Catholic Guide

Workers in NYC face COVID vaccine mandate, causing 'worry' at some Catholic schools

null / oasisamuel/Shutterstock

New York City, N.Y., Dec 6, 2021 / 17:18 pm (CNA).

Catholic and other private school employees in New York City are speaking out against a city mandate that they been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mitch Schwartz, First Deputy Press Secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that staff at private businesses and private schools need one dose of the vaccine by Dec. 27

The Dec. 6 announcement was anticipated, as de Blasio had said Dec. 2 that private school employees were going to need to be vaccinated in the near future, the AP reported.

On Dec. 2, Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said that while they have “placed great emphasis on getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” they respect each individual's choice to make their own decision, adding that “we have and continue to remain opposed to any such mandate.”

Chadzutko wrote that on Dec. 2, Catholic schools and academies throughout Brooklyn and Queens joined a “coalition of religious and independent schools throughout New York City asking the Mayor and Health Commissioner to reconsider plans to implement a vaccine mandate.”

That coalition, the New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious schools, sent a letter to de Blasio and to Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi asking them to reconsider the mandate.

“While we support and generally encourage Covid vaccination in our schools, and while in fact most of our schools’ employees are so vaccinated, none of our schools insist upon such vaccination as a condition of employment,” the letter, authored by Rabbi David Zwiebel, chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, said.

Vaccination is a choice “most appropriately” left to the individual, the letter said, adding that vaccination “is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce.”

The letter said that imposing a mandate could be “devastating” to schools and children. Only a small percentage of staff at these schools, for individual circumstances or personal values, have chosen to forgo vaccination, the letter said. 

Many of those who have chosen to forgo vaccination will be sure to resist vaccination, even if a mandate comes, which will cause them to be terminated from their jobs, the letter said.

“As a result,” the letter said, schools will be put in a difficult position of filling vacancies with high quality teachers and staff, which could be “impossible” in the middle of the school year.

Recognizing the danger of the Omicron variant, the letter acknowledged the mandate’s goal of hampering the spread of COVID-19.

“However, there are ways to try to move toward that goal short of a mandate, ways that will not interfere with the value of personal choice and will not risk the wholesale loss of teachers and other school employees,” the letter concluded. “The religious and independent school community respectfully urges you to reconsider.”

As of Dec. 6, the Archdiocese of New York has not responded to CNA’s request for a comment on the mandate. However, the New York State Catholic Conference is a coalition member listed on the NYSCIRS website.

The New York Times reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York spoke to de Blasio on the phone before the mayor’s announcement of the mandate.

John Quaglione, the Deputy Press Secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn, told CNA on Monday that the diocese received no official notification from the mayor prior to his announcement and has yet to be sent the Executive Order directly from the health department or the mayor's office.

“We were able to download the Executive Order from the mayor's website, otherwise, we still would not know what it says or entails,” Quaglione added.

De Blasio, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, said that he is “confident” the mandate will withstand any legal challenges that might come its way. 

Alexandra Sullivan, a parent with children in New York archdiocesan schools, told CNA on Monday that de Blasio’s mandate is “alarming.”

“Catholic teaching holds that vaccination must be voluntary and that no one should be coerced into a decision against their informed conscience,” Sullivan said. “Teachers employed by the Catholic Church should be afforded the freedom to exercise their conscience.”

Sullivan said that the mandate causes “worry” for parents who are concerned that there will be a future mandate for children to be vaccinated to attend school.

“That would be a grave and dangerous overstepping of government authority,” she added. “It is imperative that our bishops fight against such government overreach to protect their employees and to protect the children under their care in Catholic schools.”

The AP reported that there are about 56,000 employees at 938 schools in New York City to whom the mandate applies.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops' conference have said that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible when recipients have no other ethical option due to the gravity of the pandemic. Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love." In December 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note stating that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible but "must be voluntary"; the note recognized "reasons of conscience" for refusing vaccines.

Cincinnati archdiocese announces parish 'family' groups amid massive consolidation effort

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains in Cincinnati, Ohio. / Mitchell Chabot/Shutterstock

Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec 6, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati this week announced plans for groupings of parishes, called “families,” which will greatly reduce the number of parishes in the archdiocese during a multi-year consolidation process.

The announcement follows a period of public comment on the plan, during which the archdiocese says it fielded some 8,000 comments.

In a Dec. 5 letter, ​​Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said the consolidation process, dubbed “Beacons of Light”, is an effort to “ensure that all our resources – human, physical and financial –are properly ordered to missionary discipleship.”

“I am convinced that Beacons of Light, born of great hope, will enable us to form stronger parishes, centered on the Eucharist, that radiate the love of Christ and joy of the Gospel in a world that is frequently indifferent or even hostile,” Shnurr wrote.

Under the plan, existing parishes in the Cincinnati archdiocese— of which there are currently more than 200— have been grouped together into 53 “families”, of between 5 to 7 on average. The archdiocese serves some 440,000 Catholics in 19 counties.

The next stage in the process will be the implementation of the new Families of Parishes, set to be completed by July 1, 2022. The consolidation process could eliminate more than 70% of active parishes.

“Our life in Christ is always a response to God’s initiative. As we continue this challenging but exciting endeavor, may we stay attentive to all that the Lord is doing in our midst,” Schnurr concluded.

“God has abundantly blessed our first two centuries and will certainly bless the next. He has promised to never leave us. May God bless and keep all of us as we journey together toward the celebration of the birth of our Lord with certainty in our hearts that Christ remains with us always.”

In explaining the reasons for the initiative, the archdiocesan website cites problems the diocese and Church at large is facing. The website says that “religious practice is declining nationwide,” also citing “the average Sunday Mass in our archdiocese is only one-third full,” as well as an estimation that by 2026 the archdiocese will have at least 20% fewer priests than it currently does.

The number of Catholics as a percentage of the population has also decreased. The site says that the number of registered Catholic households in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has declined at a rate of 2.72 per day for the past decade.

“[M]ost of our church buildings are grossly underutilized, our resources are spread too thin, and many of our parishes are not the vibrant communities of faith Catholics need them to be,” the site reads.

Pius VII established the Diocese of Cincinnati in June 1821. The ninth diocese in the United States, it originally encompassed the entirety of Ohio and the present-day state of Michigan, as well as parts of present-day Wisconsin. It was elevated to an archdiocese in 1850.

As three more hostages released in Haiti, Christian group thanks God and asks for more prayers

Rebuilding project in Haiti / Christian Aid Ministries

Denver Newsroom, Dec 6, 2021 / 14:07 pm (CNA).

Three more hostages from an Ohio-based Christian group were released in Haiti, leaving 12 captives of the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang previously kidnapped and released a group of 10 Catholics, including priests and religious.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a Dec. 6 statement. The group said they are not able to provide names of those released or any other details.

Seventeen missionaries and family members with Christian Aid Ministries were kidnapped by 400 Mawozo Oct. 16, when they were working at an orphanage in Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

“As announced on Friday, we would like to focus the next three days on praying and fasting for the hostages,” the Christian group said. “Please continue to intercede for those who are still being held as well as those who have been released. We long for all the hostages to be reunited with their loved ones.”

The initial group of hostages ranged in age from 8 months to 48 years. Of the 17 hostages, 16 were American citizens and one was Canadian. The missionaries are from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and the Canadian province of Ontario.

On Nov. 21, Christian Aid Ministries announced the release of two of the captives.

The ringleader behind the kidnappings, gang leader Wilson Joseph, had initially threatened to kill the hostages unless he received his demands, in a video posted online in October. The gang had sought a $1 million ransom for each hostage. It was not clear whether this ransom applied to the five children, the Associated Press reported.

Other observers saw this demand as an opening for negotiations, the New York Times said. It is not clear if any ransom money has been paid so far.

The 400 Mawozo gang is the same criminal gang behind the April 2021 kidnapping of 10 Catholics, including priests and nuns. All of those kidnapped in April were released within several weeks. Ransom was paid for just two of the kidnapped priests, according to a Haitian official.

Christian Aid Ministries on its website says it aims to be “a trustworthy and efficient channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.” It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan, but also promotes billboard evangelism in the United States and advertises assistance for any conscientious objectors in the event of a U.S military draft.

The abductions come at a time of major political and economic crises for Haiti. Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July, and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed 2,200 people in mid-August. The country also faces a major fuel shortage, the Associated Press reports. Port-au-Prince has seen a wave of kidnappings and the rise of criminal gangs, and more gang conflict is threatened.

On Dec. 5 a gang leader Ti Lapli released a video message warning people to avoid passing through the capital’s Martissant section, an area which has suffered from violent gang clashes. Ti Lapli said the people of Martissant should stock up on supplies.

“The next few days will be difficult... We will not remain with our arms crossed in face of those who try to destroy us,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

In April, the Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince warned that gang violence had reached “unprecedented” levels. In September, 70-year-old priest Father André Sylvestre was shot to death by several gunmen on motorcycles outside of a bank. The gunmen did not take the money he carried.

Scientists reconstructed the face of St. Nicholas – here’s what they found

photo: TierneyMJ /

Liverpool, England, Dec 6, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Scientists at a university in Liverpool unveiled what they say is the most realistic portrait ever created of St. Nicholas of Myra, the popular 4th century bishop best known as the inspiration for the modern-day figure of Santa Claus.

Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University's Face Lab used a facial reconstruction system and 3D interactive technology to create the portrait, which was unveiled on Dec. 6, 2014 - the feast day of St. Nicholas.

University Professor Caroline Wilkinson said the reconstruction relied on “all the skeletal and historical material” available, the BBC reports. A university spokeswoman said the new image uses “the most up-to-date anatomical standards, Turkish tissue depth data and CGI techniques.”

Among the features depicted in the saint’s image is a broken nose, which Wilkinson said had “healed asymmetrically, giving him a characteristic nose and rugged facial appearance.”

St. Nicholas lived 270-343 A.D. He was the bishop of Myra, in southern Turkey.

During his years as bishop, he was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecution, then later released when Constantine came to power.

He was known for his staunch defense of the faith, as well as his often anonymous generosity toward those in need.

Stories surrounding the saint abound. He is believed to have once rescued three sisters from being sold into slavery by throwing bags of gold through an open window into their house to pay their family’s debts.

Another popular story holds that he became so enraged by the heretic Arius – who claimed that Christ was not truly God – that he punched him during a heated debate at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.

Based on the broken nose in the saint's facial reconstruction, maybe Arius punched him back.

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 11, 2016.

Religious leaders warn Build Back Better threatens faith-based child care, education

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Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2021 / 13:47 pm (CNA).

Two U.S. Catholic bishops signed a letter with other religious leaders expressing concern that the child care and universal pre-kindergarten provisions in the Build Back Better Act could exclude faith-based providers.

“The current Build Back Better Act provisions would severely limit the options for parents, suffocate the mixed delivery system for child care and pre-kindergarten, and greatly restrict the number of providers available for a successful national program,” the Dec. 1 letter, signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education, read.

Organizations representing Christians, Muslims, and Jews also signed the letter as the U.S. Senate considers the bill pushed by the Biden administration. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in November, approving nearly $2 trillion for social programs including universal pre-kindergarten, increased child-care subsidies, and initiatives intended to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

Faith leaders addressed the letter to two Senate leaders on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

“While language in the BBBA does not preclude parents from selecting sectarian providers, the subsequent provisions in the bill text make it virtually impossible for many religious providers to participate,” the letter read, referring to providers of child care and pre-kindergarten.

A statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cautioned that the legislation deviates from current federal child-care policy.

The bill’s provisions attach “new compliance obligations that would interfere with providers’ protected rights under Title VII and Title IX regarding curricula or teaching, sex-specific programs (such as separate boys or girls schools or classes), and preferences for employing individuals who share the providers’ religious beliefs,” the USCCB stated.

In their letter, the religious leaders said they have no intention of preventing anyone from receiving early learning rooted in faith.

“Faith-based providers strive to serve everyone, especially the less fortunate, whom the BBBA’s child care and UPK [universal pre-kindergarten] programs are specifically intended to benefit,” the letter read. “We simply ask to be allowed to continue our good work in caring for our nation’s children in a manner consistent with our beliefs.”

The following day, Dec. 2, the White House Press Office announced that President Joe Biden spoke with Murray on the phone about the Build Back Better Act in the Senate.

Murray and the president discussed the “unprecedented steps this legislation would take to help middle class families afford child care and to create the first-ever universal pre-k program across the United States,” the press office said.

Full text: Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Greece

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference on the journey from Athens to Rome, Dec. 6, 2021 / Vatican Media.

Aboard the papal plane, Dec 6, 2021 / 10:41 am (CNA).

Pope Francis returned to Rome on Monday after a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece. During the Dec. 2-6 visit, he met with migrants and refugees, Catholics, Orthodox leaders, and politicians.

Please read below for CNA’s full transcript of Pope Francis’ press conference on the flight from Greece to Italy.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office: Good morning, Your Holiness, good morning and thank you for guiding us during these intense days, even to touch with our own hands that which you called [inaudible]. And thank you also for this space to be able to speak together.

Pope Francis: Good morning and thank you. I was afraid that this would not work out, because of the delay, but it seems that it works. Thank you so much, I will listen to your questions.

Bruni: Thank you, Holiness, the first question is from Constandinos Tsindas of the Cypriot television.

Constandinos Tsindas, Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation: Your Holiness, thank you for the opportunity. [...] And thank you for the opportunity and for your visit to Cyprus and Greece. Your Eminence, your strong remarks on inter-religious dialogue in both Cyprus and Greece have reverberated strongly internationally and have caused quite challenging expectations. They say apologizing is the hardest thing to do. Well, you have done it in a spectacular fashion in Athens. But what is the Vatican planning to do in practical terms in bringing together Catholic and Orthodox Christianity? Is a synod perhaps in the cards? [...] Christianity after all, stemming from the Trinity, that results in the common voice of the Church in the world. As is now proven, [...] a united Church in a globalized and dehumanized environment can actually be effective. John Chrysostom, who like you said, is an example of the osmosis of Greek thinking within Christianity, said that by human terms, the Church is clergy and lay people, while for God we are all his flock. Along with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, you called all Christians to celebrate in 2025 the 17 centuries from the first Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea. How is this process progressing? And finally, and sorry for the slightly long question, but it’s in the spirit of your journey. As others have expressed recently, in the EU [...] replace the word “Christmas” with “Holidays.” While some people don’t realize that Christianity is not an ideology but a life experience that aims to carry humans from mortal time to eternity. So I exist, because my fellow human can also exist. [...] Thank you, Your Eminence.

Pope Francis: Yes, thank you. I apologized, I apologized in front of Chrysostomos, my brother Chrysostomos [Note: he meant Ieronymos]. I apologized for all the divisions that there are among Christians, but above all those that we provoked: the Catholics. I also wanted to apologize, because during the war for independence — Chrysostomos pointed this out to me — some Catholics sided with European governments to prevent Greek independence. On the other hand, on the islands, the Catholics of the islands supported independence, they even went to war, some gave their lives for their country. But the center, let’s say, at that moment was siding with Europe. I don’t know which government was there [...] but the accusation was that. And I also ask pardon for the scandal of division, at least for that for which we are to blame. The spirit of self-sufficiency — we keep our mouths shut when we hear that we must apologize — it always makes me think that God never tires of forgiving, never, never. It is we who tire of asking forgiveness. And when we do not ask God for forgiveness, we will hardly ask our brothers and sisters. It is more difficult to ask forgiveness from a brother than from God, because we know that he says: “Yes, go forth, you are forgiven.” Instead, with brothers, there is shame and humiliation. But in today’s world, we need the attitude of humiliation and apologizing. So many things are happening in the world, so many lives lost, so many wars, so many... How come we don’t apologize?

Returning to this, I wanted to apologize for the divisions, at least for those that we caused. For the others, it is a responsibility to ask forgiveness, but I apologize for ours, and also for that episode in the war where some Catholics sided with the European government, and those on the islands went to war to defend. I don’t know if that’s enough. And one last apology — this one came from my heart — an apology for the scandal of the migrant drama, for the scandal of so many lives drowned at sea, and so on.

Bruni: The second question was on the synodal aspect, and he writes: The Church is synthesis, in human terms, we are clergy and laity, while for God we are one flock.

Pope Francis: On the synodal aspect: Yes, we are one flock, it is true. This division, clergy and laity, is a functional division, not qualifying. But there is unity, a single flock and the dynamics among the differences inside the Church is synodality, that is, listening to one another and going together, “synodos”: making the way together. And this is the sense of synodality that our Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches have preserved. Instead, the Latin Catholic Church had forgotten the synod, it was St. Paul VI who restored the synodal journey 54, 56 years ago, and we are journeying to have the habit of synodality, of walking together.

Bruni: And the last question, instead, was about Christmas, and he says: Is it possible that we don't understand that Christianity is not an ideology but a life experience? Do they want to cancel Christmas?

Pope Francis: You are referring to the European Union document without “Christmas.” This is an anachronism. This is what many dictatorships have tried to do in history: think of Napoleon, think of the Nazi and communist dictatorship, it is a way of diluted laicity, distilled water. This is one thing that didn’t work out throughout history. But this makes me think of something that, speaking of the European Union, I believe is necessary: the European Union must take in hand the ideals of the founding fathers, which were ideals of unity, of greatness. Be attentive not to make way for ideological colonization. This could divide countries and [make] the European Union fall. The European Union must respect each country as it is structured inside, the variety of countries, and not want to standardize. They don’t want to, I think they won’t do it, it isn’t the intention. But be careful because sometimes they come and throw projects like this one there and they don’t know what to do. Each country has its own peculiarity, but each country is open to the others. The European Union: super unitatem sua, solidarity of the brothers in a community of brothers that respects the singularity of each country, and be careful not to be a vehicle for ideological colonization. This is why that thing about Christmas is an anachronism.

Bruni: Thank you, Holiness. The second question, or the third question given these, comes from Iliana Magra of Kathiremenì, a Greek newspaper.

Iliana Magra, I Kathiremeni: Good morning, Holy Father. Thank you for your visit to Greece. During your speech at the Presidential Palace in Athens, you spoke about the retreat of democracy around the world and in particular in Europe. Could you elaborate a bit on that and tell us which countries you were referring to? And one more thing: what would you say to far-right leaders and voters around Europe who profess to be devout Christians while at the same time promoting undemocratic values and policies?

Pope Francis: Democracy is a treasure, a treasure of civilization, and it must be treasured, it must be guarded. And not only guarded by a superior entity, but guarded by the countries themselves, [one must] guard the democracy of others.

I see two dangers to democracy today: one is that of populism, which is here and there, and is beginning to show its teeth. I am thinking of a great populism of the last century, Nazism, which was a populism that by defending national values, so it said, succeeded in annihilating democratic life, indeed to the death of people, annihilating, becoming a bloody dictatorship.

Today I will say, because you asked about right-wing governments, let us be careful that governments, I am saying right-wing or left-wing, let us be careful that governments do not slip down this road of populism, of so-called political “populisms,” which have nothing to do with popularisms, which are the free expression of peoples, who show themselves with their identity, their folklore, their values, their art... Populism is one thing, popularism another. On the other hand, democracy is weakened, [it] enters a path where it slowly [weakens] when national values are sacrificed, are watered down towards, let’s say an ugly word, but I can’t find another one, towards an “empire,” a kind of supranational government. This is something that should make us think.

Neither should we fall into populism, where the people — we say the people, but it is not the people, but a dictatorship of “us and not the others” — think of Nazism, nor fall into watering down our identities in an international government. On this, there is a novel written in 1903 (you will say “how old-fashioned this pope is in literature!”) written by Benson, an English writer, “Lord of the World,” who dreams of a future in which an international government with economic and political measures governs all the other countries, and when you have this kind of government, he explains, you lose freedom and you try to achieve equality among all; this happens when there is a superpower that dictates economic, cultural and social behavior to the other countries.

Democracy is weakened by the danger of populism, which is not popularism (that is the good one), and by the danger of these references to international economic and cultural powers... this is what comes to mind, but I am not a political scientist, I speak by saying what I think.

Bruni: The third question comes to us from Manuel Schwarz of DPA, the German news agency.

Manuel Schwarz, Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Holy Father, first of all thank you for letting us go with you on this important journey. Migration is a central theme not only in the Mediterranean, but also in other parts of Europe, especially in Eastern Europe these days, with so many “barbed wires” as you called them. And also with the Belarusian crisis. What do you expect from the countries in this area? Poland, for example, and also Russia. And what do you expect from other important countries in Europe? For example, in Germany, where there will now be a new government after the Angela Merkel era.

Pope Francis: On those people who prevent immigration or close the borders — now it is fashionable to build walls, to make barbed wires, “concertinas” [curled barbed wire] — the Spanish know what this means — it is usual to do these things to prevent access. The first thing I would say if I had a leader in front of me is: “Think about the time that you were a migrant and they wouldn’t let you go, that you wanted to escape your land, and now you’re the one building walls.”

This works because those who build walls lose the sense of their own history, their own story, of when they were slaves of another country. Not everyone has this experience, but at least a large part of those who build walls have this experience of having been slaves.

You may say to me: but governments have the duty to govern and if such a wave of migrants comes, you cannot govern. I will say this. Every government must clearly say: ”I can receive many.” Because the leaders know how much they are able to receive. It is their right, this is true. But migrants must be welcomed, accompanied, promoted, and integrated. If a government cannot do this, it must enter into dialogue with others and let others take care, each one. And this is important. The European Union, because the European Union is able to make harmony between all governments for the distribution of migrants. Think about Cyprus. Think about Greece. Think about Lampedusa. Think about Sicily. Immigrants are coming and there is no harmony among all the countries of the European Union to send this one here, that one there, this one here … This basic harmony is missing.

And then, the last word I said was ”integrated,” right? They should be welcomed, accompanied, promoted, and integrated. Why integrated? Because if you do not integrate the migrant, this migrant will have a ghetto citizenship. An example that I am not sure if I have said it on the plane before is the example that strikes me the most, the Zaventem tragedy [suicide bombings at Brussels Airport in Belgium in 2016]. The boys who caused the catastrophe at the airport were Belgian, but the sons of ghettoized migrants. If you don’t integrate the migrant — with education, with work, with the care of the migrant — you risk having a guerrilla fighter or someone who will do these things to you. It is not easy to welcome migrants, it is not easy to solve the problem of migrants, but if we do not solve the problem of migrants we risk making a shipwreck of civilization. Today in Europe things are not only shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, no, our civilization.

This is why the representatives of European governments need to come to an agreement. For me, a model of reception and integration in its time was Sweden, which welcomed all the Latin American migrants of the military dictatorships — Chileans, Argentinians, Uruguayans, Brazilians — and integrated them. Today I was in a school here in Athens, and I looked over at the translator and said: “But here there is — I used a household word — there is a fruit salad of cultures. They are all mixed together.” And he said to me: “This is the future of Greece.”

Integration is growing. It is important. It is not: “I do not receive because…” No.

And then another drama I would like to point out. When the migrant, before coming, falls into the hands of the trafficker, they take all the money they have and bring them on the boat. When they are sent back, they are caught by these traffickers. In the dicastery for migrants, there are videos showing what happens in those places where the migrants who are from those territories are sent to. So you cannot just welcome them and leave them, except that we have to welcome them, promote them, integrate them. So if I send back the migrant, I have to accompany him and integrate him in his country, not leave him on the Libyan coast. This is cruelty. If you want to know more about this, ask the dicastery for migrants that has these videos. And there is a film — you know of it, for sure — by [the Spanish NGO] Open Arms, which is a bit romanticized, but it shows the reality of those who drown there. It is a horrific thing, this. But we risk civilization.

Cecile Chambraud, Le Monde: [Speaking in Spanish] Holy Father, on Thursday, when we arrived in Nicosia, we learned that you had accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Paris, Archbishop Aupetit. Can you tell us why? And why in such a hurry?

Second question: Following the report of an independent commission on sexual abuse, the French bishops’ conference has recognized that the Church had an institutional responsibility for what thousands of victims have suffered. They also spoke of the systemic dimension of this violence. What do you think of these statements of the French bishops? What meaning could they have for the universal Church? And, last question, will you receive the members of this independent commission?

Pope Francis: I’ll start with the latter, then we will come back to the former.

When doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time. When you do it over such a long time, there is a risk of confusing the way you perceive the problem of a time period 70 years before. I just want to say this as a principle: A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours. For example, slavery. We say: it is a brutality. The abuses of 100 years ago or 70 years ago are a brutality. But the way they were living it is not the same as today, there was another hermeneutic. For example, in the case of abuse in the Church, the cover-up is the way that is used unfortunately in families, even today, in a large number of families, and in neighborhoods, try to cover it up. We say, no, this covering up is not the way to go. But always interpret with the hermeneutic of the time and not with ours.

For example, the famous Indianapolis study collapsed due to lack of a straightforward interpretation: some things were true, others not. They were mixing time periods. At this stage, segmenting helps. As to the report, I have not read it. I have listened to the comment of the French bishops. I don’t know how to respond really. The bishops will come to me this month and I will ask them to explain to me what is wrong.

The first question on the Aupetit case: I wonder what he did that was so serious that he had to resign? What did he do? Somebody answer me ...

Chambraud: I don’t know.

Pope Francis: If we don’t know the accusation, we cannot condemn … What was the accusation, who knows? It’s bad isn’t it?

Chambraud: A problem of governance or something else. We do not know.

Pope Francis: Before answering I will say: do the investigation, eh, do the investigation … because there is a danger of saying: he was condemned. Who condemned him? Public opinion, gossip. But what did he do? We don’t know, something … If you know why, say so, otherwise I cannot answer and you will not know why. Because it was his failure, a fault against the sixth commandment — but not total — of small caresses and massages that he gave to the secretary, so stands the accusation. This is sin, but it is not of the most serious sins, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious. The gravest sins are those that are more angelic: pride, hatred. These are graver. So Aupetit is a sinner, as am I — I don’t know if you are aware ... but probably — as was Peter, the bishop on whom Jesus Christ founded the Church.

Why did the community of that time accept a sinful bishop, and with sins of such an angelic nature as denying Christ! But it was a normal Church, it was accustomed to everyone always being sinful, it was a humble Church. You can see that our Church is not used to having a sinful bishop. We pretend to say my bishop is a saint. … not this red hat … we are all sinners. But when the gossip grows, grows, grows, and takes away the reputation of the person. He will not be able to lead because he has lost the reputation, not because of his sin, which is sin — like Peter’s, like mine like yours — but because of the gossip of the people responsible for reporting things, a man who has lost his reputation so publicly cannot govern. And this is an injustice and that is why I accepted Aupetit’s resignation, not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy. This is what I want to say.

Bruni: Thank you, Your Holiness, and maybe we have time for another question.

Pope Francis: Oh, we’re fasting!

Bruni: [The next question] is on the part of Vera Shcherbakova of TASS.

Pope Francis: The successor of Alexey Bukalov ... He was good.

Vera Shcherbakova, TASS Russian News Agency: Yes, I miss him a lot. I say it often. Thank you very much, Holy Father, for your attitude towards our [...] which is a heritage [...] of our agency. But I wanted to ask the following: On this trip, you have seen the heads of Orthodox Churches. You said some beautiful words about communion and reunification. So when will your next meeting with Patriarch Kirill be? What are the common projects with the Russian Church and what difficulties do you maybe observe in this process of drawing closer?

Pope Francis: A good question. A meeting with Patriarch Kirill is not far on the horizon. I think next week [Metropolitan] Hilarion is coming to me to arrange a possible meeting. Because the patriarch has to travel — I don’t know where, maybe in Finland, but I’m not sure — I’m always willing to go to Moscow to talk to a brother, there are no protocols. Brother to brother before protocols. And me with an Orthodox brother, his name is Kirill, his name is Chrysostomos, his name is Ieronymous, I am a brother, we are brothers, we say things face to face. Let’s not dance [...]. No, let’s say things face to face. But as brothers. Is it nice to see brothers arguing? It is beautiful, because they belong to the same mother, Mother Church, but they are a bit divided. Some because of legacy, some because of a history that is divided, but we must go together, try to work, and walk in unity and for unity.

I am grateful to Ieronymos, to Chrysostomos, to all the patriarchs who have this desire to walk together. In unity ... the great Orthodox theologian Zizioulas — he is studying eschatology — once said jokingly that “we will find unity in the Eschaton” [the end of the world]. [...] It’s a saying, but it does not mean that we have to stand still ... waiting for the theologians to come to an agreement. This is a phrase, a manner of speaking.

They say that Athenagoras said to Paul VI: “We put all the theologians on one island and we go [...] to another part.” It’s a joke. But, theologians continue to study, because this is good for us, leads us to understand better, and find unity. But in the meantime, let’s move on together. But how? Yes, praying together, doing charity together. I know, for example, I am thinking of Sweden, of [their] Caritas, [where] Lutherans and Catholics [work] together, they work together. Work together and pray together. This we can do. The rest should be done by the theologians, because we do not understand how to do it. Unity begins today on this path.

Bruni: Thank you, Holy Father.

Pope Francis: Thank you, thank you.

Bruni: Thank you for the time you wanted to dedicate also to our questions. I think that we are, more or less, in time for lunch.

Pope Francis: Thank you very much, and have a good lunch. [...]

Bruni: Some journalists wanted to give you a copy of the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon. Because they were sorry that you didn’t get to see it up close [he hands Pope Francis a small model of the Parthenon].

Pope Francis: Yes, even if there was a danger I would go [to Athens] without seeing it. Yesterday night I said, no, I want to see it. They brought me to see it [from the car] and I saw it illuminated, from far away. I didn’t touch it, but I said thank you for this courtesy.

Pope Francis: EU commission guide discouraging word ‘Christmas’ was an anachronism

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference on the journey from Athens to Rome, Dec. 6, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome, Italy, Dec 6, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Monday that a withdrawn document discouraging European Commission staff from using the word “Christmas” was an “anachronism.”

The pope was asked to comment on the 32-page internal document, called “#UnionOfEquality. European Commission Guidelines for Inclusive Communication,” during his in-flight press conference en route from Greece to Italy on Dec. 6.

He noted that a series of ideologies had attempted to pull up Europe’s Christian roots.

“You refer to the European Union document on Christmas... this is an anachronism,” he said.

“In history many, many dictatorships have tried to do it. Think of Napoleon: from there... Think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one... it is a fashion of a watered-down secularism, distilled water... But this is something that throughout hasn’t worked.”

The European Commission guide urged officials to “avoid assuming that everyone is Christian.” The commission is the executive branch of the European Union, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states.

“Not everyone celebrates the Christian holidays, and not all Christians celebrate them on the same dates,” the document said.

The guide encouraged staff based in the Belgian capital, Brussels, and Luxembourg to avoid a phrase such as “Christmas time can be stressful” and instead say “Holiday times can be stressful.”

Helena Dalli, the EU Commissioner for Equality, launched the guidelines on Oct. 26 but announced on Nov. 30 that she had recalled them.

She said: “It is not a mature document and does not meet all Commission quality standards. The guidelines clearly need more work. I therefore withdraw the guidelines and will work further on this document.”

Speaking to journalists on Monday, the pope stressed that the EU should uphold the ideals of its founding fathers, who included committed Catholics such as Robert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi, who the pope quoted during a major speech on democracy in Athens on Dec. 4.

“The European Union must take in hand the ideals of the founding fathers, which were ideals of unity, of greatness, and be careful not to take the path of ideological colonization,” the pope told reporters at the end of his five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece.

“This could end up dividing the countries and [causing] the European Union to fail. The European Union must respect each country as it is structured within, the variety of countries, and not want to make them uniform.”

“I don't think it will do that, it wasn’t its intention, but be careful, because sometimes they come, and they throw projects like this one out there and they don’t know what to do, I don’t know what comes to mind…”

“No, each country has its own peculiarity, but each country is open to the others. The European Union: its sovereignty, the sovereignty of brothers in a unity that respects the individuality of each country. And be careful not to be vehicles of ideological colonization. That is why [the issue] of Christmas is an anachronism.”

Shortly before the guide was withdrawn, the Vatican’s Secretary of State sharply criticized the document.

In an interview published by Vatican News on Nov. 30, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that the text was going “against reality” by downplaying Europe’s Christian roots.

Europe’s Catholic bishops welcomed the document’s withdrawal.

The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) said that it “cannot help being concerned about the impression that an anti-religious bias characterized some passages of the draft document.”

The pope was also asked during the press conference, later posted on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, about whether he was referring to specific countries when he spoke of a “retreat from democracy” in a speech at the Presidential Palace in Athens on Saturday.

He replied that he believed there were two main threats to democracy: “populism” and a drift towards “a kind of supranational government.”

He said: “I am thinking of a great populism of the last century, Nazism, which was a populism that, defending national values, as it said, ended up annihilating democratic life, indeed life itself with the death of the people, in becoming a bloody dictatorship.”

“Today I will say, because you asked about right-wing governments, let’s be careful that governments — I’m not saying right-wing or left-wing, I’m saying something else — let's be careful that governments don’t slip down this road of populism, of so-called political ‘populisms,’ which have nothing to do with popularism, which is the free expression of peoples, who express themselves with their identity, their folklore, their values, their art…”

He went: “On the other hand, democracy is weakened, [it] enters a path where it slowly [weakens] when national values are sacrificed, are watered down towards, let’s say — an ugly word, but I can’t find another one — towards an ‘empire,’ a kind of supranational government, and this is something that should make us think.”

The pope cited the 1907 novel “Lord of the World,” by the English Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, joking that he would be criticized for his “old-fashioned” taste in literature.

He recalled that the novel “imagines a future in which an international government through economic and political measures governs all the other countries.”

“And when you have this kind of government, he explains, you lose freedom and you try to achieve equality among all; this happens when there is a superpower that dictates economic, cultural, and social behaviour to the other countries,” the pope said.

“The weakening of democracy is caused by the danger of populism, which is not popularism, and the danger of these references to international economic and cultural powers. That’s what comes to mind, but I’m not a political scientist, I’m just saying what I think.”

Pope Francis says he accepted Paris archbishop’s resignation ‘on the altar of hypocrisy’

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference on the journey from Athens to Rome, Dec. 6, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2021 / 07:21 am (CNA).

On the papal plane on Monday, Pope Francis said that he accepted the resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris “not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy.”

Answering questions aboard his return flight from Athens, Greece, to Rome on Dec. 6, the pope said that the archbishop of Paris stepped down because he had “lost his reputation so publicly.”

Pope Francis told reporters that Catholics today “are not used to having a sinful bishop.”

“We pretend to say my bishop is a saint,” he said.

“The gossip grows, grows, grows and takes away the reputation of the person. He will not be able to speak because he has lost the reputation ... and this is an injustice and that is why I accepted Aupetit’s resignation not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy,” Pope Francis said.

Aupetit had asked the pope to decide whether he should remain in his post after a report in the French weekly magazine Le Point on Nov. 22 raised concerns about Aupetit’s contacts with a woman dating back to 2012, when he was vicar general of Paris archdiocese.

Aupetit said that he had written to the pope at the end of November out of a concern to preserve the unity of his archdiocese after Le Point had portrayed him as an authoritarian and divisive figure.

Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome after returning from Greece, Dec. 6, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome after returning from Greece, Dec. 6, 2021. Vatican Media.

Discussing Aupetit’s case, Pope Francis said: “I wonder what he did that was so serious that he had to resign. What did he do? ... If we don’t know the accusation, we cannot condemn.”

The pope said that Aupetit was accused of a fault against the sixth commandment, of “small caresses and massages that he gave to the secretary.”

Francis added that this “is a sin, but it is not one of the most serious sins, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious.”

Aupetit has firmly denied that he had a relationship with the woman in question.

“My behavior towards her may have been ambiguous, thus suggesting the existence between us of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute … I decided not to see her again and I informed her,” he said to Le Point.

Aupetit told the French Catholic daily La Croix that he had spoken to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, about his situation, as well as to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the apostolic nuncio to France.

“This is not because of what I should or should not have done in the past — otherwise I would have left a long time ago — but to avoid division, if I myself am a source of division,” Aupetit said.

The pope’s comments during the in-flight press conference, posted later on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, came at the end of his five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece.

The Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Aupetit on Dec. 2 as the pope traveled to the divided capital city of Nicosia in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In a packed intinerary for a two-day visit, the pope met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece included meetings with political authorities, Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, and migrants on the island of Lesbos. He also celebrated Mass at a concert hall in the capital.

On the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis was also asked about a report which estimated that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.

In response, Pope Francis said that there was a risk of confusing the way that a problem was perceived 70 years ago with the way it is seen today.

“A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours,” he said.

The pope added that he had not read the report, but that he planned to discuss it with the French bishops.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) published a nearly 2,500-page final report on Oct. 5, estimating that 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns in France from 1950 to 2020.

It suggested that there were “between 2,900 and 3,200” abusers out of 115,000 clergy and other religious workers, which it noted “would imply a very high number of victims per aggressor.”

The study also said that “more than a third of sexual assaults within the Catholic Church were committed, not by clergy, monks or other religious workers, but by laypersons.”

Members of a French Catholic academy have criticized the report’s methodology, claiming that it lacked “scientific rigor.”

Last month, Catholic bishops in France announced that they have agreed to launch “a vast program of renewal” of governance practices in response to a landmark report on clerical sex abuse.

Aupetit responded to the pope’s decision to accept his resignation in a video message on Dec. 2, saying that he had been “greatly disturbed by the attacks” on him.

He said: “The painful events of the past week, about which I have already spoken, had led me to place my mission in the hands of Pope Francis in order to preserve the archdiocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust always provoke.”

“I pray for those who may have wished me ill as Christ taught us to do, who helps us beyond our poor strength. I ask forgiveness of those whom I might have hurt and assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayer, which will always be yours,” Aupetit said.

Pope Francis says he will meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill again

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference on the journey from Athens to Rome, Dec. 6, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2021 / 06:35 am (CNA).

On the return flight from Greece on Monday, Pope Francis said that a second meeting between him and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is being organized.

“A meeting with Patriarch Kirill is not far on the horizon. I think next week [Metropolitan] Hilarion is coming to me to arrange a possible meeting,” the pope said during a press conference aboard the papal plane on Dec. 6.

Pope Francis expressed his willingness to travel anywhere, including Moscow, for the meeting, emphasizing that what is more important than “protocols” is that the patriarch is his brother.

The pope’s comments, posted later on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, came at the end of a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece, two Mediterranean countries with predominantly Orthodox populations.

During his trip, the pope spoke about his desire that the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church in Cyprus and Greece would continue to strive for full unity.

The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Volokolamsk said in an interview after an October meeting with Francis that he thought another encounter between the pope and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow would take place.

Pope Francis meets with Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba on Feb. 12, 2016. .  L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Francis meets with Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba on Feb. 12, 2016. . L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis’ historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba in 2016 marked the first time a pope met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in almost 1,000 years.

According to Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, who serves as the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, the next meeting is unlikely to occur in Moscow.

Hilarion said that a papal trip to Russia would be “impossible at the moment.”

Pope Francis began his latest international trip on Dec. 2 with a visit to the divided capital city of Nicosia in Cyprus.

In two days, the pope met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

The pope’s three days in neighboring Greece included meetings with political authorities, Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, and migrants on the island of Lesbos. He also celebrated Mass at a concert hall in the capital and met with young people in Athens before his return flight to the Vatican.

Speaking on the plane, Francis said it is not nice to see brothers fighting, noting that though there is division between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, they must journey toward unity.

“I am grateful to Ieronymos, to Chrysostomos, to all the patriarchs who have this desire to walk together in unity,” the pope said, referencing two Orthodox leaders he met on his trip.

In Nicosia, Pope Francis had a private meeting on Dec. 3 with Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, followed by an encounter with the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

The Holy Synod is the highest authority of the Church of Cyprus, an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church.

Pope Francis also met privately with Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, on Dec. 4, and with other bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church.

During the meeting, he apologized for the mistakes of Catholics, saying: “Shamefully, patriarch, — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion.”

Like Pope John Paul II’s visit to Greece in 2001, Francis’ trip was controversial in some corners of the Greek Orthodox Church. One Orthodox cleric protested against Francis, shouting, “Pope, you are a heretic!” at him outside of the patriarch’s residence.

On the papal plane, Pope Francis told journalists that theologians have to continue to study points of unity and division between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches. Meanwhile, others should “go forward together,” praying for Christian unity.

“The great Orthodox theologian [John] Zizioulas once jokingly said that ‘unity will be found in the Eschaton [the end of the world].’” Francis noted. “It’s a saying, but it doesn’t mean we have to stand still…”

5 things to know and share about St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, by Jaroslav Čermák (1831-1878). / Galerie Art Praha via Wikimedia (Public Domain).

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

St. Nicholas, whose feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, is well known as possibly the real-life inspiration for the beloved Christmas character of Santa Claus.

Not a lot is known about the historical Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra, a Greek city in modern-day Turkey, during the 4th century AD.

But there are many stories and legends which explain his reputation as a just and upright man, charitable gift-giver, and miracle worker.

Here are five things to know and share about St. Nicholas:

1. Why St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children

Many people know that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but they may not know why he has that title.

There is a grisly legend which says that during a famine in Myra, three young boys were lured into a butcher’s shop, where they were killed and then brined in a wooden barrel with the intention of being sold as “ham.”

The good bishop worked a miracle, bringing the pickled children back to life and saving them from a gruesome fate.

Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, who lived in Italy from c. 1370 to 1427. Public Domain.
Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, who lived in Italy from c. 1370 to 1427. Public Domain.

This story became the subject of many portrayals of Nicholas in art, especially during the Middle Ages. Some people believe depictions of Bishop Nicholas with the three boys led to his reputation as a protector of children.

The legend of the brining may explain how he also became, oddly, the patron saint of coopers and brewers.

2. St. Nicholas is one of the foremost saints in the Russian Orthodox Church

St. Nicholas is a unifying figure among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, since both groups venerate the saint.

But he is incredibly important in the Russian Orthodox Church, where he is known as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker for the many miracles attributed to him both during and after life.

To the Orthodox, Nicholas is principally honored for his qualities as a holy bishop and good shepherd of his people.

In their weekly liturgical cycle, which dedicates different days of the week to Jesus Christ and other saints, only three are specifically named: Mary, the Mother of God, John the Forerunner (known to Catholics as John the Baptist), and St. Nicholas.

Nicholas did not leave behind any theological writings, but when he was made a bishop, he is credited with saying, that “this dignity and this office demand different usage, in order that one should live no longer for oneself but for others.”

3. Jolly old St. Nicholas?

Because of his popularity among Orthodox Christians, St. Nicholas is a favorite subject in iconography.

But do not be surprised if, among the hundreds of icons depicting him, you don’t see any merry dimples or a “round little belly.” He does have a white beard, though.

An icon of St. Nicholas painted in 1294 for a Russian Orthodox church on Lipno Island in northwestern Russia. Public Domain
An icon of St. Nicholas painted in 1294 for a Russian Orthodox church on Lipno Island in northwestern Russia. Public Domain

4. Nicholas is also the patron saint of unmarried people, fishermen, pawnbrokers, and the falsely accused

One of the most popular legends about Nicholas is that the saint, who is said to have come from a wealthy family, secretly helped a poor man with three daughters.

The father could not provide proper dowries for the girls to marry, and without husbands to support them, they might have been forced to turn to prostitution.

Learning about the situation, Nicholas secretly slipped a bag of gold coins through the family’s window while they were sleeping. He later left a second bag of coins, and likewise, for the third daughter, at which point, the legend says, the father, who had waited up all night, “caught” Nicholas red-handed in his gift-giving. But Nicholas made him promise to keep the secret.

The story is likely the explanation for why the modern Christmas character of Santa Claus brings his gifts for children under the cover of night.

In St. Nicholas artworks referencing this legend, the three bags of coins are often depicted as three golden balls. Images of gold balls used to also mark the shops of pawnbrokers, which is probably how Nicholas came to be their patron saint too.

A painting of Saint Nicholas and Mary Magdalene by Antonello da Messina, created between 1475 and 1476. Public Domain
A painting of Saint Nicholas and Mary Magdalene by Antonello da Messina, created between 1475 and 1476. Public Domain

One of many miracles attributed to St. Nicholas happened at sea, as he traveled aboard a boat to the Holy Land. Nicholas is a patron saint of sailors and travelers because he calmed the stormy waters that threatened their lives.

His patronage of the falsely accused can be attributed to an early story about his rescue of three innocent men moments before their execution. It is said that St. Nicholas, then bishop of Myra, boldly pushed away the executioner’s sword, released the men from their chains, and angrily reprimanded a juror who had taken a bribe in order to find them guilty.

5. St. Nicholas has two feast days

Most people know that Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, the day he died in the year 343, but for East Slavs, as well as the people of Bari, Italy, May 9 is also an important day of celebration.

That date is the anniversary of the day that St. Nicholas’ relics were moved from Myra, in present-day Turkey, to Bari, not long after the Great Schism of Catholics and Orthodox in 1054 AD.

Accounts differ over whether the translation of the relics was theft or an attempt by Christian sailors to preserve the saint’s remains from destruction by the Turks. But whatever the real reason, the relics can still be venerated today in the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari.

Pope Francis visited Bari, in Italy’s southern region of Puglia, two times during his papacy. During both the 2018 and 2020 visits, he stopped in the basilica’s crypt to venerate St Nicholas’ relics.

Perrant via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
Perrant via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The pontifical basilica is an important place of ecumenism, since the Catholic church welcomes many Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians to the pilgrimage site. In the crypt, where St. Nicholas is buried, there is also an altar for the celebration of Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgies.

For Christians who follow the Julian Calendar, as the Eastern Orthodox do, St. Nicholas’ principal feast day falls on Dec. 19. An Orthodox Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at the Basilica of St. Nicholas that morning.

On Dec. 6, Catholics in Bari will celebrate the beloved saint with Mass, concerts, and a procession of the saint’s statue through the city’s streets.