1. Pope ends youth event with Mass for 700,000.

By Reuters, The Washington Post, January 28, 2019, Pg. A10

Pope Francis said an open-air Mass before a huge crowd Sunday to wrap up a jamboree of Catholic youths, the last big event before he returns to Rome to prepare for a historic trip to the Arabian Peninsula next week. 

Organizers said about 700,000 people in Panama City attended the closing Mass of World Youth Day, which takes place in a different city every three years. The next jamboree, which has been dubbed the “Catholic Woodstock,” will be in Lisbon in 2022. 

Many of the young people in the crowd spent the night on the fields of a park named after Pope John Paul II, who was the last pontiff to visit Panama, in 1983. 

In his closing homily, Francis urged the young people to work against “fear and exclusion, speculation and manipulation.” 

After a week at the Vatican, Francis leaves next Sunday for a three-day trip to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where he will become the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula and say the first Mass in a public venue there. There are about 1 million Roman Catholics in the UAE, all of them expatriate workers. 


2. Deadly Bombings Rock Philippine Cathedral.

By Jake Maxwell Watts, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2019, Pg. A7

Twin explosions at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines killed at least 20 people in a bloody demonstration of remaining extremist threats in a Muslim-majority region where voters last week overwhelmingly backed self-rule and ratified a peace deal between the government and mainstream separatists.

The first bomb blasted wooden pews to splinters and killed worshipers attending an early morning Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the city of Jolo, in Sulu province on Sunday. A second bomb outside the cathedral ripped through the fleeing congregants and killed first responders working at the scene, security forces said.

Islamic State claimed responsibility through its Amaq News Agency, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups online. Philippine officials said the attack bore the hallmarks of Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic State ally that rejects the peace deal. 

The cathedral is one of the most prominent symbols in the region of Roman Catholicism, the dominant religion in the country of 100 million people. But it is a minority faith in the region of four million mostly Muslim citizens who voted last week. It has been attacked several times over the years.

The deaths as of late Sunday included at least 14 civilians and six security personnel, with dozens more injured.


3. U.A.E. Slowly Loosens Constraints on Religious Freedom.

By Asa Fitch, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2019, Pg. A7

But restrictions on places of worship have gradually loosened in the United Arab Emirates. The government has designated 2019 the “year of tolerance” to reinforce the idea that, in a region torn by conflict, people of diverse cultures and religions can find common ground.

The U.A.E. will display its more accommodating stance in February when it hosts Pope Francis for the first visit by a sitting pope to the Arabian Peninsula. The pope’s itinerary includes engaging in an interfaith dialogue and celebrating Mass at a sports complex with a capacity of around 120,000.

But religious freedoms here have limits. The U.A.E.’s constitution guarantees freedom of worship as long as it doesn’t clash with public policy or morals, according to the U.S. State Department in its religious freedom report for 2017. The country’s laws also prohibit blasphemy and non-Muslim proselytizing.

The U.A.E. shows little tolerance for political Islam, too, and authorities provide guidance for the content of sermons in mosques, the State Department said.


4. Philippines shows folly of ‘Casablanca defense’ on anti-Christian violence.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, January 28, 2019

A bombing on Sunday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, the capital of Sulu Province in the southern Philippines, left 20 people dead and 81 wounded. One of the IEDs exploded inside the church as Mass was going on, while another went off in the parking lot outside where most churchgoers had fled after the first blast.

The one thing absolutely no one should be, however, is surprised.

Globally speaking, Christians are by far the most persecuted religious group on the planet. Though counts vary widely, the high-end estimate for the number of new Christian martyrs every year is around 100,000, while the low end is roughly 7,000-8,000 – which works out to a range of one casualty every five minutes to one every hour.

There’s no more common day for the perpetrators of anti-Christian violence to strike than on Sundays, when churchgoers gather to worship.

Sunday’s attack was actually the tenth such assault on the cathedral in Jolo, or in its vicinity, since 2000, all carried out by Abu Sayaf or like-minded militants. Abu Sayaf was also responsible for the December 25, 2010, bombing of Sacred Heart Chapel in Jolo, which injured 11 persons.

The Filipino government is obviously aware of the threat posed in Mindanao by armed groups such as Abu Sayaf. The bottom line is that neither Manila’s Malacañang Palace, the seat of the Filipino government, nor the international community ought to be blindsided by what happened on Sunday, and they might well be asking about their own inability (or unwillingness) to provide adequate protection for groups obviously likely to be the targets of such violence.

For anyone who’s been paying attention to the reality of anti-Christian violence, therefore, Sunday’s death toll in Jolo may elicit a variety of emotions, from disgust to anguish and beyond. Surprise, however, definitely would not be in the mix.


5. American challenges Pope Francis on sex abuse scandal. 

By The Associated Press, The Washington Post, January 27, 2019, Pg. A16

An American youth minister challenged Pope Francis on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal Saturday at the World Youth Day rally in Panama. Francis was having lunch with 10 young pilgrims from around the world when Brenda Noriega, a Mexican-born youth minister from San Bernardino, Calif., said she told Francis that the sex abuse scandal in the United States was a “crisis right now we cannot avoid talking about.” She said Francis called abuse a “horrible crime” and assured her that the church was committed to supporting victims. It was the first time the abuse scandal has come up publicly during the pope’s four-day visit to Panama.


6. Pope seeks peace in Venezuela crisis but doesn’t pick sides.

By Nicole Winfield and Juan Zamorano, The Associated Press, January 27, 2019, 2:04 PM

Pope Francis called Sunday for a “just and peaceful solution” to Venezuela’s political crisis as he wrapped up a visit to Panama for a World Youth Day rally that was overshadowed by the upheaval unfolding nearby.

Francis refused again to say if the Holy See would recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido in his claim for the presidency, which has been backed by the United States and other regional leaders. The Vatican years ago was frustrated in its attempt to mediate between socialist President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition, which has the backing of many Venezuelan bishops.

Speaking off-the-cuff at his Sunday blessing, Francis said he felt particularly close to Venezuelans while he was in Panama. He “asked the Lord to seek and find a just and peaceful solution to overcome the crisis that respects human rights and exclusively seeks the good of all people.”


7. As World Youth Day closes, pope prompts volunteers to keep serving.

By Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service, January 27, 2019, 8:59

Just before leaving the physical and human warmth of Panama Jan. 27, Pope Francis stopped to thank the thousands of official volunteers, young and old, gathered at the capital city’s Rommel Fernandez Stadium to tell them that they had just participated in an event similar to one that took place early in Christianity.  

In their case, they didn’t just multiply food, he said.

“You could have easily chosen to do other things, but you wanted to be involved, to give your best to making possible the miracle of the multiplication, not only of loaves, but also hope,” he said, telling the volunteers to go out into the world and make that attitude contagious. “We need to multiply that hope.”

Volunteers at Panama’s World Youth Day showed it was possible to renounce one’s interests in favor of others, the pope said.


8. Focusing on adoption and foster care in the pro-life movement. 

By Kathryn Jean Lopez, Crux, January 27, 2019

Also there – in part screening the upcoming movie Unplanned – was Lisa Wheeler and some of her team at Carmel Communications. But the most important thing to know about Wheeler is not her work in public, but that she is a foster and adoptive mother: She and her husband have had 15 children in their home over the years, two of them they’ve adopted, three more are going through the process.

The focus on adoption and foster parenting is becoming a larger part of pro-life movement and an area where there are several opportunities for common cause with people who consider themselves pro-choice. Wheeler spoke to Kathryn Jean Lopez about foster care and adoption in the pro-life movement.

What is the greatest joy of being a foster parent? 

The greatest joy of being a foster parent is the capacity that God gives us to love despite the often great losses we experience.  There’s a great scene from “The Grinch” when it describes how the Grinch’s “small heart grew three times that day.” I often think that my heart has grown bigger with each child we have welcomed into our family for years, months, or even just a day.


9. Cubans inaugurate first new Catholic church in decades.

By Andrea Rodriguez, The Associate Press, January 26, 2019, 5:45 PM

The first new Roman Catholic church to be completed in Cuba since the country’s 1959 socialist revolution was inaugurated with the aid of a Florida congregation Saturday, in a ceremony that observers called a hopeful sign amid international tensions.

The Parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the western town of Sandino is one of three Catholic churches authorized by Cuba as part of a warming between the Vatican and the island’s Communist government.

It is the first to be finished, thanks in large part to financial aid from the members of St. Lawrence Church in Tampa, Florida. Tensions between Cuba and the U.S. have risen in recent weeks as the Trump administration has threatened new sanctions on Cuba and its ally Venezuela.

“This is a bridge between Tampa and Cuba,” said Rev. Ramon Hernandez, a Cuban-born priest who lives in Tampa and returned for the ceremony.

The Cuban state and Catholic church clashed in the first decades after the revolution, when many priests worked against the new Communist-ruled state and were expelled by the government, which also took over many churches.


10. Kentucky bishop apologizes for reaction to viral encounter.

By The Associated Press, January 25, 2019

A northern Kentucky bishop has apologized for his diocese’s reaction to a videotaped encounter last week at the Lincoln Memorial between a group of high school students and Native American marchers.

An initial joint statement from the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School on Saturday had condemned the students for their actions. A statement released Tuesday said the diocese would initiate a third-party investigation of the incident.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports the Most Rev. Roger Foys released a statement Friday apologizing to Covington families and to anyone offended by either statement. Foys says the diocese was “bullied” and reacted “prematurely.”

The students were widely criticized after an online video appeared to show them mocking a Native American activist. Subsequent videos showed a more complicated three-way confrontation involving a black religious sect as well.


11. Jesuit school, others settle Haiti sex abuse case for $60M.

By Dave Collins, The Associated Press, January 25, 2019

More than 130 people who say they were sexually abused as children at a now-defunct charity school in Haiti would receive $60 million in a legal settlement with a Connecticut Jesuit school and other religious organizations, lawyers and school officials announced Friday.

The class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Hartford involved poor and often homeless boys who attended the Project Pierre Toussaint School in Cap-Haitien over a period of more than a decade beginning in the late 1990s. A founder of the school, Fairfield University graduate Douglas Perlitz, is serving a nearly 20-year prison sentence for sexually abusing boys there.

The defendants include Fairfield University, the Society of Jesus of New England, the Order of Malta and Haiti Fund Inc., which financially supported the Haiti school. The lawsuit alleged they were negligent in supervising Perlitz and failed to prevent the abuse.


12. Covington bishop to students: Sorry we immediately, unthinkingly threw you under the bus.

By Becket Adams, Washington Examiner Online, January 25, 2019, 9:48 PM, Opinion

Bishop Roger Joseph Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky., has apologized for joining the effort to destroy a group of Covington Catholic high school students. The students were turned into a viral sensation on social media last weekend, falsely accused of taunting and abusing a Native American protester near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The story turned out to be false – in fact, it was they who were being harassed and abused, as subsequent video helped make clear.

Though the bishop’s letter carries a few apologies, it carries more excuses – namely that his office rushed to publicly disown the youth of his flock because peer pressure is scary.

“[W]e were being pressured from all sides to make a statement,” the bishop’s letter said. “We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it.”

At least the bishop did apologize, but it’s really too little too late.

At a time when the Catholic hierarchy’s prestige has hit a modern low point, a leader of the Church cared more about the world’s opinion than about doing right by the young people in his flock. It’s not a slight shortcoming.


13. Christians in the Cultural Crosshairs, Targets Include Kentucky High-School Boys, Karen Pence.

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, January 25, 2019

It was a rough week for religious believers caught in the crosshairs of the amped-up culture wars of the digital age.

On Jan. 18, Catholic high-school boys were condemned as racists in national news after an online video suggested they had disrespected a Native-American elder during a trip to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. And Lady Gaga, the pop megastar, interrupted a Jan. 19 set in Las Vegas to denounce Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, for teaching art at Immanuel Christian School, a private institution that upholds biblical norms on marriage and sexual ethics.

During the same week, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also accused Sen. Ben Sasse, R- Neb., a committed Christian, of “embrac[ing] the alt-right position.” Sasse had sponsored a resolution that barred religious tests for judicial nominees, after Hirono and other senators had repeatedly questioned jurists about their membership in the Knights of Columbus.

These recent flashpoints are discrete news stories and require a range of responses from faith communities.

But legal and religious commentators and experts also see a disturbing pattern of attacks, fueled by explosive uncritical headlines that effectively stigmatize Catholics and Christians as moral outliers.

 “The first principle must be ‘Do no harm,’” said First Things’ Reno, who criticized Church leaders’ handling of the controversy. “This means Catholic leaders must not allow themselves to be strong-armed into passing judgment.”

“The second and more important principle is protect and defend those whom you mentor, guide and lead,” he said. “That means presuming their innocence and good intentions, not their guilt and racist motives.”


14. Let’s Celebrate Good Men.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Townhall, January 25, 2019, 12:01 AM

In the past several weeks Americans have faced a seemingly endless government shut down, polar temperatures across much of the country and a full-blown attack on manhood. While each is disconcerting, the assault on manhood is by far the most dangerous. 

It was, of course only a matter of time before all men would be likened to the brutes whose harassment and abuse triggered the #metoo movement. Before we get even more carried away with ourselves, it is worth noting that most men are not toxic. Far from it.  

Father Chris, a Roman Catholic parish priest, celebrates baptisms with new parents and consoles grieving friends and relatives at burials.  With compassion and concern he helps his flock pick up the pieces of themselves after loss, tragedy, or just the everyday strains of life.  Life for a Catholic priest is not easy these days, but Father Chris — like many of his brother priests — is “at his best,” faithfully and tirelessly living out his religious calling to serve God and others.       

There are more. So many more. Sons, fathers, husbands, friends, colleagues. They are everywhere – still – in a hopelessly confused culture that sends mixed messages on what it takes for a boy to become a man.  For every toxic man there are countless others whose lives are ordinary and yet heroic examples of traditional manhood. You know them. I know them. And their masculinity is anything but toxic.      

These men deserve our thanks, not our lecturing.