You are here

Top Stories

Subscribe to Top Stories feed Top Stories
Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
Updated: 28 min 58 sec ago

Texas Catholic 'respite' center serves as symbol of American compassion

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 12:17pm

By Rhina Guidos

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- It's been featured in fundraisers at the Vatican and on news shows. This summer, it's been visited by Kerry Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's daughter, and TV celebrity Gayle King.

The U.S. bishops recently made it the first stop on a high-profile visit to the border.

But the real celebrities who walk through its doors are the poor, unkempt, tired, thirsty, hungry women, children and men who run to it shortly after being released by immigration authorities -- a modern Statue of Liberty come to life.

Its official name is the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley's Humanitarian Respite Center. From the outside, the humble cream-colored building with Mission-revival style touches, calls little attention to passers-by. But inside its walls, volunteers give a warm welcome, including unexpected smiles and applause, along with clothes and warm food, to recent arrivals to the U.S. as they walk through its doors.

It was Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, whose idea it was to create this place to "welcome the stranger" and who came in the form of a migrant to the border town of McAllen.

She often posts pictures on Twitter of babies and moms, teens and fathers and other children who walk through the center's doors. She calls them "miracles." She tells their stories. One was about a woman who fled Guatemala after her 16-year-old son was kidnapped and killed by gangs. She photographed the woman with her remaining son as they passed through the center.

"The fact is that they are human persons, they are people, they need attention, they need care," Sister Norma, as she's popularly known, said in a July 1 interview with Catholic News Service.

In 2014, Sister Norma set out to provide some of that care, as she saw an influx of immigrants arriving in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, in the Brownsville Diocese. With local volunteers, she began a makeshift operation to help the migrants obtain clothes and food. Out of a property that belonged to the local Sacred Heart Church, they began clothing and feeding the newcomers.

Her mission now has a more permanent home on Beaumont Avenue in McAllen, where migrants, many seeking asylum, have access to a shower after a harrowing trip, a clean change of clothes, a quick medical look, if they need it, a warm meal and a snack for the road.

On the trip by a group of U.S. bishops in early July, Sister Norma said she wanted the prelates to talk with the families, to see them and hear their stories so they could talk about them to others and speak on their behalf. Though there's a sense of antagonism toward immigrants around the country, she's eager to showcase at the respite center a side of the U.S. that the newscasts and TV stories often leave out and that immigrants may not be aware of.

"They (the immigrants who pass through) go in gratitude of the fact that we, here in the United States, are people that have a heart, that care and that are able to participate by serving them, by bringing them soup, by hearing their story, by showing them they matter," she said.  

Some, like volunteer Lisa Foley, of Reno, Nevada, who was at the center July 1, cared enough to spend her summer vacation days with them.

"I came here to help. I can't sit and watch it on the news any longer," said Foley, a social worker by profession, showing in her hand shoelaces and rubber bands she was handing the women who had them taken away while being processed by immigration authorities. "It's the least I can do."

Through the center, Sister Norma also wants others to see migrants as children and mothers, fathers and brothers, many of them fleeing danger. The mothers and fathers who pass through "all tell you that, in one way or another, they're fleeing, they fear for the lives of their children."

"They know that if they stay (in their home countries), their life is in danger and their child may be kidnapped, or taken by a gang," she said. "Their stories are so similar and they all flee because they are frightened for their lives."

The center's mission of compassion has been noticed at the highest levels of the church. On the occasion of his elevation to cardinal, Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, through his role as chancellor of Catholic Extension, organized a benefit dinner in 2016 at the Vatican that raised $100,000 and donated it to the respite center.

The flow of migrants, which ebbs and sometimes overflows, has sent Sister Norma on a mission to find more space, and funds, to continue the work of helping migrants. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley has set up a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/humanitarian-respite-center for those who want to help.

Sister Norma hopes the center will continue to be a place where the poor and hungry will find more than just material help, but will continue to provide newcomers an initial dose of compassion that exists in the United States and that many of the migrants who have passed through have experienced.  

"They're hopeful and they have faith in their God that here in the United States, there will be people who understand and will help them make sure they're safe," she said.  

- - -

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

Pope calls for respect for migrants amid rising number of deaths at sea

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 10:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jon Nazca, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With the rising death toll of migrants and refugees attempting the treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, Pope Francis urged world leaders to act to prevent further tragedy.

"I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to act decisively and promptly in order to prevent such tragedies from recurring and to guarantee the safety, respect for the rights and dignity of all," the pope said July 22 after reciting the Angelus prayer with an estimated 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

According to the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrant Project, an estimated 1,490 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea this year. The pope expressed his pain "in the midst of such tragedies" and offered his prayers "for the missing and their families."

In Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has barred several rescue ships from docking and has vowed to stop any foreign boats carrying rescued migrants into the country. The move has hampered rescue efforts of migrants trying to escape war, violence, persecution and poverty.

Before making his appeal, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus invites his disciples to rest after their first mission, but the gathering of a large crowd prevents them from relaxing and eating.

"The same thing can happen today as well," the pope said. "Sometimes we don't succeed in carrying out our plans because something urgent occurs that messes up our plans and requires flexibility and availability to the needs of others."

In those situations, he continued, Christians are called to imitate Jesus who wasn't upset but rather was compassionate toward the people because "they were like sheep without a shepherd."

"Jesus' gaze isn't a neutral gaze or, worse, cold and distant because Jesus always looks with the eyes of the heart. And his heart is so tender and full of compassion that he is able to see even the most hidden needs of people," the pope said.

The same compassion, he added, is the "behavior and predisposition of God toward humankind and its history."

"With Jesus at our side, we can proceed safely, we can be overcome trials, we can progress in love toward God and toward our neighbor. Jesus has made himself a gift for others, becoming a model of love and service for each one of us," Pope Francis said.

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

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

'Walking priest' pursues street evangelization hoping listeners seek God

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jerry Mennenga

By Joanne Fox

WEST BEND, Iowa (CNS) -- With apologies to Fats Domino, Father Lawrence Carney is "walkin' and talkin' about you and me," and hoping that listeners will come back to -- not "me" -- but God.

Known as the "walking priest," Father Carney brought his message of street evangelization to Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the north central Iowa town of West Bend in early July.

The event was sponsored by the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in collaboration with the Office of Discipleship and Evangelization for the Diocese of Sioux City.

Ordained for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, Father Carney is on loan to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, where he serves as chaplain to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower. He visits the nuns daily to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, offers the sacrament of reconciliation and provides spiritual direction.

Once his duties are complete, Father Carney, 42, takes to the streets of St. Joseph. Armed with a rosary in one hand and a large crucifix in the other, the tall priest in a black cassock and wide-brimmed clerical hat known as a "saturno" shares the Gospel with anyone who approaches.

The oldest of three boys in his family, Father Carney recalled his first inkling of a vocation surfaced in kindergarten.

"A Redemptorist priest visited and held up a card of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and it seemed like the eyes of Our Lady would follow me," he said.

"I thought, 'If a priest can do that with a holy card, then I want to be a priest,'" he said, smiling.

Father Carney confessed he "fought" the idea of the priesthood in high school.

"I was convinced I was to marry a beautiful young woman and have 12 children," he said. "God ultimately won that battle."

Following his 2007 ordination, Father Carney served as a parish priest in the Wichita Diocese. His life changed when he chose to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain -- opting to wear a cassock -- talking to about 1,000 people during his 32 days on the trail.

The experience led to his decision to walk the streets.

Father Carney's ministry led him to pen "Walking the Road to God," published in 2017 by Caritas Press. The book is subtitled, "Why I left everything behind and took to the streets to save souls."

"I'm a horrible author," the priest said. "Isn't is something how God chooses the worst people to do his will?"

But save souls, he has, in his travels in Missouri and elsewhere.

"Three years ago, I was approached by a non-Catholic family who insisted their home was possessed by demons; the children were saying they saw red eyes in the house," he said. "They asked me to pray for them and I did."

When he later saw the family, Father Carney asked about the house.

"'Oh, Father, after you prayed and left, the devils left,' the mother reported," he said. "After one year of instruction, they were received into the church and one of the sons is discerning a vocation to the priesthood."

The story was one of several the priest shared with the 125 people who attended his talk.

In his book, Father Carney expressed his dream of a new order of priests, clerics and brothers, who walk and pray in cities around the U.S. to reach out to lukewarm and fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics.

The Vatican approved his request for the new order Dec. 8 -- to accept men into the Canons Regular of St. Martin of Tours. The new community will be based in St. Joseph. About a dozen men have indicated an interest in joining, Father Carney said.

"I am in the process of discernment myself for this new community," he said. "God willing, I will profess my first vows on Nov. 11, 2019."

Meanwhile, Father Carney "walks the walk and talks the talk" to about 10 people a day, about 2,000 to 5,000 folks in the last four years.

"The best part of the walking is I get to contemplate God," he said. "I pray the rosary, get some exercise, look at nature and someone might talk to me and then, I share my contemplation with them."

After his presentation, Father Carney took questions, with one person asking if he walked the 245 miles from St. Joseph to West Bend.

With a grin, Father Carney shook his head in response. However, he did admit to being somewhat of an expert on shoes.

"I have discovered 'shandals' work well," he said, referring to a part-shoe, part-sandal, which he had on his feet.

Father Carney reported the Canons Regular are looking into creating the hybrid and marketing them.

"We will be calling them, Father Martens," he said, chuckling repeatedly at the reference to the popular Doc Martens footwear.

- - -

Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.

- - -

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

Adoptive parents nervous after raids of Missionaries of Charity homes

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 1:44pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Saadia Azim

By Saadia Azim

RANCHI, India (CNS) -- Theodore Kiro held 13-month-old Navya on her return to his family after they were separated for a week. The crying baby happily clung to Kiro, whom she knows as her grandfather.

Navya is one of the four babies whose fate became entangled in the recent child trafficking scandal broke at Rachi's Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home, run by the Missionaries of Charity. A five-member district child welfare committee decided it was not fair for the foster mother and the child to be separated for long and ruled they should be united conditionally. The welfare committee asked the foster parents to take the child before the committee every week and keep it informed of the child's schedule.

"The child and the mother were in trauma after separation, so the committee members decided compassionately to unite them. But this status has been fixed for the next two months only," said Kiro, a local political leader using his clout to prepare legal papers for adoption of the toddler. Navya was brought to their home in Ranchi just after her birth and was reclaimed by the child welfare committee as one of the babies who allegedly was sold illegally by an employee of the Missionaries of Charity home.

Though the parents confess that there was no exchange of money yet, the officers are investigating the process of adoption without proper paperwork. This makes Anuka Tigga, another adoptive mother of a 4-year-old, jittery. She is scared for her child after the central government announced July 17 that all records and child care homes run by the Missionaries of Charity will be inspected and adoption processes scrutinized.

"It is not that I have committed any wrong. Rather, these happenings will adversely affect the well-being of my child," said Tigga.

The Indian Ministry for Women and Child Development has directed the state governments that all child care institutions should be registered and linked to the Central Adoption Resource Authority within a month. Many mothers such as Tigga question the fate of children already living with adoptive parents, for fear the government will say the process was not followed and their children will be taken away.

In 2015, the Missionaries of Charity stopped offering adoption of children because the Indian government introduced new rules making it easier for single women and men to adopt. The government rules said prospective adoptive parents must pay a fixed amount of 40,000 rupees ($580).

Police said Jharkhand state's Child Welfare Committee came to suspect the Ranchi home was involved in the illegal trading of children after a couple complained they were not given a child, despite paying 120,000 rupees (US$1,850) as an adoption fee. Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said in a July 17 statement from Kolkata that the order was cooperating with authorities, and that when a lay employee, Anima Indwar, admitted to the welfare committee in early July that the baby had not been given to the couple, Indwar was handed over to police.

During recent raids at Nirmal Hriday and Shishu Bhawan (Children's Home) in Ranchi, 11 unwed pregnant women were shifted to government homes and 22 children, including one child as young as a month old, were sent to the Karuna Center, a government-run home. Navya's family complained that, after the separation, they found their child to be in a miserable condition in the government facility.

Those children who remain in many of homes run by Missionaries of Charity are destitute, orphans and unwanted children who are nursed and cared for and prepared for adoption through the Central Adoption Resource Authority system. The police are investigating now as to why the nuns continued to keep children in their facility when they were no longer a registered body for adoption. The norm has been that though the unwed mothers are provided with nursing and support by the nuns, it is the responsibility of the guardians and families who want to adopt to register with the child welfare committees. The nuns and the Missionaries of Charity staff facilitate the process.

The Missionaries of Charity and other Christian bodies are questioning the intention of the government in the recent actions against the order. They say that, after the arrests of Indwar and Sister Concelia, the nun in charge of accompanying mothers and babies to the welfare committee, the Missionaries of Charity were not given a chance to be heard and were not warned about the raids.

The Christian community and some politicians are also questioning the role of the media, which widely published a video of Indwar's confession leaked by police.

Police have seized record books from the Missionaries of Charity homes in Jharkhand state. Christian leaders say this is deliberate antagonism by the state's extremist Bharatiya Janata Party government, which has accused the Missionaries of Charity of religious conversion in the pretext of social service. Sister Concelia was sent to two weeks of judicial custody.

After the incident, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, where the religious order is based, called the actions against the Missionaries of Charity a move to undermine the work of St. Teresa of Kolkata, who founded the order.

Abraham Mathai, former vice chairman of the Indian Minorities Commission, has asked for independent judicial inquiry if need be to stop what he calls persecution of the Missionaries of Charity, saying it is bringing disrepute to the whole organization.

- - -

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

Update: CRS student ambassadors stress need for human dignity to Congress

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 12:34pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dennis Sadwoski

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Denise Ssettimba just began her brief presentation to an aide to Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, on the need to maintain U.S. funding for global anti-hunger efforts when two congressional dining staffers with food carts in tow asked to squeeze by in a busy hallway in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The 18-year-old Xavier University of Louisiana student stepped a little closer into the tight circle around the aide, Kaitlyn Dwyer, staying on message.

"We want to share that there are a lot of ways that this aid helps people avoid migration," Ssetimba said.

Fellow Xavier University students Ja'Che Malone and Sarah Bertrand and Madeleine Woolverton, a student at Tulane University, picked up the call as Ssetimba finished.

"The issues of global hunger and migration are intimately linked because hunger is one of the causes of migration," Woolverton said. "When we can provide funding for programs that can provide sustainable solutions ... not creating dependency but creating systemic change in farming communities, we can prevent some of these problems."

The four students asked Dwyer to be sure to share with Kennedy their concern that no funding be cut from international poverty-reducing programs.

Preserving current spending levels for disaster relief, health care, nutrition, anti-human trafficking efforts, migration and refugee assistance is a major priority of Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The students from New Orleans, part of the CRS Student Ambassador Leaders Together initiative, were helping carry that message to Congress July 18. In a second meeting, they were able to share their concerns directly with Sen. Bill Cassidy after talking for 15 minutes with Maria Sierra, a policy adviser to the Louisiana Republican.

They joined more than 150 students from 58 Catholic and non-Catholic colleges and universities who participated in the four-day Student Ambassador Leadership Summit July 15-18 organized by CRS.

The students spent their last day of the summit visiting members of Congress, sharing the same message that Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, and Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Philippines, brought to Capitol Hill a day earlier.

The programs they addressed were targeted for an overall 36 percent cut in federal spending in the White House Office of Management and Budget's proposed fiscal year 2019 spending outline. The OMB plan seeks to reduce funding to $15.1 billion from nearly $23.8 billion authorized for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Such spending comprises about 0.5 percent of the federal budget.

Having so many young people bringing a consistent message to Congress was sure to have an impact, Kathleen Kahlau, senior adviser at CRS, told the students before they fanned out across Capitol Hill.

"You're bringing some good news. Not the Gospel in the religious sense, but good news in the sense that you're sharing with these staffers the fact that what America does through its aid is effective, is efficient, does really save lives," Kahlau said.

Three days preparing for the congressional visits served to create broader awareness of the work of CRS and deeper understanding of the importance of U.S. aid for that work, students said. Several students who are CRS campus ambassadors told Catholic News Service they were willing to step away from jobs, summer internships and research projects to advocate for people without a voice.

"Coming here has shown me how everything is so connected," said Emily Baca, a student at St. Martin's University in Lacey, Washington. "I think that this program can really help by bringing together different people who are passionate in different ways."

Manhattan College student Kaiyun Chen explained that although she doesn't practice any faith, she was motivated to become involved as a campus ambassador because of the nature of the agency's work.

"When I was introduced to the organization and asked to be a student ambassador I was thinking about what the organization stands for and what they believe in and what they do for other people and it makes me feel more passionate toward what I can do," Chen said.

Students also said they planned to return to their campuses this fall ready to share what they learned about the global work of CRS and encourage others to join them in promoting the agency.

"We want to bring more attention to global issues," said Carla Aguirre Puerto, a student at the University of San Diego, following a meeting with an aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "We need to be more aware of and advocating for the services provided across the ocean."

It's that role as an advocate that motivated Kaitlyn Toth, a political science major at Ohio State University student, to become a campus ambassador two years ago and make the trip to Washington this year. She earlier worked with the Diocese of Cleveland's Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services and saw the challenges facing migrants around the world.

"I really believe there's power in each individual's voice," she said. "Spending time and showing up and showing people that you do care enough to speak for others holds a lot of weight."

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

- - -

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

Once a troubled teen, young man found hope in faith and now is teacher

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 6:24pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gina Christian, catholicphilly.com

By Gina Christian

AUDUBON, Pa. (CNS) -- When he arrived at St. Gabriel's Hall in Audubon nine years ago, Quamiir Trice was in handcuffs.

Arrested for dealing crack, the 15-year-old had been sent to a residential treatment program for at-risk youth offered by St. Gabriel's, part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese's Catholic Social Services.

On June 27, Trice returned to St. Gabriel's -- this time, as a Pennsylvania state certified educator, fresh from his fourth-grade classroom and ready to teach mathematics at summer school.

"They took the handcuffs off as soon as my feet hit the ground here," Trice said, recalling his first moments at St. Gabriel's as a troubled teenager. "Everything here was so green and beautiful and peaceful. It definitely made me feel like I was in a good place."

During his time at the Middle States accredited school, Trice earned his GED while displaying a gift for mathematics. Through intensive counseling sessions, he learned to manage his emotions and to make more constructive life choices.

And he discovered that the variables in his life added up to something new: hope through faith in God.

"I became spiritually grounded when I came to St. Gabe's," Trice told CatholicPhilly.com, Philadelphia's archdiocesan news outlet. "That was vital."

"We can't preach or proselytize a specific faith because we're publicly funded," said John Mulroney, principal of St. Gabriel's. "But we're allowed to let the students explore their own faith traditions, and we seize every opportunity to help them do just that."

Mulroney said that Trice, who had been raised as a Christian, embraced the 12-step program directive to "let go and let God" often heard in the school's drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit, where he recovered from addiction. In doing so, Trice had to confront his pent-up rage, frustration and grief -- the legacy of life on the street, where drugs and guns claim a disproportionate number of minority youth.

"I actually remember my best friend getting killed while I was here," he said. "My social worker called me to his office that day; we had a great relationship and he knew that something was off about me. And of course there was. My best friend was dead."

Trice said that having a safe space in which to process his harrowing experiences -- which included an unstable home life, substance abuse, truancy, drug dealing and lost relationships -- was "pivotal."

Mulroney cites the school's trauma-informed care treatment as the key to reaching its students. By addressing the core reasons why youth engage in at-risk behavior, staff can foster communication skills, emotional intelligence, nonviolence and a sense of social responsibility among students.

"These kids are wounded human beings, not damaged goods," said Mulroney. "There's a difference, and our first step is making these young men feel safe and cared for in this environment," he said.

Once students are assured of their protection, they can work through their anger and sorrow, often through what Mulroney describes as "cleansing tears" that unclench both fists and hearts. During the grieving process, students participate in multiple therapy groups, meeting even on weekends to share their stories and to support each other's growth.

As they come to terms with their losses, students can then begin to focus on the future, developing the talents and skills buried under their scars. Mulroney noted that Trice's mathematical aptitude, masked by a straight-F report card at his former high school, emerged at St. Gabriel's.

"He was our top GED math student when he was here," Mulroney said, adding that Trice quickly rose to the head of his class, graduating as salutatorian in 2011 and then enrolling in Community College of Philadelphia.

After obtaining his associate's degree, Trice completed his undergraduate studies at Howard University in Washington, majoring in elementary education. His leadership roles in several education initiatives have led Mulroney to tease Trice for "hobnobbing with presidents."

"He's met President (Barack) Obama several times, along with the president of the MacArthur Foundation," said Mulroney. "Actually, in one photograph, it looked like he had Obama's ear, rather than the other way around."

Because of his academic credentials and a need for greater diversity in educational staffing, Trice was heavily recruited by several school districts and graduate schools throughout the country. He chose to return to his hometown, accepting a position as a fourth-grade instructor at Bethune Elementary School in North Philadelphia.

As he was wrapping up the school year, Trice approached Mulroney about returning to teach at St. Gabriel's during the summer.

"We have a quote all through St. Gabe's that says, 'Enter to learn, leave to serve,'" Trice said. "Coming back here is a dream come true."

In a sense, Trice had never completely left St. Gabriel's, which reintegrates its graduates through an after-care program. A counselor with Catholic Social Services, assigned by the city's family court, follows up regularly with former students for approximately six months after they leave St. Gabriel's to ensure their progress.

Trice needed that safety net when he hit a rough spot after his St. Gabriel's graduation and got kicked out of his grandparent's house. Distraught, he called a former dean at the school for guidance.

"I knew my goal was to still stay on track and stay focused, but I needed help," Trice said. "He listened and encouraged me, and he said, 'You have our support.' And just knowing that really made me feel a lot more confident moving forward."

As a new teacher, Trice continued to consult his mentors at St. Gabriel's for advice on classroom management and teaching strategies.

Trice is passionate about cultivating math skills in his students, especially since urban youth are underrepresented in scientific disciplines. He relishes the clarity of mathematics, which hones students' analytical skills while building confidence, and he weaves life lessons into his lectures.

"I tell my students that whenever you have a variable in an equation that you're solving for, that is your goal," Trice explained. "You focus on that goal, and all of the other numbers, all those distractions, don't really matter."

For Trice, who plans to attend law school and to develop educational policy, faith in God is the ultimate variable.

"I came to the conclusion that I don't teach for my students any more -- I teach for God," said. "I don't feel like I'm doing any of this on my own. It feels like a movie script, and God is writing this story to give himself the glory."

- - -

Christian is senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

Texas bishops join event to support migrants, highlight church teaching

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Rogers

By Valerie Schmalz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

Amigos for Christ continues work in Nicaragua amid political turmoil

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Amigos for Christ

By Priscilla Greear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing faith through action has profoundly impacted LaFave.

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

- - -

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

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Juan Medina, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE:

By Maureen Pratt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The modules' format also helps facilitate learning.

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

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

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

Parents benefit from the modules' content, too.

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

- - -

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

Nicaraguan bishops to pray for exorcism as violence continues

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

Tennessee's Catholic bishops urge governor to halt upcoming executions

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

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

By Theresa Laurence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

- - -

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

A good Christian shares the Gospel, pope says

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fabio Frustaci, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

Follow Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

- - -

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

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

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Brown, Catholic Outlook

By Michael Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

- - -

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

Pages

The Catholic Voice

The Archdiocese of Omaha • Catholic Voice
402-558-6611 • Fax 402 558-6614 •
E-mail Us

Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved.
This information may not be published, broadcast,
rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

Comment Here