Browsing News Entries

Analyis: What the Vatican does to stop money laundering

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee has praised the Holy See’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Information Authority, in a report published last week.

The report noted the progress the Holy See has made in establishing an effective reporting system for suspect transactions, and in its international cooperation with investigation and reporting of financial irregularities. The report recommended that the financial authority “actively pursue” pending criminal cases of money laundering.

Moneyval is the Council of Europe’s “Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.” It evaluates how financial systems in European states work to counter money laundering and stop the flow of funds to organizations connected to terrorism.
 
The progress report is part of the Moneyval’s regular evaluation procedure, which it conducts for all members.

The Holy See applied to Moneyval in 2011, after issuing its first anti-money laundering legislation. Moneyval issued a general “mutual evaluation report” on the Holy See and Vatican City State in July 2012. That evaluation called for improvements to the Holy See’s financial oversight procedures, which the Vatican has since pursued.
 
After the first general report, each state is called to report on its progress the year after the general evaluation, and to submit subsequent progress reports every two years.

The Holy See submitted a progress report in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017. The next report will be submitted in 2019, and it is expected that there will be an on site visit by Moneyval inspectors in the course of 2018.
 
The reports’ data confirm that Vatican is now in the third phase of implementing effective protections against money laundering.
 
The first phase, “the assumption of responsibility,” led to a Monetary Convention between the Holy See and European Union in 2009, and Benedict XVI’s motu proprio that established the first Vatican anti-money laundering laws at the end of 2010.
 
The second phase was “debugging financial transparency reforms.” The Vatican’s anti-money laundering law was amended and substantially re-written, and this led to a generally positive evaluation by Moneyval. In 2013, the Vatican financial system was furtherly improved with the issuance of additional laws and policies.
 
The third and current phase is that of improving the effectiveness of the system.
 
The progress report highlights a sort of “two speed” situation for Vatican financial reforms. While the overall system is working, the court system still needs to be developed, as reports on suspected money laundering did not lead to prosecutions.
 
Both Monyeval and Holy See Press Office releases acknowledge that the Holy See’s Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) has carried out a significant work in the past two years.
 
According to Moneyval, the Holy See “has established a functioning reporting system.”
 
“In the past two years,” a Dec. 8 Moneyval release said, “the Holy See has established a functioning reporting system. Both the AIF and the judicial authorities have sought and were responding to international cooperation requests in their work.”
 
The AIF has established 24 new Memoranda of Understanding with foreign financial intelligence units and 4 new Memorandum of Understanding with supervisory authorities.
 
The Holy See recieved 380 requests for cooperation from foreign authorities in 2015, a number that increased to 837 in 2016, probably due to the Institute for Religious Works remediation process that led to the closure of about 4,800 IOR accounts. In 2017, the number of international cooperation requests decreased to a total of 104.
 
Beyond the data on international cooperation, the report also provides data about money laundering investigations.  
 
Since Jan. 2013, the report says, “69 disseminations to the Promoter have been made by AIF where money laundering was suspected”. The Promoter for Justice – the Vatican prosecutor – opened 27 criminal distinct investigations out of the 69 AIF disseminations.
 
Of those investigations, 8 investigations “have been closed formally without any charges”, while 6 investigations concluded without an indictment and their formal closure has been requested. There are currently 8 criminal investigation open as money laundering investigations.
 
These facts also bring to light the main problem highlighted by the Moneyval report.
 
The Moneyval report noted that “the Holy See had still not brought a money laundering case to court”.
 
The committee stressed that “while considerable amounts of assets continued to be frozen, no criminal case had yet produced a confiscation order.”  For this reason.  “Moneyval recommends the Holy See ensure that the money laundering aspects of all outstanding investigations in criminal cases by proactively pursued”.
 
“In this regard, the committee noted that the overall effectiveness of the Holy See’s engagement with combating money laundering depends on the results that will be achieved by the prosecution and the courts,” the release concluded.
 
However, there have been steps forward on the side of the Holy See’s judicial system that show how the Vatican is working to meet the requirements of its new money-laundering laws.
 
A Holy See Press Office release delivered Dec. 8 underscored that Moneyval welcomed “the creation of a specialized Economic Financial Crimes Investigation Unit within the Corps of the Gendarmerie and the appointment of a specialized Assistant Promoter of Justice.”
 
These two steps are crucial in making of the Vatican City State judicial system more prompt in prosecuting suspect money laundering cases.
 
It must be clear that the report is not about particular cases, and does not review any internal problem. Without naming them, the report describes five cases of Vatican trials that involved financial issues – some of them more recognizable, and some of them not.
 
But Moneyval is called to assess if the financial system to counter money laundering and financing of terrorism works, and not to judge on singular cases. The report is not in any way related to situations like, for instance, the recent firing of Giulio Mattietti, adjunct director to the IOR, which led to much speculation on the state of Vatican finances reforms.

It was a positive sign that the Vatican’s progress report was approved within Moneyval’s regular process. Otherwise, the Vatican would have had to submit a new report in a future plenary session.

The committee’s approval shows that the Holy See’s commitment, despite needed improvements, is welcome and appreciated by its European neighbors.
 
Moneyval’s progress report said that, despite some things that need to be fixed, the Holy See’s commitment to financial transparency, started under Benedict XVI, meets international standards, despite the unique reality of the Vatican City State and Holy See’s mission.
 
For the Vatican, finances are just a tool to carry out the mission of evangelization, and not an end in themselves. 

Court rejects Washington archdiocese's Advent metro ad

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2017 / 11:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court has denied relief to the Archdiocese of Washington, in its request for an injunction that would have allowed it to run metro ads encouraging riders to discover the true meaning of Christmas.

“We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our ‘Find the Perfect Gift’ Advent ad campaign,” said Ed McFadden, Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.

“While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”

The district court’s decision denied emergency relief to the archdiocese after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) declined to run the ad campaign, citing a 2015 policy which prohibits the promotion or opposition of religion in advertisements.

The archdiocese’s ad shows the Star of Bethlehem and reads “Find the perfect gift,” advertising the website www.findtheperfectgift.org and the hashtag #PerfectGift.

A version of the ad which includes a Bible verse is already posted at numerous city bus stops, which are controlled by the District Department of Transportation, not WMATA. The bus ads have been running for nearly a decade, and reach areas of the city which do not have many bus shelters.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated in her decision that she declined to grant the archdiocese relief from WMATA’s decision because she does not believe its case will succeed on religious freedom or free speech grounds.  

“The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective — the sole purpose of directing the public to www.findtheperfectgift.org is to promote religion. The website declares: ‘JESUS is the perfect gift. [F]ind the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas’,”she wrote.

 

Pope Francis: Health care is part of the Church’s mission

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 06:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just as Jesus healed people during his earthly mission, care for the sick is a mission the entire Church is called to take part in, Pope Francis said in a message published Monday for the World Day of the Sick.

“Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power…The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion,” the Pope wrote in a message published Dec. 11.

“Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions.”

“Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission.”

The World Day of the Sick will be celebrated Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, with the theme: “Mater Ecclesiae: ‘Behold, your son... Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).”

Reflecting on the scripture passage from which the theme was taken, Francis explained how John, as a close disciple of Jesus, could testify to the fact that Christ healed many people suffering from both spiritual and physical illnesses.

Jesus, he said, “healed the sick as a sign of the abundant life of the Kingdom, where every tear will be wiped away.”

The disciples know that Jesus’ heart is “open to all and excludes no one. The Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed to all, and the charity of Christians must be directed to all, simply because they are persons, children of God.”

Pointing to the Church’s long history of care for the sick, including innumerable initiatives, Francis said we cannot forget this “history of dedication,” which continues “to the present day throughout the world.”

In countries with adequate public health care systems, Catholic religious congregations and dioceses and their hospitals provide quality medical care that puts the human person at the center, also carrying out scientific research that fully respects life and Christian moral values, he said.

And in countries with inadequate, or even non-existent, health care systems, the Catholic Church works to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease.

“In some parts of the world, missionary and diocesan hospitals are the only institutions providing necessary care to the population,” he noted.

This is all a cause for rejoicing within the Christian community, but we also need to take that long legacy and use it to help us build a better future, he stressed. Especially in cases where Catholic hospitals fall prey to the business mentality that seeks to turn health care “into a profit-making enterprise, which ends up discarding the poor.”

“Wise organization and charity demand that the sick person be respected in his or her dignity, and constantly kept at the center of the therapeutic process,” he said.

“May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the Church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health.”

Why 'Silence Breakers' are key in any abuse crisis

Denver, Colo., Dec 10, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This week, TIME Magazine announced a group of women and men as their collective Person of the Year.

What do these people have in common? They are what TIME called “The Silence Breakers” - people who have blown the whistle on sexual assault and abuse within the workplace, largely in the industries of film, politics, and media.

In recent months an avalanche of abuse allegations have been brought to light against powerful figures, starting most notably with a piece in the New York Times in which several women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This sparked a flood of men and women coming forward with other allegations of abuse against numerous people in positions of power.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought,” TIME reported.

Not long ago, the Catholic Church in the United States was reeling from its own sex abuse crisis. In the early 2000s, reporters at the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting more than 100 boys over 30 years, which led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy and the safe environment office for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the “silence breakers” who came forward and continue to come forward with accusations of abuse by clergy and Church personnel are key in maintaining a safe environment in the Church.

“I think the one thing we have to make sure we understand is who the whistleblowers are, and for the most part, the whistleblowers are victims,” Mechmann said.

“As much as the outside observers like the Boston Globe and the media in general contributed to our awareness of the scope of the problem, we would really be nowhere unless we had some of these courageous victims coming forward, because without them, we would have many more men in service who are victimizers,” he added.

It is especially important that victims come forward in order to protect others from abuse, he noted, because in some cases, abusers have victimized numerous people over the span of many years.

Recently, the Church has seen victims coming forward “much more willingly now, because they see that we’re serious, they see that we’re not going to victimize them again, and they see concrete results” such as accused persons being removed from ministry, he said.

“The first and most important thing we do is we listen to them, and I can’t tell you how important that is,” Mechmann said.

“So many people that come in to see us are afraid, they’ve been victimized, they’re afraid they’re going to be victimized again, and just the fact that we listen to them is just an enormously healing thing,” he said.

Besides listening to victims, Mechmann said the Church also provides support through counseling and through talking with victims about the Church’s internal processes for dealing with cases of abuse.

“And we stay in contact with them, if they want to stay in contact with us, we walk with them,” he added.

Dr. Benjamin Keyes, a Catholic psychologist and Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, told CNA that supporting and encouraging victims who come forward is of the utmost importance.

“There’s a whole lot of relief that someone has finally heard the story...they’re no longer isolated with the information, and how well they fare afterwards really depends on what happens around them,” he said. “Are they supported, are there people in their network, whether it's family, friends, or co-workers, that really understand and really support them in the courage that it takes to do this?”

Sometimes it can takes months or even years for victims of abuse to break the silence on what happened to them, Keyes said, because there is usually “a lot of embarrassment, a lot of shame involved, and most people, women in particular, don’t want to expose that to the public or to others, even to those who are close to (them),” he said.

The fear of retaliation or retribution is also something that can keep victims from coming forward, especially if the abuse came from someone who is in a position of power over the victim, Keyes noted.

For these reasons, victims need encouragement and support from the Church in order to feel comfortable coming forward.

“The Church can be supportive, especially in the parishes, (by) making it safe for (whistleblowers) to be who they are, by acknowledging the courage that it took for them to do that, and to be supportive vocally within the body of the Church so that people hear that the Church is supporting it,” he said.

Supporting victims also involves “making sure that they stay networked into not only the activities that they’ve been involved with, but that they stay networked into the body of the Church, so that they don’t walk away,” he added.

The parish priest, as well as members of the parish community, are especially key in making victims feel welcomed and supported, he noted, which can be done simply by including them and befriending them.

“We’re taught in the Bible to love and to love unconditionally, and this is part of that,” Keyes said.

“It’s embracing the broken places and binding up the suffering and reaching out to the broken-hearted, and we’re called as Christians, not just as counselors, to do that,” he added.

Since the sex abuse crisis in the Church in the United States, the bishops have put into place numerous policies and practices to protect victims, and especially children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for Child and Youth Protection, which calls for an annual audit and report of all the dioceses in the country.

The Church has also implemented safe environment trainings that call for a zero-tolerance policy of abuse in Church environments.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is really good,” Mechmann said, regarding the silence breakers in media and politics who have recently come forward.

“Maybe the world as a whole could learn a little bit from the way that we have handled this, in terms of creating a clear corporate culture of zero tolerance. Transparency is at the heart of what we’ve done, and I hope that some of these other industries can do the same.”

Vatican voices concern over Trump's Jerusalem move

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2017 / 09:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 notice that he will be moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Holy See has expressed its concern for recent violent outbreaks and urged leaders to promote peace and security. 

A Vatican communique Dec. 10 pointed to concerns for peace and security in Jerusalem and reiterated its belief that “only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” as well as “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders.”

The brief statement was published just days after the news broke that President Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a widely controversial decision that has provoked a mixed reaction from the international community.

The Vatican said it is watching the development of the situation closely, especially in Jerusalem, which is a “Sacred city for Christians, Jews and Muslims from all over the world.”

The statement also reiterated the Holy See’s position on the importance of maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem, as per the repeated requests of the international community, and the hierarchies of the Catholic and Christian communities of the Holy Land.

Renewing an appeal made by Pope Francis during his general audience on Dec. 6, the statement reiterated the Pope's “fervent prayers” for national leaders, that they be committed to promoting peace, justice and security and averting “a new spiral of violence” in the nation.

Israel has traditionally always recognized Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. is the first country to do so since the state was established in 1948.

Debate on the issue is in many ways the crux of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is backed by Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, and the wider Islamic world.

According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is to be discussed in the late stages of peace talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized by the international community, and all countries with diplomatic relations have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

More than 30 Palestinians have been injured in clashes across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip amid protests against Trump’s decision.

The position of the U.N. on the Jerusalem issue is that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and that the city should eventually become the capital of the two states of Israel and Palestine.

The Vatican has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and on a diplomatic level recognizes and refers to both “the State of Israel” and “the State of Palestine.”

In Advent, prepare your heart like your hearth, Pope says

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2017 / 05:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During Advent, we should prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus like we joyfully prepare our homes for a visit from a family member or friend, Pope Francis said Sunday, especially removing anything keeping us from Christ.

“When we await at home a visit from a loved one, we prepare everything with care and happiness. In the same way we want to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord: to wait for him every day with solicitude, to be filled with his grace when he comes,” the Pope said Dec. 10.

In his weekly Angelus address, Francis reflected on the day’s first reading from Isaiah, which says to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.”

The Pope pointed out that the valleys in this passage can represent our sins of omission, such as failing to pray, or praying very little. The valleys could also be the ways we have failed to have charity toward others, especially those most in need of material or spiritual help.

In Advent, “we are called to be more attentive to the needs of others, those closest (to us). Like John the Baptist, in this way we can open roads of hope in the desert of the dry hearts of many people,” he said.

Therefore, Advent is a good time to fill these valleys in our life, he said; to pray more intensely, to prioritize your spiritual life.

On the other hand, when the verse says, “every mountain and every hill be lowered,” we are reminded of our faults of pride, arrogance and superiority, which must become attitudes of meekness and humility, just like our Savior is “meek and humble of heart.”

Then, when we’ve examined our conscience, “we are asked to eliminate all the obstacles we put into our union with the Lord” with joy, he said, because we are preparing for the coming of our Savior.

“The Savior we are waiting for is able to transform our life with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the power of love. Indeed, the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God, an inexhaustible source of purification, of new life and freedom,” Francis said.

May the Virgin Mary, he concluded, who prepared for the coming of Christ with her whole being and existence, “help us to follow her example and guide our steps to meet the Lord who is coming.”

US bishops call for solidarity with migrants on Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day

Washington D.C., Dec 9, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops are encouraging Catholics to observe the upcoming Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a day of solidarity with immigrants.

In the nation’s capital, a 12:10 p.m. Mass at St. Peter's Church will mark the Dec. 12 feast day. The Mass will be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, D.C.

Additionally, more than 55 events – including prayers services, Masses, and processions – will be held throughout the U.S. this month. These events, the bishops’ conference said, will honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and will “seek to honor the accomplishments, hopes, fears, and needs of all families who have come to the U.S. seeking a better life.”

“As we enter the Advent season and Christmas approaches, we are reminded of the unique role and importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a unifier and peacebuilder for communities,” said Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the migration committee at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We honor her role as protectress of families, including those families separated and far from home,” he said in a Dec. 7 statement.

The conference is also offering resources for parishes looking to accompany migrants, including Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer cards and informational material. Other suggestions include ways to incorporate the intentions of the migrant community in parish prayer services, social media sharing, and efforts to support government policies such Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn, appeared to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples.

Our Lady took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in the native language of Nahuatl.

She asked Juan Deigo to appeal to the local bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, stating she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her son. Initially turned away by the bishop, Diego returned to site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

She instructed him to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish bishop. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the bishop, he found that an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

Today, nearly 500 years later, the bishops said, we should still remember Mary’s words to Juan Diego: “Let your face and heart not be troubled, don’t be afraid … Am I not here who am your mother?”

The bishops’ statement said many immigrants from the Americas have relied on Our Lady of Guadalupe’s intercession for safety during their migrant journey. The statement included a prayer requesting her protection over the most vulnerable.

 

Due to violence, Mexican diocese avoids Christmas Masses at high-risk times

Villahermosa, Mexico, Dec 9, 2017 / 06:08 am (ACI Prensa).- A diocese in one of Mexico's most violence-ridden states has indicated it will avoid scheduling Masses for Christmas and its octave at “high risk” times. It has also asked the state's police to protect parishioners.

“With respect to the problem of insecurity, for the most part the established schedule has been kept, but we are trying to avoid scheduling certain times that could be high risk,” Fr. José Luis Compeán Rueda, vicar general of the Diocese of Tabasco, said at a Dec. 3 press conference in Villahermosa, capital of the Mexican state of Tabasco.

El Heraldo de Tabasco reported that Fr. Compean said he had met with the head of Tabasco's Department of Public Safety, Jorge Aguirre Carbajal, to talk about the problem of the lack of public safety and said that “they will take appropriate steps as needed.”

“We hope the different state or municipal authorities will take corresponding measures to provide protection, not exclusively to the Church, but to all of society,” he said.

Fr. Compeán noted that during the year end festivities crime increases because people are getting paid Christmas bonuses and buying Christmas presents.

A September report prepared by the Tabasco Citizens' Observatory revealed that in 2017 Tabasco occupied first place in the nation in kidnappings per capita.

“The State of Tabasco held first place in five categories of crime: kidnapping, aggravated robbery, robbery of businesses, holdups of passersby and livestock rustling” the director of Analysis and Statistics of the Tabasco Citizens' Observatory, Julia Arrivillaga, told Televisa.

The Catholic Multimedia Center released a report in August showing that Tabasco is one of the most dangerous states for priests, and that Mexico is the most violent country for priests in Latin America.

 


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

'Crown Jewel' of nation's basilica blessed in DC

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the blessing of its final mosaic, America’s Basilica – The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. – is finally complete after nearly a century of construction and adornment.

“This magnificent tribute in stone, glass, marble mosaic to Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of God and our Mother, invites all of us to recognize not only the special role of Mary in our life but the unique glory that is hers in her Immaculate Conception,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington in his Dec. 8 homily before the dedication of the basilica’s new Trinity Dome mosaic.

Blessing of Trinity Dome by Card. Kevin Farrell and @Cardinal_Wuerl at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception @MarysShrine pic.twitter.com/1V6IRYqOJz

— Addie Mena (@AddieMMena) December 8, 2017 Cardinal Wuerl blessed the dome with incense during Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life attended the dedication as an envoy on behalf of Pope Francis and presented the cardinal and the rector of the Basilica, Msgr. Walter Rossi, with a letter of Apostolic Blessing from the Pope for the blessing.

The new dome and its mosaic, which depicts the Trinity, Mary, and nearly twenty saints and blessed who share a connection with either the Americas or the National Shrine itself, is the capstone which finishes 97 years of construction and decoration of the Basilica and its interior. Five cardinals, 23 bishops, nearly 90 priests, and over 4,000 people gathered to celebrate the event. Also present at the event were Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich.

At @MarysShrine in DC for the Feast Day and also the dedication of the final piece of the National Basilica: the Trinity Dome pic.twitter.com/Akru6AN6ft

— Addie Mena (@AddieMMena) December 8, 2017 The construction of a National Shrine to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was announced in 1918 and construction began in 1920. “People were invited all over the country to contribute in whatever way they could,” Cardinal Wuerl explained, and “some donated some pieces of old jewelry and others donated some precious stones.”

After the completion of the Crypt Church in 1931, construction on the Upper Church was paused for the Great Depression and World War II, but resumed in 1945. The Church’s structure was completed in 1959.

Since then, different side chapels depicting a variety of Marian apparitions, scenes from Mary’s life, and other mosaics on the ceilings and walls have been completed. In addition, St. John Paul II dedicated the church as a basilica in 1979, and both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have visited the shrine during their pontificates.

During his September 2015 visit to the shrine for canonization of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis blessed the first section of the Trinity Dome mosaic. The largest dome in the entire shrine, the mosaic contains more than 14 million pieces of handmade Venetian Glass. The artwork for the dome was designed by studios in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and then fabricated in Italy into smaller puzzle-like sections. After being shipped over to the United States, the mosaic was then installed section by section onto the “crown jewel” of the shrine.

During his homily, Wuerl recalled an early gathering of United States bishops which chose the Blessed Mother of the Immaculate Conception to be the patroness for the young nation. “She is the supreme model of what our faith should be,” the cardinal said. “She was the vessel of the incarnation.”

The cardinal pointed to the new dome’s many pieces coming together as one piece of art, drawing upon its reflection of the unity within the universal Church as well the many different cultures that have come together in the United States.

“Just as there are chapels throughout this Basilica reflecting national heritages, ethnic backgrounds, all proclaiming in unison ‘Hail Mary,’ so, too, do we look across this great Church of God and see out of so many one great faith family,” Wuerl reflected.

Following his homily, Farrell read a special blessing from Pope Francis. Through his envoy, the Pope expressed his wish that all who gaze on Mary “show forth special love for the Church of Christ and the Gospel, even in our own age, and may distinguish themselves by their spiritual constancy.” Farrell also said that the Pope asks that the faithful consider “ the great honor and great gift that we have received from God’s mercy and God’s bounty.”

In addition to completing construction of the shrine, the blessing of the Trinity Dome is the first of a series of preparations for the upcoming 100th anniversary celebrations for the foundation of the basilica. A full series of centennial celebrations will take place around 2020.

With prayer and aid, Catholics rally around California wildfire victims

Ventura, Calif., Dec 8, 2017 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The massive wildfires of California have drawn calls for prayer and assistance from the U.S. bishops, as Catholic Charities affiliates in the state work to aid victims.

“I am sure all the faithful join me in saying: we stand ready to help in the recovery,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said Dec. 8.

Dan Grimm, Santa Barbara/Ventura regional director for Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, also called for prayers.

“We are praying for a quick end to this 'trial by fire' but so grateful for the generosity of so many coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Christ,” he told CNA.

Six fires currently affect the state, having burned nearly 160,000 acres. About 190,000 people have been forced from their homes as over 5,700 firefighters combat the flames.

The worst blaze, the Thomas Fire, started late Monday near Santa Paula, Calif.  It has burned 132,000 acres, about 206 square miles. In its first day, it spread at a rate of one acre per second.

Wind gusts are expected to continue to fan the flames through Sunday, CNN reports.

Calling for prayer, Cardinal DiNardo noted that on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics “commit ourselves to the loving protection of Mary the Mother of God and patroness of America.”

“Let us remember, especially, her sons and daughters in danger from the terrible wildfires in California, both those whose homes are in the fire’s path and those courageous first responders and firefighters who are putting their lives at risk,” he said.

Grimm reflected on the response to the wildfires.

“The effect of the wildfires has been devastating, but people are responding with faith and generosity even before the flames have stopped, helping those displaced temporarily or permanently with food, water, clothing, bedding and other personal necessities,” he said.
“Catholic Charities has been one of the collection points for this great outpouring of generosity and we’re working extra to receive, store and distribute while taking care of our regular clients, both working low-income and homeless people,” he continued.

Grimm said the Red Cross and local cities have been “great” at running evacuation centers and first response operations.

“Now we are helping people as they regroup, return to clean up and protect their homes, and deal with lack of power, heat, safe water and adequate food,” the Catholic Charities official said.

The Catholic Charities of Los Angeles website, at catholiccharitiesla.org, is collecting funds to aid relief.

Catholic Charities’ Ventura Community Services Center is accepting in-kind donations for the victims of the Ventura County fire, while Catholic Charities’ Guadalupe Community Center is taking in-kind donations for victims of the Sylmar/Santa Clarita fire.

Grimm said the Ventura center in the course of one day received food, clothing and personal items that filled the client reception room. These donated goods are planned to be moved to a temporary distribution center in Casita Springs, staffed by Boy Scouts, so that residents in need may have easier access to them.

“As those whose homes were partially or completely destroyed seek to restart their lives, Catholic Charities is helping to find short-term housing,” he said.

The charities’ Santa Barbara thrift store will provide low- or no-cost furniture, clothing and household goods. The archdiocese’s Cardinal McIntyre Fund and a special fund for victims will help address uninsured housing repair and replacement costs.

Cardinal DiNardo made specific prayer recommendations, saying: “Please find a moment today, whether after Mass or while gathered as a family around the Advent wreath, to pray a Rosary in gratitude for Mary’s gifts to humanity and entrusting to her protection our sisters and brothers in the fire’s path.”