Vatican tells young people to ask for ‘words of wisdom’ for Christmas

A social media campaign by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life aims to encourage young people to reach out to their grandparents and older people. You can participate in the campaign by using the hashtag #aGiftOfWisdom. CNS photo/Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life

VATICAN CITY. One present young people should ask for this Christmas is words of wisdom from older people they know, a Vatican dicastery said.

“Today, in the difficult circumstances of a Christmas still overshadowed by the pandemic, we are proposing that young people post on social media a memory, a piece of advice or a ‘gift of wisdom’ they have received from one of the elderly people with whom they have formed a bond in recent months,” said the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

The invitation was part of a new campaign launched Nov. 27 aimed at encouraging young people to reach out to their grandparents and other older people, not only to help alleviate the isolation and loneliness caused by pandemic restrictions, but also to create new and creative bonds.

The unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic means “there is an opportunity for young people to receive a special gift” for Christmas this year, the dicastery said in a news release.

“Because of the pandemic, there are more elderly people who live alone. We can create bonds with each of them – this is a treasure waiting to be discovered!”

The Vatican office asked that people reach out to older people and ask for “the gift of their wisdom.” People can then take the advice, memories and nuggets of wisdom they collect and post them on social media using the hashtag #aGiftOfWisdom.

“Some of the best posts will be shared” on the dicastery’s social media accounts @laityfamilylife, it said.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, because of the health regulations in force, visiting can only take place remotely, via telephone, video calls and messaging. But it is possible to participate in this campaign” by sharing “the wise words of grandparents and the elderly on social media,” it added.

The latest campaign follows a similar effort the dicastery launched in July in which it “collected virtual hugs sent by many young people to both their own grandparents and to ‘adopted grandparents,’” it said. The effort was meant to encourage young people to show kindness and affection to older people who may be feeling lonely.

For other ideas and guidance, the dicastery has posted on its website,, a free e-book, “The Richness of Many Years of Life,” which offers a toolkit in multiple languages “for the development of a true pastoral ministry that reaches out” and involves the elderly as active participants in the Church.

The e-book includes the proceedings of the first international conference on the pastoral care of the elderly the dicastery held in January 2020 to promote a “renewed concern for the pastoral care of the elderly in every ecclesial community.”

Pope creates 13 new cardinals, including Washington archbishop

New Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington attends a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis with new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 29, 2020. CNS photo/Gregorio Borgia, Reuters pool

VATICAN CITY. One by one 11 senior churchmen, including two U.S. citizens – Cardinals Wilton D. Gregory of Washington and Silvano M. Tomasi, a former Vatican diplomat – knelt before Pope Francis to receive their red hats, a cardinal’s ring and a scroll formally declaring their new status and assigning them a “titular” church in Rome.

But with the consistory Nov. 28 occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis actually created 13 new cardinals.

Cardinals Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, Philippines, and Cornelius Sim, apostolic vicar of Brunei, did not attend the consistory because of COVID-19 travel restrictions; however, they are officially cardinals and will receive their birettas and rings at a later date, the Vatican said.

In his homily at the prayer service, Pope Francis told the new cardinals that “the scarlet of a cardinal’s robes, which is the color of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the color of a secular ‘eminence,’” the traditional title of respect for a cardinal.

If that happens, he said, “you will no longer be a pastor close to your people. You will think of yourself only as ‘His Eminence.’ If you feel that, you are off the path.”

For the cardinals, the pope said, the red must symbolize a wholehearted following of Jesus, who willingly gave his life on the cross to save humanity.

The Gospel reading at the service, Mark 10:32-45, included the account of James and John asking Jesus for special honors. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left,” they said. But Jesus reproaches them.

“We, too, pope and cardinals, must always see ourselves reflected in this word of truth,” Pope Francis said. “It is a sharpened sword; it cuts, it proves painful, but it also heals, liberates and converts us.”

According to canon law, cardinals are created when their names are made public “in the presence of the College of Cardinals.” While many Rome-based cardinals attended the consistory, more members of the college were “present” online.

The pandemic also meant the gathering was unusually small; each cardinal was accompanied by a priest-secretary and could invite a handful of guests, so there were only about 100 people in the congregation at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Also missing were the “courtesy visits,” a reception lasting several hours in the early evening when the general public was invited into the Vatican to greet the new cardinals.

The congregation at the consistory also included the pastors or rectors of the 13 Rome churches to which the new cardinals were associated. Cardinals are given a “titular” church in Rome, formally making them members of the Rome diocesan clergy, which is what the Church’s first cardinals were.

In fact, the formula for the creation of cardinals, recited in Latin by Pope Francis, says, “It chiefly concerns the Church of Rome, but it also affects the entire ecclesial community: We will call certain of our brethren to enter the College of Cardinals, so that they may be united to the Chair of Peter by a closer bond to our apostolic ministry.”

Cardinal Gregory’s titular church is Immaculate Conception parish on the ancient Via Flaminia in the Grottarossa neighborhood of northern Rome. The church was built in 1935 and became a titular church for cardinals in 1985.

Cardinal Tomasi’s titular church is the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Prison, a 12th-century church with a 16th-century facade built on the site of an earlier church that was constructed over the ruins of an ancient temple.

Mexican Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, retired bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, told Vatican News Nov. 27 that the new cardinals are called to reconfirm their commitment to making Christ the center of their lives and “to collaborate with the pope in his ministry as bishop of Rome, and so we are assigned a parish in this city, as a sign of communion between that community and the one who presides over this local church, which is the pope.”

Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, was the first mentioned by the pope Oct. 25 when he announced he was creating new cardinals. As such, it fell to Cardinal Grech to address the pope on behalf of the new cardinals.

“Convoked in consistory at such a serious time for all humanity because of the pandemic, we want to turn our thoughts to all our brothers and sisters enduring hardship,” the cardinal said. He prayed that people would react to the pandemic as an “opportunity to rethink our lifestyles, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, especially, the meaning of our lives.”

Cardinal Grech also led the others in the recitation of the Creed and of an oath of fidelity and obedience to Christ and his Church and to Pope Francis and his successors.

The new cardinals came from eight countries: Italy, Malta, the United States, Brunei, the Philippines, Mexico, Rwanda and Chile.

Cardinal Gregory, like the other new cardinals coming from outside Europe, was tested for COVID-19 before flying to Rome and again upon arrival. Even after testing negative, he and the others were required to quarantine for 10 days and were tested again immediately before the consistory. Cardinal Gregory stayed at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives, and his meals were left outside his door.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, the cardinal said he hopes Pope Francis will find him to be “supportive, encouraging and trustworthy” in his role as a cardinal, but his primary ministry is still to be the archbishop of Washington.

Of course, he said, he regrets that “my two sisters are not here, and the many people I know and love from Chicago and Belleville (Illinois) and Atlanta and Washington,” who were watching the livestream instead.

One of Cardinal Tomasi’s guests was the pastor of his boyhood parish, San Rocco in Casoni di Mussolente, a town of fewer than 8,000 people in northern Italy. In the past 80 years, the cardinal told CNS, the parish has produced more than 100 priests and religious sisters, “and now also a cardinal. I hope it will help to continue the flourishing of vocations from the parish.”

With the consistory the College of Cardinals now has 229 members, 128 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to enter a conclave to elect a new pope. Pope Francis has given the red hat to 57 percent of electors.

With Cardinals Gregory and Tomasi, who was born in Italy but is a U.S. citizen, the number of U.S. cardinals rose to 16; nine of them are cardinal electors.

Entering the college Nov. 28 were Cardinals:

  • Grech, 63.
  • Marcello Semeraro, an Italian who is prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, 72.
  • Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda, 62.
  • Gregory, 72.
  • Advincula, 68.
  • Celestino Aos Braco of Santiago, Chile, 75.
  • Sim, 69.
  • Paolo Lojudice of Siena, Italy, 56.
  • Mauro Gambetti, custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Assisi, 55.
  • Arizmendi, 80.
  • Tomasi, 80.
  • Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, 86.
  • Enrico Feroci, 80, former director of Rome’s Caritas.

#iGiveCatholic campaign will boost diocesan schools, offices

Schools, ministries and other organizations in the diocese will once again be participating in the #iGiveCatholic campaign on Tuesday, Dec. 1, as part of the national GivingTuesday initiative to support non-profits, held each year on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.

“It’s a chance for people to support parishes, schools and ministries in the diocese,” Ashley Linville, director of development for the diocese.

The individual schools and ministries that have registered with #iGiveCatholic will identify what the funds raised will be used for and will promote the event among their own community and supporters, Linville explained.

To see which organizations in the diocese have registered and to donate, visit

This the second year the diocese has participated in the #iGiveCatholic campaign, Linville said. Last year, the various ministries raised a total of $60,000 to $70,000. “We’re hoping to build on last year’s efforts,” Linville said.

Smaller parishes look for relief from pandemic financial strain

Some of the smaller parishes in the Diocese of Nashville are looking for relief from the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some of the larger parishes are holding their own with their Sunday collections, or even seeing a small increase, the collections for some of the smaller parishes are down as much as 40 percent, said Ashley Linville, diocesan director of stewardship and development.

“It’s a combination of parishioners not being in the pews and the fact that a number of people have seen their income reduced because of COVID,” meaning they have less to share with their parish, Linville said.

Pastors are looking to shore up their parish finances.

At St. Pius X Church in Nashville, collections are at 60 percent of where they were before the pandemic, Linville said.

The collections in November have been about $2,000 a week, up from $1,000 a week in September, said Father Abraham Panthalanickal, who became pastor of St. Pius last summer.

The parish, which has about 65 registered families, has about 45 people attending its lone Sunday Mass at 8 a.m. since the pandemic started, said Father Panthalanickal.

He started a Saturday evening Mass at 5:30 p.m. and is considering starting another Mass later on Sunday mornings to give people more options to attend and draw back some of the parishioners who have started attending Mass at other parishes with more convenient Mass times, Father Panthalanickal said.

Before starting a second Sunday Mass, Father Panthalanickal is hoping to consult with some of the parishioners to get their input. And the parish Finance Council will meet in December to discuss other options for increasing revenues, he added.

He’s hoping people from other parishes and people who grew up at St. Pius or are former parishioners will be able to help by attending Mass at St. Pius occasionally, Father Panthalanickal said. He’s also trying to raise awareness about the parish school, St. Pius X Classical Academy.

“There is potential growth in the area,” Father Panthalanickal said. “We are planning to send a letter to the people in the community by the end of this year inviting them to the parish and the school,” which are located at 2800 Tucker Road near Buena Vista Pike/West Trinity Lane.

St. William of Montevergine Church in Shelbyville also is looking for ways to boost its revenues during the pandemic.

Before COVID-19, the Sunday collections at St. William typically totaled $3,900 to $4,200 a week, said the pastor, Father Louis Rojas, SAC. “Now it’s about half of that. It depends on how many people come.”

St. William’s church can hold up to 500 people, but, like other parishes in the diocese, social distancing and restrictions on the size of gatherings mean the parish can accommodate only a fraction of that amount.

For the Spanish Mass, which is the most heavily attended Mass each week, the Mass is celebrated outside with people watching from their cars, said Father Rojas, a Pallottine order priest.

The outdoor Mass draws about 160 people, Father Rojas said. “It’s still too many people to put in one building. … We don’t have the room to space them out like we should.”

The parish took another blow to its finances when it was forced to cancel its annual Fall Festival, Father Rojas said.

To help make up that shortfall, “the parish Finance Committee suggested we send a letter to everybody on our mailing list asking people to help,” Father Rojas said. “We are getting people to respond to that appeal.”

The money will be used to make repairs to the original church, built in 1941, he said. “I’ve been telling people it’s not what I want it for, but what I need it for.”

Despite the hit to the budget caused by the pandemic, St. William still has some breathing room, Father Rojas said. “Thank the Lord, for the last several years, people have been good to us. We’ve been in the black. We do have a little bit of a reserve,” he said. “We’re not desperate. We’re still holding on to the reserves.”

Even with the cushion, St. William is looking for ways to get through the budget year, Father Rojas said. “We’re talking to people about it. We have to be careful.”

Linville is hopeful the people of the diocese will be able to extend a helping hand to parishes that are struggling. “One thing that I’ve seen through this whole year is that those who have been blessed have been a blessing to others,” he said. “Those not impacted have shared their resources with those who have been impacted by this.”

One way people can help is by donating to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Ministries, which will be accepting donations through the end of the year, Linville said.

The Bishop Miles Society, which provides funds to parishes with significant needs, is one of the ministries supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, Linville said. “Sometimes we have people who want to directly support certain individual parishes that are in need and that support can be sent directly to those parishes, or can be sent to our Development Office with instructions on how the funds should be directed,” he added.

It’s important that parishes have the resources to keep serving the faithful, Linville said. 

“All of our parishes still want to be able to minister to people. And it’s important for people to see there are parishes out there struggling,” he said. “Tennessee is known as the volunteer state. It seems any time there is a crisis or a need the people step up to meet that need or crisis.”

For more information about how to donate to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Ministries, visit or call Linville at 615-645-9768 or Assistant Director of Stewardship and Development Anna Beth Godfrey at 615-645-9769.

Editorial: Advent is call to open our hearts to a new way of living

Pope Francis waves during his Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 3, 2017. Conversion during Advent is, in particular, “a question of converting our idea of God,” Pope Francis remarked Dec. 15, 2019. CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

Long months of the vicious COVID-19 pandemic preceded the arrival of this year’s Advent season leading to Christmas. Neither Advent nor Christmas in 2020 will escape the pandemic’s shadow.

But Advent is a season for conversion, a hopeful, forward-looking period that keeps spiritual growth high in mind. The season asks where God is found.

Was God present despite the pandemic’s ravages? It entailed real pain and proved stunningly disruptive. Yet many attest that God-like developments occurred in all kinds of homes and communities during this time.

Conversion during Advent is, in particular, “a question of converting our idea of God,” Pope Francis says. It is a time “to welcome not a fairy-tale character, but the God who challenges us, involves us and before whom a choice is imposed,” he remarked Dec. 15, 2019.

How might a person’s idea of God need to grow? A speech Pope Francis gave in December 2018 described several ways the idea of God goes awry,

“The Bible and the Church’s history show clearly” how believers “can frequently come to think and act as if they were the owners of salvation and not its recipients,” Pope Francis explained.

 He cautioned: “Being Christian … does not mean acting like an elite group who think they have God in their pocket but as people who know that they are loved by the Lord” despite their imperfections.

Clearly, disturbing events in our surrounding world can shake us and leave us asking once again who God is for us or, more simply, how life suddenly could become painfully frustrating and confusing. Has the 2020 pandemic often been such an event?

Early in Christian history a different kind of event, but also one stemming from the early Christians’ immediate world, shook believers and left them wondering if they had misunderstood a promise of God. We hear about this on Advent’s second Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020.

A reading that Sunday from the Second Letter of Peter (3:8-14) describes a big issue that arose at that time and ultimately prompted many to refocus their understanding of God. The issue involved Christ’s second coming in glory at the end of time, which is a key Advent theme today.

Many early Christians apparently expected the second coming of Christ to occur quickly. But parents and grandparents died as time passed, and some Christians began to wonder if God had delayed the promise of the second coming.

Unsurprisingly, there were scoffers who began to suggest not only that God had delayed the second coming, but that there might be no second coming at all. Some insinuated that God no longer was intimately involved with this world’s life, according to a note in the New American Bible.

But God’s promise remained, the Second Letter of Peter affirmed. It advised the Christian community that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” Moreover, “the Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you” (3:8-9).

It was a disturbing moment in time among early Christians. It seems, though, that conversion and renewed faith followed in its wake, as the author of Second Peter urged Christians to turn to asking “what sort of persons” they ought to be and to focus their energies on conducting themselves “in holiness and devotion” (3:11).

To hear God’s voice, Christians pray, reflect, participate in worship or consult Scripture and the faith community, for example. But cannot an incarnate Lord also speak within the world and through its ongoing events?

Did this occur for the ancient Christian community or with today’s 2020 pandemic? Is God found and heard in the context of disturbing current events?

The pandemic threatened and changed human lives. It did this in ways that felt painful. Nonetheless, doors somehow were left open for good outcomes.

Suffering was no stranger to the pandemic. But the online, virtual methods that emerged for fulfilling the demands of jobs, schoolwork or essential shopping frequently yielded surprising human rewards.

Then there was the simple fact that so many now spent much more time at home in the company of family members or friends. How many of them found during this time that they were developing a renewed appreciation of each other and of their relationships?

The pandemic “has enabled us, perhaps for the first time in our lives, to recognize the deeply interconnected relationship of all living things and the urgent need for us to repent and change our lives,” Franciscan Father Michael Perry, a U.S. priest who is minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, observed in an Aug. 1 homily in Assisi, Italy.

“The call to repentance, conversion, to open our minds, hearts and lives to a new way of living together on this planet is more urgent now than at any other moment in human history,” he said.

Christians are called, Father Perry stressed, “to seek the way back toward God, toward one another, toward ourselves and toward creation.”

This article was written by David Gibson for Catholic News Service’s “Faith Alive” series.

Parishes clear hurdles when COVID forces priests into quarantine

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when priests are forced into quarantine because they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, it has meant another disruption in parish life.

Pastors, sometime with the help of the staff at the Diocese of Nashville, have had to scramble to find priests to celebrate the Sunday Masses when quarantined.

“That’s our faith, the Eucharist. Everything we say, think or do is based on that sacrament,” said Father Ed Steiner, pastor of St. Philip Church in Franklin, who has been forced into quarantine twice. “It’s so integral to who we are as a Church … all of us want to make sure parishioners have access to the Eucharist.”

Since the pandemic began to spread across the country earlier this year, pastors and associate pastors in several parishes, including the Cathedral of the Incarnation and St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro, have been forced into quarantine. And three parishes – St. Philip, St. Catherine Church in Columbia, and Our Lady of Lake Church in Hendersonville – all had priests quarantined on the same weekend, Oct. 31-Nov. 1.

Father Dan Reehil, pastor of St. Catherine, and Father Austin Gilstrap, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, were able to find a priest to say the weekend Masses in their parishes.

But Father Steiner had to rely on Deacon Hans Toecker, diocesan director of clergy and pastoral support, to help him find priests to cover the six weekend Masses scheduled at his parish.

“That’s a whole lot of Masses,” said Father Steiner, who noted that one of the Masses is bilingual and another is a Spanish Mass. “I had found three priests for three Masses, but I had to have help to find more.”

Both Father Steiner and his associate pastor, Father Rhodes Bolster, were forced into quarantine after Father Bolster was exposed to someone who tested positive. Father Steiner had to be quarantined because he shares the rectory with Father Bolster. He had to go into quarantine earlier this year while pastor of the Cathedral of the Incarnation for an exposure from an employee.

“The difference of filling in for somebody in a COVID situation as opposed to a guy going on vacation is that with COVID it’s extremely last minute,” Father Steiner said.

“Typically, a pastor is loath to cancel a Mass or schedule the Church’s Sunday Service in the Absence of a Priest,” Father Steiner said. He even explored whether he could still celebrate Mass while maintaining social distancing from the other people on the altar and in the congregation.

After Father Steiner notified Bishop J. Mark Spalding that he and Father Bolster were in quarantine, the bishop’s secretary, Jenny Scaggs, let him know “don’t worry about it, we’re going to take care of it.”

“You talk about breathing easy,” said Father Steiner, who quickly collaborated with Deacon Toecker about finding replacements.

“I’m here to help pastors, and through them, help parishes,” Deacon Toecker said. “My office is a resource for Mass coverage and other things. There’s a lot of resources in the diocesan offices.”

When pastors come to him for help, Deacon Toecker said, “they have to trust me that I’m going to turn over every rock there is and I’m going to do it quickly.”

Typically, Deacon Toecker could turn to retired priests for help, “except they’re the ones most vulnerable” to the virus, he said.

To help St. Philip, he turned to other parishes to see if the priests there could help. Father Emmanuel Dirichukwu, associate pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory, and Father Andrew Bulso, pastor of St. Edward Church in Nashville, agreed to help.

“One of the nice things about the priesthood of the diocese is there is a fraternity among the priests,” Father Steiner said. “If one guy is in trouble, everybody rallies.”

Father John Sims Baker, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro, had a similar experience when he and his associates were forced into quarantine earlier this year.

He noted that Deacon Toecker was helpful, as always, in finding a priest to cover his parish’s weekend Masses. “I can do nothing but brag on my brother priests in the diocese for their generosity and willingness to help out,” Father Baker added.

Father Reehil at St. Catherine and Father Gilstrap at Our Lady of the Lake were able to find replacements on their own when they went into quarantine after an exposure. 

“It’s always easier when you have an associate,” said Father Reehil, who is in his first year as a pastor without an associate. “You have to be more creative in finding help.”

He called on Father Tom Weise, a priest from Alabama, who has helped at St. Catherine before. “He was happy to come up,” Father Reehil said.

For the weekday Masses while he was in quarantine, Father Reehil, who was exposed to a member of the staff who tested positive, said private Masses for the intentions that were previously scheduled for those days. And Deacon Dan McCulley led Communion services during the week.

Father Gilstrap looked to his two associate pastors, Father Thomas Kalam, CMI, and Father Luke Wilgenbusch to cover the weekend Masses while he was in quarantine the weekend of Nov. 1. When Father Wilgenbusch joined Father Gilstrap in quarantine for the next weekend, Father Kalam said the Masses with an assist from Bishop Spalding. Although Father Gilstrap’s installation as pastor was rescheduled because he was in quarantine, the bishop came to Our Lady of the Lake anyway on Nov. 8 and celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass.

Father Wilgenbusch and Father Gilstrap were quarantined because of separate exposures to people who had tested positive. Father Kalam was never exposed, so avoided quarantine.

“We are in a unique circumstance to be in a position to weather a storm like this,” Father Gilstrap said. The parish has three priests because he and Father Wilgenbusch split their time between their duties at the parish and at the diocesan offices. Father Gilstrap is also Director of Vocations and Director of Deacon Formation, and Father Wilgenbusch serves as Assistant Director of Vocations.

“We want to make sure the people of God can come to Mass and receive the sacraments,” Father Gilstrap said. “That’s essentially our primary mission as a parish, that the faithful are taken care of and the sacraments are as available to them as much as possible.”

Pope, in new book, talks about personal ‘lockdowns’ that changed his life

Pope Francis meets author Austen Ivereigh at the Vatican in October 2019. The pope collaborated with Ivereigh on the book, “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future.” In the book the pope said he experienced three “COVID moments” in his lifetime: lung problems that threatened his life when he was 21; his “displacement” in Germany in 1986 for studies; and when he was sent away to Cordoba, Argentina, for almost two years in the early 1990s. “Let Us Dream” will be published Dec. 1 by Simon & Schuster. CNS photo/Vatican Media

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While the coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have interrupted people’s lives and brought suffering on a global scale, every individual — including the pope — has or will experience traumatic interruptions in their lives, Pope Francis said in a new book.

“Illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal,” he said, are moments that “generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.”

In “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future,” a book written with author Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis said he had experienced three “COVID moments” in his lifetime: lung problems that threatened his life when he was 21; his “displacement” in Germany in 1986 for studies; and when he was sent away to Cordoba, Argentina, for almost two years in the early 1990s.

“Let Us Dream” will be published Dec. 1 by Simon & Schuster. The section on what the pope called his “personal COVIDs” was excerpted in Italian newspapers Nov. 23.

In those major moments of challenge and pain, Pope Francis wrote, “what I learned was that you suffer a lot, but if you allow it to change you, you come out better. But if you dig in, you come out worse.”

Writing about his diseased lung, the pope said, “I remember the date: Aug. 13, 1957. I got taken to hospital by a (seminary) prefect who realized mine was not the kind of flu you treat with aspirin. Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of the lung, and I remained there fighting for my life.”

He was in his second year at the diocesan seminary and it was his “first experience of limit, of pain and loneliness,” he said. “It changed the way I saw life.”

“For months, I didn’t know who I was and whether I would live or die. The doctors had no idea whether I’d make it either,” the pope wrote. “I remember hugging my mother and saying: ‘Just tell me if I’m going to die.”

After three months in the hospital, “they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs,” he said. “I have some sense of how people with coronavirus feel as they struggle to breathe on ventilators.”

One of the nurses, “Sister Cornelia Caraglio, saved my life” by doubling his antibiotics, he said. “Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.”

Pope Francis said he also learned the meaning of “cheap consolations.”

“People came in to tell me I was going to be fine, how with all that pain I’d never have to suffer again — really dumb things, empty words,” he said.

Instead, he learned from a nun who had prepared him for his first Communion and would come and hold his hand, how important it was to sit with people, touch them and keep words to a minimum.

The time in the hospital recovering, he said, gave him the time and space he needed to “rethink my vocation” and explore his longing to enter a religious order rather than the diocesan priesthood. It was then that he decided to join the Jesuits.

Mexican church, civic leaders: No pilgrims at basilica for Guadalupe feast

Mexican Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes conducts an online service via YouTube and television at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City March 22, 2020, after churches were closed during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Mexico’s bishops, the Mexico City government and other religious and civil authorities have announced the closure of the basilica Dec. 10-13, 2020, due to COVID-19 concerns. Normally an estimated 8 million pilgrims visit the basilica for the Dec. 12 feast of the national patroness. CNS photo/Henry Romero, Reuters

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Mexican church and civic officials have canceled public feast celebrations for Mexico’s patroness at her shrine in Mexico City due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration normally attracts eight million pilgrims to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the world’s most-visited Marian shrine.

At a joint news conference Nov. 24, Mexico City Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes and Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum urged pilgrims to stay away from the basilica and to avoid congregating in the area. Pilgrims normally descend on the area — often arriving on foot from cities and towns surrounding the Mexican capital — and gather at midnight prior to the Dec. 12 feast day to serenade Mary.

Church officials instead urged devotees to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe at their local parishes or at home via broadcasts from the basilica online and on public television.

“We already know that the Virgin moves and moves to where her sons and daughters are, especially those who are grieving,” Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, president of the Mexican bishops’ conference, said at the news conference.

“We want to collaborate with our local authorities … to implement, for the good of all of Mexico, these measures that are necessary and do not in any way try to eliminate the fervor, devotion and faith of those who celebrate Holy Mary of Guadalupe.”

The announcement to close the basilica from Dec. 10 to 13 reversed previous plans to allow limited access to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, while implementing health measures and canceling liturgical celebrations.

“It’s understandable that, like every year, millions of people wish to attend (the basilica celebrations) in search of comfort in the face of desperation and abandonment being experienced due to the pandemic and other difficulties,” church and civic officials said in a joint statement Nov. 23.

“It is important to emphasize that the health conditions the country is experiencing as a result of COVID-19 do not allow us on this occasion to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe together at her shrine.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains strong in Mexico City, and civic officials have spoken of possibly returning to widespread closures of nonessential businesses. Cardinal Aguiar said Catholic parishes have avoided being sources of contagion as preventive measures have been taken and attendance is limited to 30% capacity.

It remains uncertain if the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe has previously canceled public celebrations, though journalistic reports showed the site closing its doors between 1926 and 1929 due to the Cristero Rebellion, when the church was persecuted, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier in 2020, an annual passion play that draws more than a million spectators to the Iztapalapa borough was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attempts at celebrating the St. Jude Thaddeus feast day Oct. 28 were fraught with difficulties as devotees showed up early and waited in long lines, despite admonishments to stay away.

Contemplating the mysteries of Christ will help deacons be spiritual leaders

To be a spiritual leader and not simply a “helper” in church ministries, permanent deacons must contemplate the mysteries of Christ. That was the message of Deacon James Keating, who led a retreat for the deacons of the Diocese of Nashville.

“He needs to be in touch with the mysteries of Christ in a contemplative way, that is in a way that is secured in his own heart,” Deacon Keating said. “Only in that way can a deacon truly preach and counsel in the service of healing.”

In leading the retreat, held Oct. 31-Nov. 1 at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, Deacon Keating addressed the spiritual interior life of the deacon and how prayer and ministry are related.

“The role of the deacon has always been one of envoy of Christ and the bishop. He is to deliver the Good News,” said Deacon Keating, a professor of spiritual theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. “What changes over each epoch is how that message is delivered. Sometimes the church has emphasized direct service to the poor, other times administration, other times parochial ministry. 

“Today I would say the diaconate is settling down into a ministry which focuses upon the Word of God,” he added. “In this way each individual deacon can discern with his bishop the ministries the bishop holds in his heart but have yet to be fulfilled in the diocese. The deacon should initiate those ministries.”

One of the challenges facing the permanent diaconate today, Deacon Keating said, “is many laity still do not know they can ‘use” the deacon for spiritual and pastoral matters. This communication of presence and identity should become a priority.”

Ongoing formation for deacons is also important “so they stay competent and agile as ministerial needs develop over time in any diocese,” he said.

Deacon Keating has been a deacon for 20 years and is a popular speaker at events around the country. He is the former Director of Deacon Formation for the Archdiocese of Omaha and a former professor of moral theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum seminary in Columbus, Ohio.

The retreat drew about 60 people, including deacons, their spouses and several men in formation for the diaconate, said Deacon Tom Samoray, director of deacons for the diocese.

Normally, the annual deacon retreat is held at Montgomery Bell State Park and includes staying over two nights, but the venue was changed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deacon Samoray said the plan this year was to have a retreat that focused on spirituality.

Deacon Keating’s talks were “excellent,” Deacon Samoray said. “The guys all loved him.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Community thrives on diversity

Father Titus Augustine, pastor of St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Community, poses with the 2019 parish first communion class. He estimates that 33 different countries and cultures are represented in the parish. Over 100 children participate in the parish religious education program. Photos courtesy of St. Ignatius Parish.

U.S. Catholics lead all Christian faiths in the percentage of racially diverse congregations in their parishes, according to a new study published by Baylor University.

St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish perfectly embodies that diversity in the American Catholic Church and in the Diocese of Nashville. 

“We welcome everybody,” said St. Ignatius pastor Father Titus Augustine. “We all respect each other.” 

Father Augustine, who is originally from India, estimates there are 33 countries and cultures represented in the parish, with parishioners from Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Germany, and a number of other countries. 

“Catholic churches on average continue to be more diverse than Protestant churches with 23 percent multiracial, up from 17 percent” in 1998, when churches were first surveyed, the Baylor study said.

The reason: “largely white congregations that are gaining more color,” the study’s author, Kevin Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said in a Nov. 13 phone interview with Catholic News Service.

“As the American neighborhood has become more racially mixed, the Catholic churches that serve those neighborhoods as a byproduct have taken on more diversity much more quickly than Protestant churches do,” Dougherty said.

This is true of the Antioch neighborhood where St. Ignatius has served the faithful since 1976. In recent years, the area has become one of the most diverse areas of Davidson County, according to the latest U.S. Census data. 

“I’ve lived different places around the world and St. Ignatius is an amazing cultural and spiritual environment,” said St. Ignatius parishioner and parish council member Steve Ortiz.

“It’s one thing to have different cultures, but the interaction we have at St. Ignatius is truly a blended medley of these cultures,” Ortiz said.

Parishioners from dozens of different countries worship together at St. Ignatius every Sunday, and over 100 children learn together through the parish’s religious education program. One of the biggest events of the year, the parish family picnic, is centered around celebrating the many cultures represented in the parish through sharing food and entertainment. 

Having a diverse mix of voices in parish leadership roles is also important, said Father Augustine. “In my parish council I try to fill it with people from different countries,” he said. “We are a true church family.”

For parishioners like Ortiz, St. Ignatius has become a spiritual family. “My own upbringing was founded in a very rich multi-cultural Catholic family,” he said, “deeply rooted in both Hispanic and European heritages (where Spanish and German were both spoken) with a wonderful spiritual foundation.

“Reflecting on St. Ignatius, my spiritual family, it is very much the same as my biological family, with a common and deep Catholic faith spoken in many languages,” Ortiz wrote via email. 

That word “family” comes up over and over again when St. Ignatius parishioners describe their church home. “We are just like a family,” said parish council member and usher Chike Oramah, who is originally from Nigeria and has lived in Middle Tennessee since 2012. “We appreciate each other,” he said. 

Before the pandemic put a major damper on social gatherings and interactions, “people would hang around after church, they didn’t clear out immediately,” Oramah said. “If you visit St. Ignatius you will see this really is a place for all.”

During COVID, St. Ignatius has been and is committed to keeping parishioners together even though they may not always be meeting in person. “We stream our Sunday Masses and have many Zoom meetings throughout the week,” said Ortiz. “We don’t want to, and will not, let that connectivity go.”

Parishioners from around the world were complimentary of how Father Augustine ministers to them. “It’s not really a big challenge,” he said. “There is unity in diversity.”

“We really like the people and Father Titus. He and the congregation make us all feel welcomed and a part of the church community,” said Long and Thao Truong, originally from Vietnam. They and their children Rachael and Andrew have been a part of St. Ignatius for the past 12 years. “The people are beautiful and we feel loved at St. Ignatius,” they said. 

Catholics may benefit from greater diversity because the faith is worldwide, said Baylor study author Dougherty. “The Roman Catholic Church is a global denomination. There are Catholic members in Southeast Asia and Latin America and Europe, and their immigrants to the United States are bearing that religion with them and they try to find a faith community that matches their own tradition.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch parishioner Uju Oramah, center, originally from Nigeria, talks with fellow parishioner Tracy Broussard in this undated photo. The leadership and parishioners of St. Ignatius, representing dozens of countries from around the world, work together to welcome all and build a unified community.

Dougherty told CNS, “From prior research that I’ve done or that others have done, the reason that people join a multiracial congregation, is a desire for diversity. There is something appealing about that.”

Clergy may push their parishioners to be more diverse, but “the most successful long-term embrace of diversity is when it’s organically claimed by the congregation on the part of the laity,” he said. “Otherwise, it just becomes a failed initiative from the top.”

Parishioners like Ortiz, who doesn’t live in Antioch, make a conscious effort to be part of the St. Ignatius community because of the shared desire for inclusivity. 

“We’re all very proud of our cultures,” Ortiz said, “united as part of the body of Christ at St. Ignatius.

“The commonality of our Catholic faith,” he said, spiritually bonds parishioners from around the world into one church family. “It feels like home.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.