Social justice must be founded on care for others

VATICAN CITY—Guaranteeing justice for all men and women is not possible while a few people control most of the world’s wealth and everyone else’s right to a dignified life is disregarded, Pope Francis said.

In a November 30 video message, the pope encouraged judges from North and South America and Africa not to lose sight of “the distressing situation in which a small part of humanity lives in opulence, while an increasing number of people are denied dignity and their most elementary rights are ignored or violated.”

“We cannot be disconnected from reality,” he said. “This is a reality you must keep in mind.”

The judges were taking part in a virtual meeting November 30-December 1 on “Building the New Social Justice.” The meeting was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Committee of Pan-American Judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine.

At “such a critical time for all of humanity,” the pope said, the virtual meeting to discuss the work of building “a new social justice is, without doubt, excellent news.”

Offering a reflection for their discussions, the pope said that building social justice is a “collective work” that must be achieved on a daily basis “because imbalance is a temptation at every minute.”

Working toward true social justice must also be done with an “attitude of commitment” that follows “along the path of the good Samaritan” and that is mindful of not falling “into a culture of indifference,” he said.

People “must recognize the all-too-frequent temptation to disregard others, especially the weakest,” the pope explained. “We have to assume that we have become accustomed to turning a blind eye, to ignoring situations until they hit us directly.”

And, he continued, one must not ignore history with all its “struggles, triumphs and defeats.”

“Therein lies the blood of those who gave their lives for a full and integrated humanity,” he said, as well as the roots of what people are experiencing today.

Pope Francis insisted that true social justice is impossible if the human person is not the center of concern.

“God asks us believers to be God’s people, not ‘God’s elite.’ Because those who go the way of ‘God’s elite’ end up in the so-called elitist clericalisms that work for the people, but do nothing with the people, do not feel like a people,” the pope said.

Lastly, Pope Francis said that solidarity is essential in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Solidarity means “fighting against that culture that can lead to using others, to enslaving others and ends up taking away the dignity of others,” the pope said. “Do not forget that solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history.”

By Junno Arocho Esteves   I   Catholic News Services

Court lifts restrictions on congregation sizes

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a 5-4 decision issued just before midnight Nov. 25, the Supreme Court lifted the pandemic restrictions on congregation sizes at houses of worship imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues in separate filings appealed to the nation’s high court, claiming the governor’s executive order violated their free exercise of religion and was particularly unwarranted during a time when area businesses were open.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

This summer, the court, in another 5-4 decision with a different bench, one that included Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, upheld Nevada’s limits on congregation sizes, denying a request by a Nevada church for permission to have larger gatherings, like those permitted in the state’s casinos, restaurants and other businesses.

“I am gratified by the decision of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case. I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in a Nov. 26 statement.

The bishop noted the governor’s restrictions “were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe. Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens have adhered to all COVID-19 safety protocols to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks.”

He stressed that the diocese took its plea to the nation’s highest court “because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”

“Now, with the benefit of the Supreme Court’s ruling,” he said, “we look forward to continuing the fight in the lower courts to ensure that these unconstitutional restrictions are permanently enjoined once and for all.”

The New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, tweeted Nov. 26 that the court’s decision was “an important one for religious liberty.”

“While we believe, and the court agreed, that the ‘hot zone’ restrictions on religious gatherings were unduly harsh our churches have been otherwise eager partners with the state in protecting the health of our parishioners, clergy, staff, and surrounding communities during this devastating pandemic.,” the tweet said. “That will continue, as protecting the vulnerable is a pro-life principle.”

“We are proud of the success we have had in keeping our people safe,” it added.

New York Catholic bishops also separately praised the ruling.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger who heads the Diocese of Albany and also is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, similarly welcomed the ruling and the view that worship is essential.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to protect one another from the threat that the coronavirus poses. At the same time, we welcome this decision that upholds the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. Food and drink for the soul are as essential as food and drink for the stomach,” he said in a statement.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Nov. 26 tweeted his congratulations to Bishop DiMarzio and the Brooklyn Diocese “on their victory for religious freedom in the U. S. Supreme Court. Our churches are essential.”

“While we have been and will continue to adhere to all safety protocols to protect our communities, it is also important to protect that fundamental constitutional right, religious liberty,” he added.

The Diocese of Brooklyn filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 12 for an injunction against the governor’s executive order limiting in-person congregations at houses of worship to 10 or 25 people but allowing “numerous secular businesses to operate without any capacity restrictions.”

The Brooklyn Diocese first went to federal District Court in October to seek emergency relief from Cuomo’s new restrictions, announced Oct. 6, on houses of worship in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in densely populated ZIP codes he identified as “hot zones.” He said the state was creating three zones — red, orange and yellow — each with different restrictions, including on the size of congregations.

Some Catholic parishes in the Brooklyn Diocese were in the red zone, meaning their churches were forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people inside at one time, and some were in the orange zone, where only 25 people at one time can attend Mass. A yellow zone designation meant a 50% capacity.

The Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York took their appeal to the Supreme Court Nov. 16, stressing they had complied with previous restrictions, but the newer limits would not allow them to conduct services for all of their members.

On Nov. 20, Cuomo urged the Supreme Court not to get involved in the state’s battle with two synagogues, saying that because of “continued progress in containing COVID-19 spread,” the restrictions no longer applied.

He also said his order was not focused on gatherings because they were religious but because they could potentially be “superspreader” events. He also stressed the order could even be seen as treating religious gatherings more favorably than plays and concerts which have similar risks.

The court’s unsigned opinion blocks the state from enforcing these limts on attendance while the Brooklyn Diocese and the synagogues continue their battle with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The case could potentially return to the Supreme Court for a final decision on its merits.

The justices in the majority said the governor’s order did not appear neutral and seemed to single out “houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Because of this, they said the order was subject to strict scrutiny, which it failed, because there was no evidence that synagogues and churches contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks and less restrictive rules could have been used.

In a separate opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch said: “It may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike,” referring to the lack of restrictions on businesses in the same areas as the churches and synagogues.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed his own opinion noting the court’s ruling was only a temporary fix until the 2nd Circuit can rule on it. The appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case in December.

He also said if the houses of worship challenging the restrictions do not return to red or orange zones, then the high court’s action “will impose no harm on the state and have no effect on the state’s response to COVID-19.”

A dissent filed by Sotomayor, joined by Kagan, said these cases were “easier” than challenges in the summer by churches in California and Nevada opposing church attendance size because, they said, the New York order treated houses of worship more favorably than comparable secular gatherings.

In the meantime, Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry in California are seeking intervention by the Supreme Court in a new challenge to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The church in its early Nov. 25 filing with the court argued Newsom’s limits on houses of worship are “draconian” and, like the Brooklyn Diocese and the synagogues, say they threaten religious liberty.

By Carol Zimmermann @
Photo by CNS photo/Will Dunham, Reuters

Seminarians serve others amid pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — A century ago, seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood helped bury Philadelphia’s dead in the global Spanish influenza pandemic.

This year, the young men of St. Charles are helping to keep hungry people alive during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Apostolic work in addition to classroom studies has long been a regular part of the seminarians’ formation in which they fan out two-by-two to schools, senior facilities and other settings to serve people in the community.

But because of the social restrictions of COVID-19, those opportunities for service are gone this year. In their place arose a partnership between the seminary’s apostolic formation program, led by Father George Szparagowski, and Caring for Friends, a private multiservice organization feeding hungry people throughout the area for 46 years.

Sixteen seminarians of St. Charles’ College Division traveled to Northeast Philadelphia Nov. 5 for a four-hour shift at Caring for Friends, assembling meals and boxing them for distribution to people in the five-county region of southeastern Pennsylvania.

The young men split into groups, with some assembling nutritionally balanced meals in single-serving trays in the spacious kitchen. Others worked an assembly line placing seven meals in a box, stacking the boxes on pallets in collaboration with the group Muslims Serve and some young men from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and storing the meals in walk-in freezers for later distribution to homebound seniors.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia’s center city, another group of about a half-dozen seminarians handed out food to homeless visitors at Hub of Hope, a shelter run by Project HOME out of Suburban Station.

Directly feeding the neediest in the community “is eye-opening and pretty awesome,” said Adam Johnson, a fourth-year college seminarian studying for the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

“In helping other people, we’re putting faith in action,” he told, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

His classmate Rob Bollinger, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and a Philadelphia seminarian, put his experience in a broader perspective.

“There’s something really beautiful about serving,” Bollinger said. “It feeds my daily life in the sense that it’s not something temporary (but) more meaningful because it’s not self-serving, but it’s serving others.”

All 24 men in the seminary’s College Division work every other week at Caring for Friends and food centers such as Hub of Hope “to grow in the virtue of charity,” said Father Szparagowski.

He praised the service partnership and said the seminarians enjoy their experience “because it builds up fraternity. We all work together (and) we look forward to it.”

“They see the purpose of their work — feeding people — especially people who come in to pick up food (at parishes). They didn’t realize how many people in Philadelphia need help. A lot of times it’s working-class people that just need food assistance, and that really surprised them. They love helping people, and they love the interaction,” he said.

Especially grateful to provide seminarians with a way to serve the community and to add to the ranks of volunteers he greatly needs is Vince Schiavone, CEO of Caring for Friends.

Formerly called Aid for Friends, it was begun by his mother, Rita, in her Northeast Philadelphia home. Her vision was to set aside some of the family’s dinner each night and bring it to lonely, homebound seniors and deliver them a home-cooked meal and companionship. That work continues under a new name and a greatly expanded mission.

Today, Caring for Friends’ threefold mission continues to include serving seniors. Individuals still provide single-serve meals in aluminum trays, and along with the meals prepared at Caring for Friends’ kitchen, they are frozen and distributed to seniors from its warehouse.

But the operation has ramped up significantly this year. Schiavone said before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his organization was supporting 2,000 seniors through meals and boxes of food delivered each month in the region. That number has swelled to 33,000 seniors currently.

Caring for Friends also is a food bank that, according to Schiavone, supports shelters, recovery houses and some 250 community food cupboards at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and all houses of worship.

It also supplies food to Muslims Serve, which serves at Hub of Hope, plus St. John’s Hospice, Bethesda Project, Ronald McDonald House and local politicians’ offices where people seek food assistance.

Schiavone said last January, “we were giving out about 100,000 pounds of food a month and during COVID it’s been over a million pounds of food a month.”

His organization also operates a “caring kitchen” where a great deal of food is prepared to be handed out wherever the needs for food exist. That includes making 850 sandwiches each week for one organization alone — the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul — and distributing snack bags made by schoolchildren and community groups throughout the region.

This is the mission of service in which the St. Charles seminarians are immersed.

“Seminarians are helping in a time of great need,” Schiavone said.

By Matthew Gambino | Catholic News Service

Editor’s note: Earlier this month Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced that college-seminarians and pre-theologians from the Diocese of Bridgeport will undertake their formation and studies at St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia beginning in January 2021.  (see the November issue of Fairfield County Catholic for the full story).

Use of COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While confusion has arisen in recent days in the media over “the moral permissibility” of using the COVID-19 vaccines just announced by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna, it is not “immoral to be vaccinated with them,” the chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine and pro-life committees said Nov. 23.

Bishop Kevin J. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, addressed the issue in a memo to their brother bishops.

A copy of the memo was obtained by Catholic News Service Nov. 24.

“Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development or production,” the two prelates said. “They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products.

“There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote,” they continued. “Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann cited three Vatican documents that “treat the question of tainted vaccines”: the 2005 study by the Pontifical Academy for Life, “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses”; paragraphs nos. 34-35 in the 2008 “Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions” (“Dignitatis Personae”) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and the 2017 “Note on Italian Vaccine Issue,” by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“These documents all point to the immorality of using tissue taken from an aborted child for creating cell lines,” they explained. “They also make distinctions in terms of the moral responsibility of the various actors involved, from those involved in designing and producing a vaccine to those receiving the vaccine.

“Most importantly,” they added, “they all make it clear that, at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health.”

In a Nov. 21 statement, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Mercy Sister Mary Haddad said CHA ethicists, “in collaboration with other Catholic bioethicists,” used the guidelines released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005 and 2017 on the origin of vaccines and “find nothing morally prohibitive with the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech (Pfizer’s German partner) and Moderna.”

She also said CHA “believes it is essential that any approved COVID-19 vaccine be distributed in a coordinated and equitable manner,” because COVID-19 “has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income communities, persons with preexisting health conditions, and racial and ethnic minorities.”

CHA encouraged Catholic health organizations “to distribute the vaccines developed by these companies.”

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann did not point to any specific media outlets claiming the moral unsuitability of the vaccines. However, after Pfizer and Moderna announced their vaccines, at least two Catholic bishops warned against using them, saying they are morally tainted.

On Nov. 11, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that results of a large ongoing study show its vaccine is 95% effective; the vaccine is already being manufactured and has been since October. Five days later, Moderna said preliminary data from its phase three trial shows its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Pfizer and Moderna are applying to the U.S. Food and Drug administration for emergency approval of the vaccines, which would quickly pave the way for distribution of the vaccines. The FDA is to meet Dec. 10.

On Nov. 16, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted the Moderna vaccine “is not morally produced. Unborn children died in abortions and their bodies were used as ‘laboratory specimens.’ I urge all who believe in the sanctity of life to reject a vaccine which has been produced immorally.”

In a Nov. 18 video posted on his diocesan website and subsequent interviews with local media, Bishop Joseph V. Brennan of Fresno, California, weighed in on the vaccines, saying: “We all want health for ourselves and for others. We want to promote that also … but never at the expense of the life of another.”

In May, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, the moniker of its initiative to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Americans as quickly as possible. The program has funded the manufacturing of six promising vaccine candidates, two of which are the ones announced by Moderna and Pfizer.

As soon as the FDA approves their vaccines for distribution, Operation Warp Speed hopes to distribute 300 million doses around the country by January. Because Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines involve two shots per person, this would be enough to immunize 150 million Americans.

Other COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon include one being developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University.

Like Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann, John Brehany, director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, said a recent interview on the “Current News” show on NET TV, the cable channel of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were not themselves produced using cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue.

He expressed “great respect for Bishop Strickland,” calling him “a bold courageous witness to the faith,” who is saying “some true things about issues that go back decades in pharmaceutical research and development,” in the production of vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and other diseases.

But in the case of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Brehany emphasized, any connection to aborted fetus cell lines is extremely remote.

For Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist in Chicago and a member of the Catholic Medical Association, this indirect use raises an ethical issue for Catholics.

“The fetal cell lines were not directly used in the Moderna vaccine, but they were indirectly used several steps away from the actual development of the vaccine,” he told “Currents News” in a separate interview.

Any such cell lines were derived from tissue samples taken from fetuses aborted in the 1960s and 1970s and have been grown in laboratories all over the world since then.

In its 2005 study, the Pontifical Academy for Life said Catholics have a responsibility to push for the creation of morally just, alternative vaccines, but it also said they should not sacrifice the common good of public health because there is no substitute.

“Catholics can have confidence if there is a great need and there are no alternatives, they are not forbidden from using these new vaccines,” Brehany told “Current News,” but he added: “There is much the church calls us to do in seeking out alternatives and advocating for alternatives.”

Catholics “need to provide the urgency and advocacy” to get pharmaceutical companies to understand there are alternatives to using fetal cell lines to develop vaccines, “so they can see the need for this,” he added, echoing the Pontifical Academy for Life.

A case in point is the decision by Sanofi Pasteur to no longer use an aborted fetal cell line in producing its polio vaccines, a move recently approved by the FDA.

Sanofi is one of the companies currently developing a COVID-19 vaccine by utilizing “cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods.” Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute are other such companies.

By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service

An Advent poster for 2020

BRIDGEPORT—Each year, The Leadership Institute creates a poster for Advent, Lent, and Summer.

This year’s Advent poster includes “27 Ways to Prepare for Christmas.” Perhaps, in these interesting times, these tips and resources are even more important.

The poster reads: “Preparing for the coming of the Christ child during a global pandemic brings its own set of challenges. Many families will not be able to gather as usual, and many of those who usually serve others in shelters and on the streets might not be able to do so. That means our own preparation must look different this year too. Here are twenty-seven ways your family can prepare for the Incarnation.”

The colorful poster is a great resource for families and parishes, and all those who wish to immerse themselves in this holy season in preparation for the joy of Christmas.

In addition to the popular Advent poster, The Leadership Institute has also compiled a list of the best Advent resources available, just in time to help you and your families celebrate Advent well. They are even categorized for an easy search.

Click here to download a PDF of this year’s Advent poster.

Click here for a plethora of other Advent resources.

Pope, in new book, talks about personal ‘lockdowns’

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.

This article originally appeared in Catholic News Service.

Dream big, pope tells young people

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Young people today should not waste their lives dreaming of obtaining trivial things that provide only a fleeting moment of joy but aspire to the greatness God wants for them, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass on the feast of Christ the King Nov. 22, the pope told young people that God “does not want us to narrow our horizons or to remain parked on the roadside of life,” but instead he “wants us to race boldly and joyfully toward lofty goals.”

“We were not created to dream about vacations or the weekend, but to make God’s dreams come true in this world,” he said. “God made us capable of dreaming, so that we could embrace the beauty of life.”

At the end of the Mass, young people from Panama, the host country of World Youth Day 2019, handed over the World Youth Day cross to young people from Lisbon, Portugal, where the next international gathering is expected to take place in August 2023.

The handoff originally was scheduled for April 5, Palm Sunday, but was postponed because of the lockdowns and travel bans in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples that the good done to the least ones are done to him.

Pope Francis said that works of mercy such as feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger and visiting the sick or imprisoned are Jesus’ “‘gift list’ for the eternal wedding feast he will share with us in heaven.”

This reminder, he said, is especially for young people as “you strive to realize your dreams in life.”

This article originally appeared in Catholic News Service.