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Updated: 52 min 36 sec ago

Circuitous route led to director's second film on exorcism

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 3:47pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/The Orchard

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sometimes the best opportunities result from a mix of asking and having things fall into your lap.

So it was for William Friedkin, who directed "The Exorcist" 45 years ago and thought he was through with the subgenre he helped create. Then came his documentary on exorcism, "The Devil and Father Amorth."

"It was a complete accident," Friedkin told Catholic News Service in an April 16 interview in Washington to promote the film. "I had no intention of doing this. I had no interest. 'The Exorcist' was a work of fiction. I had never seen a real exorcism, and neither had William Peter Blatty," who had written the novel on which that movie was based.

Friedkin said he had been in Luca, Italy, to receive the Puccini Prize for having directed four Puccini operas. He soon heard Pisa was a 35-minute drive from Luca, so he made the trip. Then he learned it was a one-hour flight from Pisa to Rome. Given that he had eight days in Italy, he wrote a priest-theologian friend, and "as a lark, I asked, 'Do you think I could get a meeting with the pope or Father (Gabriele) Amorth?'"

The reply: "The pope's not available, but Father Amorth would be very pleased to meet you." The desired meeting took place between Friedkin and the priest whose skills in performing exorcisms he characterized this way: "There's exorcists and there's exorcists, like there's basketball players and LeBron James."

Friedkin returned to Los Angeles and was at the Vanity Fair magazine post-Oscars party when he told then-editor Graydon Carter of his meeting with the priest. Carter urged him to write an article about Father Amorth. Before making a return trip to Rome he wrote the priest, who answered only in longhand. "I pushed my luck," Friedkin said. "Would you ever let me witness an exorcism?" "Let me think about it," Father Amorth said; eventually, his order, the Pauline Fathers, gave permission for him to see an exorcism on a specific date -- May 1, 2016.

"I pushed my luck again, and I wrote back, 'Do you think he would allow me to film it?' The word came back in two days, that yes, he would allow me to film it, but alone with no crew and no lights," Friedkin said.

Friedkin's filming of Cristina, the first known filmed exorcism, is what makes up the core of "The Devil and Father Amorth." "I had been told by Father Amorth this was her ninth exorcism and she had experienced personality changes, vocal changes, and a kind of unnatural strength for a woman her size and age," he recalled. "So I was aware from him this was going to happen -- to what extent, I didn't know."

He said he was surprised by how "disturbing the (demonic) attacks were. I went from abject terror sitting two feet away from her to absolute empathy for the pain she was expressing. She's a wonderful woman. She's an architect. You wonder how these attacks came about, why."

Father Amorth, who was 91, died several months after the filming. The priest was chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome from 1986 until his death in 2016. Cristina continues to seek help to cast out whatever demon is inside her with the help of other exorcists. 

The movie also shows Friedkin talking with neurosurgeons and psychiatrists who have seen his exorcism footage who seem at a loss to either debunk or explain it.

More attention to Father Amorth "would have helped to offset the inevitable grimness of the rite at the heart of the proceedings," said John Mulderig, CNS assistant director for media reviews, in his review of "The Devil and Father Amorth." "At times, Friedkin appears slightly breathless with enthusiasm for his own material, and Christopher Rouse's churning score also hints at sensationalism. But overall, the tone is respectful and sober-minded."

The film is classified A-II -- adults and adolescents -- for mature themes, potentially disturbing images and a rude gesture.

"Father Amorth said to me the devil is metaphor," Friedkin told CNS. "The devil is not some figurative person, although he did say that he has had conversations with Satan. But he said there is no figure as he's been depicted. He believes that the devil is metaphor. I 100 percent believe there is evil in the world -- every day, all day, constantly -- but there is also a great goodness."

Friedkin, who was raised Jewish, now embraces faith in a different way.

Although he is not a Catholic, "I strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus -- strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus -- and I don't necessarily require the supernatural to believe in Jesus," he said, referring to the Resurrection.

Friedkin said his aims with the documentary are modest. "Just a sharing of information, which is what any filmmaker -- especially if you make a documentary -- experience. 'Here. this is what I saw,'" he said. "And what I'm saying to the audience, "Make of this what you will, but here it is.' We live in a very skeptical world, so I expect a lot of that."

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Follow Pattison on 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.

Father of Alfie Evans meets pope, begs for help to save his son

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 8:06am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Begging Pope Francis to help his son, Alfie, Tom Evans met with the pontiff, pleading for "asylum" in Italy so his seriously ill son may receive care and not be euthanized in England.

"If Your Holiness helps our child, Your Holiness will be potentially saving the future for our children in the U.K., especially the disabled. We pray the problem we are facing is solved peacefully and respectfully as no child deserves this," Evans said in a statement he personally delivered to the pope April 18.

The private meeting came before the pope appealed publicly yet again for appropriate care and respect for 23-month-old Alfie Evans.

"I would like to affirm and vigorously uphold that the only master of life - from its beginning to natural end - is God," the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience April 18.

"Our duty is to do everything to safeguard life," he said before leading the thousands of people in the square in a moment of prayer and reflection.

He asked those at the audience to pray that the lives of all people, especially Alfie, be respected.

The pope's appeal -- the third he has made publicly-- came after he met with Alfie's father, who also attended the general audience with VIP seating in the square.

Evans flew to Rome overnight from England to meet with the pope. He posted photos and commentaries about the encounter on the Facebook page, "Alfie's Army Official."

The encounter lasted 20 minutes, according to the Italian Catholic news site, "La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana," which had one of its reporters accompany Evans at the meeting. The news site said the last-minute meeting was made possible by Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, whom the site said was designated by the pope to act as a conduit between the Evans family and the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Gently rubbing a small green rosary between his fingers, Evans, who is Catholic, told reporters that his son is being "held hostage" at the hospital, and he and his wife are "being treated like criminals and prisoners." The family has been fighting to remove Alfie from a Liverpool hospital to be transferred elsewhere.

Evans said he thought the meeting with the pope went very well. "I've seen the love and the care and the emotion in his eyes. I'm so fortunate to have had that opportunity" to meet the pope and talk about saving his son, he told Catholic News Service.

"I've prayed every day," he said, and though "God hasn't come through yet," he thought the next step should be the pope, because he understands that no one has the right over Alfie's life, but God.

He also asked the pope to speak out publicly again during the general audience in support of Alfie, and the pope did.

Evans asked the pope to help him bring the baby to Italy to the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu hospital, and the pope said, "Yes" and immediately turned and spoke to Bishop Cavina, according to Patricia Gooding-Williams, who was at the papal meeting acting as the translator. Bishop Cavina worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State for a number of years before being ordained a bishop in 2012.

The pope blessed Evans and told him he really respected his courage, saying he had "the same courage as God has for his children," Gooding-Williams told CNS.

In a statement then posted on Facebook, Evans thanked the pope for meeting with him and begged him for his help.

"I am now here in front of Your Holiness to plea for asylum. Our hospitals in the U.K. do not want to give disabled children the chance of life and instead the hospitals in the U.K. are now assisting death in children," the statement read.

"We have fought for Alfie for one and a half years and we now have realized our son's life does not mean much to the NHS," the national health service in the U.K., he wrote.

"We plea with you to help our son!"

Evans said in the written statement, "We see life and potential in our son and we want to bring him here to Italy at Bambino Gesu where we know he is safe and he will not be euthanized."

Mariella Enoc, president of the Vatican-run hospital, said they are ready to welcome Alfie.

"We certainly do not promise to cure him, but to take care of him, without aggressive treatment," she said in a statement published by the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire, April 14.

Three specialists from Bambino Gesu examined Alfie at the Liverpool hospital and determined "a positive outcome would be difficult, but the baby's suffering can be alleviated," she said.

Doctors in the U.K. have not been able to make a definitive diagnosis of the 23-month-old child's degenerative neurological condition.

However, doctors at the hospital have said keeping the toddler on life-support would be "futile," and he should begin receiving palliative care. A high court judge backed a lower court's ruling saying the hospital can go against the wishes of the family and withdraw life-support.

In an effort to fight that decision, the parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, brought their case to the European court of human rights, which found no indication of any human rights violations and declared their application "inadmissible" March 28.

The parents want to transfer their son to Bambino Gesu to see if it is possible to diagnose and treat his condition, but the high court ruling would prevent that from happening, according to the parents' lawyer.

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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.

'Is my dad in heaven,' little boy asks pope

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighborhood's children.

Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis' parish visits. And, at St. Paul of the Cross parish April 15, there were the usual questions like, "How did you feel when you were elected pope?"

But then it was Emanuele's turn. The young boy smiled at the pope as he approached the microphone. But then froze. "I can't do it," Emanuele said.

Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, a papal aide, encouraged the boy, but he kept saying, "I can't."

"Come, come to me, Emanuele," the pope said. "Come and whisper it in my ear."

Msgr. Sapienza helped the boy up to the platform where the pope was seated. Emanuele was sobbing by that point, and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace, patting his head and speaking softly to him.

With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat.

"If only we could all cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts like he has," the pope told the children. "He was crying for his father and had the courage to do it in front of us because in his heart there is love for his father."

Pope Francis said he had asked Emanuele if he could share the boy's question and the boy agreed. "'A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?'"

"How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, 'He was good,'" the pope told the children. "And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make his children like that, then it's true, he was a good man. He was a good man.

"That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn't a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart," Pope Francis said.

"God is the one who says who goes to heaven," the pope explained.

The next step in answering Emanuele's question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has. "What do you think? A father's heart. God has a dad's heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?"

"Does God abandon his children?" the pope asked. "Does God abandon his children when they are good?"

The children shouted, "No."

"There, Emanuele, that is the answer," the pope told the boy. "God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much."

Pope Francis encouraged Emanuele to "talk to your dad; pray to your dad."

Earlier, a young girl named Carlotta also asked the pope a delicate question: "When we are baptized, we become children of God. People who aren't baptized, are they not children of God?"

"What does your heart tell you?" the pope asked Carlotta. She said, they are, too.

"Right, and I'll explain," the pope told her. "We are all children of God. Everyone. Everyone."

The nonbaptized, members of other religions, those who worship idols, "even the mafiosi," who terrorize the neighborhood around the parish, are children of God, though "they prefer to behave like children of the devil," he said.

"God created everyone, loves everyone and put in everyone's heart a conscience so they would recognize what is good and distinguish it from what is bad," the pope said.

The difference, he said, is that "when you were baptized, the Holy Spirit entered into that conscience and reinforced your belonging to God and, in that sense, you became more of a daughter of God because you're a child of God like everyone, but with the strength of the Holy Spirit."

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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.

'Schizoid' world brags it's free while chained to greed, pope says

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 10:18am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian freedom is being free from worldly ambition, fashion and passion and being open to God's will, Pope Francis said.

The world today "is a bit schizoid, schizophrenic, right? It shouts, 'Freedom, freedom, freedom!' but it is more slave, slave, slave," he said in his homily April 13 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

People need to think about what kind of freedom they seek in the world, he said.

Is it Christian, he asked, or "am I slave to my passions, my ambitions, to many things, to wealth, to fashion. It seems like a joke, but so many people are slaves to fashion!"

Pope Francis' homily looked at three examples of Christian freedom that were depicted in the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:34-42) and the Gospel reading (Jn 6:1-15).

The first reading told how the Pharisee, Gamaliel, convinces the Sanhedrin to free Peter and John from prison. He made the decision, the pope said, based on a trust that God would eventually let the truth be known about the apostles and by using his power of reason without letting it be warped by quick ambition.

"A free man is not afraid of time -- he leaves it to God. He leaves room for God to act in time. The free man is patient," the pope said.

Pontius Pilate, for example, was a man who was intelligent and could think reasonably, however, he wasn't free, the pope said. "He lacked the courage of freedom because he was a slave to careerism, ambition and success."

Even though Peter and John were innocent and were punished unjustly after they were freed from prison, they did not go to a judge to complain or demand reparation, the pope said.

They freely chose to rejoice and suffer in Christ's name just as Christ suffered for them, he said.

"Even today there are so many Christians, in prison, tortured who carry forward this freedom to proclaim Jesus Christ," he said.

Finally, Jesus himself gives an example of freedom when he escapes to the mountain alone after he realizes the people were going to carry him off to make him king after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

"He detached himself from triumphalism. He does not let himself be deceived" by this attitude of superiority, and makes sure he remains free, the pope said.

True freedom, he said, is making room for God in one's life and following him with joy, even if it brings hardship and suffering.

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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.

Salvador's Blessed Romero canonization probably in Rome in October

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 9:30am

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During an April 11 homily in Washington, Salvadoran Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero will "probably" be in Rome and "probably" take place at end of October after a meeting of bishops.

He hedged his statement in an interview with Catholic News Service saying the final decision is up to Pope Francis.

"Soon we will have a canonization," the archbishop said to a crowd of mostly Salvadoran immigrants gathered for Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. "On May 19, we will know the date and the place."

That's the date cardinals will gather at the Vatican for a meeting known as a consistory, where they're expected to decide the details.

The archbishop's statement came hours after reports that Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said to members of the press in Madrid that the Romero canonization would take place Oct. 21.

El Salvador's Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who also was present at the Mass in Washington, referenced Cardinal Maradiaga's statement and said, "Let's wait until the official announcement" but also said the Honduran cardinal was close to the pope and may know details.

Archbishop Escobar, who occupies the post held for three years by Blessed Romero, from 1977 until his assassination in 1980, said El Salvador's bishops sent the pope a message asking that the canonization be held in their country. Many of the country's poor would not be able to otherwise attend the ceremony, a first for El Salvador, he said. Archbishop Romero's May 2015 beatification took place in El Salvador. Ultimately, the pope will decide what to do, he said.

The archbishop and the cardinal are part of a delegation of Salvadoran bishops seeking to meet in April with U.S. lawmakers to plead for relief for immigrants who have benefited from two imperiled U.S. immigration programs: Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Their end would affect more than 140,000 Salvadoran nationals living in the U.S. under those protections, he said.

Archbishop Escobar told those gathered at Mass to pray for Blessed Romero's intercession and a miracle so that lawmakers find a permanent solution and an answer to their pleas.

Blessed Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980 during Mass after repeatedly pleading for an end to violence, to injustice against the poor, and to the killing of innocent civilians during an armed conflict that ultimately lasted 12 years and resulted in more than 70,000 deaths in the country.

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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.

Pope apologizes for 'serious mistakes' in judging Chilean abuse cases

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 4:26pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a letter to the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

The pope said he made "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information."

"I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks," the pope said in the letter, which was released by the Vatican April 11. Several survivors apparently have been invited to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Abuse victims alleged that Bishop Barros -- then a priest -- had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

Protesters and victims said Bishop Barros is guilty of protecting Father Karadima and was physically present while some of the abuse was going on.

During his visit to Chile in January, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the sexual abuses committed by some priests in Chile.

"I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some of the ministers of the church," he said.

However, speaking to reporters, he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

He later apologized to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

A short time later, the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending a trusted investigator to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

Pope Francis said Archbishop Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, heard the testimony of 64 people and presented him with more than 2,300 pages of documentation. Not all of the witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers' school.

After a "careful reading" of the testimonies, the pope said, "I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame."

The pope said he was convening a meeting in Rome with the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions "without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives."

Pope Francis said he wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to "re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice."

Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu, the pope said, had been overwhelmed by the "maturity, respect and kindness" of the victims who testified.

"As pastors," the pope told the bishops, "we must express the same feeling and cordial gratitude to those who, with honesty (and) courage" requested to meet with the envoys and "showed them the wounds of their soul."

Following the release of Pope Francis' letter, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of the bishops' conference and head of the military ordinariate, said the bishops of Chile would travel to the Vatican in the third week of May.

The bishops, he said, shared in the pope's pain.

"We have not done enough," he said in a statement. "Our commitment is that this does not happen again."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposes synod on women

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 1:52pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church in Latin America must recognize and appreciate the role of women and end the practice of using them solely as submissive laborers in the parish, said members of a pontifical commission.

In addition, at the end of their plenary meeting March 6-9 at the Vatican, members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposed that the church hold a Synod of Bishops "on the theme of the woman in the life and mission of the church."

"There still exist 'macho,' bossy clerics who try to use women as servants within their parish, almost like submissive clients of worship and manual labor for what is needed. All of this has to end," said the final document from the meeting.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported April 11 that the theme of the three-day meeting, "The woman: pillar in building the church and society in Latin America," was chosen by Pope Francis.

In addition to 17 cardinals and seven bishops who are members of the commission, the pope asked that some leading Latin American women also be invited; eight laywomen and six women religious participated in the four-day meeting and in drafting its pastoral recommendations, the newspaper said.

While the assembly expressed appreciation for and based many of its proposals on the Latin American bishops' Aparecida document, participants said more needed to be done to implement concrete solutions to the problems facing women in Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the drafting committee for the final document of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The Aparecida document's call to renew the church's commitment to mission and discipleship in Latin America must be followed through by local churches, especially "in denouncing every form of discrimination and oppression, violence and exploitation that women suffer in various situations," the Pontifical Commission for Latin America's final document stated.

Expressing appreciation for the Christian witness given by women in consecrated life, mothers who are "authentic 'martyrs' giving their lives for their families" and widows who serve their communities in charity, the commission document said women can and should play a greater role in church life, including in the formation of future priests.

In order for priests to benefit from the "feminine genius," it said, it is important for married women and consecrated women "to participate in the formation process."

Women should be a part "of the formation teams, giving them authority to teach and accompany seminarians, as well as the opportunity to intervene in the vocational discernment and balanced development of candidates to the priestly ministry," the document said.

The commission also warned of the negative influence "telenovelas" (soap operas) have on Latin American women because the programs undermine marriages and families that are labeled "traditional" while advocating a variety of other forms of cohabitation.

In addition, the document said, "they attempt to undermine motherhood, which is depicted as a prison that reduces the possibilities of a woman's well-being and progress."

In Latin America, meeting participants warned, poor women are subjected to "undignified and horrible forms" of exploitation by "renting out their wombs" for surrogacy and influenced by foreign organizations.

"Feminist lobbies that are well-funded and orchestrated by international agencies" play a role in diminishing the dignity of women, the document added.

The figure of Mary as "a free and strong woman, obedient to the will of God," can be crucial in "recovering the identity of the woman and her value in the church," the document said.

Like Mary proclaiming the "Magnificat," women can have a prophetic voice and demonstrate "the feminine and maternal dimension of the church," the document stated.

"The Catholic Church, following the example of Jesus, must be very free of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination against women," the final document said. "Christian communities must undertake a serious review of their life and a 'pastoral conversion' capable of asking forgiveness for all those situations in which they were and still are accomplices in attacking their dignity."

Participants at the meeting called for improved relations between local bishops and the religious orders of women who minister in their dioceses, saying women religious "must be recognized and valued as jointly responsible for the communion and mission of the church."

Women should be more involved in decision making on a parish, diocesan, national and global church level, participants said. Such openness is not "a concession to pressure," but the result of an awareness that "the absence of women in decision making is a defect, an ecclesiological lacuna, the negative effect of a clerical and chauvinistic mentality."

Greater efforts, they said, must be made to educate men to overcome chauvinism, counteract the abandonment of their children and "irresponsibility in sexual behavior."

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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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.

Fond memories of global community echo with bishops' justice advocate

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 12:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A picture of a young Palestinian boy, with dark, soulful eyes and a bit of a dirty face, hangs on the back wall of Stephen Colecchi's office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

When Colecchi looks at it, he offers a prayer for the nameless child and the Palestinian people.

"I met him in a mosque in Gaza on my first trip there (2007) and he hung around me. He kept smiling at me so I kept smiling at him," recalled Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace.

"I pray for him whenever I look at his picture. I wonder if he's still alive and doing OK."

The boy is one of countless people Colecchi met during fact-finding trips around the world. Their struggles inspired Colecchi's work to protect human life throughout the 14 years at the USCCB.

"The best thing about this work, in addition to working with the bishops," he told Catholic News Service as he approached his April 30 retirement, "was you get to bring three assets of the church together: the experience of the church on the ground in every country around the world; the teaching of the church, the social teaching; and then the relationships ... that help inform what you're able to bring."

Colleagues credit Colecchi with uncounted accomplishments even though he stayed out of the limelight.

"Steve was a delight to work with. He was a man of great wisdom, integrity and very collegial," said retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, who is a past chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The bishop credited Colecchi for doing his homework on vital issues and keeping Scripture and Catholic social teaching at the forefront of his work.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, called Colecchi a resolute partner in advocacy and a gifted friend who is at ease talking with policymakers and struggling people alike.

"The bishops and the wider church have been served incredibly well by Steve and his determined leadership on raising the voice of the church on a whole host of international issues," O'Keefe said.

"He's made a profound difference in shaping the U.S. policy on key issues through supporting the bishops in their role," he added. "He combines his intellect and policy analysis with the ability to connect with people who are suffering great injustice."

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and former executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, brought Colecchi to the USCCB in 2004. Carr credited him for his steadfast pursuit of justice, citing his leading role in securing reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief among other critical international aid programs.

"There are literally millions of people in Africa who are seeing their grandchildren because of his work and a lot of other people's work on HIV/AIDS and debt relief," Carr said.

"He is smart. He is faithful. He is persistent. He is good to work with. He is just a remarkable example of a faithful Catholic who has made a huge difference," Carr added.

Colecchi keeps the accolades in perspective.

"The church's teaching is neither left or right," he told CNS. "Rather it seeks to be faithful. We should always put our moral principles ahead of our partisan political positions and be guided by faith."

Colecchi's commitment to peace and justice was formed early in life. Growing up in Leominster, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and 1960s, Colecchi was active in the youth group at his family's parish, Holy Family of Nazareth.

"I really saw faith and engagement with society as going together," he said.

At first, Colecchi thought he would do that as a priest.

As he went off to the College of the Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, his father urged him to "do at least a little dating to see if you're really called to celibacy," Colecchi said. In his junior year, Colecchi met his wife, Cheryl, and thoughts of the priesthood disappeared. They have been married 44 years.

The years at Holy Cross were formative in other ways. Colecchi became involved in efforts to end the Vietnam War. It was Jesuit Father Joseph J. LaBran, associate chaplain, who, after an anti-war rally, encouraged Colecchi to consider using his leadership skills to serve the Catholic Church.

Following graduation in 1973, Colecchi entered Yale Divinity School to work on a master's degree in religion. He also worked on low-income housing needs for elderly people. "That was significant because I saw the struggles of poor, inner city elderly residents," he said.

At Yale, Colecchi met Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who taught pastoral ministry and wrote numerous books and articles on myriad aspects of the church's vital work.

"He was a big influence on me, too," Colecchi said of Father Nouwen. "He helped me understand that it was important to root myself in some spirituality, which I have never been very good at. I've always been more of an activist. That's one of the things I could do better in retirement."

With advanced degree in hand, Colecchi began his career in religious education at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he connected students with outreach to elderly people. Then it was on to Virginia, the one place where Steve and Cheryl could find work together, he in parish ministry and she as a teacher.

Colecchi worked for three years at St. Joseph Church in rural Martinsville and eight years at St. Bridget Church in Richmond. As time passed, Cheryl built a career as a clinical psychologist.

By 1988, Colecchi's skills were noticed within the Richmond Diocese. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a leading social justice advocate who opposed abortion as much as nuclear weapons, hired him on the spot during an interview. Colecchi became director of the Office of Justice and Peace and diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

"It was a big office because it included an office of migrant ministry on the Eastern Shore. It included an office in Appalachia that worked on issues in Appalachia. It included refugee resettlement offices in three different metro areas of the diocese."

The position also required regularly meeting with legislators on any number of concerns. He recalled his most notable legislative achievements as changes in public assistance policies affecting two-parent families and a prohibition on partial-birth abortion.

In 2004, the USCCB called.

The Colecchis were not sure they wanted to move northward. They had two daughters and Cheryl's practice was well established. It was their involvement in the Just Faith program that led them to take the risk. The yearlong program rooted in social justice concerns ends with a retreat during which participants are invited to discern how God is calling them to act on behalf of the poor.

"Together we realized we needed to take a greater risk for social justice, we needed to simplify our lives," Colecchi recalled.

The moved turned out well. Colecchi has earned wide praise for his work and Cheryl was able to build a new practice in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Both were to retire together and planned to return to the Richmond area.

Colecchi said he looks "forward to being a full-time grandpa and a part-time something else" in retirement. He hopes to line up work as an adviser on issues such as nuclear disarmament, world poverty and climate change.

"I think I have something to contribute still."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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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.

Sweden's Lutherans to let Catholic parish hold Masses in Lund cathedral

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:25am

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

For the first time in 500 years, Lutherans in Sweden are welcoming Catholics to celebrate Masses in Lund cathedral. The historic cathedral, formerly the site of bitter religious feuding, has become a site of interfaith friendship since Pope Francis held a service there in 2016.

The agreement to allow Catholic Masses to be celebrated in the cathedral was announced in early April to accommodate the growing parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lund, which will be undergoing building renovations. Catholic services will be held there beginning in October until the renovations are complete.

"People are very excited," said Dominican Father Johan Linden, pastor of St. Thomas Parish. "As I and my Lutheran counterparts have stressed, this is not merely a practical solution but a fruit of the Holy Father's visit and the joint document 'From Conflict to Communion.'"

The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm credits the church sharing to Pope Francis' visit, saying the pope has had a direct impact in improving Christian relationships in Sweden.

"Since the visit of Pope Francis, the ecumenical relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Lund have developed and grown stronger," said Kristina Hellner, diocesan spokeswoman. "The parishes don't wish to focus on what is separating them. Instead they focus on what is uniting: the Gospel, baptism, prayer and diaconal care."

Since the pope's visit, Catholics and Protestants in Lund have also been holding common vespers together on Saturday evenings. The number of participants varies from 50 to 200, said Father Linden.

Lund is home to one of only three Catholic schools in Sweden.

"Our region is growing and Lund, a town with a major university and several important research projects, is growing at a fast pace," said Father Linden, whose parish has about 3,500 registered members but serves about 5,000.

Father Linden said his diverse group of parishioners includes students, immigrants, foreign workers and families.

"Last time I tried to count, we had around 85 nationalities," he said.

Now the small Catholic community has outgrown the building and found a new opportunity for fellowship with their Lutheran neighbors.

Father Linden said he believes that the experience is enriching, saying that goodness and beauty are found everywhere and can be particularly shared with Christians of other traditions.

"If we take Christ's invitation to unity seriously, we must first and foremost seek the good, the true, the beautiful and cherish it. Be humble and recognize it," said Father Linden, saying witnessing a different tradition can inspire people to grow in holiness.

"All this can and will be done without giving up our own tradition," he added. "For us, our common ground of baptism and the Gospel means that we can do a lot to make God's kingdom grow and become more visible in our secular society."

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Fletcher is a correspondent for Catholic News Service.

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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.

Sweden's Lutherans to let Catholic parish hold Masses in Lund cathedral

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:25am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

For the first time in 500 years, Lutherans in Sweden are welcoming Catholics to celebrate Masses in Lund cathedral. The historic cathedral, formerly the site of bitter religious feuding, has become a site of interfaith friendship since Pope Francis held a service there in 2016.

The agreement to allow Catholic Masses to be celebrated in the cathedral was announced in early April to accommodate the growing parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lund, which will be undergoing building renovations. Catholic services will be held there beginning in October until the renovations are complete.

"People are very excited," said Dominican Father Johan Linden, pastor of St. Thomas Parish. "As I and my Lutheran counterparts have stressed, this is not merely a practical solution but a fruit of the Holy Father's visit and the joint document 'From Conflict to Communion.'"

The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm credits the church sharing to Pope Francis' visit, saying the pope has had a direct impact in improving Christian relationships in Sweden.

"Since the visit of Pope Francis, the ecumenical relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Lund have developed and grown stronger," said Kristina Hellner, diocesan spokeswoman. "The parishes don't wish to focus on what is separating them. Instead they focus on what is uniting: the Gospel, baptism, prayer and diaconal care."

Since the pope's visit, Catholics and Protestants in Lund have also been holding common vespers together on Saturday evenings. The number of participants varies from 50 to 200, said Father Linden.

Lund is home to one of only three Catholic schools in Sweden.

"Our region is growing and Lund, a town with a major university and several important research projects, is growing at a fast pace," said Father Linden, whose parish has about 3,500 registered members but serves about 5,000.

Father Linden said his diverse group of parishioners includes students, immigrants, foreign workers and families.

"Last time I tried to count, we had around 85 nationalities," he said.

Now the small Catholic community has outgrown the building and found a new opportunity for fellowship with their Lutheran neighbors.

Father Linden said he believes that the experience is enriching, saying that goodness and beauty are found everywhere and can be particularly shared with Christians of other traditions.

"If we take Christ's invitation to unity seriously, we must first and foremost seek the good, the true, the beautiful and cherish it. Be humble and recognize it," said Father Linden, saying witnessing a different tradition can inspire people to grow in holiness.

"All this can and will be done without giving up our own tradition," he added. "For us, our common ground of baptism and the Gospel means that we can do a lot to make God's kingdom grow and become more visible in our secular society."

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Fletcher is a correspondent for Catholic News Service.

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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.

Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 7:00am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God calls all Christians to be saints -- not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness.

"Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy," the pope wrote in "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), his apostolic exhortation on "the call to holiness in today's world."

Pope Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the Vatican released it April 9.

Much of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the individual reading it. "With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you," he wrote near the beginning.

Saying he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of each Christian and which requires a personal response given one's state in life, talents and circumstances.

"We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer," he wrote. But "that is not the case."

"We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves," he said.

He wrote about "the saints next door" and said he likes "to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile."

Pope Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of hell.

"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," the pope wrote in his exhortation. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable" to the devil's temptations.

"The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice," he wrote. "When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities."

The path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in prayer, in sacrifice and in service to others.

Being part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. "I do not believe in holiness without prayer," he said, "even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotion."

"The holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures," he said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is tired, prays the rosary and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind word.

The title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says "rejoice and be glad" to those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.

The line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, "Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy": living simply, putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble, mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for justice and seeking peace with all.

The example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he said, but no one else's path can be duplicated exactly.

Each person, he said, needs "to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity."

The exhortation ends with a section on "discernment," which is a gift to be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection, reading Scripture and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.

"A sincere daily 'examination of conscience'" will help, he said, because holiness involves striving each day for "all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day's responsibilities and commitments."

Pope Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others' company and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And, "needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness."

Being holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always frustrated and surly, something is not right.

"The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness," he said. "The apostles of Christ were not like that."

In fact, the pope said, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."

The exhortation included many of Pope Francis' familiar refrains about attitudes that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and being quick to judge others for not following them.

Holiness "is not about swooning in mystic rapture," he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor and the sick.

Holiness is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.

"Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred," the pope wrote. "Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia...."

And, he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a "secondary issue" when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.

"That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian," he said.

Pope Francis' exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially when commenting anonymously.

"It is striking at times," he said, that "in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying."

Saints, on the other hand, "do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others."

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Printed copies of "Rejoice and Be Glad" can be ordered from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at: http://store.usccb.org/rejoice-and-be-glad-p/7-599.htm

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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.

Don't be afraid of shame, open hearts to God's mercy, pope says

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 8:33am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Feeling ashamed of one's sins does not mean wallowing in guilt, rather it is the gateway all men and women can use to experience firsthand God's tender mercy and forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

Christians should be grateful for shame because it "means that we do not accept evil, and that is good," the pope said April 8 at an outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday.

"Shame is a secret invitation of the soul that needs the Lord to overcome evil," the pope said. "The tragedy is when we are no longer ashamed of anything. Do not be afraid of being ashamed! Let us pass from shame to forgiveness!"

Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated every year on the Sunday after Easter, was added to the universal church calendar by St. John Paul II in 2000. The Polish pope was a longtime devotee of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalksa, whom he beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

As Pope Francis celebrated the Mass, a painting of Jesus inspired by St. Faustina's visions was near the altar. The image, perched on top a bed of white roses, depicts Jesus with one hand raised in blessing and the other pointing to his heart emanating red and white light.

As the sounds of the Sistine choir filled the air, Pope Francis stood and bowed reverently in front of the painting before incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. John which recalled the apostle Thomas' disbelief at Christ's resurrection.

Despite Thomas' initial lack of faith, Pope Francis said, Christians should learn from his example and not be content with hearing from others that Jesus is alive.

"A God who is risen but remains distant does not fill our lives; an aloof God does not attract us, however just and holy he may be. No, we too need to 'see God,' to touch him with our hands and to know that he is risen for us," the pope said.

Like Thomas and the disciples, he explained, Christian men and women can only understand the depth of God's love by "gazing upon" Jesus' wounds.

Although "we can consider ourselves Christians, call ourselves Christians and speak about the many beautiful values of faith," he said, "we need to see Jesus by touching his love. Only thus can we go to the heart of the faith and, like the disciples, find peace and joy beyond all doubt."

There are several "closed doors" that must be opened in order to experience this love and to understand that God's mercy "is not simply one of his qualities among others, but the very beating of his heart," Pope Francis said.

The first step, he said, is seeking and accepting God's forgiveness which is often difficult because "we are tempted to do what the disciples did in the Gospel: to barricade ourselves behind closed doors."

"They did it out of fear, yet we too can be afraid, ashamed to open our hearts and confess our sins," the pope said. "May the Lord grant us the grace to understand shame, to see it not as a closed door, but as the first step toward an encounter."

Another closed door is remaining resigned to one's sins, he said, so "in discouragement, we give up on mercy."

Through the sacrament of reconciliation, Christians are reminded that "it isn't true that everything remains the way it was," and absolution allows them "to go forward from forgiveness to forgiveness."

The final door, Pope Francis said, is the actual sin that is "only closed on one side, our own," because God "never chooses to abandon us; we are the ones who keep him out."

However, he added, confession allows for God to work his wonders and "we discover that the very sin that kept us apart from the Lord becomes the place where we encounter him."

"There the God who is wounded by love comes to meet our wounds. He makes our wretched wounds like his own glorious wounds. Because he is mercy and works wonders in our wretchedness," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

King anniversary recalls bishop's desegregation efforts in Mississippi

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 5:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Ja

By Tim Muldoon

CHICAGO (CNS) -- When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress Sept. 24, 2015, he pointed to the witness of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., suggesting that a great nation "fosters a culture which enables people to 'dream' of full rights for all their brothers and sisters."

As we remember the 50th anniversary of his assassination, it is important to recall the hard work of social change that helped bend our nation in the direction of greater justice. The integration of Catholic parishes and schools in Mississippi provides an important window into the moral struggles that existed inside the church's own institutions, and offers us lessons for today.

In the decade between 1955 and 1965, Mississippi was a hotbed of racial unrest, and Catholic schools and parishes were not immune. It was a period sandwiched between two racially motivated murders that drew national attention: the murder of the 14-year-old boy Emmett Till in 1955 and the Freedom Summer (or "Mississippi burning") murders of three young civil rights activists in 1964. In Catholic parishes, groups of whites threatened blacks attending Mass at St. Joseph in Port Gibson; Sacred Heart in Hattiesburg; St. Joseph in Greenville; and many others.

Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow, head of what is now the Jackson Diocese, had been nurturing hopes for desegregation of his parishes and schools for years, keeping meticulous files of racial incidents. A realist, he understood that episcopal fiat could not undo generations of racial prejudice, and so worked slowly to develop collaborators.

One example in 1954 was in Waveland, where a parishioner threatened black priests sent by Father Robert E. Pung, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, who was the rector of St. Augustine Seminary, the first black seminary in the United States. Father Pung composed a strongly worded letter to the man:

"And what did the priest come to your parish to do: just one thing -- to celebrate Mass and bring Christ down upon your parish altar and to feed the flock of Christ with his sacred body. And that the majority of the parishioners looked upon the priest celebrating holy Mass as a priest of God and not whether he was colored or white is evident from the fact that last Sunday over three Communion rails of people received holy Communion from his anointed hands."

He assured the man that these same priests would be praying for him.

Bishop Gerow kept an extensive file including this and many other racial incidents. In an entry from November 1957, he shares the advice he gave to a group of Catholic men who were distressed at the ill treatment of black parishioners. He wrote:

"We are facing a situation in which we as a small minority are up against a frantic and unreasonable attitude of a greater majority of the community. If we attempt to force matters, we are liable to do injury not only to ourselves but also to those whom we would wish to do help, namely, the Negroes. Imprudent action on our part might cause them very serious even physical harm."

His position on desegregation was a delicate one, which attempted to balance a complex array of factors and forces:

-- First, there were the pastoral needs of black Catholics in the region, some of whom had to travel to celebrate the sacraments and who sometimes faced verbal or physical threats.

-- Second, there were the established parishes comprised mostly of whites, themselves a minority in a region that was dominated by Protestants.

-- Third, there were men in both state and local government, not to mention law enforcement, who were sometimes hostile even to white Catholics, and so the presence of blacks in Catholic congregations was a further potential danger.

-- Fourth, there were a growing number of organizations supporting the cause of integration: organizations such as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as Catholic organizations, like the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, or NCCIJ.

In 1963, Henry Cabirac Jr. of the NCCIJ began to force the hand of Bishop Gerow, when Cabirac called for integration of schools at meetings in Mississippi City. Responding to Cabirac's advocacy that black families apply for admission to white Catholic schools, Bishop Gerow wrote in his diary of July 1 the following:

"My point is this: School integration is going to come in the course of time, but at present we are not ready for it. I feel that the first step is to create a better relationship between the two races."

He wrote guidelines for sermons to be preached throughout the diocese on the moral demand of integration, but remained convinced that school integration would be dangerous for black parishioners. Nevertheless, only two days after this entry, on July 3, the bishop wrote that he had received letters from two black families requesting admission of their children to schools "which we have considered white." He laments being in an embarrassing position, feeling that "a bit more preparation of our whites is prudent."

No doubt the bishop was sensing great tension in the air. Only two weeks earlier, the field secretary for the NAACP, Medgar Evers, had been assassinated, and once again the nation's attention was on Mississippi. The immediate aftermath of the assassination saw Gerow in a political role to which he was naturally averse.

He had been active in drawing together white ministers in the various churches in Jackson for some time, and in fact had arranged for a meeting that included black ministers only five weeks earlier. The groups had hoped that their combined voices might thaw the icy relationship between blacks and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. But after the assassination, the bishop felt compelled to make a public statement which he shared with the press.

The opportunity to act decisively happened one year later, July 2, 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. Bishop Gerow issued a statement to the press the next day.

"Each of us, bearing in mind Christ's law of love, can establish his own personal motive of reaction to the bill and thus turn this time into an occasion of spiritual growth. The prophets of strife and distress need not be right."

On Aug. 6, the bishop published a letter to be read in all churches the subsequent Sunday (Aug. 9), indicating that "qualified Catholic children" would be admitted to the first grade without respect to race. He called on all Catholics to "a true Christian spirit by their acceptance of and cooperation in the implementation of this policy." In a letter to his chancellor, Bishop Gerow describes this move as "more in accord with Christian principle than of segregation." The following year, he desegregated all the grades in Catholic schools.

In recent months, we also have seen tragic examples of racially motivated hate crimes. Later this year, the U.S. bishops plan to release their first pastoral letter on racism in nearly 40 years. Mindful of the gifts that people of all races bring to the community of faith, and of the need to work towards a just social order, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said at the launching of the racism task force last August, "The vile chants of violence against African-Americans and other people of color, the Jewish people, immigrants, and others offend our faith, but unite our resolve. Let us not allow the forces of hate to deny the intrinsic dignity of every human person."

For over a hundred years, Catholic Extension has been serving dioceses with large populations of the poor, the marginalized and people of color, and have sent millions of dollars to ensure that they have infrastructure and well-trained church leaders that will form them for positive social change. Our dream is that these leaders will, in the words of Pope Francis, "awaken what is deepest and truest" in the life of the people, and ultimately be the catalyst of transformation in their communities.

During this 50th anniversary of Rev. King's assassination, we are mindful of all those Christians who have gone before us in the struggle for a more peaceful and just society, so that we may be inspired by their example to confront and struggle with the pressing questions of our day. Bishop Gerow's extensive efforts to chronicle the important period of his episcopacy remind us that we, too, live in the midst of a history that others will remember and judge in the light of God's call to live justly.

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Muldoon is director of mission education for Catholic Extension in Chicago and the author of many books on Catholic theology and spirituality.

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Contributing to this article was Mary Woodward, chancellor of the Jackson Diocese, who assisted with the Bishop Gerow archive, from which the historical material in this article is drawn.

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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.

Update: Catholic leaders react to Trump's plan to send troops to border

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 11:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Texas criticized President Donald Trump's April 4 announcement that he would be deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In an April 5 tweet, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said Trump's move was a "senseless action and a disgrace on the administration." He also said the decision to send troops to the border demonstrated "repression, fear, a perception that everyone is an enemy, and a very clear message: We don't care about anybody else. This is not the American spirit."

The Diocese of El Paso's Commission on Migration similarly criticized Trump's decision, saying in an April 4 statement that the plan was "morally irresponsible and dangerously ineffective."

The statement, signed by Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso and co-chairs of the committee, Lily Limon and Dylan Corbett, also said the action was "a hurtful attack on migrants, our welcoming border culture and our shared values as Americans."

The next day, Bishop Seitz issued his own statement on Trump's announcement, calling it a "rash and ill-informed action" which he asked the president to reconsider.

"It is time for Mr. Trump to stop playing on people's unfounded fears," he added, noting that he lives on the border and his city is "one of the safest in the country."

The bishop said the troops will "find no enemy combatants here, just poor people seeking to live in peace and security. They will find no opposition forces, just people seeking to live in love and harmony with their family members and neighbors and business partners and fellow Christians on both sides of the border."

The Mexican bishops' conference also responded to Trump's action tweeting April 5: "It's very dangerous for our Mexican and Latin American people to have a semi-militarized border," saying migrants could be executed just trying to cross the border.

The memorandum Trump signed about the border said the situation there "has now reached a point of crisis. The lawlessness that continues at our southern border is fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people. My administration has no choice but to act."

The memorandum did not offer specifics about the number of troops that would be deployed or length of time they would be stationed along the border. It said the deployment would be done in coordination with governors. On April 5, the president said he was considering sending "anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000" troops and he told reporters that the troops, "or a large portion of them" would stay until a border wall is constructed.

The signed memorandum said Trump has the right to take this step, stating that the president may ask the secretary of defense to support the work of the Department of Homeland Security in securing the border, "including by requesting use of the National Guard, and to take other necessary steps to stop the flow of deadly drugs and other contraband, gang members and other criminals, and illegal aliens into the country." The memorandum said: "The security of the United States is imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border."

It also noted precedence for such an action, citing decisions by both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush to send troops. Obama sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the border in 2010 in Operation Phalanx; initially they were to stay there from July 2010 until the end of June 2011. But their stay was extended into 2012, though that year the number of troops was scaled back. Bush ordered 6,000 troops to the border in 2006 in Operation Jump Start; they stayed from June 2006 to July 2008.

In 2014, Gov. Rick Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the border after an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America were seeking asylum in the United States.

Although some members of Congress have criticized Trump's plan, calling it a political move and a waste of military resources, the Republican governors of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico -- all states that border Mexico -- have supported it.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted April 4: "Arizona welcomes the deployment of National Guard to the border. Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed. For Arizona, it's all about public safety."

And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that he welcomes Trump's plan which he said reinforces the state's commitment to secure and uphold the law. "Going forward," he said, "Texas will continue to implement robust border security efforts, and this partnership will help ensure we are doing everything we can to stem the flow of illegal immigration."

The El Paso diocesan commission's statement, also signed by the Texas-based Hope Border Institute, said the border community already knows the "painful moral and human consequences of the militarization of our border."

"Our undocumented brothers and sisters go through daily existence trapped between checkpoints and failed laws," the statement said, adding that "asylum seekers fleeing terror and seeking mercy at our border are imprisoned and separated from their families."

The commission also said the border has never been more secure and called it "irresponsible to deploy armed soldiers in our communities."

Instead, it stressed "working together to address the dehumanizing poverty and insecurity in our sister countries in Latin America and around the world" to resolve root causes that drive migration and finding a way to "end the hopelessness in our communities that fuels our nation's addiction to drugs, which deals only death and destruction to the people of our continent."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Catholic tradition guides teaching on contraception, archbishop says

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 1:15pm

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" ("Of Human Life"), so that Catholics and the world understand God's plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

The encyclical is notably known for upholding church renouncement of contraception. It followed by eight years the 1960 U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the first birth control pill.

Blessed Paul convened a commission to examine whether the historic Christian rejection of contraceptives would apply to the new technology. Most commission members advised the pope that it would not, but Blessed Paul eventually disagreed, saying in the encyclical that the new technology was prohibited birth control.

Blessed Paul's decision has been widely criticized, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged, with some Catholic clergy, theologians and laypeople refusing to accept it. "That resistance continues in our own day," said the archbishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He made the comments in a 35-minute presentation to about 200 people.

"'Humanae Vitae' revealed deep wounds in the church about our understanding of the human person, the nature of sexuality and marriage as God created it," he explained. "We still seek the cure for those wounds. But thanks to the witness of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis and many other faithful shepherds, the church has continued to preach the truth of Jesus Christ about who we are and what God desires for us.

"People willing to open their eyes and their hearts to the truth will see the hope that Catholic teaching represents and the power that comes when that truth makes us free," he said.

The archbishop challenged widespread denunciation of the teaching on contraception by those who say church leaders spend too much time on "pelvic issues," thus obscuring, they argue, the Gospel message of caring for poor people.

"As a bishop for 30 years in the dioceses where I served, that's three of them, the church has put far more money, time and personnel into the care and education of the underprivileged than into programs related to sex," he said.

"And it's not that the critics don't know this. Many don't want to know it because facts interfere with their story line of a sexually repressed, body-denying institution locked in the past."

Church teaching on contraception can be traced to the early days of Christianity, particularly in ancient Rome, where Christians emphasized upholding human dignity, he said.

Citing the work of Kyle Harper, provost at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in Roman history, the archbishop said the Romans "presumed that sex was just sex, one instinctual need among others" and that prostitutes and slaves were "safety valves" to satisfy such needs. But it was the early Christians who "welcomed all new life as something holy and a blessing," teaching that each person was created in the image and likeness of God, he explained.

Christians also preached that God gave all people free will to act in accordance with God's commands or against them, he said, continuing to cite Harper.

"Christianity embedded that notion of free will in human culture for the first time. Christian sexual morality was a key part of this understanding of free will. The body was a 'consecrated space' in which we could choose or reject God," he said.

As a result, Christians began demanding "care for vulnerable bodies," speaking out against slavery and supporting the needs of poor people, and that concern included opposition to contraception, he said.

Archbishop Chaput noted that Christian opposition to contraception continued until the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, which determined that while the preferred method of avoiding birth should be sexual abstinence, other methods may be used to prevent pregnancy as long as they fell in line with Christian principles.

"Their minor tweak gradually turned into a full reversal on the issue of contraception. Other Christian leaders followed suit," he said.

"Today this leaves the Catholic Church almost alone as a body of Christian believers whose leaders still maintain the historic Christian teaching on contraception," he continued. "The church can thus look stubborn and out of touch for not adjusting her beliefs to the prevailing culture. But she's simply remaining true to the faith she received from the apostles and can't barter away."

Since then, Archbishop Chaput said, "developed society has moved sharply away from Christian faith and morals, without shedding them completely."

He echoed author G.K. Chesterton, who asserted that society is surrounded by "fragments of Christian ideas removed from their original framework and used in strange new ways. Human dignity and rights are still popular concepts, just don't ask what their foundation is or whether human rights have any solid content beyond sentiment or personal preference."

"Our culture isn't reverting to the paganism of the past. It's creating a new religion to replace Christianity. It's that we understand that today's new sexual mores are part of this larger change."

The moral conflicts society faces, such as broken families, social unraveling and "gender confusion" stems "from our disordered attitudes toward creation and our appetite to master, reshape and even deform nature to our wills. We want the freedom to decide what reality is. And we insist on the power to make it so," he said.

Such thinking is manifest in efforts to master the limitations of the human body and "attack the heart of our humanity," the archbishop added.

Blessed Paul explains that "marriage is not just a social convention we've inherited, but the design of God himself. Christian couples are called to welcome the sacrifices that God's design requires so they can enter into the joy it offers. This means that while husbands and wives may take advantage of periods of natural infertility to regulate the birth of their children, they can't actively intervene to stamp out the fertility that's natural to sexual love," he said.

Because the church's teaching often was not being followed prior to the encyclical, Archbishop Chaput said Blessed Paul offered four predictions if that trend continued: widespread infidelity and the general lowering of morality; loss of respect for women as they become viewed as instruments of selfish enjoyment rather than as beloved companions; public policies that advocate and implement birth control as a form of population policy; and humans thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, turning the person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.

"Half a century after 'Humanae Vitae' the church in the United States is at a very difficult but also very promising moment," the archbishop said. "Difficult because the language of Catholic moral wisdom is alien to many young people, who often leave the church without every really encountering her. Promising because the most awake of those same young people want something better and more enduring than the emptiness and noise they now have.

"Our mission now, as always, is not to surrender to the world as it is, but to feed an ennoble the deepest yearnings of the world and thereby to lead it to Jesus Christ and his true freedom and joy."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Puerto Rican students pursue dreams at Catholic University after hurricane

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, The Catholic Standard

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Puerto Rican students who are studying at The Catholic University of America in Washington for the spring semester said that this opportunity not only gives them a reprieve from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, but allows them to pursue their dreams.

Many students found themselves with nowhere to study after Maria -- the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years -- slammed into the island in September, killing dozens and decimating local infrastructure. More than six months later, thousands of Puerto Rico's 3.3 million residents remain without power.

The Catholic University of America in Washington said in November that it would take up to 40 students who were enrolled in colleges or universities in Puerto Rico as visiting students for the spring 2018 semester, and would waive their tuition and standard student fees.

The main goal is to allow the students to stay on the path to graduation, because "if they lost an entire academic year, it can be really hard to get back into the academic groove," said Chris Lydon, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at The Catholic University of America.

Among the seven students who have taken up the offer is Desiree Cordero Rios, who had just begun her freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, in the city of Aguadilla, when the storm hit.

She was with her family at their home in the countryside, where her father works as a farmer. The family had put up barriers inside their home and took turns peeking through a small opening at a window to see what was happening to their neighborhood. Water was flooding into the house.

"It was desperate," Cordero Rios told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. She said she remembers waking at 6 the morning after the storm and trying to call her boyfriend, only to find that there was no phone signal.

The vegetables and plantains on her father's farm were ruined, and many of the chickens and rabbits had died.

"We were shocked," she said, noting that "we knew it was going to be hard, but not that hard."

When Cordero Rios went outside for the first time after the storm, there were no trees, and she could see houses that she had not seen before. There was no electricity or running water, but her father had stored water, and there was a generator that they were able to use.

Gas for generators was in such high demand that Cordero Rios and her family woke at 4 a.m. every day to be at the gas station by 5 a.m. They would wait in line for eight hours to buy the $30 worth of gas that they were allowed.

The family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, would gather together every night in each other's homes in the neighborhood.

It was unclear if and when the university would reopen, and Cordero Rios said she began to think, "What about my future if they don't open?"

When telecommunications resumed, she called an aunt who lives in Maryland and went to stay with her. She had thought about someday moving to the United States mainland, and this hurricane pushed her to make that dream a reality, she said.

Cordero Rios is living in a residence hall on the campus of The Catholic University of America, where she is studying marketing. She loves looking at the paintings in the domes when she goes to Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, she said.

Cordero Rios aims to transfer to The Catholic University of America for the rest of her college career.

"The education here is awesome," she said, noting that living in Washington is making her more independent and improving her grasp of the English language. She hopes to start her own digital marketing company after graduation.

Like Cordero Rios, Gabriel Agosto also was starting his freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island.

He was at the university's campus in Bayamon municipality. His mother was working as a hotel wedding coordinator and after the storm she was transferred to Washington, where Agosto was accepted to attend The Catholic University of America for the spring semester.

This is a particularly exciting opportunity for Agosto, because it allows him to study what he is really interested in -- drama. He was studying marketing in Puerto Rico, because there aren't many drama programs there, but his dream is to become an actor.

"I am really grateful that I got the opportunity to come here and study," he said.

In his senior year of high school, Agosto and others in his drama class entered a movie into a competition where it was voted "gem of the festival" and won other awards.

That award-winning night "cemented in my mind that I was capable of doing anything," he said.

To pursue his dream, Agosto wants to keep studying at The Catholic University of America, and he said he could see himself graduating from the school.

The university's Spanish Club invited him and other Puerto Rican students to a meeting, which gave him a taste of the culture from back home.

"Puerto Rico is home, it will always be home," said Agosto.

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Sankowski is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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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.

Mass marks centennial of Maryknoll's first 'sending' of missioners

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 3:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Beth Griffin

MARYKNOLL, N.Y. (CNS) -- One hundred years after receiving Vatican approval to begin missionary work in China, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers recalled the "original inspiration and holy stubbornness" of the society's founders during a celebratory centennial Mass April 2 in Maryknoll.

Father Raymond J. Finch, Maryknoll superior general, was the main celebrant of the Mass at the Queen of Apostles Chapel at the Maryknoll Society Center.

Flags of many of the 47 countries where Maryknoll missioners have served were attached to pillars in the chapel as a reminder of the organization's efforts to evangelize and strengthen the local church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Maryknoll, properly known as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, was established in 1911 by the bishops of the United States to recruit, train, send and support American missioners overseas.

Father Finch recounted the "epic journey to Asia" made by Bishop (then-Father) James E. Walsh. At the time, mission territories were assigned by the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Bishop Walsh had to negotiate with other mission groups to cede areas of responsibility to Maryknoll before seeking Vatican approval. The process took seven years and was concluded in April 1918.

Father Finch said it is "difficult to fully comprehend the patience, confidence and stubbornness needed by the first Maryknollers. The temptation is to pass over the obstacles and challenges and even to make light of incredible difficulties they faced."

He said they dreamed of enabling the U.S. church to participate in the universal mission of the Catholic Church "to bring the good news to the farthest reaches of our world." They pursued that dream in the face of many challenges and difficulties" including internal disagreements and political, economic, social and ecclesial issues, he said.

Maryknoll was established when the church in the United States was expanding to serve the new waves of poor Catholic immigrants, Father Finch said.

The first Maryknollers were convinced, as Bishop Walsh often reminded his fellow prelates, that the only way the Catholic Church at home would meet its own needs for priests and religious was by being generous in sending them in mission to places they were needed even more, he said.

The world, the church and mission have changed over the last hundred years, Father Finch said.

"Mission is not just from the 'Catholic' world to the 'pagan' world," from the West to the East, and from the North to the South, he said.

"Today, mission is from everywhere to everywhere," and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples no longer assigns territories for mission, he said. Mission is the basic vocation of every Christian, "yet as much as mission has changed, the essentials remain the same."

It is still true that mission is about sharing the faith and the good news and about looking beyond ourselves and our very real needs to respond to the needs of others from the person next to us to the person on the other side of the world, Father Finch said.

Contemporary Maryknoll missioners work in 20 countries. The prayers of the faithful at the Mass to celebrate the centennial of the first mission "sending" were offered in Chinese, Swahili, Tagalog, Spanish, Korean and English to reflect the diversity of "the field afar."

The offertory gifts were selected from the Maryknoll archive and included rosaries, missals and Bibles that belonged to missioners who served in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

The Maryknoll Choir sang parts of the "Missa ad Gentes" ("Mass to the Peoples") composed by Father Jan Michael Joncas for Maryknoll's 2011 centennial.

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Perspective: Wildcats in Rome cheer Villanova victory

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/ Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

By Wyatt Noble

ROME (CNS) -- The Villanova men's basketball team claimed its second national championship in three years April 2 with a 79-62 win over Michigan, and I was an ocean away from 99 percent of my fellow Wildcats.

But it turns out the 1 percent here with me in Rome was all I needed. Around 1 a.m. April 3, more than 20 Villanova students and a few Michigan students poured into the Highlanders Pub in Rome.

As tipoff drew near, everyone huddled around tables near the biggest TV in the pub in nervous anticipation.

The last time we won the national championship, we were massive underdogs despite being a No. 1 seed, but this time was different. This time, everyone expected us to win. This time, anything but a win would mean catastrophic failure. Luckily for my fellow Wildcats and myself, the team was more than up to the task.

Donte DiVincenzo had shown flashes of superstar potential last season, but he ensured his status as the star of next year's team, and the star of the tournament, with a dominant 31-point performance. This came as a shock to many college basketball fans who had not ever seen the man known as "the Michael Jordan of Delaware," but every Wildcat watching in the Highlander knew what they were witnessing was not an anomaly.

Despite missing out on causing a minor earthquake in the quiet suburbs of Philadelphia, I got to experience a rare moment of triumph and comradery with my fellow Wildcats in Rome. Each of us wished we could be back home as the buzzer cemented our victory, but at that moment, every Wildcat in the Highlander began chanting the Villanova fight song, and it felt like home.

Then reality set in when everyone checked their phones and realized it was 6 a.m., and they had classes in a couple hours, or in my case an internship. Life doesn't skip a beat, not even for national champions.

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Wyatt Noble, a communications student at Villanova University, is doing a spring semester internship with the Catholic News Service Rome bureau. Other Wildcats are doing internships in several departments of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication.

 

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On Easter, Salvadorans bury priest assassinated during Holy Week

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 11:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

LOLOTIQUE, El Salvador (CNS) -- On Easter, as thousands of Salvadorans from around the country packed into the rural town of Lolotique, Catholic Church officials laid to rest a 36-year-old priest violently killed during Holy Week -- the latest victim of an unending wave of violence that plagues the country.

Officials held the April 1 funeral Mass for Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez, a priest of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria in eastern El Salvador, in his native Lolotique, a picturesque town with indigenous roots. Surrounded by the sounds of drums and marimbas, with a circle full of flower petals on the floor in front of the altar at Lolotique's Holy Trinity Church, Father Vasquez's casket was surrounded by his mother, friends, parishioners, the country's only cardinal and four bishops.

"He was headed to Mass, which he won't celebrate now, but he will celebrate in the presence of God," his cousin, Jose Diaz Vasquez, told Catholic News Service. He was one of the thousands packed into the town square in front of the church to remember the priest.

Father Vasquez was headed to celebrate a Holy Thursday Mass in the department of San Miguel March 29, hours after renewing his vows as a priest at a chrism Mass, when a group of heavily armed men wearing masks stopped the car he and parishioners were traveling in. The passengers were robbed at gunpoint and the priest was fatally shot.

The killing has shaken Catholic Church officials, who say they still do not know what led to the assassination or what it means for the church. Many believe gang members killed the priest, but details of what led to the killing are unknown, and church authorities are calling for answers, not just in the priest's killing but in the rampant crimes the poor in the country suffer daily. Many of these crimes are never prosecuted.

"We condemn all the acts of violence that are committed daily against our people and that lead to homicides, such as the one committed against Father Walter Vasquez," said a March 30 statement by Fathers Estefan Turcios Carpano and Luciano Ernesto Reyes Garcia, director and adjunct director for the Archdiocese of San Salvador's human rights office, Tutela Legal de Derechos Humanos.

The office demanded that authorities investigate, capture and prosecute those responsible for the murder of Father Vasquez, and those responsible for the general violence that El Salvador suffers.

Priests, as well as bishops, have repeatedly condemned the country's rampant violence.

Father Turcios, who serves in Soyapango, a city near San Salvador that suffers from gang violence, said there is much that is not yet known in Father Vasquez's case, but he has spoken in the past about unequal economic situations that have led to war and now to a culture of violence in El Salvador's poor areas, such as the one where he serves.

The Holy Week killing of Father Vasquez harkened memories for Father Turcios of the violence surrounding the 1977 killing of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, the first Catholic priest killed prior to the country's civil war. And it did the same for some of Father Turcios' parishioners, who initially worried about participating in outdoor religious activities during Holy Week following news of Father Vasquez's killing.

Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez asked those gathered at the priest's funeral to think about the killing. "What is it trying to say to us as a country?" he asked.

"In this country, life means nothing," he said tersely. "Let's respect life ... let's defeat our fears."

He asked the crowd to work to "protect youth so they're not in the clutches of the vice of violence."

San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas marched near the slain priest's coffin, decorated on the top with a bouquet of purple flowers, as it was carried up to the church, while bands played and the crowd sang hymns and popular songs.

In 2016, the archbishop penned a terse pastoral letter about the country's escalating violence. The church, through its programs, has tried to engage the country's youth, particularly boys who could become victims or inducted into gangs, to seek a path of peace.

Church officials such as Father Turcios and Archbishop Escobar blame a history of economic injustice in the country for its latest episode of large-scale violence manifested by gangs, a period that began shortly after the country's 12-year civil war ended in 1992.

Rampant violence has ravaged the Central American nation -- considered one of the most dangerous countries not at war -- since the 1990s.

A group from Father Vasquez's St. Bonaventure Parish, in the department of Usulutan, where Father Vasquez last served, said they believed the crime was random, and he suffered as many others suffer in the country.

"He didn't have enemies," said parishioner Jose Gilberto Aranda Ascorcio. "He transmitted happiness."

Even in a country where tension exists between Catholics and some Protestants, Father Vasquez was a person respected by people from a variety of faiths, Aranda said.

Several women dressed with clothing associated with Evangelical groups in El Salvador -- long skirts and heads covered with white lace or a white cloth -- lined the path toward the cemetery.

Some of his parishioners wore T-shirts with his face on them, which they say they wore to the Easter Vigil as a sign that they would carry on his work and his spirit, that he would keep living through them.

"He was simple, humble," said parishioner Liliana Carolina Perez Ramirez, who added he appealed to anyone who came into contact with him.

When the group showed up to the vigil wearing the shirts with his image, it represented their belief in the Resurrection, which includes now Father Vasquez's, Perez said.

During Mass, Cardinal Rosa Chavez said it did not matter who killed Father Vasquez or why, but the violence had to stop.

"We can't continue like this," he said. "The world is watching us ... We defeated the war. Why can't we defeat this other type of war?"

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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.

Resurrection can inspire hope, love in a divided world, cardinal says

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 7:26am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Easter is a time to remember the joy that Jesus is alive and that his resurrection can inspire hope and love in the world, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It is through the resurrection that people can be alive in Christ and respect and love others, he said in an Easter message released April 1.

"Jesus lives. This is the simple message of Easter. And because Jesus lives -- so does hope, so does love, and so do we. Although Christ knew the pain of the cross and the isolation of the tomb, his death and resurrection gives us the joy of the resurrection and the gift of eternal life," Cardinal DiNardo said.

Noting that a large part of today's culture "tempts us to see one another as different, dividing us into ever more polarized camps," Cardinal DiNardo added that Jesus walked the Way of the Cross for all people.

"Everyone is in need of his love, and everyone is offered his love," he said.

Christ offers the "gift of life and joy. How we choose to live that life, however, is up to us," he said. "Do we always treat one another as sisters and brothers in the eyes of God? Can we look beyond the distractions and despair of our own suffering to the hope of the world to come? Jesus endured the pain and isolation to show us the path to life."

The cardinal also called on people to "acknowledge the gift of life Christ has given us" and to "look into the empty tomb and proclaim with joy, proclaim with all our hearts and with our lives -- that Jesus lives!"

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