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'Every parish, rectory in hurricane zone' suffering, says church official

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 1:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters

By Tom Tracy

MIAMI (CNS) -- The physical impact of Hurricane Michael and the anticipated recovery period for parts of the Florida Panhandle appear to be on a scale of last year's Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to the church's top emergency management specialist in Florida.

"The devastation is so large that we looking at couple of years at least in recovery," said Gabe Tischler, who is working full time on the Hurricane Michael response for the Tallahassee-based Florida Catholic Conference following the storm's Oct. 10 landfall.

The event brought near Category-5 strength winds when it came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida, near Panama City in the Florida Gulf Coast.

"Every parish and rectory in the hurricane zone has suffered damage, and we are working to get RV units in place so the clergy can move out of the damaged rectories," said Tischler.

As a resident of Tallahassee, he had to evacuate his residence and is now working remotely coordinating relief and volunteer efforts from regional dioceses, private individuals and corporate donors and state and federal authorities along with Catholic Charities agencies.

Scarcity of lodging and housing -- both for residents and emergency responders pouring into the region -- are among the most daunting needs of the recovery efforts, he said, noting that emergency supply distribution centers have been set up or created at Catholic parishes in Florida Panhandle coastal towns of Panama City, Mexico Beach, Marianna, Apalachicola and Port St. Joe.

To date, Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida has distributed an estimated million pounds of goods to 8,000 recipients at a distribution site at St. Dominic Parish in Panama City, considered part of the storm's ground zero.

Portable toilets, satellite phones, portable laundry facilities and a communications vehicle are among the larger items arriving through private donors and church agencies. Cellphone communications has been nonexistent around the hardest-hit areas but that situation is expected to improve in the near future.

The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in collaboration with Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida has put out an online call for volunteers, noting that two-thirds of that diocese was substantial impacted by Hurricane Michael.

The website notes that there is a need for at least 50 volunteers, seven days a week for the next few months at a Catholic Charities staging project at St. Dominic Church. Many of the volunteers are staying at their own cost at area hotels and church facilities in the Tallahassee area, organizers said.

In addition, Catholic Charities USA has deployed a small team to the region, with several staff operating a portable laundry facility in Marianna, and another team that will deliver supplies and power generators to Panama City. The Knights of Columbus and individual Charities agencies around the region have also been mobilized to collection donations and send volunteers, Tischler said.

"So many people have lost everything: homes, property and even their livelihood. The scenes of destruction are heart-wrenching, knowing that when we see a place where there once was a house, a family used to live there and are now homeless," Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee said in an Oct. 12 letter to the diocese.

A week after the storm came ashore, Hurricane Michael's death toll has risen to 29 across four Southern U.S. states. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump toured hurricane-ravaged areas of the Florida Gulf Coast Oct. 15.

In the Miami Archdiocese, Catholic Charities was sending an initial team of four logistics and fact-finding staff on Oct. 17 to spend several days there helping to establish the distribution site in St. Joe, according to Peter Routsis-Arroyo, CEO of Catholic Charities Miami.

The Miami team planned to be based at the St. John Neumann Retreat Center in Tallahassee through Oct. 21, when another Catholic Charities team from Central Florida was expected to relieve them the following week.

"Later on they may have some specific needs up there as far as case workers or clinical social workers but this first go-round is mostly about assessment," Routsis-Arroyo said, who is formerly Catholic Charities director for the Diocese of Venice in Southwest Florida, which experienced damages from last year's Hurricane Irma.

"You have a lot of shrimpers and rural poor in that area (of Port St. Joe), and that is where they asked us to help out. They do have two sites up and running: one in Mexico Beach, which is ground zero, and one in Panama City, which was destroyed also. We were asked to take the easternmost area (of impact)," Routsis-Arroyo added. A team from Catholic Charities Orlando is expected to assist in this area next week.

The Florida Catholic Conference's Tischler said needed items include food, water, baby and adult diapers, cash donations and on-site volunteers willing to fund their own house.

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Editor's Note: More information about recovery and volunteer efforts can be found online at

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Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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Young migrants bring vitality, need support, synod members say

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 10:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Juan Medina, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Helping young migrants hold fast to their cultural and religious identity, especially in situations where they are a minority, was a recurring topic at the Synod of Bishops.

Blessed Sacrament Father Robert Stark, director of the Office for Social Ministry for the Diocese of Honolulu and regional coordinator for the Vatican's Migrant and Refugees Section, offered synod members very practical advice for assisting young people on the move.

First, he said Oct. 16, church workers must listen to young people thinking about leaving their homelands and inform them of the dangers. Second, the church should offer food, shelter and safety to young people in transit. And, when they arrive at their destination, the young should be helped with legal assistance and language classes.

"At each phase of their journey, young migrants pass through different dioceses but -- from beginning to end -- they can be in the same loving, caring church," Father Stark told the synod.

Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis, representing the North African bishops' conference, told the synod that many of the dioceses of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are thriving today because of the young African Catholics who come to their countries for university studies or while awaiting an opportunity to migrate to Europe.

"These young people have given vitality and joy to our churches and have helped them maturity spiritually, becoming 'the church of encounter,' 'the church of welcome' and of listening," he said.

Christians are a miniscule minority in North Africa and must live their faith with "great discretion" among a Muslim majority that often considers them "infidels, unbelievers or worse."

But by allowing themselves "to be evangelized by their Muslim brothers, that is, to learn their culture and religion," he said, they learn the tolerance, friendship and cooperation that are essential to building a peaceful society.

"Our young people discover in this way that different religions are no longer an insurmountable obstacle but become a different path to the one God we all adore," Archbishop Antoniazzi said.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, pleaded with his Latin-rite brothers to help migrants from the Eastern Catholic churches maintain their ties to their cultures and to preserve "their liturgical, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony."

For Lebanese Christians, he said, part of that culture has been and must continue to be "promoting interreligious dialogue, which is a dialogue of life, culture and destiny with the Muslims."

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Indifference, hatred is the first step to murder, pope says

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hurling insults and being indifferent to other people's lives is the first step along the winding path that leads to killing them, at least figuratively, Pope Francis said.

By warning that "whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment," Jesus equates hatred with murder, the pope said Oct. 17 during his weekly general audience.

"Indifference kills. It's like telling someone, 'You're dead to me,' because you've killed them in your heart. Not loving is the first step to killing; and not killing is the first step to loving," he told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

Continuing his series of talks on the Ten Commandments, the pope reflected on Christ's explanation of the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shall not kill."

"Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift," Jesus said according to St. Matthew's Gospel.

Although Christians should have "an attitude of reconciliation with people who we have had problems with," Pope Francis said that sometimes, even while waiting for Mass to begin, "we gossip a bit and speak bad about others."

"This can't be done!" he exclaimed. "Let's think about the gravity of insults, the gravity of despising someone, the seriousness of hatred. Jesus places them along the lines of murder."

By expanding on the definition of murder, the pope explained, Jesus emphasized that every person, carrying within them the image of God, "possesses a hidden self that is no less important than their physical being," and both easily can be destroyed.

"To offend the innocence of a child, an inappropriate phrase is enough," he said. "To hurt a woman, a gesture of coldness is enough. To break a young man's heart, it is enough to deny him trust. To annihilate a man, it is enough to ignore him."

Through his life and death, Christ taught that forgiveness and mercy are "the love we cannot do without."

In Jesus, Pope Francis said, "in his love which is stronger than death and through the power of the Spirit that the Father gives us, we can accept this (commandment) -- 'Thou shall not kill' -- as the most important and essential appeal: the call to love."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Lack of progress fighting hunger is shameful, pope says

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 10:12am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Farooq Khan, EPA

By Anne Condodina

ROME (CNS) -- At a time of technological and scientific progress, "we ought to feel shame" for not having advanced in "humanity and solidarity" enough to feed the world's poor, Pope Francis said.

"Neither can we console ourselves simply for having faced emergencies and desperate situations of those most in need. We are all called to go further. We can and we must do better for the helpless," the pope said in a message to world leaders attending a meeting of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

The World Food Day ceremony Oct. 16 marks the date the organization was founded in 1945 to address the causes of world hunger.

The theme for 2018 is "Our actions are our future: A zero hunger world by 2030 is possible." The 2030 agenda seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Local programs are just as important as global commitments to ending hunger, Pope Francis said in his message.

"Global indicators are of no use if our commitment does not correspond to reality on the ground," the pope said. "This must be done in the context of suitable institutional, social and economic support that offers fruitful initiatives and solutions so that the poor do not feel overlooked again."

According to the FAO 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, world hunger is on the rise again, and over 820 million people are suffering chronic undernourishment.

The pope called for policies of cooperation for development that are oriented toward meeting the real needs of the people: "The struggle against hunger urgently demands generous financing, the abolition of trade barriers and, above all, greater resilience in the face of climate change, economic crises and warfare," he said.

While one can dream of a future without hunger, the pope said it is only reasonable to do so "when we engage in tangible processes, vital relations, effective plans and real commitments."

The poor expect real help from world leaders, he wrote, "not mere propositions or agreements."

However, it not only requires political decision-making and effective planning, but also a more proactive and sustainable long-term vision from world leaders, Pope Francis said.

"We overlook the structural aspects that shroud the tragedy of hunger: extreme inequality, poor distribution of the world's resources, consequences of climate change and the interminable and bloody conflicts which ravage many regions," he said.

"Some may say that we still have 12 years ahead in which to carry this out" to meet the 2030 goal, the pope acknowledged. But "the poor cannot wait. Their devastating circumstances do not allow this."

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Catholic leaders welcome PEPFAR reauthorization in Congress

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 3:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two Catholic leaders applauded congressional committees for reauthorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, opening the door for final passage of a bill to keep the program in place for another five years.

Citing how the 15-year-old program has saved millions of lives around the world and prevented millions of new infections, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement Oct. 15 the program ensures U.S. leadership in the campaign against HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Funds under the program, known as PEPFAR, support numerous services such as providing free antiretroviral medicines for eligible patients, support for families devastated by AIDS, after-school programs for children whose parents died from the disease and their caregivers, transportation for health services and counseling.

Callahan and Archbishop Broglio said the program is worthwhile even though they hold "principled concerns" about some aspects of PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS through which funds are funneled that are inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Therefore, they said, church agencies do not implement or advocate for them.

CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, has received funding under PEPFAR since 2004. PEPFAR was supported by the USCCB after its staff worked to ensure that conscience protections were included in the law authorizing the program.

PEPFAR "is one of the most successful global health programs in history demonstrating U.S. leadership in saving lives and safeguarding human dignity of the most vulnerable people," the leaders said.

The number of deaths caused by AIDS and other serious diseases each year has been reduced by one-third since 2002 in countries where the Global Fund invests. The program also has supported 6.4 million orphans, vulnerable children and their caregivers over the years.

"Saving lives and protecting the future of vulnerable children is a proud U.S. legacy thanks to the U.S. Congress," the statement said.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the reauthorization Sept. 27 while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the measure Oct. 3.

A final vote on the bill in both houses of Congress is expected this fall.

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Baltimore Archdiocese, Catholic Charities help launch Parish ID in city

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:33pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

By Paul McMullen

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- This generation of immigrants to Baltimore will continue to find a haven in the Catholic Church.

That was the message Oct. 10 from the steps of Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, where Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, Archbishop William E. Lori and Catholic pastors who minister to those from foreign countries attended the announcement of the establishment of a Parish ID program.

The program's priority is "focused on helping residents to feel comfortable interacting with the Baltimore City Police Department," according to BUILD, or Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, which helped organize the initiative.

Even though the enforcement of immigration laws falls primarily under federal jurisdiction rather than municipal jurisdiction, many the city's immigrants who are living in the U.S. without legal documents remain hesitant to report crimes committed against them, for fear of their own arrest, and possible deportation and separation from their families.

"No one should be a victim because they're afraid of calling police," said Pugh, who backed the initiative at a town hall in June.

With the support of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Catholic Charities of Baltimore, through the Esperanza Center, residents will be able to obtain a non-government-issued ID that shows their photo and home address.

"The full weight of the Archdiocese of Baltimore is behind this effort," said Archbishop Lori, head of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

The program will be launched at Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, followed by St. Matthew in Northwood and then other parishes that serve immigrant communities.

According to BUILD, city residents who have been members of its affiliate churches for three months are eligible for a Parish ID. It requires an existing identification, such as a passport; proof of address, such as a utility bill; a notarized statement from another person who can verify one's identity; and attendance at a half-day orientation.

Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said that the card was being introduced to command staff Oct. 11, and department-wide in the next two weeks. BUILD said the IDs will only be recognized in the city.

While some logistics remain to be worked out, priests such as Redemptorist Father Bruce Lewandowski and Father Joseph Muth, who are the respective pastors of those faith communities, will play a substantial role in the roll-out.

"The best example I can think of, I call 911 to report a break in, my house has been robbed," Father Lewandowski said. "I call the police, how do they know I live there? How do I identify myself? If I'm an immigrant, I can show them my passport, but that just says I come from another country.

"I show them my Parish ID, (it shows) there are people there who know me and can verify my identity. If someone is stopped by the police, it says people know me."

Several speakers alluded to the hope that the program could help drive down crime in a city coming off the deadliest year in its history.

"We are sending a clear message, that people have a right to be safe," the archbishop said. "People have a right to live in a city where they see each other as neighbors and friends, rather than strangers and enemies."

"With the security offered by this ID, people will stop looking over their shoulders and stop hiding in their homes and parishes," he added. "This ID provides one avenue to freedom from fear. The ID card is a way of developing trust ' and creating safer streets and homes."

Asked what qualifies him to vouch for his people, Father Lewandowski said, "I know probably 1,500 people in this parish alone, probably 800 at St. Patrick and probably 400 more at Our Lady of Fatima."

Father Muth can speak for Rebecca Kitana, a native of Kenya and member of the Immigration Outreach Service Center, based at St. Matthew Church. The parish is both her spiritual home and her literal one, as she resides in its convent through the auspices of Asylee Women's Enterprise.

"Anyone who comes to our door is given a safe place," Kitana said of the outreach center, which has assisted immigrants from more than 140 countries. "At the IOSC, we know that many immigrants will benefit from the Parish ID. There are people who are living in fear.

"I personally know a woman who is scared to leave her house, because she is afraid that she will come into contact with police, be detained and force to leave behind her child. An ID like this will make people less afraid, and more fully engaged."

Father Muth noted the history of Baltimore, and the church.

"We're an immigrant church, in an immigrant city," Father Muth said. "The city was built, and the church was built, by and for immigrants of many generations. Now we're taking this step for the next generation, to keep them protected with ID cards that acknowledge their place in the community."

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McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Superiors general see no reason why women shouldn't have vote at synod

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:17pm

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although bishops should increase the majority of voting members at a Synod of Bishops, the fact that the body is only consultative means women should be included as full members just as priests and religious brothers are, said three priests who are voting members.

The superiors general of the Dominicans, the Jesuits and the Conventual Franciscans -- all priests who are voting members of the synod -- spoke to reporters at a Vatican briefing Oct. 15.

When the men's Union of Superiors General chose two religious brothers to be among their 10 voting delegates at the Synod of Bishops, they consciously made the choice to emphasize that men's religious orders include both priests and laymen, the minister general of the Conventual Franciscans said.

"Obviously it wasn't an accident" that two brothers were elected, Father Marco Tasca, the minister general, told Catholic News Service after the briefing. "Consecrated life is made up of priests and laypeople, so it is only right that there also be lay superiors general at the synod."

When the superiors elected a brother to the 2015 synod, he said, "there were some doubts about whether or not the synod office would accept him, but the pope intervened and said, 'Let him come.' Case closed.

"This time we didn't ask," Father Tasca said.

Now, he said, that choice "should raise the question of the presence of the sisters, the women. That is the great challenge."

The men's USG and the women's International Union of Superiors General are now asking that question together, Father Tasca said. "We had a meeting last week -- a small group of superiors from both -- and we asked, 'How can we move on this together?'"

The two organizations of superiors, which hold a joint meeting each November, will get together again, he said, to try to move the question forward. "I think the correct path is to present this together, not 'we men' or 'we women' like children, but together."

While rules for the Synod of Bishops provide for the men's union of superiors to elect 10 voting members for the synod, there is no such provision for the women's union of superiors. However, the pope does appoint women religious as observers or experts to the synods.

Several questions at the synod briefing Oct. 15 regarded the presence of women and their lack of a vote.

"It's a Synod of Bishops," said Father Bruno Cadore, master of the Dominican order. But, he said, the synod rules allow for "representatives" of religious life to participate, and they should be both men and women. "You know," he said, "that 80 percent of consecrated people in the church are women?"

Because the synod "is not a deliberative body, so it is not tied to priestly ordination, I think in the future there will be a Synod of Bishops that says, 'We want the participation of those who collaborate with us in pastoral work and, for this reason, we will invite representatives of consecrated life,' knowing that -- as I said -- 80 percent of them are women. This should happen."

In fact, he said, with this synod focused on "young people, the faith and vocational discernment," it would have made sense to have more women religious participating, given their work in the field of education, faith formation and vocational promotion.

Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits, said he agreed with Father Cadore that "it is a Synod of Bishops," but he also said he sees an effort by Pope Francis to "deepen the synodality of the church" and strengthen the vision of the church as "the people of God" by ensuring that men and women are treated equally and have an equal voice.

"I think this will help us move forward," Father Sosa said.

The repeated questions about women's participation and an international petition calling on the pope to give women a vote at the synod signify "discomfort, which is a sign that something's wrong," he said. "So one must listen and move forward."

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El Salvador celebrates its first saint, whose legacy continues

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 1:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By David Agren

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- Near the end of his homily at a Mass just prior to St. Oscar Romero's canonization, Jesuit Father Jose Maria Tojeira yelled to the crowd outside the Metropolitan Cathedral: "Viva Monsenor Romero!" (Long live Bishop Romero!)

The overflow crowed lustily yelled back, "Que Viva!" (Long live!)

"We're not venerating a body," Father Tojeira said, "rather someone who is alive, together with God and in the hearts of all Christians that want to continue with the reality of the Gospel."

During the Oct. 14 at the Vatican -- very early morning in El Salvador -- Salvadorans gathered in the square outside the cathedral to watch the ceremony on big screens; others watched in their parishes.

St. Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass March 24, 1980. His legacy of showing a preference for the poor and promoting peace lives on in his native El Salvador, where, even in death, he plays an outsized role in the country's public life and occupies a special place in its collective consciousness -- for devotees and detractors alike.

He becomes El Salvador's first saint. But his current role in the country transcends religion. He also has assumed the status of national hero, whose words -- spoken in homilies -- sound prophetic and seem apt almost four decades after his death.

"He still is the most venerated and respected leader of the last 100 years, certainly the last 50 years," said Rick Jones, youth and migration adviser for Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador.

"He's still the sign post of what people are looking for in terms of some voice that talks about reconciliation, justice and hope for nonviolent transformation."

St. Romero's slaying came as the country was on the cusp of civil war, which roared through the 1980s. His canonization comes as the country convulses with violence, much of it attributed to gangs preying on populations living in barrios under their control.

As archbishop of San Salvador, the national capital, St. Romero accompanied the poor at a time when some two-thirds of the population lived in poverty. He also voiced people's demands for better wages and criticisms of the "oligarchy"  -- as the elites were caustically called -- at a time when his critics considered such talk "communist." He also called for a suspension of U.S. military assistance.

The poverty and inequality St. Romero spoke out against are still rife in 2018. Many Salvadorans also still flee the country to escape the violence and indignities, causing his words to resonate with younger generations and even some evangelicals and atheists.

"What he said is still valid. His words still carry enormous weight," said Douglas Martinez, a vendor in San Salvador. "He was practically a prophet on this earth."

Canonization was never certain for St. Romero, though some in the country have long considered him a saint.

"For me and for many people in the country -- a good number of people with a social commitment -- Bishop Romero has been a saint since his martyrdom, and now it's going to be the formal act," said Gabina Dubon, coordinator of the transformational social ministry in Caritas El Salvador.

"In that time there was no freedom of expression. He became a voice for those without a voice, a defender of life, dignity, solidarity and the common good."

St. Romero served only three years as archbishop of San Salvador, yet he left a legacy via his homilies, which were broadcast across the country.

Participants in a procession to the cathedral carried signs with quotes culled from those homilies. "There's no more diabolical sin than taking bread from the hungry," read one sign. "It's necessary to call injustice by its name," read another.

The celebrations carried political overtones for some. A U.N. truth commission named Roberto d'Aubuisson, an ex-army officer and founder of the conservative ARENA alliance, as the intellectual author of the murder. He died of cancer in 1992.

Father Neftali Ruiz carried a banner castigating ARENA, but saying of Romero, "The people made him a saint."

Father Ruiz stood outside the same cathedral where tens of thousands of Salvadorans mourned St. Romero at his funeral. Snipers opened fire on the funeral, killing at least 40 people.

Only one Salvadoran bishop attended the funeral: Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas, who was named St. Romero's successor in San Salvador.

"He always defended Romero," Father Tojeira said of Archbishop Rivera, "but speaking in confidence ... he would say, 'A bishop like Romero arrives every 500 years.'"

The St. Romero canonization showed how time had changed in the country and church though, in an interview, Father Tojeira quipped of St. Romero's critics, "They used to say 'communist.' They now have a little more civilized discourse but continue being similar."

Celebrations of the canonization occurred in dioceses across El Salvador -- even in San Vicente, where priests would bless army helicopters during the civil war. Father Ruiz recalled being expelled from the minor seminary there in 2000 for refusing to stop displaying an image of St. Romero.

Today, images of St. Romero grace everything from postage stamps to murals to the walls of the presidential palace to political ads, as the ruling party attempts to capitalize on his popularity and incorruptible reputation.

That politicians try to appropriate St. Romero's image bothers some devotees as crime, corruption and poverty persist at alarmingly high levels. St. Romero also criticized both sides of the political spectrum.

"(Politicians) don't practice what he preached," said Elsy Cornejo, who was selling CDs of St. Romero's homilies. "He spoke of peace and accompanying the poor."

With the murder rate in El Salvador ranking among the highest in the world and gangs preying on poor barrio dwellers with crimes such as extortion and the forced recruitment of teenagers, Cornejo added, "We're also practicing very little of what he preached."

Church observers expressed hope St. Romero's canonization could bring unity to a country with polarized politics and offer a possibility of improvement.

"He presents a figure for reconciliation," Jones said, "and a different way to move forward other than ... just the left or the right."

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St. Romero's brothers rejoice at his canonization

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 11:44am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By Melissa Vida

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Before the sun rose in Rome Oct. 14, 88-year-old Gaspar Romero and his brother, 93-year-old Tiberio Romero were at the head of the line of thousands of people waiting to get into St. Peter's Square.

The two were at the Vatican for the canonization of their brother, St. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980.

In the glow of the lights under the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square, the Romero brothers and other family members waited with a group of priests from El Salvador.

"Thanks to this event, our country has become known in the whole world," Gaspar Romero told Catholic News Service. "So many people in the world were waiting for this."

While standing in line, he shared an anecdote of the honors his brother received throughout the years.

"The biggest honor was when Queen Elizabeth of England contacted me," he said, explaining it happened under atypical circumstances. "I had seen in the papers that the Westminster Abbey was preparing a statue (of Archbishop Romero in 1998), and so I wrote a thank-you note to them."

A few days later, the British ambassador visited Gaspar Romero at his home and invited him to meet the queen. "For me that was something unexpected, unexplainable and unasked for," he said with a chuckle.

The Anglican Church, while not formally canonizing St. Romero, honored him and nine others as "martyrs of the 20th century" and erected their statues in Westminster Abbey. Lord Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, led an official delegation of the Anglican Communion at the canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Although he had kept a low profile in the wake of his brother's death, Gaspar Romero recently has begun to share his experience publicly.

"I feel proud as a brother and as a family member," he said, "but also as part of the (Salvadoran) people because over there, they love him a lot."

The younger Romero said his trip to Rome made him realize just how much people from around the globe share that sentiment.

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For Catholics, St. Oscar Romero's canonization a dream come true

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 10:34am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Melissa Vida and Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- For many pilgrims from El Salvador and for many Catholics who focus on the tie between faith and justice, waiting for the canonization of St. Oscar Romero was an exercise in patience.

The declaration of the sainthood of the Salvadoran archbishop, who was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980, teaches men and women that "holiness is first and foremost a gift" that doesn't come quickly, said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines.

"In Oscar Romero, we saw how he struggled, how he took the painful path of reconciling his previous understanding of the Gospel and the performance of the church's mission with the openness that Vatican II presented," the cardinal told Catholic News Service after celebrating a vigil Mass Oct. 13.

"In a world where everyone is in a hurry, in a rush, and we want things perfect, well, he seems to be telling us, 'Take it easy, be patient!' And if you have to suffer through your own internal revolution of change out of love, then it's worth going through it," he told CNS.

The Mass preceded a conference and a concert sponsored by Caritas Internationalis celebrating the Oct. 14 canonizations of both St. Romero and St. Paul VI.

Cardinal Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis, presided at the vigil Mass along with Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador.

Holding back tears, Cardinal Tagle said in his homily that true Christians give witness not to an ethic or a law, but "a person, Jesus who loved me, who gave his life for us and I experienced this love, this charity!"

"And when I live by that love, my life becomes a testimony to the gift I have received," he added. "And death does not become the annihilation of life, but death becomes the apex of life. When we love, we live. But when we love, we also die. But it is in dying that we live."

Cardinal Rodriguez said St. Romero's canonization wasn't just a reason for El Salvador to celebrate but for all Central America and that "it also is a reason to hope."

St. Romero "simply took up his cross," the cardinal said, "and it was a heavy cross because (it was) the cross of his brothers (bishops) who didn't support him -- because there were very few who supported him -- and even in the midst of that, he knew how to go forward until he triumphed."

For Manuel Roberto Lopez, El Salvador's ambassador to the Holy See, there is only one word that comes to mind as a Salvadoran witnessing the beloved archbishop's canonization: a blessing.

"That's the word that comes to mind because I feel that it is a blessing that comes from heaven not only for Salvadorans, it's for all Latin America, for the whole world," Lopez told CNS.

"I hope the Salvadoran people, especially young people, understand this message and they can truly live out the teachings of Romero because, if not, his blood will be shed for nothing," he said. "St. Romero is waiting for that fruit from us."

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, postulator for St. Romero's sainthood cause, said he believed the canonization of the Salvadoran archbishop and of St. Paul VI marks a turning point for the Catholic Church.

"For me, this is not only a beautiful celebration," Archbishop Paglia told CNS Oct. 13. The canonizations mark "a new step for the church."

"There will be three people, two who are in heaven and one on earth: Paul VI, Romero and Pope Francis, who all admire each other," the archbishop said. "This tryptic is explosive, and for me, the message is very clear: This is a church that has chosen to blend with history and with the preference of the poor."

"What the cardinals and priests who opposed (St. Romero's canonization) don't understand is that (St. Romero's) faith was not theoretical, it was a faith blended with current times, charity, justice and the forces of a changing world," Archbishop Paglia said.

Before sunrise Oct. 14 thousands of pilgrims stood in line to enter St. Peter's Square for the canonization Mass; many of them were wearing white and blue scarves and hats, the colors of El Salvador's flag.

"We have been waiting since midnight and we haven't slept because we want to be among those privileged to be here for the 6 million Salvadorans who wanted to come," Jose Antonio Garcia Garcia, a Salvadoran pilgrim living in Rome, told CNS.

"It is a historic event, a transcendental day," Liliana Emeldy Reyes, another pilgrim who traveled from El Salvador, told CNS.

As St. Romero is known for defending the poor and the victims of El Salvador's military repression in the 1970s, some viewed his legacy as politicized. Reyes told CNS she was among those who had a negative opinion of him until a few years ago.

"Many people would say that he was polarizing and that he wasn't a universal person but only fighting for the left," Reyes told CNS. She changed her mind when she met pilgrims who traveled to El Salvador for his beatification in 2015. "Now I know that he is a just man," she said.

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Saints risk all for love of Jesus, pope says at canonization Mass

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 7:28am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Carrying Pope Paul VI's pastoral staff and wearing the blood-stained belt of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, Pope Francis formally recognized them, and five others, as saints of the Catholic Church.

Thousands of pilgrims from the new saints' home countries -- Italy, El Salvador, Spain and Germany -- were joined by tens of thousands of others Oct. 14 in St. Peter's Square to celebrate the universal recognition of the holiness of men and women they already knew were saints.

Carolina Escamilla, who traveled from San Salvador for canonization, said she was "super happy" to be in Rome. "I don't think there are words to describe all that we feel after such a long-awaited and long-desired moment like the 'official' canonization, because Archbishop Romero was already a saint when he was alive."

Each of the new saints lived lives marked by pain and criticism -- including from within the church -- but all of them dedicated themselves with passionate love to following Jesus and caring for the weak and the poor, Pope Francis said in his homily.

The new saints are: Paul VI, who led the last sessions of the Second Vatican Council and its initial implementation; Romero, who defended the poor, called for justice and was assassinated in 1980; Vincenzo Romano, an Italian priest who died in 1831; Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, a Spanish nun who ministered in Mexico and Bolivia and died in 1943; Catherine Kasper, the 19th-century German founder of a religious order; Francesco Spinelli, a 19th-century priest and founder of a religious order; and Nunzio Sulprizio, a layman who died in Naples in 1836 at the age of 19.

"All these saints, in different contexts," put the Gospel "into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind," Pope Francis said in his homily.

The pope, who has spoken often about being personally inspired by both St. Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero, prayed that every Christian would follow the new saints' examples by shunning an attachment to money, wealth and power, and instead following Jesus and sharing his love with others.

And he prayed the new saints would inspire the whole church to set aside "structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world."

Among those in St. Peter's Square for the Mass was Rossi Bonilla, a Salvadoran now living in Barcelona. "I'm really emotional, also because I did my Communion with Monsignor Romero when I was eight years old," she told Catholic News Service.

"He was so important for the neediest; he was really with the people and kept strong when the repression started," Bonilla said. "The struggle continues for the people, and so here we are!"

Claudia Lombardi, 24, came to the canonization from Brescia, Italy -- St. Paul VI's hometown. Her local saint, she said, "brought great fresh air" to the church with the Second Vatican Council and "has something to say to us today," particularly with his 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" on human life and married love, especially its teaching about "the conception of life, the protection of life always."

In his homily, Pope Francis said that "Jesus is radical."

"He gives all and he asks all; he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart," the pope said. "Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange?"

Jesus, he said, "is not content with a 'percentage of love.' We cannot love him 20 or 50 or 60 percent. It is either all or nothing" because "our heart is like a magnet -- it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world's treasure; either it will live for love or it will live for itself."

"A leap forward in love," he said, is what would enable individual Christians and the whole church to escape "complacency and self-indulgence."

Without passionate love, he said, "we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled."

The day's Gospel reading recounted the story of the rich young man who said he followed all the commandments and precepts of Jewish law, but he asks Jesus what more he must do to have eternal life.

"Jesus' answer catches him off guard," the pope said. "The Lord looks upon him and loves him. Jesus changes the perspective from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love."

In effect, he said, Jesus is telling the young man that not doing evil is not enough, nor is it enough to give a little charity or say a few prayers. Following Jesus means giving him absolute first place in one's life. "He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good."

"Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him?" the pope asked people gathered in St. Peter's Square, including the 267 members of the Synod of Bishops and the 34 young people who are observers at the gathering.

"A heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spreads joy, that joy for which there is so much need today," Pope Francis said. "Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way."

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Contributing to this story were Carol Glatz, Junno Arocho Esteves and Melissa Vida.

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Young people want leaders who are fathers, not Pharisees, observer says

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 2:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church must be a place of justice and mercy, and its members must be catalysts for change, some young observers said at the Synod of Bishops Oct. 11.

"In order to teach justice and mercy to our young people, the church must first be a place of justice and mercy for our young people," said Joseph Moeono-Kolio from Samoa, who was representing the Caritas Internationalis Youth Forum and young people from the Pacific Islands.

He asked the synod what young people could to do about uprooting injustice from the world "when we can't do it within our own churches?"

The problem of clerical sexual abuse and corruption are present in his region, he said, but "reporting it or even speaking of it here is professional and cultural suicide."

"Young people are tired of Pharisees, we need fathers," he said.

Moeono-Kolio used an analogy for how he would like to see young people and elders live and work together. When his ancestors would sail from island to island, he said, strong young people were put in charge of paddling while the elders onboard were in charge of reading the stars in the sky and the ocean currents in order to guide the boat to their common destination.

Whether it is the Pacific Ocean or today's sea of challenges, he said, "until we start paddling together by way of listening and equipping our young people with the tools to navigate the inevitable storms, our canoe will only float into irrelevance."

"But if you, our elders, set the right course and steer this canoe in the right direction, we the young faithful are ready to help you power it through the challenges" and bring the light of faith to the ends of the world, he said.

Nicole Anne Perez, who is a catechist in the Philippines, voiced her concerns to the synod about how Catholics in youth ministry can be catalysts of change and find solace, guidance and love in a region with so many huge problems.

The breakdown of families, parents focused more on money than their children, predators taking advantage of children's poverty for sexual exploitation, inauthentic online relationships and casual sex all leave "ordinary" people wondering what they can do to solve these problems, she said.

Her answer, she explained, is found in Jesus telling the Pharisee that the greatest commandment of all is love -- loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself.

Perez said she looks inside herself to make sure she is being "a spark of light in the dark," spreading that spark to others and leading other people to "the true light."

"Let us be Jesus to others, letting them see the source of true light in our own lives and relationships," she said.

Chaldean Catholic Safa al Abbia, a 26-year-old dentist from Iraq, urged the synod participants to pray for Iraq and support its Christians and churches.

He said he understands the importance of talking about the more common themes at the synod -- the family, sexuality and social media -- but the main challenge for young people in Iraq is "peace and stability and their right to live in dignity."

Young people are struggling to remain faithful as witnesses to Jesus and hold onto their traditions, values and liturgy, he said. But they have grown up seeing many of their brothers and sisters martyred and their churches bombed.

"I will never forget the face of my friends after the Mass when they said, 'See you next week,' and I never saw them again because they were burned under the fire of the bombed car" near their church one year.

Young people also are leaving the country because of diminishing opportunities in employment and education as well as a breakdown in values and the law, he said. As a result, "Iraqi youth are questioning the impact of being Iraqis on their life, the role of God and the role of the church in spite of all the good effort of the church in assisting."

Al Abbia told Pope Francis that he had a message for him from young people, "They hope one day to see you in Iraq."

Henriette Camara, a member of the Catholic scouts in Guinea, told the synod that the scout movement "is deeply permeated with Gospel values" and it helps young people deepen their faith and love for Christ and the church.

Catholic scouts can help those young people who have given up on life or are headed down errant paths, she said, because "we are young optimists who face life's daily problems with stamina, courage and wisdom."

Mantantu Vita, who works in youth ministry at the Congo bishops' conference, told the synod the ministry's aim is to guide young people in all aspects of their lives so they can become responsible adults.

To be someone who accompanies, she said, isn't about trying to attract young people to entertain them, keep them busy or help them "kill their free time."

It is being someone who is a true guide, leading them toward Jesus, whom they greatly need, she said.

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New documentary reveals rare interview of Blessed Oscar Romero

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 12:00pm

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A new documentary about Blessed Oscar Romero, featuring a rare interview with him, revealed the martyred archbishop's thoughts regarding accusations that he became too progressive.

Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez shared an excerpt of the interview with journalists during a briefing Oct. 11 at the Vatican press office.

"We had never heard this before because it was dubbed in German. We waited 40 years to find out what Archbishop Romero said," Cardinal Rosa Chavez said.

The cardinal, who directed the documentary "Oscar Romero: A Shepherd According to the Heart of Christ," explained that in 1979 a Swiss television crew visited the future saint and asked to follow him for one week.

Blessed Romero's response to a question regarding the fact that he "changed from a conservative bishop to a progressive bishop," he said, is a question "that has caused so much debate" and is now answered by the slain archbishop himself.

"I don't think there has been a substantial change," Archbishop Romero said in the interview. "It is more of an evolution in accordance with the circumstances. My goal as a priest has always been to be faithful to the vocation, to the service of the church and the people."

Although the Salvadoran archbishop did not view his support of the poor and the oppressed as support for a political ideology, rumors abounded both in the halls of El Salvador's right-wing government and in the corridors of the Vatican.

Cardinal Rosa Chavez told journalists that the same year the documentary was filmed, Blessed Romero met with the newly elected pope, St. John Paul II.

The meeting, the cardinal said, was "disconcerting for Romero" because the pope scolded him for his lack of harmony with the Salvadoran bishops. At the time, several reports from the Salvadoran bishops' conference were sent to the Pope John Paul accusing Romero of causing division.

In his diary entry following the meeting, Blessed Romero said that he was "worried to see how much the negative reports of my pastoral work had influenced the pope."

However, Cardinal Rosa Chavez explained, after Blessed Romero's martyrdom, St. John Paul realized the inaccuracy of the reports. The pope even visited the slain archbishop's tomb in 1983 against the wishes of the Salvadoran government and local church leaders.

"The pope went to the Blessed Sacrament and then to Romero's tomb where he prostrated in prayer; I was very close to him and the pope said, 'Romero is a saint,'" the cardinal recalled.

The documentary featured footage of the Salvadoran archbishop visiting El Paisnal, the hometown of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande and the church where he was buried alongside two local farmers who were killed with him.

Father Grande, a close friend of Blessed Romero, was known as a champion of the poor and the oppressed at a time when El Salvador was on the threshold of a civil war, a war that eventually killed over 70,000 people.

Father Grande's death in 1977 at the hands of El Salvador's notorious death squads is believed to have been the inspiration for Archbishop Romero to take up the mantle of defending the poor.

In his interview with Swiss television, Blessed Romero said that there "has never been such a violent circumstance as it was for me when I arrived at the archdiocese. When I arrived, they were expelling priests and the month after my arrival, they killed Father Rutilio Grande."

Standing in the church where his dear friend was laid to rest, Archbishop Romero prayed, "May the blood so sorrowfully shed of this dear brother, Father Rutilio, together with his two farmer friends -- Nelson Rutilio (Lemus) and Manuel (Solorzano) -- signify a fruitful wellspring that continues to bear fruit."

Blessed Romero told the Swiss journalist that it was not only Father Grande's death that pushed him to become more outspoken, but also "the need to defend the church that is so persecuted to the point of murdering priests."

Both reasons, he said, "push me toward a more powerful ministry in defense of the rights of the church and the rights of men and women."

Asked if he was scared that he would be killed like his friends, Blessed Romero admitted that while he did have a "prudent concern" about threats to his life, he did not experience a "fear that inhibits me, that prevents me from working."

"I feel that while I walk along fulfilling my duty, while I go around freely being a shepherd to the communities, God is with me," he said. "And if something happens to me, then I am prepared for everything."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Devil destroys overtly or slyly by pretending to be a friend, pope says

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 10:12am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The devil is more dangerous when he is polite and friendly, persuading people to be "lukewarm" and worldly, than when he shows his true face and blatantly pushes people to sin, Pope Francis said.

The vocation or "nature of the devil is to destroy" what God has created, the pope said Oct. 12 in his homily during morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

When the devil is unable to destroy something directly, through conflict or vices, he looks for another, sneakier way to attack because he is "slier than a fox," the pope said.

The battle between good and evil is being fought even inside each person, "perhaps unbeknownst to us, but we are in battle," he said.

"We Christians, Catholics, we go to Mass, pray," admit to having some flaws and recognize a few "little sins, but all seems to be in order," the pope said.

That is when the devil puts on a friendly face, "he goes and looks for a nice-looking clique, knocks on the door, 'Hello? May I come in?' He rings the doorbell," Pope Francis said, reflecting on the day's Gospel reading (Lk 11:15-26). The passage talks about an unclean spirit that is cast from his "home" and then "brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself" to move back in and make the person's situation worse than before.

"These well-mannered demons are worse than the first because you don't realize that you have them there at home," inside oneself, he said.

These demons, "don't make noise, they make friends, they persuade you," convincing people that it is OK to become mediocre, "lukewarm" and worldly.

"So often I ask myself, which is worse in a person's life," the devil trapping people into obvious sin, which leads them to feel ashamed, or a well-mannered devil who "is at your table, lives with you and all seems normal, but he makes insinuations and possesses you with the worldly spirit?" he asked.

Therefore, the pope said, people need to be calmly vigilant against falling into "spiritual mediocrity," which "corrupts us from within."

People must ask themselves: "What is happening in my heart? Why am I so mediocre? Why am I so lukewarm? How many polite ones live at home without paying rent?"

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Pope accepts Cardinal Wuerl's resignation as archbishop of Washington

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 7:13am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl as archbishop of Washington but did not name a successor.

When the pope's decision was announced Oct. 12, the Archdiocese of Washington released a letter from Pope Francis to the cardinal, making clear his support for Cardinal Wuerl's ministry and leadership, but also praising the cardinal for putting the good of the church first.

"You have sufficient elements to 'justify' your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes," the pope wrote. "However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you."

Cardinal Wuerl had been facing pressure to resign after an Aug. 14 grand jury report detailing sexual abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses painted a mixed picture of how he handled some of the cases when he was bishop in Pittsburgh from 1988 until 2006.

The 77-year-old cardinal, the sixth archbishop of Washington, had submitted his resignation, as is mandatory, to the pope when he turned 75, but it had not been accepted.

In early September, Cardinal Wuerl told priests of the archdiocese that he would meet with Pope Francis and ask him to accept his resignation "so that this archdiocesan church we all love can move forward" and can experience "a new beginning."

The Vatican announcement that the pope accepted his resignation came more than two months after the announcement that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of retired Washington Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick from the College of Cardinals. Archbishop McCarrick faces credible allegations of sexual abuse, including two that involved minors; Pope Francis ordered him to maintain "a life of prayer and penance" while awaiting a trial or other canonical process on the charges.

Cardinal Wuerl has said until the Archdiocese of New York began investigating the claims that Archbishop McCarrick abused a minor, he was never informed of such accusations or even the rumors of Archbishop McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians.

In a letter Aug. 30 to the priests of the archdiocese, Cardinal Wuerl apologized for not being as close to his priests as he could or should have been in the wake of all the abuse-related scandals.

Cardinal Wuerl asked the priests "for prayers for me, for forgiveness for my errors in judgment, for my inadequacies and also for your acceptance of my contrition for any suffering I have caused, as well as the grace to find, with you, ways of healing, ways of offering fruitful guidance in this darkness."

"Would you please," he told the priests, "let the faithful you serve know of my love, my commitment to do whatever is necessary to right what is wrong and my sincere solidarity with you and them."


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With Romero, the church gains a model Salvadorans have long venerated

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 4:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few years ago, I asked a Salvadoran priest whether he believed Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the best known of the martyrs of El Salvador, would ever be recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint.

He didn't hesitate in answering and said he believed it would happen but it might take "a long, long time," perhaps until Archbishop Romero was "decaffeinated," meaning that what he stood for during a turbulent time in the history of El Salvador had been stripped away.

For years, outright lies -- that he was political, that he was a "guerillero," a guerilla fighter and an instigator -- were promulgated in El Salvador and crossed the oceans to the halls of the Vatican, where church officials received "kilos of letters against him," as Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of Blessed Romero's cause for sainthood, said in 2015.

But the kilos of lies did not outweigh the truth and a history that has overwhelmingly shown that Blessed Romero was a man of peace, a friend of the marginalized, and lived and died like many of his people, a victim of forces that for centuries have enslaved El Salvador's poor.

His name is one in a sea of more than 70,000 innocent Salvadoran brothers and sisters, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles violently killed during 12 years of conflict, and he lost his life simply by living like the unprotected masses.

The way he lived, not his death, is what endeared him to thousands of Salvadorans and other Latin Americans who long have called him "St. Romero of the Americas." He sought no special protection from the daily violence that the majority of the country lived under and chose not to shield himself and his conscience from the country's struggles. Instead, he fed the poor who picked the coffee crops for miserly wages and strolled through impoverished neighborhoods with a comforting smile while calling on the country's oppressors to a path of justice, equality and peace.

For many of us Salvadorans who were too young to make sense of his killing when it took place on March 24, 1980, his Oct. 14 declaration of sainthood is an official confirmation by the church of the holiness our elders, priests, men and women religious, and lay people who knew him in life, told us about over the years. There's no shortage of lies that the peddlers of injustice still try to promote, but they have failed to eclipse Romero's true message of love and closeness with the poor that many in the church in El Salvador have followed and transmitted.

With his canonization, his example transcends the borders of tiny and still troubled El Salvador,

To mark his sainthood, the Jesuit-run Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Edinburgh, Scotland, is set to dedicate a shrine to him. He is being remembered at Masses throughout the United States, from Washington to San Francisco, in Australia, Cuba and much, if not all, of Latin America, a region that has long thought of him as a saint.

Officials from the Archdiocese of San Salvador say they have registered 10,000 Salvadorans to attend the ceremony at the Vatican that will declare him and six others, including his friend and mentor Blessed Paul VI, models for the church. Of those, 3,000 will attend from El Salvador, 2,000 from various parts of the world, and 5,000 Salvadorans living in Italy.

Witnessing that brief moment in time, for many of us, is about sharing one of our own, and one of our best, with the world.

He showed us that our mission is following a Gospel that calls us to peace, toward happiness and fulfillment by sharing and caring and talking and writing to make life better for the most afflicted of our brothers and sisters in society -- no matter what the cost. It's no small legacy and one that many Salvadorans, inside and outside the country, take seriously.

"Each of you who believe must become a microphone, a radio station, a loudspeaker, not to talk, but to call for faith," he said in a homily on Oct. 29, 1978.

Almost 40 years after he said those words, the prophetic voice many of us grew up hearing is no longer just ours, and best of all, it has not been "decaffeinated." The declaration of Blessed Romero's sainthood shows us that truth doesn't merely survive the most vicious and violent attacks by forces such as money and power, but ultimately triumphs.

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Limousine crash 'heartbreaking, gut-wrenching' for New York community

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 1:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lori Van Buren, Times Union

By Kate Blain

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Among the 20 people killed in a devastating limousine accident Oct. 6 in Schoharie were several victims who had connections to parishes, schools and Catholic organizations of the Albany Diocese.

All 17 passengers in the limo and its driver were killed when the car ran through a stop sign, struck two pedestrians and a parked car, and landed in a shallow ravine. The pedestrians also died. Police have arrested the owner of the limousine company and charged him with criminally negligent homicide.

Among the fatalities was Amanda Halse, 26, was a server, bartender and supervisor at the restaurant at Shaker Pointe senior living community in Watervliet, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her boyfriend, Patrick Cushing, also died in the crash.

Gregory Reeves, regional vice president for Lifestyles, the company that runs the restaurant, recalled the young woman everyone called "Mandy" as low-key, with a "Mona Lisa smile." Halse had worked at Shaker Pointe for the past three years, since the restaurant opened.

"She had an infectious smile," Reeves said, and "what was behind it was a desire to please."

He said he had spoken to Halse about pursuing a career in the restaurant industry; he believed she had what it took to succeed.

Sister Kay Ryan, who also is part of Shaker Pointe's leadership team, agreed with that assessment.

When customers arrived at the restaurant, she said, "Mandy would say, 'Can I get you what you normally order, or are you trying to experiment?'"

"It's such a tragedy that this person who had such potential is not going to be here to fulfill it," Sister Kay told The Evangelist, Albany's diocesan newspaper. "She certainly lived the mission of Shaker Pointe."

Cushing, Halse's boyfriend, graduated from eighth grade at St. Mary's Institute in Amsterdam in 2001.

"He was a wonderful, quiet, shy kid," recalled the school's alumni relations director, Jeanette Constantine, who knew several of the victims and their families.

Constantine noted that newlyweds Shane McGowan and Erin Vertucci McGowan, two more of the crash victims, also attended St. Mary's Institute through seventh grade and second grade, respectively.

The school remembered the victims in morning prayers when the school reopened Oct. 9 after Columbus Day weekend. Constantine said they would also be mentioned in an upcoming liturgy.

The McGowans married in June at St. Mary's Church in Amsterdam.

Mrs. McGowan, who was working toward a master's degree in special education, had worked at St. Mary's Healthcare in Amsterdam. The hospital posted on Facebook that "St. Mary's Healthcare family sends thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of those affected by the Schoharie tragedy" and noted that the community is "(coming) together to support one another during this difficult time."

Mrs. McGowan also was Cushing's cousin. One current pre-kindergarten student at St. Mary's Institute lost an uncle in the accident. Another victim's godchild attends the school.

The intertwined connections are an indication of the closeness of the Amsterdam-area community. Two Catholics told The Evangelist that family members had been on school sports teams with several of the victims and were coached by others.

Constantine said her nephew was a close friend of Cushing's and had flown in from Chicago to attend a candlelight vigil held the evening of Oct. 8 at the Amsterdam pedestrian bridge.

Maryknoll Father Jeffrey L'Arche, pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Amsterdam, attended that vigil, which drew well over 1,000 people. He said the candles ran out before all the participants could take one.

Father L'Arche said up to 10 of the victims' funerals could be offered at nearby St. Stanislaus Parish in Amsterdam. Two more will likely be at St. Mary's, he said. St. Stephen's Parish in Hagaman, where some victims' parents worship and one of the couples were married, also could be a site for some funerals.

Dates for the funeral Masses were still pending.

Constantine, Father L'Arche and others used similar words to describe the tragedy: "overwhelming," "heartbreaking" and "gut-wrenching."

Constantine said the hundreds of thousands of dollars already raised for children and other survivors through online GoFundMe pages, as well as the sheer number of memorials held for the victims, show the depth of the tragedy.

The accident has been called the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since 2009.

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Blain is editor of The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.

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Supreme Court examines dementia, health issues in death penalty cases

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 11:46am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court, no stranger to death penalty cases, is looking very narrowly at two aspects of capital punishment this term: if an inmate with dementia should be executed if he has no memory of the crime he committed three decades ago and if a death-row prisoner with a specific health problem can be executed by a less painful manner because of his condition.

These two cases "put the unworkability and inhumanity of capital punishment on full display," said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that champions restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.

She said state prison systems are increasingly "faced with the question of how to execute people with severe mental and physical health problems" particularly since America's death-row populations are getting older and the average death-row inmate spends 15 years awaiting execution.

"Harsh living conditions, including solitary confinement, only further exacerbate physical and mental illness," she added.

The court heard oral arguments Oct. 2, the second day of its new term, about the pending execution of Vernon Madison, an Alabama man who killed a police officer 30 years ago. He has suffered strokes in recent years that left him blind and with vascular dementia and significant memory loss. He cannot tell what season or day it is, nor does he remember committing the crime.

This case, Madison v. Alabama, was argued before eight judges while Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation was on hold. The court has already held that states may not execute the mentally ill or the intellectually disabled but has not ruled on those with dementia. This case also examines whether someone can be executed if they were mentally capable when they committed the crime but later developed cognitive impairments.

During arguments, the judges appeared to lean in Madison's favor, but this also is a new bench without Justice Anthony Kennedy, who in recent years played a key role in the court's opposition to the death penalty. He wrote the majority opinion in the court's 2007 decision saying people who cannot understand their punishments cannot be executed and in its 2005 ruling that juvenile offenders could not be executed. Both decisions had 5-4 votes.

Kavanaugh will not vote on the Madison case, but the court could decide to have it retried if it reaches a split vote.

During arguments, Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization for prisoners' rights based in Montgomery, Alabama, told the court that it is simply not humane to execute someone who is disabled, confused or fragile. He also put it this way: "No penological justification or retributive value can be found in executing a severely impaired and incompetent prisoner."

But the state saw it differently.

Alabama Deputy Attorney General Thomas Govan said the state still deserves to win "retribution for a heinous crime," and described Madison's claim as "unprecedented."

Justice Stephen Breyer, who has been the court's leading death penalty opponent, said Madison's numerous impairments are not unusual since death-row prisoners are older on average than they used to be and have been awaiting execution for 20 to 40 years.

"This will become a more common problem," Breyer said, adding that a narrow ruling in Madison's favor might prevent similar cases from flooding the courts.

The other death penalty case before the court is Bucklew v. Precythe. Russell Bucklew is on Missouri's death row for a 1986 murder. He suffers from a rare medical condition that causes blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat, which can easily rupture. His attorneys have argued that the state's lethal injection protocol would be more gruesome and cause more suffering than if he were put to death by lethal gas, which the state does not have the protocol to use.

Kavanaugh will hear the oral arguments in this case before the court Nov. 6, but how he will vote on a death penalty case is still pretty much unknown since, as a federal appeals court judge, he rarely heard capital punishment cases.

Garrett Epps, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, wrote in the Sept. 18 issue of The Atlantic that however the Bucklew case is resolved, it shows "how fully the court has become enmeshed in the sordid details of official killing. As the population of death row ages, issues of age-related disease and dementia will become more important in assessing individual death warrants, and the court will be the last stop for those challenged."

Vaillancourt Murphy said it is not likely that many Catholics are paying attention to either of these cases before the court, but she said there has been an increased interest among Catholics to understand what capital punishment means in modern society particularly since the catechism was revised in early August calling the use of the death penalty "inadmissible."

"This added clarity in Catholic teaching is a welcome validation of the church's pro-life stance. We are called to uphold the sacred dignity of every human person, no matter the harm someone has caused," she said in an Oct. 9 email to Catholic News Service.

She said Catholics "should pay attention to these cases because they serve as important measures of how the highest court in the land is working to defend or disregard human life."

"As believers and as U.S. citizens, we should be prepared for more cases resembling these to go before the court in coming years," she added. "The conundrum of America's aging death rows is not going to go away."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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Some married men would answer a call to priesthood, bishop says

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Speaking to the Synod of Bishops on behalf of Belgium's bishops' conference, a bishop said he was sure some young married men would become priests if they were asked.

The vocations of Christian marriage and "celibacy for the kingdom" of God "deserve to be equally promoted by the church," Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols of Mechelen-Brussels said in his presentation Oct. 10.

Just as Christians are expected to pursue another vocation out of their baptismal vocation in a way that gives "flesh" or substance to the sacrament of baptism, certain people, whether they are married or not, may hear a call to serve and be ministers of their communities, he said.

"I am convinced that some young people," who, out of their baptismal vocation, answered a call to commit themselves to "the bonds of marriage would readily answer 'here I am' if the church were to call them to priestly ministry," said the bishop who was elected by the Belgian bishops to represent them at the synod on young people, faith and vocational discernment.

The bishop's full text was published Oct. 10 on, the official French-language site of the Belgian bishops' conference.

Jesuit Father Tommy Scholtes, spokesman of the conference, said Bishop Kockerols had submitted his text to the Belgian bishops before it was delivered to the synod and, as such, the text was presented on behalf of the whole bishops' conference.

The bishop's brief talk focused on a deeper understanding of the term, "vocation," which begins with answering the call to life -- choosing life and choosing to listen to and love the Lord.

"For the Christian," he said, "this call to life is an invitation to be and to become a disciple of Christ, 'Come and follow me.'"

The baptismal vocation is "the source and summit" of all other vocations, he said, and people's answer to each call prepares them for the important choices to be made in life.

The church must accompany young people so that they can become disciples of Christ "each at their own pace," he said, and if the church does not become better committed to this task, "the church will continue to lose credibility."

Father Schotes told that allowing for the priestly ordination of married men could be one way to address dwindling vocations, but that it was not the only solution.

The problem with vocations "is also a question of the credibility of faith in the world today," he said, noting how Orthodox churches and Protestant communities, which allow married men to become priests, are also seeing a lack of men wishing to pursue ministry.

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Brewers chaplain finds joy in connecting his love of priesthood, sports

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 12:27pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Allen Fredrickson for The Compass

By Maryangela Roman

MILWAUKEE (CNS) -- Champagne corks popped in the visiting clubhouse Oct. 7 as the Milwaukee Brewers celebrated their sweep of the Colorado Rockies, advancing to the National League Championship Series.

Back home in Wisconsin, an extended member of the Brewers' family was celebrating, too. Father Jerry Herda was popping a champagne cork in his backyard after watching the game on television with his family.

Father Herda, the Milwaukee Archdiocese's vicar for ordained and lay ecclesial ministry, has been a lifelong Brewers fan, but he also has a special connection to the team, having served as its Catholic chaplain for 12 seasons.

"The family was all together and we were screaming and yelling and even broke open a bottle of champagne in the backyard," admitted Father Herda, following the Brewers' 6-0 shutout of the Rockies to win the National League Division Series.

Father Herda's role with the Brewers began shortly after pitcher Jeff Suppan signed with the team in 2006.

A devout Catholic, Suppan asked if a Mass could be celebrated at Miller Park for players and staff prior to weekend games. As Father Herda explained, Suppan's previous team, the St. Louis Cardinals, had arranged for a Mass at the ballpark on weekends and Suppan hoped that could be replicated in Milwaukee.

Then-Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, now New York's cardinal-archbishop, appointed Father Herda to the role and, for the last 12 seasons, Father Herda has celebrated Mass in the press room of Miller Park prior to games Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.

"It's open to any employee of Miller Park and there are a variety of people who come," said Father Herda, noting that players, coaches, ushers, security personnel and members of visiting teams are among his "parishioners" at the ballpark Masses.

The concept of ballpark Masses has been promoted by a national organization to which Father Herda belongs, Catholic Athletes for Christ, and to date, he said Masses are celebrated in 28 of 30 major league ballparks.

For Father Herda, as a baseball fan, the opportunity was a dream come true.

"I've been a lifelong fan. I grew up in this area and have always been a fan, so I was excited at the opportunity to be this close to the inner workings of a baseball team. It was nerve-wracking and fun all at the same time," he told The Compass, newspaper of the neighboring Diocese of Green Bay.

Father Herda estimated that he celebrates about 10 ballpark Masses a year and attendance at each Mass averages about 25 to 30 people.

"For some of these people, it's the only opportunity to go to Mass. The security guards, for example, have to be there so early on Saturday and then have to be back Sunday, so there's no other opportunity for Mass," he explained.

Players and coaches are among the attendees, he said, noting that this season, he had a repeat worshipper from the Pittsburgh Pirates, since the team was in town for more than one weekend.

"It's been my experience over the years that some guys are very faith-filled and really take their faith seriously, trying to live out their faith by attending Mass and wanting to participate in the sacraments. It's nice to see that happening and I wish it would expand more," said Father Herda.

He recalled that Suppan, who was released by the Brewers in 2010 and retired from baseball in 2014, was not only a regular attendee, but an evangelist of sorts, as he encouraged teammates to attend. According to Father Herda, Suppan's devotion to the Eucharist was evident in his humorous comment about a similar nondenominational service also held at the ballpark on weekends.

"He'd say to (teammates), 'Why go for the appetizer when you can come for the real meal?'" Father Herda relayed with a smile.

Because of time constraints, Father Herda said he has to limit the Masses to 30 minutes, but even in the shortened time frame, he makes sure to leave the worshippers with a message they can carry with them.

While his role primarily involves celebrating Mass at the ballpark, Father Herda said he has performed a few baptisms, heard confessions and recently celebrated a funeral Mass for a longtime usher at the request of his family.

Father Herda's connection to the Brewers has left him with a lifetime of memories and shelves and walls filled with memorabilia.

In his office, for example, a framed photo of himself with Pope Benedict XVI hangs next to his prized, framed 2011 cover of Sports Illustrated featuring a story on the National League Central Division champion Brewers and signed by Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and T Plush (Nyjer Morgan).

Brewers bobbleheads and balls signed by Rollie Fingers and Henry Aaron grace his shelves, along with a wooden carving of the Holy Family, altar bells and an ornate golden cross.

With the Brewers poised to make a run for the World Series championship, Father Herda is grateful for the opportunity he's had to impact athletes' faith lives.

"It's hard to believe it's been as long as it's been, but it's given me a chance to meet people I never would have and has given me access to part of baseball that I never would have had," he said, adding he's gotten to meet the likes of Joe Torre and Bob Uecker.

"It gives me some joy in the sense there is a connection to something I love. I love being a priest and I love sports, so it is nice to connect them together," he said.

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Roman is a contributor to The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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