|January 6, 2014 • VOL. 52, NO. 1 • Oakland, CA|
| New pope emphasizes call to help the poor
A new pope with a universal call to help the poor marked a tumultuous 2013.
In the U.S., fallout from the partial government shutdown in October and another looming round of automatic spending cuts in January kept congressional leaders busy at year's end to finalize a budget deal Republicans and Democrats could live with.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, was a major topic of discussion throughout 2013, when some of its provisions began to take effect, while the prospects for passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the 113th session of Congress dim.
Globally, it seemed like 2013 spawned a near-continuous spate of disasters and calamities in the United States and around the world.
Less than a year into his pontificate, Pope Francis has become a phenomenon far beyond the Catholic Church.
As Time magazine observed in naming him Person of the Year, Pope Francis has captured the imagination of "young and old, faithful and cynical," by placing himself at the center of important conversations of the times: "about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power."
By changing not the doctrine of the church but the tone and focus given to everyday issues, Pope Francis has become a part of admiring dinner table and happy hour conversations among people who previously may have given little thought to anything a pope did.
For the first time. Catholics are being encouraged in many dioceses to weigh in on the synod topic — the family — in a survey that asks about divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, same-sex unions and contraception.
A slew of natural disasters was felt worldwide.
In August, flooding killed eight and left 300,000 homeless around Manila, the Philippine capital. In September, Typhoon Usagi, a Category 5 storm. A month later an earthquake shook one region of the country, killing dozens. In November, Super Typhoon Haiyan, another Category 5 storm, ravaged a wide swath of the Philippines south of Manila, leaving 5,959 dead, nearly 1,800 missing and more than 27,000 injured, according to figures compiled a month after the storm.
Cyclone Phailin left nearly 9 million people affected along the east coast of India.
Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel crashed into Mexico at the same time, Ingrid on the Gulf Coast and Manuel the Pacific Coast, in late September, dumping up to 2 feet of rain. Floods and mudslides in several states claimed more than 100 lives and left thousands homeless.
Floods also swept over Europe, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, known for its healing waters, that was underwater for two days in June — for the second time in eight months.
Aid to poor
Through a tumultuous 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic advocates, including Catholic Charities USA, continued to press for a budget that does not adversely affect poor people.
It's a message that Catholic leaders have consistently delivered in recent years under the banner of a "circle of protection" as concerns over growing federal debt led to proposals that discretionary spending on nonmilitary programs be cut in the face of the country's growing debt.
The federal government's trouble-plagued website frustrated the general public and the Affordable Care Act's final rules for implementing its contraceptive mandate applying to most religious and other employers did not satisfy the U.S. Catholic bishops, who repeatedly criticized the mandate and its narrow religious exemption, saying it erodes religious liberty rights.
The bishops, who have long advocated for health care reform, were against final passage of the health care measure because of its use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and its failure to protect conscience rights for workers in the health care industry and for employers who have moral objections to the law's requirement that most religious and other employers provide free health coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients for their workers.
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