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Pope Francis names new bishop of scandal-ridden Buffalo diocese

Vatican City, Dec 1, 2020 / 05:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Tuesday appointed Bishop Michael Fisher, an auxiliary of Washington, to be the next bishop of the scandal-ridden Diocese of Buffalo, New York.

Fisher, 62, will take over leadership of Buffalo as the diocese faces a new lawsuit from the State of New York for failing to protect children from clergy sex abuse.

The diocese also filed for bankruptcy in February of this year, after it was named in hundreds of clerical abuse lawsuits filed in New York courts.

Fisher will be the 15th bishop of the western New York diocese, following Bishop Richard Malone, who resigned amid controversy in December 2019.

In September 2019, Bishop Malone’s former secretary leaked audio of conversations where Malone appeared to acknowledge the legitimacy of sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the priest was removed from active ministry.

A month later, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation of Malone’s diocese, which has been embroiled in scandal since November 2018, when Malone’s former assistant leaked records reportedly showing that the diocese worked with lawyers to conceal credible abuse allegations from the public.

While the diocese had reported the names of some priests credibly accused of abuse, it had not reported others, the records appeared to show. Bishop Malone denied claims that he had covered up abuse.

Six months later, Malone apologized for his handling of the case of Fr. Art Smith, a diocesan priest who faced repeated accusations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

Last week, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit in the state’s supreme court against the Diocese of Buffalo. Malone, retired auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, and Buffalo’s apostolic administrator, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, were also named in the lawsuit.

The state alleges that the diocese, Malone, and Grosz failed to properly investigate claims of clergy sex abuse. The state also claims that diocesan leadership did not “refer unassignable priests to the Vatican,” monitor priests with credible accusations, or take necessary action against diocesan priests credibly accused of child sex abuse. It argued that, under state laws governing non-profits, the diocese did not act in “good faith” by failing to follow its own procedures on clergy sex abuse.

Fisher will be installed as bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo on Jan. 15, 2021, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.

In a press release from the Diocese of Buffalo Dec. 1, Fisher said “though the challenges that currently confront the Diocese of Buffalo are many and significant, they are not equal to the resolve of so many committed lay women and men, devoted priests, deacons and religious across Western New York, who are no less determined to reveal God’s transformative love that has the power to bind every wound, renew and make us whole.”

Bishop Fisher is the oldest of five children and a native of Baltimore, Maryland. After earning degrees in business administration and accounting at the University of Maryland, he worked as a comptroller for a psychiatric practice.

He discerned a vocation to the priesthood and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1990.

In 2006, Fisher was appointed vicar for clergy and secretary for ministerial leadership, with responsibility for vocations, formation and care of the clergy for the archdiocese. 

Pope Francis named him auxiliary bishop of Washington in June 2018. 

Over nearly 30 years of priesthood, Fisher served in several parishes and in leadership of different archdiocesan ministries, including on education, social justice, parish life, and youth.

He has also served on the archdiocese’s administrative board, clergy personnel board, priest council, and priest retirement board, and, according to the press release, his ministry “has involved the continuing education of priests, particularly in aiding new pastors in their roles and the planning and implementation of ongoing clergy training via convocations and retreats.”

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington described Fisher as “an exceptionally compassionate and skilled servant of the Church.”

“His distinguished history as pastor, Vicar for Priests, and member of our Pastoral Administration have prepared him well for his new responsibilities in that diocese. While we will miss his deft pastoral talents, they will be warmly welcomed by the faithful, religious, and clergy of the Diocese of Buffalo,” Gregory said.

Pope Francis: Be God’s people, not God’s elite

Vatican City, Dec 1, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Catholics are called to be God’s people, not God’s elite, Pope Francis said in a video message Monday.

In the message to a virtual meeting of judges, released Nov. 30, the pope said that those who truly sought social justice did not regard themselves as “an enlightened elite,” but rather as a people dedicated to “the work of including, integrating and raising the fallen.”

He said: “And, from the Gospel, what God asks of us believers is to be God’s people, not God’s elite. Because those who go the way of ‘God’s elite’ end up in the so well-known elitist clericalisms that, out there, work for the people, but nothing with the people, without feeling like a people.”

The pope was addressing judges belonging to the recently formed Committee for Social Rights of Africa and America. The judges -- from 18 countries including the United States -- were meeting online for a two-day event entitled “Building the new social justice.” 

The Committee brings together two groups under the aegis of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: the Pan-American Committee of Judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine, formally established on June 4, 2019, and the Pan-African Committee of Judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine. 

The Committee draws on the magisterium of Pope Francis to promote the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of the world’s most vulnerable people.

In his address, the pope identified six principles which he said should guide efforts to promote social justice. 

The first, he said, was to remain connected to the reality that “a small part of humanity lives in opulence, while an ever increasing number are denied dignity and their most basic rights are ignored or violated.”

The second was to remember that justice is “a collective work” and the third was to display “an attitude of commitment, following the path of the Good Samaritan.”

The fourth was the importance of remembering and drawing on the past, and the fifth was the centrality of “the people.”

The sixth and final “basis” for social justice was solidarity in the fight against the causes of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The pope said: “Let us build the new social justice by assuming that the Christian tradition never recognized as absolute and untouchable the right to private property and always stressed the social function of any of its forms.”

“The right to property is a secondary natural right derived from the right that everyone has, born from the universal destination of created goods. There is no social justice that can be cemented in inequality, which is the concentration of wealth.”

Pope Francis sent a second, shorter video message to judges gathered for the event. He recalled his words when he met them at the Casina Pio IV, the Vatican headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in June 2019. On that occasion, he compared the judges to poets. 

In his Nov. 30 message, he said: “The poet needs to contemplate, think, understand the music of reality and translate it into words. In each decision, in each sentence, you are faced with the happy possibility of writing poetry: a poetry that heals the wounds of the poor, that integrates the planet, that protects Mother Earth and all her descendants. A poetry that repairs, redeems, nurtures.”

He added: “And, please, always remember that when justice is really just, that justice makes countries happy and their people worthy. No sentence can be just, nor any law legitimate, if what they produce is more inequality, if what they produce is more loss of rights, indignity or violence.”

Pell surprised by ‘Technicolor criminality’ of Vatican financial scandals

CNA Staff, Nov 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell has spoken of his surprise at the apparent extent of “criminality” involved in recent Vatican financial scandals.

Speaking in an interview with Associated Press Monday, the cardinal, who led the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy from 2014-2017, said that he regretted that his efforts to bring tough mechanisms for financial transparency and accountability had been vindicated by the details of recent scandals.

Pell told AP that he knew, from the time Pope Francis put him in charge of a key part of his curial reform agenda, that the Vatican finances were “a bit of a mess.”

But, the cardinal said, he “never, never thought it would be as Technicolor as it proved.”

“I didn’t know that there was so much criminality involved,” Pell said.

Until 2017, Pell led an effort called for by Pope Francis to bring order and accountability to the Vatican’s finances, which have long lacked centralized procedures, controls, or oversight, claiming at one point to have discovered hundreds of millions of euros being kept “off books” from the ordinary Vatican accounts.

Pell’s reforming efforts met with institutional resistance from some curial officials and departments, most notably Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who at the time of Pell’s tenure at the Secretariat for the Economy, was sostituto of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Becciu at one point acted to cancel a contract Pell had made for an external audit of Vatican finances.

CNA has also reported that Pell and Becciu clashed repeatedly over financial affairs, including the use of Swiss banks to provide financing for different investments allegedly obscured from Vatican balance sheets, including the controversial purchase of a London building.

Since at least 2018, Vatican criminal investigators have been reviewing a web of investments and transactions at the Secretariat of State involving a network of businessmen and curial officials linked to investments related to the London property deal.

So far, one of brokers of the deal has been arrested, and several Vatican officials have had their offices and homes raided.

On Sept. 24, Becciu was asked by Pope Francis to resign from his Vatican job and from the rights of cardinals, and has denied subsequent media reports that he used Church funds to benefit family members, or that he had attempted to influence the outcome of a sex abuse trial against Cardinal Pell in Australia, which resulted in Pell taking a leave of absence from his curial post in 2017.

Speaking to AP on Monday, Pell said of the allegations against Becciu that “I hope for the sake of the Church, there’s nothing in it.”

“In fact — I say that quite sincerely — because some Australian people, my own family, said to me: ’Well, if the Mafia is going after you or somebody else is going after you, that’s one thing. It’s a little bit worse if it comes from within the Church.”

“But I think we will find out, whether there is or there isn’t,” said Pell. “Certainly, the party’s not over.”

An October AP report said the allegations against Becciu “appeared more an effort to discredit Becciu and distract attention from the shortcomings of the Vatican prosecutors' primary investigation into a London real estate venture.”

Last week, police found hundreds of thousands of euros in cash hidden in two homes of Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay official at the Secretariat of State until his suspension, together with four other employees, last year. CNA has previously reported his links to the London deal, including to the broker arrested for allegedly extorting the Vatican.

On Monday, Pell told AP that the rolling series of financial scandals appeared to show criminal behavior, but that a full Vatican trial could eventually establish the whole truth. “It just might be staggering incompetence,” he said.

“It would be better for the church if these things hadn’t happened, if I wasn’t vindicated in this way,” said Pell. “But given that they have happened, it’s quite clear” that his original reforming agenda was necessary.

Pell said his efforts had been “sadly vindicated by revelations and developments.”

Statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal begins pilgrimage around Italy

Vatican City, Nov 30, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal began Friday a pilgrimage to parishes throughout Italy, marking the 190th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearance to St. Catherine Labouré in France.

After Mass at the regional seminary Collegio Leoniano in Rome, the statue was carried in procession to the nearby Church of San Gioacchino in Prati on the evening of Nov. 27.



Throughout December, the statue will go from parish to parish in Rome, stopping at 15 different churches.

Afterward, if coronavirus restrictions permit, it will be brought to parishes throughout Italy, ending on Nov. 22, 2021, on the island of Sardinia.

One of the stops on the route will be the Church of St. Anne, which sits just inside the Vatican walls.

The traveling statue is an evangelization initiative by the Vincentian Congregation of the Mission. It said in a statement that the year-long Marian pilgrimage would help to proclaim the merciful love of God at a time “marked by strong tensions on every continent.” 



Pope Francis blessed the statue of the Immaculate Virgin Mary of the Miraculous Medal in a meeting with a delegation of Vincentians Nov. 11.

“The members of the worldwide Vincentian Family, faithful to the Word of God, inspired by the charism which calls them to serve God in the person of the poor and encouraged by this initiative of the Blessed Mother to go on pilgrimage, want to remind us that the Blessed Mother continues to invite men and women to approach the foot of the altar,” the Vincentians’ statement said.



The Vincentians were originally founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1625 to preach missions to the poor. Today Vincentians regularly say Mass and hear confessions at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at 140 Rue du Bac, in the heart of Paris.

St. Catherine Labouré was a novice with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul when she received three apparitions from the Blessed Virgin Mary, a vision of Christ present in the Eucharist, and a mystical encounter in which St. Vincent de Paul showed her his heart.

This year marks the 190th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to St. Catherine. 

The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental inspired by the Marian apparition to St. Catherine in 1830. The Virgin Mary appeared to her as the Immaculate Conception, standing on a globe with light streaming from her hands and crushing a serpent underfoot.

“A voice said to me, ‘Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck,’” the saint recalled.



In their statement, the Vincentians noted that the world is “deeply troubled” and poverty is spreading due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“After 190 years, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal continues to watch over humankind and comes, as a pilgrim, to visit and meet with the members of the Christian communities spread throughout Italy. Thus, Mary fulfills the promise of love that is contained in her message: I will remain with you, trust and do not be discouraged,” they said.

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."

Pope Francis: 'Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God'

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2020 / 05:40 am (CNA).- On the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis recommended a traditional Advent prayer to invite God to draw close during this new liturgical year.

“Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God who came down to dwell in our midst,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica  Nov. 29.

“Let us make the traditional Advent prayer our own: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ … We can say it at the beginning of each day and repeat it often, before our meetings, our studies and our work, before making decisions, in every important or difficult moment of our lives: ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’” the pope said in his homily.

Pope Francis stressed that Advent is both a time of  “God’s closeness and our watchfulness”.

“It is important to remain watchful, because one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a  thousand things and not to notice God. Saint Augustine said: ‘Timeo Iesum transeuntem’ (I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed). Drawn by our own interests … and distracted  by so many vain things, we risk losing sight of what is essential. That is why today the Lord repeats: ‘To all, I say: be watchful,’” he said.

“Having to be watchful, however, means it is now night. Yes, we are not living in broad daylight, but awaiting the dawn, amid darkness and weariness. The light of day will come when we shall be with the Lord. Let us not lose heart: the light of day will come, the shadows of night will be dispelled,  and the Lord, who died for us on the cross, will arise to be our judge. Being watchful in expectation of his coming means not letting ourselves be overcome by discouragement. It is to live in hope.”

The pope offered Mass on Sunday morning with 11 of the new cardinals created at the ordinary public consistory this weekend.

In his homily, he warned of the dangers of mediocrity, lukewarmness, and indifference in the Christian life.

“Without making an effort to love God daily and awaiting the newness he constantly brings, we become mediocre,  lukewarm, worldly. And this slowly eats away at our faith, for faith is the very opposite of mediocrity:  it is ardent desire for God, a bold effort to change, the courage to love, constant progress,” he said.

“Faith is not water that extinguishes flames, it is fire that burns; it is not a tranquilizer for people under stress, it is a love story for people in love. That is why Jesus above all else detests lukewarmness.”

Pope Francis said that prayer and charity are antidotes to mediocrity and indifference.

“Prayer rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord. Prayer allows God to be close to us; it frees us from our loneliness and gives us hope,” he said.

“Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.”

The pope quoted the opening prayer for the first Sunday of Advent: “Grant [us] … the resolve to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”

“Jesus is coming, and the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity,” he said.

“Charity is the beating heart of the Christian: just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity.”

Following the Mass, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“Today, the First Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. In it, the Church marks the passage of time with the celebration of the main events in the life of Jesus and the story of salvation. In so doing, as Mother, she illuminates the path of our existence, supports us in our daily occupations and guides us towards the final encounter with Christ,’ he said.

The pope invited everyone to live this season of hope and preparation with “great sobriety” and simple moments of family prayer.

“The situation we are experiencing, marked by the pandemic, generates concern, fear and despair in many; there is the risk of falling into pessimism ... How should we react to all this? Today's Psalm recommends to us: ‘Our soul awaits the Lord: He is our help and our shield. It is in Him that our hearts rejoice,’” he said.

“Advent is an incessant call to hope: it reminds us that God is present in history to lead it to its ultimate end, to lead it to its fullness, which is the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis said.

“May Mary Most Holy, the woman of the expectation, accompany our steps at the beginning of this new liturgical year, and help us to fulfil the task of Jesus’ disciples, indicated by the Apostle Peter. And what is that task? To render an account for the hope that is in us."