Pope Francis receives a gift from children at the shrine devoted to Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, Cuba, Sept. 21.
Tony Gentile/Reuters, cns
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro talks with Pope Francis as Castro's wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, looks on in Havana Sept. 20.
Alex Castro/AIN via Reuters, cns
A man holds a child as Pope Francis meets with families in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago, Cuba, Sept. 22..
Pope Francis walks on Cross Hill after giving a blessing from the site overlooking Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21.
Ernesto Mastrascusa/pool, cns
Pope calls for 'revolution of tenderness' in Cuba
SANTIAGO, Cuba — Pope Francis called Cubans to a "revolution of tenderness" as he celebrated Mass in the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the country's patroness. While only about 60 percent of Cubans are baptized Catholics, the little statue of Our Lady of Charity, discovered 400 years ago, is also a widely recognized symbol of Cuban identity and of strength despite struggle.
Pope Francis ended his Sept. 19-22 trip to Cuba by blessing the city of Santiago de Cuba and telling Cubans to treat family as an "opportunity" rather than a problem. Families are "an opportunity that we must protect and care for," he said at a meeting with Cuban families at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. "Without family, without the warmth of home, life becomes empty." Pope Francis, who began his remarks by wishing a happy 36th birthday to a Cuban man who read a message welcoming him to Santiago, said he felt like he was with family on his three-city tour of the Caribbean country. "This meeting with you is like the icing on the cake," he told the crowd. "Ending my visit with this meeting among family is reason to give thanks to God for the warmth of the people who know how to welcome someone, who know how to embrace someone, who know how to make someone feel like they are at home. Thank you to all Cubans." Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago opened the meeting by telling Pope Francis that "family is the institution that Cubans value most. And that's precisely why it's the most concerning because there are so many factors that threaten its unity, its well-being."
Threats to liberty
WASHINGTON — Threats to religious liberty, both foreign and domestic, were the subject of a Sept. 18 summit at The Catholic University of America, Washington. "The consistent narrowing of freedom of religion is appalling," said Daniel Ian Mark, a member of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. He added, "Religious freedom has become a partisan issue in the United States. It shouldn't be. ... We want to have a bipartisan consensus like the one that created the commission."
School enrollment gain
OMAHA, Neb. — A nearly 2 percent increase in enrollment at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha has ended a 17-year slide. The 19,277 students in the archdiocese's 70 elementary and high schools this year compares with 18,911 last year, a gain of 366 students, or 1.94 percent, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools. That marks the first gain since 1998. The archdiocese's deliberate steps over the last three years to market and strengthen Catholic schools appear to be factors, and could make this year's gains significant, and a base on which to build future enrollment gains, Slattery said.
Cincinnati ends fees
CINCINNATI — The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is one of the latest U.S. dioceses to heed the call of Pope Francis, announcing that annulment fees would be eliminated effective Sept. 14. More than once in his pontificate Pope Francis has expressed a desire for the annulment procedure — the church process for determining the validity of a marriage — to be cheaper and more efficient.
St. Augustine's faith
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — From dignitaries in horse-drawn carriages to everyday Catholics sharing the sign of peace on the basilica grounds under a Jumbotron, the celebration of four and a half centuries offered something for everyone. Even a lesson on how Archie Bunker could be viewed as a theologian. The St. Augustine diocese, along with its namesake city, celebrated 450 years of faith and community Sept. 8, with festivities that began where it all started — the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios.
'Express purpose' of killing
LOS ANGELES — California's newly passed measure to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill "is no way for our government to make policy on a life and death issue that will affect millions of individuals and families," said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez. "I am deeply disturbed by the California Legislature's decision to allow doctors to help their patients kill themselves," he said.
Suicide bill defeated
MANCHESTER, England — An English Catholic archbishop has welcomed the overwhelming defeat of a bill to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales. The Assisted Dying Bill was rejected, 330-118, after a debate Sept. 11 in the House of Commons, London. Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark said afterward that he welcomed "Parliament's recognition of the grave risks that this bill posed to the lives of our society's most vulnerable people."
Church beatifies teacher
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South African Benedict Daswa, who was bludgeoned to death 25 years ago for resisting witchcraft, now has the title of blessed. The schoolteacher was beatified Sept. 13 in ceremonies that drew about 30,000 people to the remote northern South Africa village of Tshitanini, near his home in Limpopo province.
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine church leaders have warned the faithful against making money out of reported "miracles" and "apparitions" of Mary. Father Melvin Castro, director general of the Confraternity of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace, noted that stories of weeping images of the Jesus' mother had surfaced in the media.
— Catholic News Service
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