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newyear20151231T1341 047 CNS POPEPope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter's Square after visiting the Nativity scene in the square on New Year's Eve at the Vatican Dec. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The gift of mercy is a light that helps Christians reflect on the past year and radiates hope at the start of the new year, Pope Francis said.

While retracing the events of 2015 may recall moments of both joy and sorrow, it also offers a moment to understand the presence of God who "renews and sustains with his help," Pope Francis said during an evening prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica on New Year's Eve.

The prayer service included eucharistic adoration and Benediction, as well as the singing of the "Te Deum," a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, for the closing year.

The "Te Deum," he said, is the church's way of giving thanks and recognizing the loving presence of God throughout history.

"With this hymn, we look back at the history of salvation where, through God's mysterious plan, the various events of our life in this past year find" their place and meaning, the pope said.

Although the past year may bring both happy and painful memories, he said, it also challenges Christians to ponder on whether world events occurred according to God's will or through people's plans, which are "often loaded with private interests, an unquenchable thirst for power and gratuitous violence."

The pope said Christians must interpret the signs given by God to truly see his merciful love. Even though the year was marred by violence and the suffering of people fleeing for better living conditions, there were also gestures of goodness, love and solidarity, even if they are not covered by the news.

"Good things," he said, "never make the news."

"These signs of love cannot and should not be obscured by the strength of evil," the pope said. "Good always triumphs, even if in some moments it may seem weaker and hidden."

Addressing those present as the bishop of Rome, the pope called on Romans to move beyond the present difficulties. The city has faced challenging moments as public services such as transportation and maintenance have deteriorated. In October, Ignazio Marino resigned as mayor following accusations that personal expenses were covered through city funds.

Pope Francis encouraged the people of Rome, saying that the commitment of recuperating the fundamental values of service, honesty and solidarity, can "overcome the serious uncertainties that have dominated this year ... symptoms of a poor sense of dedication to the common good."

Recalling the Marian icon known as "Salus Populi Romani" (health of the Roman people), the pope invoked Mary's intercession so that the people of Rome may become "privileged interpreters of faith, hospitality, brotherhood and peace."

Despite the 40-degree temperature – cold for Rome – Pope Francis visited and prayed before the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square. He also spent time greeting the crowds gathered, wishing them all a "Happy New Year."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.