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Updated: 23 min 25 sec ago

Kindly lights in gloomy world: Pope declares five new saints

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 6:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Saints are people who recognized their need for God's help, who took risks to discover God's will and to help others and who nurtured a habit of thanksgiving, Pope Francis said.

"The culmination of the journey of faith is to live a life of continual thanksgiving. Let us ask ourselves: Do we, as people of faith, live each day as a burden, or as an act of praise?" the pope said in his homily Oct. 13 after formally declaring five new saints for the Catholic Church.

Those canonized at the Mass were: St. John Henry Newman, the British theologian, poet and cardinal who died in 1890; Brazilian St. Maria Rita Lopes Pontes, popularly known as Sister Dulce, who died in 1992; Indian St. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family, who died in 1926; St. Marguerite Bays, a Swiss laywoman and mystic, who died in 1879; and St. Josephine Vannini, the Italian co-founder of the Daughters of St. Camillus, who died in 1911.

"Three of them were religious women," the pope noted in his homily. "They show us that the consecrated life is a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world."

"St. Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving," he said.

Rather than describing St. Newman, Pope Francis quoted from him to illustrate the meaning of "the holiness of daily life": "The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not .... The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretense ... with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man."

And, referencing St. Newman's famous hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light," the pope prayed that all Christians would be "'kindly lights' amid the encircling gloom."

Tens of thousands of people filled a sunny St. Peter's Square for the canonization ceremony and Mass. Among them were Britain's Prince Charles, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Martins Mourao, a member of Switzerland's federal council and the deputy foreign minister of India.

Melissa Villalobos from Chicago also was there with her husband and children, and they brought up the offertory gifts at the Mass. Villalobos' healing, which saved her life and the life of her unborn child, was accepted as the miracle needed for St. Newman's canonization.

Hours before the Mass began, Holy Family Sisters Manjula and Aruna stood just outside the security checkpoint, handing out Indian flags, rosaries and prayer cards, caps and scarves with the image of their order's founder, St. Thresia.

The new saint's focus, and that of her order today, is assisting families, said Sister Manjula, whose ministry is "counseling and visiting houses and helping solve problems. We help all families -- non-Christian, non-Catholic, anyone."

Gregory K. Hillis, a professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, was representing his university at the Mass, but his presence was very personal, too.

"Newman is important to me theologically and for my spirituality," he said. "And I like his conversion story" of how, as an Anglican priest, he became a Catholic at the age of 44. "I became a Catholic 13 years ago, and Newman was an important guide. He converted, but maintained his friendships, his respect and love for the tradition that he left."

"I'm an ecumenical convert as well," Hillis said. "I'm tired of converts who hate the tradition they left."

An official delegation of Anglican bishops and priests also attended the Mass, and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, recorded a message for the occasion.

"His legacy is far broader than one church or two churches," the archbishop said. "It is a global legacy, a legacy of hope and truth, of the search for God, of devotion to being part of the people of God."

St. Newman's role in founding the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, a push to rediscover the early Christian writers and to recover the Catholic roots of Anglicanism, "had a fundamental, lasting, beneficial and important influence on Anglicanism," Archbishop Welby said.

As is his custom at Mass, including at canonizations, Pope Francis used his homily to reflect on the day's Scripture readings and only made passing reference to the people being declared saints.

The day's short Gospel reading from Luke recounted the story of 10 lepers who, seeing Jesus approach, cry out to him for healing. He tells them to go show themselves to the priests and, as they go, they are healed. But only one returns to thank Jesus.

"Like those lepers," Pope Francis said, "we, too, need healing, each one of us. We need to be healed of our lack of confidence in ourselves, in life, in the future; we need to be healed of our fears and the vices that enslave us, of our introversion, our addictions and our attachment to games, money, television, mobile phones, to what other people think."

The story also illustrates how, "on the journey of life, purification takes place along the way, a way that is often uphill since it leads to the heights," he said. "Faith calls for a journey, a 'going out' from ourselves, and it can work wonders if we abandon our comforting certainties, if we leave our safe harbors and our cozy nests."

And, finally, he said, the story teaches that returning to Jesus with a heart full of gratitude is the culmination of the journey of faith.

"To give thanks is not a question of good manners or etiquette; it is a question of faith," the pope said. "To say 'Thank you, Lord' when we wake up, throughout the day and before going to bed, that is the best way to keep our hearts young.

"This also holds true for families, and between spouses," he added. "Remember to say thank you. Those words are the simplest and most effective of all."


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Immigrant domestic abuse victims fear reporting abuse

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 4:08pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Catholic Charities

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Amid changing immigration laws and deportation threats, advocates and lawyers have seen a decrease in immigrants who are victims of domestic violence seeking help and reporting abuse to law enforcement.

Staff and partner agencies of Catholic Charities of Oregon -- the largest nonprofit immigration legal services provider in the state -- have particularly witnessed this fallout.

"People are worried about calling the police because they believe they will turn them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement," said Manuel Gutierrez, a victim advocate with a Catholic Charities partner agency in Umatilla.

Last spring, seven national organizations, including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, co-sponsored a survey of nearly 600 immigration attorneys and advocates across the country. More than 76% reported that immigrant survivors have concerns about contacting police.

Catholic Charities frequently hosts information sessions for immigrants in rural Oregon to provide free legal assistance to victims. Typically, "the room is full of people," said attorney Sarah Purce, assistant director of the nonprofit's Immigration Legal Services, who said no one came to the last event.

On average, victims of domestic violence -- primarily women -- make seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship before staying away for good, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Fear of an abuser's retaliation, embarrassment and a lack of financial resources to provide for children often makes victims stay, said Norma Obrist, a victim advocate with Tides for Change, which provides shelter and support for victims in Tillamook.

Even without deportation threats, survivors in the Hispanic immigrant community confront additional hurdles, Obrist said, noting that a limited knowledge of English makes it difficult to connect with already-limited Spanish-language resources.

For victims from Central and South American cultures, there also can be "a sense of male privilege, that men have this power and control," said Obrist. She said a high percentage of Hispanic immigrant victims are Catholic, and some mistakenly think it's sinful to leave an abusive marriage.

Those without legal documentation face even greater barriers.

"One of the primary things we hear when we talk to undocumented survivors is that their partner will call ICE on them if they leave," Purce said.

Domestic abusers threatening their victims with immigration consequences is nothing new, but a broader anxiety now exits, said Obrist.

Catholic Charities does not have figures on how many victims are too scared to contact the police or testify against their abuser, "but anecdotally we hear from those who are too afraid to go to court," said Purce.

The long-standing sanctuary law in Oregon says local law enforcement officers are not supposed to contact ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if they believe an individual lacks legal documentation but has committed no other crime.

"But there aren't repercussions if they do contact ICE," Purce said. So while immigrants without legal documentation in Oregon have more protections than those in other states, their fears are not unfounded.

Those in rural areas also face challenges with getting help, said Obrist pointing out the isolation, lack of cellphone reception and public transportation.

There's also a lack of support and legal expertise in rural communities -- which is why Catholic Charities of Oregon has taken its Immigration Legal Services on the road.

Catholic Charities offers low-cost legal services to immigrants who are victims of domestic violence in Portland and in recent years it has also received a grant through the U.S. Department of Justice to reach the same demographic in rural areas.

But the $1.1 million three-year grant was recently reduced by $350,000, cutting the four-attorney staff to three. The Oregon Law Foundation had provided a two-year grant to partially augment the loss, but that ended in September, shrinking the program to two attorneys.

"It's definitely hard to keep services at the same level with reduced funding," Purce told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

One legal option for abuse victims without legal documentation is the U visa. Established by the federal government in 2000, they offer a temporary legal status and a path toward citizenship for victims of violent crime, including domestic violence. To be eligible, a survivor must somehow aid law enforcement, for example reporting the crime or testifying in court.

Obtaining legal status can be "life-changing for a victim and help them build a safe life for themselves and their families," Purce said. "Not being able to drive away yourself, make your own money to feed your children; they are really trapped." With a U visa, survivors receive work authorization, so they can work legally, obtain a Social Security number and get a driver's license.

Before six months ago, victims could apply for the visa without risk of deportation if the claim was denied. Now, they will be placed in removal proceedings if they do not have legal documents and withdraw their application, or if it is denied, explained Purce.

"You tell them, 'Here's a potential thing that might help you in 10 years, but it might put you in removal proceedings. Do you want it?'"

Millet Vargas, an immigrant from Mexico, lacked legal documentation when she discovered her partner was abusing her 5-year-old daughter. But she knew what she wanted to do.

"There was no hesitation about contacting the police," said 43-year-old Vargas, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton. "I didn't think about my legal status; I was just thinking about my child."

She stayed in her car hiding from her abuser while waiting for the police to apprehend him. In the back seat was her oldest daughter, her toddler and her 5-month-old.

"What happened is so painful it is hard to explain the feelings," she said, adding that her faith kept her moving forward.

Vargas eventually connected with Immigration Legal Services, and with the agency's help obtained a U visa. Because her abused daughter was a minor, Vargas could be included in an application. She became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

"What I received from Catholic Charities was priceless," said Vargas, who has started her own business and has seen her oldest daughter off to college. "For me, it's the American dream."

Vargas never questions her decision to call the police. She said if the current restrictive U visa directives had been in place when she applied, she might not have taken the risk to become a citizen.

"I would've been afraid of what would happen to me, that my family would be separated," she said.

Vargas said she worries about the victims who will not leave abusers due to fear of deportation or family separation. "I know that because immigrants are scared a lot of women will continue to live in terrible situations -- their children, too."

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Scott is special projects reporter at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.


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Update: Women religious should have vote at synod, theologian says

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 3:06pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the Catholic Church has made strides to include the voice of women, especially in the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, women should be included among synod voting members and in church leadership positions, a German theologian said.

Medical Mission Sister Birgit Weiler, a member of the Peruvian bishops' pastoral ministry for the care of creation, told journalists at a Vatican news briefing Oct. 11 that such changes would allow the church to become "a community of sisters and brothers, sharing faith, discerning together."

"When you have participated fully in the whole process of sharing faith, of discerning together," then the vote is a natural expression of wanting to participate fully in the decision-making phase of the synod, she said.

Full participation in the life of the church, Sister Weiler said, also includes giving women more leadership roles within the church.

"There is a wide field (of leadership positions) where you do not need to be ordained," she said, adding that she hoped, in the future, more women -- both lay and religious -- "will be invited to assume responsible positions."

The rules governing the synods of bishops provide for the men's Union of Superiors General to elect voting members of the synod, but there is no such provision for the women's International Union of Superiors General. However, the pope does appoint women religious, like Sister Weiler, to attend the synods as observers or experts.

"Of course, as many other religious women, we desire that we come to the point that our superiors general can have a vote" just as their male counterparts do, she said.

During the briefing, Sister Weiler told journalists that she, along with two sisters participating in her small-group discussions at the synod, experienced "a very open atmosphere" and feel "accepted as part of the group."

The German theologian also said she is grateful to Pope Francis and the steps he has taken to include women's voices throughout the synod process.

This, she said, "is already a significant step forward, and I want to honor it."

Women, both lay and religious, have noted that the atmosphere allows for "more critical questions" to be asked "respectfully, but open on the table."

Sister Weiler said that among the bishops and cardinals participating at the synod, there are a good number "who really understand us as women, who share our concern" and who know that there are things that cause the women pain; "they understand why and want things to change."

"There isn't a clerical attitude," she said. "There's a lot of freedom of speech, and it is a beautiful experience really to discern together."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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Banners unfurled as faithful share stories of five saints

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 10:51am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican hung banners of the Catholic Church's newly canonized saints four days before the Mass that would officially recognize that they are in heaven with God.

While the hanging of the banners Oct. 10 did not coincide with the Mass, it did coincide with the kickoff of exhibits, conferences, prayer vigils and other celebrations focused on the new saints from Brazil, England, India, Italy and Switzerland.

For the dozens of Brazilians at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, most of the attention was on Blessed Maria Rita Lopes Pontes, popularly known as Sister Dulce.

Born in 1914, she was a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and founded the first Catholic workers' organization in the state of Bahia, started a health clinic for poor workers and opened a school for working families. She created a hospital, an orphanage and care centers for the elderly and disabled and became known as "the mother of the poor."

St. John Paul II, who called her work "an example for humanity,'' met her in 1980 during his first trip to Brazil and, returning in 1991, he visited her in the hospital. She died in 1992 at the age of 77 with tens of thousands attending her funeral and even more gathering for her beatification in 2011.

Among English-speakers, though, most of the attention was on soon-to-be St. John Henry Newman, the theologian, poet and cardinal who lived from 1801 to 1890.

Sally Axworthy, British ambassador to the Holy See, led the inauguration Oct. 10 of an exhibit about the four visits Blessed Newman made to Rome: first as an Anglican, then as a Catholic seminarian, later as founder of the first communities in England of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, and finally, when he came to be made a cardinal in 1879.

The canonization was causing a lot of excitement in England, she said, and Prince Charles was planning to travel to the Vatican for the Mass Oct. 13.

"Cardinal Newman was really a very important figure. He was a giant of the 19th century," Axworthy said.

"The first half of his life he was Anglican, and he was a major figure in the Anglican Church," influencing the church to draw more deeply from its Catholic roots and from the early Christian theologians, Axworthy said. "He defined Anglicanism as a middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism."

Once he joined the Catholic Church, she said, "he had a similarly great impact" on this new community, "particularly with his ideas on the development of doctrine, which I understand opened the way to Vatican II, and also his ideas about conscience, about conscience being the voice of God in every one of us."

Cardinal Newman already is honored as a saint on the Anglican calendar -- on Aug. 11, the day of his death. His feast day on the Catholic calendar is Oct. 9, the date he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 44.

In London on the eve of Cardinal Newman's beatification in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said the cardinal had been an "important influence" in his own life and thought.

At the beatification Mass the next day in Birmingham, England, Pope Benedict paid special tribute to Blessed Newman's vision of education, which combined intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment.

He quoted the theologian's appeal for a well-instructed laity and said it should serve as a goal for catechists today: "I want a laity not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."

In addition to Blessed Newman and Blessed Dulce, the three others to be canonized Oct. 13 are:

-- Blessed Marguerite Bays, a laywoman from Switzerland known for her service to the poor, her simplicity of life and her devoted faith in the face of great physical suffering. St. Bays also was known as a mystic and for bearing the stigmata of Christ. She died in 1879 at the age of 63.

St. John Paul II beatified her in 1995, lauding her as an example for all lay Catholics. "She was a very simple woman with a very normal life," he had said. "She did not accomplish anything extraordinary, yet her existence was a long and silent progression on the path toward holiness."

-- Blessed Josephine Vannini, an Italian who co-founded the Daughters of St. Camillus, adding to the usual vows -- poverty, chastity and obedience -- a fourth, which is to serve the sick, even if it means risking death.

Born in 1859, she was orphaned at a young age and was sent to live with the Daughters of Charity, an order she later applied to join. After leaving the novitiate because of illness, though, she was not readmitted. She and her spiritual director, Blessed Luigi Tezza, founded the Daughters of St. Camillus. She died in 1911.

-- Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, the Indian founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family, a religious order dedicated to helping couples and families and serving the poor, the sick and the dying. Born in 1876 to a well-off farming family, she insisted on living a life of austerity, sleeping on the gravel floor instead of a bed, for instance.

When she received the stigmata in 1909, her bishop ordered that an exorcism be performed. But she continued with her prayer life and serving local families.

Under direction of the local bishop in 1913, her spiritual director set up a "house of solitude" where Thresia could go to pray. Three friends joined her in the house, and in 1914, she received canonical permission to launch the Congregation of the Holy Family. She died in 1926.


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Vatican releases lineup for Christmas concert supporting the Amazon

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 10:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jane Barlow, Dylan Martinez, Reuters, Jason Bell


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Proceeds from a Christmas concert at the Vatican starring Lionel Richie, Bonnie Tyler and Susan Boyle will go to help protect the Amazon and support indigenous communities there.

Sponsored by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, the Dec. 14 concert will feature several Italian singers and musicians, including the Vatican's police band.

But the headline performers, the Vatican said, will be: Richie, the U.S. Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter; Boyle, who was a 2009 finalist on "Britain's Got Talent"; and Tyler, whose songs "It's a Heartache" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" are among the best-selling singles of all time.

Donations and proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to a Salesian project helping indigenous communities in northwestern Brazil and to a Scholas Occurrentes awareness-raising campaign in 450,000 schools around the world promoting reforestation.


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God in all things: Synod looks at indigenous 'theology of creation'

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 12:27pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By demanding respect for the cultures of indigenous peoples, Pope Francis was not promoting pantheism, but -- tapping into his Jesuit roots -- urging respect for a worldview that sees God in all things.

The pope Oct. 9 told the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon that he was disappointed to see a newspaper evoke the Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro to describe the synod's Oct. 7 opening prayer service with its Amazonian symbols and song.

Many of the synod members, most of whom minister in the Amazon region, agreed with the pope. The Vatican News summary of the synod discussion Oct. 9 said, "the view of the synod hall enlarged to include the theology of creation, where the Word of God resides."

That understanding is shared by many Amazonian indigenous peoples, who consider the natural world sacred because God is present in all of creation. That is very different from pantheism, or the belief that elements of nature themselves are gods, experts said.

"Our Christian faith and the church teach us to seek and to find God in all things, as St. Ignatius says in the Spiritual Exercises. There is no pantheism in this," Jesuit Father Adelson Araujo dos Santos, a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University's Institute of Spirituality in Rome, told Catholic News Service.

"Pantheism means to believe that a tree is a god, the sun is a god," said Moema Maria Marques de Miranda, a lay Franciscan who is an observer at the synod.

The theology of creation being discussed at the synod instead reflects what St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, called "panentheism," the "recognition that all of creation is an expression of the love of God," she told CNS.

When St. Francis renounced a life of luxury and went barefoot into the countryside, the reawakening of his senses to the natural world "made him realize that all things, human and nonhuman, have one and the same Father," Miranda said. "There is a profound connection, because the love of God is present in every being created by God, just as the love of parents is present in each of their children."

When Europeans arrived in South America four centuries after St. Francis had his revelation and 300 years after St. Bonaventure wrote about panentheism, they misinterpreted the Amazonian indigenous people's relationship with the natural world, she said.

"The Amazonian people relate to the cosmos as part of it, and that makes them part of the earth," Archbishop Roque Paloschi of Porto Velho, Brazil, told CNS. "The earth, the water, the air, the forests are part of them and make them part of the whole. Everything is sacred, and therein (lies) the manifestation of the sacred."

While St. Bonaventure wrote about panentheism as a theological concept, the Munduruku people of Brazil live it, said Franciscan Father Joao Messias Sousa, who works with the Munduruku in Brazil.

For them, "God is in all things, but those things are not gods," he said. That means "God is not distant. He is close by."

When missionaries build chapels in Munduruku communities, he said, the people accept it, but wonder why it is necessary to have a building in which to worship.

"The sacred dimension, for them, does not have a wall around it," he said. "How are you going to build a place for God if God is in everything?"

Many Amazonian people also believe that every element of creation has a spirit, often translated into Spanish or Portuguese with the word for "mother." That does not mean they see the trees or animals as gods, but it reflects their belief that the sacred is present in the world, Father Sousa said.

Recognizing the sacred, he said, means "loving the presence of the Creator in everything. When you speak of the mother of the fish, of the forest, of the animals, it is (an expression of) respect, because they are sacred, the same way (a person is) sacred."

Because of that divine presence in creation, a person cannot be the owner of those things and must not destroy or use them irresponsibly, he added.

Pope Francis' call for an end to the destruction of the environment for economic gain therefore is supported by both the Christian understanding of creation and the indigenous belief that God is in present in all things.

Deforestation and harm to the land and rivers from extractive industries, such as logging and mining, and from large infrastructure projects, such as hydroelectric dams, were among the problems most often mentioned during the presynod consultations held in church jurisdictions throughout the Amazon region.

Those concerns are reflected in the synod's working document, which also notes that the ancestral wisdom passed down from generation to generation among Amazonian indigenous people "inspires care and respect for creation" and prohibits abuse of the environment.

The document "simply recognizes that some of the values present in indigenous cosmovisions, which involve greater care for and preservation and protection of nature, help us remember that, as Christians, we have to perceive the world as creation, where man contemplates the features of God," Father dos Santos said.

Ultimately, Archbishop Paloschi said, the theology of creation, of God's presence in everything, runs through all of church history.

"St. Augustine says that the first book written was creation," he said, "so there is no contradiction between the Christian faith and the spirituality of the Amazonian peoples."


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Update: Most Amazon bishops support 'viri probati,' women deacons, bishop says

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 3:34pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Most bishops who lead dioceses in the Amazon support the ordination of married men of proven virtue, or "viri probati," as a way of addressing the lack of priests in the region, a Brazilian bishop said.

Speaking to journalists after a Vatican press briefing Oct. 9, retired Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingu said, "I guess that (of) the bishops who are in the Amazon region, two-thirds are in favor of the 'viri probati.'"

Several bishops and other speakers at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon proposed the ordination of married men, preferably elders in their respective communities, as a solution for remote communities that often go from one month to up to one year without the celebration of the Eucharist.

During the synod's morning session Oct. 8, the Vatican said, several bishops proposed the ordination of married "viri probati," and at least one suggested the church could "evaluate over time whether this experience is valid or not."

At the briefing, Bishop Krautler said that when it comes to ordaining married men of proven virtue, "there is no other option."

"The indigenous people don't understand celibacy; they say that very openly and I see it," the bishop said. "When I go to an indigenous village, the first thing they ask is, 'Where is your wife?' And I tell them, 'I don't have one.' Then they look at me with pity."

Bishop Krautler added that there are thousands of indigenous communities in the Amazon that "do not celebrate the Eucharist except perhaps one, two or three times a year."

"The Eucharist, for us Catholics, is the source and summit of our faith. And these poor people are practically excluded from the context of the Catholic Church," he said.

"St. John Paul II said the church doesn't exist unless it is around the altar," Bishop Krautler continued. "For the love of God, these people don't have it!"

Bishops in favor of ordaining married men, he said, "are not against celibacy. We just want these brothers and sisters of ours not to have just a celebration of the word but also the celebration of the Eucharist."

Several speakers at the synod also proposed ordaining women deacons.

Bishop Krautler told journalists after the briefing that while he wasn't sure how many bishops supported the proposal, he believed "many of the bishops are in favor of the ordination of female deacons."

When a journalist asked if this proposal was part of a push for the ordination of women as priests, Bishop Krautler asked rhetorically: "Why are women (not able) to be ordained? Why?"

Asked directly whether he supported the ordination of women as priests, he responded, "Yes. Logically." However, he began his response before the question was finished; it was unclear if he heard the entire question.

When pressed as to whether the synod would lead to ordaining women, Bishop Krautler said, "No." However, he added, the synod "may be a step" in that direction.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Little Sisters of the Poor again seek Supreme Court's help

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 3:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Peter Ringenberg, Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Little Sisters of the Poor filed a petition with the Supreme Court Oct. 1 asking the court to once again protect them from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

This has a familiar ring because in 2016 the Supreme Court granted the sisters a religious exemption from the government's mandate requiring them to include coverage of contraceptives in their employee health plans or pay hefty fines.

Then, one year later, they were given further protection by an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit the Little Sisters and other religious ministries from the contraceptive mandate. HHS provided this exemption in 2018 but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey were able to obtain a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate and that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia. The Little Sisters are appealing the 3rd Circuit's ruling to the Supreme Court.

"It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest," said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the sisters.

In a statement, he also called the case he hopes the court will take up "a nonsensical political battle that has dragged on six years too long."

"These states have not been able to identify a single person who would lose contraceptive coverage under the new HHS rule, but they won't rest until Catholic nuns are forced to pay for contraceptives," he said.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, of the Little Sisters of the Poor, likewise pointed out that this battle has been a long one. "It has been six long years since we began our legal battle against government mandates that threaten our ministry," she said.

The religious order first filed suit against the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate in 2013.

"We hope we have finally reached the end of this arduous process, that the Supreme Court will reaffirm their previous decision, and that we will soon be able to keep our focus on the elderly poor," she added.

The 224-page petition before the court is for this case: The Little Sisters of the Poor v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Journalist talks about reconciling faith and career of covering executions

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 1:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald

By Jo Ann Zuniga

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Michael Graczyk, a parishioner at a Catholic church in Montgomery County, Texas, has personally witnessed more than 400 executions of Texas inmates in death penalty cases in his career as a journalist.

An Associated Press reporter since 1983, Graczyk retired last year and still freelances for AP, continuing to witness executions, including nine scheduled through the end of this year.

"When you walk into the death chamber, you check your emotions at the door. I usually check my emotions at the prison gate," he said.

"I've gotten to know many of the inmates through interviews. I also have sentiments for the families of the victims, who have to wait 10 or 20 years for the punishment to be carried out."

Since Catholic teaching is pro-life, from conception to natural death, Graczyk reconciles the two parts of himself with a Scripture passage.

"I look to the biblical passage 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.' Since this is the government doing these, I can remain faithful to the teachings of the church," Graczyk told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

"The Catholic Church many times has been alone in its protection of life from conception to natural death. Liberals opposed to capital punishment are often times in favor of abortion. Conservatives are against abortion, but then favor the death penalty," he said.

Executions used to be front-page news and network TV news regularly covered them, but now they are relegated to inside pages or a few seconds of a sound bite.

"Back in the 1980s, it used to be a really big deal and significant media event. Executions should never be considered routine, but there does seem to be a public acceptance of it," he said.

Hundreds of protesters would show up, many times for midnight candlelight vigils that included both pro-death penalty and anti-penalty protesters.

"Some of those were Sam Houston University students who came from down the road in Huntsville. Now maybe there is a core group of protesters ranging from one to two dozen who show up in the heat, rain or cold," he said.

But studies have not been able to conclude whether capital punishment is a deterrent for others not to commit crime.

"I've interviewed hundreds of inmates and none of them said that capital punishment would have prevented them from crime," he said.

Two of the nine scheduled for execution by the end of the year are part of the group of prisoners who escaped in 2000 and were convicted of fatally shooting a 31-year-old police officer on Christmas Eve in Irving.

One of the toughest cases Graczyk remembers covering is the dragging death of an African American man, James Byrd Jr., killed 21 years ago in a hate crime on a secluded road outside Jasper. Two white men were executed in the case, John William King, executed this past spring, and Lawrence Russell Brewer was put to death in 2011. A third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.

"Emotionally, the Jasper cases were real tough. We went to Jasper, saw the three guys arrested, went to the asphalt road where it happened and there was still blood," he said.

He also recalled covering the execution of the first woman on death row since the Civil War. Karla Faye Tucker was given a lethal injection in 1998 for killing two people with a pickax during a burglary.

But Graczyk said he doesn't see any strong enough movement to stop executions in Texas.

"It remains a hot topic, but there is no appetite in the Texas Legislature to stop it. The U.S. Supreme Court may shut it down again like they did in the 1960s until executions were resumed a decade later," he said.

In 1964, judicial challenges to capital punishment resulted in a de facto moratorium on executions in the United States. On June 29, 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that every state death penalty law in the U.S. was unconstitutional because the death penalty was being unfairly and arbitrarily assigned. At that time, there were 52 men in Texas with death sentences. Gov. Preston Smith commuted all of their sentences to life, and death row was clear by March 1973.

In 1973, Texas passed a new statute to standardize the way the death penalty was assessed. Juries quickly began imposing death sentences under the new statute, and death row began filling up again in 1974 through present day.

In July of this year, U.S. Attorney General William Barr reinstated the death penalty for federal crimes following a 16-year moratorium.

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Zuniga writes for the Texas Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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Bishops to vote for USCCB president, vice president at fall assembly

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 12:00pm


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops are scheduled to elect the next president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their upcoming fall general assembly taking place Nov. 11-13 in Baltimore.

Each office is elected from a slate of 10 candidates who have been nominated by their fellow bishops. Released Oct. 9 by the USCCB, the slate of candidates for president and vice president is as follows:

-- Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of the Military Services.

-- Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

-- Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City.

-- Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco.

-- Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas.

-- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

-- Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee.

-- Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois.

-- Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

-- Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit.

The president and vice president are elected to three-year terms, which begin at the conclusion of the fall assembly. The current president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and the current vice president, Archbishop Gomez, will complete their terms at this meeting.

USCCB bylaws provide that the first election is that of president by a simple majority vote of members present and voting. In a special exception to this bylaw approved by the bishops at their June assembly, 17 bishops in Rome for their ad limina visits from the New York region will be allowed to participate remotely in the election as well.

Following the election of the president, the vice president is elected from the remaining nine candidates. In either election, if a candidate does not receive more than half of the votes cast on the first ballot, a second vote is taken. If a third round of voting is necessary, that ballot is a run-off between the two bishops who received the most votes on the second ballot.

During the meeting, the bishops also will vote for new chairmen of six committees: Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance; Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis; Committee on International Justice and Peace; Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People; and the Committee for Religious Liberty.

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Editor's Note: Coverage of the bishops' fall assembly, which will take place at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel, is open to credentialed media. Sessions open to the media will be Nov. 11-13. News conferences will follow open sessions. Reporters interested in covering the meeting must register online at before Oct. 25 and submit a letter of assignment from their editor/producer. Due to enhanced security, on-site credentialing will not be available.

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Cardinal Sarah: To oppose the pope is to be outside the church

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 10:20am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said the people who portray him as an opponent of Pope Francis are being used by the devil to help divide the church.

"The truth is that the church is represented on earth by the vicar of Christ, that is by the pope. And whoever is against the pope is, ipso facto, outside the church," the cardinal said in an interview published Oct. 7 in Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily.

The 74-year-old cardinal, who Pope Francis appointed in 2014 as head of the office overseeing liturgical matters, often is portrayed as a critic of Pope Francis, especially because of the cardinal's cautious attitude toward welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe, his concern about the church acting more like a social-service agency than a missionary church and his traditional approach to the liturgy.

The Corriere piece was published to coincide with the release of a new book-length interview with Cardinal Sarah, "The Day is Now Far Spent." The English edition was released Sept. 22 by Ignatius Press in the United States.

The cardinal's book dedication reads: "For Benedict XVI, peerless architect of the rebuilding of the church. For Francis, faithful and devoted son of St. Ignatius. For the priests throughout the world in thanksgiving on the occasion of my golden jubilee of priesthood," which was July 20.

In the Corriere interview, the cardinal was asked what the "truth" was about his relationship with Pope Francis.

"The truth is that many people write not to give witness to the truth, but to place people against one another, to damage human relationships," he said. "The truth doesn't matter to them."

"Those who place me in opposition to the Holy Father cannot present a single word of mine, a single phrase or a single attitude of mine to support their absurd -- and I would say, diabolical -- affirmations," Cardinal Sarah said. "The devil divides, sets people against each other."

Cardinal Sarah said it is normal for the church to experiences difficulties and divisions, but every Christian is called "to seek unity in Christ."

"I would add that every pope is right for his time," the cardinal said. "Providence looks after us very well, you know."

However, Cardinal Sarah's new book is filled with warnings about how a lack of faith, trust in God and adherence to tradition is threatening the Catholic Church, particularly in Europe and the wealthy West. But he especially focuses on clerical sexual abuse and how that has meant "the mystery of betrayal oozes from the walls of the church."

Still, in the chapter, "The Crisis of the Church," the book includes the cardinal saying, "I would like to remind everyone about Jesus' words to St. Peter, 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church' (Mt 16:18). We have the assurance that this saying of Jesus is realized in what we call the infallibility of the church. The spouse of Christ, headed by the successor of Peter, can live through crises and storms."

Noting that some Catholics "are quick to hurl anathemas at those who do not follow their line of thought," the cardinal said that it is time "to rediscover a bit of peace and benevolence. Only faith, confidence in the magisterium and its continuity down through the centuries can give us unity."

Catholics today must ask themselves if they truly believe the faith the church always has taught, the faith of their ancestors, is still valid today, Cardinal Sarah told Corriere. "We are called to rediscover the truth of these (teachings) both with the incomparable analysis of Benedict's thought and with great and sunny industriousness of Francis."

Although the two popes have obvious differences, Cardinal Sarah said, "there is a great harmony and great continuity between them as everyone has been able to see these last few years."

"The history of the church is beautiful," he said, and reducing it to a political battle "typical of a television talk show is a marketing ploy, not a search for truth."


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The Christian battle is against evil, not people, pope says

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 10:07am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Catholics attack other members of the church, they are hurting Christ, Pope Francis said.

"Even those who are ideologists, because they want the 'purity' of the church, strike at Christ," he said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square Oct. 9.

Taking a break from the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, the pope led the audience and continued his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles.

He focused on the persecution of the church after St. Stephen's martyrdom, and on St. Paul's transformation from being known as Saul and a persecutor to being Paul, a disciple of Christ and courageous preacher of the Gospel.

Saul wanted to destroy the church and he would hunt down Christians to be imprisoned.

Pope Francis said those people at the audience who have experienced or whose communities have experienced "persecution by dictators understand well what it means to 'hunt people down,' and that is what Saul did."

Saul thought he was serving God's law, the pope said, and he saw Christianity as a doctrinal divergence from Judaism.

But inside of Saul, with his "murderous threats," there "blew a breeze that smelled of death, not life," the pope said.

Saul is depicted as someone who shows great intolerance toward those who think differently from him and who reduces them to potential enemies to crush, he said.

Saul, he said, turns religion into "a religious ideology, a social ideology and a political ideology."

It is only with his conversion on the road to Damascus, when Christ touches his heart, that Saul, blinded and helpless, becomes Paul and is reborn through baptism.

"Only after he has been transformed by Christ will he teach that the true struggle 'is not with flesh and blood,' but against the powers of darkness, against the evil spirits," Pope Francis said.

Paul, he said, teaches "that you mustn't fight people, but fight the evil that inspires their actions."

Saul's angry and confrontational approach, the pope said, "invites all of us to ask ourselves: How do I live my life of faith? Do I go to encounter others or am I against others? Does everyone -- the good and the bad -- belong to the universal church or is it a selective ideology?

"Do I worship God or do I worship dogmatic formulations? Does the faith in God I profess make me friendly or hostile toward those who are different from me?" he asked.

When the risen Christ calls to him on the road to Damascus and asks, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" the pope said, he is showing how hurting one member of the church is hurting Christ himself, because all those who believe in him are one body in Christ.

With baptism, Paul's life and his way of seeing God, himself and others are transformed, the pope said. Now other people are no longer enemies, but are "brothers and sisters in Christ."  

The pope asked people pray to experience, like Paul, the full impact of God's love, "which alone can turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh," capable of welcoming others in the same way as Jesus himself.


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Caribbean lay consecrated missionaries building regional church

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 4:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Elmo Griffith, courtesy Catholic Media Services/Catholic News, Trinidad

By Laura Ann Phillips

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (CNS) -- A move toward local missionaries after the Second Vatican Council has transformed into consecrated laypeople serving territories within the Caribbean region.

The change did not happen without bumps in the road.

"It was easy to accept and open up to us," said Jennifer Jennings, a member of the Living Water Community, "because we spoke and looked more like them. But, it was not so much race as it was missionaries who were laypeople in jeans, T-shirts, crosses 'round necks."

Living Water Community was among the first of the new ecclesial movements in the Anglophone Caribbean to begin sending consecrated laypeople from their Trinidad base to other territories. The 600-member community currently operates resident missions in Barbados, St. Lucia and Dominica. The community began in Dominica just after Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, when Living Water sent relief and rebuilding teams.

The Antilles region has been mission territory for more than 500 years but, until the late 1960s, missionaries came from outside the Caribbean.

After the Second Vatican Council, "there was a drive toward 'local,'" said Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica.

"Having grown in a very foreign church with foreign leadership, people's image of God was foreign. Therefore, any kind of movement that happened within the church, happened with great effort," he said.

The former lecturer in mission studies at the Regional Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs in Trinidad and Tobago cited the struggles within his own island of origin, St. Lucia, when churches commissioned island-inspired murals on their interior and exterior walls during the 1970s and '80s.

"We started painting murals in St. Lucia by Dunstan St. Omer (that featured) black figures -- a black Jesus and black Virgin Mary. It took some time to accept those things. Eventually, people came round to seeing value in themselves," the bishop said.

"With the Black Power Movement (in the 1970s), there surfaced a greater awareness in the people of their identity," he added.

The "evolution of black clergy," too, fueled that consciousness.

"I was ordained in 1985, and my year group was the biggest year group to be ordained," Bishop Malzaire recalled. "The thirst for localness began to grow."

Father Mikkel Trestrail, co-founder of the Companions of the Transfigured Christ, said his lay ecclesial community was also embraced on the Dutch island of Curacao. Initially the Companions was an all-male community that included three lay consecrated brothers. Now, the 22-member network in Trinidad and Curacao includes five women and one priest; Father Trestrail was ordained in September.

The priest said people in Curacao were intrigued by consecrated laypeople. "It was new, they were not accustomed to lay consecrated life."

Because of their small numbers, establishing a resident community is not yet possible, but Companions does "psycho-social work with groups and individuals," said Father Trestrail. In Curacao, outreach to couples and families is aided by Curacaon members, technology and Trinidad members' regular visits to the territory.

Jennings admitted "It took a while for (people) to understand our life ... that we couldn't date."

But it's also important for the missionary to understand the environment in which they serve, she said.

Nineteen territories comprise the Antilles Episcopal Conference's pastoral area, with an average population of just over 44 million, each with very different cultures and ethnicities.

"Each island has their own culture; the church has its own dynamic," said Jennings. Reared in both Jamaica and Trinidad, she added, "You can't go with any preconceived ideas of taking our culture. You have to be able to go into a territory, be ready to go into a culture and participate."

It's all about service, said Bishop Malzaire.

"For things to flourish, the whole spirituality that surrounds service to the church, service to the kingdom of God, is paramount," he said.

Citing Living Water's ministry in Dominica, which ranges from conducting eucharistic services to working in a soup kitchen, he said: "When we approach ministry in that manner, we cannot lose. It says something about the formation of the laity, which is a right the laity has. And educates the laity on the faith, which is a right."

Bishop Malzaire noted that "co-responsibility" is "one of the ideas that is being pressed" by Pope Francis.

Therefore, it is important for the church to prepare its clergy to cooperate with laity.

Deborah de Rosia, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, said the universal focus on mission is timely. In a July interview with a local news network, she said it was time to wake "the sleeping giant."

"Many of our Catholics have become dwarves," said de Rosia, who also heads the Eternal Light Community, a new ecclesial movement that operates a mission in the fishing village of Delaford, about 45 minutes northeast of Scarborough, along Tobago's east coast.

"It is time for our Catholics to grow up and become the giants that come alive in the church. We have to get into the trenches, we have to make Christ known; there is no other way."


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Catholic Extension honors Louisiana faith leader for uniting communities

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 3:46pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rich Kalonick, courtesy Catholic Extension


SHREVEPORT, La. (CNS) -- Mack McCarter, who has spent a lifetime helping hurting communities by building "a system of caring relationships," starting in his hometown of Shreveport, is the winner of Catholic Extension's 2019-2020 Lumen Christi Award.

He was nominated by Father Peter B. Mangum, who is the administrator of the Diocese of Shreveport. McCarter was one of 11 finalists chosen out of 49 nominees.

McCarter had been pastor of an evangelical church in west Texas for many years before he returned to his hometown in 1991 and found many of its once vital and thriving neighborhoods were in decline. They were dealing with gangs, drugs, violence, crumbling homes and "people living in isolation."

Believing the situation could be healed, he founded Community Renewal International in 1994 with one goal in mind: to rebuild Shreveport by uniting individuals, churches, businesses and civic groups and to resurrect the foundation of relationships in neighborhoods.

"McCarter set out to build a system of caring relationships by tapping into two inherent human needs -- to love and to be loved," Catholic Extension said in an Oct. 7 news release about the Lumen Christi winner. "McCarter recognizes that relationships make people feel safe, confident and optimistic."

Because of his efforts, crime has dropped in some Shreveport neighborhoods by 52%.

"I wanted to connect people by what we share in common -- the capacity to love and care for each other -- which is the basis for building relationships," he said.

The Lumen Christi Award is the highest honor Catholic Extension bestows on a missionary working in the United States. It honors an individual or group working in one of America's mission dioceses "who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities."

Catholic Extension, which is based in Chicago, raises and distributes funds to support U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel and pastoral resources. It has been supporting the work and ministries of these mission dioceses since its founding in 1905.

"I have been honored and humbled getting to know and spend time with Mack McCarter during this Lumen Christi Award process," Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said in a statement.

"He embodies what I hold so dear -- that when we bring good people together in faith, good things happen, communities are transformed and they change the world around them. That's what Mack has done and that's why he is the recipient of our 2019-2020 Lumen Christi Award."

McCarter and the Diocese of Shreveport will split a $50,000 grant.

Community Renewal International focuses on three primary initiatives -- the Renewal Team, the Haven House and the Friendship House. Volunteers build homes, host afterschool and adult literacy programs, and unite neighborhoods by placing "We Care" signs in their yards and bumper stickers on their cars.

"We're not going to make caring people -- they're already caring. We're just going to begin to make them visible and be the biggest gang in town," said McCarter, whose team consists of over 50,000 people.

The Community Renewal International model has spread to other U.S. cities and across the globe.

"One of the pillars of our work is to bring folks together based on what they share in common, not how different they are," McCarter said. "What we share in common is this God-given capacity to care for one another and be cared for."

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Editor's Note: More information about the 2019-2020 Lumen Christi Award and the nominees and finalists is available at

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Synod members call for greater role of women, laity in ministry

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 12:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Synod participants offered several proposals to address the lack of priests in the Amazon region, including revising the formation program for candidates to the priesthood and instituting new ministries for lay men and women.

According to a Vatican News summary of the Oct. 8 morning session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, the proposals included discussing the "possibility of diaconal ordination for women, so as to emphasize their ecclesial vocation."

While synod participants said there is a need for greater appreciation of consecrated life, they also proposed allowing local churches "to choose ministers authorized to celebrate the Eucharist or to ordain permanent deacons."

Accompanied by pastors, lay ministers would assist in administering the sacraments and would help in "promoting indigenous vocations," said the summary. The synod is not releasing the texts of individuals speeches and the summaries do not identify the person or persons who made the suggestions.

At a Vatican briefing Oct. 8, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, told journalists that several speeches delivered in the synod hall highlighted the fact that indigenous Catholics often feel like "second- or third-class Catholics."

The "question the synod fathers tried to find an answer to is: How can the church bring Jesus, (present) in the Eucharist, to these people who are not second class (Catholics)?" he said.

According to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, synod members were "struck by the difficult pastoral situations of some dioceses."

"There are areas, for example, in which the ratio between priests and territories is equivalent to one for every 25,000 square kilometers (9,653 square miles) or where to serve 1,100 villages there are just 45 priests," the newspaper said.

Other members said that it would be wrong for the church "to adopt a functionalist approach to the priesthood," Ruffini said.

"If the church lives from the Eucharist, and if the Eucharist builds the church, it is the people themselves who demand a permanent presence and not just a visit," one member said, according to Ruffini.

Seminary formation, he continued, was another area of discussion and synod members expressed concern that current methods must be updated to better prepare candidates for the challenges of evangelizing in a large, remote area to "reduce the risk of them abandoning" their ministry.

Synod members also reflected on the need for greater participation of the laity. The complexity and challenges in evangelizing remote areas like the Amazon "require specific skills and knowledge to which priests cannot always offer all the answers," the Vatican News summary said.

With secularism, religious indifference and the "dizzying" rise in Pentecostal churches, "the church must learn to consult and listen more to the voice of the laity," it said.

Having lay men and women contribute to the spiritual life of their communities, particularly in bringing them the sacrament of the Eucharist, would help the church pass "from a 'pastoral ministry of visits' to a 'pastoral ministry of presence,'" the summary continued.

Several bishops also proposed the ordination of married "viri probati," or men of proven virtue, to address the lack of priests, suggesting that the church could "evaluate over time whether this experience is valid or not."

However, Vatican News said, other synod members voiced their concerns that ordaining married "viri probati" may risk reducing the role of the priest to "a simple Mass officiant" rather than "a pastor of the communities, a teacher of Christian life and a concrete presence of Christ's closeness."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Beware of those who want God to live up to their standards, pope says

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:15am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Too many Christians today are "as long as" Christians, obeying God "as long as" God and the church meet their conditions and criteria for what is acceptable, just and righteous, Pope Francis said.

The "conditions Christian," Pope Francis said, says things like: "'I am a Christian as long as things are done this way.' 'No, no, these changes aren't Christian.' 'This is heresy.' 'This won't do.' Christians who place conditions on God, who place conditions on the faith and the action of God."

Celebrating an early morning Mass Oct. 8 in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the pope focused on the day's first reading from Jonah, noting how the prophet first refused to do God's bidding, was swallowed by a whale, obeyed God when given a second chance and ended up angry with God because God did not destroy the city of Ninevah.

Jonah was "stubborn" about what he thought faith was, the pope said. But "the Lord was stubborn in his mercy. He never leaves us. He knocks at the door of our hearts until the end."

Jonah, the pope said, "is the model of those 'as long as' Christians, those Christians with conditions."

Placing conditions on God and on the church, he said, encloses Christians "in their own ideas and ends up in ideology. It's the awful journey from faith to ideology. And today there are many people like this."

Such Christians, he said, are afraid "of growth, of the challenges of life, the challenges of the Lord, the challenges of history" and instead stick to "their first convictions."

"They prefer the ideology to faith," he said, and they move away from the community because "they are afraid to put themselves in God's hands and prefer to judge everything from the smallness of their hearts."

The Vatican News report on the pope's homily included no mention of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon or the controversy surrounding it, including accusations that some of the statements in the synod working document are heretical.

Pope Francis said God's decision not to carry out his threatened punishment of Ninevah reveals "the Lord who draws near to all realities, who is not disgusted. Things don't disgust the Lord. Our sins don't disgust him. He draws near just as he drew near to the lepers and the sick because he came to heal and to save, not to condemn."


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First synod talks look at climate, priests, inculturation, Vatican says

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:07am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Climate change, water resources, inculturation and indigenous practices were among the topics discussed during the first afternoon session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

A few presentations also focused on the question of ordaining married "viri probati," or men of proven virtue, as one possible way to help Catholics access the sacraments in very remote locations.

During the general sessions of the Oct. 6-27 synod, bishops have a maximum of four minutes to talk about one topic treated by the synod's working document. The Vatican press office published a general summary of the different topics discussed during the closed-door session Oct. 7.

A few speeches touched on the role of "viri probati," the press office summary said, adding that offering more frequent access to the sacraments where there was a lack of priests was a legitimate need. However, the summary said, such a provision could not be part of changing the essential nature of the priesthood and celibacy.

A different suggestion was to have vocational programs for young indigenous men in order to promote evangelization in remote areas so that there would not be "first-class Catholics" who have easy access to the Eucharist and "second-class Catholics" who go without the sacrament, sometimes even for two years at a time.

Another topic was the need to avoid the forms of "colonialism" that had characterized early missionary efforts, it said.

Cultural identities in the Amazon should be preserved since every culture makes its contribution to the "catholicity" of the church, which is built on respect and complementarity, the summary said.

Synod fathers recalled St. John Paul II's teachings that Christ is able to reach and "animate" the heart of every culture; some described the church as being like a complex ecosystem with "wonderful spiritual biodiversity" expressed in so many different communities, cultures, forms of religious life and ministries.

Other presentations focused on indigenous practices, which, when they are not tied to superstitious beliefs, are looked upon with "benevolence" so long as they may become in tune with "the true liturgical spirit," the Vatican summary said.

A synod member, it said, suggested collecting and sharing the different "inculturated celebrations" indigenous communities use with the sacraments of baptism, marriage and priestly ordination. Perhaps there might even be a way to establish on an experimental basis -- and after appropriate theological, liturgical and pastoral study -- an Amazonian Catholic rite for living and celebrating faith in Christ, someone suggested.

Some synod fathers talked about the need to protect the groundwater from chemical contaminants coming from multinational companies in the region.

The huge amount of mining in the region was brought up several times, the Vatican summary said, as well as concerns about the serious consequences abusive practices were having on local peoples.

A number of bishops, therefore, highlighted how both human and environmental rights need to be respected.

Discussions also turned to climate change, with one suggestion being an end to the use of fossil fuels, especially in industrialized nations which produce the most pollutants, it said.

The Vatican summary said there was also discussion about the way many young people are taking the lead in promoting "integral ecology" with special mention of the Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, and the "school strikes for climate" campaigns.

The need to reach out to young people on issues dealing with safeguarding creation as well as promoting their efforts was mentioned several times, it said.

Young people today are more likely to recognize the need to develop a less "predatory" relationship with the environment, it said, so the church should take this as a positive opportunity to engage with them and help them see it as "a question of life or death" and not a passing trend.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, president of the German bishops' conference and member of the pope's Council of Cardinals, focused his talk on the climate and the Christian understanding of having responsibility for creation.

"The climate is a global public good and we have the mission to protect it and preserve it for future generations," he told the synod. His office released his text Oct. 7.

"This requires a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels and comprehensive ecological change," which can come about only with certain international political and social frameworks and the adaptation of sustainable consumption and production.

"If we want to rescue the Amazon territory," he said, "we need an integral ecology and a change of perspective that leads us to a new balance between mankind and nature and a peaceful coexistence of people."

This also demands "an end to corruption, exploitation and global indifference and to review our actions again and again for the effects they have on nature and on people in the world," the cardinal said.


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Impeachment? Add it to the list of reasons bills are sidetracked

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 5:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- So an impeachment query in the House, and a potential trial in the Senate, want to get in the way of legislation being considered in Congress? Take a number.

Advocates for several Catholic organizations interviewed by Catholic News Service said the impeachment inquiry is but one of many factors making movement on bills as slow as molasses in January. What impeachment will do, some suggested, is take attention away from urgent domestic and international issues.

"Stymied" is how Susan Gunn, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, characterized the current state of affairs. "Things have been in a bottleneck for quite some time," she said.

Maryknoll has been tracking various immigration legislation, including the GRACE Act, an acronym for Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement. "That would establish a minimum annual refugee admission total that is higher than the 18,000" announced Sept. 26 by President Donald Trump -- the subject of the impeachment inquiry over his asking a foreign government to investigate a U.S. political rival.

"In the past, refugee resettlement was a bipartisan act, and changed people's lives for the better," Gunn said. "Now the issue of helping refugees has been politicized, and people who are truly suffering ... are being ignored."

The GRACE Act has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. "They've been a little busy," Gunn said dryly.

For Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, it's a case of a "both-and" situation.

"It's the impeachment process, but sort of the divisions that exist in Congress, especially between the parties and particularly on the climate issue," he said. "There just seems to be a fairly large gap between the Republicans and the Democrats on the issues, including the climate issue."

Misleh said, "We've been paying attention to the Shaheen bill in the Senate, calling for the United States to re-engage with international climate issues." The International Climate Accountability Act, introduced June 6 by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, would bar the use of federal funds to withdraw from the Paris climate accord; a House version of the bill passed earlier this year. "I think there is one Republican senator on that bill" as a co-sponsor, Misleh added.

Catholic Charities USA is following a variety of bills, according to Anthony J. Granado, vice president of government relations: disaster aid, housing tax credits, immigration and changes to IRA rules among them. "At the end of the day, nothing in Congress in moving," he said. "One, you have a divided Congress," with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans the Senate, and "two, even though it's not an election year, Congress is acting as if it were an election year."

Granado, who previously had been a domestic policy adviser for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that not only has his employer changed, but so has the nature of his work. "In the time I've been at Catholic Charities USA, I've done more in four months on rules in general than in the nine years I was at USCCB," he said.

On Capitol Hill, Granado added, "things are already pretty sludgy." The Trump administration, he said, knows "they're not going to get a lot of legislation through, so the way to get things done is with a lot of executive orders."

"The impeachment process is going to divert a lot of attention" from rural needs, said James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, noting that funding for projects approved in last year's farm bill are still awaiting money from budgets that should have been in place Oct. 1, the start of the federal government's fiscal year, but are tied up in negotiations while a continuing resolution keeps the government functioning.

"We've got a diverse country and diverse priorities, but it's frustrating from CRL's standpoint that there's so much infighting in Congress we can't get any work done," Ennis said, adding his advice to Congress is "Work, do some good work, and don't forget rural."

"Because of the political climate, a lot of effort is going into cramming legislation into appropriations," said Dominican Sister Quincy Howard, a government relations specialist for Network, a Catholic social justice lobby. "That's the only must-pass that is on the table -- and whether that is 'must-pass' is another question as well."

She said the impeachment inquiry was "not going to impact which was already a pretty bleak scenario. I think it will suck a lot of air out of attention for Congress to do its job related to legislation and appropriations."

Sister Howard added, "As the bottleneck has gotten more and more apparent, 80 percent of the bills we are talking about are stuck in the Senate, the graveyard. ... The House has been passing a lot of bills."

Impeachment talk, she said, "added to a dynamic that was already there. The president's nontraditional approach to governing and working with the legislature, and his unpredictability -- looking at the shutdown last January -- sort of the erratic nature of what even his colleagues and allies in the Senate can expect from him."

"That is a sort of looming dynamic that expects how legislation moves, because it's based on trust to some degree," Sister Howard added. "As we've seen his behavior get more amped-up in that direction, that element of unknown and unpredictability, is growing more and more concerning."


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Indigenous bring needed diversity of expression to synod, speakers say

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 1:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People in Western countries need to see the different cultural expressions of faith that exist in other parts of the world, said some participants at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

Panelists attending a Vatican briefing Oct. 7 were asked to comment on the way some media outlets and some people on social media expressed shock, disdain or concern for the presence of a wooden statue of a bare-breasted pregnant woman during a prayer service in the Vatican Gardens Oct. 4 and about the Catholic indigenous man who brought up the offertory gifts at Mass Oct. 6 wearing a headdress adorned with feathers.

"It is even more important that the world of Europe and Rome learn that other cultures also know how to talk about life, about well-being, fraternal coexistence," said French-born Bishop Emmanuel Lafont, who leads the Diocese of Cayenne in French Guiana, bordering the Amazon basin.

It is important people see there is another way to live "and not just consume and accumulate things," he said through a translator.

"There can't be just one voice. Every culture has its voice and its wisdom," he added.

He said he told the bishops of France years ago that if they were going to talk about ecology, then they also needed to listen to what indigenous people in the American and African continents had to say about their relationship with nature.

Once upon a time, these indigenous ways of life would have been considered forms of "idolatry" or a sign of "a lack of civilization," he said, "because we thought that only we had the truth and other people had nothing."

Giving visibility to different expressions and cultures not only will be a big part of discussions at the synod, but it also will be a "great service we can offer these people who believe they are more civilized than others," Bishop Lafont said.

Bishop David Martinez de Aguirre Guinea, apostolic vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Peru, told reporters the best response to people's concern or worry about indigenous adornments or expressions is to give indigenous people more visibility.

The indigenous headdress is worn for very special occasions -- like the synod's opening Mass, he said.

These images are very "striking" and that can make it hard for some people to go beyond appearances and look more deeply and discover what truly lies in the heart of these people, said the bishop, who is a member of the Dominicans.

"There are many things to discover" about the people of the Amazon, and the church can help them show the world who they are, he added.

"We can discover it in their contact, their way of relating to nature, their way of relating with each other, their way of establishing alliances, of not accumulating anything in life other than human relationships," he said.

"They have their own voice," the bishop said, and the church wants to help them speak for themselves rather than simply being the object of another's attention.

Commenting about the statue of the pregnant woman, the Spanish-born bishop said he has seen the image before and it seems to be a nonspecific symbol for fertility, life and women.

The statue could be seen as symbolizing "the Amazon like an entity that is pregnant with life for the entire planet, for all people."

Sister Alba Teresa Cediel Castillo, an indigenous member of the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Immaculate Mary and of St. Catherine of Siena, said she agreed with the bishop's interpretation.

But she said she would add that it was her hope that "this pregnancy, this life that we are celebrating in the synod may give birth and not be a miscarriage."

Sister Cediel said she works with sisters who minister to the poor and indigenous, either in big cities or in remote areas of the Amazon region.

Women religious "have a very great presence in the Amazon," she said. "There are very few priests, and many have to go from place to place to place," trying to minister to many people spread out over vast distances.

"But we (sisters) have a constant presence in education, in health care, in projects that (communities) have for development," she said.

By virtue of their baptism, she said, "we accompany indigenous people in various events."

When a priest "cannot be present and there is a need for a baptism, we baptize," she said. "If someone wants to get married, we are there and we witness to this couple's love.

"And many times, we have listened to confessions," she said. "We haven't given absolution, but in the depths of our heart, we have said, with the humility that this man or woman approaches us, in times of sickness or when they are close to death, we believe that God the Father acts there, too."

"The presence of women in the Amazon is great and very fertile" with the presence of many missionaries and religious congregations, said Sister Cediel.
"I believe women must have greater participation in church life, but little by little. We will get there, but little by little" and with dialogue, she said.

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Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves and Barbara Fraser at the Vatican.


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Don't fear what is new, Cardinal Hummes says, introducing synod topics

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 12:32pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With its mandate to seek "new pathways for the church and for an integral ecology," the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon follows Pope Francis' call for the church to move forward without fear, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes told participants.

Speaking at the synod's opening session Oct. 7, Cardinal Hummes identified key issues for the synod based on consultations held in church jurisdictions in the nine Amazonian countries over the past year and a half.

Near the end of this speech, he added a comment not in the prepared text, reminding participants that "ecclesial communion is constructed and preserved with Peter and under Peter, with the pope and under the guidance of the pope. That is what the Catholic faith says."

Introducing the themes of the synod, the cardinal said that the church must turn outward and seek new pathways, as well as ways of inserting itself into Amazonian cultures. Synod participants also must consider new ways of providing pastoral care, possibly developing new ministries, in a place with too few church workers.

"The church needs to throw open her doors, knock down the walls surrounding her and build bridges, going out into the world and setting out on the path of history," Cardinal Hummes said, underscoring the pope's emphasis on a missionary church.

In times of change, he said, the church's role is to accompany people who live "on the margins of humankind."

The church remains loyal to its tradition not by remaining "linked to the past," but by recognizing its "living history," in which each generation "enriches this tradition ... with their own experience and understanding of faith in Jesus Christ," Cardinal Hummes said.

"We must not fear newness; we must not fear Christ, the new," he said "This synod is in search of new pathways."

In the presynod consultations, indigenous people asked the church to support them in defending their rights.

"Humankind has a great debt toward the indigenous peoples on the planet's various continents and therefore also in Amazonia," Cardinal Hummes said.

"Their cultures, languages, history, identity and spirituality are humanity's wealth and must be respected and preserved, as well as included in global culture," he added, to applause.

In reviewing the church's history of evangelization in the Amazon region, Cardinal Hummes underscored the work of missionaries and members of religious orders and congregations, as well as diocesan priests and laypeople, especially women.

The church also has played a key role in providing education and health care in the region, as well as in fighting poverty and human rights violations, he said.

Nevertheless, he said, a lack of priests results in "an almost total absence of the Eucharist and other sacraments essential for daily Christian life."

Amazonia is a vast area with few roads, so most travel is by river, which is slow, expensive and often dangerous. Because communities, especially indigenous villages, are widely scattered, many communities receive visits from a priest rarely, if at all.

Participants in presynod consultations "requested that the path be opened for the ordination of married men resident in their communities, while confirming the great importance of the charism of celibacy in the church," Cardinal Hummes said.

The presynod assemblies also raised the issue of women's role in the Amazonian church.

"Faced with a great number of women who nowadays lead communities in Amazonia, there is a request that this service be acknowledged and there be an attempt to consolidate it with a suitable ministry for them," Cardinal Hummes said to applause.

Turning to the theme of integral ecology, he said that the church cannot adequately minister to the people of the Amazon, especially indigenous people, without also caring for the Earth as "our common home."

During presynod assemblies, participants described threats that included oil production and mining on their lands, large infrastructure projects like roads and dams, industrial agriculture, logging, pollution and drug trafficking.

They also identified resulting social problems, including alcoholism, violence against women, human trafficking for sex work and labor, erosion of indigenous people's culture and identity, and poverty, as well as threats against or murders of people who defend the environment or indigenous territorial rights.

"Integral ecology teaches us that everything is connected: human beings and nature," Cardinal Hummes said, noting that in Genesis, God breathed life into humans made from the dust of the earth.

"All damage done to the earth damages human beings and all the other living creatures on the earth," he said. "One cannot address ecology, economy, culture and other issues separately."

Among the many critical environmental issues in the Amazon, Cardinal Hummes highlighted water, which is disappearing or polluted because of global warming, deforestation and the contamination caused by mining and pesticides.

While much emphasis has been placed on the church's role in remote, rural areas of the Amazon, Cardinal Hummes also stressed the importance of ministry in the Amazon's growing urban areas.

Cities like Manaus, Brazil, with about 2 million inhabitants, and Iquitos, in Peru, with more than half a million, continue to grow, especially as people migrate from rural communities in search of jobs or education.

Indigenous migrants face "extreme poverty, abandonment, rejection, disdain and denial" and often are "obliged to be invisible," Cardinal Hummes said, drawing the synod's attention to the need for urban ministry.

Cardinal Hummes invited the synod participants "to be guided by the Holy Spirit during these days." Invoking Mary, Queen of Amazonia, he called for prayer, meditation, ecclesial communion and a synodal spirit.

Echoing the theme of service from the opening Mass Oct. 6, he said, "This synod is like a table that God has prepared for his poor, and he is asking us to serve at that table."


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