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Cuban Catholics pray for Cardinal Ortega battling terminal cancer

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 1:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The archbishop of Havana said his predecessor, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, is in stable condition, but his health has weakened and taken a downturn in recent days.

"We have received in this archdiocese countless calls and messages manifesting caring interest in the health of Cardinal Jaime Ortega," Havana Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodriguez wrote in a letter posted on Facebook June 24. Archbishop Garcia took over the archdiocese when the Vatican accepted Cardinal Ortega's resignation in 2016.

Cuban Catholics have taken to Facebook to post updates on the cardinal's health and to communicate with others about his condition. A June 22 post on the Facebook page of San Antonio Maria Claret parish in the city of Santiago de Cuba asked Catholics to pray for the 82-year-old cardinal, who "suffers from terminal cancer."

"Last night the health of our brother, longtime bishop and cardinal, Jaime Ortega, became extremely weak," said the post. "It is expected that at any moment he will pass to the house of the Lord."

On June 19, Palabra Nueva, the magazine for the Archdiocese of Havana, published online photos of a visit with the cardinal, surrounded by brother bishops and smiling with the prelates.

Cardinal Ortega played a pivotal role in reestablishing relations between the Vatican and the Cuban government, which ultimately allowed the last three popes to visit the island. At the same time, some criticized him for not speaking out against the Cuban government, which began persecuting Christians shortly after the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959.

However, he seems to be a beloved figure inside Cuba and has witnessed and been a player during crucial moments in the island's recent history, including the thawing of relations with the United States in 2015.

Signis-Cuba, the local affiliate of a global Catholic communications organization, also has been keeping Cuban Catholics informed of the cardinal's health via Facebook. The cardinal, the organization wrote June 22, has been "surrounded by the clergy, who has been with him during his illness. The Cuban Catholic Church prays for his health and from their homes are with him in prayer."


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As raid threats stoke fears, church leaders try to comfort immigrants

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 6:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president's threats came and went in tweets, but priests, women and men religious, church-affiliated organizations and even some bishops from around the country were left trying to dampen the fear they sparked among immigrant communities of faith.

Though President Donald Trump used the social media platform Twitter June 17 to announce that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, would soon be removing "millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States" and would do so "as fast as they come in," he called off the threat days later with another tweet. He said that at the urging of Democrats, he would delay the action for two weeks to see if they could arrive at an agreement over asylum. If they did not agree, "Deportations start!" he tweeted June 22.

But by then, panic had set in among immigrant communities bracing for roundups that would target families and were set to begin June 23, a Sunday. That day in Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori paid a visit to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, a predominantly immigrant Latino parish, the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported in a June 24 story.

"I came to express my solidarity, my love, my care for the immigrant community," he told the Sun in an interview after Sunday Mass.

Father Bruce Lewandowski, the pastor, said that he found an immigrant family in a van outside as he was getting the day started, and they had slept in the vehicle outside the church out of fear, various news agencies reported.

Baltimore was one of 10 cities that would have been affected by the raids, according to news reports that also listed Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Miami as potential targets.

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, in a June 21 letter addressed to the archdiocese's pastors, gave advice for those tending to immigrant communities.  

"The best response is to quietly remind people that they should remain vigilant, reduce public activities, refuse entry to anyone purporting to be law enforcement without a warrant," he wrote.

He also reminded them of an ICE policy that tells agents to avoid apprehending in a "sensitive" location, such as a church, and that undertaking such a major operation would prove difficult for the agency. He also reminded them to share information provided by organizations such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, said in a June 22 statement that while the USCCB recognizes the right of nations to control their borders, the planned "broad enforcement actions instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration."

"Instead, we should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good. We stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to achieve those objectives," he said.  

"During this unsettling time, we offer our prayers and support to our brothers and sisters, regardless of their immigration status, and recognizing their inherent dignity as children of God," he continued.

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Syriac Catholic bishops optimistic amid dispersion of their faithful

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 1:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Syriac Catholic patriarchate

By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) -- Faced with the migration of Christians from Syria and Iraq, Syriac Catholic bishops meeting in Lebanon for their annual synod called upon church members "scattered everywhere in the East and West" to cling to their faith with hope so they "can be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel wherever they are."

In a statement at the conclusion of the June 17-22 gathering led by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the bishops acknowledged the suffering of the faithful in the face of "endless wars, persecutions, acts of violence, terrorism, displacement, murder and destruction, and the uprooting of a large number of nationals from the land of fathers and grandparents -- Syria and Iraq -- and their dispersion throughout the world."

Yet the bishops stressed that they also are optimistic, "thanking God for the return of many displaced people to their villages" in Iraq and Syria.

The prelates noted that Christians "are an authentic component and founder in these two countries." They called for solidarity among all citizens to build peace, hope and unity.

Synod participants came from dioceses and patriarchal and apostolic offices in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the United States, Venezuela and Australia. They were joined by the patriarchal vicar in Rome.

In studying pastoral service in the countries where Syriac Catholics relocated -- primarily Europe, the Americas and Australia -- the bishops acknowledged the plight of migration "to the country of alienation and painful assimilation" and the importance of sending "priests of good quality." They pointed to visits from the patriarch and bishops to Syriac Catholics worldwide in which the faithful were called "to preserve the deposit of faith and trust for their churches, the Syriac heritage and native lands."

The bishops reiterated their demand to stop wars and "resolve disputes through dialogue and peaceful means, and to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." They called for the return of all displaced persons, refugees and abductees to their homelands.

The synod also stressed "the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and establish their state on their land," emphasizing that Jerusalem "is a holy city for the followers" Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

They called on Lebanon's president, prime minister "and all concerned" to find an immediate solution to the country's economic recession and crisis in the housing sector that pushes Lebanese youth, in particular, to emigrate.

In their statement, the prelates welcomed efforts made "to obtain the official recognition of our Syriac Church in Jordan."

They also praised the establishment of a Syriac Youth Meeting in Syria in early July and plans for a World Youth Meeting in 2021, which both follow the first World Youth Meeting in Lebanon in the summer of 2018. The bishops recommended such meetings be held in eparchies and other countries.


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Australians begin 'ad limina' visits acknowledging impact of crisis

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 9:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The president of the Australian bishops' conference told his fellow bishops that it is "a time of humiliation" for Catholic Church leaders, but he is convinced that God is still at work.

As church leaders continue to face the reality of the clerical sexual abuse crisis and attempts to cover it up, "we as bishops have to discover anew how small we are and yet how grand is the design into which we have been drawn by the call of God and his commissioning beyond our betrayals," said Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, conference president.

After a weeklong retreat near Rome, the bishops of Australia began their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican with Mass June 24 at the tomb of St. Peter and a long meeting with Pope Francis.

The 38-member group included diocesan bishops, auxiliary bishops, the head of the ordinariate for former Anglicans and a diocesan administrator.

Archbishop Coleridge was the principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica marking the formal beginning of the visit.

The "ad limina" visit is a combination pilgrimage -- with Masses at the basilicas of St. Peter, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls -- and series of meetings with Pope Francis and with the leaders of many Vatican offices to share experiences, concerns and ideas.

The visits traditionally were required of bishops every five years, but with the increased number of dioceses and bishops around the world that is no longer possible. The last "ad limina" visit of the Australian bishops took place eight years ago with Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis no longer meets with each bishop individually and no longer delivers a speech to the entire group. Instead, he spends 90 minutes or more with each group, answering their questions and offering advice when asked; the Vatican releases only photographs and a list of the bishops who were present.

His meeting with the Australian bishops reportedly lasted about two hours.

In his homily before meeting the pope, Archbishop Coleridge told his fellow bishops that "it is a time for humiliation to give birth to humility." He prayed that St. Peter -- "the Galilean fisherman," who betrayed Jesus, was forgiven and given the mandate to feed his sheep -- would "be our companion and guide on the journey."

Celebrating the feast of the Body and Blood of the Christ June 23 with his fellow bishops in the chapel of the Domus Australia, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney also looked at the impact of the abuse scandal on the bishops and on where they must find Christian hope.

Like the disciples who did not know how to feed the crowds gathered around Jesus in the Gospel, "Today the bishops tell the Lord that feeding this mob is beyond them and suggest he sends them away," Archbishop Fisher said.

"Jesus responds by telling them to give it a go, with whatever is left in their tanks. He takes the little they offer and supplies the rest that is needed," the archbishop said. The result is that there is "enough, more than enough, superabundance: twelve basketsful of leftover graces, one for each apostle and his successors."

"It's precisely when we are at our lowest ebb that the triumph of grace is most evident," he said, adding that in the Archdiocese of Sydney "the numbers attending our annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets keeps growing, despite pressures to drive the church into obscurity."

And, he said, "at the very time that human reasoning counts against any sane man giving his life to this rickety show, my seminary is the fullest it has been since it was rebuilt in the 1990s."


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As immigration policy changes, so does work of Catholic organizations

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 12:14pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Immigration policies rolled out during the Trump administration have spread fear among immigrant populations in the U.S., but Catholic organizations and parishes have responded with renewed efforts focused on helping those groups, a new survey says.

The Federal Enforcement Effect Research Survey, also called the FEER survey, released June 12 by the Center for Migration Studies in New York, analyzed the impact of intensified immigration enforcement on the work of Catholic organizations and other faith-based groups that work with immigrants.

While many studies have focused on the effect of the policies on immigrants, few have looked at how those policies have affected and changed the nature of Catholic and other faith-based organizations.

One of those changes is that organizations that were helping refugee resettlement nationally now help asylum seekers at the U.S. border with Mexico.

"We have certainly witnessed a change in both our own department but also across the country in the work of the Catholic Church at large in welcoming the stranger," said Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), who participated in a webinar June 18 addressing the findings of the survey.

One of the changes for institutions such as MRS, Canny said, came about with the Trump administration's drastic reduction of refugees allowed into the country. Since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, the U.S. had admitted on average 95,000 refugees annually, and faith-based agencies, including many Catholic organizations, had since then stepped in to help with resettlement.

The number of refugees allowed into the country was capped at 45,000 after Donald Trump became president in 2017 and was scaled back to 30,000 refugees for fiscal year 2019. However, the cap does not reflect the actual number of those allowed to enter, it's simply a limit.  

"This had a relatively dramatic effect on the infrastructure that had developed over the last 30 years," which was a well-oiled network dedicated to helping refugees and their families integrate into the country, Canny said. "There were some 320 affiliates across the U.S. in all states who were receiving refugees and the Catholic Church, primarily Catholic Charities, represented about 90 of those."

These days, 45 of those Catholic affiliates remain, Canny said, adding that at the same time that the refugee cap was shrinking, the number of asylum seekers was rising at the southern border.

"Nine resettlement agencies including our own, interestingly, began to turn their attention and resources toward those asylum seekers," he said.

More funds started being raised for asylum seekers, more staff dedicated to helping them.

"You had a bit of an awakening," Canny said.

Last year, MRS, which had focused on resettlement, instead mobilized to reunite families separated by a government policy that took children away from parents or guardians if they had entered at the U.S. southern border without documents. After great backlash and public outcry, the government sought the help of Catholic organizations as well as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to help after U.S. courts stepped in to stop the separations and demanded that families who had been separated be reunited by a particular date.

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, and one of the authors of the survey, said Catholic organizations have been making "extraordinary efforts to adapt and to serve immigrants despite all these various issues."

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), for example, has dispatched staff to provide legal help along the U.S.-Mexico border and support for those helping immigrants forced to wait in Mexico until their asylum cases are heard, a new requirement of a policy announced by the Trump administration in late 2018. The "Remain in Mexico" policy requires those seeking asylum to petition at ports of entry and then wait for legal proceedings in Mexico until U.S. courts can hear their case.

Even as Catholic organizations have stepped up efforts to help, the fear some immigrant communities are experiencing is getting in the way of that help. Many are afraid of attending legal consultations that might help with their immigration status, accessing food, and even applying for a public service they're eligible for, because of fear of deportation or that it might affect chances at citizenship in the future, Kerwin said.

The Trump administration has discussed instituting a "public charge" policy that would hurt immigrants' chances at permanent residency, citizenship and even threatened deportation for those who sign up for public benefits. Some immigrants can't tell what kind of help could harm them.  

"These are obviously kind of very serious problems, most of all for immigrants, but also for Catholic agencies who are doing extraordinary work in trying to work around these problems," Kerwin said.  

Brian Corwin, executive vice president for Member Services of Catholic Charities USA, who also participated in the webinar, said clients are afraid to ask for help at food pantries and soup kitchens and don't want to sign up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for their U.S.-born children, who are eligible, because they are afraid it will affect another family member's immigration situation.

"People are afraid to come forward, to get help," Corwin said, recalling that a session to get families to sign up for the SNAP program, also known as food stamps, resulted in people not wanting to take the application and even the few who did, said they likely weren't going to fill it out "because of fear that it might affect their immigration case and fear that their greencard (a residency card) might be revoked."

Rampant misinformation, mistrust and "fear of the current rhetoric" are reasons people aren't seeking help, said staff at one California Catholic Charities, he said.

"We haven't even begun to do research on (housing) and the issue of mixed family status," Corwin said.

But there are "bright lights" as agencies push to keep helping by working with dioceses and parishes, saying "we're going to do something regardless of the climate," Corwin said.  

In places such as Minnesota, when attendance at Mass and other parish events waned after immigrants were apprehended and deported, church workers vowed to think differently. Sensing the fear parishioners had of leaving the house, one priest decided to take Mass to them -- to an apartment complex.

"It was a great success," said Estela Villagran Manancero, director of Latino ministry for Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, who participated in the webinar.

During major events, some parishes rented large buses to pick up parishioners who were afraid to drive lest they be detained, she said.  

"It's a little more expensive, but then we all can have security that they will not be detained," said Villagran.

Parishioners in Minnesota also have organized so they can tag along, or drive those who are afraid, to doctor's appointment, court dates, to take their children to school, Villagran said.

"I think people that are serving are very much committed," she said.  

The survey mirrors what a lot of the organizations and parishes such as the ones in Minnesota are experiencing, Kerwin said, that "here's more accompaniment ... more services designed and geared to the moment that we're living in. I think charities and parishes are very much focused on this issue."


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Vatican official praises Catholic media for coverage of sex abuse crisis

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 2:59pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Greg Erlandson

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (CNS) -- In a remarkably frank and detailed speech, the Vatican official heading the department charged with reviewing clergy sexual abuse allegations told an assembly of Catholic journalists that his investigators and the press "share the same goal, which is the protection of minors, and we have the same wish to leave the world a little better than how we found it."

Msgr. John Kennedy, who since 2017 has headed the the head of the discipline section for the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, described the personal toll on the 17 people in his office as they have reviewed an ever-growing tide of cases involving clergy sexual abuse or related crimes.

"I can honestly tell you that, when reading cases involving sexual abuse by clerics, you never get used to it, and you can feel your heart and soul hurting," Msgr. Kennedy said. "There are times when I am pouring over cases that I want to get up and scream, that I want to pack up my things and leave the office and not come back."

The Irish-born priest has worked and studied in Rome since 1998. Speaking with a soft Irish brogue and an even tone, he gave a humane and at times anguished assessment of his job reviewing the horrors of sexual abuse and its cover up.

Msgr. Kennedy views his work as both a privilege and a burden. He also realizes how important the work is. "The topic of the clergy abuse crisis is front and center in our culture," he noted. "Certainly, no theological topic or any other kind of heresy comes close."

"For me it is at the heart, at the very core, and some have even suggested that the church's heart has been broken in this crisis."

He said it has also taken its toll on many bishops.

"I have seen bishops who were once smiling pastors turned into morose, burdened figures," he said. He described bishops who wept when reporting cases and bishops who felt absolutely alone -- if not for Msgr. Kennedy and his office -- in confronting the scandals.

"A newly elected, but to date not ordained, bishop told me that he found out that there are many cases of historical abuse cases to be tackled in the diocese. No one told him this before they asked him to accept the responsibility. Now it is too late to say no."

No matter what pain or suffering he and others feel, however, "this is nothing compared to those who have borne this for years in silence," he said of sexual abuse victims.

"What of the father, mother or siblings of the child who have to look at that child and live through this? What can they say? Everything has been taken from them. You believe me when I am telling you these things. Can you imagine what it might be like not to be believed by church authorities? What would it be like to remain silent because a person did not have the courage to come forward and name their abuser?"

The priest said his office has now surpassed doctrine as the largest of the four offices that comprise the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its responsibility for examining the cases of clergy sexual abuse was given by St. John Paul II to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the congregation.

"When the pope entrusted the work to Cardinal Ratzinger's office," Msgr. Kennedy said, "he was instinctively aware of the impact these cases would have both on the credibility of the church's mission but more importantly on the faith life of a person who had been abused."

Msgr. Kennedy said the mandate of his office goes beyond clergy sexual abuse. It also investigates crimes committed by clerics that involve the celebration of the sacraments, such as penance, and the handling or mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.

Msgr. Kennedy praised "Vos Estis Lux Mundi," Pope Francis' recent "motu proprio" that legislated by papal decree new rules governing sexual abuse and its cover up. It is "a welcome development" that now makes "the denunciation of sexual crimes an obligation," he said, noting that the church should not wait until the press uncovers abuse cases.

Regarding the press, the priest said that his office, while bound by rules of confidentiality as it seeks to investigate cases, shares with journalists a desire to speak about the truth for the common good.

"If we consider that the purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies and their governments, then we can understand that the church's legal process and mission have the goal of offering its judges the best possible opportunity to be able to deliver justice in this particular aspect of its life," he said.

Throughout the speech, which received a standing ovation from the assembled journalists, Msgr. Kennedy returned to the challenge of a constant flow of new cases into his office.

"We are privileged to have a unique bird's-eye-view of the whole global situation," he noted. He compared the work of his team to that of doctors working in an emergency room or trauma center.

"One cardinal said to me as he looked at the piles of disciplinary cases in front of him that we only deal with problems. In part he was right. I said to him that it is important to remember that we may receive problems but that our main task is to offer solutions," Msgr. Kennedy said.

He expressed the hope that someday the services of his office will not be in such demand, "so that my priest colleagues can go back to what they were ordained to do. I wish that we will be able to work ourselves out of a job."

"In all honesty, this work has changed me and all who work with me," he confessed. "It has taken away another part of my innocence and has overshadowed me with a sense of sadness."

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Follow Erlandson on Twitter: @GregErlandson.


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Historic cross on public property can stay, Supreme Court rules

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 12:14pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of preserving a historic cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland saying the cross did not endorse religion.

The June 20 ruling reversed a lower court decision last year.

"Although the cross has long been a preeminent Christian symbol, its use in the Bladensburg memorial has a special significance," said the court's ruling in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. He said the memorial, paying tribute to soldiers who died in World War I, should be seen in the same "historical context" as the white crosses marking the overseas graves of soldiers who had lost their lives in that war.

He also said removing the memorial "would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions."

Alito noted that for nearly a century, the 40-foot cross "has expressed the community's grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifice, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought. It has become a prominent community landmark."

Several justices wrote separate opinions in this case, dissented by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

In late February, the justices heard oral arguments about the 93-year-old cross on a grassy median strip in an intersection of a Washington suburb. Opponents said it endorsed religion and supporters viewed it as a secular monument.

Known as the Bladensburg Cross or the Peace Cross, the cement and marble memorial was erected by the Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion of Hyattsville, Maryland, to recall the 49 men of Prince George's County who died in World War I. The cross, whose construction was funded by local families, was dedicated July 13, 1925.

Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia, ruled 2-1 that the monument is unconstitutional and must be removed or destroyed because it has the "primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."

The American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that represents atheists and others, filed suit against the memorial, saying its cross shape on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The monument's supporters stress that its message is secular: to commemorate war victims. They also have argued that its cross shape was not intended for religious reasons but to look similar to cross-shaped grave markers in Europe used for American soldiers who died there.

"Figure out where you want to draw the line," Justice Elena Kagan said during oral arguments about markers with religious connotations.

She also pointed out some distinctions about this memorial, saying it was put up when crosses were a common way to honor those who died in World War I; it is located near other war memorials and does not include religious language.

Other justices pointed out the strong Christian symbolism that comes across even in a plain cross. Ginsburg pointed out that it is "the preeminent symbol of Christianity."

Alito had cautioned against a general ruling against all war memorials with crosses, telling the attorney representing those opposed to the memorial: "There are cross monuments all over the country, many of them quite old. Do you want them all taken down?"

The Trump administration had joined dozens of religious, municipal and veterans' groups defending the cross monument and complaining that the court's mixed messages about religious symbols have forced legal battles on a case-by-case basis.

The Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit law firm with a focus on religious liberty, said in a friend-of-the-court brief that the monument's purpose was not to advance or inhibit religion but to "honor the dead using a historical symbol of death and sacrifice."

"The decision to destroy this memorial, which existed without complaint for nearly a century, simply because the plaintiffs, passing motorists, claim to be offended by the memorial's use of the Latin cross, evidences an intolerance to religion, and Christianity in particular, that is wholly inconsistent with our nation's history and with the purpose and meaning of the First Amendment's Religion Clauses," it said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.



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Migration situation requires a humane, Christian response, official says

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican recognizes how difficult it is for nations to manage the flow of migrants and refugees, but one thing is certain: "We must respond in a humane manner, a Christian manner, and we must try to help people, not harm them," said the Vatican foreign minister.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, whose formal title is Vatican secretary for relations with states, spoke with Vatican News June 19, the eve of the U.N.'s World Refugee Day.

While the Vatican obviously respects the sovereignty of individual nations to determine how best to respond to the needs of migrants and refugees, the archbishop said, "the numbers are what they are, and we must face that and we must help."

In connection with World Refugee Day, the U.N. Refugee Agency released its annual report on "forced displacement" around the world.

At the end of 2018, it said, there were 70.8 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, and 25.9 million of those people were officially recognized as refugees, which means they were found to have fled their homelands because of persecution, war or violence and they have a "well-founded fear of persecution" if they return home. At year's end, another 3.5 million people were asylum seekers in the process of applying for protected status.

Children under the age of 18 make up one half of the world's refugee population, the report said. And, in what the U.N. said was surely an "underestimate," it counted 27,600 unaccompanied and separated children, who sought asylum on their own, and another 111,000 unaccompanied and separated children, who had refugee status.

More than two-thirds (67%) of all refugees were from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

The five countries hosting the most refugees, the U.N. said, were: Turkey with 3.7 million refugees; Pakistan with 1.4 million; Uganda with 1.2 million; Sudan with 1.1 million and Germany with 1.1 million.

Archbishop Gallagher told Vatican News, "It's obvious that conflicts in the world, difficulties with the environment and extreme poverty are elements that will not change from one day to the next, so we must continue -- probably for many years -- to act in solidarity and with fraternal love for these people."

While the situation is dire for the migrants and refugees, the archbishop said that people in wealthier nations must acknowledge the contributions of newcomers, and not just in terms of cultural enrichment, but also in offsetting the declining birthrate in many European countries and the need in many nations for factory and farmworkers.

"So, it is necessary to have a balanced approach, but also try to humanize ourselves," he said. "In fact, if one treats others badly, we are the ones who are diminished."


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Bishop Blaire dies; recalled for living by a simple code -- 'to serve'

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 12:24pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Retired Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton died June 18 after a prolonged illness. He died at his retirement residence at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Modesto. He was 77.

The much beloved bishop was recalled by many both in California and across the country as a churchman who lived by a simple code: "We are here to serve, and to do it with a touch of class.

When he was installed as Stockton's fifth bishop Jan. 19, 1999, he told the standing-room-only congregation, "Jesus said, 'Remain in my love.' These words, which were spoken by Jesus to his disciples, are spoken to each and every one of us.''

He said Jesus' words express "the most central and profound truth of our faith. That we are loved by God, and we are called to love one another as God has loved us.''

He linked the sharing of that love to service. "We are committed to service in the world, to serve the kingdom of God in the world,'' he said.

A native of Los Angeles and ordained a priest in 1967, Bishop Blaire retired in January 2018. Before being named to head the six-county Stockton Diocese, he had been an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles for nine years. He was succeeded by Bishop Myron J. Cotta, who at the time of his appointment to Stockton was an auxiliary bishop of Sacramento.

On the national level, Bishop Blaire served as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pastoral Practices and has been a member of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In 2009, he was elected to a term as chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice, Peace and Human Development.

In 2009, Bishop Blaire one of the first bishops to sign the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation, sponsored by the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. The pledge offers a series of steps that people can follow to reduce their impact on the environment.

Bishop Blaire also was a former president of the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops.

In 2007 in an address about the work of the conference, he said the state's Catholic bishops "as pastors" meet with the conference staff "as experts" twice a year to "discern prudential ways to bring the Gospel to bear on legislative, judicial or executive matters."

"We are careful to select only those issues which have a significant moral component or affect the life of the church and her ability to freely minister to our people and in the community," he said.

High on the California Catholic Conference radar were a host of issues, he said, including efforts to have conscience clauses removed from reproductive health legislation which would force Catholic hospitals or individuals to take part in abortions or other procedures in opposition to church teaching.

The address he delivered was during a conference on St. Paul VI's 1967 encyclical "Populorum Progressio." The work of the conference, he said, resonated with the pope's well-known document.

"Listen to the opening words of the encyclical," Bishop Blaire said, then quoted them: "The development of peoples has the church's close attention, particularly the development of those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance; of those ... looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities."

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Archbishop joins pope in calling for talks to resolve U.S.-Iran tensions

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 11:53am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services called on President Donald Trump's administration to seek "sustained dialogue ... to de-escalate the current situation that is a danger to both the region and the world."

The archbishop's call for diplomacy rather than military action came in a June 18 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. His letter was made public June 19.

The correspondence from the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for International Justice and Peace outlines the Catholic Church's long-held stance that has preferred dialogue and engagement as the best actions to resolve political stalemates.

Archbishop Broglio called on the U.S. to avoid a military confrontation.

"There is little probability that another war in the most volatile region in the world, where the recent and current experiences of conflict in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are vivid, will succeed in bringing peace to the region," Archbishop Broglio wrote.

"A different approach is needed," he added. "The president's recent statement that the United States does not seek war with Iran is encouraging."

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have heightened since early May as several seagoing oil tankers have been the subject of sabotage and attacks. In the most recent incidents June 13, two tankers were targeted with land mines in the Gulf of Oman. One of the tankers was set ablaze.

Trump has accused Iran of being behind the attacks and British officials said they are "almost certain" that Tehran was behind the attacks.

Pompeo told reporters June 18 after a meeting with U.S. military leaders at U.S. Central Command in Florida that Trump "does not want war." However, he said, the U.S. presence in the region was meant as a deterrent to Iran's threats.

Iran has denied any involvement with the ships and has said it will defend its interests.

Pope Francis June 16 called for diplomacy to head off any confrontation.

"I invite everyone to use the instruments of diplomacy to resolve the complex problems of the conflicts in the Middle East," he said after celebrating Mass in Camerino, Italy, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2016. "I renew a heartfelt appeal to the international community to make every possible effort to favor dialogue and peace."

Threats of military action by both countries will do little to resolve the disagreement, two observers of Middle East events told Catholic News Service.

They said Iran's economy has taken a deep hit because of new sanctions put in place since the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from a multilateral agreement that limits the ability of Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Trump has said since that the withdrawal from the so-called P5+1 pact has made the world a safer place.

Despite the U.S. withdrawal, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China plus Germany remain parties to the deal, which international monitoring agencies have confirmed that Iran continues to follow. However, Iran announced June 17 that it could soon start enriching uranium to just beneath weapons-grade level.

In response, the Pentagon ordered 1,000 more troops to the Middle East. The step is seen as an effort to deter Iran and ease concerns among allies about the security of vital shipping lanes.

George Lopez, retired professor of peace studies at the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said he doubted that threatening statements from Trump and other administration officials and boosting the military presence in the Middle East will bring Iran to the negotiating table "or get them to heel."

"The Iranians don't look at it that way. They look at it as intimidation or a cavalier announcement," Lopez said. "The Iranian framework is that they have been under attack economically since last year."

He expressed concern that the Trump administration has failed to undertake any diplomatic overtures to Iran since withdrawing from the nuclear accord negotiated in 2015.

Should the U.S. initiate a surgical strike on one of Iran's nuclear facilities to block uranium enrichment -- as some in the administration and in Congress have suggested -- Lopez predicted Iranian leaders would see it "as an act of war."

"We didn't see the towers when they were attacked on 9/11 as a surgical strike. We saw it as an act of war. Why wouldn't any other state do that as such?" he said.

Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and an occasional collaborator with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of International Justice and Peace, said Iran's announcement on uranium enrichment is not surprising given the toll that U.S.-imposed sanctions have taken on the country.

"Slightly exceeding the (uranium) stockpile limit is not a near-term proliferation risk. But once Iran conducts the first violation it becomes easier to breach the deal in more serious ways," she told CNS.

Of more immediate concern, according to Davenport, is the potential for a U.S. attack on an Iranian nuclear facility. "The most likely outcome is Iran deciding to pursue nuclear weapons," she said. "Tehran may decide that developing a nuclear deterrent outweighs the cost that they'll pay in sanctions and diplomatic isolation."

Despite Trump's rhetoric, Davenport said she does not believe he wants to see a war erupt with Iran.

She called on the remaining parties to the nuclear deal to "deliver on sanctions relief," as Iran has sought since the U.S. withdrawal.

"So there is a space (to maintain peace), but it requires more courage from Europe to step and risk international sanctions and to send a strong message to Iran that it's not just Iran that is willing to take some risks to preserve the deal," Davenport explained.

"The deal is not dead yet, and conflict with Iran is not inevitable yet. But Europe in particular has to be much more proactive in the coming weeks to signal that they'll risk U.S. penalties to deliver on sanctions relief."

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Editor's Note: The full text of Archbishop Broglio's letter is online at

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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Young adult leaders gather for post-synod discussion

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 5:43pm

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic young adults felt the hierarchy started listening to them in preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, and they will do whatever they can to make sure their voices continue to be heard, said a youth minister from New Zealand.

"May we be bold," was the wish expressed by Isabella McCafferty from the Archdiocese of Wellington at a Vatican news conference June 18.

McCafferty was one of more than 280 young people from 109 countries set to take part in a post-synod Youth Forum June 19-22.

The Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life asked bishops' conferences around the world to identify two young adult leaders to participate in the forum, being held at a retreat center just south of Rome.

Schonstatt Father Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the dicastery, told reporters, "There is always a risk that after a big event people lose enthusiasm, move on to the next thing," but Pope Francis and the dicastery are serious about not letting that happen.

"The synod on young people is in its realization phase," he said. "There is still much to be done," and the forum was designed to continue that conversation with young adults who are experienced in reaching out to their peers.

McCafferty told Catholic News Service: "Young people want the church to give them room to be involved. So, yes, they want their voice heard, but they also want to be part of the things that happen after that," actually implementing changes.

Involving young people in sharing the Gospel message in ways that are relevant and makes sense to them and to their peers, for example, through the use of social media, is especially important, she said.

Young people also are deeply committed to protecting the environment, she said, and they want to be involved in the efforts of the church to reduce its impact on the environment and to promote respect for God's creation.

Most of all, she said, young people are looking for "an authentic church."

"Authenticity is about transparency, it's about vulnerability at times, but it's also about ground level, about being community," McCafferty said. "Rather than always thinking of the church as this thing that happens in Rome, it's about what it means to be church in our local area," and it always involves "person-to-person contact."

When a young adult goes to a parish church regularly for months and only one person talks to him or her -- it happens, she said -- it tells that young adult that an authentic, caring community does not exist there.

"Young people don't feel particularly welcome" in many church communities, she said. "Young people are looking for an encounter with each other, with the church and with the sacraments, but it needs to happen in relevant ways for them," which involves a willingness to "interlink with each other more and holding each other up."

The U.S. bishops chose as their delegates to the meeting Brian Rhude, project coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C., and Brenda Noriega, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and member of the U.S. bishops' National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry.

Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Lay Ecclesial Ministry for the U.S. bishops, was one of 15 national youth ministry staff members invited to attend the forum and make a presentation on how "Christus Vivit," the pope's document on young people, is impacting parishes, dioceses and national organizations in the United States.


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Update: Listening, mentoring key to keeping young adults, say church workers

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 12:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Terry Wyatt, courtesy FOCUS

By Elizabeth Bachmann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Professors, youth ministers and lay theologians across the country give different reasons for why young people are leaving the church, but they all agree that listening and mentoring are key to developing and maintaining faith.

Curtis Martin, president and founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, identified two groups of young people within the church: those who call themselves Catholics, but are slowly drifting away from the church, and those who are actively moving toward the heart of Catholicism.

Martin told Catholic News Service the reason so many young people are drifting away is because the church has "lost its voice." The church is not talking enough about its first love, Jesus, he explained, but it is focusing on secondary and tertiary things.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, agrees that young people want to focus on Jesus and the missionary work they can do in his name.

"What excites them is hearing the message of Jesus, seeing (Pope) Francis' concern for the poor, seeing different groups in the church reach out to people on the margins," Imperatori-Lee said. "Generally they are excited to be part of communities that are acting out the Gospels. I just don't know that they connect the institutional church with those that are acting out the Gospels."

She also said the church's moral and social stances are opposed to many millennial stances. For example, she said the church should stop focusing on "pelvic issues" and help students reconcile their LGBTQ identities with their Catholic identity.

Gregory Hillis, a professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, countered Imperatori-Lee's theory, suggesting that the sociological discrepancies between millennial morals and the church really stem from a deficiency in spiritual, theological and, especially, mystagogical education.

He explained that, without enlightening young people to the beauty, faith and theological reasoning behind Catholic moral teaching, dogma can feel oppressive and legalistic.

"When I ask my students to tell me, 'When I say Catholic Church, what do you think of,' they say 'law and sex,'" Hillis told CNS. "That is their impression of the Catholic Church, that it is dogmatic and not beautiful."

Hillis said he combats this phenomenon by teaching students about the church's contemplative tradition, immersing them in Trappist Father Thomas Merton, St. Gregory the Great, St. Therese of Lisieux and other writers.

Most of Hillis' students attended Catholic schools, growing up with daily or weekly religious education classes. Yet, he said, they have no idea that the church possesses this wealth of writing and thought, and often they ask him why they were never taught this in high school.

On a fundamental level, Hillis said young Catholics are overwhelmingly disconnected from mystagogical tradition. He said he takes his three sons to the nearby Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani "to hang out with the monks." This kind of spiritual immersion is more effective than the typical catechesis young people receive today, Hillis said.

Jonathan Lewis, assistant secretary for pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington, shared Hillis' concerns, but added that young people leaving the church are simply mirroring their parents' gradual disaffiliation.

Lewis referenced "Sticky Faith," a book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark, which says young people need at least five mentors who support them in their faith and life journeys in order for their faith to stick. Typically, this should include a priest, parish staff, small groups and parents.

However, Lewis said the church often fails to provide lifelong accompaniment to its members. In a survey of young Catholics in the District of Columbia area, less than half said they had either a mentor or a friend at their church.

"Young people are looking for the church to be home," Lewis said. "You should belong there, people should know your name, you should feel welcome, you have the key, you have some authority, there is a table, you are provided for. The church should have all these elements of a home."

Martin suggested a more aggressive approach that does not rely on waiting for the church to change. Instead, he said lay groups such as FOCUS must raise up spiritual young people who know how to survive when ripped from the comfortable spiritual luxury of college ministry, where they are surrounded by friends and mentors on fire for Christ, and dropped into spiritual wildernesses.

He said young people who find themselves in inhospitable faith environments first need to seek the "water and shelter of faith," like daily prayer and frequenting the sacraments. However, once they have secured their own spiritual campground, they must gather a group of people and start a fire.

"Jesus changed the world with 12," he said. "You don't need a lot of people, but they need to be radically faithful and committed to being fruitful."

Martin said although social media, videos, synods and councils are helpful, he believes the greatest hope and the greatest weapons for the Catholic Church are personal relationships.

"This is how Jesus Christ did it. His social media was the Ten Commandments, which people started breaking before they even left the mountain," Martin said. "So Jesus became man and led a scandalously relational life. The amount of intentionality of relation that he demonstrated is our example."

Martin said if each person who believes reached out to five other people, and each of them reached out to another five people, there would be real hope for the future of the church.

"It is very hard, must be the hardest thing they have done, but it is possible and it is occurring across the U.S.," Martin said. "We are battling an exponential battle; either we are going to lose and it's going to be terrible, or we are going to win and it is going to be magnificent."

However, Hillis said he worries that if the church continues to make decisions without consulting young people, it will never connect with them.

Lewis, who audited the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, said it was a positive example of church leaders truly listening to and engaging with young people.

"Pope Francis as pastor and teacher was trying to model for the universal church and bishops worldwide the right kind of process to engage young people in," he said.

This included listening, friendship and leadership opportunities for young people at local levels. Lewis said he has not seen any widespread examples of implementation yet, but he is optimistic that communities will begin to change in the next year "because Christ is alive. He is always new, ever young, ever attractive, and ever alive."


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What's in a name: Vatican questions use of term 'viri probati'

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paulo Santos, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon aims to highlight the damage wrought by climate change and exploitation, the possibility of ordaining married men to minister in remote areas of the rainforest continues to garner more attention.

Among the suggestions proposed in the 45-page working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, published by the Vatican June 17, was the request "to study the possibility of priestly ordination for elders -- preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by the community -- even if they have an established and stable family."

However, when asked why the document did not use the standard church term "viri probati" ("men of proven virtue") to describe married candidates for the priesthood, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, told journalists June 17 that he was perplexed at the media's continued use of the phrase.

"It's a different thing," the cardinal said regarding the document's proposal. "For me, I think (the term 'viri probati') is a bit abused."

In drafting the working document, he said, the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops wanted to emphasize that while the subject of ordaining married men would be studied, the church continues to affirm the importance of celibacy for priests.

Responding to a journalist's question about ordaining married men, Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, said the call for a study on the matter was a direct response "to the suffering of the people, above all those in the most remote areas, due to the lack of the Eucharist."

"The working document responds to this suffering by recalling, first of all, the principle that the Eucharist makes the church and the church makes the Eucharist," Bishop Fabene said.

He also reminded journalists of what Pope Francis said about ordaining married men of proven virtue during his news conference in January with journalists flying back to Rome from Panama with him.

Pope Francis told reporters that celibacy "is a gift to the church" and that he did not agree with allowing "optional celibacy."

"My personal opinion" is that optional celibacy is not the way forward, the pope told reporters Jan. 27. "Am I someone who is closed? Maybe, but I don't feel like I could stand before God with this decision."

However, on the flight as well as in a previous interview, Pope Francis also said he was open to studying the possibility of ordaining married men for very remote locations, such as the Amazon and the Pacific islands where Catholic communities seldom have Mass because there are no priests.

Pope Francis made headlines in 2017 when he raised the possibility of studying the ordination of married "viri probati," even though his response fell clearly in line with the thinking of his predecessors.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, published in early March 2017, the pope was asked if allowing candidates for the priesthood to fall in love and marry could be "an incentive" for combatting the shortage of priestly vocations.

"We have to study whether 'viri probati' are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example," the pope told Die Zeit.

Expressing a willingness to discuss the possibility of allowing married men to become priests was hardly groundbreaking; the topic has come up repeatedly at meetings of the Synod of Bishops -- especially those held in 1971 and 2005 -- and has been discussed by both Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

In addition, the Catholic Church already has married priests -- thousands of them.

Most of the Eastern Catholic churches always have ordained married men in their traditional homelands and, in 2014, the Vatican granted permission for such ordinations to be celebrated anywhere the Eastern Catholic communities were present.

In the Latin-rite Catholic Church in 1981, St. John Paul issued a "pastoral provision" allowing former Anglican priests who were married to be ordained as Catholic priests. Pope Benedict expanded that provision with his 2009 apostolic constitution, "Anglicanorum coetibus," establishing personal ordinariates for former Anglicans, including married priests.

While married Eastern-rite priests are part of the church's tradition, when the popes allowed for the ordination of married former Anglican ministers, they did so affirming that the general rule for priestly celibacy in the Latin rite continues.

In the same way, Vatican officials said studying the possibility of ordaining married elders in the Amazon does not call into question the importance of celibacy, but is a call for the church to take a closer look at a possible solution for a specific need.

Bishop Fabene said the call for a study was a direct response to the suffering of indigenous Catholics living in remote areas of the Amazon and, along with promoting indigenous vocations to the priesthood and religious life, is meant "to bring an encounter of the sacramental presence in those communities."

"It seems pretty clear that this is what the working document intends: to present to the synod fathers this emergency that came from the consultation with the people of God in the Amazon," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Don't let quake shake your hope, pope tells earthquake survivors

Mon, 06/17/2019 - 9:35am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media


CAMERINO, Italy (CNS) -- Wearing a firefighter's helmet painted white and gold for the occasion, Pope Francis entered the earthquake-damaged cathedral in Camerino and prayed before a statue of Mary missing the top of its head.

The pope began his visit June 16 outside the historic city by visiting the temporary modular homes of dozens of families who lost everything when an earthquake struck the region in October 2016.

Pope Francis arrived in the town early in the morning, and the first couple he visited insisted he try a pastry.

"I had breakfast before I left," he explained. But the woman said she would be offended if he didn't try just one, so he did.

A few doors down, a young woman holding a small, squirming dog told him, "I can't believe you are really here."

The centerpiece of the pope's visit was the celebration of Mass in the small square outside the still-closed cathedral.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on the question from Psalm 8: "What is man that you are mindful of him?"

"With what you have seen and suffered, with houses collapsed and buildings reduced to rubble," the pope said, it is a legitimate question for people to ask.

Faith and experience, though, make it clear that God always is mindful of his human creatures, "each one is of infinite value to him," the pope said. "We are small under the heavens and powerless when the earth trembles, but for God we are more precious than anything."

Visiting the families in temporary housing, Pope Francis kept urging them to keep hold of hope, and he did the same in his homily.

"Earthly hopes are fleeting, they have an expiration date," the pope said. But the Christian virtue of hope, a gift of the Holy Spirit "does not expire because it is based on God's faithfulness."

Such hope, he said, gives birth to "peace and joy inside, independently of what happens outside. It is a hope that has strong roots, one that no storm can uproot."

Pope Francis told the people he wanted to visit just to show his closeness.

At the same time, he said he knew that, after three years, media attention and the solidarity of other Italians has waned, promises of a speedy reconstruction seem to have been forgotten and frustration increases as residents watch more and more people move away permanently.

He prayed that the Lord would prompt people "to remember, repair and rebuild and to do so together, without ever forgetting those who suffer."


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Synod document raises possibility of married priests, roles for women

Mon, 06/17/2019 - 7:32am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church must find ways to reach indigenous Catholics deprived of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, and that may include ordaining married elders, said the working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.

"Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the church, in order to ensure the sacraments for the most remote areas of the region, we are asked to study the possibility of priestly ordination for elders -- preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by the community -- even though they have an established and stable family," said the document.

Published by the Vatican June 17, the document also said the church should consider "an official ministry that can be conferred upon women, taking into account the central role they play in the Amazonian church."

The document, drafted after input from bishops' conferences and local communities, acknowledged that in the church "the feminine presence in communities isn't always valued."

Those responding to a synod questionnaire asked that women's "gifts and talents" be recognized and that the church "guarantee women leadership as well as increasingly broad and relevant space in the field of formation: theology, catechesis, liturgy and schools of faith and politics," the 45-page document said.

The synod gathering in October 2019 will reflect on the theme "Amazonia: New paths for the church and for an integral ecology."

When he announced the synod in 2017, Pope Francis said it would seek to identify new paths of evangelization, especially for indigenous people who are "often forgotten and left without the prospect of a peaceful future, including because of the crisis of the Amazon forest," which plays a vital role in the environmental health of the entire planet.

The Amazon rainforest includes territory spread across Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana and French Guiana and is the largest rainforest in the world, covering more than 2.1 million square miles in South America.

While rich in biodiversity, natural resources and cultures, the Amazon rainforest has experienced significant deforestation, negatively impacting the indigenous populations in the area and leading to a loss of biodiversity.

"This synod revolves around life: the life of the Amazonian territory and its people, the life of the church (and) the life of the planet," the document said.

Divided into three main parts, the synod document first laid out the importance of the Amazonian region as well as the environmental threats facing it and its indigenous populations.

"Currently, climate change and the increase in human intervention -- deforestation, fires and changes in the use of land -- are driving the Amazon to a point of no return with high rates of deforestation, forced population displacement and pollution, putting its ecosystems at risk and exerting pressure on local cultures," it said.

To respond to the needs and challenges facing the Amazon and its indigenous populations, it added, the church must have a "new sense of mission" that "opens new spaces" for finding ways to minister with and to the region's people.

"This is the moment to listen to the voice of the Amazon and to respond as a prophetic and Samaritan church," the working document said.

The document's second part highlighted the dangers facing the region and its people who are threatened by those "guided by an economic model linked to production, commercialization and consumption, where the maximizing of profit is prioritized over human and environmental needs."

Drug and arms trafficking, corruption, violence against women, forced migration and the exploitation of indigenous people and their territories, particularly those in "voluntary isolation," are among the other challenges that the church must confront.

Among the suggestions proposed in the working document's third part was the formation of indigenous laity so they can take on a greater role, especially in remote areas lacking the presence of priests and religious men and women.

However, those who are preparing for ordained ministry in the region must also receive adequate formation in the church's "philosophical-theological culture," although in a way adapted to Amazonian cultures.

The document also proposed "the reform of the structures of the seminaries to encourage the integration of candidates to the priesthood in the communities."

Liturgy also plays an important role in expressing the church's closeness to indigenous people in the Amazon, the document said.

Citing the Second Vatican Council document on the sacred liturgy and Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium," the document highlighted "the enculturation of the liturgy among the indigenous peoples," adding that cultural diversity poses no threat "to the unity of the church but rather expresses its genuine Catholicity by showing the 'the beauty of her varied face.'"

"The sacraments must be a source of life and healing that is accessible to all, especially to the poor," the document said. "We are asked to overcome the rigidity of a discipline that excludes and alienates" and instead offer "a pastoral sensitivity that accompanies and integrates."

In order to help communities that find it difficult to celebrate the Eucharist due to lack of priests, it added, the church is asked to "change the criteria for selecting and preparing authorized ministers to celebrate it" and to work toward a "ministry of presence" and not simply the itinerant visits of a priest passing through.

The synod working document said that the church is called to play "a prophetic role" in the Amazon, and its evangelizing mission in the region implies "a commitment to promote the rights of the indigenous people."

"The Spirit is in the voice of the poor; that is why the church must listen to them, they are a theological place," it said. "In listening to their pain, silence is necessary in order to hear the voice of the Spirit of God. The prophetic voice implies a new contemplative look capable of mercy and commitment."

The commitment to caring for the earth and defending the human rights of its inhabitants can be dangerous, the document said. "The number of martyrs in the Amazon is alarming."

The church must support those who risk their lives for others "and remember its martyrs, among whom are women leaders like Sister Dorothy Stang," a U.S.-born Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who defended the land rights of the poor and was assassinated in Brazil in 2005.


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Bishops' actions at spring meeting called a 'work in progress'

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 4:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The gathering of U.S. bishops June 11-13 in Baltimore was anything but business as usual.

"The spring meetings are usually more pastoral, and the November meeting has a heavier agenda," said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, who said this meeting had a "sense of urgency" and momentum to it, both in the smaller group gatherings and when the bishops were all together.

"We were here for specific task ... and by God's grace we will move forward," he said during a June 12 news conference.

The bishops typically meet twice a year as a body. The spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is usually in June at different locations each year, and sometimes it is a retreat. The fall meeting in recent years has always been in Baltimore. This year's spring meeting was switched somewhat last minute to the Baltimore location where the bishops were not the only ones in the hotel space but were adjacent to other conference gatherings.

The other time a spring bishops' meeting was almost entirely devoted to the church crisis was the 2002 meeting in Dallas, just months after the church was reeling from a clergy sexual abuse crisis that made headlines in The Boston Globe.

But where that meeting focused on misconduct by priests, this year's meeting looked at responding to the misconduct of some bishops and the failure of some bishops to properly address abuse.

Since their two general assemblies last year, the bishops have been confronted with an overwhelming need to prove to U.S. Catholics that abuse within their own ranks won't be tolerated. They were hit with allegations last summer that one of their own, former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, had committed abuses over decades. Then just a week before the spring meeting, details emerged from the Vatican-ordered investigation of retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, highlighting financial and sexual improprieties.

Names of both bishops came up during the assembly at different points, when the bishops spoke about protocols to put in place to make sure these incidents wouldn't happen again.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened the meeting June 11 by saying: "We begin the sacred work this week of purging the evil of sexual abuse from our church."

But just the week before, he had faced his own accusation, which he strongly denied, of having mishandled an accusation of sexual misconduct case against his former vicar general.

The bishops also had the weight of unfinished business upon them in this spring's gathering: policies and procedures in response to the abuse crisis that they had put aside at last year's fall general assembly at the Vatican's request. They also had a new, but related, item: their plan to implement Pope Francis' norms issued May 9 to help the church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.

Although the bishops passed all the abuse measures before them, none of them said these actions would hit the reset button for the church. In closing remarks, Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that the steps they had taken were a "work in progress."

They voted to implement the norms contained in the pope's "motu proprio" on responding to sexual abuse in the church and they also approved all of their own measures including a promise to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.

"We, the bishops of the U.S., have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside the church over these failures," that document said, adding: "The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance and a desire to do better, much better. We will continue to listen."

In other votes, the bishops approved actions they can take when a retired bishop resigns or is removed "due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act." They also approved the implementation of an independent third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free number and online.

"It's right we give attention to this," Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said at the closing news conference. He said the collateral damage from the church abuse scandal is how it is "costing people their faith."

He also stressed that the possibility of "proceeding with what we passed today" without laypeople would be impossible and "highly irresponsible."

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, which oversaw the all of the abuse documents the bishops voted on, except for the third-party system, told reporters at the close of the meeting that bishops are already collaborating with the laity. We are not in a church where the laypeople are here, and the bishops are there, he said, gesturing a gap.

Although some bishops had voiced hope on the floor June 13 that there be mandatory lay participation in church abuse monitoring, Bishop Deeley said the bishops couldn't "go beyond what the Holy Father has given" in the norms he issued, but that doesn't mean laity are or will be excluded, he said.

That was precisely the point Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, hoped to bring home near the meeting's close when he emphasized the need to involve laypeople because "it's the Catholic thing to do."

He said when bishops go home from this meeting, they should be able to tell people they did everything they were able to do to respond to this crisis.

He told Catholic News Service during a break in the meeting June 13 that the church needs to get back to its origins and the Second Vatican Council's vision of lay collaboration with clergy, adding: "Perhaps God is utilizing this crisis in a way to get us back on track again."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Lay groups cautious about bishops' actions to boost accountability

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 1:07pm

IMAGE: CNS graphic/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Representatives of lay organizations expressed caution over the steps taken by U.S. bishops to boost accountability and transparency in dealing with clergy sexual abuse, saying future actions by the bishops will determine how successful the initiatives ultimately will be.

Full collaboration with laypeople will be the key to the success of the measures adopted by the bishops, they said in a series of statements following the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' spring general assembly in Baltimore June 11-13.

"Catholics are looking for robust actions and long-term solutions to the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures," Kim Smolik, CEO of the Leadership Roundtable, said in a June 13 statement.

"While the bishops took important initial steps, more remains to be done to address the root causes and create a new culture of leadership that values accountability, transparency and co-responsibility with clergy and laity," she said.

The Leadership Roundtable was founded in the wake of the 2002 abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. It was officially formed in 2005 by lay, religious and ordained leaders to help the church address the abuse crisis and promote best practices and accountability in all areas. It has been working since then to help dioceses address leadership and governance issues.

The bishops approved four measures during their assembly including the operation of an independent third-party reporting system to accept abuse allegations and the implementation of Pope Francis' norms, "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), to safeguard church members from abuse and boost accountability of church leaders.

Smolik said that while she had not seen the final directives, her organization was "pleased that multiple bishops intervened to specify the need for greater lay involvement."

The roundtable had sent recommendations to the USCCB prior to the assembly calling for national standards to support the measures under consideration and a study into what led to the mishandling of incidents of clergy abuse.

"New procedures are a start," Smolik's statement said, "but the pervasive culture that led to the crises is still in place. A new culture of leadership is necessary if we are to truly address the crises.

"It starts by acknowledging the leadership failures, looking at the root causes, providing new information in seminaries and other educational institutions, setting up governance structures with checks, balances, etc.," she said.

"Lay Catholics are lending their expertise and look forward to continued work with the clergy to create a new culture of co-responsible leadership," she added.

During a news conference at the close of the bishops' meeting, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, acknowledged that the "twin-headed scandal" of clergy abuse and mismanagement by bishops "is costing people their faith."

He said that laypeople inevitably would be involved in the new systems being implemented even if the adopted measures did not specifically call for their participation.

"Proceeding with what we legislated today for us, the possibility of doing that without qualified laypeople I would say is next to impossible. It is impossible and it would be highly irresponsible," Cardinal Tobin said.

Still, skepticism remained from Catholic-led organizations that have been highly critical of the bishops' handling of clergy abuse for years.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said June 13 that none of the measures adopted require all allegations of misconduct to be immediately forwarded to civil law enforcement authorities.

The plan governing the third-party reporting system will find reports funneled through a central receiving hub, which would then be responsible for sending allegations to the appropriate metropolitan, or archbishop, and to the papal nunciature in Washington. The metropolitans will be responsible for reporting any allegation to local law enforcement authorities as the first step toward investigating a claim.

SNAP said in its statement that "church officials have so far refused to mandate lay involvement, instead leaving it up to each metropolitan to decide, and have not yet said if every allegation received will be routed to police."

"Without these mandates, there is no guarantee that reports will be routed to police and investigations will be transparent and public. Instead, all reports can remain secret and insulated within the church's internal systems," SNAP said.

The organization called for each metropolitan to establish "a truly independent" lay review board with members to include least one clergy abuse survivor and two members chosen from investigators recommended by the appropriate state attorney general.

SNAP also wants any investigation of a bishop to be conducted "in a locale far from the area where the complaint originated." It said full transparency and accountability requires that the investigations and lay review board reports and findings must be publicly released with appropriate redactions to protect victims.

Terrence McKiernan, president and co-director of, said June 13 that it was "encouraging that the bishops are grappling at last with sexual and managerial misconduct in their own ranks."

In a statement, he called for greater involvement by laypeople in all aspects of the new standards.

McKiernan also appealed for ways to assure greater accountability among bishops as well as independent auditing of the new procedures, which he described as having "obvious structural weaknesses" that will likely guarantee "that the system will not command the confidence it requires to succeed."


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Mitigate global warming, spare further injustice to poor, pope says

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:05am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faced with a climate emergency, the world must act immediately to mitigate global warming and avoid committing "a brutal act of injustice" on the poor and future generations, Pope Francis told a group of energy and oil executives and global investors.

"Time is running out! Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done and concentrate on what needs to be done from today onward," he said.

"We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits. The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now," he said June 14 at the Vatican.

The pope spoke to leaders taking part in a conference June 13-14 on "Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home," sponsored by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in the United States.

It was the second private meeting aimed at dialogue with invited executives of leading energy, petroleum and natural gas companies as well as leaders in investment firms. The Vatican did not release a list of participants.

The first meeting with energy executives was in June 2018 with participants that included Laurence Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, an American multinational investment management corporation; Darren Woods, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil; and Vicki Hollub, president and CEO of Occidental Petroleum.

Pope Francis thanked participants for returning for the second meeting, saying it was "a positive sign of your continued commitment to working together in a spirit of solidarity to promote concrete steps for the care of our planet."

The dialogue was taking place during a "critical moment," he said, because "today's ecological crisis, especially climate change, threatens the very future of the human family, and this is no exaggeration."

"For too long, we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis and 'doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,'" he said, citing his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."

It would be grossly unfair for future generations to inherit "a greatly spoiled world," the pope said. "Pardon me if I want to underline this: They, our children, our grandchildren, should not have to pay, it is not right that they pay the cost of our irresponsibility."

All dialogue and action must be rooted in the best scientific research available today, he said, pointing particularly to last year's special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"That report clearly warns that effects on the climate will be catastrophic if we cross the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius" above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement goal, the pope said.

The report, which outlined detailed ways to limit global warming, warned that "only one decade or so remains in order to achieve this confinement of global warming," he added.

"Faced with a climate emergency," the pope said, "we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations. We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term."

Recognizing that "civilization requires energy," he said that it is also important that energy use not destroy civilization.

"A radical energy transition is needed to save our common home," he said, and the Catholic Church was "fully committed to playing her part."

"There is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided there is prompt and resolute action," he said.


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More than a few fans prayed for St. Louis Blues to win Stanley Cup

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 4:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters


ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Before the St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on June 12 to win the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup for the first time in the team's 52-year history, Twitter was alive with hopes for a little divine intervention for such a victory -- maybe even from St. John Paul II.

Many a tweet recalled a Jan. 26, 1999, visit the pontiff paid to St. Louis and just how comfortable he looked holding a hockey stick given to him by young people gathered for a rally at the arena that is home to the St. Louis Blues, then called the Kiel Center.

At the end of the rally, which drew a crowd of 20,000, the pope also received a special jersey in the Blues' colors -- bearing the name "John Paul II'' and the number "1.''

When the Blues headed to the Stanley Cup Final, Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis were praying hard for their team, said a May 23 editorial in the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.

"Our city has caught Blues fever with fervor," it said. "Even Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, not a native of St. Louis but no stranger to hockey as a Minnesota native, exclaimed at the end of his May 22 State of the Archdiocese address to employees: 'Go Blues!'"

"Many people had given up on the Blues, who in January were the worst team in the NHL," the editorial noted. "It's a lesson in perseverance and never giving up. It's a lesson that we certainly could apply to our lives, and especially our faith. There's always hope. For Catholics, that hopes lies in Jesus. And, for #CatholicSTL, in the Blues, too."

The long-suffering team and its loyal fans finally got their magical moment in Game 7 with a 4-1 victory in Boston. And the celebration will continue with a parade to honor the champion team June 15 in St. Louis.


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USCCB president, other bishops meet with survivors of clergy sexual abuse

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 1:44pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters


BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, chairman of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, met with three survivors of clergy sexual abuse late June 12.

The meeting took place as the U.S. bishops were gathered in Baltimore for their spring general assembly June 11-13 where they focused on implementing bishop accountability measures in response to the abuse crisis in the church.

In a statement released after the meeting, Cardinal DiNardo said he and his fellow bishops were "grateful for the opportunity to meet with a group of survivors. Their testimony reminds us of the unfathomable pain they have endured, and the need for vigilance in extinguishing the evil of sexual abuse from our church once and for all."

He said that, during their spring assembly, the bishops sought to "expand and intensify existing policies in order to care for victims and prevent future instances of these crimes, holding not only clergy accountable but also ourselves as bishops. Our work will not conclude until the number of sexual abuse cases is zero."

On the morning of June 13, Bishop Doherty tweeted about the how the bishops and some USCCB staff who met with the survivors "were reminded that this week's meeting is not an abstract exercise."

"Thanks to the hurting who speak to us. My experience is that God comes to these conversations invited or uninvited," he added.

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