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Pope leads prayers for inter-Korean summit

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Silva, Reuters

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis led thousands of people in St. Peter's Square in prayers for the success of the inter-Korean summit, scheduled for April 27.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, are scheduled to meet in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone that has separated the North and South since the Korean War ended in 1953.

"The encounter will be an opportune occasion to begin a transparent dialogue and a concrete process of reconciliation and rediscovered fraternity to bring peace to the Korean peninsula and to the whole world," Pope Francis told pilgrims at his weekly general audience April 25.

"To the Korean people, who ardently desire peace," the pope said, "I offer assurances of my personal prayers and the closeness of the entire church."

Pope Francis explained to the pilgrims in the square that the Holy See "accompanies, supports and encourages every useful and sincere initiative" to build peace and friendship among nations.

"I ask those who have direct political responsibilities to have the courage of hope, making themselves artisans of peace," he said.

And because God is the father of all and the father of peace," he told people in the square, "I ask you to pray to our father, God the father of all, for the Korean people, both those of the South as well as those of the North."

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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.

Toronto cardinal calls for prayers after van kills at least 10

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

By

TORONTO (CNS) -- Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins called for special prayers after a van jumped a curb and killed at least 10 people on a busy Toronto street.

Although officials said the April 23 incident did not appear to be terrorism, they said it did appear to be deliberate. Cabinet members from leading industrialized nations were meeting in Toronto in preparation for a G-7 summit in Quebec in June.

"I invite the Catholic community across the Archdiocese of Toronto to join me in offering our prayers for all those who were killed and injured in the violent incident earlier today," the cardinal said in a statement. "I will be asking all 225 Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto to offer special prayer intentions this week for all those who have suffered. Let us all unite in our efforts to bring comfort and care to those who are hurting today."

Authorities identified the driver as Alek Minassian, who was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. The Associated Press reported witnesses said he appeared to intentionally jump a curb in the North York neighborhood as people filled the sidewalks on a warm afternoon. He continued for more than a mile, knocking out a fire hydrant and leaving bodies strewn in his wake.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, tweeted: "Death toll of today's horrific accident is now at 10 with many more in critical condition. Tonight we celebrated Mass for all who have died. Such senseless, horrible killing of many innocent people who were outside enjoying our first taste of spring. God bless Toronto tonight."

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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.

Raise a cone: Rome's poor celebrate pope's name day with gelato

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 5:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Cones raised in the air, the crowd gathered for dinner at the Sant'Egidio Community's soup kitchen toasted Pope Francis on his name day, the feast of St. George.

The gelato was offered by the pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as part of his name day celebration April 23. He provided 3,000 servings of ice cream -- mostly vanilla cones with chocolate and nuts on top, but also a few pistachio cones and a couple strawberry ones -- to soup kitchens and homeless shelters around Rome.

"It's not like gelato is the only thing he gives away," said Ruggiero, who passed on the cones because, he said, at his age -- 70-something -- "I'm watching my physique."

"Everything this pope does he does for the poor," Ruggiero told Catholic News Service. "And then there's his smile."

Alberto, roughly the same age, was seated next to Ruggiero for the dinner, which began with a course of gnocchi, then moved on to the main course of veal and potatoes and would normally have finished with fruit. Oranges were the day's offering.

"It's a very charming gesture," said Alberto as he unwrapped his cone at the kitchen in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood.

The two men, along with five other friends, had begun their evening in the tiny Church of San Calisto, where they join in singing evening prayer and prayers for peace twice a month. Then they walk to the soup kitchen nearby for dinner.

One of the seven gentlemen wrote their names in big letters on the paper place mats to save their seats. But there is always room for one more. And they take turns filling each other's water glasses, passing out the food and collecting the dirty plates before the next course.

Across the room, Antonino Siragusa was eating, but also helping to serve. He said he has met the pope "six times. He's a good person, very lively. He smiles and will meet anyone."

Before the meal began, he admitted he had not known it was the pope's name day, but he was glad to hear it.

"I love sweets," he said. "This is great!"

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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.

Italy grants citizenship to Alfie Evans in attempt to guarantee his care

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 1:02pm

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Italian government granted citizenship to Alfie Evans, a seriously ill British toddler, in a last-minute effort to prevent doctors in England from withdrawing life-support.

The Italian foreign ministry, in a brief note April 23, said Angelino Alfano, the foreign minister, and Marco Minniti, the interior minister, "granted Italian citizenship to little Alfie."

"The Italian government hopes that being an Italian citizen would allow the immediate transfer of the baby to Italy," the foreign ministry said.

The baby's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, lost their latest legal battle April 23 to prevent doctors from removing Alfie's life-support when the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene.

Doctors in the U.K. have not been able to make a definitive diagnosis of the 23-month-old child's degenerative neurological condition, but they have said keeping him on life-support would be "futile."

A high court judge backed a lower court's ruling that the hospital can go against the wishes of the family and withdraw life-support.

Tom Evans flew to Rome and met Pope Francis April 18, begging the pope to help get his son "asylum" in Italy. The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome has offered to care for Alfie. Three specialists from Bambino Gesu had flown to Liverpool and examined Alfie. According to the president of Bambino Gesu, "a positive outcome would be difficult, but the baby's suffering can be alleviated."

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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 end to 'needless bloodshed' in Nicaragua

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 9:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Cabrera, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called for an end to violence in Nicaragua after several days of protests against proposed social security legislation led to the deaths of more than two dozen people.

"I express my closeness in prayer to that country and I am united with the bishops in asking that every form of violence end, that a pointless shedding of blood be avoided and that open issues be resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility," the pope said April 22 after praying the "Regina Coeli" prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The pope said he was "very worried about what is happening these days in Nicaragua," where citizens took to the streets beginning April 18 after the government announced changes to the nation's social security system.

The proposed overhaul, which would have increased pension contributions while reducing benefits by 5 percent, was scrapped by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega April 22.

Ortega has been heavily criticized for his handling of the crisis, which led to the deaths of 25 people. But despite criticism of the overhaul coming from business leaders, university students and elderly pensioners, the president publicly blamed right-wing groups for the inciting violence.

Outrage spread after a local journalist, Angel Gahona, was shot and killed while broadcasting the protest on Facebook Live. A police officer was also shot in the head during deadly clashes in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.

Nicaragua's Catholic bishops called for peaceful demonstrations and sheltered protesters in the cathedral of Managua.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez of Managua has been outspoken in his support of student protesters who have been targeted. In an April 22 tweet, he urged the president to engage in constructive dialogue.

"President Daniel Ortega, abandon your arrogant attitude, listen to the people, embrace dialogue with sincerity, feel the pain of so many families and contribute to peace in the country," he tweeted.

Bishop Baez also tweeted that he was calling on military and police forces to end the repression against protesters and "to listen to God's voice in their hearts: 'Thou shall not kill!"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

Great Caesar's ghost! Superman turns 80

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/DC Comics

By Mark Judge

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Look! Up in the sky! It's Superman! And he's 80!

The year 2018 marks eight decades since the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics No. 1. It also sees the arrival of issue 1,000 of the "Action" series. DC Comics is celebrating these milestones with a special expanded edition of Action Comics as well as a book, "80 Years of Superman: The Deluxe Edition."

Action Comics No. 1,000 costs $7.99, while the book is priced at $30. Both are suitable for readers of all ages.

Action Comics No. 1,000 is a series of short comics stories by popular DC writers such as Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns, Tom King and Peter J. Tomasi. The art is provided by Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Patrick Gleason and superstar Jim Lee, among others.

The stories in both volumes celebrate Superman and his commitment to fighting evil, telling the truth and being a good friend and husband (he and Lois Lane were married in 1996). Not for nothing is he called "the big blue boy scout," although in the modern world of dodgy politicians and celebrities, Superman seems deeply countercultural.

His basic history is well known: Superman was created in 1933 by writer Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Joe Shuster (1914-1992). The two had become friends while attending high school together in Cleveland.

Jerry Siegel's daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, penned the forward to "80 Years of Superman." She notes that her father and Shuster sold the character to DC Comics for a mere $130 -- a fact that eventually led some of Superman's fans to charge the publisher with taking advantage of the young duo. In 1976, DC gave Siegel and Shuster a pension and a "created by" credit for all time.

Based on his non-Earthly origin and propensity both for saving people and urging them to repent and think of others, Superman has often been considered a Christ figure. One of the best stories in Action No. 1,000 reflects this similarity.

It's the 1930s, and Superman stops a crook in his car, then hangs him from a telephone pole before letting him go. Visiting the man later, Superman offers not only judgment, but mercy.

"You've had your fair share of knocks," Superman says. "And you can keep knocking the world back like you've done. Or you can make a decision today. Be that person who wasn't there for you for someone else." Touchingly, the man does just that.

"80 Years of Superman: The Deluxe Edition" offers short essays about the Man of Tomorrow by writers and journalists as well as reprints of classic stories. Editor Paul Levitz includes tales ranging from 1938's Action Comics No. 1 and the first appearance of Supergirl (No. 252) to Clark Kent revealing to Lois that he is also Superman (No. 662). In No. 309, Superman gets to meet President John Kennedy.

"80 Years" also features a never-published story, "Too Many Heroes," written by fan favorite Marv Wolfman.

Journalist Larry Tye observes that, over the years, "Superman has evolved more than the fruit fly." In the 1930s, the Man of Steel was a crime fighter. In the '40s, he was a patriot combating Nazi aggression. In the '50s, he took on communist spies. And at the end of the Cold War, he tried to eliminate nuclear stockpiles.

Today, Superman might be focusing on his day job as a journalist. That's been hinted at by Brian Michael Bendis, the star comic book writer who decamped from Marvel this year to take over the Superman franchise at DC.

Along the same lines, in "80 Years of Superman," David Hajdu, author of the comic book history "The Ten-Cent Plague," smartly considers how Superman and his alter ego, Daily Planet reporter Kent, complement each other.

"In his role as a godly endowed hero among humans, Superman has always been much more concerned with the dispensing of justice than the revealing of truth," Hajdu writes. "He hunts and catches villains, crooks and evildoers of all kinds -- earthy, alien, extra-dimensional or inexplicable -- and enforces a resolutely held super code of right and wrong."

However, Clark Kent's mission as a reporter is "to serve the truth." Superman's creators "made clear that they saw both sides of their cleverly dualistic character as companionably heroic," Hajdu notes. Moreover, "Clark's work as a journalist often drove the narratives."

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Judge reviews comic books and video games for Catholic News Service.

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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.

Mother killed on Southwest flight was firm believer in Catholic schools

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 4:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marla Brose, Albuquerque Journal

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Tributes from business leaders and politicians alike described Jennifer Riordan -- the 43-year-old passenger who died April 17 from injuries suffered on Southwest Flight 1380 when its engine exploded -- as a devoted mother, community leader, mentor and volunteer.

Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive from New Mexico, was a "thoughtful leader who has long been a part of the fabric of our community," said Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque. Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, described her as "an incredible woman who put her family and community first."

But statements about Riordan that were closer to home for the parishioner of Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Albuquerque and mother of two children at Annunciation School were issued by her family, who called her their "bedrock," and her children's school, which described Riordan as an "integral member of our school community."

Riordan, who grew up in Vermont, attended Christ the King Elementary School in Burlington and graduated from Vermont's Colchester High School in 1992. She married her high school sweetheart, Michael Riordan, in 1996 at Christ the King Church, according to the Burlington Free Press daily newspaper.

The couple had spent nearly two decades living in Albuquerque. Michael is a former chief operating officer for the city of Albuquerque and Jennifer was a vice president for community relations with Wells Fargo bank.

She was returning from a business trip in New York when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after its engine exploded in midair and shrapnel hit the plane breaking the window beside her.

Riordan was pronounced dead at a hospital from blunt trauma to her head, neck and torso, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Health announced April 19.

As news of the tragedy spread, the assistant principal at Annunciation School where the two Riordan children attend, sent an email to parents confirming Riordan's death and simply adding: "At this point, the family needs all the prayers we can offer."

Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester said: "Our hearts go out to the family of Jennifer Riordan, who lost her life yesterday, April 17, during the tragic plane accident." The archbishop also said he would "pray for the repose of her soul and for her dear loved ones."

Annunciation School posted a statement on its Facebook page saying the school was "devastated to lose an integral member of our school community," noting that Riordan often volunteered at the school and also served on its consultative council.

"She was seen on campus almost daily supporting her beautiful children. She provided encouragement to everyone with whom she came in contact. Her positive motivating spirit will be missed," the statement added before concluding with the promise that the school community would "keep Jennifer and her family in prayer."

A statement issued by the Riordan family said: "Jennifer's vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured."

It also called her "the bedrock of our family. She and Mike wrote a love story unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children," and the statement asked that in her memory people remember to "always be kind, loving, caring and sharing."

The statement echoes Riordan's own advice from what she said in 2015 after she was presented the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership by the Samaritan Counseling Ethics in Business Awards.

"As a parent, I've said to my kids, 'Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all good things will come to you,'" Riordan told the Albuquerque Journal, about the award. "Integrity embodies the spirit of those four things, as well as high morals. It's about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and choosing to do what's right, even when it's very difficult to do what's right."

Not only was Riordan dedicated to her job and school volunteering, but she also volunteered with several local nonprofit groups and boards.

She served on the boards of Junior Achievement of New Mexico and New Mexico First and was appointed by New Mexico's governor to a board focused on boosting volunteerism in the state.

She was still on the board of directors at The Catholic Foundation, a nonprofit Santa Fe archdiocesan organization that links donors to parishes, schools and organizations in need, and had planned to attend a meeting with the group in late April.

Ed Larranaga, the foundation's president, said he asked Riordan, who had been his friend for 15 years, if she'd be on the board, but he also wondered if she'd even have time because she did so much.

"She was just thoughtful and probably the most positive person I've ever met," he told Catholic News Service April 19, adding that people who didn't know her well might have thought she was fake because "no one could be that positive and upbeat."

Riordan told him over a year ago that Catholic education saved her life, saying she had been "going down a path with other people and friends" and her mom changed that direction by sending her to a Catholic school.

So even though she had a lot going on, she wanted to help Catholic schools through the foundation and by sending her children to Catholic school, he said.

"Jennifer wanted to do things to make a difference, not just at work and in the community, but just in general, she wanted to make things better," Larranaga said.

And that spirit continues. Earlier that day, he received a phone call from someone in Michigan who didn't know Riordan but wanted to do something in her honor. The donor, who attended Catholic schools, said he was impressed by what he read about her.

"That's just the type of person she was," always making a difference, is Larranaga's view of the phone call.

He said even though there will likely be a private funeral for Riordan, he is sure there will be a public memorial as well at the convention center because her "impact was that great."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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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.

Circuitous route led to director's second film on exorcism

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 3:47pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/The Orchard

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sometimes the best opportunities result from a mix of asking and having things fall into your lap.

So it was for William Friedkin, who directed "The Exorcist" 45 years ago and thought he was through with the subgenre he helped create. Then came his documentary on exorcism, "The Devil and Father Amorth."

"It was a complete accident," Friedkin told Catholic News Service in an April 16 interview in Washington to promote the film. "I had no intention of doing this. I had no interest. 'The Exorcist' was a work of fiction. I had never seen a real exorcism, and neither had William Peter Blatty," who had written the novel on which that movie was based.

Friedkin said he had been in Luca, Italy, to receive the Puccini Prize for having directed four Puccini operas. He soon heard Pisa was a 35-minute drive from Luca, so he made the trip. Then he learned it was a one-hour flight from Pisa to Rome. Given that he had eight days in Italy, he wrote a priest-theologian friend, and "as a lark, I asked, 'Do you think I could get a meeting with the pope or Father (Gabriele) Amorth?'"

The reply: "The pope's not available, but Father Amorth would be very pleased to meet you." The desired meeting took place between Friedkin and the priest whose skills in performing exorcisms he characterized this way: "There's exorcists and there's exorcists, like there's basketball players and LeBron James."

Friedkin returned to Los Angeles and was at the Vanity Fair magazine post-Oscars party when he told then-editor Graydon Carter of his meeting with the priest. Carter urged him to write an article about Father Amorth. Before making a return trip to Rome he wrote the priest, who answered only in longhand. "I pushed my luck," Friedkin said. "Would you ever let me witness an exorcism?" "Let me think about it," Father Amorth said; eventually, his order, the Pauline Fathers, gave permission for him to see an exorcism on a specific date -- May 1, 2016.

"I pushed my luck again, and I wrote back, 'Do you think he would allow me to film it?' The word came back in two days, that yes, he would allow me to film it, but alone with no crew and no lights," Friedkin said.

Friedkin's filming of Cristina, the first known filmed exorcism, is what makes up the core of "The Devil and Father Amorth." "I had been told by Father Amorth this was her ninth exorcism and she had experienced personality changes, vocal changes, and a kind of unnatural strength for a woman her size and age," he recalled. "So I was aware from him this was going to happen -- to what extent, I didn't know."

He said he was surprised by how "disturbing the (demonic) attacks were. I went from abject terror sitting two feet away from her to absolute empathy for the pain she was expressing. She's a wonderful woman. She's an architect. You wonder how these attacks came about, why."

Father Amorth, who was 91, died several months after the filming. The priest was chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome from 1986 until his death in 2016. Cristina continues to seek help to cast out whatever demon is inside her with the help of other exorcists. 

The movie also shows Friedkin talking with neurosurgeons and psychiatrists who have seen his exorcism footage who seem at a loss to either debunk or explain it.

More attention to Father Amorth "would have helped to offset the inevitable grimness of the rite at the heart of the proceedings," said John Mulderig, CNS assistant director for media reviews, in his review of "The Devil and Father Amorth." "At times, Friedkin appears slightly breathless with enthusiasm for his own material, and Christopher Rouse's churning score also hints at sensationalism. But overall, the tone is respectful and sober-minded."

The film is classified A-II -- adults and adolescents -- for mature themes, potentially disturbing images and a rude gesture.

"Father Amorth said to me the devil is metaphor," Friedkin told CNS. "The devil is not some figurative person, although he did say that he has had conversations with Satan. But he said there is no figure as he's been depicted. He believes that the devil is metaphor. I 100 percent believe there is evil in the world -- every day, all day, constantly -- but there is also a great goodness."

Friedkin, who was raised Jewish, now embraces faith in a different way.

Although he is not a Catholic, "I strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus -- strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus -- and I don't necessarily require the supernatural to believe in Jesus," he said, referring to the Resurrection.

Friedkin said his aims with the documentary are modest. "Just a sharing of information, which is what any filmmaker -- especially if you make a documentary -- experience. 'Here. this is what I saw,'" he said. "And what I'm saying to the audience, "Make of this what you will, but here it is.' We live in a very skeptical world, so I expect a lot of that."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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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.

Father of Alfie Evans meets pope, begs for help to save his son

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 8:06am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Begging Pope Francis to help his son, Alfie, Tom Evans met with the pontiff, pleading for "asylum" in Italy so his seriously ill son may receive care and not be euthanized in England.

"If Your Holiness helps our child, Your Holiness will be potentially saving the future for our children in the U.K., especially the disabled. We pray the problem we are facing is solved peacefully and respectfully as no child deserves this," Evans said in a statement he personally delivered to the pope April 18.

The private meeting came before the pope appealed publicly yet again for appropriate care and respect for 23-month-old Alfie Evans.

"I would like to affirm and vigorously uphold that the only master of life - from its beginning to natural end - is God," the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience April 18.

"Our duty is to do everything to safeguard life," he said before leading the thousands of people in the square in a moment of prayer and reflection.

He asked those at the audience to pray that the lives of all people, especially Alfie, be respected.

The pope's appeal -- the third he has made publicly-- came after he met with Alfie's father, who also attended the general audience with VIP seating in the square.

Evans flew to Rome overnight from England to meet with the pope. He posted photos and commentaries about the encounter on the Facebook page, "Alfie's Army Official."

The encounter lasted 20 minutes, according to the Italian Catholic news site, "La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana," which had one of its reporters accompany Evans at the meeting. The news site said the last-minute meeting was made possible by Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, whom the site said was designated by the pope to act as a conduit between the Evans family and the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Gently rubbing a small green rosary between his fingers, Evans, who is Catholic, told reporters that his son is being "held hostage" at the hospital, and he and his wife are "being treated like criminals and prisoners." The family has been fighting to remove Alfie from a Liverpool hospital to be transferred elsewhere.

Evans said he thought the meeting with the pope went very well. "I've seen the love and the care and the emotion in his eyes. I'm so fortunate to have had that opportunity" to meet the pope and talk about saving his son, he told Catholic News Service.

"I've prayed every day," he said, and though "God hasn't come through yet," he thought the next step should be the pope, because he understands that no one has the right over Alfie's life, but God.

He also asked the pope to speak out publicly again during the general audience in support of Alfie, and the pope did.

Evans asked the pope to help him bring the baby to Italy to the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu hospital, and the pope said, "Yes" and immediately turned and spoke to Bishop Cavina, according to Patricia Gooding-Williams, who was at the papal meeting acting as the translator. Bishop Cavina worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State for a number of years before being ordained a bishop in 2012.

The pope blessed Evans and told him he really respected his courage, saying he had "the same courage as God has for his children," Gooding-Williams told CNS.

In a statement then posted on Facebook, Evans thanked the pope for meeting with him and begged him for his help.

"I am now here in front of Your Holiness to plea for asylum. Our hospitals in the U.K. do not want to give disabled children the chance of life and instead the hospitals in the U.K. are now assisting death in children," the statement read.

"We have fought for Alfie for one and a half years and we now have realized our son's life does not mean much to the NHS," the national health service in the U.K., he wrote.

"We plea with you to help our son!"

Evans said in the written statement, "We see life and potential in our son and we want to bring him here to Italy at Bambino Gesu where we know he is safe and he will not be euthanized."

Mariella Enoc, president of the Vatican-run hospital, said they are ready to welcome Alfie.

"We certainly do not promise to cure him, but to take care of him, without aggressive treatment," she said in a statement published by the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire, April 14.

Three specialists from Bambino Gesu examined Alfie at the Liverpool hospital and determined "a positive outcome would be difficult, but the baby's suffering can be alleviated," she said.

Doctors in the U.K. have not been able to make a definitive diagnosis of the 23-month-old child's degenerative neurological condition.

However, doctors at the hospital have said keeping the toddler on life-support would be "futile," and he should begin receiving palliative care. A high court judge backed a lower court's ruling saying the hospital can go against the wishes of the family and withdraw life-support.

In an effort to fight that decision, the parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, brought their case to the European court of human rights, which found no indication of any human rights violations and declared their application "inadmissible" March 28.

The parents want to transfer their son to Bambino Gesu to see if it is possible to diagnose and treat his condition, but the high court ruling would prevent that from happening, according to the parents' lawyer.

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'Is my dad in heaven,' little boy asks pope

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighborhood's children.

Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis' parish visits. And, at St. Paul of the Cross parish April 15, there were the usual questions like, "How did you feel when you were elected pope?"

But then it was Emanuele's turn. The young boy smiled at the pope as he approached the microphone. But then froze. "I can't do it," Emanuele said.

Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, a papal aide, encouraged the boy, but he kept saying, "I can't."

"Come, come to me, Emanuele," the pope said. "Come and whisper it in my ear."

Msgr. Sapienza helped the boy up to the platform where the pope was seated. Emanuele was sobbing by that point, and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace, patting his head and speaking softly to him.

With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat.

"If only we could all cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts like he has," the pope told the children. "He was crying for his father and had the courage to do it in front of us because in his heart there is love for his father."

Pope Francis said he had asked Emanuele if he could share the boy's question and the boy agreed. "'A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?'"

"How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, 'He was good,'" the pope told the children. "And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make his children like that, then it's true, he was a good man. He was a good man.

"That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn't a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart," Pope Francis said.

"God is the one who says who goes to heaven," the pope explained.

The next step in answering Emanuele's question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has. "What do you think? A father's heart. God has a dad's heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?"

"Does God abandon his children?" the pope asked. "Does God abandon his children when they are good?"

The children shouted, "No."

"There, Emanuele, that is the answer," the pope told the boy. "God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much."

Pope Francis encouraged Emanuele to "talk to your dad; pray to your dad."

Earlier, a young girl named Carlotta also asked the pope a delicate question: "When we are baptized, we become children of God. People who aren't baptized, are they not children of God?"

"What does your heart tell you?" the pope asked Carlotta. She said, they are, too.

"Right, and I'll explain," the pope told her. "We are all children of God. Everyone. Everyone."

The nonbaptized, members of other religions, those who worship idols, "even the mafiosi," who terrorize the neighborhood around the parish, are children of God, though "they prefer to behave like children of the devil," he said.

"God created everyone, loves everyone and put in everyone's heart a conscience so they would recognize what is good and distinguish it from what is bad," the pope said.

The difference, he said, is that "when you were baptized, the Holy Spirit entered into that conscience and reinforced your belonging to God and, in that sense, you became more of a daughter of God because you're a child of God like everyone, but with the strength of the Holy Spirit."

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'Schizoid' world brags it's free while chained to greed, pope says

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 10:18am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian freedom is being free from worldly ambition, fashion and passion and being open to God's will, Pope Francis said.

The world today "is a bit schizoid, schizophrenic, right? It shouts, 'Freedom, freedom, freedom!' but it is more slave, slave, slave," he said in his homily April 13 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

People need to think about what kind of freedom they seek in the world, he said.

Is it Christian, he asked, or "am I slave to my passions, my ambitions, to many things, to wealth, to fashion. It seems like a joke, but so many people are slaves to fashion!"

Pope Francis' homily looked at three examples of Christian freedom that were depicted in the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:34-42) and the Gospel reading (Jn 6:1-15).

The first reading told how the Pharisee, Gamaliel, convinces the Sanhedrin to free Peter and John from prison. He made the decision, the pope said, based on a trust that God would eventually let the truth be known about the apostles and by using his power of reason without letting it be warped by quick ambition.

"A free man is not afraid of time -- he leaves it to God. He leaves room for God to act in time. The free man is patient," the pope said.

Pontius Pilate, for example, was a man who was intelligent and could think reasonably, however, he wasn't free, the pope said. "He lacked the courage of freedom because he was a slave to careerism, ambition and success."

Even though Peter and John were innocent and were punished unjustly after they were freed from prison, they did not go to a judge to complain or demand reparation, the pope said.

They freely chose to rejoice and suffer in Christ's name just as Christ suffered for them, he said.

"Even today there are so many Christians, in prison, tortured who carry forward this freedom to proclaim Jesus Christ," he said.

Finally, Jesus himself gives an example of freedom when he escapes to the mountain alone after he realizes the people were going to carry him off to make him king after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

"He detached himself from triumphalism. He does not let himself be deceived" by this attitude of superiority, and makes sure he remains free, the pope said.

True freedom, he said, is making room for God in one's life and following him with joy, even if it brings hardship and suffering.

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Salvador's Blessed Romero canonization probably in Rome in October

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 9:30am

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During an April 11 homily in Washington, Salvadoran Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero will "probably" be in Rome and "probably" take place at end of October after a meeting of bishops.

He hedged his statement in an interview with Catholic News Service saying the final decision is up to Pope Francis.

"Soon we will have a canonization," the archbishop said to a crowd of mostly Salvadoran immigrants gathered for Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. "On May 19, we will know the date and the place."

That's the date cardinals will gather at the Vatican for a meeting known as a consistory, where they're expected to decide the details.

The archbishop's statement came hours after reports that Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said to members of the press in Madrid that the Romero canonization would take place Oct. 21.

El Salvador's Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who also was present at the Mass in Washington, referenced Cardinal Maradiaga's statement and said, "Let's wait until the official announcement" but also said the Honduran cardinal was close to the pope and may know details.

Archbishop Escobar, who occupies the post held for three years by Blessed Romero, from 1977 until his assassination in 1980, said El Salvador's bishops sent the pope a message asking that the canonization be held in their country. Many of the country's poor would not be able to otherwise attend the ceremony, a first for El Salvador, he said. Archbishop Romero's May 2015 beatification took place in El Salvador. Ultimately, the pope will decide what to do, he said.

The archbishop and the cardinal are part of a delegation of Salvadoran bishops seeking to meet in April with U.S. lawmakers to plead for relief for immigrants who have benefited from two imperiled U.S. immigration programs: Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Their end would affect more than 140,000 Salvadoran nationals living in the U.S. under those protections, he said.

Archbishop Escobar told those gathered at Mass to pray for Blessed Romero's intercession and a miracle so that lawmakers find a permanent solution and an answer to their pleas.

Blessed Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980 during Mass after repeatedly pleading for an end to violence, to injustice against the poor, and to the killing of innocent civilians during an armed conflict that ultimately lasted 12 years and resulted in more than 70,000 deaths in the country.

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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 apologizes for 'serious mistakes' in judging Chilean abuse cases

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 4:26pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a letter to the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

The pope said he made "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information."

"I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks," the pope said in the letter, which was released by the Vatican April 11. Several survivors apparently have been invited to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Abuse victims alleged that Bishop Barros -- then a priest -- had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

Protesters and victims said Bishop Barros is guilty of protecting Father Karadima and was physically present while some of the abuse was going on.

During his visit to Chile in January, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the sexual abuses committed by some priests in Chile.

"I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some of the ministers of the church," he said.

However, speaking to reporters, he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

He later apologized to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

A short time later, the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending a trusted investigator to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

Pope Francis said Archbishop Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, heard the testimony of 64 people and presented him with more than 2,300 pages of documentation. Not all of the witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers' school.

After a "careful reading" of the testimonies, the pope said, "I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame."

The pope said he was convening a meeting in Rome with the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions "without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives."

Pope Francis said he wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to "re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice."

Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu, the pope said, had been overwhelmed by the "maturity, respect and kindness" of the victims who testified.

"As pastors," the pope told the bishops, "we must express the same feeling and cordial gratitude to those who, with honesty (and) courage" requested to meet with the envoys and "showed them the wounds of their soul."

Following the release of Pope Francis' letter, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of the bishops' conference and head of the military ordinariate, said the bishops of Chile would travel to the Vatican in the third week of May.

The bishops, he said, shared in the pope's pain.

"We have not done enough," he said in a statement. "Our commitment is that this does not happen again."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposes synod on women

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 1:52pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church in Latin America must recognize and appreciate the role of women and end the practice of using them solely as submissive laborers in the parish, said members of a pontifical commission.

In addition, at the end of their plenary meeting March 6-9 at the Vatican, members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposed that the church hold a Synod of Bishops "on the theme of the woman in the life and mission of the church."

"There still exist 'macho,' bossy clerics who try to use women as servants within their parish, almost like submissive clients of worship and manual labor for what is needed. All of this has to end," said the final document from the meeting.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported April 11 that the theme of the three-day meeting, "The woman: pillar in building the church and society in Latin America," was chosen by Pope Francis.

In addition to 17 cardinals and seven bishops who are members of the commission, the pope asked that some leading Latin American women also be invited; eight laywomen and six women religious participated in the four-day meeting and in drafting its pastoral recommendations, the newspaper said.

While the assembly expressed appreciation for and based many of its proposals on the Latin American bishops' Aparecida document, participants said more needed to be done to implement concrete solutions to the problems facing women in Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the drafting committee for the final document of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The Aparecida document's call to renew the church's commitment to mission and discipleship in Latin America must be followed through by local churches, especially "in denouncing every form of discrimination and oppression, violence and exploitation that women suffer in various situations," the Pontifical Commission for Latin America's final document stated.

Expressing appreciation for the Christian witness given by women in consecrated life, mothers who are "authentic 'martyrs' giving their lives for their families" and widows who serve their communities in charity, the commission document said women can and should play a greater role in church life, including in the formation of future priests.

In order for priests to benefit from the "feminine genius," it said, it is important for married women and consecrated women "to participate in the formation process."

Women should be a part "of the formation teams, giving them authority to teach and accompany seminarians, as well as the opportunity to intervene in the vocational discernment and balanced development of candidates to the priestly ministry," the document said.

The commission also warned of the negative influence "telenovelas" (soap operas) have on Latin American women because the programs undermine marriages and families that are labeled "traditional" while advocating a variety of other forms of cohabitation.

In addition, the document said, "they attempt to undermine motherhood, which is depicted as a prison that reduces the possibilities of a woman's well-being and progress."

In Latin America, meeting participants warned, poor women are subjected to "undignified and horrible forms" of exploitation by "renting out their wombs" for surrogacy and influenced by foreign organizations.

"Feminist lobbies that are well-funded and orchestrated by international agencies" play a role in diminishing the dignity of women, the document added.

The figure of Mary as "a free and strong woman, obedient to the will of God," can be crucial in "recovering the identity of the woman and her value in the church," the document said.

Like Mary proclaiming the "Magnificat," women can have a prophetic voice and demonstrate "the feminine and maternal dimension of the church," the document stated.

"The Catholic Church, following the example of Jesus, must be very free of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination against women," the final document said. "Christian communities must undertake a serious review of their life and a 'pastoral conversion' capable of asking forgiveness for all those situations in which they were and still are accomplices in attacking their dignity."

Participants at the meeting called for improved relations between local bishops and the religious orders of women who minister in their dioceses, saying women religious "must be recognized and valued as jointly responsible for the communion and mission of the church."

Women should be more involved in decision making on a parish, diocesan, national and global church level, participants said. Such openness is not "a concession to pressure," but the result of an awareness that "the absence of women in decision making is a defect, an ecclesiological lacuna, the negative effect of a clerical and chauvinistic mentality."

Greater efforts, they said, must be made to educate men to overcome chauvinism, counteract the abandonment of their children and "irresponsibility in sexual behavior."

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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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.

Fond memories of global community echo with bishops' justice advocate

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 12:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A picture of a young Palestinian boy, with dark, soulful eyes and a bit of a dirty face, hangs on the back wall of Stephen Colecchi's office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

When Colecchi looks at it, he offers a prayer for the nameless child and the Palestinian people.

"I met him in a mosque in Gaza on my first trip there (2007) and he hung around me. He kept smiling at me so I kept smiling at him," recalled Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace.

"I pray for him whenever I look at his picture. I wonder if he's still alive and doing OK."

The boy is one of countless people Colecchi met during fact-finding trips around the world. Their struggles inspired Colecchi's work to protect human life throughout the 14 years at the USCCB.

"The best thing about this work, in addition to working with the bishops," he told Catholic News Service as he approached his April 30 retirement, "was you get to bring three assets of the church together: the experience of the church on the ground in every country around the world; the teaching of the church, the social teaching; and then the relationships ... that help inform what you're able to bring."

Colleagues credit Colecchi with uncounted accomplishments even though he stayed out of the limelight.

"Steve was a delight to work with. He was a man of great wisdom, integrity and very collegial," said retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, who is a past chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The bishop credited Colecchi for doing his homework on vital issues and keeping Scripture and Catholic social teaching at the forefront of his work.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, called Colecchi a resolute partner in advocacy and a gifted friend who is at ease talking with policymakers and struggling people alike.

"The bishops and the wider church have been served incredibly well by Steve and his determined leadership on raising the voice of the church on a whole host of international issues," O'Keefe said.

"He's made a profound difference in shaping the U.S. policy on key issues through supporting the bishops in their role," he added. "He combines his intellect and policy analysis with the ability to connect with people who are suffering great injustice."

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and former executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, brought Colecchi to the USCCB in 2004. Carr credited him for his steadfast pursuit of justice, citing his leading role in securing reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief among other critical international aid programs.

"There are literally millions of people in Africa who are seeing their grandchildren because of his work and a lot of other people's work on HIV/AIDS and debt relief," Carr said.

"He is smart. He is faithful. He is persistent. He is good to work with. He is just a remarkable example of a faithful Catholic who has made a huge difference," Carr added.

Colecchi keeps the accolades in perspective.

"The church's teaching is neither left or right," he told CNS. "Rather it seeks to be faithful. We should always put our moral principles ahead of our partisan political positions and be guided by faith."

Colecchi's commitment to peace and justice was formed early in life. Growing up in Leominster, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and 1960s, Colecchi was active in the youth group at his family's parish, Holy Family of Nazareth.

"I really saw faith and engagement with society as going together," he said.

At first, Colecchi thought he would do that as a priest.

As he went off to the College of the Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, his father urged him to "do at least a little dating to see if you're really called to celibacy," Colecchi said. In his junior year, Colecchi met his wife, Cheryl, and thoughts of the priesthood disappeared. They have been married 44 years.

The years at Holy Cross were formative in other ways. Colecchi became involved in efforts to end the Vietnam War. It was Jesuit Father Joseph J. LaBran, associate chaplain, who, after an anti-war rally, encouraged Colecchi to consider using his leadership skills to serve the Catholic Church.

Following graduation in 1973, Colecchi entered Yale Divinity School to work on a master's degree in religion. He also worked on low-income housing needs for elderly people. "That was significant because I saw the struggles of poor, inner city elderly residents," he said.

At Yale, Colecchi met Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who taught pastoral ministry and wrote numerous books and articles on myriad aspects of the church's vital work.

"He was a big influence on me, too," Colecchi said of Father Nouwen. "He helped me understand that it was important to root myself in some spirituality, which I have never been very good at. I've always been more of an activist. That's one of the things I could do better in retirement."

With advanced degree in hand, Colecchi began his career in religious education at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he connected students with outreach to elderly people. Then it was on to Virginia, the one place where Steve and Cheryl could find work together, he in parish ministry and she as a teacher.

Colecchi worked for three years at St. Joseph Church in rural Martinsville and eight years at St. Bridget Church in Richmond. As time passed, Cheryl built a career as a clinical psychologist.

By 1988, Colecchi's skills were noticed within the Richmond Diocese. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a leading social justice advocate who opposed abortion as much as nuclear weapons, hired him on the spot during an interview. Colecchi became director of the Office of Justice and Peace and diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

"It was a big office because it included an office of migrant ministry on the Eastern Shore. It included an office in Appalachia that worked on issues in Appalachia. It included refugee resettlement offices in three different metro areas of the diocese."

The position also required regularly meeting with legislators on any number of concerns. He recalled his most notable legislative achievements as changes in public assistance policies affecting two-parent families and a prohibition on partial-birth abortion.

In 2004, the USCCB called.

The Colecchis were not sure they wanted to move northward. They had two daughters and Cheryl's practice was well established. It was their involvement in the Just Faith program that led them to take the risk. The yearlong program rooted in social justice concerns ends with a retreat during which participants are invited to discern how God is calling them to act on behalf of the poor.

"Together we realized we needed to take a greater risk for social justice, we needed to simplify our lives," Colecchi recalled.

The moved turned out well. Colecchi has earned wide praise for his work and Cheryl was able to build a new practice in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Both were to retire together and planned to return to the Richmond area.

Colecchi said he looks "forward to being a full-time grandpa and a part-time something else" in retirement. He hopes to line up work as an adviser on issues such as nuclear disarmament, world poverty and climate change.

"I think I have something to contribute still."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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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.

Sweden's Lutherans to let Catholic parish hold Masses in Lund cathedral

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:25am

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

For the first time in 500 years, Lutherans in Sweden are welcoming Catholics to celebrate Masses in Lund cathedral. The historic cathedral, formerly the site of bitter religious feuding, has become a site of interfaith friendship since Pope Francis held a service there in 2016.

The agreement to allow Catholic Masses to be celebrated in the cathedral was announced in early April to accommodate the growing parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lund, which will be undergoing building renovations. Catholic services will be held there beginning in October until the renovations are complete.

"People are very excited," said Dominican Father Johan Linden, pastor of St. Thomas Parish. "As I and my Lutheran counterparts have stressed, this is not merely a practical solution but a fruit of the Holy Father's visit and the joint document 'From Conflict to Communion.'"

The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm credits the church sharing to Pope Francis' visit, saying the pope has had a direct impact in improving Christian relationships in Sweden.

"Since the visit of Pope Francis, the ecumenical relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Lund have developed and grown stronger," said Kristina Hellner, diocesan spokeswoman. "The parishes don't wish to focus on what is separating them. Instead they focus on what is uniting: the Gospel, baptism, prayer and diaconal care."

Since the pope's visit, Catholics and Protestants in Lund have also been holding common vespers together on Saturday evenings. The number of participants varies from 50 to 200, said Father Linden.

Lund is home to one of only three Catholic schools in Sweden.

"Our region is growing and Lund, a town with a major university and several important research projects, is growing at a fast pace," said Father Linden, whose parish has about 3,500 registered members but serves about 5,000.

Father Linden said his diverse group of parishioners includes students, immigrants, foreign workers and families.

"Last time I tried to count, we had around 85 nationalities," he said.

Now the small Catholic community has outgrown the building and found a new opportunity for fellowship with their Lutheran neighbors.

Father Linden said he believes that the experience is enriching, saying that goodness and beauty are found everywhere and can be particularly shared with Christians of other traditions.

"If we take Christ's invitation to unity seriously, we must first and foremost seek the good, the true, the beautiful and cherish it. Be humble and recognize it," said Father Linden, saying witnessing a different tradition can inspire people to grow in holiness.

"All this can and will be done without giving up our own tradition," he added. "For us, our common ground of baptism and the Gospel means that we can do a lot to make God's kingdom grow and become more visible in our secular society."

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Fletcher is a correspondent for Catholic News Service.

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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.

Sweden's Lutherans to let Catholic parish hold Masses in Lund cathedral

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:25am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

For the first time in 500 years, Lutherans in Sweden are welcoming Catholics to celebrate Masses in Lund cathedral. The historic cathedral, formerly the site of bitter religious feuding, has become a site of interfaith friendship since Pope Francis held a service there in 2016.

The agreement to allow Catholic Masses to be celebrated in the cathedral was announced in early April to accommodate the growing parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lund, which will be undergoing building renovations. Catholic services will be held there beginning in October until the renovations are complete.

"People are very excited," said Dominican Father Johan Linden, pastor of St. Thomas Parish. "As I and my Lutheran counterparts have stressed, this is not merely a practical solution but a fruit of the Holy Father's visit and the joint document 'From Conflict to Communion.'"

The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm credits the church sharing to Pope Francis' visit, saying the pope has had a direct impact in improving Christian relationships in Sweden.

"Since the visit of Pope Francis, the ecumenical relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Lund have developed and grown stronger," said Kristina Hellner, diocesan spokeswoman. "The parishes don't wish to focus on what is separating them. Instead they focus on what is uniting: the Gospel, baptism, prayer and diaconal care."

Since the pope's visit, Catholics and Protestants in Lund have also been holding common vespers together on Saturday evenings. The number of participants varies from 50 to 200, said Father Linden.

Lund is home to one of only three Catholic schools in Sweden.

"Our region is growing and Lund, a town with a major university and several important research projects, is growing at a fast pace," said Father Linden, whose parish has about 3,500 registered members but serves about 5,000.

Father Linden said his diverse group of parishioners includes students, immigrants, foreign workers and families.

"Last time I tried to count, we had around 85 nationalities," he said.

Now the small Catholic community has outgrown the building and found a new opportunity for fellowship with their Lutheran neighbors.

Father Linden said he believes that the experience is enriching, saying that goodness and beauty are found everywhere and can be particularly shared with Christians of other traditions.

"If we take Christ's invitation to unity seriously, we must first and foremost seek the good, the true, the beautiful and cherish it. Be humble and recognize it," said Father Linden, saying witnessing a different tradition can inspire people to grow in holiness.

"All this can and will be done without giving up our own tradition," he added. "For us, our common ground of baptism and the Gospel means that we can do a lot to make God's kingdom grow and become more visible in our secular society."

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Fletcher is a correspondent for Catholic News Service.

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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.

Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 7:00am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God calls all Christians to be saints -- not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness.

"Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy," the pope wrote in "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), his apostolic exhortation on "the call to holiness in today's world."

Pope Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the Vatican released it April 9.

Much of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the individual reading it. "With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you," he wrote near the beginning.

Saying he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of each Christian and which requires a personal response given one's state in life, talents and circumstances.

"We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer," he wrote. But "that is not the case."

"We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves," he said.

He wrote about "the saints next door" and said he likes "to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile."

Pope Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of hell.

"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," the pope wrote in his exhortation. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable" to the devil's temptations.

"The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice," he wrote. "When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities."

The path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in prayer, in sacrifice and in service to others.

Being part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. "I do not believe in holiness without prayer," he said, "even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotion."

"The holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures," he said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is tired, prays the rosary and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind word.

The title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says "rejoice and be glad" to those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.

The line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, "Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy": living simply, putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble, mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for justice and seeking peace with all.

The example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he said, but no one else's path can be duplicated exactly.

Each person, he said, needs "to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity."

The exhortation ends with a section on "discernment," which is a gift to be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection, reading Scripture and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.

"A sincere daily 'examination of conscience'" will help, he said, because holiness involves striving each day for "all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day's responsibilities and commitments."

Pope Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others' company and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And, "needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness."

Being holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always frustrated and surly, something is not right.

"The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness," he said. "The apostles of Christ were not like that."

In fact, the pope said, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."

The exhortation included many of Pope Francis' familiar refrains about attitudes that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and being quick to judge others for not following them.

Holiness "is not about swooning in mystic rapture," he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor and the sick.

Holiness is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.

"Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred," the pope wrote. "Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia...."

And, he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a "secondary issue" when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.

"That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian," he said.

Pope Francis' exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially when commenting anonymously.

"It is striking at times," he said, that "in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying."

Saints, on the other hand, "do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others."

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Printed copies of "Rejoice and Be Glad" can be ordered from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at: http://store.usccb.org/rejoice-and-be-glad-p/7-599.htm

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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.

Don't be afraid of shame, open hearts to God's mercy, pope says

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 8:33am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Feeling ashamed of one's sins does not mean wallowing in guilt, rather it is the gateway all men and women can use to experience firsthand God's tender mercy and forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

Christians should be grateful for shame because it "means that we do not accept evil, and that is good," the pope said April 8 at an outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday.

"Shame is a secret invitation of the soul that needs the Lord to overcome evil," the pope said. "The tragedy is when we are no longer ashamed of anything. Do not be afraid of being ashamed! Let us pass from shame to forgiveness!"

Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated every year on the Sunday after Easter, was added to the universal church calendar by St. John Paul II in 2000. The Polish pope was a longtime devotee of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalksa, whom he beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

As Pope Francis celebrated the Mass, a painting of Jesus inspired by St. Faustina's visions was near the altar. The image, perched on top a bed of white roses, depicts Jesus with one hand raised in blessing and the other pointing to his heart emanating red and white light.

As the sounds of the Sistine choir filled the air, Pope Francis stood and bowed reverently in front of the painting before incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. John which recalled the apostle Thomas' disbelief at Christ's resurrection.

Despite Thomas' initial lack of faith, Pope Francis said, Christians should learn from his example and not be content with hearing from others that Jesus is alive.

"A God who is risen but remains distant does not fill our lives; an aloof God does not attract us, however just and holy he may be. No, we too need to 'see God,' to touch him with our hands and to know that he is risen for us," the pope said.

Like Thomas and the disciples, he explained, Christian men and women can only understand the depth of God's love by "gazing upon" Jesus' wounds.

Although "we can consider ourselves Christians, call ourselves Christians and speak about the many beautiful values of faith," he said, "we need to see Jesus by touching his love. Only thus can we go to the heart of the faith and, like the disciples, find peace and joy beyond all doubt."

There are several "closed doors" that must be opened in order to experience this love and to understand that God's mercy "is not simply one of his qualities among others, but the very beating of his heart," Pope Francis said.

The first step, he said, is seeking and accepting God's forgiveness which is often difficult because "we are tempted to do what the disciples did in the Gospel: to barricade ourselves behind closed doors."

"They did it out of fear, yet we too can be afraid, ashamed to open our hearts and confess our sins," the pope said. "May the Lord grant us the grace to understand shame, to see it not as a closed door, but as the first step toward an encounter."

Another closed door is remaining resigned to one's sins, he said, so "in discouragement, we give up on mercy."

Through the sacrament of reconciliation, Christians are reminded that "it isn't true that everything remains the way it was," and absolution allows them "to go forward from forgiveness to forgiveness."

The final door, Pope Francis said, is the actual sin that is "only closed on one side, our own," because God "never chooses to abandon us; we are the ones who keep him out."

However, he added, confession allows for God to work his wonders and "we discover that the very sin that kept us apart from the Lord becomes the place where we encounter him."

"There the God who is wounded by love comes to meet our wounds. He makes our wretched wounds like his own glorious wounds. Because he is mercy and works wonders in our wretchedness," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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King anniversary recalls bishop's desegregation efforts in Mississippi

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 5:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Ja

By Tim Muldoon

CHICAGO (CNS) -- When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress Sept. 24, 2015, he pointed to the witness of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., suggesting that a great nation "fosters a culture which enables people to 'dream' of full rights for all their brothers and sisters."

As we remember the 50th anniversary of his assassination, it is important to recall the hard work of social change that helped bend our nation in the direction of greater justice. The integration of Catholic parishes and schools in Mississippi provides an important window into the moral struggles that existed inside the church's own institutions, and offers us lessons for today.

In the decade between 1955 and 1965, Mississippi was a hotbed of racial unrest, and Catholic schools and parishes were not immune. It was a period sandwiched between two racially motivated murders that drew national attention: the murder of the 14-year-old boy Emmett Till in 1955 and the Freedom Summer (or "Mississippi burning") murders of three young civil rights activists in 1964. In Catholic parishes, groups of whites threatened blacks attending Mass at St. Joseph in Port Gibson; Sacred Heart in Hattiesburg; St. Joseph in Greenville; and many others.

Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow, head of what is now the Jackson Diocese, had been nurturing hopes for desegregation of his parishes and schools for years, keeping meticulous files of racial incidents. A realist, he understood that episcopal fiat could not undo generations of racial prejudice, and so worked slowly to develop collaborators.

One example in 1954 was in Waveland, where a parishioner threatened black priests sent by Father Robert E. Pung, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, who was the rector of St. Augustine Seminary, the first black seminary in the United States. Father Pung composed a strongly worded letter to the man:

"And what did the priest come to your parish to do: just one thing -- to celebrate Mass and bring Christ down upon your parish altar and to feed the flock of Christ with his sacred body. And that the majority of the parishioners looked upon the priest celebrating holy Mass as a priest of God and not whether he was colored or white is evident from the fact that last Sunday over three Communion rails of people received holy Communion from his anointed hands."

He assured the man that these same priests would be praying for him.

Bishop Gerow kept an extensive file including this and many other racial incidents. In an entry from November 1957, he shares the advice he gave to a group of Catholic men who were distressed at the ill treatment of black parishioners. He wrote:

"We are facing a situation in which we as a small minority are up against a frantic and unreasonable attitude of a greater majority of the community. If we attempt to force matters, we are liable to do injury not only to ourselves but also to those whom we would wish to do help, namely, the Negroes. Imprudent action on our part might cause them very serious even physical harm."

His position on desegregation was a delicate one, which attempted to balance a complex array of factors and forces:

-- First, there were the pastoral needs of black Catholics in the region, some of whom had to travel to celebrate the sacraments and who sometimes faced verbal or physical threats.

-- Second, there were the established parishes comprised mostly of whites, themselves a minority in a region that was dominated by Protestants.

-- Third, there were men in both state and local government, not to mention law enforcement, who were sometimes hostile even to white Catholics, and so the presence of blacks in Catholic congregations was a further potential danger.

-- Fourth, there were a growing number of organizations supporting the cause of integration: organizations such as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as Catholic organizations, like the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, or NCCIJ.

In 1963, Henry Cabirac Jr. of the NCCIJ began to force the hand of Bishop Gerow, when Cabirac called for integration of schools at meetings in Mississippi City. Responding to Cabirac's advocacy that black families apply for admission to white Catholic schools, Bishop Gerow wrote in his diary of July 1 the following:

"My point is this: School integration is going to come in the course of time, but at present we are not ready for it. I feel that the first step is to create a better relationship between the two races."

He wrote guidelines for sermons to be preached throughout the diocese on the moral demand of integration, but remained convinced that school integration would be dangerous for black parishioners. Nevertheless, only two days after this entry, on July 3, the bishop wrote that he had received letters from two black families requesting admission of their children to schools "which we have considered white." He laments being in an embarrassing position, feeling that "a bit more preparation of our whites is prudent."

No doubt the bishop was sensing great tension in the air. Only two weeks earlier, the field secretary for the NAACP, Medgar Evers, had been assassinated, and once again the nation's attention was on Mississippi. The immediate aftermath of the assassination saw Gerow in a political role to which he was naturally averse.

He had been active in drawing together white ministers in the various churches in Jackson for some time, and in fact had arranged for a meeting that included black ministers only five weeks earlier. The groups had hoped that their combined voices might thaw the icy relationship between blacks and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. But after the assassination, the bishop felt compelled to make a public statement which he shared with the press.

The opportunity to act decisively happened one year later, July 2, 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. Bishop Gerow issued a statement to the press the next day.

"Each of us, bearing in mind Christ's law of love, can establish his own personal motive of reaction to the bill and thus turn this time into an occasion of spiritual growth. The prophets of strife and distress need not be right."

On Aug. 6, the bishop published a letter to be read in all churches the subsequent Sunday (Aug. 9), indicating that "qualified Catholic children" would be admitted to the first grade without respect to race. He called on all Catholics to "a true Christian spirit by their acceptance of and cooperation in the implementation of this policy." In a letter to his chancellor, Bishop Gerow describes this move as "more in accord with Christian principle than of segregation." The following year, he desegregated all the grades in Catholic schools.

In recent months, we also have seen tragic examples of racially motivated hate crimes. Later this year, the U.S. bishops plan to release their first pastoral letter on racism in nearly 40 years. Mindful of the gifts that people of all races bring to the community of faith, and of the need to work towards a just social order, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said at the launching of the racism task force last August, "The vile chants of violence against African-Americans and other people of color, the Jewish people, immigrants, and others offend our faith, but unite our resolve. Let us not allow the forces of hate to deny the intrinsic dignity of every human person."

For over a hundred years, Catholic Extension has been serving dioceses with large populations of the poor, the marginalized and people of color, and have sent millions of dollars to ensure that they have infrastructure and well-trained church leaders that will form them for positive social change. Our dream is that these leaders will, in the words of Pope Francis, "awaken what is deepest and truest" in the life of the people, and ultimately be the catalyst of transformation in their communities.

During this 50th anniversary of Rev. King's assassination, we are mindful of all those Christians who have gone before us in the struggle for a more peaceful and just society, so that we may be inspired by their example to confront and struggle with the pressing questions of our day. Bishop Gerow's extensive efforts to chronicle the important period of his episcopacy remind us that we, too, live in the midst of a history that others will remember and judge in the light of God's call to live justly.

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Muldoon is director of mission education for Catholic Extension in Chicago and the author of many books on Catholic theology and spirituality.

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Contributing to this article was Mary Woodward, chancellor of the Jackson Diocese, who assisted with the Bishop Gerow archive, from which the historical material in this article is drawn.

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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.

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