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Pope adds teen to list of saints to be declared during synod on youth

Top Stories - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 9:34am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis added an Italian teenager to the list of people he will formally recognize as saints Oct. 14 during the monthlong meeting of the world Synod of Bishops on young people.

During an "ordinary public consistory" July 19, Pope Francis announced he would declare Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio a saint the same day he will canonize Blesseds Oscar Romero, Paul VI and four others. An ordinary public consistory is a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process.

Sulprizio was born April 13, 1817, in the Abruzzo region near Pescara. Both of his parents died when he was an infant and his maternal grandmother, who raised him, died when he was nine.

An uncle took him under his guardianship and had the young boy work for him in his blacksmith shop. However, the work was too strenuous for a boy his age and he developed a problem in his leg, which became gangrenous.

A military colonel took care of Sulprizio, who was eventually hospitalized in Naples. The young teen faced tremendous pain with patience and serenity and offered up his sufferings to God.   

He died in Naples in 1836 at the age of 19. He was declared blessed in 1963 by Blessed Paul VI, who will be canonized together with the teen.

During the ceremony, Blessed Paul had said, "Nunzio Sulprizio will tell you that the period of youth should not be considered the age of free passions, of inevitable falls, of invincible crises, of decadent pessimism, of harmful selfishness. Rather, he will rather tell you how being young is a grace."

Together with Blesseds Paul and Romero, Sulprizio will be canonized along with: Father Francesco Spinelli of Italy, founder of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament; Father Vincenzo Romano, who worked with the poor of Naples, Italy, until his death in 1831; Mother Catherine Kasper, the German founder of the religious congregation, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; and Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, the Spanish founder of the Congregation of the Missionary Crusaders of the Church.

The Oct. 14 date for the canonizations had already been announced during an ordinary public consistory in mid-May.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Texas bishops join event to support migrants, highlight church teaching

Top Stories - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 5:48pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During a time when immigrants around the country have come under attack, the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, and representatives from other dioceses in Texas and nearby New Mexico are joining a variety of faith groups in a show of support and solidarity for migrants in their communities.

"Be a light in the times of darkness," said El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a YouTube video posted July 18 announcing an interfaith procession in El Paso on July 20, which will be joined by faith leaders from the Presbyterian, Unitarian, Lutheran, Muslim, Baha'i and indigenous Tigua traditions. A vigil following the procession will feature testimony from separated families.

The second day, which focuses on the church's teaching on migrants, will begin with a Mass celebrated by the bishops in attendance and includes a keynote speech by a Vatican representative, a social justice drama by the youth of the diocese, as well suggestions for how to offer hospitality to migrants.

Father Robert Stark, of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, will participate as a keynote speaker. Other Catholic bishops from dioceses nearby plan to attend, including Bishop Edward J. Burns and Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of Dallas, as well as Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

"You may have heard in the news about the pain, the violation of human rights and the suffering of our migrant brothers and sisters in our border communities," said Bishop Seitz in the video. "I'm calling on all our parishes, parishioners and clergy to put their faith into action."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Alvare: Society needs church's 'gorgeous prescriptions for human love'

Top Stories - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 3:21pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Rogers

By Valerie Schmalz

NAPA, Calif. (CNS) -- Americans continue to pursue "this ridiculous path" of "unlinking sex and marriage and kids, while calling what is actually falling apart 'flying,'" said one of America's foremost Catholic feminist thinkers.

"All the while (they're) hurtling toward a collision with the ground," said Helen Alvare, founder of the activist movement Women Speak for Themselves and a law professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia.

"Kids are hitting rock bottom with suicide and opioid use" as serial cohabitation and plummeting numbers of marriages signal the disintegration of a relational society, she said in a talk July 12 at the Napa Institute's eighth annual conference in Northern California's wine country.

But there are signs of hope in the "huge growth of hashtags, movements ' straining toward solidarity," Alvare said.

"There are opportunities for the church to narrow the gap between our current contemporary situation and the church's gorgeous prescriptions for human love," she said.

Movements such as Black Lives Matter, those that work for immigrant rights and #MeToo demonstrate we live in a "society that wants diversity and solidarity next to each other. I hope we can see these are a reflection of the radical need for solidarity, the need to love -- a message we can endorse," Alvare said.

"Where do we get the first message about solidarity and diversity? I don't know -- Genesis?" said Alvare, referring to the creation of man and woman in the first book of the Bible.

Effective Catholic communication needs to meet people where they are and it must discard "church talk," arcane terms such as "procreative and unitive," Alvare said in her keynote address at the July 11-15 Napa Institute conference.

"We have to give plainspoken answers," for instance, about contraception, said Alvare.

"If you disassociate where God chose to put babies" from a committed marriage, "do you realize what that does to the relationship between you and the man -- it severs tomorrow," Alvare said.

"Contraception severs sex from tomorrow and that's why we oppose it," said the law professor. She noted that in reversing the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate, the Trump administration lifted 30 paragraphs of her law journal article disproving the factual underpinnings of the mandate.

Alvare's audience included German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington; and Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Catholic Church's U.S. ordinariate for former Anglicans.

The Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges posed by a secular America, according to its website. Alvare's talk was inspired by the day's theme of the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae."

There are signs all around that people are concerned about the fallout from the sexual revolution, Alvare said. "The sexual revolution is not itself a reasoned revolution. The people who invented it did not invent it out of reason," said the married mother of three children, now teenagers and young adults.

"Children are speaking up," wearing T-shirts "My Daddy's name is donor," she noted. "Hook-up" books are a genre of teen literature that talk about how bad it feels, she said.

Both the left-leaning Brookings Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation acknowledge the harms of family instability, she said. "Too many smart academics have pointed out that family structure ' is actually the largest part of the social and economic gap between rich and poor, between white and black," and even between men and women.

Several recent academic studies indicate boys suffer more than girls if raised by a single mother, said Alvare, citing separate works by economists Raj Chetty of Stanford University and David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Autor found that especially black boys raised by a single mother in a poor neighborhood tend to fall behind their sisters by kindergarten and the achievement gap widens as they go through school, Alvare said, surmising "girls are looking at Mom and seeing Mom does it all."

"Today we are seeing that Americans are not willing to adopt the claim that the sexual revolution was a complete hands down win," Alvare said. "Nobody thought we would reach the possibility of a fifth justice with as much of the country on our side as we have," Alvare said.

She was referring to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring.

To counter the falsehoods of the sexual revolution, "the winning argument is relationship," Alvare said. To say: "You think that is the way to get there, but this is not going to get you there." That is because, Alvare said, "ultimately our desire is for the love of an infinite God."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Amigos for Christ continues work in Nicaragua amid political turmoil

Top Stories - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 1:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Amigos for Christ

By Priscilla Greear

BUFORD, Ga. (CNS) -- The Buford-based Amigos for Christ nonprofit serving Nicaragua's poorest has canceled all summer mission trips due to an upsurge in violence in the Central American country.

Yet, several Nicaraguan churches near the organization's Chinandega headquarters have stepped in to serve their neighbors and partner with Amigos to finish construction of 100 modern bathrooms and a clean water system for El Pedregal village.

"We normally have about 1,800 people come down each year, and we've had to postpone the trips until we can tell people it's going to be OK to travel," said executive director John Bland from the group's headquarters, a three-hour drive from the capital, Managua.

Human rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the country's social security system. Catholic clergy have been attacked and anti-government protesters are besieged by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries.

Despite the turmoil, conditions remain relatively calm and peaceful around Chinandega and daily operations continue.

"Here in Chinandega we're able to get around without any problems," and Amigos asked local churches and organizations if they would be interested in doing one-day mission trips to help in El Pedregal, said Bland. "It's been phenomenal to see people ' taking time away from their work, which is tough, to come and work in other communities."

El Pedregal is the 18th community in Nicaragua served by Amigos. Families had no running water and their hand-dug shallow wells all contained E. coli, contaminated from nearby latrines. While treating residents for diarrhea, intestinal parasites and severe dehydration, Amigos also is providing clean water.

"We drill a deep well about 160 feet, and we've got good clean water so we're going to pump that into a tank and distribute through pipes and gravity to everybody's home," said Bland, who lives in Nicaragua with his family.

Visiting his home parish in Atlanta in late June, Bland said there are some "basic things that are barriers in people's lives to growth," such as having clean water or a school to go to.

"When the local people are able to serve other people to eliminate those barriers, they in turn get to see people grow," he said at Marietta's Transfiguration Church, which had to cancel its planned mission trip with nearly 60 participants.

"We're trying to model Jesus, and his model was to make disciples and those disciples go out and make other disciples, and we're doing the same thing through service," he said.

Thinking long term, Amigos has always invested first in local community leadership to make projects sustainable, said Bland. And they've either built schools or supported existing schools in partnership with Nicaragua's ministry of education with a goal to get kids to complete at least high school. Amigos stays apolitical amidst the protests.

"Whenever we work with a community with no school ' one of the first projects we do is to build a school," said Bland. Amigos focuses on attractive physical structures "so that the kids really want to go" to school, "because we know that education is going to change the country for the long term."

Also, farmers are going greener through crop diversification and organic certification. "We're growing dragon fruit, a lot of papaya, getting farmers access to capital and helping them have access to market," he said. "We're going to be investing heavily in that over the next 10 years."

Amigos has come a long way since Bland, a former software engineer, established the nonprofit in 1999 as an outgrowth of a youth mission project through Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch. The nonprofit now has 116 employees, a $3.6 million operating budget and an extensive network of churches across the United States. About 80 percent of Amigos' workers are Nicaraguan, which is a key to growth and sustainability, said Bland.

Board member and Prince of Peace parishioner Sue LaFave has participated in mission trips to Nicaragua every year since 2002, most recently leading a team from her parish over spring break.

She even owns a home a few blocks from the nonprofit's headquarters and eagerly awaits a return to Chinandega.

On her first trip, LaFave accompanied her teen daughter and others from Prince of Peace. Since then she has taken her niece and nephews and many parish teens.

It is the Nicaraguan people who inspire her to continue service.

"Their humility and their strong faith set such a great example for my daughter when we first went and for me always. They are so grateful for the hand up that we give them. ' We are the Lord's hands and feet when we go to Nicaragua," she told The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

LaFave, who said she has never felt unsafe in Chinandega, first met the Narvaez family when they lived in a plastic shack with a tin roof near the city trash dump. She worked side by side with the family and other Amigos to relocate them to a new home in Villa Catalina. Now living in a decent home with running water, the mother has a small business and her children attend an afterschool program called Teatro Catalina.

"I now see them being very successful in their daily lives, and it makes me very happy," said LaFave.

And she sees firsthand the difference having clean running water makes to the 18 communities served by Amigos. Parents would spend half their day fetching water instead of looking for employment, and children would babysit siblings instead of attending school, she recalled.

Sharing faith through action has profoundly impacted LaFave.

"Every shovel full of dirt that I've dug ' helps me to understand that we can't always do big things, but every little thing adds up to something big. I see the Lord there," she said.

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Greear writes for The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Dark to light: Buried under scaffolding, Holy Stairs set for resurrection

Top Stories - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 12:49pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With large sheets of plain plywood blocking public access to the Holy Stairs, one woman lovingly touched a large color photograph of the stairs, made the sign of the cross, lowered her head and prayed.

For centuries, the faithful have climbed up the 28 steps in prayer on their knees.

But the popular devotion has been put on hold for an entire year, and the tall placard depicting the staircase is all the public can see as a team of Vatican restorers complete the final phase of a 20-year effort to repair the sanctuary of the Holy Stairs and clean its 18,300 square feet of frescoes.

According to tradition, the Holy Stairs are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified. It's said that Constantine's mother, St. Helen, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

In 1589, Pope Sixtus V had the sanctuary specially built and decorated for the stairs and the Sancta Sanctorum above, which houses some of the oldest relics of Rome's early Christian martyrs and a silver- and jewel-covered Byzantine image of Christ.

The 16th-century pope wanted the sanctuary not only to preserve the important relics, but also to express the essentials of the faith through an abundance of vivid, colorful images describing key events in the Old and New Testaments, said Mary Angela Schroth, a Rome art gallery curator who has been involved in the restoration project.

"Since the faithful often did not read or write, the stories came to life" through images, she told Catholic News Service in mid-July. And so, "every square inch" of the sanctuary -- its two chapels, five staircases, vaulted ceilings and broad, high walls -- were covered in frescoes and decorative art.

"This was meant to amaze and attract the public," she said.

But the illustrative gems slowly vanished over the centuries as dirt, grime, water damage and primitive or aggressive restoration techniques discolored or covered up what lay beneath. Add poor lighting to the mix and the dingy, gloomy space no longer did what it was designed to do: be a completely immersive physical, spiritual experience with visual cues accompanying the faithful on their journey toward the Sancta Sanctorum, said Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' top expert in fresco restoration.

With initial help from the Getty Foundation in 2000 and then through the generosity of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, both the St. Lawrence and St. Sylvester chapels and the four stairwells -- two sets on either side of the central stairwell of the Holy Stairs -- have been fully restored.

With the central staircase restoration planned to be completed by the end of the year and the front atrium at the end of 2019, it will have taken 11 modern-day restorers nearly two decades to resurrect what 40 artists created in less than two years in the 16th-century. But the careful craft of restoration has paid off, allowing today's visitors the privilege of seeing, after 400 years, the original decorative beauty Pope Sixtus' painters had conceived, Violini said.

People barely glanced at the darkened surfaces before the restoration, Schroth said, but now with "these glorious colors" and proper lighting, visitors are doing more than just looking, "they are observing and studying these stories" and recalling their meaning.

The sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told CNS that Christian art in sacred spaces is not just some extraneous, decorative flourish, but is a medium as powerful as the spoken and written word, created to explain and share the faith and bring the faithful into a deeper, closer relationship with God.

The sanctuary, which is entrusted to the care and protection of the Passionist fathers, powerfully exemplifies this visual catechism, which exists in so many churches and shrines, but needs "re-evaluating" and re-emphasizing today, he said.

Paul Encinias, director of the Rome-based Eternal City Tours, told CNS that when he has taken groups to the Holy Stairs, their focus is inward -- on their individual prayers and intentions -- as they climb each step on their knees.

"Twenty-first century Catholic pilgrims are far removed from artistic narratives," he said, and they are "not used to these visual cues" that surround them, so the purpose and meaning of such artwork would probably have to be explained.

Nonetheless, some of the visitors Encinias brings to pray on the Holy Stairs often have "a strong emotional" experience as they pray and reflect on life's problems or trials.

"We're usually afraid of suffering," and most homilies don't dwell on it, he said. But because the Holy Stairs tour encourages people to connect with Christ's passion, "something hits home" and people realize "Christ is with us always, even in our suffering."

Even though while the Holy Stairs are closed the sanctuary has offered a side staircase for the same devotional practice of praying on one's knees, there were only about a dozen people using the alternative staircase late morning on a July weekday. On average, about 3,000 people visit the sanctuary each day.

Father Guerra said Pope Francis has underlined the importance of traditional, popular devotions and pilgrimages to sanctuaries and sacred places. People are made up of "spirit and intellect, but we are also flesh, emotions, feelings," he said.

In the Bible, when Jesus performs a miracle, "he touches the person, he puts his fingers in the ears of the deaf man" and takes the hand a dead girl to bring her back to life, the priest said.

This physical contact, which is an inseparable part of one's humanity, is a key feature of the Holy Stairs, he said. By climbing the stairs on one's knees and reflecting on Christ's passion, "people feel in union with Jesus, they feel understood by Jesus, they feel loved by God."

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pulled from the sea, migrant's rescue puts spotlight on Italian policy

Top Stories - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 12:46pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Juan Medina, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Tweeting with hashtags that translate as "Closed ports" and "Open hearts," Italy's interior minister disputed claims that the Italian government was complicit in leaving a migrant to die in the Mediterranean Sea as she clung to a board from a destroyed fishing boat.

Matteo Salvini, the minister, has given strong support to Italy's policy of having the Libyan coast guard patrol its own shores, pushing back refugee boats or taking the migrants and refugees back to camps in Libya.

He also has worked to prevent rescue boats from docking in Italy until other European countries agree to take a share of the migrants onboard.

Salvini and others credit the Italian policy with leading to a sharp decline in the number of migrants and refugees arriving on Italy's shores. The 17,838 migrants and refugees who arrived between Jan. 1 and July 18 represent an 86.5 percent decline from the number of arrivals in the same period in 2017 and an 84.8 percent decline compared to the same period in 2016, according to figures compiled by the Department of Public Security and posted on the Interior Ministry website July 18.

But the numbers did not bump from the front pages of Italian newspapers the photographs of Josefa, a migrant from Cameroon, being pulled from the Mediterranean July 17 by rescuers from the Spanish organization Proactiva Open Arms. The organization said it also pulled from the water the dead bodies of a woman and a child.

The organization accused the Libyan coast guard of attacking the boat the refugees were on and leaving some of the migrants to die.

A Libyan official said it intercepted a boat with 158 people on board July 16; the migrants were transferred to a coast guard vessel, given food and medical attention and returned to Libya. The boat was destroyed to prevent other smugglers from using it, the Libyans said.

After Proactiva accused the Italian government of being complicit in the abandonment of Josefa and in the deaths of the two people pulled from the sea, Salvini on Twitter accused the organization of "lies and insults" and said that what happened "confirms we are right: reducing the number of departures and arrivals means reducing deaths, reducing the earnings of those who speculate on clandestine immigration."

Salvini, who has been deputy prime minister and interior minister since June 1, has insisted on a hardline policy limiting immigration. The policy relies both on turning migrants and refugees back to Libya and on forcing member countries of the European Union to contribute to the care of migrants and refugees, who tend to reach land in Italy, Greece, Malta or Spain.

Like other church commentators, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, the Geneva-based secretary-general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, noted how Salvini's actions and comments came so close to the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' first trip outside of Rome as pope. The pope visited the island of Lampedusa, a major port for migrants and refugees, and he prayed there for the thousands of people who lost their lives at sea in the search for peace and a better life.

"I am left with the haunting question cited by Pope Francis, 'Cain, where is your brother?'" Msgr. Vitillo said in an email response to questions July 18. "While states and civil society have spent countless hours in consultations and negotiations, how many more precious and invaluable lives are being lost? While we continue to fight over 'burden sharing,' how much do we recognize the contributions of refugees and migrants to host populations who welcome them? Why aren't we talking about 'resource sharing' instead of 'responsibility sharing'?"

As for the claim that Proactiva and other NGOs rescuing the migrants at sea actually entice people to set out and make smugglers' jobs easier since they increase the possibility of a safe passage, Msgr. Vitillo suggested people making that claim need to speak with some of the migrants and refugees "who felt forced to leave their homelands in order to seek safety, security, freedom and dignity elsewhere."

Ordained in 1972 for the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, Msgr. Vitillo said he has worked with hundreds of refugees and migrants in his 46 years as a priest.

"I spent much time in refugee camps and migrant processing centers," he said. Most of the people "have told me how much they would have preferred to stay at home. Many of the refugees have shared with me the horrors of their frequent and unsuccessful attempts to leave their home countries because they saw no other way to survive."

Today, he said, "forced migrants reveal the same circumstances --- they are responding to basic needs for survival, not any lure of 'search and rescue' boats!"

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Prosperity gospel' props up policies lacking compassion, journal says

Top Stories - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The "prosperity gospel" that U.S. President Donald Trump and many of his advisers and followers seem to espouse does not promote solidarity for the common good, but sees God as giving his blessings to the rich and punishing the poor, said an influential Jesuit journal.

The philosophy "is used as a theological justification for economic neo-liberalism" and is "a far cry from the positive and enlightening prophecy of the American dream that has inspired many," said the article in La Civilta Cattolica, a journal reviewed at the Vatican before publication.

The article was written by the journal's editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and by Marcelo Figueroa, an evangelical pastor, who is director of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In an email, Father Spadaro described the article as "what I consider the second part of our article on the relationship between politics and fundamentalism in the United States."

The first article, published in July last year, was titled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism" and examined what the authors saw as growing similarities in the rhetoric and world views adopted by some evangelical fundamentalists and some "militant" Catholic hardliners.

They decried what they saw as an "ecumenism of hate" resulting from the political alliance in the United States of Christian fundamentalists and Catholic "integralists."

The article set off widespread debate, ranging from criticism that it was a superficial reading of the U.S. reality from the outside to praise for shining a light on ways that some tenets of the Christian faith have been manipulated for political gain.

The new article describes the "prosperity gospel" as a theological current that emerged from neo-Pentecostal evangelical communities in the United States and is thriving now in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, South Korea, China, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

"At its heart is the belief that God wants his followers to have a prosperous life, that is, to be rich, healthy and happy," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote. In such a view, opulence and well-being are "the true signs of divine delight."

The modern "prosperity gospel" owes much, they said, to E.W. Kenyon, a U.S. pastor who lived 1867-1948, and "maintained that through the power of faith you can change what is concrete and real," the Civilta article said. "A direct conclusion of this belief is that faith can lead to riches, health and well-being, while lack of faith leads to poverty, sickness and unhappiness."

"In the United States millions of people regularly go to the megachurches that spread the prosperity gospel," the article said. Preachers including "Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and others have increased their popularity and wealth thanks to their focus on knowing this gospel, emphasizing it and pushing it to its limits."

They see the purpose of faith as being to win God's favor, which is demonstrated in material wealth and physical health, a position that is "far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote.

The teachings of the prosperity gospel have obvious implications for how a believer in that philosophy views and treats others, they said. "There can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God."

The philosophy, they said, promotes policies that are "unjust and radically anti-evangelical."

"One of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effect on the poor," the authors wrote. The philosophy "not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook," which allows them to wash their hands of the obligation to work for justice and accept sacrifices for the common good.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

India's Sister Prema condemns trafficking, says nuns not involved

Top Stories - Tue, 07/17/2018 - 12:52pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By

NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Facing child trafficking allegations at one of its homes for unmarried mothers in India, the Missionaries of Charity said the order condemns the actions of individuals involved and stressed that these are unrelated to the order.

A baby born in Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi was not handed over to state adoption authorities after the mother had declared her intention to do so, Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said in a July 17 statement from Kolkata.

"We are fully cooperating with the investigations and are open to any free, fair and just inquiry," Sister Prema said, noting that "false news" "and "baseless innuendos" are being spread.

"While we place our full trust in the judicial process that is underway, we wish to express regret and sorrow for what happened," she said.

The order condemns "in unequivocal terms" the individual actions "which have nothing to do with the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity," she said.

Police maintained that Jharkhand state's Child Welfare Committee came to suspect the home was involved in the illegal trading of children after a couple complained they were not given a child, despite paying 120,000 rupees (US$1,850) as an adoption fee.

Sister Concelia, whose duties as sister in charge of the home in Jharkhand state included accompanying mothers and babies to the welfare committee, which handles adoptions, was assisted by Anima Indwar, Sister Prema said.

Indwar had been employed by the home, which is part of the mission for children and unwed mothers of the order founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata in 1950, since 2012 and had come "to enjoy the trust of the sisters," she said.

Sister Prema's statement said Karishma Toppo, who had been in the home for about six weeks before her baby was born May 1, had declared in the home's register her intention to "surrender her child" to the welfare committee.

While Indwar, Toppo and her guardian took the baby from the home to do this, neither the home nor the sisters "had any way to ascertain whether the child was actually surrendered" to the welfare services, she said.

When she admitted to the welfare committee early July that the baby had not been given to them, Indwar was handed over to police, Sister Prema said.

Sister Concelia was arrested and her superior, Sister Marie Deanne, was questioned and held in police custody overnight, she said.

The following day, the home's 11 mothers, a baby and a guardian were removed from the home by the welfare services, Sister Prema said.

The women "were subjected to utmost humiliation and public embarrassment by the officials as they were carried in full view of the media," she said.

Another Missionaries of Charity home in Hinoo was raided by police soon afterward, with its 22 children, including a one-month-old baby, "carried away" by authorities, Sister Prema said.

"It is distressing that" the welfare committee "meted out such treatment to a home which," weeks before, officials had "described as having an 'excellent environment for the care of children,'" she said.

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Jesuit aims to stem decline of faith with launch of catechetical website

Top Stories - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 5:57pm

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By Maureen Pratt

ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University, launched a cutting-edge catechetical website to confront the rising tide of unbelief spurred by an increasingly skeptical, science-saturated society.

Developed through Father Spitzer's Magis Center, based in Garden Grove, Credible Catholic offers 20 downloadable "modules" that equip Magis Center learners with evidence-based arguments for core Christian beliefs. The catechetical website is www.CredibleCatholic.com.

"The Credible Catholic modules correspond to fundamental apologetics in light of modern scientific methods," said Father Spitzer, author and co-host of the Eternal Word Television Network program, "Father Spitzer's Universe."

"For example, I approach the Resurrection through evidence, but I respond to every Scripture passage, too," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Each module is available in animated PowerPoint or document format in three levels of complexity, from highly detailed to a "Cliff Notes" version, with a separate teaching.

Interactive resources on the website include a robust search engine for navigation to key words or phrases, and a "contact us" click-through to enable direct contact with Credible Catholic staff. The modules, downloadable files and all supporting resources, including Magis Center staff support, are free.

Based on Father Spitzer's books and other work in apologetics, modules include contributions from astrophysicists, historians, theologians, physicists, and other experts. Each module aligns with specific sections of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, so it can easily be used to supplement sacrament preparation or for individual study.

Father Spitzer's foray into a multidisciplinary catechetical website sprung from his growing concern that religious affiliation is declining, due in large part, he believes, to the influence, particularly on youth, of "secular myths that misstate and/or misrepresent the facts."

These myths include "science has proven God does not exist," "humans are just a bunch of conglomerated atoms and molecules," "suffering proves God does not exist," and Jesus was "a very special person but he certainly was not divine."

Older Catholics can find these arguments challenging, but particularly vulnerable, Father Spitzer said, are many young people whose faith is tremendously shaken or dissipates when confronted with the stresses of academic and peer pressures.

The Credible Catholic's "7 Essential Modules," the first modules developed by Father Spitzer, give students and catechists tools to meet the challenges of skeptics. They cover core Christian beliefs and offer science-based evidence to support them.

"Kids demand proof," said the priest. "The more validated it is, the more they like it. '7 Essential Modules' is the inoculation that we give to students so they can go through their college years without getting their faith knocked out from under them."

A discussion of terminal lucidity, for example, is included in the module regarding proof of the soul. In another, research in Near Death Experiences, or NDEs, help illuminate the reality of life after death. And an explanation of the physical properties of light and heat transference is used to explain how the image on the Shroud of Turin could not have been humanly possible at the time it was made.

Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, an early supporter of Credible Catholic, has seen the positive impact Credible Catholic has on students.

"Science can explain 'what,'" Steinemann told CNS, "but it cannot answer the question, 'Why?' Credible Catholic is effective, easy and exciting. It answers, head on, the typical objections to the Catholic faith."

The modules' format also helps facilitate learning.

"Students," said Steinemann, "can view the presentations on their own time, on their own device, in their own way. In the age of information overload, and trying to get students' attention, this does."

Michael O'Hara, executive director for Credible Catholic, works with teachers, clergy and staff of dioceses and parishes to understand how the unique material can work with existing ministries, departments or catechetical classes.

"Most parishes are 'programmed out,' but this isn't a program," said O'Hara. "A school in Texas might use Module 2 in their science class. Another parish did the modules for homework, a summer study or journaled on it."

Parents benefit from the modules' content, too.

"The problem for the parent," said O'Hara, "is that their kids are growing up in a world unlike anything that they grew up in. They don't have a counter to the arguments. The modules help the parent cope, and help them feel confident to counter the arguments."

In November 2017, Father Spitzer and his team from Magis Center debuted "7 Essential Modules" at an event attended by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, retired head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, and 34 other U.S. Catholic bishops.

In June of this year, the priest presented the modules to 75 archbishops and bishops during the spring assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Florida. He now has 80 dioceses lined to use the modules in their religious education or sacrament preparation programs, or as independent study add-ons.

Father Spitzer also plans to continue adding modules, eventually covering all of the catechism.

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Editor's Note: The Credible Catholic modules and a link to sign up for updates or staff support can be found at www.crediblecatholic.com. The website for Father Spitzer's Magis Center is www.magiscenter.com.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Nicaraguan bishops to pray for exorcism as violence continues

Top Stories - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 4:27pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

By

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNS) -- As attacks on Catholic clergy continue and anti-government protesters are besieged by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries, the bishops said they would pray an exorcism prayer.

The bishops said July 20 would be a day of prayer and fasting "as an act of atonement for the profanation carried out in recent months against God." On that day, "We will pray the prayer of exorcism to St. Michael Archangel."

On July 15, the vehicle of Bishop Juan Mata Guevara of Esteli was shot as he traveled to the city of Nindiri, where he had hoped to stop an attack by police and paramilitaries. The bishop escaped unharmed but the vehicle's tires were shot out and windows broken, said Father Victor Rivas, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference.

An attack July 14 at the nearby National Autonomous University of Nicaragua campus in Managua left two students dead and injured 15 more. Some of the fleeing protesters sought shelter in Divine Mercy Church, where the injured were being treated, but armed assailants stopped ambulances from reaching the church.

A Washington Post reporter was among those trapped in the parish, which churchmen said had been "profaned," and pictures posted to social media showed the church had been pockmarked by bullets.

"They are shooting at a church," Father Erick Alvarado Cole, a pastor at the parish, told The Washington Post. "The government says it respects human rights. Is this respecting human rights?"

On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua and his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio Jose Baez, and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio, were among clergy from Managua pummeled as they attempted to protect St. Sebastian Basilica in the city of Diriamba from an incursion by a pro-government mob. Bishop Baez and at least one other priest were injured. Journalists also were attacked and had cameras and other equipment stolen.

"In recent days, the repression and violence carried out by the pro-government paramilitaries against the people who protest civically has gotten worse. ... Today, like never before, human rights are being violated in Nicaragua," the bishops' July 14 statement said. "Members of the national dialogue" -- convened by the bishops' conference -- "defenders of human rights and independent media have been the objects of campaigns of defamation by the government."

Human rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the Central American country's social security system. Protests later demanded the ouster of President Daniel Ortega, who has dismissed proposals for early elections and repressed protests with violence.

Churches in Nicaragua have served as centers for treating the wounded and allowing the work of human rights groups. Priests toll church bells to warn local populations of the police and paramilitaries arriving.

Covenant House, known as Casa Alianza in Latin America, issued an urgent call for donations, saying staff were forced to sleep in the shelters due to security concerns and its homes had to buy months of supplies such as food and medicines in advance. Casa Alianza works with homeless and trafficked children.

In their statement, the bishops said brokering a deal through dialogue has proved difficult.

"We have been witnesses to a lack of political will of the government to dialogue in a sincere way and look for real processes that will lead us to a true democracy" and not carrying out "the urgent dismantling of the armed pro-government forces," the bishops' statement said. "Government representatives have twisted the principal objective for which the national dialogue was established."

A Catholic analyst in Nicaragua, who preferred not to be named for security reasons, said the dialogue has been interpreted as an attempt by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to buy time. The bishops also run the risk of being blamed for the collapse of the talks if they withdraw as mediators, the analyst said.

"(The government) and vice president have been appropriating religious language for some time and now are saying the government is doing God's work," the analyst told CNS.

The bishops said they would continue working as mediators, but their role goes beyond sitting at the negotiating table.

"Given the prophetic dimension of our ministry we have seen the urgency of going to the places of conflict to defend the lives of the defenseless, to bring comfort to the victims and mediate with the goal of a peaceful solution to the situation," the bishops said. "The Nicaraguan church will continue to use all of the means it is able to. Our mission as pastors and prophets does not contradict our role as mediators and witnesses given that what we seek is peace and justice as Nicaraguans."

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Tennessee's Catholic bishops urge governor to halt upcoming executions

Top Stories - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 12:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jed DeKalb, courtesy State of Tennessee

By Theresa Laurence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Bishops J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard F. Stika of Knoxville and Martin D. Holley of Memphis have written to Gov. Bill Haslam urging him to "use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned" in the state of Tennessee in the upcoming months.

"It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch," the state's three Catholic bishops wrote.

The last person to be put to death by lethal injection in Tennessee was Cecil Johnson in 2009, when Phil Bredesen was governor. The state has carried out a total of six executions since 1976, five of those during Bredesen's tenure.

In Tennessee, the governor has sole authority to grant clemency to death-row inmates.

There are currently 62 men and one woman on Tennessee's death row.

The next man scheduled to be executed by the state is Billy Ray Irick Aug. 9. Irick, 59, who has a history of serious mental illness, was convicted in 1986 of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knox County girl named Paula Dyer, and has been on death row for more than three decades.

In their letter to Haslam, the bishops called for mercy, including for those who have committed terrible crimes. "We join with many other religious denominations in firm opposition to the execution of even those convicted of heinous crimes," they wrote.

The bishops thanked Haslam for meeting with them in the past, and for his willingness to learn more about the Catholic Church's opposition to capital punishment and the foundations of that teaching.

In their letter, the bishops recalled the story of St. John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in 1999, when he called for an end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary. The pope said, "It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws," the bishops wrote in their letter. "Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life."

The bishops' letter to the governor comes at the same time that a trial begins over Tennessee's new lethal injection protocol. More than 30 death-row inmates filed suit against the state, contending that the new three-drug combination -- midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- used in the lethal-injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Tennessee has not used this three-drug cocktail to carry out an execution before, but similar or identical drug combinations were used in botched executions in other states, according to the death-row inmates' attorneys.

The lethal-injection drug trial began July 9. With that underway and Irick's execution date set for Aug. 9, the state's capital punishment system is facing renewed scrutiny. The state's Catholic bishops are not the only ones voicing their opposition to it. 

The national organization Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty earlier this month named Nashville resident Hannah Cox its new national manager and is expanding its coalition of conservative lawmakers and constituents who are "questioning whether capital punishment is consistent with conservative principles and values due to the system's inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy."

Cox, formerly with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank, said in a statement, "Ending the death penalty aligns perfectly with my conservative beliefs because it eliminates the risk of executing innocent people, reduces costs to taxpayers, and is consistent with valuing life."

Three men have been released from Tennessee's death row in recent years after they were proven innocent. Paul House, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending 22 years on death row, has written an open petition to ask the state not to pursue Irick's execution or any execution, noting the risk of executing an innocent person.

In June, the American Bar Association released a study titled "Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data," which noted that the state could save an estimated $1.4 million to $1.8 million per year by adopting a ban on capital punishment for defendants with severe mental illness.

The report stated that if defendants with severe mental illness were excluded from the death penalty, this "could result in cost savings because a subset of individuals could face expensive capital prosecutions and decades of appeals would become ineligible" for capital punishment.

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Laurence is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

A good Christian shares the Gospel, pope says

Top Stories - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fabio Frustaci, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- All Christians are called to be missionaries, concerned more with sharing the Gospel than with earning money or even with being successful at winning converts, Pope Francis said.

"A baptized person who does not feel the need to proclaim the Gospel, to announce Christ, is not a good Christian," the pope said July 15 before reciting the Angelus prayer with an estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis was commenting on the day's Gospel reading, which told about how Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two to preach and to heal in his name.

"It was a kind of apprenticeship for what they would be called to do with the power of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of the Lord," the pope explained.

Speaking only in the name of Jesus, he said, "the apostles had nothing of their own to proclaim and none of their own abilities to demonstrate, but they spoke and acted as emissaries, as messengers of Jesus."

"This Gospel episode concerns us, too, and not only priests, but all the baptized, who are called to witness to the Gospel of Christ in all the situations of life," the pope said.

Christians fulfill their mission, he said, when their proclamation is motivated only by love for and obedience to Christ and when the only message they share is Christ's.

In the reading from St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples "to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick -- no food, no sack, no money in their belts."

The poverty and simplicity of lifestyle Jesus asks for, the pope said, were meant to make the disciples of yesterday and today "free and light."

Jesus, he said, calls his disciples to set out as "messengers of the kingdom of God, not powerful managers, not unmovable functionaries (and) not stars on tour."

Although all the baptized are sent out on mission by Christ, they go with no guarantee of success, the pope said. "This, too, is poverty: the experience of failure."

Pope Francis prayed that Mary, "the first disciple and missionary of the word of God, would help us bear the message of the Gospel in the world with a humble and radiant exultation that goes beyond every refusal, misunderstanding or tribulation."

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If it is broke, fix it: Ideas on reshaping U.S. immigration policy

Top Stories - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 3:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 2008, Kenan Thompson of "Saturday Night Live" unveiled a "financial expert" character named Oscar Rogers on the "Weekend Update" segment. His advice on the economy, shouted loudly and often as the nation was careening into the Great Recession, was "Fix it!"

That Oscar Rogers mantra would suit U.S. immigration policy as well, as people and advocates complain about a broken immigration system.

The U.S. bishops in 2003 published a pastoral letter, "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope," which listed principles of reforming U.S. immigration policy. But 15 years later, how do those principles translate into concrete legislative proposals?

"This year, we've seen the failure to pass on both sides of Congress larger-scale bills that have fixes for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), most recently here in the House," said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. 

"(The month of) June had a couple of votes that they didn't pass and (got) broken down from bipartisan negotiations at the beginning of June to negotiations within the Republican Party," which controls the White House and both houses of Congress, Feasley added. "The bishops opposed both bills, which failed to pass."

Currently, according to Feasley, "there's a lot of focus on the family separation issue and the family detention issue" after the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" on border crossers caused an uproar once it was put into effect this spring.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reunite families, but not all children who were separated from parents have been reunited with them.

Feasley described one aspect of the immigration system's brokenness: "Frankly, there has been an overreliance on administrative methods because there's been an absence of consensus in Congress on passing legislation on the immigration issues that need to be solved."

DACA, she said, is "a perfect example. The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and it has been brought up in several iterations, either by itself or part of a comprehensive bill, on the House and on the Senate side. The Obama administration initiated the DACA program in 2012, and the Trump administration ended the program in 2017, and now there's judicial challenges."

One suit, brought by Texas and several Southern states, is challenging DACA's legality. If a federal court agrees with Texas, that could prompt a legislative fix, Feasley said. But that is "reactive to the court case," she added, and "there's not a lot of proactive action going on now." Depending on the midterm elections, Feasley said, a lame-duck session could see some immigration bills brought to the floor.

"We strongly believe that family-based immigration is one of the most important aspects. Then, after that, humanitarian issues. Protection for people seeking asylum, protection for people when things happen, the TPS (Temporary Protected Status)," said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

"We need to legalize the people who are here. We're talking about people undergoing background checks, paying fines and stepping forward. That is a component," Atkinson said.

"We need to look at the system that we have and say, 'What numbers, what level of immigration works for our country?'" she added. "Our system hasn't been reformed in decades. So what was set up all those years ago doesn't serve our country well."

There are labor aspects to immigration, she noted. Currently, stricter enforcement coupled with low unemployment has resulted in fewer workers coming from other countries to perform available jobs. "It needs to be looked at and evaluated," Atkinson said. "And you need to protect those people who are brought to this country to work: seasonal workers, but also the professional visas."

Atkinson said, "Many people are paying taxes anyway, but (legal status means) getting better jobs and paying more in taxes. People who couldn't pay taxes or knew how to pay taxes are paying taxes. So there are financial benefits for the country." Those benefits, she added, "will pay off for decades in the future."

Atkinson said the United States needs to examine the "root causes" of immigration. "The vast majority of people want to stay where they are. Most people want to be in a place where they know the place, they know the culture, they know the language" but they leave due to gang violence, domestic violence or dire poverty.

She admitted there would be a high price tag to comprehensive immigration reform. But border enforcement, which Atkinson pegged at $22 billion a year, is "more than every other federal law enforcement as well as state employment protection agencies. We're already spending massive amounts of money" -- and still more "if you tried to deport all the people who have unauthorized status."

Moreover, "there's a very big price tag for inaction," Atkinson said, the latest item on that receipt being "the psychological impact" of family separation and deportation of parents while their children are U.S. citizens.

"We need to change the law. It's a poor system," declared Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, a Daughter of Charity and immigration lawyer who is currently a grass-roots mobilization specialist for Network, the nun-run Catholic social justice lobby.

In her immigration law practice, she helped impoverished clients in Texas, Alabama and the New York City borough of Brooklyn. "They come because they want to live, and then they end up in the shadows. Some of them have been in here for 20 years," Sister Lacy said. "And then they get picked up, and then they come to you. A woman's husband doesn't come home. And she comes looking for him. Was he in a raid?"

The fees, forms and time lags in following immigration law are "punitive," she added. "Some people just wanted to bring their family members over. Or they fell in love, wanted to get married, and do it legally, and it took years. ... It's terrible when someone tells you, 'We don't think your marriage is legal,'" Sister Lacy said. "We have celebrities and politicians who get married several times over and no one questions their bona fides."

Sister Lacy criticized the Trump administration actions that had "eliminated all the TPS. Most of the countries that we've granted TPS status to we've eliminated in the past year. People who've made a life for themselves 10, 20, 30 years. Now we're saying you've got to go back to a country you don't know. And they were here -- with permission! These hardship cases are hard to see."

Comprehensive immigration reform, "loosely quoting (House Speaker) Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) -- is the best economic package we could ever produce," Sister Lacy said. "I agree with Paul Ryan. But it's been a long time since he said that," putting that quote in 2012, when he was Mitt Romney's GOP running mate on the party's presidential ticket.

Sister Lacy has a six-point plan to fix U.S. immigration policy. It largely mirrors what the bishops sought in 2003.

Then, the bishops asked for an earned legalization program; a worker program to allow foreign-born workers to enter the United States safely; an increase in the number of family visa and a reduction in family reunification waiting times; restoring due process rights taken away by a 1996 immigration bill and eliminating the three- and 10-year re-entry bars which also were part of that law; "targeted proportional and humane" enforcement measures; and addressing the root causes of migration.

The bishops recognized a sovereign nation's right to control and protect its borders, but opposed "some of the policies and tactics that our government has employed to meet this ... responsibility."

Sister Lacy's points are prioritizing family unity; creating a process that leads to legal status and citizenship; improving access to the legal immigration system; strengthening the country's legal asylum processes and refugee resettlement program; protecting all workers and reducing exploitation; and addressing the root causes of migration.

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Follow Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Charities' CEO visits border, hears immigrants' stories of fleeing danger

Top Stories - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 12:55pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Brown, Catholic Outlook

By Michael Brown

NOGALES, Mexico (CNS) -- Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, grew emotional talking about the harrowing stories she heard from immigrants about the life they left behind to seek refuge in the United States.

"The suffering they are going through is unimaginable," she said after listening to stories from families waiting to apply for asylum at the international border at Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora.

Sister Markham, who recently completed a tour of a detention facility for children in McAllen, Texas, said she wanted to visit Nogales to get the whole story behind the current public debate over immigration.

"Their stories," she said, pausing to compose herself. "They are running for their lives. Literally, they left at gunpoint."

She was joined July 11 at the Nogales Port of Entry by Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, an organization that assists mostly families who have been sent back to Mexico following deportation proceedings.

With the large influx of refugees seeking to enter the U.S., Father Carroll, along with other religious-based and nonprofit agencies in Nogales, Arizona, have set up temporary shelters and a check-in system for families seeking to enter the U.S. and to apply for asylum.

Were it not for those shelters, families would have to wait in line at the port of entry in the humidity and heat of 100-plus degrees for about two weeks, Father Carroll told Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.

The first family Sister Markham met included 11 members, four of whom were young children. They left the Mexican state of Guerrero, one of the poorest and least safe areas in the country.

Father Carroll interpreted their story, explaining how their lives had been threatened by a local political party during the recent presidential election. At the border, their biggest fear is that the father and uncle would be detained, the children taken from them, and the women deported. Knowing that risk, they waited anyway because "they were threatened with death" in their hometown, Sister Markham said.

While such conditions might easily fall into the classic example of political asylum, Peg Harmon, who is executive director of Catholic Community Services in the Diocese of Tucson and has been a Catholic Charities USA board member, acknowledged that under the current vetting system, there were no guarantees.

Another family -- two women and two young children -- also spoke to Sister Markham. One woman held a young girl close to her who appeared to be no older than 9 and was crying inconsolably. The mother, also from Guerrero, spoke of her husband being taken and her daughter's life being threatened. She was with another woman, with a son about same age. They had tried to cross into the U.S. in January but were stopped and deported in February. Under current U.S. policy, they would not be eligible to enter the country because of the previous attempt, but have no other place to go.

Sister Maria Engracia Robles Robles, a Missionary Sister of the Eucharist, works at a "comedor" -- a combined soup kitchen and food pantry -- run by Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora. As she listened to the families' stories, she used her cellphone to put their names on the list of applicants waiting to file for asylum.

Several people passing the families as they entered the U.S. from Mexico offered them candy and money. Local charities also supplied blankets and water bottles, kept in large coolers, at the border station.

Following her meeting with the families, Sister Markham said there were two things she hoped to accomplish when she returns to her organization's national headquarters outside Washington.

"We need to call all believers to prayer, and we have to educate people who don't have the opportunity to come here," she said.

Sister Markham said that visiting Nogales was a completely different experience from her trip to visit the juveniles held in Texas. In McAllen, "they are already going through the process; there the process is very slow."

"Here, it is very painful to hear the stories, to know how people have suffered to get this far, especially the children," she said. "It's emotionally overwhelming. It's more painful than I imagined."

The next day in Tucson, Sister Markham was joined by Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson at Casa Alitas, a family shelter run by Catholic Community Services. Casa Alitas receives families in transition from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, after being processed from the border and immigration court.

Early July 12, two families were preparing to leave Casa Alitas and another four were being placed there. When the bishop and Sister Markham arrived, Olga, a Honduran refugee, was preparing to leave with her two children to board a bus for a three-day trip to stay with family in Baltimore.

A few hours later, Valentia, a Mexican native, was leaving with her two children for her own cross-country trip to a community in New Jersey. Soon the Casa Alitas staff welcomed new families -- three from Brazil and one from Mexico -- brought to the facility by ICE.

Sister Markham visited the home the night before and had a chance to spend some time with the departing families. During her morning visit, she gave hugs and smiles to the familiar faces, and later, interviews with local media who arrived to document the visit.

"Our goal is to do everything we can to see that these families are treated with dignity," she told one reporter.

A glance around the now-crowded living area revealed weary women and children, some of whom looked ready for a nap. Some needed clothing, which was available from a supply room. The smell of a hot breakfast began to waft out of the kitchen where signs and wipe boards and children's drawings created a homey atmosphere.

Bishop Weisenburger noted that "20 percent of the Gospels is about taking care of the poor and needy." Taking care of immigrants and refugees is important for those who want "to really live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to call ourselves Christian."

As she began to describe her experience from the day before, Sister Markham again paused to fight back tears after talking about "the babies sitting at the border in the heat."

"I have a big heart," she explained, smiling again.

Before leaving to catch her flight back east, Sister Markham showered praise upon the more than half dozen workers and volunteers gathered at Casa Alitas as new families arrived.  "I am just amazed at the staff and the level of attention they give to the families here."

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Brown is managing editor of Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson.

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After World War I, church changed mission approach, cardinal says

Top Stories - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 11:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- World War I and its aftermath changed the map of Europe, but also dismantled the notion of the "state church" in a way that forced the Catholic Church to discover again the authentic meaning of mission, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

After the war, Pope Benedict XV "was prompt in indicating how the missionary world must change paths, abandoning the colonial ideology in which it had been lulled and promoting autonomy, independence and ecclesial self-governance in all the areas outside Europe," said the Vatican secretary of state.

Speaking at a conference July 12 anticipating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Cardinal Parolin looked at the wide-ranging impact of the war and its aftermath on the political map of Europe, and how that affected the fates of peoples in the Middle East and in the countries of what would become the Soviet Union.

But he also spoke about Pope Benedict's 1919 apostolic letter "Maximum Illud" on the church's missionary activity. In conjunction with document's centenary, Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to celebrate a special "missionary month" in October 2019.

Announcing the special commemoration, Pope Francis had said, "In 1919, in the wake of a tragic global conflict that he himself called a 'useless slaughter,' the pope recognized the need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous."

"May the approaching centenary of that letter serve as an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past," Pope Francis said. "Instead, may we be open to the joyful newness of the Gospel."

World War I marked the end of the "state church," which was particularly strong in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Cardinal Parolin said in his lecture in the northern Italian city of Aquileia. The government had power in the appointment of bishops and controlled the seminaries and a variety of religious institutions, all of which fed into a mentality that emphasized national belonging over the universality of the Catholic faith, the cardinal said.

"Maximum Illud," he said, was "the manifesto of a missionary and political revolution whose importance still has not been recognized as it deserves."

"In the encyclical," the cardinal said, "the pope ordered European missionaries to free themselves of nationalism, of the idea of European superiority over the peoples then seen as subordinate, to promote local languages rather than the language of the conquerors, (and) to train and to value indigenous clergy so that 'one day they will be able to take up the spiritual leadership of their people.'"

Pope Benedict knew it would take some time to change mentalities and ensure the proper training of local clergy in view of their leadership of their communities, Cardinal Parolin said. But he also knew that the church had to act both out of respect for the God-given dignity of all peoples and cultures as well as because "the Catholic Church also would have been shaken by the imminent end of colonial structures."

Pope Pius XI continued the path dictated by Pope Benedict, he said, and in the 1930s nominated the first local Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and African bishops.

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Update: Catholic organizations playing role in reunification of children

Top Stories - Thu, 07/12/2018 - 5:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Some of migrant children under age 5 separated from their families by the government were reunited with loved ones July 9 with help from Catholic organizations.

About two dozen families in all were brought back together on that date with help from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Charities USA and a network of other agencies from around the country.

In all, the Catholic agencies will help reunite 55 families by mid-July and provide short-term care, such as food and shelter, said Bill Canny, executive director of MRS.

"What we're trying to do is give people who have had a dose of bad, we're trying to give them a dose of good," said Canny in a July 12 interview with Catholic News Service. 

"Protection of families is a foundational element of Catholic social teaching and this moment calls on all people of goodwill to lend a hand to reunite these children with their parents," said a joint statement issued the same day by MRS and Catholic Charities USA.

The children and families were earlier separated by a policy implemented by the Trump administration at the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking to deter illegal border crossings. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in May that people risking improper entry would be subject to having their children taken away, if caught.

The Catholic Church, along with much of the country, condemned the policy and has been advocating for the families' reunification. After much public outcry and widespread condemnation of the family separation policy, President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 saying families would no longer be separated but may be detained together during the process of prosecution and deportation at the border.

The U.S. bishops have expressed concerns with that possibility, asking for alternatives to detention but seemed intent on lessening the damage already done.

Trump administration officials said that 2,342 children had been separated from 2,206 parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9 as part of the previous policy.

The administration was given until July 10 to reunite children under 5 with their families, but administration officials had said July 9 that they would not be able to meet that deadline. The administration has until July 26 to reunite all of the more than 2,000 children who have been separated from parents.

Canny said the organizations are trying to raise funds for the effort and anyone wanting to help can donate to Catholic Charities USA, www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.

The families of children under 5 that the Catholic organizations helped were reunited at government facilities and then transferred into the care of Catholic Charities organizations around the country, as well as the Annunciation House in the El Paso, Texas/Juarez, Mexico, border region.

They will be assisted with follow-up care for two months as many will leave the facilities and head toward a destination with family or a sponsor somewhere in the U.S.

Canny said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Office of Refugee Resettlement reached out to the Catholic organizations, as well as the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in early July to help with the reunifications.

"They know we are able to tap into a vast Catholic network across the country, which proves valuable for humanitarian and disaster response," he said.

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Papers, chafing under weight of newsprint tariffs, seek relief

Top Stories - Thu, 07/12/2018 - 4:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Newspapers of every type, Catholic papers included, are seeking relief from the U.S. government after six months of increased costs due to tariffs on imported Canadian newsprint.

The Catholic Press Association, which includes English-speaking Canada, is a member of the STOPP Coalition, which has pressed the Commerce Department for relief. STOPP is an acronym for Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers.

Price increases due to the tariffs have socked the Pittsburgh Catholic three times already this year, according to Carmella Weismantle, advertising director and business manager. "And we've been told more are coming," she said.

The newsprint tariff is different from the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on goods produced elsewhere, most notably China. In the newsprint situation, a U.S. company, NORPAC, which owns a mill in Washington state, had complained that Canada was unfairly subsidizing its newsprint production. The U.S. Department of Commerce agreed, and tariffs were first slapped onto newsprint imports in January.

Tim Walter, CPA executive director, said the CPA board had agreed to join STOPP after CPA president Joe Towalski, editor of The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, had recommended it. Walter added that Towalski noted the CPA had joined the alliance during this year's Catholic Media Convention in June, although no questions were raised about the issue afterward.

"There was no financial commitment involved" in joining STOPP, Walter told Catholic News Service in a July 12 telephone interview. "They didn't ask us to participate in meetings at this point in time. They just asked us to join the alliance."

Other members of STOPP include a number of regional press organizations as well as national groups like the News Media Alliance, the American Society of News Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Association of American Publishers. Printers, paper makers and even the National Grocers Association, whose members' ads appear in newspapers nationwide, are in the coalition.

Walter noted that the CPA's monthly newspaper, The Catholic Journalist, has been affected by the tariff. "It's traditional we would have a printer do our work pro bono, but because of the increase in print costs and newsprint costs, they're asking us to pay the costs of newsprint for the first time in many years," he said.

"We were warned" about future increases, Weismantle said. "We knew that this was coming down the pike. And our printer told us, 'We have no alternative but to pass it on to our customers.' I mean, what are they supposed to do?"

Mark Cohen, president of the Pennsylvania News Media Association, was part of a group lobbying six Pennsylvania members of Congress in June. "They made it sound like they'd heard of it, but they didn't realize the calamity it would cause newspapers," Cohen told CNS July 11.

"We said, 'Look, you believe in jobs, obviously. ' You believe in First Amendment rights. You believe in real news vs. fake news. You want good local reporters on the street. If you do, you need to be on our side. You can't have it both ways. ... You have to be with us.'"

Cohen said, "I think we have momentum. We were way behind the starting line on this and we were all caught off guard. Now that we're mobilized, we're getting the message out. We're getting attention. Of course, we can't predict how this goes."

One potential remedy is a hearing before the International Trade Commission to lift the tariff, which is supposed to last for five years with annual review. The commission conducted a hearing July 7 on the tariff and is slated to vote on it Aug. 28, although its rationale, yea or nay, wouldn't be known until September, according to Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy for the news Media Alliance.

"Many newspapers have taken steps to cut the number of pages that they produce. Some have laid off workers, which is not a good situation," Boyle said. Cohen added some newspapers have reduced the number of days they print; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will now publish in print just five days a week.

Another remedy being pushed is the PRINT Act, introduced by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine. It has 24 Senate co-sponsors and 28 House co-sponsors. PRINT is an acronym for Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade. The bill would suspend the tariff on Canadian newsprint and require the Commerce Department to review the economic health of the printing and publishing industries.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Birth of an encyclical: Priest documents preparation of 'Humanae Vitae'

Top Stories - Thu, 07/12/2018 - 10:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Libreria Editrice Vaticana

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Documents in the Vatican Secret Archives and the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prove it was a "myth" that Blessed Paul VI largely set out on his own in writing "Humanae Vitae," the 1968 encyclical on married love and the regulation of births.

In anticipation of the encyclical's 50th anniversary, Pope Francis gave special access to the archives to Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor at Rome's Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

The results of his research were published in Italian in early July in the book, "The Birth of an Encyclical: 'Humanae Vitae' in the Light of the Vatican Archives."

In a note to reporters, Msgr. Marengo said his research revealed four little-known facts: Pope Paul approved an encyclical, "De Nascendae Prolis" ("On a Child's Birth"), in early May 1968, but was convinced by translators in the Vatican Secretariat of State that it still needed work; a new draft was corrected by hand by Pope Paul; on several occasions the future St. John Paul II sent suggestions, including an extensive treatment of the theme, but there is no evidence that they were used heavily in the final document; and Pope Paul asked the 199 bishops at the 1967 world Synod of Bishops to send him reflections on the theme of the regulation of births.

Msgr. Marengo said the request to the synod members was a surprise. It is not included in any report about the synod itself.

"The news about the desire of the pope to consult all the members of the synodal assembly is very important," he said, "because one of the accusations repeated most often after the publication of 'Humanae Vitae' was that the pope decided to act alone, in a manner that was not collegial."

The pope received only 25 responses in the period between Oct. 9, 1967, and May 31, 1968, Msgr. Marengo said. And, perhaps more surprising, of those, only seven bishops asked Pope Paul to repeat the Catholic Church's teaching against the use of contraceptives.

The other responses -- including a joint U.S. response from Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, Archbishop John Dearden of Detroit and Bishop John Wright of Pittsburgh -- exhibited an openness to the use of artificial birth control in some circumstances, however "none of them would say that using the pill is a good thing," Msgr. Marengo told Catholic News Service.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of Rochester, New York, and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland -- the future Pope John Paul II -- were among the seven bishops urging a reaffirmation of church teaching that using contraceptives was wrong.

"The pope never thought of proceeding alone, putting the collegial profile of the Petrine ministry in parentheses," Msgr. Marengo wrote.

But consultation is not the same thing as taking a vote. And bishops were not the only ones asked for their input. Long before the synod, and before Pope Paul was elected to lead the church, St. John XXIII had appointed a small committee to study the issue of the regulation of birth.

Pope Paul expanded the commission, which included several married couples. The commission's work ended in 1966 with the leaking of a report by the majority of members asserting artificial contraception was not intrinsically evil; minority reports, insisting contraception was morally wrong, were leaked in response.

After reading the commission reports and the bishops' input, Msgr. Marengo wrote, Pope Paul "found himself in a situation that was not easy. His judgment had matured, and he felt obliged in conscience to express it in virtue of his apostolic ministry, knowing well that going in that direction would place him at a predictable and painful distance from sectors of the church community that were not marginal."

In fact, less than a week after the encyclical was published, Pope Paul held a general audience and spoke about just how weighty the decision was. "Never before have we felt so heavily, as in this situation, the burden of our office," he said July 31, 1968. "We studied, read and discussed as much as we could; and we also prayed very much about it."

For Msgr. Marengo, the process of drafting "Humanae Vitae" cannot be understood without recognizing the changes in the church unleased by the Second Vatican Council, including on the theme of marriage and parenthood.

"Since the council in 'Gaudium et Spes' recognized 'responsible parenthood' as a value -- changing in a fundamental way the vision of marriage -- the idea of many was that it required a change in the church's sexual morality as well," he told CNS.

"The difficulty for Pope Paul VI was in how to explain that the use of contraceptives was not licit, but to do so in the light of an affirmation of responsible parenthood," he said.

The encyclical's emphasis on the "inseparable connection" between the "unitive and the procreative" qualities of married love, he said, marked a significant change in church teaching from before Vatican II; previously, the church taught that the primary purpose of marriage was for procreation.

Blessed Paul's personal work in rewriting the encyclical's "pastoral directives" also reflects the teaching of Vatican II, he said. Previously, "the magisterial task was to explain, and the pastoral task was to tell people to accept."

"'You must obey' was the classic pastoral approach," Msgr. Marengo said.

But, he said, "Pope Paul broke this schema, saying, 'I will explain the teaching and if you try to understand it, you will see that it is true and is what is best for you.'"

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Rich heritage: Black sisters, priests mark 50 years of shaping church

Top Stories - Wed, 07/11/2018 - 12:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy the Josephites

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Fifty years ago, Josephite Father William Norvel thought it was time for black priests to come together.

The year, 1968, was a tumultuous one in American history. The country was struggling to implement civil rights for blacks, protests of the Vietnam War became common and some were violent, and young people rejected the authority of their parents' generation.

The black priests wanted to support each other. They also wanted to discuss how to respond to the times and gain the church backing to better evangelize black communities.

More importantly, they wanted to confront the racism they were experiencing within the church. The priests wanted to feel accepted for who they were: African-American clergy who could share a rich cultural heritage but were feeling suppressed by white-dominated church leadership.

Father Norvel and dozens of black priests met in Detroit in April in the first meeting of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus. The meeting came soon after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Questions abounded in the minds of the priests.

"I felt at that time we needed to bring to the attention of the church the racism experienced in our seminaries and in our church," said Father Norvel, now 82 and retired in Atlanta, recalling that first gathering.

The priests returned to their parishes resolved to "have the church do something about" racism, he said.

Mercy Sister Martin de Porres Grey was the only woman religious to attend. She has since left religious life. The organization's history records that she was so inspired by the gathering that she organized a similar meeting of black sisters in August later that year in Pittsburgh. About 150 women attended, marking the founding of the National Black Sisters' Conference.

The sisters, too, wanted to support each other and address racism within the institutional church as well as in their own congregations, recalled Sister Josita Colbert, 80, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Baltimore who attended the gathering. Today she serves as the congregation's vocation director.

Sister Colbert said she came away inspired from the first meeting and continues to attend the annual gathering, which includes the priests' caucus, the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association and the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons.

"It was amazing and overwhelming at the beginning," she told Catholic News Service. "We had speakers who challenged us in terms of what was going on in the world (then) and here in the United States as black people and what we as black religious women were going to do about it."

The priests' and sisters' organizations have had a vibrant history and will celebrate their 1968 founding July 28-Aug. 2 in New Orleans. The seminarians and deacons will be there, too.

Father Kenneth Taylor, who pastors two parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and is president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, told CNS this year's gathering will be a time of celebration for all four organizations.

The joint meeting also will be one to reflect on the role of African-Americans within the church, "especially during a time when we seem to have lost the interest of the church leaders because of the strong Hispanic immigration into the country," Father Taylor said.

The organizations do not want to create a rift with Hispanic Catholics, but rather want to make sure diocesan bishops do not shrink African-American outreach while expanding Hispanic ministries, he said.

"This gives us an opportunity to come together in mutual support and encouragement," Father Taylor explained. "It also gives us a chance to come together to talk about the needs of the black community and what we can do to help black Catholics become more engaged in the church."

A deep concern for racism underlies the organizations today. Some clergy and women religious were outspoken about the racism they saw in the 1960s. Their strident stances in those early years often alienated diocesan or congregational leadership.

Although the stridency may have been dialed back a bit today, their views have not faded. Black priests and women religious continue to say they want the church to confront racism so that all the faithful can achieve true equality.

Father David Benz, 75, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1975 in the Archdiocese of New York and now is retired, said at times he feels African-Americans in the church almost appear "invisible."

"I belong to the same church. I know what the social teachings of the church are and we as a church see this and ignore that," he told CNS.

Father Taylor credited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for creating its Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which is finalizing a pastoral letter on racism across American society as well as the church. A vote on the document is planned for the bishops' general assembly in November.

Still, black women religious and priests expressed concern that African-American evangelization is being overlooked again within the church. They voiced concern that diocesan reorganizations and parish and school closings have disproportionately affected African-American communities.

"It leaves the impression that the Catholic Church is pulling out of the black community," Father Taylor said.

Just as worrisome is the rise in white supremacy, overt racist comments in the media and in politics, and emerging policies that harm minority communities. The priests and women religious said they believe the church must become more vocal in offering the moral guidance necessary to change people's hearts.

Sister Roberta Fulton, a member of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur and president of the National Black Sisters' Conference, credited congregations of women religious for addressing racism within their structures. She and others called for stronger efforts to promote religious vocations among African Americans as key to addressing their concerns.

"People are not entering religious life like they used to, so we're looking at other ways for your people to understand the call," Sister Fulton said. One option is to encourage young people to become associates of a congregation. "Those associates, some have become sisters. They learn some things about the sisters and what we do, where we minister."

Precious Blood Father Clarence Williams, senior parochial vicar at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, in the Cleveland Diocese, was among the organizers of the black seminarians' organization soon after the priests' caucus formed. He said that the early annual joint gatherings of the associations helped encourage participants to recommit to their ministry.

"Meeting yearly with the religious women and priests and really reflecting on our reality in our communities, within our diocese, within assignment, we found our wisdom in that community to stay (in ministry)," Father Williams said. "Those without the support didn't make it. It became to discouraging. It became too hostile," he said.

For women religious, the annual gathering was just as inspiring.

"The black sisters conference was wonderful because it brought us all together," recalled Sister Juanita Shealey, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph in Cleveland. "We sang, we danced, we prayed, we talked about how wonderful it was to see other black sisters.

Members of both organizations also lamented the overall declining number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, especially among African-Americans. With fewer vocations, it also means fewer opportunities for African-Americans to assume leadership positions in the church.

"Over the years we have made recommendations to get priests named (bishops). ... But it seems as if the church is much more concerned about the Hispanic community than they are about the black community," Father Benz said.

Having more African-Americans in leadership, especially as bishops, would help with evangelization, Father Benz added.

The New Orleans gathering will give participants a chance to reflect on such questions. Attendees also will honor past and present leaders, those whom Father Taylor called "exemplars."

He said rather than honor one person with an award, 50 exemplars have been identified and will be identified at the gathering.

The honor will serve to show not just where the organizations have been, but, Father Taylor said, to but hopefully will inspire members to carry on their legacy to achieve full acceptance in church and society.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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Bishops sought to share journey with migrants, not join political fray

Top Stories - Tue, 07/10/2018 - 5:44pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- The journey for many of the new migrants entering the U.S. near the border town of McAllen involves a mix of hardship and blessings.

Having made the treacherous trip through the desert landscape and across the border, the lucky ones find themselves welcomed with food, water and human warmth at a Catholic-run humanitarian center in downtown McAllen.

But having just conquered the life-changing crossing, many of the migrants also find themselves immediately facing an unknown world and future ahead.

Though many bishops come to know many immigrants in the dioceses where they serve, except for the bishops along the border, few prelates witness that initial phase of the immigration journey that a group of bishops was privy to in early July. 

They fed and spoke with a group of newly arrived immigrants to the U.S. at a Catholic Charities center and visited the controversial facilities where migrant children and teens have gotten their first taste of the U.S. -- in detention -- while temporarily separated from family. The bishops gave them rosaries and Bibles following a Mass they celebrated at one of the centers.

With their actions of charity and faith, they inserted themselves into the heart of the radioactive immigration debate the United States is experiencing, and one in which some Catholics remain aligned with political party ideology rather than with what the church is saying on the topic.

The way the bishops see it, they were simply answering the call of Pope Francis, to "share the journey," a campaign started in September 2017 that called on Catholics and people of goodwill around the world to spend time with migrants, to come face to face with them, perhaps serve them in some fashion and hear their story.

Caritas Internationalis kicked off the campaign internationally last year and it is being promoted in the U.S. by groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services.

"The journey ahead is still a tough journey, a difficult journey," said Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Rockville Centre, New York, one of the prelates on the trip.

The migrants have to settle in, find work, learn the language and, in some cases, face "the biases," he said.

"There's always that fear," Bishop Brennan said in a July 1 interview with Catholic News Service after the visit to the respite center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen. "I know it's not easy, but I think the people I met today are driven by a sense of a hope-filled future. They want to build their lives up, they want to provide for their families. The children are actually looking forward to school."

Bishop Brennan, along with USCCB president Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, took part in the visit to the center, along with local Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville and Auxiliary Bishop Mario Aviles, also of the Brownsville Diocese. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles joined the group July 2 and celebrated Mass at one of the facilities with the children and teens.

To explain the situation to Catholics and others opposed to the presence of the migrants and to how they entered the country, Bishop Brennan said he focuses on the humanity of the situation. But it is important to listen to all sides of the situation, he said.

"Even people who would want to be tougher on the (immigrants), we all share that sense of humanity," said Bishop Brennan. "I think there is compassion, but we have to acknowledge people's fears and acknowledge them as valid. We have to start meeting everyone where they are and recognizing those fears and concerns."

There are solutions to bring about security at the border in ways that are humane and that's what Bishop Brennan said he wants to get across. And those who may be voicing their stance against the migrants, "they're not heartless," Bishop Brennan said, but they might be reacting to other factors.

"You see chaos in the world around you and that worries you and that's why the bishops have been so strong about comprehensive immigration reform, it's not just fancy words," he said. "We have to look at the whole picture and when we look at the whole picture, it's not as complicated as it seems."

Seeing the whole picture involves talking to some of the immigrants, he said.  

Bishop Bambera said he heard repeatedly from those he met in Texas about the fear they were facing and the urgency to leave to protect their lives or the lives of their children from imminent danger. It was a story repeated, too, to Cardinal DiNardo, when he spoke with the recent arrivals.

His hope, Cardinal DiNardo said in July 2 interview with CNS, was to "let all Catholics in our country know that we welcome immigrants. ... You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet" the people behind the issue and the church stands with those at the margins.

For the bishops, whose actions and words are amplified and often publicly scrutinized, "sharing the journey" when it comes to immigration meant sharing a story that some in their flock resist hearing because of the political rhetoric surrounding the issue. But the prelates tried to direct the attention away from the politics of it and directed it toward its human cost and why the church cares about it.

"It's not just a matter of politics, it's a matter of humanity," said Archbishop Gomez during a July 2 news conference closing the prelates visit.

The origin of the trip began in early June when Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, called on his fellow bishops at a meeting in Florida to organize the visit to the border "as a sign of our pastoral concern and protest against this hardening of the American heart," a phrase he has used to refer to the anti-immigrant atmosphere and harsh sentiments toward immigrants in the country.

 At that time, the Trump administration had just implemented a policy separating migrant children from parents, if they were caught crossing the border illegally. The Trump administration has since rescinded the policy but some of those who were separated remain apart and authorities were scrambling to reunite those who were separated.

Regardless of the political implications, some like Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, maintain that the life and death implications and damage to families by the Trump administration's policies merits the involvement of the church.

"The visit to the border was an important step, but bishops across the country need to be loud and clear that President Trump and his administration should not prosecute asylum-seekers who are fleeing for their lives, detain them indefinitely, and deny them due process protections," he said. "This is a moment in which the Catholic community should be united in their opposition to the administration's zero-tolerance policy, as it undermines family unity, a core principle of Catholic teaching."

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