oneself and in the other person.

Creating and protecting an environment where such conversations can take place -- and where people truly are open to changing their minds -- has been a matter of strategizing, planning and intense debate as advisers to the pope and the synod office also try to help the entire Catholic Church understand how the process is working and whether the hopes and concerns they shared early in the synod process were heard.

A regular rhythm of shared prayer -- both publicly and among synod members only -- is planned throughout the Oct. 4-Oct. 29 synod assembly.

After an ecumenical prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square Sept. 30, all the members of the synod -- which include lay women and men for the first time -- will spend three days together on retreat outside Rome. They will return to the Vatican for the opening Mass of the synod Oct. 4 and will celebrate Mass together before beginning work on each main synod theme: synodality, communion, mission and participation.

Pope Francis told reporters in early September the synod would be "very open" with regular updates from the synod's communication commission, but " it is necessary to safeguard the religiosity and safeguard the freedom of those who speak," so apparently synod members will be asked not to share with reporters the contents of their own or other members' remarks to the synod.

The notoriously stuffy atmosphere characterized by hours of speeches in the Vatican Synod Hall will disappear. The synod assembly will be held in the much larger Vatican audience hall with its rows of seats removed to make way for round tables to promote constant interactions.

More of the work will be conducted in small groups, organized by language and by the themes of interest to participants. The plenary sessions are designed for a general introduction of the various themes and for reporting the results of the small group discussions. Members will not stay in the same small groups throughout the assembly but change when the themes they are working on change.

According to the working document, "the last segment of the work of the assembly will be dedicated to gathering the fruits of the process, that is, discerning the paths we will continue to walk together. The assembly will consider ways to continue reading the experience of the people of God, including through promoting the necessary in-depth theological and canonical studies in preparation for the second session of the synodal assembly in October 2024."


God has the same love for all, pope says at Angelus

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People often are tempted to think their relationship with God is some kind of commercial transaction where they buy God's grace with their hard work, Pope Francis said.

Another temptation is to judge others and presume that they have not worked as hard to deserve God's love, the pope said Sept. 24 as he commented on the day's Gospel reading before reciting the Angelus prayer with some 18,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

St. Matthew's account of the parable of the vineyard workers, who worked different hours but received the same pay, is not about the workers, but about God, the pope said.

The workers who were in the field all day are annoyed that those who worked only an hour receive the same pay, which the pope said reveals how "sometimes we risk having a 'mercantile' relationship with God, focusing more on our prowess than on the generosity of his grace."

And, he said, sometimes "the church, instead of going out at all hours of the day and extending our arms to all, we can feel like we are the first in the class, judging others as being far behind, without remembering that God loves them, too, with the same love he has for us."

Sisters and other pilgrims in St Peter's Square
Visitors gather in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican to pray the Angelus with Pope Francis Sept. 24, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Gospel also has implications for Christians' relationships with other people, the pope said. It urges them to "break out of the cage of calculation," in which people give others only what they receive or only what they think they deserve, "without daring to go the extra mile, without counting on the effectiveness of good done freely and love offered with a broad heart."

Pope Francis also urged his listeners to notice that it is the vineyard owner who keeps going out to look for workers; they are not coming to him.

"This is how God is," the pope said. "He does not wait for our efforts to come to us, he does not make an examination to assess our merits before seeking us out, he does not give up if we are late in responding to him," but he takes the initiative.

"He is always looking for us and waiting for us," Pope Francis said. "Let us not forget this: the Lord always seeks us and awaits us, always!"


Pope: God's grace is free

Pope: God's grace is free

A look at Pope Francis' Angelus address Sept. 24.

Take leap of faith and dare to love your family, those in need, pope says

MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- The world and the Catholic Church today need to take a leap forward "in faith, charity and hope," Pope Francis said in his homily at a late afternoon Mass in Marseille's open-air stadium.

"We need to rekindle our passion and enthusiasm, to reawaken our desire to commit ourselves to fraternity. We need to once again risk loving our families and dare to love the weakest, and to rediscover in the Gospel the transforming grace that makes life beautiful," he said at the final event of a two-day trip to the old port city of Marseille.

Passion and enthusiasm were not lacking at the Vélodrome Stadium, which erupted into cheers the minute images hit the screens of Pope Francis making his way through the city in the popemobile. Officials estimated 100,000 people lined the route to the stadium while some 50,000 people nearly filled the stadium. French President Emmanuel Macron, Marseille Mayor Benoît Payan and other dignitaries were present.

Pope in popemobile in Marseille
Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile as he arrives for Mass at the Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

People chanted "Papa Francesco" and repeatedly executed "the wave" to immense cheers. One section, filled with people wearing blue sports bibs, added to the ocean effect. Then in a well-coordinated pull, volunteers hoisted an immense veil-like cut-out image of a waving pope and the belltower of the city's Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. They also held up gold cards to spell out "Merci" (Thank you) against the blue background.

While the pope's Sept. 22-23 trip focused on the plight of migrants and the world's responsibility to rescue those in danger, to create more equitable legal channels for migration, to amend gross economic disparities and promote peace, he also reminded Catholics of their mission to share Christ's compassion and hope.

In his homily Sept. 23, he asked the faithful to reflect "honestly, from the heart: Do we believe that God is at work in our lives? Do we believe that the Lord, in hidden and often unpredictable ways, acts in history, performs wonders and is working even in our societies that are marked by worldly secularism and a certain religious indifference?"

In a world with so many challenges, he said, people of faith must have trust in the Lord.

The pope based his reflection on events in sacred Scripture in which God makes possible what seems impossible, generating life even amidst sterility.

The Virgin Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth are both pregnant "in an impossible way," with Elizabeth feeling her child "leap" in her womb, recognizing the arrival of the Messiah, he said.

This is how to discern "whether or not we have this trust in the Lord," he said, by feeling this sign, this "leap for joy" within.

"Whoever believes, whoever prays, whoever welcomes the Lord leaps in the Spirit and feels that something is moving within, and 'dances' with joy," the pope said.

Bishops and cardinals at Mass in Marseille
Cardinals and bishops arrive in procession for Mass with Pope Francis at Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

This experience is "the opposite of a flat, cold heart, accustomed to the quiet life, which is encased in indifference and becomes impermeable," he said. "Such a heart becomes hardened and insensitive to everything and everyone, even to the tragic discarding of human life, which is seen today in the rejection of many immigrants, of countless unborn children and abandoned elderly people."

"Those who are born to faith, on the other hand, recognize the presence of the Lord," he said.

"Even in the midst of toil, problems and suffering, each day they discern God's visitation among us and feel accompanied and sustained by him," the pope said.

"The experience of faith also compels us to leap toward our neighbor," he said, and to experience the joy of sharing.

Pope Francis asked Christians pray for the "fire of the Holy Spirit" and let themselves "be set afire by the questions of our day, by the challenges of the Mediterranean, by the cry of the poor -- and by the 'holy utopias' of fraternity and peace that wait to be realized."

"Today, too, our life and the life of the church, France and Europe need this: the grace of a leap forward, a new leap in faith, charity and hope," he said.

At the end of the Mass, the pope thanked those who traveled from different parts of France. A group from Nice, accompanied by their bishop and mayor, was made up of survivors of a 2016 terrorist attack when a 19-ton truck drove into people promenading on a holiday evening, leaving 86 people dead and 434 other injured.

"I recall the terrible attack," the pope said, asking people to "prayerfully remember all those who lost their lives in that tragedy, as well as in all the terrorist acts that have been perpetrated in France and in every part of the world."

"Terrorism is cowardly," he added.

Pope Francis also asked the crowd never to tire of "praying for peace in war-torn regions, and especially for the war-torn people of Ukraine."


International Conference Seeks to Enrich Ministry to Catholic Indigenous Populations

WASHINGTON – Representatives from Catholic Indigenous organizations came together with Catholic bishops and staff from the episcopal conferences of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States this week for the International Conference on Catholic Indigenous Ministry (ICCI). The gathering in Washington was an historic occasion of dialogue, learning, and fellowship for those who work with Indigenous communities in the Catholic Church.

Hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, the purpose of the week-long gathering was to share experiences, ideas, resources, and best practices encountered in the relationship between the Catholic Church and Indigenous communities.

“My hope is that the conversations that were started at this meeting will continue to grow and lead to deeper understanding and engagement with our Native and Indigenous communities,” said Bishop Chad Zielinski of New Ulm, chairman of the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. “I am grateful for the collaboration with other episcopal conferences to have meaningful conversations with representatives from the Native and Indigenous communities. Some of the topics we addressed dealt with history that can be difficult and painful to discuss, but we must be willing face these issues so we may also bring real and honest dialogue to lead towards healing, and a heightened awareness so that history is not repeated. But our gathering was also an opportunity for joyous celebration of the diversity of our cultures, and how the Indigenous communities enrich our shared Catholic faith.”

The gathering added an international component to the wider and comprehensive synodal approach that the USCCB’s Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church is taking to reinvigorate ministry with various ethnic and cultural communities. Included as a key part of the meeting agenda was a listening session for the bishops with representatives from Catholic Indigenous organizations, with the intent that it will help charter a path for ministry to the Indigenous at the international level. The topics of discussion emphasized the importance of being both Catholic and Indigenous, and included evangelization, education, reconciliation, and healing, inculturation, as well as social concerns such as poverty, racism, and the environment.

The meeting enhances the work of the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs as they prepare to present a new pastoral framework for Indigenous ministry, Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise, that will be voted on by the body of bishops during their November plenary. This pastoral framework has been developed after extensive consultation with U.S. Catholic Native leaders and it is designed to refocus and reinvigorate Catholic Indigenous ministry in the United States.


People have a duty to save migrants in danger of drowning, pope says

MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- At a moving ceremony at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Pope Francis led a moment of silence for the countless lives lost in its blue but treacherous waters.

And he warned the world it was now at a crossroads: people must choose either to take the path of compassion, encounter and fraternity or veer off toward a track of indifference and conflict.

Calling it "a duty of civilization," he said that "people who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity."

Dozens of guests, including the mayor of Marseille, Benoit Payan, who sat at the pope's side, representatives of the city's religious communities, church officials and organizations involved in the rescue, care and assistance of migrants joined Pope Francis for the moment of reflection.

The pope prayed and led a moment of silence with the others before going to a monument dedicated to those who have perished at sea. The monument, topped with a cross, also features a heart and an anchor. As the pope and religious leaders prayed, the sun was slowly setting toward the water below.

Wreath left by pope
A wreath, bearing Pope Francis' name, lies at a memorial dedicated to migrants and those lost at sea in Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

"Let us not get used to considering shipwrecks as news stories" where the people who died are faceless and nameless numbers, he said. They are brothers and sisters who "drowned in fear, along with the hopes they carried in their hearts."

"We need deeds not words," he said, and then led those gathered in a moment of silence in memory of those who died.

"Let us be moved by their tragedies," he said.

At this time in history, he said, following the path of fraternity will allow the human community to flourish, while the road of indifference "bloodies the Mediterranean."

"We cannot be resigned to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways," he said, blaming the countless shipwrecks on "cruel trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference."

The pope said religious leaders must show people the way and be exemplary in their offer of "mutual and fraternal welcome," shunning the "woodworm of extremism and the ideological plague of fundamentalism that corrodes the authentic life of communities."

He urged the people of Marseille, marked by religious pluralism, to choose well what path it will take, whether that of encounter or confrontation.

He praised those gathered with him who are dedicated to rescuing and assisting migrants at sea and in danger. He said he was well aware of efforts that try to block rescuers, and he called such actions "gestures of hatred against one's brother," calling for "balance." Some governments have blocked non-governmental organizations from carrying out rescues because they claim they encourage people to attempt illegal crossings.

"Let us not cause hope to shipwreck; let us together make a mosaic of hope," he said, before listening to several prayer intentions read aloud by those representing different facets dedicated to the care of sailors and migrants.

Earlier, the pope joined bishops, clergy, seminarians and consecrated men and women for a Marian prayer service in the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Gard situated on top of the hill overlooking the sea and the memorial.

The pope encouraged Catholics to be like Mary, "the Bonne Mère" depicted in the basilica's statues, with her tender and loving gaze on Jesus, who, in turn, compassionately looks upon all of humanity.

Jesus looks at people, not to judge, but to lift them up, especially those who are "lowly" or lost and to help bring them back to the fold, he said.

"May people wounded by life find a safe harbor in your gaze, encouragement in your embrace and a caress in your hands," he said.

"Do not detract from the warmth of God's paternal and maternal gaze," he said, urging priests to "always, always loosen the chains of sin through grace and free people from those obstacles, regrets, grudges, and fears against which they cannot prevail alone."

Pope prays for migrants who died at sea

Pope prays for migrants who died at sea

In Marseille, France, Sept. 22, Pope Francis prayed for migrants who died at sea.

Vatican, Lutheran officials call for joint study of Augsburg Confession

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During an ecumenical prayer service at the assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, the Vatican's chief ecumenist and the federation's general secretary formally called for a joint reflection on the Augsburg Confession, a fundamental statement of Lutheran faith.

"A common reflection could lead to another 'milestone' on the way from conflict to communion," said Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Rev. Anne Burghardt, the federation's general secretary, as they read a "Common Word" declaration to the assembly Sept. 19.

The assembly, held Sept. 13-19 in Krakow, Poland, is the main governing body of the Lutheran World Federation, which represents 150 Lutheran churches in 99 countries.

The Augsburg Confession was drafted in 1530 in an attempt "to bear witness to the faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," the declaration said. "At the time of its writing, ecclesial unity was probably endangered, but ecclesial separation was not yet finally accomplished."

Cardinal Koch at Lutheran World Federation assembly
Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, speaks on an ecumenical panel during the assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Krakow, Poland, Sept. 19, 2023. The Rev. Anne Burghardt, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, is to the right of the cardinal. (CNS photo/Lutheran World Federation, Marie Renaux)

Because the statement of faith was meant to witness to the unity of the church before the final ruptures of the Protestant Reformation, the declaration said, it is "not only of historical interest; rather, it holds an ecumenical potential of lasting relevance."

The declaration acknowledged both theological and practical obstacles on the path to full unity.

The Catholic Church's "excommunication of Martin Luther is still a stumbling block for some today," it said. "It maintains its place in confessional memory, even though the excommunication has long since lost its immediate effect with the death of the reformer and Lutherans are not enemies or strangers for Catholics, but brothers and sisters, with whom Catholics know themselves to be united through baptism."

In a similar way, it said, "the fact that Martin Luther and the Lutheran confessional writings refer to the papacy as 'anti-Christ' is a stumbling block even though today the Lutheran World Federation does not support that view."

The two issues, the declaration said, ultimately raise questions about the role and ministry of the pope and "the question of the mystery of the church, its unity and uniqueness," questions the official Catholic-Lutheran theological dialogue continues to study.

That dialogue, the two leaders said, allows Lutherans and Catholics "to discern areas of consensus where our predecessors only saw insurmountable oppositions. We are able to recognize that the journey toward full communion is far greater than the contingencies of a particular epoch."

The "Common Word" also noted how Pope Francis, meeting leaders of the federation in 2021, expressed hope that a joint study of the Augsburg Confession in preparation for the document's 500th anniversary in 2030 could strengthen Catholics' and Lutherans' ability "to confess together what joins us in faith."

"It will be important to examine with spiritual and theological humility the circumstances that led to the divisions, trusting that, although it is impossible to undo the sad events of the past, it is possible to reinterpret them as part of a reconciled history," the pope had said.


Pope: Christians are called to fight 'every form of slavery'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inspired by the dignity of each human being as revealed by Jesus, Christians are called to fight "every form of slavery," whether physical, social or spiritual, Pope Francis said.

"Jesus, God made man, elevated the dignity of every human being and exposed the falsehood of slavery," the pope told people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his general audience Sept. 20. "As Christians, therefore, we are called to fight against every form of slavery."

Continuing his weekly catechesis on zeal for evangelization, the pope discussed the life of St. Daniele Comboni, a 19th-century Italian bishop who dedicated his life to establishing and supporting missions in Africa, where Pope Francis said the saint witnessed the "horror of slavery."

"Comboni, by the light of Christ, became aware of the evil of slavery; he also understood that social slavery is rooted in a deeper slavery, that of the heart, that of sin, from which the Lord delivers us," he said.

Pope Francis waves to visitors from the popemobile.
Visitors greet Pope Francis as he rides the popemobile around St. Peter's Square at the Vatican before his weekly general audience Sept. 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Pope Francis stressed that "slavery, like colonialism, is not a thing of the past," and recalled his address to South Sudanese political leaders during his visit to the country in February in which he called for an end to the economic colonialism that followed the end of political colonialism in Africa.

St. Comboni, the pope said, understood that those he evangelized in Africa were "not only 'objects' but 'subjects' of the mission" and praised the saint's philosophy about evangelization in Africa contained in his missionary slogan: "Save Africa through Africa."

"How important it is, even today, to advance the faith and human development from within the contexts of mission instead of transplanting external models or limiting oneself to sterile welfarism," Pope Francis said. "Take up the way of evangelization from the culture of the people. Evangelizing the culture and enculturating the Gospel go together."

The pope highlighted St. Comboni's efforts to involve laypeople, families and catechists -- "treasures of the church" -- in evangelization as a way of "making all Christians protagonists of evangelizing action" and preventing clericalism.

Pope Francis leads a prayer.
Pope Francis leads a prayer as he begins his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

After his catechesis, Pope Francis mentioned a meeting he had before his general audience with Brazilian lawmakers working on behalf of the poor. "They do not forget the poor; they work for the poor," he said. "To you I say, 'do not forget the poor,' because they will be the ones who open the door to heaven for you."

The pope also noted the "worrying news" from the South Caucasus region "where the already critical humanitarian situation was aggravated by further armed conflict" after Azerbaijan attacked the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh Sept. 19.

"I call on all involved parties and the international community to silence weapons and make every effort to find peaceful solutions for the good of people and respect for human dignity," he said.

Pope: Evangelization and inculturation go together

Pope: Evangelization and inculturation go together

Pope Francis spoke about the evangelizing example of St. Daniele Comboni at his general audience Sept. 20.