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Texas looking into city vote to bar restaurant chain over marriage views

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 5:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rashid Umar, Reuters


SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- The marketplace, not elected officials, should decide whether a company should open an outlet in a particular location, said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.

In a March 27 statement, he said he has been asked what he thinks of the San Antonio City Council's 6-4 vote March 21 "to exclude Chick-fil-A from the list of concessionaires that could operate at San Antonio International Airport" because the company is known for its support of traditional marriage.

"It is best in this circumstance that elected officials not restrict a restaurant chain's right to conduct business," Archbishop Garcia-Siller said. "Let the marketplace decide, and consumers will select which businesses to support -- or not support -- with their dollars, as they always do."

He said the issue reminded him of a statement made in July 2012 "by my beloved former prelate, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago," over the same issue: An alderman, with the Chicago mayor's support, said he would deny Chick-fil-A a permit to build a location in a section of the city he represented.

"Recent comments by those who administer our city seem to assume that the city government can decide for everyone what are the 'values' that must be held by citizens of Chicago," Cardinal George said at the time. "My understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval. Must those whose personal values do not conform to those of the government of the day move from the city?"

In Texas, supporters of the City Council vote also claim the Chick-fil-A owners discriminate against the LGBT community. Still others criticize the company for being closed on Sundays to allow employees to go to church if they choose.

In late March, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport decided not to go through with plans to add a Chick-fil-A location to its food court. News reports said this came after a New York state lawmaker raised concerns over the company's charitable giving to conservative organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

A spokesperson for the company issued a statement to a local Buffalo TV station stating that the company has no policy to discriminate against LGBT people.

"Recent coverage about Chick-fil-A continues to drive an inaccurate narrative about our brand. We do not have a political or social agenda or discriminate against any group," said the spokesperson. "More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand. We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity."

In his statement, Archbishop Garcia-Siller said: "Comments by some after the vote stated that the action was taken to reaffirm that San Antonio was a 'city of compassion.' San Antonio is truly a compassionate city that always comes together in mutual respect, especially in challenging times, recognizing the God-given dignity of every individual. This is what a family does."

"There were also comments that Chick-fil-A was rejected from the airport contract because their restaurants are not open for business on Sundays," the archbishop added. "However, many people admire the company because they do close on Sundays, saying corporately they take that stance in order to provide their employees a day to rest with their families and worship if they choose."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was investigating the city of San Antonio for potential First Amendment violations in the action to deny a spot in the airport concession area to the national restaurant chain.

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New head of CLINIC is experienced litigator, expert on immigration law

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 4:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

SILVER SPRING, Md. (CNS) -- Many people might not have noticed that Anna Gallagher took over Feb. 1 as executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC.

If they hadn't, they certainly would have March 8, when she called a Department of Homeland Security decision to not redesignate Temporary Protected Status for those fleeing war- and corruption-scarred South Sudan "morally reprehensible."

"Well, it was," she declared during a March 27 interview with Catholic News Service at CLINIC headquarters in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring.

Gallagher, 60, is herself the child of immigrants from Ireland. "They didn't have a sponsor, because you didn't need one back then," she said. "When my parents came to the United States, the immigration system was more welcoming. They simply had to submit proof that they would not be a burden to the country and were granted immigrant visas. Things are much different today."

Raised in Philadelphia, she got a bachelor's degree in political science and Latin American studies from Temple University in 1984. She earned her law degree at the Antioch School of Law in Washington three years later, and dove right into immigration law work -- as well other matters -- in the wake of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which had become law in 1986.

She moved to Guatemala City in 1992 to take a job as deputy director for the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, known by its Spanish acronym as CALDH, which investigated many high-profile cases.

"I investigated the Dianna Ortiz case," Gallagher said, referring to the case of the U.S. Ursuline nun who was ministering in Guatemala when she was kidnapped, jailed, tortured and raped in 1989. CALDH also investigated the case of Jennifer Harbury, a U.S. human rights lawyer and activist whose husband, a Mayan guerrilla leader in Guatemala, was "disappeared" and later murdered.

"I also came back with a child from Guatemala," Gallagher said. While she was there, she adopted an 11-year-old boy who had been placed in an orphanage by his caretaking older sister, who had become sick and could no longer care for him.

"He would come by, looking for something, a little money, a little something to eat. I made him a sandwich. I told him I wasn't going to give him anything else until he started to learn English," she said. "He returned for visits and I began to teach him English. After meeting his extended family, we agreed that I would care for him and my husband and I adopted him."

Even with Guatemala's civil war having ended two decades ago, "the government's as corrupt as it's ever been," she told CNS. Combined with gangs and a three-year drought, Guatemalans are leaving their homeland in greater numbers than ever.

As they journey northward, some Mexican gangs find more profit in kidnapping migrants than in trafficking drugs, Gallagher said. The gangs kidnap and hold refugees until their U.S.-based kin pay ransom. She added women traveling alone, and even with their children, are often subject to sexual assault.

Despite the deprivation and depravity they've suffered, they are often reluctant to tell an immigration judge those details. When asked why they came to the United States, they tell the judge, "I want a better life," which judges interpret as, "Oh, they're just here to make money," Gallagher said.

She vigorously disputes the notion put forth by the federal government that the border situation is at a crisis. On March 27, the same day Gallagher was interviewed by CNS, The Washington Post published an interview Kevin McAleenan, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, who said the U.S. immigration enforcement system along the Mexican border was at "the breaking point."

Gallagher had attended a border summit the month before in El Paso, Texas. "A priest working with migrants in Saltillo (Mexico) as they travel north spoke during the summit. He said, 'We can handle this. We can handle this. We can handle this.' He said it three times. I was very moved by what he had to say. If they can handle it, why can't we?"

Immigration judges, she said, would appreciate more lawyers representing immigrants: "They can get the initial master calendar hearings done in five minutes. They know the procedure." A judge having to explain each step of a hearing and the reason behind each question being asked to an unrepresented immigrant can easily take 15 minutes, thus creating bottlenecks in the system.

"People who leave their homes are very desperate," Gallagher said of immigrants. "But they are also very brave."

In her career, she has represented many seeking asylum. "Winning asylum for a client is a bittersweet victory," Gallagher said. "Of course, I'm happy that the individual is safe. However, it is bittersweet because she has lost her country and her country has lost a brave and resilient citizen."


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Pope: Countries that sell arms have no right to talk about peace

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 10:35am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Nations that actively engage in arms dealing and help foment war in other countries should not expect to find peace in their own lands, Pope Francis said.

During a wide-ranging interview with the Spanish news program, "Salvados," which aired March 31, the pope was asked his opinion by journalist Jordi Evole regarding the Spanish government's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is currently engaged in a conflict with Yemen.

The pope said that while he was saddened by the country's action, Spain "isn't the only country" involved in arms dealing.

Countries that sell arms, he said, "have no right to talk about peace. They are fomenting war in another country, and then they want peace in their own land."

He said it has a "boomerang" effect in which there's always a price to pay when taking a life. "If you start war over there, you're going to have it at home whether you want it or not."

Asked about migration in Europe, the pope cited the book of Deuteronomy, saying the act of welcoming migrants is "a Christian attitude."

While countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have received millions of migrants from Syria, the pope said he was "saddened" and did "not understand the insensitivity" toward migrants facing injustice of war, hunger and exploitation.

"For me," he said, "Europe's biggest problem is that they have forgotten. They forgot that after the war, their children went knocking on the doors of America, North and South America; they forgot. And along with that, (Europe) doesn't grow. We are living in a demographic winter."

Although birthrates in Europe continue to decline, some countries continue to reject migrants, thus running the risk not having a future, he said.

Evole also asked the pope what he thought about U.S. President Donald Trump's proposal for a wall along the Mexican border.

"Those who build walls end up becoming prisoners of the walls they built," he replied.

"And that is universal law, not only within the social order but also in one's personal life. If you build a wall within yourself, you end up becoming a prisoner of the wall you built. 'I'm defending my autonomy.' Yes, but you'll be as lonely as a cloud," he said.

When asked what he would say to Catholics in Spain who are against immigration, the pope replied, "That they read the Gospel, they are Catholics; that they read it and be consistent."

The pope also addressed the process of reform within Vatican City and praised his predecessors in their work to "clean up" the institution.

"The popes that were here before did so much good, like St. Paul VI who was a revolutionary, St. John Paul II, who also did many things," he said. "And Benedict, who although many said he was too much of an academic, grabbed the reins at certain moments and went in to clean."

Referring to the Gospel reading in which Jesus expelled the merchants in the temple, Evole asked Pope Francis if there were still many "merchants in the Vatican."

"There are ('merchants'), as there are in every place. Vatican City State is not exempt from the limitations, sin and shame of other societies. We are human beings and we have the same limitations and we fall, at times, into the same things," he said.

The church, the pope added, "must continue to be cleansed."

He was also asked for his thoughts on abortion, particularly women who seek to terminate their pregnancies after rape.

Pope Francis said that while he understood the "desperation" that women face in difficult circumstances, taking a human life was not the answer.

Single women who are pregnant, he said, "cannot be thrown to the streets. And thank God that, in recent years, there is a greater awareness about these cases, of women who are alone and are going to be mothers."

When asked further about countries that penalize unwed mothers, the pope replied, "I am not going to dispute the individual laws of a country. My question is, before civil law, before religious law, regarding the human (aspect): Is it right to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to resolve a problem? After that, the other answers will follow. But that is the basic question."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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'Spiritual combat' must be part of fight against sex abuse, pope says

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 5:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO ROME (CNS) -- To fight clerical sexual abuse, the Catholic Church must have clear laws and procedures, but it also must engage in "spiritual combat," because it is obvious the devil is at work, Pope Francis said.

After the Vatican summit on abuse in February, the pope said, he read a newspaper article that said he had "washed his hands and blamed the devil" for the abuse crisis.

Speaking to reporters March 31 on his way back to Rome from Morocco, the pope said stopping abuse requires a multi-pronged approach, including prayer and penance.

Pope Francis said that is why he asked the U.S. bishops not to vote in November on a new code of conduct for bishops and new procedures for handling allegations raised against bishops. Instead, he asked the bishops to have a retreat and wait until after the February summit to decide how to move forward.

Some things, like the abuse crisis and child pornography, he said, "cannot be understood without the mystery of evil."

"We in the church will do everything to end this scourge," the pope said.

In his address at the end of the summit, he said, he offered concrete measures to be followed, but he also recognized that there is a danger the church would focus exclusively on laws and norms and would forget the spiritual weapons of prayer and penance "to defeat the spirit of evil. That is not washing your hands."

Pope Francis said his 2018 letter to the bishops of Chile regarding the abuse crisis there and the letter he wrote to the U.S. bishops at the beginning of their retreat in January both looked at the "human, scientific" and legal aspects of the crisis as well as the spiritual aspect.

The U.S. bishops' proposals for a code of conduct and a third-party reporting system, he said, "were too much like that of an organization, methodological, and -- without their meaning to -- neglected the second dimension, the spiritual."

The laity and everyone else must be involved, he said, but "the church is not a congregationalist church. It is the Catholic Church where the bishop must take control of this as the pastor. The pope must take control of this. And how should he do this? With disciplinary measures, with prayer, with penance, with self-examination."

Pope Francis was asked specifically about the case of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, who was found guilty in early March of covering up abuse and was given a six-month suspended sentence. He offered his resignation to the pope, but the pope declined to accept it.

Responding to a reporter's question, the pope said while the cardinal awaits the appeal of his conviction, it would be a violation of "the presumption" of innocence to accept his resignation.

During the inflight news conference, the pope also responded to questions about interreligious dialogue, religious freedom and migration.

Pope Francis said his trip in February to the United Arab Emirates and his trip to Morocco were opportunities to demonstrate the Catholic Church's commitment to interreligious dialogue. Asked what, concretely, had been accomplished, the pope responded that "now there are blossoms, the fruit will come later. But the flowers are promising. We mustn't give up."

He also insisted that every religion, Catholicism included, had members who are intransigent and against dialogue, people who "live on bitter memories of past struggles and seek war" more than peace.

In response to a question about the many Muslim-majority countries where freedom of worship is respected, but legal or social pressures prevent Muslims from converting to Christianity, Pope Francis insisted freedom is a concept that grows over time.

In fact, he said, there are still Catholics who strongly oppose the Second Vatican Council's teaching on religious freedom and its insistence that even non-Christians have a right to follow their consciences.

In many so-called Christian countries, he added, doctors and other medical personnel do not have a legal right to conscientiously object to euthanasia, for example.

"Removing freedom of conscience is the first step to losing the freedom of religion," he said.

Another reporter asked Pope Francis about the wire fence, topped with razor wire, that separates Morocco from two Spanish enclaves and about the wall U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to complete along the U.S.-Mexican border.

"Those who build walls will end up being prisoners in the walls they've built," he said. "The builders of walls, whether they are razor wire or bricks, will end up being prisoners."

A Spanish reporter, he said, recently brought him a piece of razor wire. "Sincerely, I was bothered and when he left I cried. It just never entered my mind" that someone would design a fence that would tear the flesh of someone who tried to climb over it.

"This is not the way to resolve the serious problem of migration," the pope said. "I understand a government with this problem is holding a hot potato, but it must resolve it humanely. ... I saw that razor wire and I couldn't believe it."

Asked about Catholics who vote for politicians espousing strict anti-immigrant policies, Pope Francis said most of them "are a bit taken by the fear that is the normal preaching of populists."

But, "fear is the beginning of dictatorship," he said, pointing to the example of the end of Germany's Weimar Republic and the "promises and fear" that led to Adolf Hitler's election. "Let's learn from history."

Pope Francis also insisted that European and other countries that sell the weapons that lead to war cannot then refuse to accept the migrants and refugees fleeing the fighting and the poverty and hunger that go with war.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Spread mercy, build fraternity, pope urges Morocco's Christian minority

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 11:47am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

RABAT, Morocco (CNS) -- Celebrating Mass with members of Morocco's tiny Catholic community, Pope Francis praised them for the many ways they "bear witness to the Gospel of mercy in this land."

At the Mass March 31 in an arena at Rabat's Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, the pope honored the way that Catholics, although much less than 1 percent of the population, reach out to help their Muslim brothers and sisters and the thousands of migrants who pass through, hoping to reach Europe.

"I encourage you to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering," he said.

The languages used at the Mass reflected the fact that the Catholic community in Morocco is made up almost entirely of foreigners. The readings were in Spanish, Arabic and French; English, Portuguese and Italian were added for the prayers of the faithful.

More than a dozen Muslim leaders attended the Mass in a sign of friendship and were given seats near the front of the arena.

As is his custom, the pope's homily at the Mass focused almost entirely on the day's Gospel reading, which was the story of the prodigal son.

However, Pope Francis put special attention on the elder son in the story, the one who never left home or squandered his inheritance. While the merciful father rejoiced when his younger son returned home, the older son grew angry and refused to join the celebration.

"He prefers isolation to encounter, bitterness to rejoicing," the pope said. "Not only is he unable to understand or forgive his brother, he cannot accept a father capable of forgiving, willing to wait patiently, to trust and to keep looking, lest anyone be left out -- in a word, a father capable of compassion."

While sad, the elder son's attitude is not unthinkable or unusual, the pope said. It is the same "tension we experience in our societies and in our communities, and even in our own hearts" when people ask, "Who has the right to stay among us, to take a place at our tables and in our meetings, in our activities and concerns, in our squares and our cities?"

When faced with situations that can bring confrontation, division and strife, he said, "often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice."

But experience, not to mention faith, "tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples' soul, poisoning our children's hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish," the pope said.

The key to acting as a Christian, he said, is to look at situations from the perspective of the father, who loves both his sons and is a representation of God, who created all people to be brothers and sisters.

"Let us not fall into the temptation of reducing the fact that we are his children to a question of rules and regulations, duties and observances," Pope Francis told the Catholics of Morocco.

Noting that the Gospel story does not say whether, in the end, the elder son reconciled with his brother and joined the party, the pope said each Christian is called to write his or her ending to the story.

"We can complete it by the way we live, the way we regard others and how we treat our neighbor," he said. "The Christian knows that in the Father's house there are many rooms: the only ones who remain outside are those who choose not to share in his joy."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Pope visits Muslim training center, migrants in Morocco

Sat, 03/30/2019 - 3:16pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

RABAT, Morocco (CNS) -- Moving from ideals and principles to concrete examples, Pope Francis met in Morocco with Muslim men and women studying to be prayer leaders and preachers and with dozens of migrants assisted by Caritas.

A religious faith respectful of others and care for migrants were key themes in Pope Francis' speech at his arrival ceremony in Rabat March 30. After meeting privately, Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI went on to the school the king founded to counter violent strains of Islam by training imams and "murshid," men and women preachers and spiritual guides.

And the pope ended his day at the Rabat Caritas center for migrants, a facility providing special care to women, unaccompanied minors and others among the most vulnerable of the estimated 80,000 migrants currently in Morocco.

Neither the pope nor the king gave a speech at the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates. Instead they listened.

Aboubakr Hmaidouch, a 25-year-old student born in France, said the terrorist attacks there inspired him to study Islam more seriously. At the institute, he said, "the training is inspired by a doctrine that takes into account practical life and culture, and that accepts diversity; a dogma based on moderation and reaching a middle ground, but also on a spirituality that unites you to God and his creatures through the bond of love."

Hindu Usman, a woman from Nigeria, told the pope and king that terrorism and anti-Christian violence in her country is fueled by a faith "founded on passion, rather than knowledge," but that thanks to her education in Rabat, "I will be able to argue and convince (people) that religion is for peace and goodness, that a believer is only accountable before God (and) that women are equal with men in their rights."

At the Caritas center, the pope continued the reflection he began earlier in the day as the king formally welcomed him to Rabat.

The pope had described Morocco as a "bridge between Africa and Europe," and most of the 80 migrants the pope met at the Caritas center had set off from their homes hoping to cross that bridge and make a new life in Europe.

Pope Francis had called for "a change of attitude toward migrants, one that sees them as persons, not numbers, and acknowledges their rights and dignity in daily life and in political decisions."

"The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families," the pope had said.

Meeting the migrants, he insisted that "no one can be indifferent to this painful situation" of so many millions of migrants around the world. It is "a wound that cries out to heaven," he said.

Abena Banyomo Jackson, a migrant from Cameroon, told the pope he left his home in 2013 hoping to get to Europe to find work and help his family. "After crossing Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, I arrived illegally in Morocco."

He tried to reach Spain, but was unsuccessful, so he spent time in the informal migrant settlements in the forests and in the cities, until he met a priest. "He welcomed me into his home, the church, and gave me a new breath," and a job, helping other migrants. Finally, in 2016, he received a Moroccan residency permit thanks to a program by the king to regularize the migrants present in the country.

The way a country treats migrants and refugees says something about what its people think is "the value of each human life," the pope said.

"Every human being has the right to life," he said. "Every person has the right to dream and to find his or her rightful place in our common home. Every person has a right to a future."

Economic indicators alone cannot measure a nation's progress, he said.

"It depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door. Their faces shatter and debunk all those false idols that can take over and enslave our lives; idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others," he said. "How arid and inhospitable a city becomes, once it loses the capacity for compassion," it becomes "a heartless society -- a barren mother."

Pope Francis repeated his frequent appeal to the global community to do more to assist poor countries so people do not feel forced to migrate and to expand the pathways that would allow migrants and refugees to move to a new country legally and safely.

Until that happens, he said, "the emergency of irregular migration has to be met with justice, solidarity and mercy," adding that "forms of collective expulsion, which do not allow for the suitable treatment of individual cases, are unacceptable."

Governments, churches and other institutions also must do more to help newcomers and longtime residents get to know each other and learn about each other's cultures. When people know nothing of the other, he said, it is natural to "raise barriers to defend ourselves," but people of good will should fight the temptation to be "conditioned by fear and ignorance."


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Pope, Moroccan king urge special care of Jerusalem

Sat, 03/30/2019 - 12:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Cindy Wooden

RABAT, Morocco (CNS) -- Ten days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Jerusalem brought renewed attention to the status of the city, Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI of Morocco pleaded for international recognition of "the unique and sacred character of Jerusalem."

In a joint declaration signed March 30 at the royal palace in Rabat, the pope and king said they were "deeply concerned" for the city's "spiritual significance and its special vocation as a city of peace."

Referring to the city as both Jerusalem and "Al-Quds Acharif," its Arab name, the two leaders said it was important to preserve the city "as the common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as a place of encounter and as a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue can be cultivated."

"It is our hope, therefore, that in the holy city, full freedom of access to the followers of the three monotheistic religions and their right to worship will be guaranteed, so that in Jerusalem, Al-Quds Acharif, they may raise their prayers to God, the creator of all, for a future of peace and fraternity on the earth."

The statement did not get into questions over political control of the city or even the ongoing international debate about moving other embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The Vatican supports a "two-state solution" for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.

At the same time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Expressing his concern when President Trump announced the U.S. Embassy move in December 2017, Pope Francis said, "Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace."

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation had its embassy in the holy city.

When Trump changed that, Pope Francis prayed that "wisdom and prudence would prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts."


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

In Jesus' heart, the sinner is more important than the sin, pope says

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 3:08pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus does not view sinners as transgressors who must be punished according to the law, but as people in need of hope and freedom from sin, Pope Francis said.

"It is Jesus who, with the power of the Holy Spirit, frees us from the evil we have within us, from the sin which the law could impede but not remove," the pope said in his homily March 29 during the annual Lenten penance service in St. Peter's Basilica.

After the homily and several minutes of silent reflection and prayer, the pope removed his liturgical vestments and walked toward one of the wooden confessionals; he kneeled before a priest to confess.

The sound of sacred music, interspersed with moments of scripture reading and quiet reflection, filled the basilica while Pope Francis and dozens of priests and bishops listened to confessions.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Gospel reading, in which the Pharisees brought a woman accused of adultery and attempted to trap Jesus by asking him whether she should be stoned according to the law of Moses.

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," Jesus replied.

Citing St. Augustine, the pope said once those who sought to stone the woman left, only Jesus and the woman remained, "mercy with misery," because in his eyes, "that woman, that person" was what was of value.

"For him, the sinner comes before the sin," the pope explained. "I, you, each one of us come first in the heart of God: before mistakes, rules, judgments and our failures."

However, Christians must keep in mind that, without the love of God, evil cannot be overcome. Thus, the sacrament of reconciliation, the pope said, is the gift that helps "make room for the Lord, who forgives and heals."

Forgiveness, he continued, "is a new beginning" and not "a photocopy which is identically reproduced in every passage through the confessional."

"Receiving pardon for our sins through a priest is always a new, distinctive and unique experience," the pope said. "We pass from being alone with our miseries and accusers, like the woman in the Gospel, to being raised up and encouraged by the Lord, who grants us a new start."

Pope Francis invited Christians to contemplate the image of Jesus crucified on the cross as a reminder that Christ did not point fingers at those who were sinful, but instead stretched out his arms and bore the weight of those sins upon himself.

The heart of the sacrament of reconciliation, he added, is "not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are ever in need."

"We may still have a doubt: 'Confessing is useless, I am always committing the same sins,'" the pope said. "The Lord knows us, however; he knows that the interior struggle is difficult, that we are weak and inclined to fall, that we often relapse into doing what is wrong. So, he proposes that we begin to relapse into goodness, into asking for mercy."

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Catholic leaders object to proposed changes in federal nutrition program

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 2:47pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined representatives of two leading Catholic charitable organizations in calling on a federal agency to withdraw or modify a plan to require some adults receiving food assistance to work or enroll in training programs or lose their government benefit.

In a letter March 27 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Catholic representatives said the proposed regulation "provides only barriers to food assistance while providing little to no additional support" for 1.2 million adults who would see their benefits end if they don't meet the new government guidelines.

The rule affects able-bodied adults without dependents who currently are eligible for aid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The letter was signed by Anthony Picarello Jr., associate general secretary and general counsel at the USCCB; Brian Corbin, executive vice president of member services at Catholic Charities USA; and Jack Murphy, national chair of systemic change advocacy at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

"While we welcome efforts to strengthen the implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to provide greater self-sufficiency, we are deeply concerned that the proposed would negatively impact access to necessary food and nutrition assistance while doing little to support access to programs that promote self-sufficiency," they wrote.

The rules were developed under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Among its provisions, it limits the amount of time able-bodied adults without dependents ages 18 to 49 unless they meet requirements that should they are working or participating in a qualifying education and training program for at least 80 hours per month.

Calling access to food "a fundamental human right," the Catholic representatives said they supported policies which "provide greater support for individuals and families so that they can learn the skills necessary to contribute to the well-being of their families and communities."

Of the 1.2 million people who could see their benefits end under the rule, 88 percent have a household income at or below 50 percent of the poverty level and one-third of those affected have an average monthly household income of $557, the letter said.

The 2019 federal poverty standard for a one-person household is $12,490.

The letter writers also noted that for every $1 billion in SNAP expenditures, $1.79 billion of economic activity is generated annually.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, reported that in fiscal year 2018, $60.6 billion in benefits were provided to 40.3 million participants. Federal expenditures for benefits peaked at $74.6 billion in fiscal year 2012 and have been falling since.

While the proposed rule allows for states to issue waivers based on high unemployment and lack of jobs in a region, the Catholic leaders urged Department of Agriculture officials to carefully consider the needs of individuals "who have fallen on hard times and are struggling to find a way out of poverty."

However, the letter continued, 89 percent of able-bodied adults without dependents would live in areas ineligible for any waiver.

The trio of leaders said any cut in SNAP benefits would boost food insecurity and require charitable agencies and food pantries to meet the basic needs of hundreds of thousands of people.

"Instead of working to reduce access to food as a means of achieving self-sufficiency, the USDA should work toward fully implementing many of the reforms included in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 which would strengthen state education and training programs and provide more meaningful and effective means for assisting individuals in preparing for and finding dignified work," the letter said.

They also called for the USDA to encourage states to support SNAP case management services for the group of people affected as they participate in job training, work at a supportive social enterprise or transition into the workforce.

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Editor's Note: The full text of the joint letter from Catholic leaders is available at

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Betraying internal forum is a sin, pope tells confessors

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 11:16am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In confession, the privacy of one's conscience before God, also known as the internal forum, must always be protected and not be used to influence decisions outside the confessional, Pope Francis said.

Departing from his prepared text in a speech to priests and seminarians attending an annual conference on the internal forum March 29, the pope said he was worried about priests and superiors who have used information from the internal forum -- obtained from confession or spiritual direction -- to influence external decisions.

"Please, this is a sin," he said. "It is a sin against the dignity of the person who trusts the priest, who reveals his or her reality in asking forgiveness and is then used to fix something in a group, or perhaps a movement or a new congregation. But the internal forum is the internal forum. It is something sacred."

The course on the internal forum was sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court dealing with matters of conscience. As the oldest tribunal in the church, the pope said, the Apostolic Penitentiary "is a tribunal of mercy and I very much like that it is that way."

In his address, the pope emphasized the importance of the course, which trains confessors in carrying out their "ministry of mercy."

This ministry, he said, requires adequate formation so that those seeking God's forgiveness truly experience "a real encounter with salvation in which the Lord's embrace can be perceived in all its strength, capable of changing, converting, healing and forgiving."

Noting the participation of more than 700 priests in the course, Pope Francis said it was a testament to the need for the formation of priests on a matter "that is so important for the life of the church and the fulfillment of the mission entrusted to us by Jesus."

The conference, he added, comes at a unique moment when confession, as well as "the sense of sin," is in crisis.

The participation of so many priests, the pope said, "bears witness to the permanent interest in working together to confront and overcome the crisis, especially with the 'weapons of faith' and offering an ever more qualified service capable of truly manifesting the beauty of divine mercy."

The seal of confession, he continued, is also an important aspect of confession that is essential "for the holiness of the sacrament and for the freedom of conscience of the penitent.

"No human power has jurisdiction, nor claim, over" the sacramental seal, he said.

By faithfully administering the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as by going to confession themselves, priests can walk alongside penitents, the pope said, and "contemplate the miracles of conversion that grace works in the secret of the confessional, miracles of which only you and the angels are witnesses."

Pope Francis said that the sacrament of reconciliation is "a path of sanctification" for both the penitent and the confessor and that it ensures that "the door of the father's house always remain open and that it may always be possible for men and women to return to him."

"We must always remember, and this will help us so much before going to the confessional, that we are first forgiven sinners and, only then, ministers of forgiveness," the pope told them.

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Pope issues new child protection law, guidelines for Vatican City State

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 8:37am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To better protect minors and vulnerable adults from all forms of abuse and exploitation, Pope Francis approved a new law and a set of safeguarding guidelines for Vatican City State and the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis established the new norms and legal, criminal and safeguarding procedures with an apostolic letter given "motu proprio" (on his own initiative), published March 29. The law and procedures were to go into effect June 1.

Because the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people is an integral part of the Gospel message, "I wish, therefore, to further strengthen the institutional and normative order to prevent and fight abuses against minors and vulnerable adults," the pope wrote.

The law and guidelines have been created, he wrote, "so that in the Roman Curia and in Vatican City State" there will be, among other things: respect and awareness of the rights and needs of minors and vulnerable adults; greater vigilance, prevention and corrective action when abuse or mistreatment is suspected or reported; clearer procedures as well as specific offices for making claims; support services and protections for alleged victims, their families and those accused; and adequate formation for and background checks of new personnel including volunteers.

The new law "On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons" further enhances a major set of criminal laws for Vatican City State the pope approved in 2013; the earlier laws dealt with child sexual abuse, child pornography and the sale or prostitution of children and specified that any Vatican employee around the world can be tried by the Vatican court for violating those laws.

While the amendments in 2013 brought Vatican law into detailed compliance with several international treaties the Vatican had signed over the past decades, the new law on child protection was meant to better comply with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocol, which the Vatican ratified in 1990 and 2001 respectively.



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Update: Catholics, Muslims urged to work for peace by respecting 'the other'

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 4:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Michelle Martin

CHICAGO (CNS) -- The way to peace runs through seeing one another as brothers and sisters, Catholic and Muslim leaders confirmed March 25 at a session of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue held at Catholic Theological Union.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich joined Sheikh Abdur Rahman Khan at the session. They are the two co-chairs of the national dialogue.

Session participants were reflecting on a document on "human fraternity" and improving Christian-Muslim relations, which was signed Feb. 4 by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and a leading religious authority for many Sunni Muslims around the world. They signed the declaration during the pope's visit to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

"The publication of this statement on human fraternity testifies to the profound respect and friendship that exists between the Vatican and al-Azhar and it is a sign of the good that is possible between Christians and Muslims and can serve as a corrective to the false narrative that our two faith traditions are completely at odds, are fated to be enemies," Cardinal Cupich said.

"On the contrary, we are brothers and sisters of the one, true God and the document on fraternity serves as a bridge inviting us to cross over the murky water of prejudice and fear that separates us so that we may encounter one another in a spirit of openness, trust and friendship."

Khan, chair of the Shariah Council of the Islamic Circle of North America, recalled being a child growing up in a small village and reading about wars and fighting in the olden days.

"I would ask my mother, what about the people who were not fighting? Couldn't they stop the wars?" he said. "I would say, 'I wish I was born then. I would surely have put this war to its end.'"

Now, he said, he understands the question of his youth as: "Is this really what God wants us to do?"

Khan recalled the killing of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, less than six weeks after the pope and the grand imam signed the document calling for Catholic and Muslims to recognize their kinship.

The massacre also followed a litany of attacks on believers of many faiths: those at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina; the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, among others; as well as attacks on minority religious groups in India, Myanmar and China.

"I think it is crisis of the soul," Khan said. "These acts of terror have no religion, they have no color. ... Human beings have lost the purpose of life if they end up with such hate. They have ignored all the teachings of their holy books and have allowed the devil to take control."

He said the crisis is, at least in part, the fault of political leaders and dictators who seek to divide people and foment hate. People of faith must build bridges with one another and speak up.

"We can only overcome these problems if we call our politicians to accountability and call them out when they preach hate. We cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by divisive politics. We, the people of conscience and faith, must stop them in their tracks," Khan said. "It is time our leaders show some moral courage and recognize that terrorism and violence is not a Muslim thing, but something that comes from a society that lacks understanding and compassion. It comes from anyone who has lost his soul."

The response, he said, must be to turn to God, "because it is from him we come and to him that we should return. We should return to God for faith and strength in these trying times."

"We must always be hopeful and never be despondent," he said. "I stand with Cardinal Cupich, committed more than ever before to work for peace and love, and peace and love will conquer hate and evil. We must confront this evil with all that we have. May God bless us, and may God help us."

Cardinal Cupich said there are three steps to building fraternity: establishing and nurturing dialogue, striving for cooperation in daily life, and working toward mutual understanding of one another's beliefs and practices.

God calls all people to dialogue with him, Cardinal Cupich said, and to dialogue with their neighbors, each of whom is made in God's image.

"Authentic dialogue requires that we strive to remove the barriers of pretense and subterfuge that so often accompany speech for, as I mentioned, to be in dialogue one must always reckon with the absolute dignity of the person before us as one who bears the image of the Creator," he said. "Authentic dialogue betokens the truth of the person and is, in a word, sacred."

Anas Malik, one of four scholars who responded to the talk, said that as a political scientist rather than a theologian, he sees the need for members of all groups to get to know those they see as "other."

In a time of isolation and polarization, the document signed by the pope and the grand imam offers another option.

"What this does is breathes life into our social communion," said Malik, an associate professor of political science at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Rita George-Tvrtkovic, an associate professor of theology at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, said she was struck by the language of kinship that was used in the document.

"I think brother and sister are apt terms to describe how we can relate to one another," George-Tvrtkovic said. "We are genetically closer to our brothers and sisters than anyone else, and we live longer on this planet with them than with our parents or our children. But a good relationship with them is not a given."

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Martin is a staff writer at Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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