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Pope: Church key to understanding Jesus
"To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an 'absurd dichotomy,'" Pope Francis told those were present in St Peter's Basilica for his 1 January Mass celebrating the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
"(The Church) is like a mother who tenderly holds Jesus and gives him to everyone with joy and generosity ... Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling," he said. Without the Church and her guidance, our relationship with Christ "would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods".
It is not possible to understand the salvation offered by Jesus without also appreciating the motherhood of the Church, he explained, adding that it is also impossible to love and belong to Christ without loving and belonging to the Church, because the Church is God's family who brings Christ to humanity.
"Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ" who lives among us and can be encountered inside the Church through her sacraments.
"No manifestation of Christ, even the most mystical, can ever be detached from the flesh and blood of the Church, from the historical concreteness of the Body of Christ."
Latest worldwide Catholic statistics
The world's Catholic population increased by 15 million in the past year, with some growth on every continent, according to new statistics from the Fides news service.
The latest figures, which date to the end of 2012, show a worldwide Catholic population of 1.2 billion, accounting for 17.49% of the world's overall population.
The number of Catholics grew most rapidly in Africa and the Americas (which are treated as one continent in Vatican statistics), with Asia following and Europe and Oceania lagging behind.
The number of Catholic priests was up slightly, to 414,313. That growth was very irregular, however the numbers were significantly up in Asia (1,364) and Africa (1,076), but down sharply in Europe (-1,375). A similar pattern was evident in the number of female religious.
Catholic World News
How Church combats AIDS in Africa
Catholic leaders in Uganda and Malawi have issued largely positive informal progress reports on local Church efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in the African nations.
A report from the Uganda Episcopal Conference stressed "the contributions that the Catholic Church has made through one of its currently running projects to the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV."
It explained that the Ugandan bishops' AIDS Care and Treatment project provided care to more than 54,700 clients from September to the beginning of December. Seven percent of those clients were children under the age of 15.
Catholic health facilities in Uganda have reported providing care for 90,646 clients, though the Ugandan bishops said the actual numbers may be much larger since some Catholic health facilities have not yet switched over to a new reporting software program.
The report stated Catholic bishops in Uganda were involved "from the very outbreak of the epidemic in the country" in 1982. Today, all 19 dioceses have established HIV/AIDS offices to work alongside local health coordinators. In their report, the bishops said every Ugandan is responsible for helping the nation reach its goal of zero new HIV infections.
Recent estimates suggest some 1.6 million people in Uganda are living with AIDS. The Ugandan bishops warned that progress against HIV/AIDS is slowed by factors including complacent behaviour, a lack of proper knowledge about HIV prevention, and non-disclosure of HIV status among couples.
A Monfort missionary in Malawi also issued an informal update on the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Father Piergiorgio Gamba told Fides Agency that there is a lot to be thankful for in Malawi. The number of HIV positive children is decreasing, along with the number of casualties from the virus. However, he said that the number of HIV-positive young people is increasing and teenage women account for more than half the population of HIV-positive persons.
Recent estimates suggest some 1.1 million people in Malawi are living with AIDS which is a six percent decrease from previous years.
Catholic News Agency
Anti-Christian vandalism in Europe and US
On Christmas Day, a vandal entered a parish in Douai, France, and decapitated the heads of eight statues in the Nativity scene. La Voix du Nord reported that, the week before, vandals had sprayed swastikas on the church, along with the word "pedophile".
In Bailleul, a nearby town of 14,000, the image of the child Jesus was taken from the crèche in the parish church.
Five protestors identified as Muslims, four of them children, disrupted a Christmas Eve Mass in Mönchengladbach, a city of 250,000 in western Germany. They entered the church shouting obscenities at Christians, the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians reported.
In Gross-Enzersdorf, a village of 9,000 in eastern Austria, an Egyptian Muslim immigrant sawed down a crucifix that had been a place of pilgrimage for six decades.
In Haverhill, Massachusetts, the image of the Child Jesus was taken from an outdoor crèche at a Catholic parish and replaced with a pig's head.
In the weeks before Christmas, Nativity scenes were also vandalised in El Cerrito, California, and Berwyn, Illinois. In the latter incident, young people, one of whom shouted, "Long live Satan," beheaded statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph in a convent garden.
Catholic World News
Catholic-Orthodox unity: Pope and Patriarch meet
In a prayer gathering on the second day of Pope Francis' visit to Turkey last November, Patriarch Bartholomew I welcomed the Pope with "joy, honour and gratitude because you have deemed it proper to direct your steps from the Old Rome to the New Rome, symbolically bridging the West and the East through this movement".
Pope Francis' visit, the first since his election, served as a continuation of his predecessors, the patriarch observed.
He told the Pope that his visit "also bears witness to your own will and that of the most holy Church of Rome to maintain the fraternal and stable advance with the Orthodox Church for the restoration of full communion between our Churches".
The patriarch cited the Pope's arrival as a historical moment marked with "satisfaction and appreciation", and noted how throughout time the cathedral has been and still is served by strong ecclesiastical figures who have "brightened" it alongside the many fathers of the universal Church.
Saints Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom are among these Church fathers, he said, observing that their relics now reside inside the cathedral "thanks to their gracious return to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Church of Rome."
Pope Francis gave heartfelt thanks to the patriarch for his "fraternal welcome," and observed how the joy they share is always greater not because it comes from themselves, but from above.
"It is not in us, not in our commitment, not in our efforts that are certainly necessary, but in our shared trust in God's faithfulness which lays the foundation for the reconstruction of his temple that is the Church."
Catholic News Agency
Filipino Muslim leader: support Pope Francis
A high-ranking Filipino Muslim leader urged all people of faith, regardless of specific religious affiliations, to go all out in their support for Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines in January.
Imam Ebra M Moxsir Al-Haj, an Islamic scholar and a chaplain of the Philippine National Police (PNP), called on his "Muslim brothers and sisters to join the Holy Father in his efforts" against the use of violence.
Moxsir urged his fellow Filipino Muslims to welcome the Pontiff and to support his call for interfaith cooperation based on honesty and goodwill as the way to achieve real peace.
He also said he shared the Pope's stance against extremism, noting that only peace between religions can stop it: "Good Muslims and Christians all want peace. Education has an important role to play to make it happen ... We must see to it that our brothers and sisters are properly educated in their faith so that they will not be swayed by those extremists."
The Pope travelled to Sri Lanka and the Philippines on 12-19 January. During his visit to the Philippines, he met survivors of typhoon Yolanda, as well as the country's religious leaders.
Zenit News Agency
British children and the meaning of Christmas
British children are not being taught the true meaning of Christmas because teachers are too scared of "offending" other faiths, a BBC presenter has claimed. Roger Bolton, who presents the Radio 4 program Feedback, also added that some atheist teachers are "unsympathetic to religious education".
The result is that many British students are not learning that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, which also means that they cannot recognise the full meaning of religious imagery in literature and art.
In an article reported in the Daily Mail, Mr Bolton, who previously presented Radio 4's main religious affairs program, said, "In some schools in this country, little is taught about the true meaning of Christmas, possibly because secular staff are unsympathetic to religious education or because of the fear of offending those of other faiths."
Quoting a survey by the Bible Society, Mr Bolton said that a quarter of British children knew nothing of the Nativity and 43 percent had never heard of the Crucifixion.
He continued: "Does this matter? I think it does, for both cultural and communal reasons. The United Kingdom cannot be understood without appreciating the role Christian culture has played in its development ... Without a knowledge of Christianity, what will our schoolchildren make of much of our finest literature and drama, filled as it is with Christian imagery? Or much of the finest European art?"
He also said it was "vital" that children of other faiths learn the true meaning of Christmas, or else "how can they begin to integrate into our country if they know little of the faith still at its heart?"
The Christian Institute (UK)
New bishop for Broken Bay Diocese (Sydney)
The Most Reverend Peter A. Comensoli became the third Bishop of Broken Bay during a Solemn Mass of Installation at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, Waitara, on 12 December 2014.
"On this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for who I have had a special devotion, I entrust my ministry and our diocese to the loving protection of St Mary, Star of the Sea, our sure light leading us to Christ," Bishop Comensoli said.
The liturgy was concelebrated by the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, Metropolitan Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Emeritus Bishop of Broken Bay David Walker.
In his homily, Bishop Comensoli spoke about Juan Diego, a local indigenous Indian, who came across the Blessed Virgin Mary in early December 1531 at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City.
Speaking about evangelisation, Bishop Comensoli said "evangelising is nothing more – or less – than me telling someone the story of the value and significance of my friendship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour".
The new Bishop of Broken Bay said parish life is a vital and essential dimension to every diocese. "May I suggest that our faith communities are really local neighbourhoods of grace. We may have 26 parishes in our Diocese, but we actually have some 43 or so local neighbourhoods of grace, places where God's people gather as a family of families."
As a young diocese, Bishop Comensoli said, "it is you young people who are our particularly refreshing streams of grace. We need your vitality, hope and energy flowing into our diocesan river to replenish us.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 1 (February 2015), p. 4
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