“Simple and familiar, the Nativity scene recalls a Christmas that is different from the consumerist and commercial Christmas. It is something else. It reminds us how good it is for us to cherish moments of silence and prayer in our days, often overwhelmed by frenzy.”
— Pope Francis, speaking Dec. 3 to people gathered for the official unveiling of the Nativity scene and lighting of the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square
Cardinal Gregory blesses parish cemetery marker honoring enslaved
When Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory blessed a parish cemetery’s memorial plaque honoring the unknown enslaved people buried there, Nov. 26, he noted the poignancy of his participation in the service at St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Inigoes. “I can’t help but think that the many people buried here without a marker had to wait for an African American cardinal to bless that memorial honoring them,” he said as dozens of people of different backgrounds and ages gathered around him to join in the prayer service held at the parish first established as a mission in the early 1900s for Black Catholics in that region who had experienced segregation at a nearby Catholic church. The inscription on the bronze plaque reads: “Dedicated to the memory of those unknown who were enslaved and buried in the Archdiocese of Washington.” The top of the plaque has an image of Christ crucified on the cross, and the bottom includes a quotation from Wisdom 3:1: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.”
Retired Bishop Swain of Sioux Falls dies
Retired Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls died Nov. 26 while in hospice care at Dougherty House, nearly 15 years to the day since he had blessed the Avera health services facility as head of the diocese. He was 79. A funeral Mass was celebrated Dec. 3 at the cathedral with Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis presiding. Bishop Swain served as spiritual shepherd for Catholics in eastern South Dakota for 13 years — from his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 until his retirement at age 76 in 2019.
Pope to travel to Congo, make ecumenical peace pilgrimage to South Sudan
After postponing his trip last July, Pope Francis has rescheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 5 his trip to Congo and his ecumenical visit to South Sudan, the Vatican announced. With the pope’s mobility still impaired, the new schedule for the trip has been trimmed slightly from what was planned in July, according to the scheduled released by the Vatican Dec. 1. The pope will remain in Kinshasa from his arrival in Congo Jan. 31 until his departure for South Sudan early Feb. 3. As planned for years, the pope will travel to South Sudan with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and with the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, in a further attempt to encourage warring leaders to live up to the commitments they have made in a series of accords and finally offer their people peace.
Being ‘inclusive’ of those with disabilities means valuing them, pope says
Making churches accessible and services understandable is important, but having wheelchair ramps and sign-language interpreters is not enough for a parish to call itself “inclusive,” Pope Francis said. The church also must meet people’s needs for “belonging, relating to others and cultivating their spiritual lives so they experience the fullness and blessing of the Lord” for the “unique and marvelous gift” that they are, the pope told a group of people with disabilities and those who minister with them. The pope’s meeting with the group Dec. 3 marked the International Day for Persons with Disabilities; the pope also issued a written message for the occasion.
Vatican notes ‘surprise and regret’ over transfer of bishop
In an unusual move, the Vatican issued a public statement of regret, essentially accusing the Chinese government of violating its agreement with the Vatican over the appointment of Catholic bishops. “The Holy See noted with surprise and regret the news of the ‘installation ceremony'” of Bishop John Peng Weizhao of Yujiang as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, “a diocese not recognized by the Holy See,” said the note released by the Vatican Nov. 26, two days after the installation of the bishop. “This event, in fact, did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue existing between the Vatican and Chinese sides and what was stipulated in the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops,” an agreement first signed in 2018, renewed in 2020 and renewed again in October. The text of the Vatican-China agreement has never been made public, but Vatican officials said it outlines procedures for ensuring Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the pope before their ordinations and installations.
Government says it will investigate Orthodox linked to Moscow
The Ukrainian government said it would sanction members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. After a Dec. 1 meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the government also would review if the church met the legal criteria for use of one of the main shrines of Ukraine, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, or Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. The security council instructed the Ukrainian parliament to draft a law making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in Russia to operate in Ukraine, reported Religious Information Service of Ukraine.
DID YOU KNOW?
With most of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic removed, Pope Francis is scheduled to return to a full slate of public liturgies in December and January. Pope Francis is scheduled to resume joining the public to pay homage to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception on her feast, Dec. 8. At 4 p.m. he will join the traditional gathering at the Spanish Steps in the center of Rome. On Dec. 24 at 7:30 p.m., the pope will celebrate the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord. While the Mass is commonly referred to as “midnight Mass,” the Vatican celebration gradually has been moved earlier to make it easier for people to attend. At noon Dec. 25, the pope will give his traditional Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Photo: The Nativity scene is pictured in St. Peter’s Square after a lighting ceremony at the Vatican Dec. 3, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)