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In New York, public school officials to evaluate private schools

Albany, N.Y., Dec 12, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leaders of New York state’s more than 500 Catholic schools are planning to boycott a new state review system, whereby public school officials would evaluate religious schools to determine whether they offer a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools.

“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” James Cultrara, executive secretary of the New York Council of Catholic School Superintendents, was quoted as saying in Times Union.

“We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”

The rebuke to the state comes after New York’s education commissioner released guidelines Nov. 20 “to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law,” i.e. exposure to the same basic courses such as English, civics, and mathematics that public school students take.

The state’s action follows a New York City investigation into some Orthodox Jewish schools that a group of graduates say have been deficient in terms of teaching students “secular” topics other than the Jewish religion.

Under the new guidelines, local public school superintendents or their designees would be required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of the 2020-2021, and every five years after that, to evaluate the schools. The local school board would approve the findings with a vote.

The Catholic superintendents body said in a letter to the State Education Department that they do not oppose school inspections from state officials, but conflicts of interest could arise if public school officials, who are essentially “competing” for the same body of students, are given the power to evaluate private schools.

“A review by local public school officials and a vote at a public meeting of a locally elected public school board, as is called for in the guidance, practically guarantees inconsistency and subjectivity,” reads part of the letter, which was obtained by Times Union.

“The Council of Catholic School Superintendents is committed to maintaining high-quality Catholic schools and working with you on designing an objective review and determination process to support the education of children in our schools.”

The superintendents have rejected the state’s guidelines and directed all of the state’s Catholic schools not to participate in “any review carried out by local public school officials.”

As of Dec. 12 the State Education Department has not commented on the issue.

The new guidelines mainly impact Catholic elementary schools, as nonpublic high schools in the state generally fall under the purview of the Board of Regents.

Jewish schools, which have a significant presence in New York City, could feel strong effects from the new guidelines as well.

New York City is home to 1.1 million Jews, around 32% percent of whom identify as Orthodox, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Strongly Orthodox Jewish private schools, known as yeshivot, educate an estimated 57,000 students in New York City alone, The New York Times reports. A group of graduates say that it has been “commonplace for decades” that students who graduate from yeshivot receive little instruction beyond studying Jewish texts, and “can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.”

The administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio opened an investigation into the lack of secular education at yeshivot in 2015. Prominent rabbis and other Jewish leaders have resisted critics of yeshivot, citing religious freedom concerns.

The US archdiocese with a relic of the original Guadalupe image

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 12, 2018 / 12:14 pm (ACI Prensa).- Millions of pilgrims travel each year to see the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. In one U.S. diocese, however, pilgrims can see a relic of the original image that has been outside Mexico for nearly 80 years.

The relic, a small half-inch cutting taken from the tilma, is kept in a chapel in the Los Angeles cathedral which was dedicated by Archbishop José Gomez in 2012. The fragment of the tilma is preserved in a gold reliquary embedded into the midsection of a sculpture of Saint Juan Diego, giving the effect of the tilma the saint wore.

The relic was given in 1941 by then-Archbishop of Mexico, Luis María Martínez y Rodríguez, to his counterpart in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, John Joseph Cantwell, after he led a large pilgrimage to the Guadalupe Basilica in the Mexican capital.

Archbishop Cantwell provided significant help to Mexican Catholics during the Cristero War and the religious persecution by the Mexican government during the first decades of 20th century. The priest welcomed to his archdiocese priests fleeing from Mexico to survive.

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego in 1531, and requested that he ask the first bishop of Mexico, Franciscan Friar Juan de Zumárraga, to have him build a church at the foot of Tepeyec Hill.

As proof of the authenticity of the apparition, the Virgin Mary asked the saint to bring flowers from a rosebush that miraculously appeared on arid Tepeyec Hill as a sign to the bishop.  When he presented the flowers to the bishop, his tilma, the garment in which he was carrying them, was imprinted with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The image of the Virgin, full of symbolism which could be read by the indigenous Mexicans, gave rise to the evangelization of Mexico, leading to millions of conversions in the following years.

Saint Juan Diego was canonized in July 2002 by Saint John Paul II.

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

 

After abortion litmus test controversy, Canada job grant program makes some changes

Toronto, Canada, Dec 12, 2018 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic organizations and others welcomed the Canadian government’s changes to rules for job grants that had required them to affirm abortion rights and other political causes - but they are still concerned that the rules could block some pro-life groups from participating.

“I think they recognized there was a problem there and they needed to change the language. We are pleased that they did,” Neil McCarthy, director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Toronto, told CNA. “We had 5,000 letters from people within the Archdiocese of Toronto, lots of conversations, and a coalition of many different faith communities that were concerned with this.”

The Canada Summer Job Grants program has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs for secondary school or college students, granting small businesses, non-profit organizations, and religious employers the money to fill positions such as camp counselors or landscapers.

Federal funding requirements for the program were added Dec. 19, 2017 stipulating that “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada,” including “reproductive rights,” or the right to abortion access.

Organizations had to check a box attesting to their alignment with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, case law, and other government commitments, such as “the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

Many groups denied funding in 2018 had to rely on fundraising campaigns and programming changes, or they eliminated student jobs entirely.

The rules drew objections and legal challenges that cited prospective grantees’ right to advocate against abortion, as well as principles protecting religious freedom and free speech.

The rules for 2019 remove a lengthy attestation added last year, but now require applicants to attest that the grants “will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” Projects and activities ineligible for funding include those that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services,” Canadian Catholic News reports.

McCarthy anticipated most groups in the Archdiocese of Toronto will be able to move ahead with job grant applications. About 90 percent of these groups were summer camps run through parishes.

“At least, at bare minimum, there are charities and organizations that are going to be able to apply for the funds,” McCarthy said. “That’s important because there were groups like Archdiocese of Toronto charities and parishes last year where we advised to apply with an amended attestation. Those applications were rejected at one point.”

A record number of application shad been rejected in 2018.

McCarthy said Canadians can still disagree with the affected groups “and still recognize that we are not denying someone’s rights or undermining their rights or restricting their rights.”

“We may disagree on particular issues. That’s what a democratic society should be about. It doesn’t mean that we’re marginalized or cast aside because of those views,” he said.

Ray Pennings, co-founder and executive vice president of the think tank Cardus, thought the changes meant the government had realized that the rules violated fundamental rights of freedom of religion, conscience and speech, Canadian Catholic News reports. He said the rules had caused “real harm” to about 1,500 organizations and many more young people.

“There is still the potential for problems, however, with the new eligibility criteria,” Pennings continued. “They apply an internal values test on applicants using opaque wording subject to interpretation by the government of the day behind closed doors.”

After the 2018 rules were first announced, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explicitly rejected participation by pro-life groups. He said Jan. 10, “An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion and the rights of women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly, where we are as a society.”

Many observers are still waiting to comment until the full official application and other documents are released, expected next week.

The Catholic Civil Rights League said the new application process is still “sadly deficient” and will continue to suppress “viewpoints not shared by the government” by denying funding to groups that disagree. Organizations can still be denied funding if they take pro-life positions.

It accused the ruling Liberal Party of “effectively establishing a ‘bubble zone’ to prevent funding to organizations who do not share its unfettered pro-abortion position,” the group charged. The group has characterized the new rules as “a means of compelling ideological conformity from law abiding charities.”

For instance, in the hypothetical case of an organization raising awareness about the effects of abortion on women, the Catholic Civil Rights League argued, it “will likely be denied funding, even though it is engaged in assisting women’s reproductive health, because it treads into a challenge to the unfettered abortion license, at any and all stages of a pregnancy, promoted by this government.”

The group said that peaceful protest and assembly are legally protected rights and the government is wrong to claim there is a “right to safe and legal abortion” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or in case law.

Small businesses and groups like Toronto Right to Life have filed lawsuits challenging the 2018 rules.

Carol Crosson, who represents Toronto Right to Life, characterized the changes as “a victory for all those who stood against the government’s unconstitutional incursion into the beliefs and opinions of Canadians.”

“When the freedom of speech of one Canadian is infringed, all Canadians lose. Government has no place punishing Canadians for their viewpoints,” Crosson said.

McCarthy said that, while groups that everyone with reservations or concerns about the new requirements should be applying for the grants.

When someone is accepted or rejected, they may ask for more information or clarity about the criteria.

“The government has in the past produced resources that have provided clarity regarding how particular requirements may be interpreted,” he said. “We may see that again.

Canadians should also ensure they are in contact with their local politicians to ensure they are aware of the situation and closely monitoring it, McCarthy said.

 

Reports of Pell guilty verdict emerge, despite gag order

Sydney, Australia, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell has been convicted by an Australian court on charges of sexual abuse of minors, according to media reports and CNA sources close to the cardinal.

A judicial gag order has restricted Australian media coverage of the trial since June.

Despite the gag order, a story published Dec. 11 on the Daily Beast website first reported that a unanimous verdict of guilty had been returned by a jury on charges that Pell sexually abused two altar servers in the late 1990s, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The verdict reportedly followed three days of deliberations by the jury - the second to hear the case. An earlier hearing of the case is reported to have ended in early autumn with a mistrial, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

In October, two sources close to Cardinal Pell, members of neither his legal team nor the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, told CNA that the first hearing of the case had ended in a mistrial due to a jury stalemate. One source said that jury was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Pell.

In remarks to CNA Dec. 12, the same sources independently confirmed this week's report that a guilty verdict had been reached.

The conviction has not yet been confirmed by the Australian judiciary, and the gag order on Australian media could remain in place for several months.

Pell will reportedly be sentenced in early 2019. He will not be incarcerated prior to his sentencing.

Citing deference to the gag order, the Vatican has declined to comment on reports of the guilty verdict.

"The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts. We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters Dec 12.

Pell has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse of minors. In May, lawyers for the cardinal petitioned the County Court of Victoria to split the allegations into two trials, one dealing with the accusations from Melbourne, and another dealing with accusations related to his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s.

As the trial for the Melbourne allegations began in June, the judge imposed a sweeping injunction preventing media from reporting on the progress of the case. The gag order reportedly remains in force, over concerns that the verdict could influence the outcome of the second trial, which is expected to be heard early in 2019.

Pell has been on leave from his position as prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy since 2017. Pell asked Pope Francis to allow him to step back from his duties to travel home to Australia to defend himself against the charges, which he has consistently denied.

Prior to his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, Pell served as the Archbishop of Sydney.

In October, Pope Francis removed Pell, along with Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, from the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with helping the pope draft a new constitution for the Holy See’s governing structure.

In April 2018, Robert Richter, the lead attorney on Pell’s legal team, refuted the allegations made against Pell.

“The allegations are a product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country,” Richter said.

Richter further said that the accusations were “not to be believed,” and were “improbable, if not impossible.”

Until the imposition of the gag order in June, Pell had been the subject of sustained media attention in Australia, prompting the order. The extent of hostile attention directed at Pell by several Australian outlets, even prior to the accusations being made, led to a public debate in some sections of the Australian media about whether it would be possible to find an impartial jury for the cardinal.

Although the gag order was issued, one source called the integrity of the proceeding into question. In remarks to CNA, he called the trial a “farce” and a “witch hunt.” He said that Australian prosecutors were determined to secure a conviction, despite the earlier mistrial.

“They kept going until they got the jury who’d give them what they want,” the source told CNA.

Last week, another Australian court overturned the recent conviction of the former Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Wilson, on charges he failed to report complaints of sexual abuse.

Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis said Dec. 6 that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Archbishop Wilson did not report abuse committed by Fr. James Fletcher, when Fletcher was charged in 2004 with child abuse which occurred between 1989 and 1991.

The judge also noted the possibility of undue media influence on the case.

“This is not a criticism of media, but intended or not, the mere presence of large amounts of media from all around Australia and the world carries with it a certain amount of pressure on the court,” Ellis stated.

The heavy media presence “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes.”

“The potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence may be subtle or indeed subversive in the sense that it is the elephant in the room that no one sees or acknowledges or wants to see or acknowledge,” Ellis said.

He added that  Wilson could not be convicted merely because the “Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in terms of its historical self-protective approach” to clerical sex abuse. “Philip Wilson when he appears before this court is simply an individual who has the same legal rights as every other person in our community.”

“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits, or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding Philip Wilson guilty, simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest.”

If the decision is confirmed, Pell can appeal to the Supreme Court in Victoria, and from there to the Australian High Court.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.

Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a 'teacher of the Gospel' through her image

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe Wednesday, reflecting on how Mary continues to evangelize Latin America through her ubiquitous image.

As Our Lady of Guadalupe accompanied Saint Juan Diego on Tepeyac, she continues to encounter people through “an image or stamp, a candle or a medal, a rosary or a Hail Mary,” Pope Francis said in his homily Dec. 12 in St. Peter's Basilica.

Through her image, Mary “enters in a home, in a prison cell, in the ward of a hospital, in a nursing home, in a school, in a rehabilitation clinic to say: ‘Am I not here, that I am your mother?’” he continued in Spanish.

The pope’s homily centered on Mary as a “teacher of the Gospel” through her Magnificat.

“Mary teaches us that, in the art of mission and hope, so many words and programs are not necessary. Her method is very simple: she walked and sang,” Francis said.

In the school of Mary, he said, we “nourish our hearts” with the “multicultural wealth of Latin America, where we can “listen to that humble heart that beats in our villages” with “the sacredness of life.”

Here, the “sense of God and his transcendence,” as well as “respect for creation, the bonds of solidarity, and the joy of the art of living well” are preserved, he continued.

As her image traveled the continent, Our Lady of Guadalupe is “not only remembered as indigenous, Spanish, Hispanic or African-American. She is simply Latin American,” Francis said.

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

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

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

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

Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “mother of a fertile and generous land in which all, in one way or another, can find ourselves playing a leading role in the construction of the Holy Temple of the family of God,” Francis said.

Three cardinals dropped from C9 as reform process nears end

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 08:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican said Wednesday that while there are no immediate plans to add new members to the C9, Pope Francis has released the three eldest cardinals from the duties of the advisory group.

Papal spokesman Greg Burke told journalists in a briefing Dec. 12 that the pope sent letters to Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo at the end of October to thank them for their service to the Council of Cardinals over the last five years.

Francis sent the letters following a request in October from the council – which advises the pope on matters of Church governance and reform – for a review of the work, structure, and composition of the advisory group, especially in light of the advanced age of some members.

However, the Vatican stated that, “considering the phase of the Council’s work, the appointment of new members is not expected at the moment.”

Over the course of the meetings, Bishop Marco Mellino, who last October was made adjunct secretary of the Council of Cardinals, presented the most recent draft of the new apostolic constitution of the Roman Curia.

Burke said that canon lawyers are still examining the constitution, which is provisionally titled Predicate evangelium.

The other main topics of discussion during the Dec. 10-12 meetings were the February 2019 meeting of bishops on child protection and how to reduce the Holy See’s operating costs.

Asked if, for transparency, the Holy See would be releasing any budgetary information and numbers, Burke said, “yes,” though he does not know when that will take place.

Toward lowering costs, the Vatican will take several actions, including more strongly enforcing a hiring freeze that has been in place since 2014. There are currently no plans to reduce personnel, though a reshuffle and re-outlining of job responsibilities is expected, as well as the possibility of offering early retirement.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, coordinator of the Council for the Economy, addressed the importance of making long-term plans for the reduction of costs, and proposed the development of multi-year budgets for the Council of the Economy to use in five- and 10-year projections.

Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, presented the progress of the reforms of the communications department, and the next steps for implementing Pope Francis’ 2015 motu proprio, which established the then-Secretariat, now Dicastery for Communication.

Ruffini emphasized the importance of the different media outlets (TV, radio, web, and social media) of Vatican Media and their cooperation.

He also explained the value of Vatican Media being present in many different languages.

The cardinals also heard from Professor Vincenzo Bonomo, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and an advisor to Vatican City State, on the new laws governing Vatican City, which were published Dec. 6.

Present at the latest round of meetings were council members Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Reinhard Marx, Sean O’Malley, Giuseppe Bertello, and Oswald Gracias.

Only Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, was not in attendance, since he was in Morocco, representing the Holy See at the UN Global Compact for Migration.

As usual, Pope Francis was present for all sessions apart from Wednesday morning, when he held the weekly general audience.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the Council of Cardinals – also known as the “C9” – serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution which governs the Roman Curia.

The next gathering of the council will take place Feb. 18-20, 2019.

Faith is not ‘decorative,’ Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis gave an Advent reminder Wednesday that faith should not be just a “decorative” addition to daily life by pointing to how the ‘Our Father’ prayer embodies the essence of life itself.

“Prayer - Jesus teaches us - does not begin in human existence after the stomach is full: rather it lurks wherever there is a man, any man, who is hungry, who cries, who struggles, who suffers and wonders ‘why,’” Pope Francis said in the Paul VI hall Dec. 12.

The ‘Our Father’ prayer’s request for “daily bread,” the pope explained, exemplifies God’s desire to meet man in his concrete reality, in his basic needs.

“Our first prayer, in a sense, was the wail that accompanied the first breath. In that newborn cry, the destiny of our whole life was announced: our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our search for happiness,” he continued.

Pope Francis pointed to the Biblical example of Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel - a blind man who begged at the gates of Jericho - whose loud cries for mercy were met by Jesus’ healing.

“Around him he had so many good people who told him to keep quiet, not to disturb the Master with his annoying shouts. But he, demanded with holy insistence, that his miserable condition could finally meet Jesus,” Francis said.

Prayer “frees us from the desperation of those who do not believe in a way out of so many unbearable situations,” he added.

The pope’s teaching on the ‘Our Father’ is a continuation of catechesis he began in the first week of Advent on “the seven questions” found in the “short but bold prayer” full of “filial trust.”

“The Lord Jesus gives us the grace of total trust in God as a compassionate Father who loves us and always remains at our side,” Pope Francis said in Spanish as he greeted pilgrims from Spain and Latin America.

The Paul VI Hall was filled with cheers and waves as the pope mentioned the day’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, help us to surrender ourselves to the providential love of God and to place all our hope in Him,” Francis prayed.

OR: Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10

19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.
3 And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads.
4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth;
5 she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne,
6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

First Reading: Zechariah 2:14-17

10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the LORD.
11 And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
12 And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem."
13 Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

OR: Luke 1:39-47

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,
40 and she entered the house of Zechari'ah and greeted Elizabeth.
41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.
45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
46 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,