Nigerian Christmas is defined by faith, family

“Are you coming home for Christmas?”

“No, Uncle Buga, not this time.”

“Do you realize,” he said to me sounding emotional, “that you have not been home for Christmas since you left the country?”

Pope advances sainthood causes of Marianne Cope, Kateri Tekakwitha

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI advanced the sainthood causes of Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

He also formally recognized the martyrdom of 64 victims of the Spanish Civil War and advanced the causes of 18 other men and women.

During a meeting Dec. 19 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope signed the decrees recognizing the miracles needed for the canonizations of Blesseds Marianne and Kateri.

Not an abstract idea, evangelization calls for real witness, pope says

VATICAN CITY - New evangelization is not an abstract idea to pitch, but rather a call to authentically live the Gospel message, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Christian faith provides a surer basis for life than the secular vision; for 'it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear,'" he said quoting from "Gaudium et Spes," the Second Vatican Council document on the church and society.

The pope was speaking Dec. 17 to bishops from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands who were making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican.

Pope tells prisoners God loves them, Christians pray for them

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI told inmates at a Rome prison that people say nasty things about him, too, but it's important to remember that there are other people ready to offer their love and support.

During a visit Dec. 18 to Rome's Rebibbia prison, the pope gave a short speech and then responded to questions from six of the inmates gathered in the prison's Church of Our Father.

Federico, an inmate from the prison infirmary, which includes men who are HIV positive, told the pope that people say "ferocious things" about the inmates. "We have fallen and hurt people," he told the pope. "We have lost our freedom, but we ask you to help ensure we don't lose our dignity."

Teaching young about human dignity promotes peace, justice, pope says

VATICAN CITY - When young people recognize the dignity and beauty of every human life, including their own, and are supported in their natural desire to make the world a better place, they become agents of justice and peace in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Peace and justice are built on "a profound respect for every human being and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity," the pope said in his message for the World Day of Peace 2012.

The Catholic Church celebrates World Peace Day Jan. 1. The pope's message for the occasion was released Dec. 16 at the Vatican and sent, through Vatican ambassadors, to the leaders of nations around the world.

Prayer, not activism, is key to evangelization, preacher tells pope

VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church's project of "new evangelization" faces two dangers: people thinking others will do the work and people so fired up to preach the Gospel, they forget to pray, said the preacher of the papal household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who preaches to the pope and top Vatican officials on the Fridays of Advent and Lent, dedicated his December 2011 series to lessons the church can learn from its own history of evangelization efforts.

Church should fear sin of members more than persecution, pope says

ROME - The church should fear the sin of its own members more than hatred against Christians, Pope Benedict XVI said.

While the church has suffered from persecution throughout its history, it "is supported by the light and strength of God" and will always end up victorious, he said.

Overcoming trials and outside threats shows how the Christian community "is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all ideologies of hatred and selfishness," he said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8.

Pope prays for migrants, encourages international assistance

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern for the millions of migrants around the world, and encouraged the agencies trying to help them.

"I entrust to the Lord all those who, often forcibly, must leave their homeland, or who are stateless," the Pope said at his noon blessing Dec. 4.

"While I encourage solidarity for them, I pray for all those who are doing their utmost to protect and assist these brothers and sisters in emergency situations, even if it means exposing themselves to serious hardships and dangers," he said.

Christian theology has role to play in promoting peace, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Theology is not simply an academic discipline or a means of explaining the faith to believers, it also has a role in promoting peace and harmony, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Catholic theology's attention to the links between faith and reason "is more necessary than ever today" because it demonstrates the compatibility of different sources of knowledge, avoiding "the violent results of a religiosity opposed to reason and of a reason opposed to religion," the pope said.

Pope Benedict made his comments Dec. 2 during a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission, a group of theologians appointed by the pope to study themes of current interest and offer expert advice to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Toronto parishioners seem to accept new Missal

TORONTO - Toronto’s first run at the new Sacramentary hit a few rough spots but didn’t upset many parishioners.

“I didn’t notice a lot of difference. It was more what the priest says, I think,” noted Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Peter Maigher at the end of the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. Maigher’s reaction was typical of what churchgoers told The Catholic Register at Nov. 26-27 Masses.

At audience, Pope praises groups for efforts to ban death penalty

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI gave a special greeting of encouragement to delegations meeting in Rome -- including a group from Illinois -- to promote the abolition of the death penalty.

During his weekly audience Nov. 30 at the Vatican, Pope Benedict said he hoped the work of the delegations would "encourage political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a number of countries to eliminate the death penalty" and promote progress in penal law that speaks equally to "the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order."

The 12-person Illinois group, members of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, was led by state Rep. Karen Yarbrough. Under Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty in March.