St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

St. Peter's Basilica reopens to the public

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Almost 10 weeks after St. Peter's Basilica was closed to the public in cooperation with Italy's COVID-19 lockdown measures, the faithful and tourists were allowed back in May 18.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at 7 a.m. at the tomb of St. John Paul II to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth. Then, at 8 a.m., the general public was admitted.

The basilica was sanitized May 15 in preparation for the reopening. It had been closed to the public since March 10.

On the edge of St. Peter's Square, a sign advises visitors they must wear a mask and stay 2 meters (6.5 feet) away from others in order to enter the basilica.

The Vatican sanitation service placed hand-sanitizer dispensers at the end of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square. From there, the public finds "keep your distance" labels and tape on the cobblestone path leading to the health and security checks before entering the basilica.

At the end of the path, two members of the Knights of Malta dressed in white, lightweight hazmat suits point a small thermoscanner at the visitor's forehead. If the person does not have a fever, he or she can proceed to the line for the metal detectors.

After the security check and before entering the church, visitors find another hand-sanitizer dispenser.

While many of the people attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis were not wearing masks, once the celebration was over, Vatican security began enforcing the face-mask requirement and breaking up any situation where it looked like people were standing close to each other to talk, including journalists trying to interview some of the first people inside.

Vatican Media did not show people receiving Communion at the pope's Mass. For the Masses celebrated later that morning, Communion was distributed only in the hand.

Vatican workers with large spray bottles resanitized the altars and pews where Masses were celebrated with the public.

Except for the expanded space needed for the line for security checks, St. Peter's Square remained closed.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Vatican listens to 'cry of poor, cry of the Earth' during pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' vision of "integral human development" and "integral ecology" involves identifying the connections between the condition of human beings and the condition of the environment, said Cardinal Peter Turkson.

While Christians are right to be increasingly focused on "the cry of the Earth" and how environmental destruction impacts human life, with the COVID-19 pandemic "we must listen to the cry of the poor," especially those risking starvation, the unemployed and migrants and refugees, said Cardinal Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Cardinal Turkson is coordinating the work of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and led an online news conference May 15 to discuss the commission's progress.

"In one of the last meetings we had with Pope Francis, he asked us to 'prepare the future,' not 'prepare for the future,' but prepare it, anticipate it," the cardinal said.

"Hardly any aspect of human life and culture is left unscathed" by the virus and efforts to stop its spread, the cardinal said. "Covid-19 started as a health care issue, but it has affected drastically the economy, jobs and employment, lifestyles, food security, the primary role of Artificial Intelligence and internet security, politics and even governance."

Obviously, providing health care to victims of the virus is an urgent need, said the cardinal and other members of the commission.

Father Augusto Zampini, adjunct secretary of the dicastery, said that is one reason why Pope Francis called for international debt relief -- it would help the world's poorest countries redirect money from interest payments to ramping up their health services.

But another major issue the commission is looking at is the threat of a "hunger pandemic."

At the beginning of 2020, before the coronavirus became a global pandemic, the U.N. World Food Program said 135 million people in 55 countries were facing "acute hunger" as a result chiefly of conflict, the effects of climate change and economic crises.

Now, with people out of work and supply chains interrupted, the WFP is warning that "the lives and livelihoods of 265 million people in low- and middle-income countries will be under severe threat."

Still, Father Zampini said, changes in production and consumption patterns and in private and public actions can still make a difference, for example, by providing incentives to farmers to improve productivity in ways that also protect the environment and by encouraging all nations "to divert funds from weapons to food."

Individuals also can contribute to alleviating food insecurity and protecting the environment by reducing food waste, eating food that is in season and avoiding products and packaging that pollute.

"COVID has shown that we do not need as many things as we think. We can be more with less," he said.

Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization of national Catholic relief and development agencies, is part of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and has created a COVID-19 Response Fund.

Aloysius John, Caritas secretary general, said the fund already has received 32 project requests and already approved and distributed funds to 14 of them, which aim to help 7.8 million people in Ecuador, India, Palestine, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Burkina Faso and eight other countries.

A big concern, which parish, diocesan and national Caritas agencies are responding to, he said, is the provision of basic food assistance, because people will not respect lockdown requirements if they have nothing at home to eat and no way to earn the money to buy it.

John also called on the international community to remove the economic sanctions on Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Venezuela "so that aid to the affected population can be guaranteed, and Caritas, through the church, can continue to play its role of support for the poor and most vulnerable."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Update: New emergency aid bill would cut most benefits to Catholic schools

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Catholic leaders expressed deep reservations about a new $3 trillion tax cut and spending bill in response to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic that would restrict support for Catholic school students.

Unveiled May 12 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, includes a provision that would rescind funding of equitable services to nonpublic schools, including Catholic schools, that had been established in the CARES Act, an earlier $2.2 trillion emergency aid package.

Other provisions in the Democrats' bill that has rocked the country's private education sector include the lack of direct assistance to families for tuition expenses or tax incentives that can be used for tuition; a measure that cuts out nonpublic schools, except in limited cases for children with disabilities, from $90 billion in school aid; and it rescinds a discretionary fund utilized by the secretary of education established under the bipartisan CARES Act.

Disallowing emergency aid to one part of an affected community and allowing it for another runs contrary to long-held social policy, Catholic education advocates said.

Within days of learning of the bill's content related to nonpublic schools, Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey, urged Catholics in the diocese in a post on the website of The Monitor, the diocesan newspaper, to contact members of Congress to express their concern about the legislation.

Saying the bill has "a lot of good things," he cautioned that "some real problematic areas" exist.

"We're trying to urge Congress to maintain equitable access to federal funding for nonpublic schools and their (students') families as they have in previous legislation," Bishop O'Connell told Catholic News Service May 15.

In the first 24 hours after the post, the bishop said, more than 7,000 messages were sent to Congress, including 5,200 from the Trenton Diocese.

"We just want to make sure that as we face the economic difficulties we're all facing, that those who have children in nonpublic or Catholic schools have the equal opportunity to provide what the government offers us. We want to make sure we get our fair share."

Urged on by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, state Catholic conferences have mobilized as well around the bill as well to stop what education advocates consider a major step back from long-established federal policies.

"The key thing to this bill is not that it is an education bill, it's an emergency relief bill. When in history have we excluded those suffering from an emergency from federal relief?" said Jennifer Daniels, associate director for public policy in the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"When Congress releases emergency relief bills, it's available to everyone who is suffering form that emergency. All we're saying is that private schools are suffering right next to the public schools, and we should have access to emergency relief funds. All we want is our fair share and for our children to be served in an equal manner, Daniels told CNS.

The private education sector has rallied to oppose the provision specific to school funding.

A May 14 letter to Congress from Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, expressed "extreme disappointment" with the "unworkable" education provisions in the Heroes Act.

The USCCB is a member of the council, which is known as CAPE.

"If passed, these provisions would eliminate from eligibility for aid almost all students enrolled by their parents in private schools," Schuttloffel wrote, adding, "To approve such policies would be to send a message that the House of Representatives is only concerned with the safety of some of America's students and teachers, not all."

The letter raised concern that the HEROES Act education provisions reopens the CARES Act "to restrict which private school students will be eligible for relief voted on by Congress, and signed by the president, over a month ago."

Presentation Sister Dale McDonald, director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association, said the bill as written would harm nonpublic schools across the country because it "reinterprets" what is emergency aid versus what is traditional education aid.

State Catholic conferences across the country have been alerted to the bill's measures. The conferences have joined a nationwide effort to make sure the provisions are dropped from any final bill.

The bill includes $1 trillion for state, city and tribal governments to avoid layoffs; $200 billion for "hazard pay" for front-line workers; a new round of cash payments for individuals and households; $175 billion in housing assistance for rent and mortgage payments; $75 billion for medical testing; a 15% increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; subsidies for laid-off workers to pay for health insurance premiums and maintain COBRA; an employee retention tax credit for businesses; and $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service.

The House of Representatives passed the bill May 15 largely along party lines.

However, the likelihood of the Republican-controlled Senate taking up the measure as written is slim. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters at the Capitol there was no "urgency" to act and that consideration of any relief measure by the chamber would not happen until after Memorial Day.

The long-standing equitable services policy has existed since 1965 with passage of various civil rights laws under President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society campaign. It allows federal funding to be sent to states, which then funnels money to local school districts. In turn, the local districts provide equitable services such as English language training or special education based on the needs of the private school.

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

St. John Paul was a good shepherd, pope says on saint's birthday

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. John Paul II was a man of deep prayer, who loved being close to people and loved God's justice and mercy, Pope Francis said.

"Let us pray to him today that he may give all of us -- especially shepherds of the church -- but all of us, the grace of prayer, the grace of closeness and the grace of justice-mercy, mercy-justice," the pope said May 18, the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth.

Before releasing a written decree later that day, Pope Francis also announced during the Mass that the Oct. 5 liturgical memorial of St. Faustina Kowalska would no longer be optional but would be an obligatory feast day for the whole church. St. John Paul canonized St. Faustina and promoted her devotion to Divine Mercy.

Pope Francis marked his predecessor's birthday by celebrating morning Mass at the saint's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica.

With just a few dozen people -- most of whom were wearing face masks -- spread out in the pews, it was the first day after almost two months that Masses were open to the public throughout Italy as part of an easing of restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus. The pope, concelebrants and lectors did not wear face protection, but they did abide by social distancing rules.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that just as the Lord visited his people because he loved them, "today we can say that 100 years ago the Lord visited his people -- he sent a man, he prepared him to be a bishop and to guide the church" as a shepherd.

There were three things that made St. John Paul such a good shepherd: his intense dedication to prayer; his closeness to the people; and his love for God's merciful justice, Pope Francis said.

St. John Paul prayed a lot even with all he had to do as leader of the universal church, he said.

"He knew well that the first task of a bishop is to pray," he said. This teaching wasn't something that came out of the Second Vatican Council, this was from St. Peter, he added, and St. John Paul knew that and prayed.

St. John Paul was close to the people, going out, traveling across the world to find them and be close to them, Pope Francis said.

A priest who is not close to his people is not a shepherd, the pope said. "He is a hierarch, an administrator; maybe he is good, but he is not a shepherd."

The third thing St. John Paul had was his love of justice -- social justice, justice for the people, justice that could eliminate wars, a justice that was complete, which is why he was a man of mercy, the pope said, "because justice and mercy go together."

"They cannot be separated, they are together: justice is justice, mercy is mercy, but one cannot be found without the other," Pope Francis said.

The Polish saint did so much to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy because he knew that God's justice had "this face of mercy, this attitude of mercy."

"This is a gift that he has left us: justice-mercy and just mercy."

The Mass at St. John Paul's tomb was scheduled to be the last of Pope Francis' early morning Masses to be livestreamed online; with churches opening in Italy and elsewhere, the pope encouraged people to attend Mass in their local parish communities while respecting health norms.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Update: Vatican workers sanitize St. Peter's Basilica

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In preparation for the May 18 resumption of public liturgies in Italy and a morning Mass with Pope Francis at the tomb of St. John Paul II, Vatican workers cleaned and sanitized the inside of St. Peter's Basilica May 15.

Vatican workers also will sanitize the other basilicas in Rome: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, according to a communique from the Vatican press office.

An accompanying video showed workers wearing protective masks and clothing, cleaning and disinfecting the floors and various surfaces inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Andrea Arcangeli, vice director of the sanitation department for Vatican City State, told Vatican News in the video that they were using detergent on the floors and a bleach-based solution sprayed onto surfaces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says evidence suggests COVID-19 may survive for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, but that it can be easily inactivated by chemical disinfectants.

Arcangeli said they will be able to reduce the viral and bacterial load on the surfaces, but it will never reach "zero," which would require the kind of sterilization practiced in operating rooms.

St. Peter's Basilica has been closed to tourists and visitors since March 10. The Vatican has held a number of private, livestreamed services from the basilica in the presence of a reduced number of faithful and a pool of photographers.

Pope Francis was scheduled to offer his morning Mass May 18 at the tomb of St. John Paul in the basilica in memory of the 100th anniversary of his birth. As of May 15, the Vatican had not given a date for when the basilica would be opened again to the public.

The process of sanitizing all of Rome's parish churches began May 13. Following a request from the Vicariate of Rome, the city of Rome has called on the Italian army and the city sanitation department to sanitize all of Rome's parish churches in preparation for the resumption of public liturgies May 18.

The army has 80 teams of hazardous-material specialists active throughout Italy in decontaminating and sanitizing needed areas, reported SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference. Nine of those teams will be dedicated to decontaminating all 337 of Rome's parish churches.

The army is disinfecting the outside area of each church and place of worship, while the parish priest will have to request and indicate which areas inside the church they have permission to decontaminate, Brigadier General Giovanni Di Blasi told La Repubblica May 13.

"It is a wonderful example of institutional cooperation for the sake of getting the city back up and running and for the sake of all citizens," said Rome's mayor, Virginia Raggi, who attended the cleaning of the first church, St. John Bosco, in the southeast of the city.

The citywide cleaning came after the Italian bishops and government agreed May 7 on a protocol to allow the public to be present for liturgical celebrations starting May 18.

The protocol specifies the guidelines each church and the faithful will have to follow to help safeguard public health. The restrictions will include wearing facial masks inside the church, social distancing and asking people to not go to church if they are showing flu-like symptoms or know they have been in contact with someone who has recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

"All of us -- priests, especially -- will do everything to guarantee respect for the rules, to guarantee social distancing, safety measures, so that when celebrations begin, they can be done in an orderly fashion," Auxiliary Bishop Gianpiero Palmieri of Rome told La Repubblica.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]