Half a century after Vatican II, a year of faith and debate

VATICAN CITY - Fifty years ago this October, Blessed John XXIII and more than 2,500 bishops and heads of religious orders from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council.

Over the following three years, Vatican II would issue 16 major "pronouncements" on such fundamental questions as the authority of the church's hierarchy, the interpretation of Scripture, and the proper roles of clergy and laity. Those documents, and the deliberations that produced them, have transformed how the Catholic Church understands and presents itself within the context of modern secular culture and society.

Christianity, religion risk oblivion in many parts of world, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Christianity and even religious belief are in grave danger across the globe, risking oblivion, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Across vast areas of the earth, faith runs the danger of extinguishing like a flame that runs out of fuel," he said.

The world faces "a profound crisis of faith, and a loss of a sense of religion constitutes the biggest challenge for the church today," he said.

Evangelization can never be just a marginal concern, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Evangelization must never be a marginal concern for the church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

From bishops to religious and the lay community, "All elements of the great mosaic of the church must feel themselves strongly called on by the Lord's mandate to preach the Gospel, so that Christ may be proclaimed everywhere," the Pope said in his message for World Mission Sunday.

The annual observance will be marked Oct. 21 at the Vatican and in most countries.

Consecrated life means living for God, others, pope says at audience

VATICAN CITY - Consecrated life entails giving oneself completely to God and living for others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Speaking at his weekly general audience Jan. 25, the Pope continued his catechesis on Christian prayer, looking at the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood.

The Pope said Jesus prayed for God's intercession for his disciples, who, like himself, "do not belong to the world."

Sprucing up your prayer life can help bring you closer to God

TORONTO - With the busy schedule of a university student, Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt was finding it difficult to fit prayer into her regular routine during her school years.

To remedy this, her spiritual director suggested she get creative, recommending a variety of different prayer styles.

“She said Jesus is not expecting the friendship to look any one way,” said Nicholas-Schmidt, program director at Faith Connections, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto’s youth ministry. “How can we talk to Jesus in a way that fits in with our lives no matter where we are on the journey?”

Miss America knows gifts are from God

MILWAUKEE — All smiles, Susan Kaeppeler, fourth-grade teacher at Kenosha’s St. Joseph Academy’s lower campus, was greeted with the red-carpet treatment when she arrived to class Jan. 16 after a whirlwind weekend where she saw her oldest daughter, Laura, crowned Miss America.

The 23-year-old brunette won the Miss America title in Las Vegas Jan. 14. “Some of the parents decorated her classroom, and made some posters and put them up in the gym as the school day began,” said Pauline McTernan, St. Joseph development director.

Silence is key ingredient to meaningful communication, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Amid the deluge of information and nonstop chatter in today's media, the church needs to help people find safe havens of silence, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Far from being the enemy of calm and quiet, social media and the Internet can lead people to virtual sanctuaries that offer silent reflection, thoughtful dialogue and true meaning in life, he said.

"Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God," he said in his message for the 2012 celebration of World Communications Day.

Pope says neocatechumenal celebrations must lead members to parish Mass

VATICAN CITY - As the Vatican approved the Neocatechumenal Way's unique rite, Pope Benedict XVI underlined that its celebrations were not "strictly liturgical" and that their aim must be to encourage members to partake fully in the liturgical life of the parish.

The pope encouraged the movement's members to continue "to offer your original contribution to the cause of the Gospel," and he urged them to always make sure their "precious work" was in "profound communion with the Apostolic See and the pastors of the local church in which they're inserted."

Pope says virginity and martyrdom of St. Agnes example of faith

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI held up the life of a young virgin and martyr as an example to seminarians of the total commitment to Christ required by young men seeking to enter the priesthood.

The Pope also said that a solid cultural background and intellectual understanding of faith was essential in the formation of priests as spreaders of the word of God.

As Tet nears, migrants return to Vietnam, get chance to renew faith

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - Catholic migrant workers based in Laos are returning home to be with their families in time for the Tet New Year holidays and, for many, the trip will offer a chance to renew their faith.

Others, however, even within Vietnam, will not make the traditional journey to be with their family for the lunar new year, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

Paul Le Quoc Hai, a Catholic who works as a carpenter in Laos' Khammouan province, said he will take advantage of this Tet holiday to get his two children baptized.

Pope urges agreement between Christians on ethical questions

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI said Christians of all denominations should come to agreement on ethical matters, especially regarding human life, family and sexuality.

The Pope, in a meeting Jan. 19 with an ecumenical group of Catholic and Lutheran leaders from Finland, said that differences among Christians regarding the "proper understanding of human nature and its dignity" had grown in recent years.