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Witness of Colombian people a wealth for the church, pope says

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 10:15am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Colombia's long and arduous path toward reconciliation and a lasting peace after nearly half a century of war is a sign of hope for all Christians, Pope Francis said.

Speaking to pilgrims Sept. 13 at his weekly general audience, the pope said the motto of his visit Sept. 6-10 -- "Demos el primer paso" ("Let's take the first step") -- referred to the process of reconciliation that, while difficult, is "underway with the help of God."

"With my visit, I wanted to bless the efforts of that people, confirm them in faith and hope and receive their witness, which is a wealth for my ministry and for the whole church," the pope said.

Although still sporting a black eye after a minor accident during his stay in Cartagena, the pope was in good spirits, greeting pilgrims and kissing babies around St. Peter's Square.

Among those present at the audience was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who briefly greeted Pope Francis at the end of the general audience.

Recalling Colombia's tragic 52-year armed conflict, which was responsible for the deaths of more than 220,000 people, the pope said that while the country was torn apart, its strong Christian roots "constituted a guarantee of peace, the solid foundation of its reconstruction and the lifeblood of its invincible hope."

"It is evident that the evil one wanted to divide the people to destroy God's work, but it is equally evident that the love of Christ, his infinite mercy is stronger than sin and death," he said.

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis recalled how mothers and fathers lining up along the popemobile's route would hold up their children to receive a blessing.

"I thought to myself that a people capable of making children and capable of letting them be seen with pride and hope, this people has a future," the pope said.

The second day of the trip, which included the beatification of two Colombian martyrs and an evening prayer service in Villavicencio dedicated to reconciliation, was "the culminating moment of the entire visit," the pope said.

The Sept. 8 prayer service featured a crucifix from a church in Bojaya, an image of Jesus without arms or legs after an improvised homemade mortar launched by rebels crashed through the roof of a church and exploded in 2002.

The Christ of Bojaya, the pope said, was "mutilated like his people."

The beatification of Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948, served as a reminder that peace is also founded on the blood of the martyrs who are witnesses love, truth, justice and faith.

"To listen to their biographies was emotionally tearful: tears of both pain and joy," the pope said. "In front of their relics and their faces, the holy people of God have felt strongly their own identity; with pain, thinking of many, too many victims, and with joy for the God's mercy which stretches forth upon those who fear him."

Saints like St. Peter Claver and St. Mary Bernard Butler, who ministered in Colombia, he added, are also examples for Christians in protecting the rights and dignity of all men and women.

Both saints, he said, "gave their life for the poorest and the marginalized and thus they showed the true path of revolution -- evangelical not ideological -- that truly frees people and societies from yesterday's and, unfortunately, today's slavery."

The encounter of mercy and truth as well as justice and peace prophesied in the Psalms, Pope Francis said, were fulfilled in Colombia's "wounded people," allowing them to "rise up again and walk in a new life."

"These prophetic words -- full of grace -- we saw incarnate in the stories of witnesses who spoke in the name of many and of many who, through their wounds, with the grace of Christ were able to come out of themselves and opened themselves to the encounter, to forgiveness and reconciliation," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Indian Salesian abducted in Yemen freed

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 1:10pm

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted by Islamic State militants in Yemen and held captive for more than a year, was freed.

According to Oman's state-run news agency ONA, Father Uzhunnalil was "rescued" by Oman authorities "in coordination with the Yemeni parties."

Upon his release, the Salesian priest "expressed thanks to God almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos (of Oman). He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release," ONA reported Sept. 12.

Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.

"We express our deep gratitude to God for the happy conclusion of this incident," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian bishops' conference, told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Sept. 12.

He also expressed the bishops' "immense gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to Sushma Swaraj, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for having worked tirelessly for the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil. In several meetings, the foreign minister assured us that the (Indian) government would do everything possible to release him."

Bishop Mascarenhas also thanked Pope Francis, "who has used all his influence" to ensure the Salesian priest's release. 

After his release, the Vatican issued a statement thanking "all those who worked for his release, and especially His Majesty the sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the sultanate."

The statement said Father Uzhunnalil would stay with the Salesian community in Rome for a few days before returning to India.

Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said she was "overwhelmed with joy for this good news."

"We never abandoned the hope that one day Father Tom would be released. His photograph is attached to Mother Teresa's tomb. The sisters, the poor and the people prayed every day for his liberation. We give glory to God and thank all those who prayed and worked untiringly for the release of Father Tom," Sister Prema told AsiaNews Sept. 12.

Born in Kerala, India, the 56-year-old priest had been serving in Yemen for the past four years as a chaplain to the sisters.

Yemen has been experiencing a political crisis since 2011 and is often described as being in a state of civil war with members of the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities vying for power; in the midst of the tensions, terrorist groups have been operating in the country, including groups believed to be associated with the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Although most Christians have fled the country, a handful of Salesian priests and about 20 Missionaries of Charity chose to stay and continue their ministry.

When the situation in Yemen began to deteriorate, two of the five Salesians, including Father Uzhunnalil, decided to stay in the country along with a handful of other Catholics despite the risks to their safety, Salesian Father Francesco Cereda, vicar of the order's superior, told AsiaNews March 10, 2016.

The murder of the four Missionaries of Charity and Father Uzhunnalil's abduction was denounced by Pope Francis as an "act of senseless and diabolical violence."

The pope continued to call for Father Uzhunnalil's release and "for the liberation of all people kidnapped in areas of armed conflict."

Following the anniversary of his kidnapping, a video of the Salesian father was posted on YouTube by the news site, Aden Time, May 8. Appearing heavily bearded and frail, Father Uzhunnalil was shown seated with a cardboard sign on his lap with the date April 15, 2017. A similar video was posted in December.

Without describing his captors or referring to them as such, he said, "they are treating me well to the extent that they are able."

"My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible," he said.

ONA published a picture of Father Uzhunnalil "appearing in good health" following his release and transfer to the Omani capital, Muscat.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Kansas priest recalls friendship with martyr as beatification nears

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 12:16pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Bonar, The Register

By Karen Bonar

CAWKER CITY, Kan. (CNS) -- In the cozy rectory behind Sts. Peter and Paul Church sits Father Don McCarthy with myriad items relating to his friend, Father Stanley Rother.

"It's kind of like a shrine in here," he said, looking around.

At the window was a framed picture of Father Rother with Guatemalan children. Father McCarthy has a box dedicated entirely to correspondence from his seminary chum. "He and I were close friends," the retired priest told The Register, newspaper of the Salina Diocese.

He will be among the throngs gathering Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City to witness the beatification of Father Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Father Rother was gunned down in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. He was considered a martyr by the church in Guatemala. Pope Francis formally recognized the missionary priest as a martyr Dec. 2, clearing the way for his beatification.

Originally from Galveston, Texas, Father McCarthy attended the seminary in San Antonio during the 1950s.

"Stan and I?were not in the same class in the seminary, but we got to be good friends, due to working together in the book bindery and visitations at each other's homes in vacation time," Father McCarthy said.

Father Rother was two years behind Father McCarthy. Eventually, the Oklahoman was asked to leave because he struggled with Latin.

"All of the philosophy and theology textbooks and canon law were all in Latin. That's the way things were then," Father McCarthy said.

Yet Father Rother didn't give up on his vocation. Bishop Victor J. Reed, who headed what was then the Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa from 1958 to 1971, helped the young student enroll at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

"We kept in touch," Father McCarthy said. "I used to visit in the summertime. I would stay at Stanley's home and tried to help at farm work, but I wasn't very good at it. When I was ordained in 1959, he and his mother came to Galveston for my first Mass. He was thurifer (altar server who carries the censer) for my first Mass."

In return, Father McCarthy participated in Father Rother's first Mass in 1963.

In 1968, Father Rother went to Santiago Atitlan on assignment from Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa. (In 1972, Oklahoma City was elevated to an archdiocese and Tulsa was established as its own diocese.) Called "Padre Francisco" and "Padre Aplas," he helped the locals build a small hospital, school and radio station. He also taught the locals improved methods of farming and fishing.

Despite his early difficulties with Latin, Father Rother translated the Mass and several parts of the New Testament into Tzutujil, the language of his parishioners, Father McCarthy said.

"He and I stayed in contact when he went down to Guatemala," Father McCarthy said. "He was very much a part of the community for years."

The mission was about 10 years old when Father Rother arrived, with a staff of 10. "But gradually over the years, he was the only one left," Father McCarthy said.

The Rother family and his friends knew the continued presence in Guatemala was dangerous. The country was in the midst of a brutal civil war, lasting from 1960 to 1996.

"He knew he was on a death list," Father McCarthy said. "(His family) encouraged him to stay (home), but he went back. He always said, 'The shepherd cannot run.' I was always edified by his attitude. He could have stayed home and been safe, but he said, 'I want to be with my people.'"

Father McCarthy remembered getting the call informing him of his friend's death July 28, 1981. He was touched that the Rother family thought to call him a mere 24 hours after the murder.

"After Stanley was killed, they kept his heart in a shrine in his mission church," Father McCarthy said. "It's still there as a shrine."

The Guatemalan church wished to keep Father Rother's body, but it was returned to Oklahoma and he was buried in Okarche in 1981.

"I was not surprised to hear that he was up for sainthood," Father McCarthy said. "The Guatemalan people considered him a martyr right away. Being a martyr was one way to become a saint. Once you're declared a martyr, it cleared the way for his beatification, which is the next to last step to sainthood."

Because of their friendship, Father McCarthy was one of many people called to give testimony about Father Rother's life and ministry as part of his sainthood cause. In general, following beatification, a miracle attributed to the intercession of the sainthood candidate is required for that person to be canonized.

He said his friend's life serves as an example for everyone.

"All of us are called to make sacrifices in life," Father McCarthy said. "Maybe not the supreme sacrifices (Father Rother) did, but all of us need to realize we have duties and obligations we cannot run from."

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Bonar is editor of The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Irma weakens as it heads north, but leaves path of destruction

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:06am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Daytona Beach Police Department handout via Reuters

By

MIAMI (CNS) -- A weakened Hurricane Irma churned in Florida after ripping through southern portions of the state and the Caribbean islands, flooding cities, knocking out power to millions, destroying homes and businesses and killing more than 20 people.

The massive hurricane, which dwindled to a tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11, was forecast to die out over southern states later in the week. Officials in Florida and across the Caribbean, meanwhile, started to dig out and evaluate the full scope of the disaster Irma left behind.

The strength and size of the storm, with 120-plus mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, left hardly any place near its path untouched. It leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami, and brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba's north coast.

"The hurricane has caused serious damage in the towns, villages and farms of the north coast of our island, from Camaguey to Havana,'' said Maritza Sanchez, director of Caritas Cuba. "Flooding was caused by hurricane force winds and rains all the way from Camaguey to Santa Clara in the middle of the country, reaching as far as Matanzas and Havana along the northwest coast."

By the evening on Sept. 10, roughly 5.7 million Florida residents were left without power. Aerial footage showed large swaths of cities like Miami and Naples, on the Gulf Coast, under water. State officials had ordered 6.3 million of the state's approximately 21 million residents to evacuate; many headed north to stay with relatives.

"Millions of Floridians are being impacted by this storm,'' Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a news conference Sept. 10.

Earlier, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayers for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey, noted that people in the Caribbean had "felt Hurricane Irma's full force."

"Let us join in prayer for those who are in the path of Hurricane Irma, and may God bless and protect you,'' he said in a statement Sept. 9. "At a time like this, when our endurance is tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis."

The cardinal noted that, as with Harvey, the bishops' conference would work with local dioceses, Catholic relief agencies and other groups to offer assistance.

The storm had already left a path of destruction in the Caribbean. Disaster risk analyst Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology, based in Germany, estimated more than $10 billion in damages in the Caribbean, making it the costliest storm ever in the region.

The Netherlands estimated that 70 percent of the houses on St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed. That left 40,000 people in public shelters as Hurricane Jose approached.

The Pentagon mobilized the military to respond to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where at least four people died and devastation was widespread.

"This is a horrific disaster,'' Gov. Kenneth Mapp said Sept. 9. "There will be no restorations or solutions in days or weeks.''

In Antigua and Barbuda, Arthur Nibbs, minister of Barbuda Affairs who was on Barbuda when Irma hit, said it was the worst storm he'd ever seen.

"It was enormous. There's nothing that is comparable. It destroyed everything that was in its path," he said.

Nibbs said roofs were torn away, trees were toppled, government buildings were destroyed, and cell towers were snapped in half, leaving the small island of about 1,600 people without any form of communication.

Officials scrambled to evacuate the island before the arrival of Hurricane Jose. The category 4 storm veered north of Barbuda, sparing it from a second direct hit.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Irma weakens at it heads north, but leaves path of destruction

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:06am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Daytona Beach Police Department handout via Reuters

By

MIAMI (CNS) -- A weakened Hurricane Irma churned in Florida after ripping through southern portions of the state and the Caribbean islands, flooding cities, knocking out power to millions, destroying homes and businesses and killing more than 20 people.

The massive hurricane, which dwindled to a tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11, was forecast to die out over southern states later in the week. Officials in Florida and across the Caribbean, meanwhile, started to dig out and evaluate the full scope of the disaster Irma left behind.

The strength and size of the storm, with 120-plus mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, left hardly any place near its path untouched. It leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami, and brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba's north coast.

"The hurricane has caused serious damage in the towns, villages and farms of the north coast of our island, from Camaguey to Havana,'' said Maritza Sanchez, director of Caritas Cuba. "Flooding was caused by hurricane force winds and rains all the way from Camaguey to Santa Clara in the middle of the country, reaching as far as Matanzas and Havana along the northwest coast."

By the evening on Sept. 10, roughly 5.7 million Florida residents were left without power. Aerial footage showed large swaths of cities like Miami and Naples, on the Gulf Coast, under water. State officials had ordered 6.3 million of the state's approximately 21 million residents to evacuate; many headed north to stay with relatives.

"Millions of Floridians are being impacted by this storm,'' Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a news conference Sept. 10.

Earlier, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayers for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey, noted that people in the Caribbean had "felt Hurricane Irma's full force."

"Let us join in prayer for those who are in the path of Hurricane Irma, and may God bless and protect you,'' he said in a statement Sept. 9. "At a time like this, when our endurance is tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis."

The cardinal noted that, as with Harvey, the bishops' conference would work with local dioceses, Catholic relief agencies and other groups to offer assistance.

The storm had already left a path of destruction in the Caribbean. Disaster risk analyst Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology, based in Germany, estimated more than $10 billion in damages in the Caribbean, making it the costliest storm ever in the region.

The Netherlands estimated that 70 percent of the houses on St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed. That left 40,000 people in public shelters as Hurricane Jose approached.

The Pentagon mobilized the military to respond to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where at least four people died and devastation was widespread.

"This is a horrific disaster,'' Gov. Kenneth Mapp said Sept. 9. "There will be no restorations or solutions in days or weeks.''

In Antigua and Barbuda, Arthur Nibbs, minister of Barbuda Affairs who was on Barbuda when Irma hit, said it was the worst storm he'd ever seen.

"It was enormous. There's nothing that is comparable. It destroyed everything that was in its path," he said.

Nibbs said roofs were torn away, trees were toppled, government buildings were destroyed, and cell towers were snapped in half, leaving the small island of about 1,600 people without any form of communication.

Officials scrambled to evacuate the island before the arrival of Hurricane Jose. The category 4 storm veered north of Barbuda, sparing it from a second direct hit.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope says he hopes Trump reconsiders DACA decision

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 10:00am

By Cindy Wooden

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM COLOMBIA (CNS) -- Politicians who call themselves pro-life must be pro-family and not enact policies that divide families and rob young people of a future, Pope Francis said.

Flying from Colombia back to Rome late Sept. 10, Pope Francis was asked about U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed some 800,000 young people brought to the United States illegally as children to stay in the country, working or going to school.

Trump announced Sept. 5 that he was phasing out the program; his decision was strongly criticized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis said he had heard of Trump's decision, but had not had time to study the details of the issue. However, he said, "uprooting young people from their families is not something that will bear fruit."

"This law, which I think comes not from the legislature, but from the executive (branch) -- if that's right, I'm not sure -- I hope he rethinks it a bit," the pope said, "because I've heard the president of the United States speak; he presents himself as a man who is pro-life, a good pro-lifer.

"If he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that the family is the cradle of life and its unity must be defended," the pope said.

Pope Francis said people must be very careful not to dash the hopes and dreams of young people or make them feel "a bit exploited," because the results can be disastrous, leading some to turn to drugs or even suicide.

Pope Francis spent only about 35 minutes answering journalists' questions and commenting on his five-day trip to Colombia. After he had answered eight questions, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told the pope it was time to sit down because the plane was approaching an area of turbulence.

The pope went to the journalists' section of the plane still wearing a small bandage on his left eyebrow and sporting a large bump, which had turned black and blue, on his cheek. Rather than joking with reporters, he told them that he had been reaching out of the popemobile to greet people and turned. "I didn't see the glass."

While his trip back to Rome did not have to change flight plans like the flight to Colombia Sept. 6 did because of Hurricane Irma, Pope Francis was asked about the apparently increasing intensity of hurricanes and other storms and what he thinks of political leaders who doubt climate change is real.

"Anyone who denies this must go to the scientists and ask," he said. "They speak very clearly. Scientists are precise."

Pope Francis said he read a report citing a university study that asserted humanity has only three years to reduce the pace of climate change before it's too late. "I don't know if three years is right or not, but if we don't turn back, we'll go down, that's true."

"Climate change -- you can see the effects," Pope Francis said. "And the scientists have told us clearly what the paths to follow are."

Everyone has a moral responsibility to act, he said. "And we must take it seriously."

"It's not something to play with," the pope said. "It's very serious."

Politicians who doubt climate change is real or that human activity contributes to it should speak to the scientists and "then decide. And history will judge their decisions."

Asked why he thinks governments have been so slow to act, Pope Francis said he thinks it's partly because, as the Old Testament says, "Man is stupid, a stubborn one who does not see."

But the other reason, he said, is almost always money.

Talking about his five-day stay in Colombia, Pope Francis said he was "really moved by the joy, the tenderness" and the expressiveness of the people. In the end, they are the ones who will determine whether Colombia truly has peace after 52 years of civil war.

Politicians and diplomats can do all the right things to negotiate peace deals, he said, but if the nation's people aren't on board, peace will not be lasting. In Colombia, he said, the people have a clear desire to live in peace.

"What struck me most about the Colombian people," he said, was watching hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fathers and mothers along the roads he traveled, and they would lift their children high so the pope would see and bless them.

What they were doing, he said, was saying, "This is my treasure. This is my hope. This is my future. I believe in this."

The parents' behavior with their little ones, he said, "is a symbol of hope, of a future."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

At final Mass in Colombia, pope calls for change of culture

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 8:03pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By David Agren

CARTAGENA, Colombia (CNS) -- Pope Francis capped a five-day trip to Colombia with a call for culture change in a country attempting to pursue a path of peace and reconciliation after decades of armed conflict and centuries of social exclusion.

The pope issued his call in Cartagena, on Colombia's Caribbean Coast, where he remembered St. Peter Claver and urged the country to follow the example set centuries earlier by the priest, who tended to slaves arriving on ships by showing kind gestures and dignity.

"We are required to generate 'from below' a change in culture, so we respond to the culture of death and violence with the culture of life and encounter," Pope Francis said Sept. 10, prior to returning to Rome.

"How many times have we 'normalized' the logic of violence and social exclusion, without prophetically raising our hands or voices?" Pope Francis asked. "Alongside St. Peter Claver were thousands of Christians, many of them consecrated, but only a handful started a countercultural movement of encounter."

The final Mass, celebrated at the docks and full of up-tempo music and worship, reiterated many of the themes Pope Francis raised throughout his trip to Colombia: peace, reconciliation and social inclusion, to name but three.

He also invoked the motto for his trip, "Let's take the first step." The motto speaks to the collective action needed pull together a country polarized by class divisions, social inequality and how to implement a recently approved peace accord. The accord between the government and guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is not universally popular, though the pursuit of peace is.

But Pope Francis pleaded with Colombians to play their personal part in achieving peace and for Catholics to set the example by living their Christian values.

"We pray to fulfil the theme of this visit: 'Let us take the first step!' And may this first step be in a common direction. To 'take the first step' is, above all, to go out and meet others, with Christ the Lord," Pope Francis said.

"If Colombia wants a stable and lasting peace, it must urgently take a step in this direction, which is that of the common good, of equity, of justice, of respect for human nature and its demands," he continued.

"Only if we help to untie the knots of violence will we unravel the complex threads of disagreements. The Lord is able to untie that which seems impossible to us, and he has promised to accompany us to the end of time and will bring to fruition all our efforts."

During his Sept. 6-10 visit, Pope Francis heard the voice of victims and victimizers. At the Mass in Cartagena, he departed from his prepared remarks to denounce the illegal drug business, which has spurred violence in the Andean region -- where coca is grown -- and beyond.

"I strongly condemn this scourge which has put an end to so many lives and is sustained by unscrupulous men," Pope Francis said. "I'm making a call so that we explore all ways to end narcotics trafficking. The only thing it has done is sow death all over the place, truncating so many hopes and destroying so many families."

Pope Francis titled his homily, "Dignity of the person and human rights," and he listed a litany of indignities harming the country and much of the region: money laundering and financial speculation, resource exploitation and destruction of the environment, along with "The overlooked tragedy of migrants."

He again spoke of the necessity of seeking truth and providing justice for those wronged in Colombia to reconcile its recent past, which is marred by an armed conflict leaving 220,000 dead and millions more displaced.

"Deep historic wounds necessarily require moments where justice is done, where victims are given the opportunity to know the truth, where damage is adequately repaired and clear commitments are made to avoid repeating those crimes," he said.

"No collective process excuses us from the challenge of meeting, clarifying, forgiving." 

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Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

In Cartagena, pope prays for Venezuela, denounces modern slavery

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 3:06pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

CARTAGENA, Colombia (CNS) -- At the Church of St. Peter Claver, a saint venerated throughout the Americas as a champion of human rights, Pope Francis offered special prayers for Venezuela and its people suffering in the midst of a huge political and economic crisis.

"From this place, I want to assure my prayers for each of the countries of Latin America, especially for nearby Venezuela. I expressed my closeness to each of the sons and daughters of this beloved nation, as well as for those who have found in Colombia a place of welcome," he said Sept. 10 in Cartagena.

Venezuela has been torn by violence and stricken with severe shortages of food and medicine as its political crisis drags on. More than 100 people have died in protests as President Nicolas Maduro has attempted to install a constituent assembly to rewrite the nation's constitution and consolidate his power.

"From this city, the seat of human rights, I call for the cessation of every kind of violence in political life," the pope said. He expressed hope for a peaceful solution to the "grave crisis" Venezuela is experiencing and which affects all its citizens, "especially the poorest and most disadvantaged in society."

Driving through the streets of the Caribbean coastal city, the popemobile braked suddenly, and Pope Francis hit his head. A big bump appeared quickly on his left cheekbone and a few specks of blood from his scratched eyebrow stained his white soutane.

After a quick treatment with ice, according to the Vatican, the pope was back in the popemobile making his way to the Church of St. Peter Claver, the Jesuit who devoted the last 40 years of his life to caring for and ministering to African slaves.

Earlier, arriving from Bogota for the last day of his five-day visit, Pope Francis went to one of Cartagena's poorest neighborhoods, where he blessed the cornerstone for a series of houses for particularly vulnerable people: the homeless and victims of trafficking.

The homes are sponsored by Talitha Kum, an international network to fight trafficking; the network is sponsored by the women's and men's international unions of superiors general. The pope also visited the home of Lorenza Perez, 77, who has worked for decades as a volunteer cook at a church-run soup kitchen.

Pope Francis told the crowd outside St. Peter Claver Church that the two stops "have done me much good because they demonstrate how the love of God is made visible each day."

In his main Angelus address, he spoke of the story of Our Lady of Chiquinquira, a venerated image of Mary. Painted in 1560, the image was damaged by rain and forgotten. But a few years later, a local woman found it. Pope Francis said, "She had the courage and faith to put this blurred and torn fabric in a special place, restoring its lost dignity. "

"This woman became a model for all those who, in different ways, seek to restore the dignity of our brothers and sisters lost through the pain of life's wounds, to restore the dignity of those who are excluded," the pope said. She should be a model for those who try to provide dignified housing and care to the disadvantaged.

Before entering the church and praying silently before the relics of St. Peter Claver, Pope Francis spoke about him, as well.

The Jesuit, who arrived in Colombia in 1610, would go to the port when the slave ships came in. He would visit the slaves on the boats and in the cells where they were held before being sold, bringing them food, treating their wounds and teaching them about Jesus.

"He often ministered to these slaves simply through evangelizing gestures," the pope said, because he did not know their languages and they did not know Spanish. However, "he knew that the language of charity and mercy was understood by all. Indeed, charity helps us to know the truth, and truth calls for acts of kindness."

Tying the morning events together, Pope Francis said, "Here in Colombia and in the world millions of people are still being sold as slaves; they either beg for some expressions of humanity, moments of tenderness, or they flee by sea or land because they have lost everything, primarily their dignity and their rights."

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In Florida shelter, exhausted people wait out Hurricane Irma

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 1:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mickey Conlon

By Mickey Conlon

LARGO, Florida (CNS) -- The stories, like the people, are all over the map.

There's the woman from California, the accountant from Ohio, the local roofer, who relocated from a mile away. All for the moment were in Largo, specifically Largo High School, one of 34 emergency shelters opened by Pinellas County in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, which already left death and havoc across parts of the Caribbean and made its way north into Florida, its sites set directly on Largo and the Tampa Bay area.

Those in the shelter have been hunkered down in classrooms and hallways throughout the school, some since Sept. 8, most coming in Sept. 9, while some stragglers continued to make their way in the morning of Sept. 10, just hours before the brunt of the storm was to hit the Tampa Bay area.

California woman -- no one knows anyone else's name, just where they're from -- was one of the stragglers. She was exhausted, more than most of the others, and understandably so.

"I just flew in from California to evacuate my mother from a hospital on the East Coast," said the woman, who appeared to be around 40. "I had to walk two miles in the rain just to get here. I'm exhausted."

She dropped her suitcase, took a seat, put her head in her hands and began gently weeping. Within seconds she had fallen into a deep sleep.

The Ohio accountant was calm. He has been staying a couple miles away in a mobile home park, which was under a mandatory evacuation order. He left, but many of his neighbors had not and did not seem as if they would, he said.

The Florida roofer was a reluctant evacuee who lived in a mobile home park. At first he was going to ignore warnings and ride out the storm at home, but local police were having none of that.

"The cops came in with a bullhorn around midnight (Sept. 8) and told us we had to get out, and then they came again at 5:30 in the morning," he said.

He's working on about one hour sleep because of the law's interruptions, yet the night of Sept. 9 he was unable to sleep, despite the best comforts he had brought from home -- a chaise lounge and air mattress. He finally nodded off ... at 4:30 a.m. at the breakfast table.

The breakfast table was in the school's cafeteria, jampacked with hungry evacuees who tiptoed around the sleeping bags scattered all over the floor.

"They didn't have to do this for us, this is really nice of them," said an evacuee from Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.

The cafeteria is the nerve center of the evacuation complex. It's has most of the TVs, and people were glued to CNN and the local stations and their wall-to-wall coverage of the hurricane. It's also where the people who were trying to keep their minds off the storm gathered. A couple of men played chess; most were gathered in conversation; many continued to catch some sleep.

Throughout it all, there was little chaos. People seem resigned to the situation and were doing their best to weather the storm. The kids were being kids, running the halls and keeping parents on their toes. Local volunteers were busy keeping things in order, cleaning up as best they could and emptying garbage cans to try and keep ahead of the game hygienically.

Police took one man back to his vehicle to get rid of the gun he thought he'd be able to bring into the shelter. He received a resounding no and a lecture from an officer for being so foolish.

Otherwise, all was calm. But the elephant was never far from the room. After all, no one would be here but for the impending storm.

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Conlon, former managing editor of The Catholic Register in Toronto, is riding out Irma at the shelter in Largo.

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Cardinal DiNardo offers prayers for those in path of Hurricane Irma

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 6:31pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stringer, Reuters

By Barb Fraze

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayers for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma as it approached the United States.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey, noted that people in the Caribban already had " felt Hurricane Irma's full force."

"As the people off the Gulf Coast just begin to sift through the damage brought by Hurricane Harvey, our nation, tragically, must attempt to comprehend the approach of Hurricane Irma," he said in a statement Sept. 9.

"As Irma moves rapidly toward Florida, we lift up in prayer all of those who may be impacted, asking almighty God to guide the steady hands of first responders and to widen the hearts of all who are able to be generous to neighbors facing danger, grief, or displacement of any kind due to the disaster," he said.

"Let us join in prayer for those who are in the path of Hurricane Irma, and may God bless and protect you.

"At a time like this, when our endurance is tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis," he said.

The cardinal noted that, as with Harvey, the bishops' conference would work with local dioceses, Catholic relief agencies and other groups to offer assistance.

Hurricane Irma was expected to make landfall in Florida Sept. 10. The state ordered 6.3 million of the state's approximately 21 million residents to evacuate; many headed north to stay with relatives. By Sept. 9 more than 50,000 people had sought shelter in schools, community centers and churches.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned of the storm surge along the state's west coast. In the Tampa Bay area, Scott said the storm surge could be between 5 feet and 8 feet.

"This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen," he said Sept. 9.

Officials anticipated the path of the hurricane but warned it could change directions. The storm's tropical storm force winds covered about 300 miles. The Associate Press reported that officials in Georgia asked about 540,000 residents along the coast to evacuate. In South Carolina, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for eight barrier islands, including Hilton Head Island, the most populous of the islands with about 40,000 residents.

The storm battered Cuba Sept.9 after leaving a path of destruction in the Caribbean. The Netherlands estimates that 70 percent of the houses on St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed. That left 40,000 people in public shelters as Hurricane Jose approached.

In Antigua and Barbuda Arthur Nibbs, minister of Barbuda Affairs who was on Barbuda when Irma hit, said it was the worst storm he'd ever seen.

"It was enormous. There's nothing that is comparable. It destroyed everything that was in its path," he said.

Nibbs said roofs were torn away, trees were toppled, government buildings were destroyed, and cell towers were snapped in half, leaving the small island of about 1,600 people without any form of communication.

Officials scrambled to evacuate the island before the arrival of Hurricane Jose, a category 4 storm that was expected to hit Sept. 9. But on Sept. 8, Nibbs said, some people had decided to stay on the island and ride it out.

"Nobody should take that chance. There's no support, no communication, no transportation. It's just madness," he said. "They hardly have any place for shelter."

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In Caribbean Colombia, Jesuits try to continue legacy of St. Peter Claver

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 4:19pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/David Agren

By David Agren

CARTAGENA, Colombia (CNS) -- Outside St. Peter Claver Parish in this colonial city on the Caribbean coast, Afro-Colombian women in colorful attire sell chopped fruit to tourists. Once tourists pay for papaya and pineapple, some ask for photos, which the women oblige, placing a fruit basket on their heads and posing for a portrait.

Jesuit Father Jorge Hernandez sees the scene unfold on a daily basis outside the Jesuit-run parish just inside the walls of Cartagena's old city -- and it bothers him.

"There's a situation of strong discrimination here in Cartagena," said Father Hernandez, who works with Afro-Colombian communities. "There's strong racial discrimination, a lack of opportunities. They're often not included."

Pope Francis concludes his five-day visit to Colombia in Cartagena Sept. 10. There, he is sure to refer to St. Peter Claver, a fellow Jesuit who promoted human rights and fought slavery. He also will pray the Angelus outside the parish where St. Peter watched slave ships arrive in the late 1500s and offered humane treatment to those arriving against their will.

Afro-Colombian communities live in the periphery of Cartagena, in shabby barrios with rutted roads, inadequate city services and ocean access coveted by developers wishing to evict them from their lands to build hotels.

Afro-Colombians seldom attain senior positions in Colombian institutions, including the Catholic Church. The Afro-Colombian communities have been traditionally overlooked, suffered discrimination and, like the population at large, been impacted negatively in the country's five decades of armed conflict.

The community is "overwhelmingly underrepresented" in society and government "and hugely overrepresented in the displaced population," said Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. "They're estimated to be between 10 percent and 25 percent of the population, but have no members of congress ... and only recently have the been able to organize politically." He said that when Colombia rewrote its constitution in 1991, indigenous groups got representation in the legislative assembly, but "had to represent the Afro-Colombians," who had no representation.

On the Sept. 9 feast day of St. Peter Claver, Pope Francis urged less passivity from Colombian Catholics and urged them to follow the saint's example, providing pastoral attention to and pushing for the rights of the most marginalized.

In a Mass in the city of Medellin, the pope said the saint "understood, as a disciple of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the suffering of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that he had to do something to alleviate their suffering."

In the early 1600s St. Peter Claver, originally from Spain's Catalonia region, traveled to Cartagena, where thousands of slaves arrived from Africa each year to work in Colombia's mines. He would greet the slaves in the squalor of the ships that brought them from sub-Saharan Africa; he provided them with food, medicine and doses of dignity.

Jesuits in Cartagena say insensitivity to Afro-Colombians continues to this day, even if slavery was abolished. Some poor communities were walled-off by the local government to prevent Pope Francis -- who speaks of a poor church and putting the poor first -- from seeing any possible marginalization.

"The government only worries about this tourist area," Father Carlos Correa, Jesuit provincial in Colombia, said of the walled portion of Cartagena, where pristine streets are lined with remarkably preserved colonial-era buildings.

The Jesuits are trying to keep alive St. Peter Calver's legacy; they run two parishes in the area and work with five Afro-Colombian communities.

"The mission is to help people grow in the faith, but a faith based in justice," Father Correa said. "This is justice, which in Colombia, has to do with reconciliation."

Jesuits and Afro-Colombians marched in a seaside procession Sept. 9 to honor St. Peter Claver, before celebrating an up-tempo Mass, in the tradition of Caribbean sections of Colombia. Some marchers carried signs, "St. Peter Claver was our human rights defender."

The saint's legacy is still remembered and celebrated in Cartagena.

"It's not as notorious as before ... (but) there is still discrimination," said Laura Gomez, a 19-year-old student from an Afro-Colombian community.

She said she hoped the pope's visit would bring about change in Cartagena and Colombia as a whole, along with "an awareness that we are all equals and we can live in harmony."

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Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.


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Be brave in finding new ways to live, share the faith, pope says

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 2:04pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

MEDELLIN, Colombia (CNS) -- In a city many think of as being synonymous with new directions for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told Colombian Catholics faith is not measured by how well they follow rules, but by the depth of their prayer life and the degree to which it pushes them to share the Gospel.

The pope's visit to Medellin Sept. 9 began so wet and so foggy that he was forced to travel the 30 miles from Rionegro airport by car rather than helicopter. The change in plans meant the Mass began 45 minutes later than scheduled.

But by the time the service did begin, the rain had stopped and the fog had begun to lift, providing a clear view of the city's skyscrapers and the lush green mountains beyond. Before the opening prayer, Pope Francis apologized for the wait and thanked the estimated 1.3 million people for their patience.

The bishops of Latin America met in Medellin in 1968 and formally committed themselves to a "preferential option for the poor," to the support of small Christian communities and to a Gospel-based reading of their social and economic realities. While their commitments were rooted in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, their focus on Latin America's concrete situation marked a sharp change in direction.

In his homily in Medellin, Pope Francis said that when Jesus' disciples first began following him, they had to go through a process of conversion and purification, changing the way they saw the relationship between Jewish law and faith in God.

"Some of the precepts, prohibitions and mandates made them feel secure," the pope said. "Fulfilling certain practices and rites dispensed them from the uncomfortable question: 'What would God like us to do?'"

Following Jesus and sharing the good news of salvation in him, he said, means leaving one's comfort zone and going out, encountering others and concretely showing them God's love.

"It is of the greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus," he said.

The law is meant to guide people in doing good and it is not to be ignored, the pope said. But true faith means going deeper, experiencing God's love, changing one's life and getting involved in what can improve the lives of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.

"As Jesus 'shook' the doctors of the law to break them free of their rigidity," the pope said, the Holy Spirit "shakes" the church so that its members not settle into a lazy comfort, but are constantly challenged by Christ and constantly reaching out.

"We are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived," the pope said.

"We cannot be Christians who continually put up 'do not enter' signs," Pope Francis said, because "the church is not ours, she is God's. He is the owner of the temple and the field; everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment. "

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Pope amends church law on Mass translations, highlights bishops' role

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 12:55pm

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

By Cindy Wooden

MEDELLIN, Colombia (CNS) -- In changes to the Code of Canon Law regarding translations of the Mass and other liturgical texts, Pope Francis highlighted respect for the responsibility of national and regional bishops' conferences.

The changes, released by the Vatican Sept. 9 as Pope Francis was traveling in Colombia, noted the sometimes tense relationship between bishops' conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments over translations of texts from Latin to the bishops' local languages.

The heart of the document, which applies only to the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, changes two clauses in Canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law. The Vatican no longer will "review" translations submitted by bishops' conferences, but will "recognize" them. And rather than being called to "prepare and publish" the translations, the bishops are to "approve and publish" them.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the worship congregation, said under the new rules, the Vatican's "confirmatio" of a translation is "ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence," and "supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text."

Pope Francis made no announcement of immediate changes to the translations currently in use.

The document is titled "Magnum Principium" ("The Great Principle") and refers to what Pope Francis called the "great principle" of the Second Vatican Council that the liturgy should be understood by the people at prayer, and therefore bishops were asked to prepare and approve translations of the texts.

Pope Francis did not overturn previous norms and documents on the principles that should inspire the various translations, but said they were "general guidelines," which should continue to be followed to ensure "integrity and accurate faithfulness, especially in translating some texts of major importance in each liturgical book."

However, the pope seemed to indicate a willingness to allow some space for the translation principle known as "dynamic equivalence," which focuses on faithfully rendering the sense of a phrase rather than translating each individual word and even maintaining the original language's syntax.

"While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre," the pope wrote, "nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith, because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine."

The pope said the changes would go into effect Oct. 1, and he ordered the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to "modify its own 'Regulations' on the basis of the new discipline and help the episcopal conferences to fulfill their task as well as working to promote ever more the liturgical life of the Latin church."

The greater oversight provided earlier by the Vatican was understandable, Pope Francis said, given the supreme importance of the Mass and other liturgies in the life of the church.

The main concerns, he said, were to preserve "the substantial unity of the Roman rite," even without universal celebrations in Latin, but also to recognize that vernacular languages themselves could "become liturgical languages, standing out in a not-dissimilar way to liturgical Latin for their elegance of style and the profundity of their concepts with the aim of nourishing the faith."

Another teaching of the Second Vatican Council that needed to be strengthened, he said, was a recognition of "the right and duty of episcopal conferences," which are called to collaborate with the Vatican.

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On 'sacred ground' of suffering, pope prays for reconciliation

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 6:39pm

By Cindy Wooden

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (CNS) -- In a raw, honest prayer service where victims and perpetrators of violence stood under the gaze of a bomb-damaged crucifix, Pope Francis urged Colombians to summon the courage to make peace.

Symbolically presiding over the event Sept. 8 was what remained of a crucifix from the church in Bojaya, an image of Jesus whose arms and legs were blown off in 2002 when an improvised homemade mortar launched by rebels crashed through the roof of a church and exploded.

The United Nations was unable to verify the exact number of people killed; some reports say 79 people died, others say 119 people died. All agree that almost half the victims were children.

"I am standing on sacred ground," Pope Francis said at the prayer service, "a land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends."

In 2016, leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly called FARC, apologized for the massacre in the Bojaya church. The rebels had been engaged in a firefight with members of a paramilitary group; the church, where frightened civilians were hiding, was between their positions.

Leiner Palacios Asprilla was next door to the church, in the house belonging to the Missionary Sisters of St. Augustine. The house also was hit.

Dressed all in white, like many of the thousands of victims who gathered for the prayer service with the pope, Palacios said, "You have to take it seriously because the (FARC) apology began a process." Besides, he said, the group admitted it was a horrible error "and they promised to change."

Speaking to reporters before the event, he said Pope Francis' presence in Villavicencio "is a sign of his solidarity with Colombians who suffer."

"Colombia is a very Catholic country, and he can motivate those who are uncertain" about supporting the peace process. Just over half the population voted against a peace referendum in 2016, mostly because they believed the government was letting the rebels and militias off too easily.

Referring at the service to the bombing that tore the arms and legs from the Christ of Bojaya, Pope Francis said, "They have torn away your children who sought refuge in you."

But he did not stop there. He prayed that Christ would help "us to commit ourselves to restoring your body."

"May we be your feet that go forth to encounter our brothers and sisters in need; your arms to embrace those who have lost their dignity; your hands to bless and console those who weep alone," Pope Francis prayed.

"Christ broken and without limbs is for us 'even more Christ,'" the pope said, "because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and with his people."

Four people gave their testimony at the encounter: Deisy Sanchez Rey, who fought in a paramilitary group for three years before she was arrested and imprisoned for two years; Juan Carlos Murcia Perdomo, a FARC fighter for 12 years; Pastora Mira Garcia, whose two small children were killed by the paramilitary militias; and Luz Dary Landazury, who was wounded in 2012 by a bomb blast.

Pope Francis responded directly to each of them, paying tribute to their honesty, their pain and their efforts to start a new life by forgiving and asking forgiveness.

"It can be difficult to believe that change is possible for those who appealed to a ruthless violence in order to promote their own agenda, protect their illegal affairs so they could gain wealth, or claim -- dishonestly -- that they were defending the lives of their brothers and sisters," the pope said.

But truth, forgiveness and reconciliation are the only ways to break the cycle of violence that caused so much suffering, he said. "Fear neither the truth nor justice."

En route back to the airport, Pope Francis was to visit the Cross of Reconciliation at Los Fundadores Park. The cross was carried in a Via Crucis service throughout the region in 2012 before being placed in the park. The plaque lists the number of local people kidnapped, murdered or who died from injuries caused by landmines from 1964 to 2016.

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Catholic Charities USA, K of C give millions for hurricane relief

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 4:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities

By

SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- Catholic Charities USA presented a $2 million check Sept. 4 representing donations received to date for immediate emergency assistance for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and its catastrophic flooding.

One hundred percent of the funds raised will go directly to immediate and long-term recovery efforts.

Making the presentation was Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, accompanied by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of the neighboring Diocese of Victoria, J. Antonio Fernandez, president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In addition, the Knights of Columbus has raised more than $1.3 million to help recovery efforts in Texas.

Funds have been used to provide food and shelter for residents in Houston and surrounding communities, Corpus Christi, Beaumont and Ingleside.

"We have seen incredible generosity from our members, and we invite others to join us in providing aid that is urgently needed," Carl Anderson, Knights' CEO, said in a statement. "The funds we raise will make a real difference in the lives of those already affected and those who are bracing for the worst."

Catholic Charities USA's Mobile Response Center vehicle, filled with emergency supplies, arrived in Texas from the agency's headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and will remain in the state to assist local Catholic Charities agencies.

Diocesan Catholic Charities agencies have been hard at work in recovery efforts, trying to address difficulties as they arise.

In Houston, which has received the lion's share of attention, there have been huge problems finding temporary housing. Apartments are flooded and hotels are not accepting payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On top of that, the city is getting ready to shut down shelters.

In Victoria, relief efforts are just getting started, as Catholic Charities is trying to find a building to convert into a distribution center. Cleaning supplies are still needed to cope with the aftermath of flooding.

While most volunteers want to go to southeast Texas, which suffered significant damage, five counties in the Diocese of Austin were also hit by Harvey. Catholic Charities personnel have gone door-to-door to hotels in Bryan and College Station trying to find displaced people, then connecting them to United Way, as hotels in the area are full due to the college football season. Some businesses are offering paid time off for their employees to go to impacted areas and do volunteer work.

In Corpus Christi, Catholic Charities USA workers are on the ground with people and resources. The biggest challenges they face include trying to find places to store donated supplies and relocating residents with no affordable housing available.

Trucks are a big issue in Beaumont and San Antonio. In Beaumont, six 18-wheelers arrived fully loaded with donations, and up to 100 volunteers stayed until 2 a.m. on Sept. 5 to unload them.

Beaumont's water supply has remained sketchy since the storm. Water service has not been restored to all areas and those who do have water must boil it first. With flooding still an issue, supply routes change daily and Catholic Charities faces the challenge of getting donations to the right places. They are also setting up food service for volunteers and survivors and looking for vehicles to deliver donations to outlying areas. 

 

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Be the first to take a step for peace, pope says at Mass with victims

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 1:47pm

By Cindy Wooden

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (CNS) -- If just one victim of Colombia's civil war forgives his or her aggressor, it can set off a chain reaction of hope for reconciliation and peace, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass Sept. 8 in Villavicencio, a city filled with those who fled their homes during the war and with former fighters trying to start over, Pope Francis pleaded for honesty and courage.

At the beginning of the Mass, he held up two heroic examples of those who gave their lives to "rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness": Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948.

Pope Francis beatified the two at the Mass, which was celebrated in the middle of a broad field, typical of the area's cattle ranching terrain.

In his homily, the pope acknowledged that, during 52 years of war, many at the Mass suffered horrors.

"How many of you can tell of exiles and grief," he said.

The Christian call to reconciliation is not something abstract, the pope said. "If it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance." It requires acknowledging the truth and letting victims speak.

And "when victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace," he said. "What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so. We need only one good person to have hope. And each of us can be that person.

"This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts. This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices," Pope Francis insisted. Reconciliation must be accompanied by a firm commitment to change the inequalities and behaviors that fueled the war for decades.

Celebrating Mass in an area known as the gateway to the Amazon, the pope said he could not ignore the need for reconciliation with the natural environment.

"It is not by chance that even on nature we have unleashed our desire to possess and subjugate," he said. To the delight of many in the crowd, he quoted the famous Colombian singer and peace activist, Juanes: "The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of violence. The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Defend life, equality, unity, pope tells Colombians

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 7:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNS) -- Consolidating peace in Colombia will mean overcoming "the darkness" of inequality and a lack of respect for human life, Pope Francis said.

"Here, as in other places, there is a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life," the pope said in his homily at a late-afternoon Mass Sept. 7 in Bogota's Simon Bolivar Park.

Colombian authorities said more than 1.1 million people gathered in the park for the Mass. Many of them were soaked in a rainstorm before the pope arrived, but as Mass began, bits of blue sky began to appear.

Still, preaching about the Gospel story of Jesus' first encountering Simon Peter after the fishermen had fished all night without luck, Pope Francis spoke about the "turmoil and darkness" of the sea as a symbol for "everything that threatens human existence and that has the power to destroy it."

For Colombia, just starting to recover from more than 50 years of civil war, and for many other nations as well, the pope said, the threats come from "the darkness of injustice and social inequality; (and) the corrupting darkness of personal and group interests that consume in a selfish and uncontrolled way what is destined for the good of all."

The threats include "the darkness of disrespect for human life which daily destroys the life of many innocents, whose blood cries out to heaven; the darkness of thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority; the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims," he said. But "Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness."

In society, in politics and in the church, Pope Francis said, people can get "tangled up in endless discussions" about what went wrong and whose fault it is. But the only way forward is to follow Jesus, obeying his command to cast out the nets, which means taking responsibility for personal conversion and changing the world.

"Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him," Pope Francis told the crowd, which included Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife.

Jesus wants people to leave behind their fears, "which paralyze us and prevent us (from) becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life."

The people of Colombia, he said, are called to continue their conversion to peace and respect for all the nation's people. That can happen only by promoting unity, "working for the defense and care of human life, especially when it is most fragile and vulnerable: in a mother's womb, in infancy, in old age, in conditions of incapacity and in situations of social marginalization."

Jesus calls people "out of darkness and bring us to light and to life," the pope said. "He calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms," asking the strong "to carry the most fragile and promote their rights."

After the Mass, Pope Francis was scheduled to greet bishops from neighboring countries, including from Venezuela, which is in the midst of a social, political and economic crisis.

Venezuelan Cardinals Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas and Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida told reporters Pope Francis also invited them to discuss the crisis with him.

"We have the highest inflation in the world, an inflation of 700,000-800,000 percent," Cardinal Urosa said. It is "a truly desperate situation. There are people who eat the garbage; yes, there are people who eat garbage, and there are people who die because there is no medicine."

He said the bishops also wanted to tell the pope more about "the serious political situation, because the government is doing everything possible to establish a state system, totalitarian and Marxist."

Cardinal Porras added, "I think that this meeting is a real gift that the pope is giving to all of the Venezuelan people through the bishops who are here."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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In TV interview, Steve Bannon slams church, bishops over immigration

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 6:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In an interview set to air Sept. 10 on the CBS TV program "60 Minutes," former White House strategist Steve Bannon criticized the Catholic Church and U.S. bishops for their views on immigration, saying "they need illegal aliens to fill the pews."

In the interview Bannon, a Catholic, told newsman Charlie Rose that the bishops have "an economic interest in illegal immigration." He also criticized his former boss, President Donald Trump, for taking a step back hours after ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, when the president said on Twitter that he might revisit the decision in six months.

"Trust me, the guys in the far right, the guys on the conservative side are not happy with this," Bannon said.

CBS released advance clips of the interview Sept. 7.

The interview marks the first time since leaving the Trump administration that Bannon, who founded the website Breitbart News, has spoken out. Since leaving the administration, he has returned to Breitbart.

Citing the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and other church teachings, the U.S. bishops have urged for comprehensive immigration reform and for the protection of youth under the DACA program.

Bannon said the U.S bishops have been "terrible" about handling immigration because they can't "come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That's -- it's obvious on the face of it."

Bannon said immigration issues are not part of church doctrine and the bishops need to understand that "this is about the sovereignty of a nation."

"And in that regard," he added, "they're just another guy with an opinion."

In a Sept. 7 statement responding to Bannon's interview, James Rogers, chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is "preposterous to claim that justice for immigrants isn't central to Catholic teaching," noting that the mandate comes directly from the words of Jesus, who spoke of feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger.

"Immigrants and refugees are precisely the strangers we must welcome," he added, saying: "This isn't Catholic partisanship. The Bible is clear: Welcoming immigrants is indispensable to our faith."

Rogers also noted that caring for the "Dreamers," or DACA recipients, is a response to commands in both the Old and New Testaments.

He said the bishops' views on life issues, marriage, health and immigration reform are "rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day."

Rogers stressed that for anyone to suggest that the bishops' recent statements on immigrants are for "financial gain is outrageous and insulting."

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan offered similar reaction in a Sept. 7 interview on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show, on The Catholic Channel, on SiriusXM satellite radio.

The cardinal said he had seen a transcript of the Bannon interview on "60 Minutes" and was "rather befuddled" by it.

He said Bannon's comment that "the only reason the bishops care for immigrants is because we want to fill our churches and get more money" was insulting.

He also said he wanted to clarify Bannon's remark that immigration issues are not part of church doctrine. 

"He might be right," the cardinal said: "it comes from the Bible itself," which he said is very clear about treating immigrants with dignity and respect.

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Contributing to this report was Carol Zimmermann.

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Follow Guidos and Zimmermann on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina and @carolmaczim.

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Pope urges bishops to contribute to peace as pastors, not politicians

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 6:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Quoting celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pope Francis told the country's bishops he knows "it is easier to begin a war than to end one" and that, to succeed, Colombia needs bishops who are pastors, not politicians.

"All of us know that peace calls for a distinct kind of moral courage," the pope told the bishops Sept. 7. "War follows the basest instincts of our heart, whereas peace forces us to rise above ourselves."

Welcoming Pope Francis to the meeting, Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota told the pope, "Our homeland is struggling to put behind it a history of violence that has plunged it into death for decades," but the process of building peace "has become a source of political polarization that every day sows division, confrontation and disorientation. We are a country marked by deep inequalities and inequities that demand radical changes in all fields of social life. But it does not seem we are willing to pay the price required."

One temptation, the pope said, is for the bishops and priests to get involved in the country's heated partisan political debate.

Resist, the pope told them. The country needs pastors. It needs ministers who know firsthand "how marred is the face of this country," how deep are the wounds and how intensely it needs to experience healing and forgiveness.

"Colombia has need of you so that it can show its true face, filled with hope despite its imperfections," he said. It needs the church's help "so that it can engage in mutual forgiveness despite wounds not yet completely healed, so that it can believe that another path can be taken, even when force of habit causes the same mistakes to be constantly repeated."

Finding a magic formula to fix problems is a temptation, Pope Francis said. But the church's ministers "are not mechanics or politicians, but pastors."

The church does not need special favors from politicians, he said. It only needs the freedom to speak and to minister.

But it also needs internal unity, the pope told the bishops. "So continue to seek communion among yourselves. Never tire of building it through frank and fraternal dialogue, avoiding hidden agendas like the plague."

Although he said he had "no recipes" and would not "leave you a list of things to do," Pope Francis made two specific requests of the bishops: Pay more attention to "the Afro-Colombian roots of your people," and show more concern for the church, the people and the environment in southern Colombia's Amazon region.

The region holds "an essential part of the remarkable biodiversity of this country," and protecting it is "a decisive test of whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it bear fruit."

In a speech that included several references to the duty to defend human life, Pope Francis said he wondered if society could learn from the indigenous people of the Amazon "the sacredness of life, respect for nature and the recognition that technology alone is insufficient to bring fulfillment to our lives and to respond to our most troubling questions."

"I am told that in some native Amazon languages the idea of 'friend' is translated by the words, 'my other arm.' May you be the other arm of the Amazon," he said. "Colombia cannot amputate that arm without disfiguring its face and its soul."

A few hours later, Pope Francis met with members of the executive committee of the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM, and focused on the ongoing efforts to evangelize the continent by means of "closeness and encounter."

To be evangelizing disciples, the pope said, Christians must be willing to journey like Jesus did. "When he meets people, he draws near to them. When he draws near to them, he talks to them. When he talks to them, he touches them with his power. When he touches them, he brings them healing and salvation. His aim in constantly setting out is to lead the people he meets to the Father."

The church and its members must be concrete and unafraid of listening to and accompanying real people with real challenges.

Unlike the colonizers of old or exploiters of today, he said, "the church is not present in Latin America with her suitcases in hand, ready, like so many others over time, to abandon it after having plundered it."

The colonizers looked with "superiority and scorn" on the "mestizo face" of the continent's Catholics, the pope said, while Catholics themselves are called to celebrate that diversity of races and cultures the same way they honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Aparecida, both of which have mixed-race features.

Insisting the bishops do more to support, educate and appreciate lay Catholics, Pope Francis spoke particularly of the contribution of women.

"Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism," he said.

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Contributing to this story was David Agren.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Parish life still thrives at flood-damaged Houston church

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 2:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By James Ramos

HOUSTON (CNS) -- The 22nd week in ordinary time of the church's liturgical year has been no ordinary time for Father Martin Eke, a Missionary of St. Paul, or his parish, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Houston.

"Ever since the rain started ... my life has never been busier," Father Eke said Sept. 6.

The parish and its school, which serves a vibrant African-American Catholic community in northeast Houston, were covered in at least 4 feet of water from Hurricane Harvey rains and rising water from a flooded nearby bayou.

As the storm approached Houston, Father Eke kept vigil in prayer, watching the waters rise from his rectory window. A St. Francis of Assisi statue in a nearby prayer garden was his measure of the flood. As soon as the water reached the statue's waist, Father Eke pushed through the water to the church to save what he could.

When the church's lights went out, he waded to the rectory through rushing water for a flashlight, and then went back to save more church property. But when he saw more water inside the church, he knew he had to leave. In less than an hour, the water had risen above his waist.

Even "the door (to exit) was difficult to open," Father Eke said. "The water was rushing so fast," flooding into the church. At that point, all he could do was wait out the storm in his home.

Then, "I could do nothing but pray," he said describing the rectory as "a ship on a high sea." In the end, the rectory was just one of two parish buildings that didn't flood.

A few dozen yards away from the rectory, floodwater rushed into the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School's library, science lab and gymnasium, where dozens of the school's basketball team uniforms, sports equipment and treasured championship trophies became drenched in muddy water.

When the water receded, parishioners came to help salvage what they could.

It wasn't until after the muck work -- the exhausting process of cleaning and demolishing damaged property after floods -- that Ronald Berard, longtime volunteer basketball coach and parish acolyte, could finally look at the gym's damage more closely.

"No matter how much washing you do, I would never let my team wear uniforms that had been in so much mold," Berard said, visibly stunned. "They're a total loss."

Almost hesitant to continue, he found his gym floors, installed only five years ago, in pieces. Water still pooled under the vinyl floors, as he navigated piles of equipment, chairs and kitchen appliances inside the gym.

In the science lab, library and school office, the concrete walls survived most of the flood, but the floors and countless teaching equipment and resources did not. Broken glass showed where looters broke into classrooms during the storm. Next to the school playground outside, shelving, furniture and debris splayed out in the sun.

After Harvey, the students were transferred to a nearby Catholic school to begin the school year, again. Most schools had just started classes, when Harvey's floods interrupted hundreds of schools in the region for weeks.

In the parish office, formerly the convent for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word who helped found the school, there was a gaping hole in the ceiling, mold on the walls and water bubbling up from below floor tiles.

More than a week after Harvey's wake, Father Eke made sure that St. Francis of Assisi parish life continued.

"We are running, no matter how small it is, we are running," he said.

Parishioners still meet for regularly scheduled parish activities inside the St. Josephine Bakhita Center, a trailer high enough to avoid the flood. The Bakhita Center, which honors the African saint who survived slavery and became a religious sister, is now home to morning Mass and adoration, a choir room, parish prayer groups and the parish office.

Work crews made quick work across the parish grounds, a scene replicated tens of thousands of times across the Texas Gulf Coast. Darwin Soares Jr., a Brazilian who currently lives in Orlando, Florida, and has been helping to clear the parish grounds, said coming to the Houston church was a blessing.

"Some people come for money, but I come with my heart. I can work in hotels, houses, but a church? It's special. Even if I have to work for free, I will. When I saw what was happening, I knew I had to come help."

Recalling his experiences of celebrating outdoor Masses in Africa, Father Eke encouraged parishioners who could safely get to the parish to attend an outdoor Mass Sept. 3.

"Bring your own chairs and I will bring the altar," Father Eke said.

In his homily, he urged parishioners to remain firm in their faith amid the challenges they were facing.

"It is such a time like this that genuine faith, love and generosity are put to test. Let no one walk away. Let no one be discouraged," he said. "This situation can only, temporarily, slow us down but will not stop us."

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Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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