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There was no way Thanksgiving could be “normal” this year. This was certainly true wherever Orthodox Christians gathered for what is becoming a Thanksgiving tradition in America: sharing a litany of poetic Russian prayers created during hellish persecution by the Bolsheviks.

Earlier this year, a Catholic priest published a book entitled “Mercy: What Every Catholic Should Know,” focusing on doctrine and discipleship issues that ordinarily would not cause controversy. But these are not ordinary times. Acting as a Catholic chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Father Daniel Moloney tried to apply his words about mercy and justice to the firestorm of protests and violence unleashed by the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.

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The evolving coronavirus pandemic has turned Lent into a confusing minefield of legal and doctrinal questions for pastors and their flocks. In many communities, but not all, state or local officials have ordered people to “shelter in place” — staying home unless they have “essential” needs elsewhere. This has raised an obvious question: Is going to confession “essential,” even if Catholics are preparing for Holy Week and Easter rites they will have to watch on digital screens at home?

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For centuries, Eastern Orthodox Christians have shared prayers “for the sick, the suffering, the captive and for their safety and salvation” as well as petitions that “we may be delivered from all affliction, wrath and need.” The faithful respond: “Lord, have mercy.” This past Sunday, some worshippers heard modern phrases woven into the ancient cadences of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.

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Few acts in ministry are as intimate as a priest huddled with a seriously ill believer, hearing what could be his or her final confession of sins. Honoring centuries of tradition, Christians in the ancient churches of the East also take Communion from a common chalice, with each person receiving consecrated bread and wine — mixed together — from a golden spoon.

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The Catholic Church, with strong backing from the insurance industry and the Boy Scouts of America, has been successful for years in blocking state legislation that would allow adults to bring lawsuits for sexual abuse they suffered as children. That wall of obstruction is now gradually being breached, and none too soon.

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