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Immaculate Conception: Pope Francis cancels traditional act of veneration due to pandemic

Vatican City, Nov 30, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will not visit Rome’s Piazza di Spagna this year for the traditional veneration of Mary on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception due to the pandemic.

Instead, Francis will mark the feast day with “an act of private devotion, entrusting the city of Rome, its inhabitants and the many sick people in every part of the world to Our Lady,” Holy See press office director Matteo Bruni said.

It will be the first time since 1953 that the pope has not offered the traditional veneration of the statue of the Immaculate Conception on the Dec. 8 feast. Bruni said that Francis would not go to the square in order to avoid people gathering and transmitting the virus. 

The statue of the Immaculate Conception, next to Piazza di Spagna, sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column. It was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. 

Since 1953, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue for the feast day, in honor of the city of Rome. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles on foot from the Vatican.

Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.

In past years, Pope Francis left floral wreaths for the Virgin Mary, one of which was placed on the outstretched arm of the statue by firefighters. The pope also offered an original prayer for the feast day.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a national holiday in Italy and crowds usually gather at the square to witness the veneration.

As is customary for Marian solemnities, Pope Francis will still lead the Angelus prayer from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square Dec. 8.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Vatican’s papal Christmas liturgies will take place this year without the presence of the public.

Canadian Catholic bishop resigns at age of 64 ‘for the good of the Church’

Vatican City, Nov 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis accepted Sunday the resignation of a Canadian Catholic bishop at the age of 64.

The Holy See press office said that the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Bourgon of Hearst-Moosonee on Nov. 29.

It added that the pope had named Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa-Cornwall as apostolic administrator of the diocese in Northern Ontario, which was formed after two dioceses merged in 2018.

Bourgon announced the pope’s acceptance of his resignation in a Nov. 29 letter to his flock. 

Recalling his ordination as the bishop of the Diocese of Hearst in 2016, he said that for the past four years he had “tried to be among you as a good shepherd.”

He wrote: “There have been some successes and, for that, I thank God. There have also been limitations and difficulties. For these I am sorry for my inability to resolve these problems.”

Radio-Canada reported Nov. 29 that Bourgon faced criticism following the dismissal of two priests facing charges of fraud. It added that following protests by parishioners, who believed the priests to be innocent of wrongdoing, Pope Francis mandated a visitation by Bishop Serge Poitras of Timmins, Ontario.

In his letter, Bourgon said that Poitras had made a pastoral visit to the diocese at the request of the Vatican Congregation of Bishops.

Bourgon said that “in obedience to and in communion with the Holy Father, but more importantly for the good of the Church, on November 16, 2020, I presented my resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Hearst Moosonee.”

He noted that the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall would soon welcome a successor to Prendergast, who is 76 years old, who would oversee Hearst-Moosonee diocese.

“I feel certain that you will welcome Bishop Prendergast as a new gift that the Lord sends to you,” he wrote.

Bourgon was born on March 10, 1956, and grew up in Creighton Mine, Ontario. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 8, 1981, in the Diocese of Sault Sainte Marie. In 2012, he was named vicar general of the diocese.

Pope Francis named him bishop of Hearst and apostolic administrator of Moosonee diocese on Feb. 2, 2016. He was ordained bishop by Prendergast at Assumption Cathedral, Hearst, on April 25, 2016.

Bourgon was named the first bishop of the newly merged Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee on Dec. 3, 2018. According to its website, the diocese has 25 parishes and 13 missions, comprising around 27,080 Catholics. 

Concluding his letter, the bishop wrote: “I thank the Holy Father for his leadership, example and his witness to the truth. I will miss you, dearest Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee but, as you can imagine, I will carry in my heart an indelible impression of you as the ‘local Church’ to which the Lord has bound me, and for which every day I shall pray.”

This report has been updated to include Radio-Canada’s report on parishioners’ protests against the dismissal of two priests in the Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee.

Pope Francis briefed on Lebanon’s ‘bitter economic crisis’ by Maronite patriarch

Vatican City, Nov 30, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met with Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch at the Vatican this weekend and told the pope of the challenges facing Lebanon as it experiences political instability and a “bitter economic crisis.”

During the Nov. 28 meeting, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, invited Pope Francis to visit Lebanon and briefed him on the local Church’s efforts to respond to growing humanitarian needs due to the economic and political crisis that preceded the devastating explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4.

A statement from the Maronite Patriarchate said that Cardinal Rai “presented the risks and challenges facing Lebanon in light of the regional developments and the internal political crisis, especially the formation of the government.”

Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s ex-prime minister who was forced to resign last year after mass protests against government corruption, is once again attempting to form a cabinet as prime minister after the man nominated in August resigned in September after failing to form a government.

The patriarch told the pope that the country’s instability has “caused a bitter economic crisis, which increased the poverty rate and caused the exodus of population.”

He also said that government authorities had shown “no solidarity or responsibility” for the explosion in Beirut’s port, which destroyed part of the capital. The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 600 others, and caused more than $4 billion dollars in damage.

More than half of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and tens of thousands of Lebanese people have lost their jobs as a result of the explosion.

Cardinal Rai told the pope that Catholics in Lebanon had formed a charitable network called “Al Karma” to meet the needs of children suffering from poverty. The network’s motto is “No family dies of hunger or feels left alone.”

He also expressed gratitude for the work of volunteers, engineers, doctors, and businessmen who have helped affected families to begin to restore their homes. 

Rai was in Rome for the consistory of cardinals Nov. 28 and was present at the papal Mass the following day. He said that he felt his meeting with the pope was “very productive”.

Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the people of Lebanon and said that they are continuously in his prayers, the patriarchate said.

Pope Francis tells Orthodox leader: I am confident we will achieve full unity

Vatican City, Nov 30, 2020 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Monday that he is confident that Catholics and Orthodox Christians will attain full communion.

In a message to Bartholomew I on the Feast of St. Andrew, Pope Francis praised the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s efforts to promote Christian unity.

“We can thank God that relations between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have grown much over the past century, even as we continue to yearn for the goal of the restoration of full communion expressed through participation at the same Eucharistic altar,” he wrote. 

“Although obstacles remain, I am confident that by walking together in mutual love and pursuing theological dialogue, we will reach that goal.”

The pope sends a message each year on Nov. 30 to the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is regarded as the successor of St. Andrew the Apostle and “first among equals” in the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

Pope Francis recalled his recent meeting with Bartholomew I, at an international meeting for peace in Rome on Oct. 20.

“Together with the challenges posed by the current pandemic, war continues to afflict many parts of the world, while new armed conflicts emerge to steal the lives of countless men and women,” he wrote. 

“Undoubtedly all initiatives taken by national and international entities aimed at promoting peace are useful and necessary, yet conflict and violence will never cease until all people reach a deeper awareness that they have a mutual responsibility as brothers and sisters.” 

“In light of this, the Christian Churches, together with other religious traditions, have a primary duty to offer an example of dialogue, mutual respect and practical cooperation.”

The pope praised the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for seeking Christian unity “before the Catholic Church and other Churches engaged themselves in dialogue.”

He cited an encyclical letter issued by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1920, which said that Churches could heal divisions if they placed love “before everything else in their judgment of the others and in relation towards each other.”

The Holy See press office said Nov. 30 that a Vatican delegation had made the customary visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul on the Feast of St. Andrew. 

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, led the delegation, which included the pontifical council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and undersecretary, Msgr. Andrea Palmieri. They were joined by Archbishop Paul F. Russell, the U.S.-born Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey.

They attended a Divine Liturgy presided over by the Bartholomew I at St. George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. After the Divine Liturgy, Koch read the pope’s message and presented the Ecumenical Patriarch with a signed copy.

In his message, the pope said that his hope for full communion was “based on our common faith in Jesus Christ, sent by God the Father to gather all people into one body, and the cornerstone of the one and holy Church, God’s holy temple, in which all of us are living stones, each according to our own particular charism or ministry bestowed by the Holy Spirit.”

He concluded: “With these sentiments, I renew my warmest best wishes for the Feast of St. Andrew, and exchange with Your All Holiness an embrace of peace in the Lord.”

Pope Francis asks for prayer for Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has asked people to pray for Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where the United Nations has said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding.”

A communique from the Holy See Press Office Nov. 27 stated that the pope was following the news coming from Ethiopia and asked for prayer for this country. Weeks of violence in the Tigray region have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and forced tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes toward Sudan.

“The Holy Father, in inviting prayer for this country, makes an appeal to the parties in conflict to stop the violence, to safeguard the life, especially of civilians, and to restore peace to the populations,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni said in the statement.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced Nov. 28 that government forces had ceased military operations in the Tigray region, and the Ethiopian state broadcaster reported that the region was under control of the government. But multiple international news outlets have been unable to independently verify these claims due to the communications blackout in the region.

Reuters reported later that night that Tigrayan rebel forces said that they will continue fighting the Ethiopian government, and the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea stated Nov. 29 that six explosions were heard overnight in Asmara, advising caution due to the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, which borders Eritrea.

In the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, the regional government is run by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The group once dominated the ruling coalition of Ethiopia but felt marginalized by Prime Minister Abiy’s political changes after he took office in 2018. He dissolved the ruling coalition and merged its ethnicity-based regional parties into a single party, the Prosperity Party, which the TPLF refused to join.

Tigrayan leaders have said they were unfairly targeted by political purges and allegations of corruption. They have argued that Abiy’s postponement of national elections due to coronavirus have ended his mandate as a legitimate leader, BBC News reports.

On Nov. 4 Abiy announced a military offensive in response to an alleged attack on a military base in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The violent clashes that followed led to a serious humanitarian situation.

The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Babar Baloch,  warned Nov. 17 that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan.”

Baloch said that the UN was also in negotiations with the federal and regional authorities to get humanitarian access to the Tigray region. An estimated 40,000 refugees have crossed from Ethiopia into Sudan, according to the UN.

The conflict has prompted fears of regional destabilization as well as instability, and even civil war, within Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa.

Ethiopia’s Catholic bishops have called for an end to the violence and the start of peaceful dialogue in the Tigray region.

“Conflict between brotherly people does not help anyone. Instead, it destroys lives of innocent people and it is an act that will turn our country into a failure and (create) extreme poverty,” Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa said in a Nov. 9 statement from Ethiopian bishops’ conference.

During his Angelus address on Nov. 8 Pope Francis appealed for peace in Ethiopia.

The pope said: "While I urge that the temptation of an armed conflict be rejected, I invite everyone to prayer and to fraternal respect, to dialogue and to a peaceful resolution to the disagreements."