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Coming soon to the Vatican: haircuts for Rome’s homeless

The Vatican’s continued efforts to help the homeless of Rome have expanded beyond showers and bathrooms at St. Peter’s Square, with a barber shop set to open soon.

“Our primary concern is to give people their dignity,” Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, head of the Office of Papal Charities, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

Shows at the Vatican
Construction begins on new showers inside the public restrooms just off the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, Nov. 17, 2014. (Photo by Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

In November, construction started on new showers and bathrooms for the homeless under the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square. The archbishop, who oversaw the project, set aside space for a barber.

He noted the difficulty that the homeless face in washing themselves, which in turn helps cause others to reject them — or causes them to fear rejection.

“A person needs to keep their hair and facial hair tidy, also in order to prevent diseases,” the archbishop said. “This is another service that homeless people do not have easy access to. It is not easy for them to enter a normal shop because there may be a fear of customers catching something, like scabies for example.”

The initiative will also help “the good of the city,” since homeless people often take buses and the subway and come into contact with others.

The Poland-born Archbishop Krajewski is the papal almoner, who conducts acts of charity for the poor and raises money to fund the charitable work. When the archbishop was appointed, Pope Francis urged him not to stay at his desk but rather to be an active worker for the benefit of the poor.

Many barbers have volunteered with enthusiasm, including two barbers from the national Italian organization that transports the sick to Lourdes, France and other international shrines. Other volunteers are finishing their final year in barber school.

The barber service will be open on Mondays, when barber shops in Italy are traditionally closed. It is scheduled to open in several weeks.

— Catholic News Agency/EWTN News

Iraqi priests work to save historic Christian writings from Islamic State

By Andrea Gagliarducci / Catholic News Agency — Effectively exiled from his friary in Mosul by the Islamic State last year, Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel is working to preserve Christian manuscripts through digitization, recording a memory of Iraq’s Christian past.

Father Najeeb Michaeel is an Iraqi native who studied in the U.S. and founded in 1990 the Center for the Digitization of Oriental Manuscripts to foster the collection and recording of ancient manuscripts which he had started in the 1980s.

A Syriac manuscript from the Monastery of St. Catherine, Mt. Sinai.

Over the years, Father Michaeel has collected some 750 Christian manuscripts in order to preserve them and to make them available for study by making digital copies.

The archives of the Dominican order in Iraq are a testimony to the Christian presence in Iraq, which stretches nearly 2,000 years in cities such as Mosul and Bakhdida, which are now controlled by Islamic State.

Mosul had had a Dominican friary since the 1750s, with both friars and the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. The friary amassed a large library of thousands of ancient manuscripts, as well as more than 50,000 more modern volumes.

When an Islamist insurgency hit Mosul in 2008 following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Dominicans smuggled their library to Bakhdida, a city populated primarily by Syriac Catholics, only 20 miles away.

Then in 2014, the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State seized Mosul in June. A month later Christians were effectively exiled from the city, and Islamic State continued to expand across Iraq’s Nineveh province.

Father Michaeel collected some 1,300 manuscripts from the 14th to the 19th century and put them in two large trucks in the early morning, transferring them to a secret location in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where they have been kept safe. They include not only Christian works but manuscripts on the Quran, music and grammar.

“We passed three checkpoints without any problem, and I think the Virgin Mary [had] a hand to protect us,” Father Michaeel said Jan. 26 in an interview with National Public Radio.

The library of 50,000 modern books was left behind in Bakhdida, and the city was seized by Islamic State on Aug. 7.

Father Michaeel has been joined in Erbil by Benedictine Father Columba Stewart, who is executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, which is participating in the preservation of the Syriac manuscripts.

Islamic State have destroyed belongings of the non-Sunnis who have fled their territory, showing no regard for historical preservation. Convents and monasteries have been destroyed or requisitioned for their own use. In Mosul, a mound over the tomb of the prophet Jonah, on top of which a mosque was built, was destroyed with explosives in July.

Dominican Father Laurent Lemoine works with Father Michaeel. He told France 24 last October that “we’re trying to save these cultural artifacts because in northern Iraq it seems that everything is on the road to destruction — people of course, but also our cultural heritage. The artifacts were almost destroyed several times.”

“Across the region, Christianity is in the process of being swept away. Mass has been celebrated in Mosul for 1,600 years. This year was the first time that there hasn’t been a Mass in all that time.”

Bishops welcome court’s review of using lethal injection in executions

By Catholic News Service — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the use of lethal injections in carrying out executions is a welcome move, said the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees.

The court said Jan. 23 it will review the drug protocols of lethal-injection executions in the state of Oklahoma and consider whether such procedures violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“I welcome the court’s decision to review this cruel practice,” said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“Our nation has witnessed through recent executions, such as occurred in Oklahoma, how the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing,” he added.

Archbishop Wenski made the comments Jan. 27 in a joint statement issued with Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities.

The court will consider the case of Glossip v. Gross, brought by three death-row inmates in Oklahoma. Last year, prison officials botched the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma using lethal injection. Lockett writhed in agony for 40 minutes before being unhooked from the drug dispenser in the prison’s death chamber and died soon afterward of apparent heart failure.

Oral arguments in the case are to be heard by the court in April.

“Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “We pray that the court’s review of these protocols will lead to the recognition that institutionalized practices of violence against any person erode reverence for the sanctity of every human life.”

“Capital punishment must end,” he added.

The U.S. bishops have been advocating against the death penalty for more than 40 years. In 2005, they initiated the Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty and continue to work closely with state Catholic conferences, the Catholic Mobilizing Network and other groups to abolish the death penalty in the United States.

Last October, Pope Francis called on Christians and all people of good will “to fight ... for the abolition of the death penalty ... in all its forms,” out of respect for human dignity.

Feed my sheep: Archbishops to receive palliums at home with their flock

By Cindy Wooden / Catholic News Service — When Pope Francis celebrates the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in June, he will set aside an element that has been part of the Mass for the past 32 years; the Vatican confirmed he will not confer the pallium on new archbishops during the liturgy.

Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal master of liturgical ceremonies, said Jan. 29 that the new archbishops will come to Rome to concelebrate the feast day Mass with Pope Francis June 29 and will be present for the blessing of the palliums, underlining their bond of unity and communion with him.

The actual imposition of the pallium, however, will take place in the archbishop’s archdiocese in the presence of his faithful and bishops from neighboring dioceses, he said.

The change will “better highlight the relationship of the metropolitan archbishops with their local churches, giving more faithful the possibility of being present for this significant rite,” Msgr. Marini said.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who was installed in the archdiocese in November, is expected to be among the concelebrants in Rome.

St. John Paul II — who began many of the Vatican practices that now seem like venerable ancient traditions — first placed the woolen bands around the shoulders of metropolitan archbishops at the feast day Mass June 29, 1983.

A truly ancient tradition, dating back probably at least to the sixth century, will not change: The pope blesses the pallium and concedes its use by certain bishops. The current Code of Canon Law stipulates that within three months of their appointment or consecration all metropolitan archbishops (residential archbishops who preside over an ecclesiastical province) must request a pallium from the pope.

“The pallium signifies the power which the metropolitan, in communion with the Roman church, has by law in his own province,” it says. The code, however, does not specify that the pallium be received from the hands of the pope.

In 1982 on the eve of the feast day, Pope John Paul went down to the grotto of St. Peter’s Basilica to pray before the tomb of St. Peter and bless the palliums that were to be given “to the metropolitan archbishops to be created by the Holy Father,” according to a description in Attivita della Santa Sede (Activity of the Holy See), an annual publication that includes a day-by-day description of the activities of the pope.

The next year, Pope John Paul made the change. After the homily, five archbishops who had been named in the previous year to archdioceses in Italy, Wales and Chile, approached the pope, knelt and received the wool bands marked with crosses. Other archbishops named during the year received their palliums from the nuncio or papal representative in their countries.

In his homily, Pope John Paul had explained, “during this celebration the blessing and the imposition of the pallium on certain, recently named archbishops will take place.”

The blessing of the pallium near the tomb of St. Peter and by his successor, the pope, “has always been seen ... as a participation in the ‘feed my sheep’ said by Jesus to Peter,” Pope John Paul said.

In fact, the woolen bands, which are about 3 inches wide and have 14-inch strips hanging down the front and the back, are tipped with black silk to recall the dark hoof of the sheep the archbishop is symbolically carrying over his shoulders.

Personally placing the palliums on the archbishops, Pope John Paul said, “signifies that the pallium imposed on you, dear brothers in the episcopate, is a symbol of privileged communion with the successor of Peter, principle and visible foundation of unity in the field of doctrine, discipline and pastoral work.”

At the same time, he said, the pallium should signify “a greater commitment to love for Christ and for souls. Such love for the flock of Christ, shepherd and guardian of our souls, will help you carry out your ministry of service,” he said. “The doctrine you offer will be fruitful if nourished with love.”

Already this year, Pope Francis has kept part of the tradition connected to the palliums. On the Jan. 21 feast of St. Agnes, he blessed two lambs raised by Trappist monks outside Rome. Benedictine nuns at the Monastery of St. Cecilia in Rome will use wool from the blessed lambs to make the bands, which will be kept by St. Peter’s tomb until the pope blesses and distributes them.

The change Pope Francis decided for 2015 was not a complete surprise given his suggestion that Argentine bishops and faithful not spend huge sums to come to Rome for his own installation as pope in 2013 — and that they use the money they would have spent for the poor — and his encouragement to new cardinals to keep celebrations of their new roles to a dignified minimum.

In June 2013, Archbishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, was in the first group of archbishops to receive their palliums from Pope Francis. At the time, he told Catholic News Service, “To be quite honest, I was kind of hoping that maybe he would send the pallium by way of FedEx and say, ‘Save the money and give it to the poor.’”

Catholics join in marking 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

By Jonathan Luxmoore / Catholic News Service — Catholic leaders joined in commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where 1.2 million mostly Jewish prisoners were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

“When we ask how God was present in the hell of Auschwitz, we must remember God’s last word is one of peace,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland.

Survivor returns to Auschwitz
Survivor Juda Widaski, 96, poses for a picture inside a tent on the site of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau near Oswiecim, Poland, Jan. 27. Some 300 former Auschwitz prisoners participated in ceremonies to m ark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp.(CNS photo/Laszlo Balogh, Reuters)

“Peace is a gift from God, for which we have to ask him. This is why we gather today to pray before taking the next step — and we must take that step, drawing conclusions from the past and from the witness of history.”

The cardinal preached at a Jan. 27 Mass in Auschwitz’s church-run ecumenical Center for Dialogue and Prayer. The Mass was concelebrated by the Vatican’s nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and attended by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and around 150 former camp inmates.

Cardinal Dziwisz said questions still needed to be asked about human responsibility for Auschwitz atrocities, but added that the camp’s liberation was also a reminder that peace could be achieved by human effort.

He said numerous great initiatives had been launched to ensure future generations remembered the past while “responsibly building the future,” helped by survivors who recalled “the cry of the victims falling silent as they were brutally suffocated.”

Besides Jewish inmates, who made up 90 percent of victims, approximately 100,000 mostly Catholic Poles were killed by German occupiers in Auschwitz’s gas chambers and execution sites. The Nazis also killed Roma, Russian POWs and prisoners of other nationalities at the camp, located in Oswiecim, Poland.

St. John Paul II visited Auschwitz in 1979, and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2006. Organizers of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow expect Pope Francis to visit the camp while he is in the country.

The anniversary of the camp’s liberation by invading Soviet forces was attended by heads of state and government and official representatives from 40 countries and included interfaith prayers at the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination center and a wreath-laying at the camp’s infamous Death Wall.

In a Jan. 27 Twitter message, Pope Francis said, “Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among peoples.”

Meanwhile, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, said Auschwitz ranked “among the fundamental experiences of mankind” as a place where “the Germans systematically and industrially organized the destruction of European Jews.”

He added that the death camp remained “an open wound on the body of humanity,” and said it was important to ask “why the crimes of Auschwitz happened on a continent marked for at least a millennium by Christianity.”

Pope to dads: Play with your kids, be strong, loving, moral role models

By Carol Glatz / Catholic News Service — When their lives are all work and no play, men turn their children into “orphans” who lack a father to guide them, show them love and teach them values, Pope Francis said.

“They are orphans in a family because their fathers are often absent, also physically, from home, but above all because when they are home they don’t act like fathers, they don’t dialogue with their children, they don’t fulfill their role as educators, they don’t give their children, by way of their example and their words, those principles, values and rules of life that they need like bread,” he said.

At his general audience Jan. 28, the pope continued a series of talks on the family by focusing on the role of the father.

Speaking to some 7,000 people gathered in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope said that in the past, fathers were sometimes too authoritarian, treating their children like “servants” and not helping them take responsibility for forging their own way in life.

“However, as often happens, we have gone from one extreme to another,” the pope said.

“The problem today does not seem to be so much the overbearing presence of fathers as much as it is rather their absence, their hiding” from their responsibility as parents, he said.

The world today, especially in the West, seems like “a world without fathers” where men are so focused on their jobs or personal fulfillment that they neglect their families, he said.

The pope recalled how when he served as archbishop of Buenos Aires he would often ask fathers if they played with their kids, “if they had the courage of love to ‘waste’ their time with their children. And their answer was awful, you know. The majority said, ‘Well, I can’t, too much work.’”

Christian communities need to be extra attentive to the crisis of fatherhood in society today and how so many young people feel “orphaned” within their own families, the pope said. So many problems kids have, some of them serious, stem from them not having a decent father figure — a father who is an authoritative, loving guide and role model, he added.

In fact, the more a father needs to work or be away from home, the more important it is he live up to his duty of providing solid, quality guidance, he said.

Another problem, the pope said, is sometimes fathers seem lost or unsure of what role they are supposed to play in the family and “so, being in doubt, they opt out, they withdraw and neglect their responsibilities, perhaps hiding behind a dubious relationship of ‘equal footing’ with their children,” he said.

While it is true fathers need to accompany their kids, he said, they must not forget they must act like a parent, not a best friend, because “that is not good for the child.”

Society has a paternal role as well, he said; it must take an active, responsible role toward young people and not leave them “orphans” without prospects for a good education and employment.

Young people who are “orphaned of ideals,” values and hope, the pope said, will fill that void with “idols” and be driven by fleeting pleasures and the illusion of “the god of money,” robbing them of their real treasures within.

Jesus, who promised he would not leave anyone behind as an orphan, is the teacher that can guide families, he said. He is “the hope that the world can change, that love conquers hatred and that there can be a future of brotherhood and peace for everyone.”

Toward the end of the audience, the pope said some people might think his catechesis was “too negative” by looking only at the failures in fatherhood today.

But he promised the following week’s catechesis would look at the beauty of fatherhood, echoing the audience’s Gospel reading from John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The pope said he wanted “to start with the darkness in order to arrive at the light so that the Lord can help us understand these things better.”

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is available online at

Washington priest on road to sainthood devoted to aiding poor children

By Mark Zimmermann / Catholic News Service — As a boy growing up in his native Washington, Aloysius Schwartz dreamed of becoming a missionary priest and serving the poor.

As a man, Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz did just that, founding an order of religious sisters, the Sisters of Mary who joined him in bringing an education, housing and job training to thousands of orphans and street children, and hospitals for the poor in South Korea and the Philippines, work that expanded to Mexico before he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1992 at the age of 61.

He also founded the Brothers of Christ, who serve the poor and people with disabilities at centers in South Korea.

Msgr. Schwartz
Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz, who founded the Brothers of Christ, who serve the poor and people with disabilities at centers in South Korea, is shown in an undated photo with children at one of his outreach programs in South Korea. On Jan. 22, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing that Msgr. Schwartz lived a life of “heroic virtue” and declaring him “venerable,” making him the first native Washingtonian to achieve that title. (CNS photo/courtesy Asian Relief)

On Jan. 22, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing that Msgr. Schwartz lived a life of “heroic virtue,” meaning that he has been declared “venerable,” making him the first native Washingtonian to achieve that title. The priest’s cause for canonization has been promoted by the Archdiocese of Manila, Philippines, where the priest known as “Father Al” died and is buried.

“The news that Father Aloysius Schwartz, one of our own who became a priest, has been declared as ‘venerable’ is not only a great joy and inspiration, but it is a beautiful invitation to all young people to know God has something in store for every one of us,” Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said in an interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper.

“If we simply open our hearts and let God speak to us, wonderful things can happen,” he added.

Msgr. Schwartz’s legacy lives on the Boystown and Girlstown programs that the Sisters of Mary continue to operate in South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil and Guatemala, where they are serving 25,000 poor children. Over the years, those programs started by Msgr. Schwartz and continued by the Sisters of Mary have had 100,000 children graduate and go on to become priests, sisters, teachers, doctors, engineers and accountants, among many careers, after having once been orphans or street children.

In a 1987 interview with the Catholic Standard, Msgr. Schwartz said, “As the Spirit leads, I will follow.”

Five years later, as he was paralyzed from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. the priest supervised the building of a new outreach center for children in Chalco, Mexico, and he wrote two books about his work and the spirituality underlying it. Msgr. Schwartz told a freelance journalist just before his death that he wanted his epitaph to read simply, “He tried his best for Jesus.”

The son of Louis and Cedelia Schwartz, the future priest was born in 1930 and grew up in a strong Catholic family with six siblings. He was baptized, received his first Communion, first confession, and confirmation at Holy Name Church in Washington, where he also graduated from the parish school.

Father Michael Briese, now Holy Name’s pastor, noted that Msgr. Schwartz was also an altar server there.

“He lived a blessed life, a holy life, and now Father Al is remembered here at Holy Name Parish and throughout the whole church,” the pastor said, noting that the parish has a small display in the back of the church devoted to telling the story of Msgr. Schwartz’s life and legacy, and the parish bulletin there has a section each week encouraging people to pray for his cause of canonization.

In general, the verification of a miracle attributed to his intercession is required for beatification, and a second such miracle is required for canonization.

Currently, the cause of canonization for another native Washingtonian — Mary Virginia Merrick — the founder of the Christ Child Society who died in 1955, is currently underway. Cardinal Wuerl initiated her cause with a decree in 2011, and it is currently in the diocesan phase, with her extensive writings being reviewed.

Msgr. Schwartz was ordained as a archdiocesan priest in 1957 at St. Martin of Tours Church in Washington by Bishop John McNamara.

While studying as seminarian in Louvain, Belgium, Aloysius Schwartz served the poor in Paris during school breaks. A visit to the shrine of the Virgin of the Poor in Banneux, Belgium, inspired him to dedicate his future priesthood to the Virgin of the Poor and to serving the poor.

After his 1957 ordination, Father Aloysius Schwartz began serving as a diocesan priest in Busan, South Korea, where he was shocked by the condition of thousands of street children left orphaned and destitute following the Korean War. He founded the Sisters of Mary in 1964, and they joined him in establishing and operating Boystown and Girlstown programs for children in South Korea, work that later expanded to the other countries where the sisters continue to serve.

The priest was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and once for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he received the top humanitarian award bestowed in Asian countries, the Magsaysay Award in International Understanding. But he said in the Catholic Standard interview that his greatest honor came in serving “my kids.”

Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Pope releases text of message for Lent, focuses on combatting indifference

By Carol Glatz / Catholic News Service -- Christians are called to overcome apathy, discouragement and pretentions of self-sufficiency by letting God enter into their hearts, making them joyful, merciful and strong, Pope Francis said.

Through prayer, charity and humility before God, people receive a heart “which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference,” the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 18 for Latin-rite Catholics.

In fact, the individualistic “selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions,” turning it into “one of the most urgent challenges” that “we, as Christians, need to confront,” the pope wrote.

Released by the Vatican Jan. 27, the text of the pope’s Lenten message focused on the need for inner conversion and renewal, with the title, “Make your hearts firm,” which is from the Letter of James.

A firm heart is strong and steadfast against temptation and evil, but it is also open to God, capable of being “pierced by the Spirit,” touched by his love and moved to share it with others, he said.

“When the people of God are converted to his love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises,” the pope said, including the pressing problem today of “the globalization of indifference.”

“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians,” he said, which means the church, parish communities and lay people need regular reflection and “interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves.”

God’s love breaks down the walls of “that fatal withdrawal into ourselves, which is indifference,” he said.

By receiving Jesus, by listening to his word, receiving the sacraments and engaging in prayer, “we become what we receive: the Body of Christ,” which is a living, united communion of members that share their gifts and leave “no room for indifference.”

Parishes and Catholic organizations, too, must share and care for the weakest, poorest and most marginalized, refusing to “take refuge in a universal love that would embrace the whole world, while failing to see the Lazarus sitting before our closed doors.”

May Catholic communities “become islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference,” the pope said.

The church and its organizations must go out to ends of the earth by praying with the church in heaven and engaging with the wider world, he said.

Even the faithful who are now in heaven have not turned their backs “on the sufferings of the world,” rejoicing “in splendid isolation,” rather, they want Christ’s “victory of love” to penetrate the whole world, which is why they accompany those on earth as they continue God’s work, he said.

God calls every man and woman to him, he said. That is why “in each of our neighbors, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again” and recognize that “all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the church and all of humanity.”

The best way for Catholics not to be overwhelmed by so much bad news in the world and to avoid the “spiral of distress and powerlessness,” he said, is to become united in prayer, to concretely help others and to see suffering as an occasion for one’s own conversion.

Witnessing so much need “reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters,” he said.

Only by humbly accepting one’s limitations and recognizing God’s infinite abundance can people “resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.”

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the office which handles the pope’s charitable giving, presented the Lenten message at a Vatican news conference.

He said indifference — where everything becomes the same or equally valid — results in an eradication of values, meaning and any distinction between good and evil, true and false.

“If everything is the same, if nothing is different and therefore is more or less valid, what can one invest one’s life in?” he asked.

The church upholds the truth, its standards and principles, and recognizes difference “between oneself and the other, between one lifestyle and another, between oneself and God,” the monsignor said.

“The church does not denounce certain situations simply to censure them but she wishes to offer paths toward healing,” he said.

Everyone is called to conversion not because this “new heart” rooted in the Gospel is the key to a better society, but because the real purpose of conversion is to know Christ and become more like him, he said.

People’s faith, however, must then move outward so as not to become “functional” that cares only about oneself and one’s personal well being, Msgr. Dal Toso said.

The church is a living body whose members “take care of each other; they even live thanks to one another. The experience of living in the church is already a break away from individualism, from indifference, and from the withdrawal into oneself that leads to death,” he said.

Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s message in English is online at:

The text of the pope’s message in Spanish is online at:

Father Richard Kunst: St. Peter’s an example of how so many gave so much

I almost always start January in Rome, Italy. I regularly use my vacation time to lead small private tours to Rome, and my favorite time of the year to bring groups is Christmas, or at least the days following Christmas and into the new year.

I remember 15 years ago, as the world was preparing to enter a new millennium, there was a list made up of the seven wonders of the modern world. This, of course, was meant to be a correlation with the seven wonders of the ancient world, which is fairly well known and consistent.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

When the new list was unveiled, I was surprised to see what wasn’t on it, namely St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In fact, if you were to “google” the seven wonders of the modern world, you would find many different lists, and in my looking not a single one of the lists has St. Peter’s on it.

With this I conclude one of two things: either the people making the lists have a thing against the Catholic Church or they have never been to this church in Rome in the first place, which would mean they are not qualified to make such a list.

By the numbers

Let’s look at a few statistics: St. Peter’s covers 5.5 square acres of land. It took 120 years of continuous labor covering the span of 18 popes and 12 principal architects, one of whom was Michelangelo.

There are 11 domes — the main dome so large that the Statue of Liberty can stand on itself three times and still fit inside — 44 altars, 400 marble statues and one painting. Every other piece of art in the church looks to be a painting but is in fact an amazingly fine mosaic.

Yet nothing I can say will do any justice to this marvel of human labor. One truly has to see it to believe it. And still it is not on any list for being a modern wonder.

The point of all this is to have an opportunity to ponder the work it took to build such a structure. If it was 120 years of continuous labor, think of how many generations of careers it took to build it. We can assume the average life expectancy from 1506 to 1626 was substantially less than in our own day, so the working career must have been shorter, as well.

It is safe to surmise that thousands upon thousands of people spent their entire working careers building St. Peter’s Basilica, from regular laborers to architects and artists, not to mention the miners producing the stone for the building. All these people gave their entire lives to the service of the church so that every generation to follow could be awe-inspired and drawn into a deeper faith. Never have I led a tour through St. Peter’s when someone’s life wasn’t affected by the sheer grandeur and beauty of this sanctuary.

Many benefits

Not all of us can regularly go to St. Peter’s in Rome, but we all can participate in our own parish life, and I suspect that the majority of people reading this column are active in their own parishes. Think, then, of how much we get from Mother Church.

Each time we come to Mass we are literally spiritually fed with the Bread of Life. When we need to say goodbye to a friend or loved one, we go to the church for an appropriate and beautiful funeral liturgy.

We go to church to baptize our children, to confirm our youths and to marry the love of our life. And when things are going badly for us, many of us go to our parish to seek counsel from our priest or deacon. There is so much the church does for us at every stage of our lives.

Here is a serious follow-up question: If the church is always there for us in our sacramental, spiritual and emotional needs — if the church does so much for us — what do we do for the church?

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is a very good reminder of generation after generation of people who gave their whole lives to the church in building this structure to the glory of God. We are still reaping the spiritual benefits of their work, and many millions of people will continue to do so after we are gone.

It is said 11 percent of a parish is active in the day-to-day faith life of their respective communities. I don’t mean to be negative, but I find that number a bit inflated. It may be more like five percent or even less.

John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, gave the famous challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” That challenge applies to the church as well. There are so many ways we could more fully participate in our own parishes and even Catholic groups. The more we enter into the daily life of the parish the more we will be spiritually fed, so even in giving we receive. It sounds like a great New Year’s resolution!

Call your pastor and ask him what you can do, and I assure you he will find something. We don’t need to build a St. Peter’s Basilica to give back to the church.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at [email protected].

Essay contest: ‘Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God's Creation!’

‘Each of Us Is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation!’

The Northern Cross

The Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth, funded by the United Catholic Appeal and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Home Mission, is proud to announce the winners of the second annual middle and high school respect life essay competition.

The contest strives to promote the ability of middle school students and high school students to articulate the need to respect life. The theme of this year’s competition was “Each of Us Is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation!” The contest was open to all fifth- through 12th-graders of the diocese.

Below are the winning essays.

Middle School

God made us individual from each other because he called each of us to different missions in our lives. It is how we choose to respond to his call that plays a part in defining who we are. Pope

Francis tells us that “we must ask the Lord for the grace to see ourselves and others as he sees us.”

The sick and the old need love and care. If more people would take time out of their busy lives to visit, spend time and give the love and care to the elderly that they once gave to us, the world would be a better place. The elderly should not be made to feel lonely or forgotten.

The unborn need hope, faith and someone to fight for their lives. We can be that voice. Even though we are young we shouldn’t be afraid to support this cause by speaking out about this injustice. If we all fought for the unborn the world would be a better place. The unborn should never be forgotten.

The poor need support from those who have more. If every person gave to those in need the world would be a

better place. This would be done by volunteering and supporting local shelters and making donations to organizations. The poor should be treated with love and respect.

We are all masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to go to heaven, deserving of respect. We can answer God’s call by helping others, especially those in most need.

Noah Paulson
Sixth Grade
St. James Catholic School, Duluth

High School

God created each of us unique, the way he wanted us to be. We each have a set destiny pathed before us. Our lives are a mystery but are precious and should be cherished. Each of us are masterpieces of God’s creation. Through this, we must honor God by taking care of what he gave us. We should live our lives with God as our most important priority. God has individually handcrafted who we are, so we should embrace the good in us! Our lives are masterpieces of God’s work, meaning you are not average or ordinary; you are a one-of-a-kind original!

Showing kindness and respect for all people, forgiving others, loving everyone, helping those in need and promoting peace are among some of the things we can do to live our lives as a masterpiece of God’s creation. Be sure to appreciate every beautiful thing, help to build something good to humanity that will endure even when you’re gone, and be a good influence, because whether you know it or not you are an influence to somebody. But most of all, love God and one another with a compassion of reason and heart.

Remember you are one of God’s valued treasures, hand-picked by him, for him. He created you exactly how he intended you to be. So stand tall and strong, with the confidence to speak your mind and make good decisions. God has a specific and notable purpose for your life. We must search for this purpose though. It isn’t always obvious. And that’s the beauty in life; you never know what’s around the corner. Life is a beautiful thing given to us by God.

I’m sure we all have heard the quote, “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.” If you can change someone’s life for the better, there has to be some value in yourself. We were all born with special talents and gifts. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have these talents until an event happens in our life, and our true identities are revealed. We are continually given opportunities to use our talents to help others in our daily interactions. Every single one of these moments is valuable beyond our realization. We might never know how even a small gesture can affect one’s life. We may not affect the entire world, but changing one life at a time is a step in the right direction.

You have more in you that you realize, and you can accomplish more than you ever thought possible. Respect the life you were given and the lives around you. God has created you and everyone physically and spiritually unique. If you use your talents to help others, our world may become a better place for all. Each of us is equally important, and we can learn from each others and combine our talents to do incredible things.

Josephine Terry
Proctor High School, Proctor
St. Rose Church, Proctor

Runners up
Middle School

Elizabeth Emmel
St. James Catholic School, Duluth

Isabelle Stauber
St. James Catholic School, Duluth

High School

Jennifer Babolik
Immaculate Conception Parish,
Pine City High School