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Bishops reiterate need for direct Israel-Palestine negotiations if there is to be peace

CNA Staff, Jan 24, 2021 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A group of Christian leaders who advocate for the Holy Land this week reiterated a call for Israeli and Palestinian authorities to negotiate directly for the sake of peace in the region. They also encouraged Israel to make COVID-19 vaccines accessible to Palestinians.

The Holy Land Coordination group, which was founded by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, is comprised of bishops from the U.S. and Europe, as well as a bishop of the Church of England. Since 2000, the group has taken an annual trip to the Holy Land, and promotes awareness, action, and prayer for the region.

During the bishops’ January 2020 trip, they visited Christians in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Ramallah. The bishops met virtually in January 2021 with Christians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.

Due to the pandemic, this year is the first since the group’s founding that the bishops have not been able to meet in the Holy Land.

“The Christian community, though small, is an important guarantor of social cohesion and a bearer of hope for a better future. We eagerly await a time when Christians from across the world can once again make pilgrimages to the Holy Land to witness and support this first-hand. Until that point, we encourage our communities to provide any assistance that may be possible and hold all the region’s peoples in our prayers,” the group wrote in a Jan. 22 communiqué.

The delegation included Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The delegation noted that the absence of pilgrims to the Holy Land in the past year has exacerbated unemployment and poverty.

The bishops concluded that these factors, along with continuing political conflict, culminate to mean, “there is today less cause for optimism than at any time in recent history.”

Security borders have impaired Palestinians’ ability to work and travel, including travel to Muslim and Christian holy places, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a continuing source of tension.

Israel suspended the annexation of some parts of the West Bank during August 2020 as part of its normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, but tensions remain.

“The lack of political progress, along with relentless expansion of illegal settlements and the impact of Israel’s Nation-State law, continues to erode any prospect of a peaceful two-state solution,” the bishops wrote.

The “nation-state law” refers to a 2018 measure which defined Israel as the “historic homeland of the Jewish people” who have “a singular right to national self-determination within it.” The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has criticized the law as discriminatory against Israel’s Christians.

The bishops also encouraged Israel to make COVID-19 vaccines accessible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has one of the highest per-capita rates of COVID-19 vaccination in the world, but until this week was not allowing vaccines into Gaza or the West Bank.

The Vatican recognized the state of Palestine during May 2015. During May 2020, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.

In a July 2020 statement, released in response to possible Israeli action to annex Palestinian territories, the Holy See reiterated that Israel and the State of Palestine “have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”

Then-US president Donald Trump and Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2020 proposed a two-state peace plan for Israel and Palestine, which included an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Trump insisted that Jerusalem would also remain “Israel’s undivided— very important— undivided capital.” The United States moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2017.

Under the plan, none of Jerusalem’s Old City or territory within the current security wall would be ceded to the Palestinian state. The agreement also preserves the status quo policy regarding control of various religious sites, including the site of the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa Mosque, and, under the proposal, Muslims would still have access to the site.

Trump's proposal for peace called for the creation of a Palestinian state, but gave Israel sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinians reject this.

Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, and European and Arab countries oppose unilateral action from Israel and consider Israeli settlements on land captured in 1967 to be illegal, Reuters reports. Israelis who back annexation cite biblical, historical, and political roots in the West Bank territory.

The plan also proposes the construction of a “West Bank-Gaza Tunnel” to connect the two halves of Palestine, and that a third of the Gaza Strip be designated as a “high-tech manufacturing industrial zone.”

As part of the plan, Trump also pledged money to the Palestinian state for job creation and poverty reduction. Trump said that if Abbas and the Palestinian Authority “choose the path to peace,” that the United States and other countries “will be there, we will be there to help you in so many different ways.”

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden is likely to reverse some of Trump’s policies in the Middle East, pledging as a candidate to restore humanitarian aid to Palestinians and opposing Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, NPR reports.

Vatican archbishop: Turn off your phone and open the Gospel

Vatican City, Jan 24, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A Vatican archbishop urged Catholics to turn off their cell phones and open the Gospel instead as he celebrated Mass marking the Sunday of the Word of God.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, issued the appeal on Jan. 24 as he offered the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

“Let us set the Gospel in a place where we can remember to open it daily, perhaps at the beginning and at the end of the day, so that amid all those words that ring in our ears, there may also be a few verses of the word of God that can touch our hearts,” he said. 

“To be able to do this, let us ask the Lord for the strength to turn off the television and open the Bible, to turn off our cell phone and open the Gospel.”

Fisichella celebrated the Mass in place of Pope Francis, who was unable to attend because of a resurgence of the nerve pain that struck him at the end of 2020. The Mass was attended by a small congregation due to the coronavirus pandemic.



The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization is the Vatican department responsible for promoting the Sunday of the Word of God, which the pope introduced in 2019.

Reading the homily that Pope Francis intended to deliver, Fisichella reflected on the day’s Gospel reading, Mark 1:14-20, in which Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God.

He said that Christ’s declaration that the Kingdom was “at hand” was “the leitmotif of his preaching, the heart of his message.”

This proclamation is not only a source of consolation but also a call to conversion, he noted.

“‘Repent,’ says Jesus, immediately after proclaiming God’s closeness. For, thanks to his closeness, we can no longer distance ourselves from God and from others,” he said.

“The time when we could live thinking only of ourselves is now over. To do so is not Christian, for those who experience God’s closeness cannot ignore their neighbors or treat them with indifference.”

Pope Francis declared the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time a special day for celebrating the Word of God in the Church when he issued the apostolic letterAperuit illis,” on the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin in the fourth century.

The theme of this year’s Sunday of the Word of God -- the second since the pope instituted the celebration -- is “Holding fast to the Word of life,” from Philippians 2:16. 

In his homily, Fisichella observed that Jesus addressed his call first to simple Galilean fishermen, rather than to scriptural experts, beginning at the periphery rather than the center “in order to tell us too that no one is far from God’s heart.”

“Everyone can receive his word and encounter him in person,” he said. 

He emphasized the significance of Jesus’ invitation to the disciples: “Follow me, I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). 

“If he had told them: ‘Follow me, I will make you Apostles, you will be sent into the world to preach the Gospel in the power of the Spirit; you will be killed, but you will become saints,’ we can be sure that Peter and Andrew would have answered: ‘Thanks, but we’ll stick to our nets and our boats!’” 

“But Jesus spoke to them in terms of their own livelihood: ‘You are fishermen, and you will become fishers of men.’ Struck by those words, they come to realize that lowering their nets for fish was too little, whereas putting out into the deep in response to the word of Jesus was the secret of true joy.” 

The same is true of us, Fisichella said. “As he did with those fishermen, he waits for us on the shore of our life. With his word, he wants to change us, to invite us to live fuller lives and to put out into the deep together with him.”



The Vatican’s liturgy congregation issued a note last month encouraging Catholic parishes around the world to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God with renewed vigor.

In the note published Dec. 19, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments suggested ways that Catholics should prepare for the day devoted to the Bible.

The congregation listed 10 guidelines for marking the day. It encouraged parishes to consider an entrance procession with the Book of the Gospels “or simply placing the Book of the Gospels on the altar.”

It advised them to follow the indicated readings “without replacing or removing them, and using only versions of the Bible approved for liturgical use,” while recommending the singing of the responsorial psalm.

The congregation urged bishops, priests, and deacons to help people to understand Sacred Scripture through their homilies. It also highlighted the importance of leaving room for silence, which “by favoring meditation, allows the word of God to be received inwardly by the listener.”

 

Before giving the final blessing, the archbishop gave copies of a special edition of the Bible, prepared for the occasion, to people representing various states of life in the Church. They included Lorenzo Pellegrini, a soccer player for A.S. Roma, and his family, and a student from Pakistan studying at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

Describing the Bible as “a love letter” written by God, Fisichella encouraged Catholics to carry Holy Scripture with them at all times, in a pocket or on a smartphone, and to keep it in “a worthy place” at home.

Concluding his homily, the archbishop noted that the Gospel readings in the current liturgical year are taken from St. Mark’s Gospel, the shortest of the four Gospels.

“Why not read it at home too, even a brief passage each day,” he suggested. “It will make us feel God’s closeness to us and fill us with courage as we make our way through life.”

An Act of Abandonment (by Saint Francis De Sales): Prayer of the Day for Sunday, January 24, 2021

O my God, I thank you and I praise you for accomplishing your holy and all-lovable will without any regard for mine. With my whole heart, in spite of my heart, do I receive this cross I feared so much! It is the cross of Your choice, the cross of Your love. I venerate it; nor for anything in the world would I wish that it had not come, since You willed it. I keep it with gratitude and with joy, as I do everything that comes from Your hand; and I ...

Daily Reading for Tuesday, January 26th, 2021 HD

Reading 1, Hebrews 10:1-10 1 So, since the Law contains no more than a reflection of the good things which were still to come, and no true image of them, it is quite incapable of bringing the worshippers to perfection, by means of the same sacrifices repeatedly offered year after year. 2 Otherwise, surely the offering of them would have stopped, because the worshippers, when they had been purified once, would have no awareness of sins. 3 But in fact the sins are recalled year after year in ...

An Act of Abandonment (by Saint Francis De Sales): Prayer of the Day for Sunday, January 24, 2021

O my God, I thank you and I praise you for accomplishing your holy and all-lovable will without any regard for mine. With my whole heart, in spite of my heart, do I receive this cross I feared so much! It is the cross of Your choice, the cross of Your love. I venerate it; nor for anything in the world would I wish that it had not come, since You willed it. I keep it with gratitude and with joy, as I do everything that comes from Your hand; and I ...

St. Francis de Sales: Saint of the Day for Sunday, January 24, 2021

St. Francis de Sales was born to a noble family at Chateau de Sales in the Kingdom of Savoy near Geneva, Switzerland on August 21, 1567. He was a Bishop and Doctor of the Church. Francis was both intelligent and gentle. From a very early age, he desired to serve God. He knew for years he had a vocation to the priesthood, but kept it from his family. His father wanted him to enter a career in law and politics. In 1580, Francis attended the University of Paris, and at 24-years-old, he received ...

St. Francis de Sales: Saint of the Day for Sunday, January 24, 2021

St. Francis de Sales was born to a noble family at Chateau de Sales in the Kingdom of Savoy near Geneva, Switzerland on August 21, 1567. He was a Bishop and Doctor of the Church. Francis was both intelligent and gentle. From a very early age, he desired to serve God. He knew for years he had a vocation to the priesthood, but kept it from his family. His father wanted him to enter a career in law and politics. In 1580, Francis attended the University of Paris, and at 24-years-old, he received ...

Daily Readings for Sunday, January 24, 2021

Reading 1: Jonah 3:1-5, Reading 1: Jonah 3:10, Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 25:4-9, Gospel: Mark 1:14-20, Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Vatican gradually to defund some mission territories

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2021 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Earlier this month the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples sent a letter to the bishops of some 1,100 Catholic territories and announced the gradual reduction of the financial support they regularly receive from the Vatican.

Since apostolic vicariates and prelatures are regarded by the Vatican as mission territories, they fall under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the vast majority of them are in the poorest parts of the world.

The Vatican has traditionally supported these jurisdictions via the “Universal Solidarity Fund” of the Pontifical Mission Societies. The main source of income of the fund comes from the collection of World Mission Sunday, celebrated every year on the second to last Sunday of October.  The fund is independent from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

But some bishops’ conferences in Latin America contacted by CNA claim that the local nuncios have announced a significant cut in the Vatican financial support and have requested local bishops from non-missionary territories to make up for the difference.

Speaking with CNA on Jan. 20, Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, stressed that “the letter is in no way intended to cut the support we are giving to the diocesan missions. It instead aims at a better distribution of the money, following the criteria of stewardship.”
It means, he explained, that “if there are dioceses or bishops able to carry on with their resources, they could renounce to their share and give the opportunity to other, poorest dioceses to get more.”

Archbishop Dal Toso stressed that “along with Aid to the Church in Need, the Pontifical Mission Societies only support pastoral projects. This is very important for the future of the Church.” By pastoral, the archbishop means funds that go to specific expenses related to the work of evangelization, as opposed to social justice funds, which are usually more readily available.

According to 2016 figures, the Congregation (also known with the Latin name of Propaganda Fide) has jurisdiction over 186 archdioceses, 785 dioceses, 82 apostolic vicariates, 39 apostolic prefectures, 4 apostolic administrations, 6 missiones sui iuris, 1 territorial abbacy, and 6 military ordinariates.

In 2019 the Societies distributed some $130 million, all of it collected during World Mission Sunday. There are no figures regarding the 2020 collection, but Dal Toso said he expects to collect less money than in 2019, because of the economic crisis as a consequence of COVID 19.

The financial support to each diocese varies according to factors such as the poverty of the region, the exchange rate of hard currency and specific needs, but  the average annual support is around $20,000.

According to Archbishop Dal Toso, although the numbers might not seem that big, the money delivered by the Mission Societies is very significant for the missionary territories.

The Vatican, for example, delivers an average of $460 per month to every seminarian on missionary territory.

The Mission Societies also provide financial support to retired bishops, which is very important in poor regions where Catholics are a minority and the local community cannot afford supporting them.

Archbishop Dal Toso said that the letter sent to the missionary territories is asking whether some of these bishops could renounce such financial aid.

“This is not new, since the Congregation delivered a similar request in 2015, and some 30 bishops were able to renounce to the financial support,” Dal Toso said.

Pope Francis forced to miss more events due to recurrent nerve pain

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has been forced to cancel three public appearances scheduled for Sunday and Monday due to a recurrence of the nerve pain that struck him at the end of 2020. 

The Holy See press office announced on Jan. 23 that because of sciatica the 84-year-old pope would be unable to celebrate Mass marking the Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Mass, on Jan. 24, will be celebrated instead by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.

But Pope Francis will still lead the Angelus prayer at noon on Sunday in the library of the Apostolic Palace, where the event has taken place since a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy.

The pope’s annual “state of the world” address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, scheduled for Jan. 25, will now take place at a later date.

Francis will no longer preside at vespers for the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, also scheduled to take place on Monday. Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will now lead the event at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of the four papal basilicas of Rome.

The pope had a bout of sciatic pain in the final days of 2020 that meant he was unable to preside at the Vatican’s liturgies on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

He had been scheduled to lead vespers on Dec. 31 and offer Mass on Jan. 1 for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pope is due to resume his foreign travels in March when he is expected to visit Iraq. But a question mark hangs over the visit because of concerns about large gatherings amid the pandemic and a recent upsurge in violence in the Middle Eastern country.

Sciatica is caused by pressure or rubbing on the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and runs down the back of the thigh and leg to the foot. Common symptoms include shooting pains in the back of the legs.

Pope Francis has suffered from the condition for a number of years. He spoke about it during an in-flight press conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.

He said that “the worst thing” that had happened in the first four months of his pontificate “was an attack of sciatica -- really! -- that I had the first month, because I was sitting in an armchair to do interviews and it hurt.”

“Sciatica is very painful, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone!” Francis said.