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During a press conference aboard…

Pope Francis said he is working behind the scenes in Hungary to bring peace to Ukraine and that the Vatican is willing to help with a request from Ukraine’s prime minister to mediate the return of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia since the outbreak of war over a year ago. 

While saying he needed to be discreet, the pope said there are plans underway, including with individuals he met during his three-day stay in Hungary, to aid in his efforts to encourage peace in Europe.

« We must help so this doesn’t become a justification for war, » the pope said April 30 during a press conference on board the papal plane. « All humanitarian gestures help. Gestures of cruelty do not help. » 

The pope noted that the Vatican had already successfully helped to mediate a prisoner exchange between Russians and Ukrainians. 

On April 27, the pope met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who told reporters that he believed the Vatican could play an important role in what is believed to be thousands of Ukrainian children taken from their homeland. 

The pope’s remarks came on the return flight to Rome after a delicate trip to the Hungarian capital of Budapest — a visit where he made repeated calls for an end to war and calling on Europe to unite together in hopes of peace. 

On April 29, the pope held a private meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion, who from 2009-2022 served as foreign minister for the Russian Orthodox Church. Last summer, Hilarion was dismissed from the role, due to what is widely believed to be his more cautious stance on Russia’s war against Ukraine than that of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. 

The Vatican was tight-lipped about the pope and Hilarion’s 20-minute meeting, only noting that it was cordial. 

Francis was equally cautious speaking to reporters en route back to Rome, only saying « you can imagine we did speak about this, » referring to the war. 

The pope went on to praise Hilarion as « very intelligent » and « someone with whom one can talk. » 

It is « always good to open channels » said the pope, adding that « you can’t have peace with closed doors. » 

Francis said that he had only spoken with Kirill once since the war, but that he believes « everyone is interested in finding a path to peace. » 

On another sensitive geopolitical issue, the pope said that following last month’s return of fragments from the Parthenon from the Vatican Museums to Greece, that he remains open to making other acts of restitution. 

« If you stole, you have to give back, » he said. « What I did was the right thing to do. »

The pope noted that sometimes it can be politically or realistically difficult to navigate such demands, but « if a gesture is necessary, it’s best to do it. » 

« If tomorrow, the Egyptians ask us to give them back the obelisk, what are we going to do? » he asked rhetorically in reference to the monument in St. Peter’s Square. 

Still, the pope said previous acts of restitution have proven to be « very fruitful » and that he was aware that the Jesuits in the United States are working on restitution efforts involving Indigenous peoples.  

« You must never put your hand in the pockets of others, » he said. 

The 86-year-old Francis, who was hospitalized in late March for three days with bronchitis, said that despite having recent health set-backs, he intends to travel to Portugal in August for World Youth Day, along with upcoming trips to Mongolia and France. 

When he first entered the hospital, the Vatican said the pope was there for « previously planned tests, » before having to backtrack after it was reported that Francis was rushed there in an ambulance. 

During the 20-minute on-board press conference, the pope provided a few more details on what led to his hospitalization, saying that after his Wednesday general audience on March 29, he had a high fever. After lunch, he said, he took a nap before his doctor ordered him to go to the hospital. 

« I did not lose my senses, » the pope said, seeming to contradict reports that surfaced earlier this month claiming that Francis had told an Italian man whom he speaks with regularly that he had arrived at Rome’s Gemelli hospital unconscious. 

Traveling — and getting out of the Vatican, he said — « keeps me active. » 


The Shepherd’s Voice

(Good Shepherd Sunday-Year A; This homily was given on April 30, 2023 at Santo Spirito in Sassia in Rome, Italy; See John 10:1-10)

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Pope Francis began his second day…

Pope Francis began his second day here in Hungary by thanking the country’s Catholics for welcoming new arrivals following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while reminding them that the Christian commitment of charity must also extend to non-believers. 

« We need a church that is fluent in the language of charity, that universal language which everyone can hear and understand, even those farthest from us, even those who are not believers, » the pope said on April 29.

Some 600 refugees, the majority of whom were Ukrainian, filled St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Budapest, along with an estimated 1,000 more awaiting the pope outside the church, where Francis heard firsthand testimonials from people who had recently fled war, along with those working with the country’s poor and homeless. 

Oleg Yakovlev, along with his wife and five children, told the pope that his family had resettled in Hungary after missiles struck his hometown of Dnipro, Ukraine. 

« We didn’t know where we would find a roof over our heads again, » he said, before describing the support they had received from Catholic Charities. « Hungary was the beginning of a new life. »

Thank you, he told the pope, « for standing up for the victims of the war. »  

Many of the young refugees sang for the pope and prepared art that greeted him upon his arrival. One child’s drawing showed Francis standing between the Russian and Ukrainian flags with the word « peace » towering above the images.

During his remarks, the pope drew on the legacy of St. Elizabeth, the country’s 13th-century saint who was the daughter of a king and who dedicated her vast wealth to caring for the poor and sick. 

« Genuine faith is challenging, » said Francis. « It takes risks, it leads us to encounter the poor and, by the witness of our lives, to speak the language of charity. » 

In a country that has historically been hostile to migration, especially non-Europeans, the pope paid tribute to the church for its immediate response to the more than 2 million refugees who have passed through the country since the war began in February 2022.

« Thank you too, for having welcomed — not only with generosity but also with enthusiasm — so many refugees from Ukraine, » said Francis.  

The pope then encouraged them to extend that commitment of hospitality to everyone in need — including the poor, the sick and the homeless — and to « take notice and choose not to remain indifferent » to those who are suffering.

« Charity is much more than material and social assistance, » he said. « It has to do with the whole person; it strives to put people back on their feet with the love of Jesus: a love that helps them to recover their beauty and their dignity. »

Francis began his three-day trip here on April 28 by offering a clarion call for those who claim to be Christians to open their borders and their hearts to refugees, presenting a direct challenge to the country’s staunchly anti-immigrant and nationalist leaders, the overwhelming majority of whom are either Catholic or Calvinist.   

« ‘I urge you to welcome strangers with benevolence and to hold them in esteem, so that they prefer to be with you rather than elsewhere,' » said the pope, quoting St. Stephen, the country’s 10th-century king who spread Christianity in Hungary.

Ahead of Francis’ arrival at the church, 33-year-old Olesia Misiats waited for the pope with her six-month old daughter in her arms, saying it was the chance of a lifetime to hear from the pope — a life that had recently been cruelly interrupted by war.

Misiats left her hometown of Kyiv with her mother and older daughter the day after the invasion began, not knowing at the time that she was pregnant. 

Now, the child that was in her womb was alive in another country, never having set foot in her native Ukraine and was with her inside the church as she prepared to take solace in the pope’s words. 

While Misiats said the Hungarian people have been very welcoming, she is eager to one day return to Ukraine.

« I’m happy Europe opened the door for our people, » she said, adding, « I want to go back home. It’s my life. »

Prior to the pope’s meeting with refugees — which in addition to Ukrainians, included a handful of new arrivals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Africa — the pope privately visited a facility caring for some 70 young people with visual impairments and motor disabilities that Mother Teresa had visited in 1986. 

Following his morning meetings, the Vatican announced that Francis had held a private meeting at the Vatican nunciature in Budapest with Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church. From 2009 to 2022, he served as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill’s head of external church relations, effectively the church’s foreign minister. He was removed from that position in June 2022 after what is widely believed to be tensions with Kirill over his handling of the war in Ukraine. 

The Vatican noted that the meeting was 20 minutes, but did not provide a read-out of the discussions between the two church leaders.  

During the afternoon, Francis met with some 11,000 Hungarian young people, encouraging them to overcome selfishness and to work for the common good. 

« This is the real challenge, » said the pope:  « To take control of our lives in order to help our world to live in peace. » 

« Each one of us should ask the uncomfortable question: What am I doing for others, for the church, for society? Do I think only about myself? Or do I put myself on the line for others, without calculating my own interests?, » he asked. 

« Let us reflect on our ability to be generous, our ability to love as Jesus taught us, which is by serving others, » Francis told them.

The young people, often raucous and interrupting the pope with applause and cheers, presented the pope with a Rubik’s cube, which was designed by a Hungarian architect in 1974.

Prior to departing for Rome April 30, Francis will preside over a large outdoor Mass here outside Hungary’s Parliament, which is expected to draw thousands of Catholics from across the country. 

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Polish Knights set up Distribution Center for Refugees

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The Biden administration announced…

The Biden administration announced April 27 new steps it would take in an effort to reduce migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border when Title 42 expires in May.

In remarks at the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration would set up migrant processing centers in Latin America to screen those seeking entry as to whether they have a legal pathway.

The administration also will expand legal pathways for entry, while increasing deportations of those who enter the United States unlawfully.

Blinken said the centers would « improve qualified individuals’ access » to refugee resettlement, family reunification and lawful settlement in the U.S. or other countries.

« These centers will take a hugely important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer, legal option to migrate that they can pursue in and from their own countries, » Blinken said.

Mayorkas said that « when people have safe and orderly pathways to come to the United States, and face consequences for failing to do so, they use those pathways. »

Title 42 is a part of federal U.S. public health law granting the federal government some authority to implement emergency action to prevent the spread of contagious diseases by barring some individuals from entry.

Then-President Donald Trump implemented the policy in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the move was seen as part of his administration’s broader attempts to reduce migration. The use of Title 42 to expel migrants at the southern border was criticized by some public health experts, who argued it was politically motivated rather than evidence-based.

Since then, Title 42 has been invoked more than 2.7 million times to expel migrants, including those seeking asylum, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Title 42 is set to end May 11.

J. Kevin Appleby, interim executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, told OSV News that the Biden administration’s announcement seems « a positive step forward. »

J. Kevin Appleby, interim executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, told OSV News that the Biden administration’s announcement seems « a positive step forward. »

« Of course, as always, it depends on how something is implemented and what resources are devoted to the implementation that will decide whether it’s successful or not, » Appleby said. « But it gives asylum- seekers an opportunity to tell their stories and have their cases adjudicated without taking a dangerous journey north. »

Appleby, a former adviser on migration policy for the U.S. bishops, said that for the last quarter century, « Congress has not had the political courage to reform the immigration system. »

« So it’s left to the executive branch to come up with these responses, when Congress should be working with the administration to pass legislation to overhaul our immigration laws, » he said.

Republicans have made immigration a key part of their criticism of the Biden administration, accusing him of lax policies. In a statement reacting to Joe Biden’s 2024 reelection bid, Trump, in the midst of his third bid for the White House after Biden defeated him in 2020, said, « Under Biden, the Southern Border has been abolished — and millions of illegal aliens have been released into our communities. »

A fact sheet from the State Department about the new actions said, « The lifting of the Title 42 order does not mean the border is open. »

The fact sheet said that any individuals who unlawfully cross the U.S. southern border after Title 42 is lifted will be processed for expedited removal, barred from reentry for at least five years if they are ordered removed and would be ineligible for asylum « absent an applicable exception. »

« To avoid these consequences, individuals are encouraged to use the many lawful pathways the United States has expanded over the past two years, » the fact sheet said.

The U.S. bishops and other Catholic immigration advocates have criticized Title 42 as well as the Biden administration’s continued use of the Trump-era policy.

OSV News has reached out to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for comment.

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Hermano Caballero, Cardenal O’Malley

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The famed singer and actor, whose…

Harry Belafonte, the famed Black entertainer and activist whose voice adorns several of the mid-20th century’s most famous recordings, died of heart failure on April 25 in New York. He turned 96 in March.

« Whether he was breaking barriers as a young musician, supporting civil rights activists in the 1960s, or convening (and calling-in) the next generation of leaders and artists, Mr. B was unfettered in his commitment to improving the lives of oppressed people across the globe, » his daughter Gina said in a statement via the Sankofa Justice & Equity Fund, Belafonte’s legacy foundation.

« While today I know his fans, friends and family are saddened by his passing, our family will be forever grateful for his legacy and leadership. He’s left a shining example of what love, community and commitment looks like. »

Best known as the popularizer of the calypso genre of music, the Harlem native was born Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr. to mixed-race Jamaican parents in 1927, amid the Harlem Renaissance and its flourish of Black arts heavyweights. Belafonte’s own career would begin some two decades later, with a breakthrough in the theatre scene that led to a Tony Award in 1954.

A noted singer, he released his first notable single, « Matilda, » in 1953, before his « Calypso » album three years later — the first in the world to sell a million copies within a year. It would spend 99 weeks on the Billboard charts and bring the music of his parents’ home region to the American public.

Perhaps his most famous track, « Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), » was a cover of a Trinidadian folk song that anchored the album and became his signature song. It remained part of his repertoire throughout his career.

Belafonte would go on to record across a number of genres, including blues, jazz, Broadway, and gospel, releasing more than 40 albums in total. Though none of his later albums reached the broad commercial success or impact of his first, the 1961 release « Jump Up Calypso » also went platinum.

« I was tilting more toward pop than jazz, » he wrote in his 2011 memoir.

« My new managers had noted I drew a lot more women than men, and had me crooning love songs that tugged at their heartstrings. … Afterward, I stayed up drinking with the musicians, wondering how a one time gig at the Roost, meant only as a stopgap until I found work as an actor, had turned into a full-time job. »

Belafonte would indeed eventually make his way to Hollywood, sustaining a 65-year career in film in which he garnered a number of leading roles  —at least one of which he declined due to the film’s racist overtones. For seven years during the height of his career, Belafonte also refused to perform in the South due to the prevailing Jim Crow attitudes and policies in white society.

Activism remained a focus for Belafonte throughout his life, and he is credited as a major financier of the Civil Rights Movement, which sought an overturning of the post-Reconstruction disenfranchisement and terrorism against Blacks that lasted for the better part of a century. Belafonte bankrolled much of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s activities and personally raised more than $50,000 to bail the famed preacher out of the Birmingham City jail alongside other protesters.

Among various other efforts during the movement, Belafonte also financially supported the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the 1961 Freedom Rides to New Orleans, and the 1963 March on Washington — where he stood alongside King as he deliver his famed « I Have a Dream Speech » on the National Mall. They would remain close friends until King’s death.

Belafonte’s social activities also extended into humanitarian causes, including the anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa and the music supergroup USA for Africa, which benefited victims of famine and disease in the motherland. For the latter ensemble, Belafonte organized the Grammy Award-winning song « We Are the World » in 1985, which went on to become one of the top 10 best-selling physical records in history. On the homefront, the former bluejacket and World War II veteran positioned himself firmly within a left-leaning milieu, criticizing U.S. foreign policy in Cuba, the Soviet Union, Grenada and Spain.

Belafonte’s activist work also brought him into contact with the faith of his childhood, having been reared a Catholic by his devout mother, attending St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church and St. Charles Borromeo School in Harlem. He would credit his mother as a primary inspiration for his activism, with her words during his youth: « Don’t ever let injustice go by unchallenged. »

Belafonte later left the church, but maintained tenuous connections partly due to his first wife Marguerite, who converted during their relationship. (This later factored into their divorce.) Belafonte also noted in his memoir that many of his collaborators in the 20th century progressive movement were nuns.

« I still had such conflicted feelings about the church, such anger at those Catholic nuns who’d rapped my knuckles long ago, » he wrote.

« But these ladies, these activist nuns, were a very different breed, and I felt blessed — there was no other word for it — at being in their company. »

One such nun, Sr. Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, became a face of Black Catholic activism during the same period, making headlines for her bold display of culture and resistance in a church often associated with European austerity. Belafonte became fascinated with her story, and at one point in the late 1980s planned to cast Whoopi Goldberg to play her in a biopic.

He also organized the famed « Stars for Freedom » rally that drew 25,000 participants in 1965, featuring celebrities performing to raise morale for a voting rights march in Alabama. The venue? The City of St. Jude, a Catholic complex in Montgomery serving the city’s Black population. Decades later, Belafonte would find a collaborator in Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, with whom he created the Urban Peace Awards in 2002, celebrating the achievements of activists and public figures working for the common good.

Over his nearly 75-year career in entertainment, Belafonte became one of the few artists to achieve « EGOT » status, having won three Grammys, an Emmy (for « Tonight with Belafonte » in 1960), a Tony, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 2013, Belafonte received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, later using his appearance at the Image Awards ceremony to advocate for gun control.

« A river of blood that washes the streets of our nation flows mostly from the bodies of our Black children, » he said.

« Yet, as the great debate emerges on the question of the gun, white America discusses the constitutional issue of ownership, while no one speaks of the consequences of our racial carnage. The question is: Where is the raised voice of Black America? Why are we mute? Where are our leaders, our legislators? Where is the church? »

Quoting his mentor, the Black entertainer-activist Paul Robeson, Belafonte added: « Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice. »

Named in his honor, the inaugural Harry Belafonte Voices For Social Justice Award was awarded by the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021, the same year Belafonte was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France — occasioning one of the star’s last public appearances. In 2022, Belafonte was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in absentia.

Belafonte leaves behind four children and two stepchildren, the product of his three marriages. His wife Pamela Frank, whom he married in 2008, was at his side at the time of his death.

Funeral arrangements for Belafonte have not been publicly announced.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published at Black Catholic Messenger. It has been republished with permission.

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Knights Support Roman Center for the Poor

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More than 31% of Citigroup…

More than 31% of Citigroup shareholders supported a resolution brought by Catholic congregations that called for a review of the global bank’s financing policies around climate change and Indigenous rights after Citigroup pumped billions of dollars into oil pipeline companies in recent years.

The vote took place April 25 during Citigroup’s annual general meeting. A similar resolution drew roughly the same support last year, when 33% of shareholders voted in its favor. While shareholder resolutions are legally non-binding, companies typically respond in some way to measures that garner more than 20% support.

The resolution at Citigroup called for the bank, one of the top financiers of fossil fuels worldwide, to produce a report reviewing the effectiveness of its policies and practices in adhering to international standards for Indigenous rights and financial industry benchmarks it helped draft for assessing environmental and social risks in project funding.

The resolution was brought by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace; the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey; the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia; and United Church Funds, the institutional investment ministry of the United Church of Christ. It was supported by Investor Advocates for Social Justice, a coalition of predominantly Catholic congregations.

While hoping for higher support this year, Sr. Susan Francois, treasurer for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, which acted as the lead filers, said it was not a totally surprising result given Citigroup’s disagreement with the resolution in its proxy statement.

« We will be back, » she told EarthBeat. « We’re committed to engaging with Citigroup on this, » Francois added, while expressing optimism that its board would reenter into dialogue with them after talks broke down following last year’s resolution vote.

« It’s an issue of critical importance for both Earth and for Indigenous rights, » she said.

The vote was one of several held Tuesday (April 25) during shareholder meetings at major banks, with more to come later in the week. On Monday, climate activists demonstrated by holding sit-ins at banks across the U.S., including Citigroup headquarters in New York City.

Along with targeting fossil fuel companies, such as through global divestment campaigns, climate activists have increasingly focused attention on the financial sector that provides the capital for new mining and drilling for coal, oil and gas around the globe.

In order to meet the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal of limiting average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius — which climate scientists say remains possible, though the window is narrowing fast — the world must stop investing in new fossil fuel projects, the International Energy Agency determined in a May 2021 report.

Overall, the world’s 60 largest banks have injected $5.5 trillion into the fossil fuel industry in the past seven years, according to an April report issued by Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and other environmental groups. At $332 billion, Citigroup ranks second in total fossil fuel financing, behind JP Morgan Chase, and has provided $113.5 billion toward expanding the use of the polluting fuel sources.

At the center of the Catholic sisters’ shareholder resolution with Citigroup was more than $5 billion in financing that the bank has provided to Enbridge, a Canadian fossil fuel company and one of the largest pipeline builders in the world with a long history of oil spills. Recently, its Line 3 and Line 5 pipeline replacement projects in the Great Lakes region have drawn strong opposition from Indigenous communities, environmentalists and even some government officials.

The resolution argued that financing Enbridge was at odds with Citigroup’s various commitments to respect and uphold Indigenous rights in projects it finances, as well as the bank’s own public climate pledges. The bank has said its current environmental and social risk policy is working to identify potential investment pitfalls, and that it provided Enbridge with general financing, not project-specific financing that triggers the screens — a defense the sisters say minimizes its role in funding fossil fuel projects like Line 3 and Line 5.

A separate resolution called for Citigroup to cease financing to fossil fuel companies for new coal, oil and gas projects, with roughly 10% of shareholders voting in favor, a total also lower than the previous year.

Francois told EarthBeat it was important that Citi shareholders heard directly from Indigenous leaders through their resolution. Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective that led opposition against Line 3, presented the resolution at the meetings.

« Indigenous peoples hold 80% of earth’s remaining biodiversity — we are the canary in the mine of humanity, » Houska said in a statement. « [Citigroup’s] big oil clients are destroying our homelands and lifeways as they tout empty policies and procedures. For our children’s sake and yours, hear our voices: humans cannot live without water, humans cannot endlessly extract without consequence. »

Citigroup was one of three major banks to hold shareholder meetings on Tuesday. Wells Fargo and Bank of America also faced votes on resolutions calling for the financial institutions to end financing for new fossil fuel projects. At Bank of America, just 7% of shareholders supported the measure, less than the year before, and Wells Fargo shareholders also rejected the motion, though specific tallies were not released, Reuters reported. A separate resolution at Bank of America drew 28.5% support for an action plan to be created to meet the bank’s 2030 net-zero emissions goals.

Other climate-related resolutions were on the docket at Goldman Sachs on Wednesday and with BP on Thursday. 

Francois said that consumers have a political responsibility to use their economic power and influence « to support the common good, because that’s really what good business is. »

Beyond companies’ bottom lines, « we have a fiduciary responsibility to Earth and to future generations. And that’s clear in the resolution season this year, and I have a feeling next year will be even more coordinated and moving us in the right direction. »

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A Career Rooted in Faith & Family

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