Protesters carry letters to form the word “Democracy” while taking part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas Jan. 23, 2019. The Venezuelan bishops’ conference labeled fresh calls for anti-government street protests as “a sign of hope” in the country, which continues to suffer through a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. (CNS photo)

Venezuelan bishops say fresh calls for protest are a ‘sign of hope’
CARACAS, Venezuela (CNS) — The Venezuelan bishops’ conference labeled fresh calls for anti-government street protests as “a sign of hope” in the country, which continues to suffer through a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.
“Something new is starting in our country: necessary changes towards the integral human development of everyone, while always respecting democracy and the national constitution,” the bishops wrote in a statement released Jan. 22.
The country’s opposition has called for mass demonstrations Jan 23 against newly sworn in incumbent President Nicolas Maduro. The opposition-controlled legislature and around 60 countries have promised not to recognize Maduro in his new term, which began on Jan. 10. Opponents called Maduro’s May 2018 re-election a sham.
“The church sees tomorrow as the beginning of hope for change,” Auxiliary Bishop Jose “Trino” Fernandez Angulo of Caracas told Catholic News Service Jan. 22, ahead of the protests. “A change is necessary here given the crisis, which is seen in hospitals and with families that don’t have enough foods or medicines, and in every corner of the country.”
Since Maduro’s inauguration, the country’s opposition has organized dozens of outdoor, town-hall style meetings in communities around the country as a way of encouraging participation in the demonstrations and listening to citizens’ problems. The success of the meetings appears to have united the opposition, which had remained disorganized and fractured after Maduro successfully sidelined the legislature in 2017.
In the statement, the bishops said the meetings have “allowed citizens to express themselves openly.”
“The population has showed its generalized discontent, considering the new term illegitimate,” it read.
During the meetings, many have urged the legislature’s new president, Juan Guaido, to symbolically assume the country’s presidency, referencing an article in the constitution that stipulates the legislature’s president shall assume the presidency should the post be left “vacant.” As he begins to talk, many shout “Presidente!”
On Jan. 11, Guaido announced he was “willing” to assume the presidency should he receive the backing of the people and the armed forces.

Next World Youth Day to be held in Portugal
PANAMA CITY (CNS) — Lisbon, Portugal, will open its doors to the world’s young people in 2022 for the next World Youth Day.
The announcement of Portugal was made by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, at the final Mass of World Youth Day Jan. 27. World Youth Day officials confirmed the year and city.
Upon hearing the location of the next celebration, Portuguese erupted in cheers, waving their country’s flag and chanting “We are the pope’s youth!”
Pope Francis then greeted Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who attended the Mass.
In the early morning hours, pilgrims were awakened by sounds of upbeat music as the hot Panamanian sun rose. Despite the heat, the pilgrims danced and sang along, awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival.
In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged young Catholics to be engaged in the world today to ensure a better tomorrow.
“You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you,” he said.
The pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke in which Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming in the synagogue that “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Proclaiming the Good News of God’s promise to free captives and the oppressed was an important moment in Jesus’ life, the pope said.
Nevertheless, he continued, many of those in the synagogue were incredulous and not prepared “to believe in someone they knew and had seen grow up.”

Pope says he is against making priestly celibacy optional in the Latin rite
Aboard the papal plane, Jan 28, (CNA) – Pope Francis said Monday he is opposed to the idea of optional priestly celibacy in the Latin rite, and he would consider it only for very remote places if a serious need existed.
“Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church,” the pope said Jan. 28. “I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no.”
Speaking aboard the papal plane from Panama to Rome, Pope Francis said he does think there is room to consider an exceptions for married clergy in the Latin rite in “very far places” “when there is a pastoral necessity” due to a lack of priests, such as in the Pacific islands.
However, he said that he has not thought or prayed sufficiently about the issue to come to a decision on it, and that he would not want to put himself “before God with this decision,” even if it suggests he is “narrow-minded.”
His comments were made ahead of a synod on the pan-Amazon region to be held in October, at which priestly celibacy is expected to be discussed as it pertains to the remote Amazon basin where there is often a shortage of priests.
Responding to a comment about the long tradition of married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches, or in the case-by-case exceptions made for married Anglican ministers who convert to Catholicism, he said he was reminded of Pope St. Paul VI’s comment: “I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy.”

Priest who was former national Renew leader and beloved pastor dies
TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) — Msgr. Robert D. Fuller, an Arizona priest who was a national leader of the Renew movement in the early 1980s and a beloved pastor in the Tucson diocese, died Jan. 23. He was 88.
“We are privileged from time to time to meet a living giant,” said retired Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who worked with Msgr. Fuller for most of the last two decades. “I experienced that when I met Msgr. Fuller. He was an outstanding priest, a great preacher and a person of deep faith. He now enjoys the fulfillment of what he preached.”
Born Sept. 8, 1930, in Iowa, he attended parochial elementary schools in Keokuk and Marshalltown, Iowa, before moving to Tucson with his family. He went on to St. John Seminary in Camarillo, California.
He was ordained a priest for the Tucson Diocese April 25, 1956. Among his assignments was serving in the diocesan tribunal (1957-62), then as director of the Bureau of Information, which later became the diocesan Communications Office. He was chancellor of the diocese (1962-70).
Msgr. Fuller left Tucson for five years, from 1981 to 1986, to work for Renew, an organization based in Newark, New Jersey. Renew is dedicated to fostering spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition by empowering individuals and communities to encounter God in everyday life.

Zimbabwe bishops collect data on human rights violations; ‘people are suffering’
HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNS) — The Zimbabwe bishops’ justice and peace commission is collecting information on violence and human rights abuses in dioceses across the country.
“The victims very often come to the church to seek help and visit our hospitals, and we bring those cases to the attention of the government, so they serve as evidence of what is happening,” said Father Frederick Chiromba, general secretary of the bishops’ conference. Also, some nongovernmental organizations have asked to visit clinics run by the church, he said in a report by the Jesuits in Zimbabwe.
Bishop Michael Bhasera of Masvingo led a delegation of bishops at a Jan. 25 meeting with Zimbabwe Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the country’s defense minister and the head of its national intelligence agency to discuss the mid-January violent protests in which 12 people died.
The Harare meeting aimed “to get an understanding on what provoked this situation” and to discuss how “government and the church can collaborate so that we move beyond this situation to a Zimbabwe we want,” Father Chiromba said.
Dialogue is “much needed” in Zimbabwe, he said, noting that “there is so much polarization in the nation and the church is best placed to mediate.”
The government’s “heavy-handed and intolerant handling of dissent” has resulted in the deaths of innocent people, the bishops said in a Jan. 17 statement titled, “Rebuild hope, trust and stability in Zimbabwe.”
Recent strikes by doctors, teachers and others followed the government’s “failure to arrest the deteriorating economic situation,” with “many breadwinners losing their jobs” and “the cost of living soaring beyond the reach of the majority of people,” the bishops said.
“Zimbabwe is burning; its economy is hurting; its people are suffering,” they said.
Unemployment is above 80 percent in Zimbabwe. Many Zimbabweans accuse President Emmerson Mnangagwa of failing to keep pre-election pledges to improve the economy after long-ruling Robert Mugabe was forced out in a de facto coup in November 2017.

Mexico offers visas to caravan members, but plan still remains controversial
CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (CNS) — At this normally bustling border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala, Central American migrants — part of a caravan that set out Jan. 15 from San Pedro Sula, Honduras — sat patiently on folding chairs in the shade. Mexican immigration officials distributed bottles of water, while members of the navy served meals of simple stew and slices of white bread.
When their names were read from a list, they proceeded to pick up one-year humanitarian visas, which allow them to freely travel through Mexico, work in the country and claim social benefits such as health care and education.
“I didn’t know they’d give us a visa,” said Josue Giron, 22, a welder from Honduras, who fled with the caravan after not being able make extortion payments.
“We didn’t believe it,” he added, pointing out that police in Honduras and border officials in Guatemala tried to stop the caravan’s progress. “We thought it was a trick. No government has wanted to help us.”
Mexico awaited the arrival of past caravans by deploying police and closing the border, prompting migrants to ford the Suchiate River, which separates Mexico and Guatemala.
This time, however, the new administration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised humanitarian visas, which are supposed to be processed within five days. Applicants can also wait in shelters set up for them while their paperwork is processed.
More than 14,000 migrants have applied for the humanitarian visas, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute tweeted Jan. 27. Long lines of applicants were still forming on the bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala, according to media photos.
In announcing the plan, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said issuing humanitarian visas would allow for “orderly” migration and ensure migrants’ rights were protected.
The issuing of humanitarian visas on the southern border comes as Mexico prepares to receive migrants applying for asylum in the United States.
Under the scheme known as “Remain in Mexico,” migrants with asylum claims in U.S. courts will have to stay south of the border as their cases proceed. Mexican’s foreign ministry objected to the plan but was going along with it.
Scalabrinian Father Pat Murphy panned the idea of returning asylum seekers to border towns, saying such places are often rife with violence, and migrants are targeted.
“It’s a joke to say it’s a safe country, and these people will be taken advantage of,” said Father Murphy, director of a migrant shelter in Tijuana. “The government here couldn’t take care of the last caravan in a decent way. It’s a mystery to me what they think they’re going to do with all these people arriving.”
Some Catholics working with the Central Americans traveling through Mexico welcomed the issuing of humanitarian visas, however, even as they expressed misgivings over the formation of caravans — something Father Murphy said gave many migrants “false hope” about crossing the border quickly.
“The treatment the government is giving to migrants is correct: welcome, registration, migratory status regularization and offers of work,” Father Alejandro Solalinde, a well-known migrant defender, tweeted.

As World Youth Day closes, pope prompts volunteers to serve
PANAMA CITY (CNS) — 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.
“You made a commitment,” he said. “Thank you.”
On stage, before the pope spoke, Bartosz Placak of Poland offered his testimony in Spanish to those gathered at the stadium and said that while volunteering for World Youth Day in Panama, he had experienced a taste of what living in the early Christian communities must have been like: sharing food, homes, anything other people needed.
“In sharing, you create a small community and we return to the times of the first Christians ... we follow their example,” he said.
Panamanian volunteer Stella Maris del Carmen told the story of how she had planned to attend the previous World Youth Day, an event she’d longed to attend since she was a child. She had saved enough money to go to Poland in 2016 and then her grandparents died. She canceled her plans and used the money she had saved to tend to her family.
The pope said he was touched by her story. By renouncing the trip for the family, “you honored your roots,” the pope told her. “That’s what makes you a woman, an adult.” But then consider what happened because of that sacrifice, he said.
“The Lord had the gift of (World Youth Day) waiting for you in your homeland,” he said. “The Lord likes to play those tricks. That’s how God is.”
What a person gives to others “the Lord returns” many times over, he said. And the world needs more such examples of surrender and love to provide a “balm in the lives of others,” he said.
Panamanians certainly had heeded that counsel long before the event.
World Youth Day 2019 in Panama may not have been the largest, in terms of attendance. Event officials say some 113,000 registered as pilgrims to attend various events — though it was obvious that many more who did not register filled up the venues.
What the event in Panama may — or may not — have lacked in numbers, it made up for in its treatment of young pilgrims. Priests, bishops, women religious and thousands of volunteers, young and old, officially and unofficially, seemed to devote more quality time to participants than in the past, said pilgrims such as Francisco Apenu Cofie of Ghana.
“It was more intimate,” said Cofie, who attended World Youth Day in Poland and Brazil. Panama had a special touch, he said.
Those like Polish volunteer Placak said it was not always easy to help and admitted moments of weakness, but he said he learned powerful lessons along the way.
“I have received more than what I expected, and this is the mystery of the divine gifts. I am happy,” he said.
Though the pope spent time with the volunteers who attended the ceremony at the stadium, there were thousands of other unofficial helpers, such as those who offered water to pilgrims passing through their neighborhoods, who sprayed them with water hoses to cool them off, and offered use of their facilities or couches to rest, but who did not attend the event.
“Thank you all, because in these days you have been attentive to even the smallest details, however ordinary and apparently insignificant, like offering someone a glass of water,” the pope said to volunteers at the ceremony.
In giving to others, God blesses, the pope said.

Some call for N.Y. Gov. Cuomo to be excommunicated for supporting abortion
NEW YORK (CNS) — Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s new expansive abortion measure into law Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, some Catholics have called for the governor, who is Catholic, to be excommunicated.
Cuomo fully backed the Reproductive Health Act as it made its way through the Legislature. It expands access to abortion, allows late-term abortions and lets nondoctors perform abortions.
A statement issued by a spokesperson for New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said in general that “excommunication should not be used as a weapon,” and that too often those who call for someone’s excommunication “do so out of anger or frustration.”
“Notable canon lawyers have said that, under canon law, excommunication is not an appropriate response to a politician who supports or votes for legislation advancing abortion,” said the statement, which laid out “general principles” and did not address any specific individual.
“From a pastoral perspective, if a pastor — and a bishop is certainly a pastor of a diocese — knows of a grave situation involving a parishioner, it is his duty to address that issue personally and directly with the parishioner,” it said, adding that this is the approach of Cardinal Dolan as it was of his predecessors as New York’s archbishop, the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor and the late Cardinal Edward M. Egan.
“From a strategic perspective,” excommunication is not effective because “many politicians would welcome it as a sign of their refusal to be ‘bullied by the church,’ thinking it would therefore give them a political advantage,” the statement said.
As an example of this “political advantage,” it cited how in 1989, Bishop Leo T. Maher, then head of the Diocese of San Diego, gained national attention when he forbade California Senate candidate Lucy Killea, a state assemblywoman, from receiving Communion because of her support for legal abortion, which had become a prominent feature of her campaign.
In an appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show,” the lawmaker said she would neither alter her position on abortion nor leave her faith. Killea won the election.
Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger had addressed the bill and Cuomo’s support for it in in an open letter to the governor published Jan. 19 at, the website of The Evangelist, Albany’s diocesan newspaper. He urged Cuomo not to let the bill, which he called a “Death Star,” become law.
“Although in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our church,” the bishop said.
The New York State Catholic Conference said that with the new abortion law, the state “has become a more dangerous one for women and their unborn babies.”

House members introduce bipartisan measure to ban abortions at 20 weeks
WASHINGTON (CNS) — U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, was joined by more than 100 other members of the House Jan. 24 in introducing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act of 2019, a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.
Smith, a Catholic, who is co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which cites research showing that unborn babies “can feel agonizing pain” at 20 weeks of development.
“The majority of Americans — some 59 percent according to a recent poll — support legal protection for pain-capable unborn children,” Smith said in introducing the bill. He was referring to results of an annual poll of Americans’ views on abortion conducted by the Marist Poll at Marist College and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
The poll also showed that 75 percent of respondents want “substantial” restrictions on abortion access even as more than half of respondents describe themselves as “pro-choice.” The poll was conducted Jan. 8-10 and the results were released ahead of the Jan. 18 March for Life.
“Today we know that unborn babies not only die but suffer excruciating pain during dismemberment abortion — a cruelty that rips arms and legs off a helpless child,” Smith said. “This tragic human rights abuse must end.”
Smith’s bipartisan bill contains additional provisions to ensure that two physicians are present to provide care for an unborn child who survives an abortion, and states that the baby must be transported and admitted to a hospital.
“These are very developed babies — these babies are capable of feeling pain and are considered by the medical profession to be a second patient,” said Jennifer Popik, legislative director for National Right to Life.

Pakistan Court upholds blasphemy acquittal of Asia Bibi
ISLAMABAD (CNS) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld its acquittal of a Pakistani Catholic woman sentenced to hang for blasphemy.
Asia Bibi, a mother of five, is now free to leave Pakistan and is expected to join her family in Canada, where they were granted asylum, the Associated Press reported.
The AP reported that Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa stood by the court’s Oct. 31 verdict.

The pope’s intention
Here is Pope Francis’ prayer intention for this month:
Evangelization – Young People: That young people, especially in Latin America, follow the example of Mary and respond to the call of the Lord to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world.