1. China: Open to Vatican talks but Catholics must be patriots, By Louise Watt, The Associated Press, December 28, 2016, 12:05 AM.

China’s head of religious affairs said that Beijing is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed that Catholics should “hold up high the flag of patriotism” and adapt Catholicism to Chinese society.

Beijing insists that the party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association has the authority to appoint Chinese bishops, a right that the Holy See says belongs to the pope alone. This dispute over bishop nominations is the most vexing stumbling block preventing the re-establishment of diplomatic relations.

[The Chinese director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs] Wang said the Chinese government hoped that the Vatican can adopt a flexible and pragmatic attitude, and take concrete actions to create favorable conditions for improving relations, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. No details were given of what actions Beijing expects.

The ruling Communist Party has long feared that opposition to its rule could be spread by religious and other civic groups outside its control. In May last year, President Xi Jinping called for religions to adapt to Chinese society, which he termed the “sinicization of religion.”

On Tuesday, Wang stressed the importance of patriotism within religion and “pushing ahead with the sinicization of Catholicism.”

Pope Francis said earlier this year that Beijing and the Vatican have resumed working groups on the naming of bishops issue and that he is “optimistic” for an agreement, but that it will take time.

Just last week, the Vatican said it was saddened that the ordination of two new Chinese bishops was marred by the presence of a bishop ordained without the pope’s consent.


2. Houses of Worship Poised to Serve as Trump-Era Immigrant Sanctuaries, Laurie Goodstein, December 28, 2016, Pg. A10.

This downtown church is one of 450 houses of worship in the United States that have offered to provide sanctuary or other assistance to undocumented immigrants, according to leaders of the Sanctuary Movement. (Few congregations have the space and fortitude to risk harboring immigrants indefinitely, so others are lining up to contribute money, legal aid, food, child care or transportation.) The congregations joining this network have more than doubled since the election of Donald J. Trump — a rapid rebuttal to Mr. Trump’s postelection promise to deport two million to three million unauthorized immigrants who he said have been convicted of crimes.

Protecting immigrants is shaping up to be a priority of the religious left, an amorphous collection of people and groups reflecting many faiths and ethnicities.

The sanctuary movement in the United States is not new. American churches offered sanctuary to soldiers who refused to serve in the Vietnam War. And in the 1980s, congregations opened their doors to Central Americans fleeing wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The movement was revived in 2006 and grew during President Obama’s two terms, said the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. At least 2.5 million people were deported during Mr. Obama’s time in office, earning him the nickname “deporter in chief.”

One big change from the 1980s, Pastor Salvatierra said, is that now, thousands of Latino churches and their clergies are also involved in protecting immigrants — frequently their own members and often quietly. In the ’80s, mostly white, Protestant churches led the way.

“We’re in a different universe now. We don’t need the white people to rescue us, thank you very much. We need to be in partnership,” she said in an interview, before heading off to train sanctuary workers at a multiethnic church in downtown Los Angeles.

But some see sanctuary as misguided, or naïve. Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter controls on immigration, said she understood that churches had sympathy for people facing deportation. “But I find myself wishing that they had as much sympathy for other parishioners they have who are adversely affected by illegal immigration” because of jobs, higher taxes or crime.


3. In circus-like atmosphere, Pope delivers an ode to hope, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, December 28, 2016.

It seems clear that at the close of a tumultuous year full of surprises, not all of them pleasant either in the wider world or inside the Catholic Church, what’s on Pope Francis’s mind right now is the virtue of hope, as the pontiff delivered an ode to “hope against every hope” on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Francis delivered what amounted to an ode to hope, basing it on the biblical story of God’s promise to Abraham that he would indeed have a son despite his advanced age and the sterility of his wife Sarah.

“Abraham believed, his faith opened up hope in something that appeared irrational,” the pope said. “Hope is the capacity to go beyond human reason, beyond the wisdom and prudence of the world, beyond what’s normally considered good sense in order to believe in the impossible.”

“We need to learn from that,” Francis said. “It’s okay to complain to God. It’s actually a form of prayer … I say that to people in the confessional, go ahead, complain, God is a father, he’ll understand.”

The story of Abraham, Francis said, is a reminder that hope is not a magic wand, something that places one beyond any form of “doubt and perplexity.”

Hope, the pontiff said, also means “not being afraid to see reality for what it is, accepting its contradictions.

“Sometimes hope takes us into darkness,” Francis said, “but even so, it’s there.”


4. A “Merciless Assault on Human Dignity”, By George Weigel, First Things, December 28, 2016.

The archbishop of Toronto is given to deprecating himself as “just a simple country cardinal.” In my experience, though, Cardinal Thomas Collins is one of the premier leaders of the Catholic Church today.

In Ontario today, doctors who decline to euthanize their patients are required to provide what is termed, in the Orwellian vocabulary of the culture of death, an “effective referral”: They are obliged, on pain of losing their license to practice, to send a troubled patient to a doctor of lighter conscience who will kill that patient. Cardinal Collins is fighting this abomination, as he is fighting at the federal level to make palliative care, currently available to only 30 percent of Canadians in end-of-life situations, universally available. (The Canadian government pays lip service to extending palliative care, but in a single-payer system like Canada’s, euthanasia is the cheaper option—which ought to give pause to the proponents of single-payer health care below the 49th parallel.)

Some bears of little brain would likely dismiss Cardinal Collins’s efforts to resist the further encroachments of the culture of death as examples of the kind of “culture warrior” activity Pope Francis allegedly frowns upon among bishops. That’s nonsense on stilts, as Thomas Collins made eloquently clear in addressing the 37th Annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto:

“As we conclude the Year of Mercy, we look to the parable of the Good Samaritan … [and] we recall the constant urging of Pope Francis that we notice and care for those who are on the edges of life, who are cast aside, and whose plight is often treated with indifference. The Holy Father has spoken of the ‘globalization of indifference.’ We need to be like the Good Samaritan who cared and took action to help the wounded man, and not be like those who were indifferent to his suffering and walked by on the other side.

It is essential that … we show the mercy of the Good Samaritan not only to the homeless, to the sick, to those suffering or in prison, to any victims of violence, and to refugees, but especially to those who are dying. We do that through true palliative care, by using the best medical expertise available to control pain, and by surrounding the one who is dying with the love that we all hope to sustain us as we come to that crucial moment which we Catholics mention in our most frequent prayer, ‘the hour of our death.’

That is the authentic voice of the shepherd who is always “in mission.” It issues from a man of God whose service to the Church might not end on the shores of Lake Ontario.