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Update: Catholic leaders react to Trump's plan to send troops to border

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 11:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Texas criticized President Donald Trump's April 4 announcement that he would be deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In an April 5 tweet, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said Trump's move was a "senseless action and a disgrace on the administration." He also said the decision to send troops to the border demonstrated "repression, fear, a perception that everyone is an enemy, and a very clear message: We don't care about anybody else. This is not the American spirit."

The Diocese of El Paso's Commission on Migration similarly criticized Trump's decision, saying in an April 4 statement that the plan was "morally irresponsible and dangerously ineffective."

The statement, signed by Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso and co-chairs of the committee, Lily Limon and Dylan Corbett, also said the action was "a hurtful attack on migrants, our welcoming border culture and our shared values as Americans."

The next day, Bishop Seitz issued his own statement on Trump's announcement, calling it a "rash and ill-informed action" which he asked the president to reconsider.

"It is time for Mr. Trump to stop playing on people's unfounded fears," he added, noting that he lives on the border and his city is "one of the safest in the country."

The bishop said the troops will "find no enemy combatants here, just poor people seeking to live in peace and security. They will find no opposition forces, just people seeking to live in love and harmony with their family members and neighbors and business partners and fellow Christians on both sides of the border."

The Mexican bishops' conference also responded to Trump's action tweeting April 5: "It's very dangerous for our Mexican and Latin American people to have a semi-militarized border," saying migrants could be executed just trying to cross the border.

The memorandum Trump signed about the border said the situation there "has now reached a point of crisis. The lawlessness that continues at our southern border is fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people. My administration has no choice but to act."

The memorandum did not offer specifics about the number of troops that would be deployed or length of time they would be stationed along the border. It said the deployment would be done in coordination with governors. On April 5, the president said he was considering sending "anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000" troops and he told reporters that the troops, "or a large portion of them" would stay until a border wall is constructed.

The signed memorandum said Trump has the right to take this step, stating that the president may ask the secretary of defense to support the work of the Department of Homeland Security in securing the border, "including by requesting use of the National Guard, and to take other necessary steps to stop the flow of deadly drugs and other contraband, gang members and other criminals, and illegal aliens into the country." The memorandum said: "The security of the United States is imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border."

It also noted precedence for such an action, citing decisions by both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush to send troops. Obama sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the border in 2010 in Operation Phalanx; initially they were to stay there from July 2010 until the end of June 2011. But their stay was extended into 2012, though that year the number of troops was scaled back. Bush ordered 6,000 troops to the border in 2006 in Operation Jump Start; they stayed from June 2006 to July 2008.

In 2014, Gov. Rick Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the border after an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America were seeking asylum in the United States.

Although some members of Congress have criticized Trump's plan, calling it a political move and a waste of military resources, the Republican governors of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico -- all states that border Mexico -- have supported it.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted April 4: "Arizona welcomes the deployment of National Guard to the border. Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed. For Arizona, it's all about public safety."

And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that he welcomes Trump's plan which he said reinforces the state's commitment to secure and uphold the law. "Going forward," he said, "Texas will continue to implement robust border security efforts, and this partnership will help ensure we are doing everything we can to stem the flow of illegal immigration."

The El Paso diocesan commission's statement, also signed by the Texas-based Hope Border Institute, said the border community already knows the "painful moral and human consequences of the militarization of our border."

"Our undocumented brothers and sisters go through daily existence trapped between checkpoints and failed laws," the statement said, adding that "asylum seekers fleeing terror and seeking mercy at our border are imprisoned and separated from their families."

The commission also said the border has never been more secure and called it "irresponsible to deploy armed soldiers in our communities."

Instead, it stressed "working together to address the dehumanizing poverty and insecurity in our sister countries in Latin America and around the world" to resolve root causes that drive migration and finding a way to "end the hopelessness in our communities that fuels our nation's addiction to drugs, which deals only death and destruction to the people of our continent."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Catholic tradition guides teaching on contraception, archbishop says

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 1:15pm

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" ("Of Human Life"), so that Catholics and the world understand God's plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

The encyclical is notably known for upholding church renouncement of contraception. It followed by eight years the 1960 U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the first birth control pill.

Blessed Paul convened a commission to examine whether the historic Christian rejection of contraceptives would apply to the new technology. Most commission members advised the pope that it would not, but Blessed Paul eventually disagreed, saying in the encyclical that the new technology was prohibited birth control.

Blessed Paul's decision has been widely criticized, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged, with some Catholic clergy, theologians and laypeople refusing to accept it. "That resistance continues in our own day," said the archbishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He made the comments in a 35-minute presentation to about 200 people.

"'Humanae Vitae' revealed deep wounds in the church about our understanding of the human person, the nature of sexuality and marriage as God created it," he explained. "We still seek the cure for those wounds. But thanks to the witness of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis and many other faithful shepherds, the church has continued to preach the truth of Jesus Christ about who we are and what God desires for us.

"People willing to open their eyes and their hearts to the truth will see the hope that Catholic teaching represents and the power that comes when that truth makes us free," he said.

The archbishop challenged widespread denunciation of the teaching on contraception by those who say church leaders spend too much time on "pelvic issues," thus obscuring, they argue, the Gospel message of caring for poor people.

"As a bishop for 30 years in the dioceses where I served, that's three of them, the church has put far more money, time and personnel into the care and education of the underprivileged than into programs related to sex," he said.

"And it's not that the critics don't know this. Many don't want to know it because facts interfere with their story line of a sexually repressed, body-denying institution locked in the past."

Church teaching on contraception can be traced to the early days of Christianity, particularly in ancient Rome, where Christians emphasized upholding human dignity, he said.

Citing the work of Kyle Harper, provost at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in Roman history, the archbishop said the Romans "presumed that sex was just sex, one instinctual need among others" and that prostitutes and slaves were "safety valves" to satisfy such needs. But it was the early Christians who "welcomed all new life as something holy and a blessing," teaching that each person was created in the image and likeness of God, he explained.

Christians also preached that God gave all people free will to act in accordance with God's commands or against them, he said, continuing to cite Harper.

"Christianity embedded that notion of free will in human culture for the first time. Christian sexual morality was a key part of this understanding of free will. The body was a 'consecrated space' in which we could choose or reject God," he said.

As a result, Christians began demanding "care for vulnerable bodies," speaking out against slavery and supporting the needs of poor people, and that concern included opposition to contraception, he said.

Archbishop Chaput noted that Christian opposition to contraception continued until the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, which determined that while the preferred method of avoiding birth should be sexual abstinence, other methods may be used to prevent pregnancy as long as they fell in line with Christian principles.

"Their minor tweak gradually turned into a full reversal on the issue of contraception. Other Christian leaders followed suit," he said.

"Today this leaves the Catholic Church almost alone as a body of Christian believers whose leaders still maintain the historic Christian teaching on contraception," he continued. "The church can thus look stubborn and out of touch for not adjusting her beliefs to the prevailing culture. But she's simply remaining true to the faith she received from the apostles and can't barter away."

Since then, Archbishop Chaput said, "developed society has moved sharply away from Christian faith and morals, without shedding them completely."

He echoed author G.K. Chesterton, who asserted that society is surrounded by "fragments of Christian ideas removed from their original framework and used in strange new ways. Human dignity and rights are still popular concepts, just don't ask what their foundation is or whether human rights have any solid content beyond sentiment or personal preference."

"Our culture isn't reverting to the paganism of the past. It's creating a new religion to replace Christianity. It's that we understand that today's new sexual mores are part of this larger change."

The moral conflicts society faces, such as broken families, social unraveling and "gender confusion" stems "from our disordered attitudes toward creation and our appetite to master, reshape and even deform nature to our wills. We want the freedom to decide what reality is. And we insist on the power to make it so," he said.

Such thinking is manifest in efforts to master the limitations of the human body and "attack the heart of our humanity," the archbishop added.

Blessed Paul explains that "marriage is not just a social convention we've inherited, but the design of God himself. Christian couples are called to welcome the sacrifices that God's design requires so they can enter into the joy it offers. This means that while husbands and wives may take advantage of periods of natural infertility to regulate the birth of their children, they can't actively intervene to stamp out the fertility that's natural to sexual love," he said.

Because the church's teaching often was not being followed prior to the encyclical, Archbishop Chaput said Blessed Paul offered four predictions if that trend continued: widespread infidelity and the general lowering of morality; loss of respect for women as they become viewed as instruments of selfish enjoyment rather than as beloved companions; public policies that advocate and implement birth control as a form of population policy; and humans thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, turning the person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.

"Half a century after 'Humanae Vitae' the church in the United States is at a very difficult but also very promising moment," the archbishop said. "Difficult because the language of Catholic moral wisdom is alien to many young people, who often leave the church without every really encountering her. Promising because the most awake of those same young people want something better and more enduring than the emptiness and noise they now have.

"Our mission now, as always, is not to surrender to the world as it is, but to feed an ennoble the deepest yearnings of the world and thereby to lead it to Jesus Christ and his true freedom and joy."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Puerto Rican students pursue dreams at Catholic University after hurricane

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, The Catholic Standard

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Puerto Rican students who are studying at The Catholic University of America in Washington for the spring semester said that this opportunity not only gives them a reprieve from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, but allows them to pursue their dreams.

Many students found themselves with nowhere to study after Maria -- the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years -- slammed into the island in September, killing dozens and decimating local infrastructure. More than six months later, thousands of Puerto Rico's 3.3 million residents remain without power.

The Catholic University of America in Washington said in November that it would take up to 40 students who were enrolled in colleges or universities in Puerto Rico as visiting students for the spring 2018 semester, and would waive their tuition and standard student fees.

The main goal is to allow the students to stay on the path to graduation, because "if they lost an entire academic year, it can be really hard to get back into the academic groove," said Chris Lydon, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at The Catholic University of America.

Among the seven students who have taken up the offer is Desiree Cordero Rios, who had just begun her freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, in the city of Aguadilla, when the storm hit.

She was with her family at their home in the countryside, where her father works as a farmer. The family had put up barriers inside their home and took turns peeking through a small opening at a window to see what was happening to their neighborhood. Water was flooding into the house.

"It was desperate," Cordero Rios told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. She said she remembers waking at 6 the morning after the storm and trying to call her boyfriend, only to find that there was no phone signal.

The vegetables and plantains on her father's farm were ruined, and many of the chickens and rabbits had died.

"We were shocked," she said, noting that "we knew it was going to be hard, but not that hard."

When Cordero Rios went outside for the first time after the storm, there were no trees, and she could see houses that she had not seen before. There was no electricity or running water, but her father had stored water, and there was a generator that they were able to use.

Gas for generators was in such high demand that Cordero Rios and her family woke at 4 a.m. every day to be at the gas station by 5 a.m. They would wait in line for eight hours to buy the $30 worth of gas that they were allowed.

The family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, would gather together every night in each other's homes in the neighborhood.

It was unclear if and when the university would reopen, and Cordero Rios said she began to think, "What about my future if they don't open?"

When telecommunications resumed, she called an aunt who lives in Maryland and went to stay with her. She had thought about someday moving to the United States mainland, and this hurricane pushed her to make that dream a reality, she said.

Cordero Rios is living in a residence hall on the campus of The Catholic University of America, where she is studying marketing. She loves looking at the paintings in the domes when she goes to Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, she said.

Cordero Rios aims to transfer to The Catholic University of America for the rest of her college career.

"The education here is awesome," she said, noting that living in Washington is making her more independent and improving her grasp of the English language. She hopes to start her own digital marketing company after graduation.

Like Cordero Rios, Gabriel Agosto also was starting his freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island.

He was at the university's campus in Bayamon municipality. His mother was working as a hotel wedding coordinator and after the storm she was transferred to Washington, where Agosto was accepted to attend The Catholic University of America for the spring semester.

This is a particularly exciting opportunity for Agosto, because it allows him to study what he is really interested in -- drama. He was studying marketing in Puerto Rico, because there aren't many drama programs there, but his dream is to become an actor.

"I am really grateful that I got the opportunity to come here and study," he said.

In his senior year of high school, Agosto and others in his drama class entered a movie into a competition where it was voted "gem of the festival" and won other awards.

That award-winning night "cemented in my mind that I was capable of doing anything," he said.

To pursue his dream, Agosto wants to keep studying at The Catholic University of America, and he said he could see himself graduating from the school.

The university's Spanish Club invited him and other Puerto Rican students to a meeting, which gave him a taste of the culture from back home.

"Puerto Rico is home, it will always be home," said Agosto.

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Sankowski is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Mass marks centennial of Maryknoll's first 'sending' of missioners

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 3:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Beth Griffin

MARYKNOLL, N.Y. (CNS) -- One hundred years after receiving Vatican approval to begin missionary work in China, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers recalled the "original inspiration and holy stubbornness" of the society's founders during a celebratory centennial Mass April 2 in Maryknoll.

Father Raymond J. Finch, Maryknoll superior general, was the main celebrant of the Mass at the Queen of Apostles Chapel at the Maryknoll Society Center.

Flags of many of the 47 countries where Maryknoll missioners have served were attached to pillars in the chapel as a reminder of the organization's efforts to evangelize and strengthen the local church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Maryknoll, properly known as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, was established in 1911 by the bishops of the United States to recruit, train, send and support American missioners overseas.

Father Finch recounted the "epic journey to Asia" made by Bishop (then-Father) James E. Walsh. At the time, mission territories were assigned by the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Bishop Walsh had to negotiate with other mission groups to cede areas of responsibility to Maryknoll before seeking Vatican approval. The process took seven years and was concluded in April 1918.

Father Finch said it is "difficult to fully comprehend the patience, confidence and stubbornness needed by the first Maryknollers. The temptation is to pass over the obstacles and challenges and even to make light of incredible difficulties they faced."

He said they dreamed of enabling the U.S. church to participate in the universal mission of the Catholic Church "to bring the good news to the farthest reaches of our world." They pursued that dream in the face of many challenges and difficulties" including internal disagreements and political, economic, social and ecclesial issues, he said.

Maryknoll was established when the church in the United States was expanding to serve the new waves of poor Catholic immigrants, Father Finch said.

The first Maryknollers were convinced, as Bishop Walsh often reminded his fellow prelates, that the only way the Catholic Church at home would meet its own needs for priests and religious was by being generous in sending them in mission to places they were needed even more, he said.

The world, the church and mission have changed over the last hundred years, Father Finch said.

"Mission is not just from the 'Catholic' world to the 'pagan' world," from the West to the East, and from the North to the South, he said.

"Today, mission is from everywhere to everywhere," and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples no longer assigns territories for mission, he said. Mission is the basic vocation of every Christian, "yet as much as mission has changed, the essentials remain the same."

It is still true that mission is about sharing the faith and the good news and about looking beyond ourselves and our very real needs to respond to the needs of others from the person next to us to the person on the other side of the world, Father Finch said.

Contemporary Maryknoll missioners work in 20 countries. The prayers of the faithful at the Mass to celebrate the centennial of the first mission "sending" were offered in Chinese, Swahili, Tagalog, Spanish, Korean and English to reflect the diversity of "the field afar."

The offertory gifts were selected from the Maryknoll archive and included rosaries, missals and Bibles that belonged to missioners who served in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

The Maryknoll Choir sang parts of the "Missa ad Gentes" ("Mass to the Peoples") composed by Father Jan Michael Joncas for Maryknoll's 2011 centennial.

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Perspective: Wildcats in Rome cheer Villanova victory

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/ Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

By Wyatt Noble

ROME (CNS) -- The Villanova men's basketball team claimed its second national championship in three years April 2 with a 79-62 win over Michigan, and I was an ocean away from 99 percent of my fellow Wildcats.

But it turns out the 1 percent here with me in Rome was all I needed. Around 1 a.m. April 3, more than 20 Villanova students and a few Michigan students poured into the Highlanders Pub in Rome.

As tipoff drew near, everyone huddled around tables near the biggest TV in the pub in nervous anticipation.

The last time we won the national championship, we were massive underdogs despite being a No. 1 seed, but this time was different. This time, everyone expected us to win. This time, anything but a win would mean catastrophic failure. Luckily for my fellow Wildcats and myself, the team was more than up to the task.

Donte DiVincenzo had shown flashes of superstar potential last season, but he ensured his status as the star of next year's team, and the star of the tournament, with a dominant 31-point performance. This came as a shock to many college basketball fans who had not ever seen the man known as "the Michael Jordan of Delaware," but every Wildcat watching in the Highlander knew what they were witnessing was not an anomaly.

Despite missing out on causing a minor earthquake in the quiet suburbs of Philadelphia, I got to experience a rare moment of triumph and comradery with my fellow Wildcats in Rome. Each of us wished we could be back home as the buzzer cemented our victory, but at that moment, every Wildcat in the Highlander began chanting the Villanova fight song, and it felt like home.

Then reality set in when everyone checked their phones and realized it was 6 a.m., and they had classes in a couple hours, or in my case an internship. Life doesn't skip a beat, not even for national champions.

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Wyatt Noble, a communications student at Villanova University, is doing a spring semester internship with the Catholic News Service Rome bureau. Other Wildcats are doing internships in several departments of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication.


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On Easter, Salvadorans bury priest assassinated during Holy Week

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 11:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

LOLOTIQUE, El Salvador (CNS) -- On Easter, as thousands of Salvadorans from around the country packed into the rural town of Lolotique, Catholic Church officials laid to rest a 36-year-old priest violently killed during Holy Week -- the latest victim of an unending wave of violence that plagues the country.

Officials held the April 1 funeral Mass for Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez, a priest of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria in eastern El Salvador, in his native Lolotique, a picturesque town with indigenous roots. Surrounded by the sounds of drums and marimbas, with a circle full of flower petals on the floor in front of the altar at Lolotique's Holy Trinity Church, Father Vasquez's casket was surrounded by his mother, friends, parishioners, the country's only cardinal and four bishops.

"He was headed to Mass, which he won't celebrate now, but he will celebrate in the presence of God," his cousin, Jose Diaz Vasquez, told Catholic News Service. He was one of the thousands packed into the town square in front of the church to remember the priest.

Father Vasquez was headed to celebrate a Holy Thursday Mass in the department of San Miguel March 29, hours after renewing his vows as a priest at a chrism Mass, when a group of heavily armed men wearing masks stopped the car he and parishioners were traveling in. The passengers were robbed at gunpoint and the priest was fatally shot.

The killing has shaken Catholic Church officials, who say they still do not know what led to the assassination or what it means for the church. Many believe gang members killed the priest, but details of what led to the killing are unknown, and church authorities are calling for answers, not just in the priest's killing but in the rampant crimes the poor in the country suffer daily. Many of these crimes are never prosecuted.

"We condemn all the acts of violence that are committed daily against our people and that lead to homicides, such as the one committed against Father Walter Vasquez," said a March 30 statement by Fathers Estefan Turcios Carpano and Luciano Ernesto Reyes Garcia, director and adjunct director for the Archdiocese of San Salvador's human rights office, Tutela Legal de Derechos Humanos.

The office demanded that authorities investigate, capture and prosecute those responsible for the murder of Father Vasquez, and those responsible for the general violence that El Salvador suffers.

Priests, as well as bishops, have repeatedly condemned the country's rampant violence.

Father Turcios, who serves in Soyapango, a city near San Salvador that suffers from gang violence, said there is much that is not yet known in Father Vasquez's case, but he has spoken in the past about unequal economic situations that have led to war and now to a culture of violence in El Salvador's poor areas, such as the one where he serves.

The Holy Week killing of Father Vasquez harkened memories for Father Turcios of the violence surrounding the 1977 killing of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, the first Catholic priest killed prior to the country's civil war. And it did the same for some of Father Turcios' parishioners, who initially worried about participating in outdoor religious activities during Holy Week following news of Father Vasquez's killing.

Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez asked those gathered at the priest's funeral to think about the killing. "What is it trying to say to us as a country?" he asked.

"In this country, life means nothing," he said tersely. "Let's respect life ... let's defeat our fears."

He asked the crowd to work to "protect youth so they're not in the clutches of the vice of violence."

San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas marched near the slain priest's coffin, decorated on the top with a bouquet of purple flowers, as it was carried up to the church, while bands played and the crowd sang hymns and popular songs.

In 2016, the archbishop penned a terse pastoral letter about the country's escalating violence. The church, through its programs, has tried to engage the country's youth, particularly boys who could become victims or inducted into gangs, to seek a path of peace.

Church officials such as Father Turcios and Archbishop Escobar blame a history of economic injustice in the country for its latest episode of large-scale violence manifested by gangs, a period that began shortly after the country's 12-year civil war ended in 1992.

Rampant violence has ravaged the Central American nation -- considered one of the most dangerous countries not at war -- since the 1990s.

A group from Father Vasquez's St. Bonaventure Parish, in the department of Usulutan, where Father Vasquez last served, said they believed the crime was random, and he suffered as many others suffer in the country.

"He didn't have enemies," said parishioner Jose Gilberto Aranda Ascorcio. "He transmitted happiness."

Even in a country where tension exists between Catholics and some Protestants, Father Vasquez was a person respected by people from a variety of faiths, Aranda said.

Several women dressed with clothing associated with Evangelical groups in El Salvador -- long skirts and heads covered with white lace or a white cloth -- lined the path toward the cemetery.

Some of his parishioners wore T-shirts with his face on them, which they say they wore to the Easter Vigil as a sign that they would carry on his work and his spirit, that he would keep living through them.

"He was simple, humble," said parishioner Liliana Carolina Perez Ramirez, who added he appealed to anyone who came into contact with him.

When the group showed up to the vigil wearing the shirts with his image, it represented their belief in the Resurrection, which includes now Father Vasquez's, Perez said.

During Mass, Cardinal Rosa Chavez said it did not matter who killed Father Vasquez or why, but the violence had to stop.

"We can't continue like this," he said. "The world is watching us ... We defeated the war. Why can't we defeat this other type of war?"

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Resurrection can inspire hope, love in a divided world, cardinal says

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 7:26am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Easter is a time to remember the joy that Jesus is alive and that his resurrection can inspire hope and love in the world, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It is through the resurrection that people can be alive in Christ and respect and love others, he said in an Easter message released April 1.

"Jesus lives. This is the simple message of Easter. And because Jesus lives -- so does hope, so does love, and so do we. Although Christ knew the pain of the cross and the isolation of the tomb, his death and resurrection gives us the joy of the resurrection and the gift of eternal life," Cardinal DiNardo said.

Noting that a large part of today's culture "tempts us to see one another as different, dividing us into ever more polarized camps," Cardinal DiNardo added that Jesus walked the Way of the Cross for all people.

"Everyone is in need of his love, and everyone is offered his love," he said.

Christ offers the "gift of life and joy. How we choose to live that life, however, is up to us," he said. "Do we always treat one another as sisters and brothers in the eyes of God? Can we look beyond the distractions and despair of our own suffering to the hope of the world to come? Jesus endured the pain and isolation to show us the path to life."

The cardinal also called on people to "acknowledge the gift of life Christ has given us" and to "look into the empty tomb and proclaim with joy, proclaim with all our hearts and with our lives -- that Jesus lives!"

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Easter shows the power of love, which renews the world, pope says

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 7:19am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Easter makes it clear that in the life of Jesus, but also in the lives of modern men and women, "death, solitude and fear" do not have the last word, Pope Francis said before giving his Easter blessing.

"The words heard by the women at the tomb are also addressed to us: 'Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen,'" the pope said as he prepared April 1 to give his Easter blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

"By the power of God's love," Jesus' victory over death "dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord and brings down the mighty," the pope said, quoting the formal Easter proclamation.

Standing on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after having celebrated a morning Mass in the square, Pope Francis focused on how Jesus foretold his death and resurrection using the image of the grain of wheat, which bears no fruit unless it is put into the ground.

"This is precisely what happened: Jesus, the grain of wheat sowed by God in the furrows of the earth, died, killed by the sin of the world," the pope said. "He remained two days in the tomb; but his death contained God's love in all its power, released and made manifest on the third day, the day we celebrate today: the Easter of Christ the Lord."

After a stormy Holy Saturday with rain beating down throughout the night, Easter morning dawned bright and sunny at the Vatican, highlighting the thousands of flowers, trees and bushes donated by flower growers in the Netherlands.

The garden created on the steps of St. Peter's Square included 20,000 tulips in yellow, red, pink, white and orange. Some 13,500 daffodils and more than 3,500 roses also were part of the scene, but the flower-growers association drew special attention to close to 1,000 cymbidium, also known as boat orchids. The orchids closest to the altar were green, the color of hope. Others were yellow, speckled with red, reminiscent of drops of Christ's blood, according to the press release from the flower growers.

Pope Francis gave a brief homily during the Mass, speaking without a prepared text about how God's actions throughout history to save his people have been acts that surprised them, touched their hearts and prompted them to rush to share the news with others.

"The women who had gone to anoint the Lord's body found themselves before a surprise" when they reached the empty tomb, he said. "God's announcements are always a surprise, because our God is a God of surprises."

That surprise caused the women to rush back to the other disciples to share the news, he said, just like the shepherds rushed when they heard the angels announce Jesus' birth and like Peter and John ran to tell others when they found the teacher and master they had been seeking.

"Those people left what they were doing; housewives left their potatoes in the pan -- they would find them burned later -- but what is important is to go, run to see the surprise" that was announced, Pope Francis said.

On Easter, he said, Christians should ask themselves if they have hearts open to being surprised by God and if they feel a need to rush to share with others the good news of God's saving acts.

After the Mass and after greeting each of the cardinals and many of the bishops and monsignors present near the altar, Pope Francis climbed into the popemobile for a quick trip around St. Peter's Square and part of the way down the main boulevard leading to the square. He then went up to the balcony to give his formal Easter blessing.

In his remarks to the tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis insisted Jesus' power over death continues today and can bring peace to the world's most serious situations of conflict, including in Syria, the Holy Land, Yemen, Congo, South Sudan, Ukraine, the Korean peninsula and Venezuela.

"We Christians believe and know that Christ's resurrection is the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint," the pope said. "It is the power of the grain of wheat, the power of that love which humbles itself and gives itself to the very end, and thus truly renews the world."

In all the "furrows of our history, marked by so many acts of injustice and violence," he said, the power of the Resurrection and the acts it inspires in believers "bears fruits of hope and dignity where there are deprivation and exclusion, hunger and unemployment, where there are migrants and refugees -- so often rejected by today's culture of waste -- and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery."

Pope Francis included special prayers for "those children who, as a result of wars and hunger, grow up without hope, lacking education and health care; and to those elderly persons who are cast off by a selfish culture that ostracizes those who are not 'productive.'"


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Easter hope breaks routine, unleashes creativity, pope says

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 5:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Truly celebrating Easter means allowing Jesus to triumph over personal fears and give life to hope, creativity and care for others, Pope Francis said.

Easter is "an invitation to break out of our routines and to renew our lives, our decisions and our existence," the pope said during the Easter Vigil March 31 in St. Peter's Basilica.

"Do we want to share in this message of life," he asked in his homily, "or do we prefer simply to continue standing speechless before events as they happen?"

During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized eight adults, who were between the ages of 28 and 52. The Vatican said Nathan Potter, who was born in 1988 and comes from the United States, was one of the eight. Four of the other catechumens were from Italy and one each came from Albania, Peru and Nigeria.

Pope Francis also confirmed the eight and give them their first Communion during the Mass.

The Mass, on a very rainy night, began in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica with the blessing of the fire and of the Easter candle. With most of the lights in the basilica turned off, Pope Francis and the concelebrating cardinals, bishops and priests processed in darkness toward the altar, stopping first to light the pope's candle and then those of the concelebrants and faithful.

"We began this celebration outside, plunged in the darkness of the night and the cold," the pope said in his homily. "We felt an oppressive silence at the death of the Lord, a silence with which each of us can identify, a silence that penetrates to the depths of the heart of every disciple, who stands wordless before the cross."

Transitioning from the Good Friday commemoration of Jesus' death and commenting on the silence of Holy Saturday, the pope spoke of the hours when Jesus' followers are left speechless in pain at his death, but also speechless at the injustice of his condemnation and at their own cowardice in the face of the lies and false testimony he endure.

"It is the silent night of the disciples who remained numb, paralyzed and uncertain of what to do amid so many painful and disheartening situations," the pope said. "It is also that of today's disciples, speechless in the face of situations we cannot control, that make us feel and, even worse, believe that nothing can be done to reverse all the injustices that our brothers and sisters are experiencing in their flesh."

But in the midst of silence, he said, the stone is rolled away from Jesus' tomb and there comes "the greatest message that history has ever heard: 'He is not here, for he has been raised.'"

Jesus' empty tomb should fill Christians with trust in God and should assure them that God's light "can shine in the least expected and most hidden corners of our lives."

"'He is not here ... he is risen!' This is the message that sustains our hope and turns it into concrete gestures of charity," the pope said. It is a call to revive faith, broaden one's horizons and know that no one walks alone.

"To celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our conventions, those fixed ways of thinking and acting that end up paralyzing us," he said.

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Update: Papal preacher to young people: Discover love, joy, life Jesus offers

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 1:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the church listens to young people in preparation for this year's synod, the church must not forget to also help them listen to Jesus and discover what he has to offer, said the preacher of the papal household.

"On the cross, Jesus not only gave us an example of self-giving love carried to the extreme, he also merited the grace for us to be able to bring it to pass, to some extent, in our lives," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during a service commemorating Christ's death on the cross.

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, which began with a silent, solemn procession down the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica March 30.

Two aides then helped the 81-year-old pope down onto his knees as he stretched himself prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica. His bare head rested on a red pillow, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance. As is customary, the papal household's preacher gave the homily.

Father Cantalamessa said it was appropriate that, given this year's upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and discernment, the church "make an effort to discover together with young people what Christ expects from them, what they can offer the church and society."

"The most important thing, however, is something else; it is to help young people understand what Jesus has to offer them" -- fullness of joy and abundant life, he said.

Repeating the pope's call for all Christians to renew their relationship with Jesus or at least be open to letting him encounter them each day, the Capuchin priest said God has a special mission for young people.

Their task, he said, is "to rescue human love from the tragic drift it had ended up -- love that is no longer a gift of self but only the possession, often violent and tyrannical, of another."

The ability to be totally giving and welcoming of love requires long preparation, whether it be for the vocation of marriage, religious life or service, he said.

Jesus on the cross is an example of giving himself for others carried to the extreme, and Christians are called to be courageous in going against the current cultural stream of selfishness and going against the crowd that chases after worldly things, he said.

There is a world out there that has nothing to do with God's plan, he said; it is a world that has come "under the dominion of Satan and sin" and plays a "decisive role in public opinion," which is then spread in infinite ways "electronically, through airwaves."

These mistaken ways are then seen as "the norm" so that when people "act, think or speak against this spirit (it) is regarded as nonsensical or even as wrong and criminal," he said.

He encouraged young people to go the opposite direction where Jesus, "our God and savior," awaits.

After the homily, the assembly venerated the cross, which was carried down the central nave and held before the pope. The pope had removed his red chasuble and, in a sign of penance, placed a red stole over his shoulders. He kissed and leaned his head against the cross.

Pope Francis was scheduled to speak briefly later that night at the end of the Stations of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum. At his request, the meditations on the stations were written by young people.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Jesus does not give up on anyone, pope tells prisoners

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 1:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Before washing the feet of 12 prisoners, Pope Francis told them and hundreds of inmates to remember that Jesus constantly stands before them with love, ready to cleanse their sins and forgive them.

"Jesus takes a risk on each of us. Know this: Jesus is called Jesus, not Pontius Pilate. Jesus does not know how to wash his hands of us; he only knows how to take a risk on us," the pope said March 29 during his homily at Rome's Regina Coeli prison.

Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the prison and washed the feet of a dozen inmates. Four were Italian; two were from the Philippines; two from Morocco; and one each from Moldova, Colombia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the Vatican press office said. Eight of the 12 were Catholic; two were Muslim; one was Orthodox; and one was Buddhist.

In his brief homily before the foot-washing ritual, Pope Francis explained to the prisoners that in Jesus' day, the job of washing feet was the task of a slave. "There wasn't asphalt or cobblestones, there was dust and people's feet got dirty," so before they went into a house, the slaves would wash the person's feet.

The Gospel recounts Jesus washing the feet of his own disciples "to give us an example of how we must serve one another," the pope said.

Another time, he said, Jesus explained to his disciples that kings want to be served. 

"Think of the kings and emperors back then, so many were cruel, they insisted on being served by slaves," the pope said.

But Jesus told his followers: "Among you, it must not be like this. The one who rules must serve," the pope explained.

"Jesus overturns the historic and cultural attitudes of his age -- and of today, too," Pope Francis told the inmates. Jesus says that "the one who rules, in order to be a good boss, must serve. I often think -- not of people today because they still are alive and can change their lives, so we cannot judge them -- but think of history. If many kings, emperors, heads of state had understood this teaching of Jesus, instead of ruling, being cruel, killing people, if they would have done this, how many wars would not have been fought?"

In his earthly life and still today, the pope said, Jesus goes to "people who are thrown away by society, at least for a while," and he says to them, "'You are important to me,' and Jesus comes to serve us."

"The sign that Jesus serves us today in Regina Coeli is that he wanted to choose 12 of you today for the washing of the feet," the pope said.

"I am a sinner like you, but I represent Jesus today. I am his ambassador," the pope said. "When I kneel before each of you, think, 'Jesus took a risk on this man, a sinner, to come to me and tell me he loves me.' This is service. This is Jesus. He never abandons us. He never tires of forgiving us. He loves us so much."

The pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper in the rotunda of the prison, a small central area formed from the intersection of various wings of the jail.

The prison is designed to house just over 600 inmates, but currently houses more than 900 men. Some 65 percent of the inmates are non-Italians, Vatican News reported.

At the end of the Mass, a prisoner publicly thanked Pope Francis for his visit and said the inmates would try to do, at least symbolically, what he recommended at his general audience at the Vatican the day before: celebrate Easter by splashing water on their eyes to look at the world with fresh eyes.

The 81-year-old pope responded by confiding in the prisoners that, like many people his age, he is developing cataracts and will have an operation next year to fix them.

But, he said, as life goes one and people get busy or make mistakes, they can develop "cataracts of the soul" that prevent them from seeing the world with the hope that is born of Jesus' resurrection.

"Never tire of renewing your gaze, of having that cataract operation on your soul every day," the pope told the prisoners.

He also insisted that jail time must be a time to prepare a person to return to society and live as good citizens and that the penalties for crime must be "open to hope."

"There is no just penalty that is not open to hope," Pope Francis said. "That is why the death penalty is neither Christian nor human."

Pope Francis began his visit in the prison infirmary, meeting with prisoners there. After the Mass he was scheduled to visit the prison's Section VIII, a protected area of the facility for inmates convicted of sexual crimes and other inmates who could be in danger in the general population.

The prison is less than two miles from the Vatican and is no stranger to hosting a pope celebrating Mass. St. John XXIII visited in 1958, Blessed Paul VI in 1964 and St. John Paul II went in 2000.

The Mass March 29 marked the fourth time Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass in a detention facility. In 2013, for his first Holy Thursday as pope, he celebrated in a juvenile detention facility. In 2015 he presided over the Mass and foot-washing ritual at Rebibbia, Rome's main prison, and in 2017 he went to a prison in Paliano, some 45 miles from Rome.

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Vatican: Claim that pope denied hell's existence is unreliable

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:40pm

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican said comments attributed to Pope Francis denying the existence of hell are a product of an Italian journalist's "reconstruction" of the pope's remarks and not a faithful transcript of the pope's real words.  

Eugenio Scalfari, a co-founder and former editor of La Repubblica, an Italian daily, said Pope Francis -- with whom he has had several telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings -- invited him to his residence March 27.

During their conversation, Scalfari, 93, an avowed atheist, claims the pope said that while the souls of repentant sinners "receive the forgiveness of God and go among the line of souls who contemplate him, the souls of those who are unrepentant, and thus cannot be forgiven, disappear."

"Hell does not exist, the disappearance of sinful souls exists," Scalfari claims the pope said in the interview published March 29.

The Italian journalist has explained on more than one occasion that he does not take notes or record his conversations with the pope; he re-creates them afterward from memory, including the material he puts in quotation marks.

The Vatican issued a statement soon after the article was published, saying the pope did receive Scalfari "in a private meeting" to exchange Easter greetings, but he did not "give him an interview."

Regarding the alleged words of the pope, which were also published in a similar article written by the journalist in 2014, the Vatican said Scalfari's article "is a product of his own reconstruction in which the actual words pronounced by the pope are not cited."

"No quotes of the aforementioned article should therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the Holy Father's words," the Vatican said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, 'eternal fire.'"

"The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs," the catechism says.

The alleged quotes ascribed to Pope Francis directly contradict the many public remarks he has made in homilies and speeches confirming the existence of hell.

Meeting a group of children and teens during a Rome parish visit March 8, 2015, a female Scout asked the pope, "If God forgives everybody, why does hell exist?"

The pope praised the question, saying it was "very important" as well as "a good and difficult question."

The pope assured the children that God is good but reminded them that there was also a "very proud angel, very proud, very intelligent, and he was envious of God. Do you understand? He was envious of God. He wanted God's place. And God wanted to forgive him, but he said, 'I don't need your forgiveness. I am good enough!'"

"This is hell: It is telling God, 'You take care of yourself because I'll take care of myself.' They don't send you to hell, you go there because you choose to be there. Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God's love. This is hell. Do you understand?"

On other occasions, the pope has described hell as the destination for those who choose to continue to sin and do evil.

Speaking to families of victims of the Mafia March 21, 2014, the pope made an appeal to all men and women in the Mafia to stop, turn their lives around and convert.

"Convert, there is still time for not ending up in hell. It is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path," the pope said.

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Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

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To honor Rev. King, 'deepen' commitment to work for justice, bishops urge

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 10:05am


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, "we need to ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to build the culture of love, respect and peace to which the Gospel calls us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee said March 28.

On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray gunned down the civil rights leader as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. Rev. King, a Baptist minister, was 39.

In reflecting on Rev. King's life and work, "what are we being asked to do for the sake of our brother or sister who still suffers under the weight of racism?" the committee said in a statement. "Where could God use our efforts to help change the hearts of those who harbor racist thoughts or engage in racist actions?"

This 50th anniversary "gives us an important moment to draw inspiration from the way in which Dr. King remained undeterred in his principle of nonviolent resistance, even in the face of years of ridicule, threats and violence for the cause of justice," the committee said.

As the most prominent civil rights activist of his time, Rev. King fought for all races and against a system that promoted racism and racial divide. He is well-known for advocating nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring about change. He was inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

In its statement, the Administrative Committee recalled that Rev. King went to Memphis to support underpaid and exploited African-American sanitation workers.

"(He) arrived on a plane that was under a bomb threat. He felt God had called him to solidarity with his brothers and sisters in need," the committee said. "In his final speech on the night before he died, Dr. King openly referenced the many threats against him, and made clear that he would love a long life. But more important to him, he said, was his desire to simply do the will of God."

"Our faith urges us to be courageous, to risk something of ourselves, in defending the dignity of our neighbor who is made in the image of God," the committee continued. "Pope Francis reminds us often that we must never sit on the sidelines in the face of great evil or extreme need, even when danger surrounds us."

Quoting Chapter 15, Verse 13, of St. John's Gospel, the committee said: :No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

The best way to honor Rev. King "and preserve his legacy," it added, is "by boldly asking God -- today and always -- to deepen our own commitment to follow his will wherever it leads in the cause of promoting justice."

Rev. King's assassination sparked a wave of rioting and other civil disturbances in cities across the country. Known as the Holy Week Uprising, it lasted from April 6 to April 14, which was Easter that year.

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Indiana inmates embrace fresh start by joining the Catholic Church

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 12:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Shaughnessy, The Criterion

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- There are times when nearly everyone seeks redemption for a mistake or a moment of darkness, times that can help find a way to return to the grace of God.

For Opal Williams and Marguerite Engle, a significant step in that journey occurred the evening of March 4 in the chapel of the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis.

There, Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson baptized and confirmed the two inmates and later gave them their first Communion as he celebrated Mass and their new life in Christ.

Archbishop Thompson focused on that new life during his homily. He shared with the two women and their fellow inmates the message that Pope Francis once delivered during a visit with prisoners in Bolivia.

"When Jesus becomes part of our lives, we can no longer remain imprisoned by our past," he said, quoting the pope. "Instead, we begin to look to the present, and we see it differently, with a different kind of hope. We begin to see ourselves and our lives in a different light. We are no longer stuck in the past, but capable of shedding tears and finding in them the strength to make a new start."

Turning to Williams and Engle, Archbishop Thompson told them, "So that's what Lent is all about: the strength to make a new start. It's a new beginning, celebrating our identity in Christ as God's children, as God's family.

"And we celebrate that today in a special way as you are received into the family of the Catholic Church, walking in this new light, this new hope, this new joy of putting on Christ and knowing Christ."

For both women, their new beginning was marked with emotion, from flashing glowing smiles to wiping away tears of joy, all with the belief that they had finally found a home in the church that God had always intended for them.

"This means a lot to me," Williams said before Mass. "I was adopted, but my biological grandmother was Catholic, and I remember going to church with her. I feel in my heart that I've been meant to be Catholic, and I'm following in her footsteps. I feel like this is what God and her really wanted me to do."

Engle shared a similar conviction of being at home in the church.

"I've always turned to the Catholic Church when there was trouble in my life and I needed answers," she said. "I've fasted and prayed. I wanted to learn as much as I could before I made a decision to become part of the church.

"Believing in God and Jesus Christ brings me closer to heaven. It's my salvation. It means I'll be saved. It means I'll be released from everything I've experienced so far. I have forgiveness for my sins. I will have a future."

Such a journey toward the future comes with the help of Indianapolis-area Catholics who volunteer in prison ministry weekly at the women's facility.

Ann Tully of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish served as Engle's sponsor, while Andrea Wolsifer of St. Anthony Parish was Williams' sponsor.

"When they learned they were able to come into the church, they were overjoyed," Tully told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "They've been working hard and studying hard. It's an amazing journey for them. Everything is new and beautiful to them. They really have embraced the Catholic tradition and faith."

At times during the evening, the smiles of Engle and Williams were matched by Wolsifer, who led the two women through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to enter the church.

"This means everything to them," Wolsifer said. "They've been wanting to come into the church since they started RCIA. And they're interested in ongoing learning about the Catholic faith."

After the Mass, Archbishop Thompson reflected on the joy and the faith of Engle and Williams he witnessed during the rituals and reception of the sacraments.

"The fact that these two ladies want to be received into the church tonight shows the faith is alive here," he said. "Their own journey, their own challenges -- whatever things in their life have caused them to be here -- they have not lost faith, they have not lost their sense of being created in the image of God and being loved by God."

The archbishop spent considerable time after Mass answering questions from other inmates. He also spoke with them informally in groups and individually, consoling and blessing one woman who shared a painful reality with him.

"These are the ones that Pope Francis reminds us are on the margins, on the peripheries, that society tends to want to brush aside or forget," said the archbishop, who has made personal visits and prison ministry a priority during his time in Indiana. "We have to remember that Christ is present here, and remember the goodness and dignity of every person."

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Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Cardinal Tagle questions acts of 'kings' who use violence to intimidate

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 11:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters


MANILA, Philippines -- Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila questioned the actions of "kings who use violence" to intimidate the weak as he led Palm Sunday observances that opened Holy Week.

In his homily during early morning Mass for the blessing of palms March 25 in Manila, the prelate poured scorn on leaders "full of cockiness and devoid of humility."

"Today, many follow the kings who use violence, arms and intimidation but are without any understanding and oneness with the weak," the cardinal said.

Without naming names, Cardinal Tagle urged leaders to emulate Jesus' example of humility in leadership, reported.

"Our king does not rely on violence, in arms, in swords, in bullets or guns. Our king trusts in God alone," he said.

"True authority," he added, comes from the "serene dignity and silence of a person who trusts in God and who is in full solidarity with sinful humanity."

The cardinal also urged Catholics to take advantage of Holy Week to get to know Jesus more deeply. "Let us focus on Jesus. Let us look and listen to him to get to know him again," he said.

In his own Holy Week message, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called on Filipinos to help the oppressed.

"Let us remember to always help and uplift the downtrodden because it is only through charitable actions that we can make God's presence visible among us," Duterte said.

He also called for unity among Filipinos to be able to "build a truly equitable and inclusive nation where everyone can enjoy a decent and comfortable life."

The president said Christ's resurrection should be a reminder for Filipinos that the country "deserves salvation from social ills" such as drugs, criminality and corruption.

Human rights groups, however, have claimed that Duterte's "war against drugs" has resulted in the killing of thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers.

Elsewhere in the country, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, an outspoken critic of the president's anti-narcotics campaign, said Holy Week should not only be about religious traditions and pious practices.

"(Holy Week) is about what Christ has done for humanity," he said, adding that the week is "holy because of love."

"Love alone can make us holy," the archbishop continued, noting that a person, for example, can show love by visiting the sick aside from a traditional church visit.

"Instead of spilling your blood on the streets, why not walk into a Red Cross office and donate blood? Choose to share life. Share your blood," he said.

"Do we need to walk barefoot till our soles get blisters as a form of penance for our sins?" he asked. "Why don't you buy a pair of slippers and give it to a child who goes to school dragging his torn footwear?"

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Way of Cross: Young people pray for courage to bear cross, help others

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 12:00pm

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During this year dedicated to the younger generations, Pope Francis asked that the meditations for his Good Friday service be written by young people.

Twelve young women and three young men between the ages of 16 and 28 wrote the reflections and prayers that will be read March 30 during the Stations of the Cross at Rome's Colosseum -- an event attended by the pope and thousands of pilgrims, and one seen by potentially millions of television and online viewers.

The pope is giving more than a voice to the voiceless; he's giving them an actual world stage.

The man coordinating the unusual papal assignment was Andrea Monda, a high school religion teacher in Rome, who tries to bring the existential periphery of religion class to the fore with his docu-style reality series, "Good morning, professor!" which is broadcast on the Italian bishops' television channel, TV2000.

Monda looked for volunteers among his current and former students, and it just unintentionally happened that more women than men wanted to take the challenge, he told Credere, an Italian weekly magazine run by the Pauline Fathers.

"Perhaps it's because we are more apt to get involved; new things don't scare us. Boys overthink it too much," said Cecilia Nardini, one of the many students who spoke to the magazine.

This unique opportunity shows just how much importance the pope places on having young people's voices be heard, said Agnese Brunetti, 17.

Usually, she told Credere, "in our everyday life, we are given the cold shoulder a bit. In a conversation with adults, we know that our point of view won't be considered very much."

Sofia Russo, 18, said they had never written a meditation for prayerful reflection before and "there are people much more qualified to do it."

"But," she said, "perhaps the pope wanted to show that the church is also made up of simple people like us" and that it isn't always necessary to be a theologian, rather, "it's enough to have experienced Jesus' love."

Monda had the group sit down together and read all four Gospel accounts of Christ's passion. He then asked them to visualize and feel part of each scene, and whichever of the 14 stations affected them the most would be the one they were assigned.

Greta Sandri, 18, said she was struck by the 11th station -- Jesus is crucified -- because an infuriated crowd had condemned him. Today's social networks often see similar tragedies play out, she said in her mediation, with people "nailing other people's every mistake without a chance of being pardoned."

She prayed, in her meditation, for God to help "to free me from all the fears that, like nails, paralyze me and keep me away from the life that you wished and prepared for us."

Maria Tagliaferri, who is studying nursing, and Margherita Di Marco, a sophomore philosophy major in college, wrote the second station together -- Jesus takes up his cross.

They said they were only a few years younger than Jesus, who today, they wrote, would still be considered a young man. And yet, he was able to take what life had to offer seriously and stick things out, knowing there was a "hidden and surprising" meaning behind it all, they wrote.

For them, on the other hand, "how many times have I rebelled against and gotten angry at the responsibilities I received, that I felt were burdensome or unjust? You don't do that," they wrote, praying they, like Jesus, could learn to embrace their crosses and discover resurrection and glory in pain and suffering.

Russo, who wrote the eighth station -- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem -- said Jesus interacting with the least, the marginalized and those, like women at the time, not deemed worthy of being addressed, made him "truly revolutionary."

Jesus knew what suffering awaited the world, and his frank and direct warning to the women "hit me," she wrote.

Today, so much effort is put into twisting words with a "a cold hypocrisy that hides and filters what we really want to say. Warnings are increasingly avoided and one prefers to leave others to their fate, not taking care to urge their well-being," Russo wrote.

Jesus, she added, speaks like a father whose intention is "correction, not judgment."

For the 10th station -- Jesus is stripped of his garments -- Greta Giglio saw in Jesus, "a young migrant, his body destroyed, arriving in a too often cruel place," exploited by people ready to strip away everything he has for their own benefit.

Francesco Porceddu, 17, who wrote the seventh station, said that when Jesus falls for the second time, he gets back up with love, not haughty pride.

Jesus knows "that at the end of the struggle there is paradise; you get back up to guide us there, to open the doors to your kingdom," he wrote. His prayer was for all young people to hear Jesus' message of humility and be guided by Jesus and his love.

"Teach us to help those who suffer and fall near us, to dry their sweat and put out our hand to pick them back up," he wrote.

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Editors: As soon as the Vatican translates the meditations, they will be available in English and Spanish at:

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'Cry out,' pope tells young people at Palm Sunday Mass

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 7:47am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass with thousands of young people, Pope Francis urged them to continue singing and shouting "hosanna" in the world, proclaiming the lordship of Jesus and following his example of outreach to the poor and suffering.

The crowd that shouted "hosanna" as Jesus entered Jerusalem included all those for whom Jesus was a source of joy, those he healed and forgave, and those he welcomed after they had been excluded from society, the pope said in his homily March 25.

But others were irritated by Jesus and tried to silence his followers, the pope said. In the same way, people today will try to silence young people who continue to follow Jesus, because "a joyful young person is hard to manipulate."

"There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible," the pope said. There are "many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive."

Pope Francis asked the young people "not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?"

Gabriella Zuniga, 16, and her sister Valentina Zuniga, 15, were among the thousands in St. Peter's Square. The sisters, students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had participated March 24 in the local Rome "March for Our Lives," calling for gun control.

The Palm Sunday Mass marked the local celebration of World Youth Day and included the more than 300 young adults who, at the Vatican's invitation, had spent a week discussing the hopes, desires and challenges facing the world's young people and ways the Catholic Church should respond.

At the end of the Mass, they formally presented their final document to the pope; it will be used, along with input from the world's bishops' conferences, in drafting the working document for the Synod of Bishops in October, which will focus on young people, faith and vocational discernment.

Holding five-foot tall palm branches, the young adults led the procession to the obelisk in the center of St. Peter's Square. They were joined by others carrying olive branches and by bishops and cardinals holding "palmurelli," which are intricately woven palm fronds.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that the Palm Sunday Mass, which begins with the singing of "hosanna" and then moves to the reading of Jesus' passion, combines "stories of joy and suffering, mistakes and successes, which are part of our daily lives as disciples. "

The acclamation of the crowd praising Jesus as he enters Jerusalem gives way to the shouts of "crucify him" as Jesus' suffering and death draw near, the pope noted. "It somehow expresses the contradictory feelings that we too, the men and women of today, experience: the capacity for great love, but also for great hatred; the capacity for courageous self-sacrifice, but also the ability to 'wash our hands.'"

The Gospel also demonstrates how the joy Jesus awakened in some is "a source of anger and irritation for others," Pope Francis said, and the same is true today.

Joy is seen in all those "who had followed Jesus because they felt his compassion for their pain and misery," the pope said. "How could they not praise the one who had restored their dignity and hope? Theirs is the joy of so many forgiven sinners who are able to trust and hope once again."

But others in Jerusalem, "those who consider themselves righteous and 'faithful' to the law and its ritual precepts" and "those who have forgotten the many chances they themselves had been given" find such joy intolerable, the pope said.

"How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God's mercy," he said. "How hard it is for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others, to share in this joy."

The shouts of "crucify him" did not begin spontaneously, the pope said, but were incited by those who slandered and gave false witness against Jesus, "'spinning' facts and painting them such that they disfigure the face of Jesus and turn him into a 'criminal.'"

Theirs, he said, was "the voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others" and "the cry of those who have no problem in seeking ways to gain power and to silence dissonant voices."

Pope Francis told the young people gathered in the square that in the face of such attempts to demolish hope, kill dreams and suppress joy, Christians must look to Christ's cross and "let ourselves be challenged by his final cry. He died crying out his love for each of us: young and old, saints and sinners, the people of his times and of our own."

"We have been saved by his cross, and no one can repress the joy of the Gospel," he said. "No one, in any situation whatsoever, is far from the Father's merciful gaze."

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Catholic school students join peers in march against gun violence

Sat, 03/24/2018 - 7:12pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the parish hall of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, elders handed markers to younger members of the parish as they filled in posters with the Gospel-based message from the Book of Isaiah that they wanted others to see at the March for Our Lives event the next day: "And the children will lead us."

The young Catholics joined the tens of thousands of students from across the country who participated on March 24 in a massive demonstration along Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, the main road that connects the White House to the U.S. Capitol, where both houses of Congress meet -- the institutions many of them say are to blame for countless young lives lost over the years to gun violence.

The event was organized by survivors and friends of those who died at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14, where 17 died, including an assistant coach and the school's athletic director. Several more were injured in the latest mass shooting to take place at a school. Those who showed up to the march said they were there to support the march organizers and to applaud their effort.

"They were the spark ' finally someone had to do something about it," said Sofia Alpizar, a student at George Washington University. She was in the pews at St. Patrick's Catholic Church watching her younger sister Viviana Alpizar and other Catholic school students who had gathered for reflection and Mass before taking to the streets.

"Don't let his march be the only thing you do," Viviana Alpizar implored, as other students shared some of the reasons why they were participating.

Stephon Wheaton, a 17-year-old from Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, said he was participating because he had lost his best friend, his brother, to gun violence, an event that left him feeling "mad, frustrated and alone."

J'TA Freeman, a junior at Bishop McNamara High School, told those gathered at St. Patrick's that she experienced gun violence at age 4, when "somebody brutally murdered my uncle."

Violence in the streets and violence in schools come from the same source, she said, and something must be done.

"Bullets have no name, they have no race, no gender ' they don't care who you are. They will hit any and everybody," she said. "We need to take these guns off the streets."

Referencing the alleged gunman in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, she said, "It should not be that easy for a 19-year-old male to put a gun into a guitar case, get in an Uber, go to the school" and snuff out lives so easily.

"It is not OK, it should never be OK. After this march, I hope, we will need to take action. The people in charge, they need to hear us," she said.

It's "not OK" that parents like hers should have wonder if "I'm going to go to school and I'm going to come back alive or with a bullet wound."

Others, such as Diego Garcia, a 16-year-old from Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood, who organized a group of 50 students from his parish so they would join the Washington march in solidarity with the Parkland students, said he was concerned about the safety of his younger peers.

"I have two brothers and younger friends, I don't want anything to happen to any of them," he said.

Though he is not old enough to vote, he wanted lawmakers to hear his voice and his pastor helped him do that.

"I'm not 18 so I thought, what can I do?" he said. "I spoke to my priest and he said, 'I'll give you the opportunity to speak.'" By talking to parishioners and making a 34-second video viewed more than 257,000 times, so far, he was able to raise enough donations for all to travel to the march in Washington.

Though older students say they plan to make their voices heard with their votes at the ballot in local and national races, he said he's encouraging his younger friends that "no matter what age are, you can be a leader in your community."

It was a message not lost on 12-year-old Samantha Field, a student at Nativity Catholic School in Burke, Virginia, who was holding a sign outside St. Patrick's that said: "Your right to own an assault rifle does not outweigh my right to live."

What prompted her to take action, she said, was having a cousin in preschool who had to practice a drill in case of a school shooting and she hoped for a day when children like her cousin don't have to be thinking about the violence that could befall them in a place that should be safe.

Though students were the protagonists of the demonstration -- which saw sister marches throughout the country -- many parents and grandparents joined them.

Younger Catholics had the added support of members of their spiritual communities, including priests, and men and women religious, as well as various social justice organizations that showed up to support them

A group from a Franciscan parish in Maryland carried signs during the demonstration, including one with the image of Blessed Oscar Romero, whose feast day fell on the day of the march. Like some of the victims of the Parkland shooting, the Salvadoran archbishop, too, was killed by gunfire on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass.

Some bishops took to Twitter to express support for the young participants. Chicago's Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said via Twitter he was blessing local "youth joining the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Let us listen to the voice of our young people and support stronger gun-safety measures."

Also via Twitter, Boston's Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley spoke about the "extraordinary role" of the Florida students "in focusing the mind of the country on this critical social problem" and said it "should be a sign of hope for all of us."

Catholic mom Liz Mora of Washington said she found hope in the day. She told Catholic News Service she marched "for my children and for all children to have the right to go to school without being harmed by gun violence."

She said she wanted people of all races and backgrounds "to drive, walk, ride a bike, play in a playground or to stand in their backyard without being mowed down by bullets."

"I have hope again. Change has already begun," she said. "Companies are changing their policies and what they sell. Gun owners are speaking up for common sense gun laws. I have faith that our youth will lead us and to show us how to keep this momentum going."

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Dolan: Democratic Party abandons Catholics, favors abortion agenda

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 5:52pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jeenah Moon, Reuters


NEW YORK (CNS) -- The once "big tent" of the Democratic Party "now seems a pup tent" as a party that Catholics once embraced has abandoned so many issues Catholics cherish, such as the sanctity of human life and religious education, said New York's cardinal.

He pointed to the party favoring a radical abortion agenda over protecting the human rights of unborn children and all-out efforts to block education credits to help poor and low-income families access Catholic and other nonpublic schools.

"The Democrats Abandon Catholics" reads the headline on a March 23 op-ed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan in The Wall Street Journal.

"I'm a pastor, not a politician, and I've certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America's leading parties," he wrote. "But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.

"The dignity and sanctity of human life, the importance of Catholic schools, the defense of a baby's civil rights" are "widely embraced by Catholics. This often led Catholics to become loyal Democrats. I remember my own grandmother whispering to me, 'We Catholics don't trust those Republicans.'"

"A cause of sadness to him," Cardinal Dolan said, is that "the needs of poor and middle-class children in Catholic schools, and the right to life of the baby in the womb have largely been rejected by the party of our youth."

A couple of recent events, the cardinal said, brought to mind "two towering people who had a tremendous effect on the Archdiocese of New York and the U.S. more broadly" -- Archbishop John Hughes, the first archbishop of New York (1842-1864) and the funeral of "a great African-American woman, Dolores Grier," a convert to Catholicism, who became vice chancellor of the archdiocese.

"Their witness is worth remembering, especially in this political moment," he said.

For the cardinal, the March 17 feast day of St. Patrick -- patron saint of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the archdiocese -- recalled Archbishop Hughes' "dramatic reverence for the dignity of Irish immigrants."

"Thousands arrived daily in New York -- penniless, starving and sometimes ill -- only to be met with hostility, bigotry and injustice." The archbishop, himself an immigrant, "defended their dignity."

"Because the schools at the time were hostile to these immigrants, he initiated Catholic schools" to give the children a good education "sensitive to their religion" and to prepare them to be "responsible, patriotic citizens." The mission of today's Catholic schools remains "unchanged."

Grier, the first woman to be archdiocesan vice chancellor, was "passionate about civil rights, especially the right of babies in the womb." She always noted "abortuaries," he said," were clustered in poor black and brown neighborhoods."

The values espoused by these two prominent Catholic figures were -- and still are -- widely embraced by Catholics, Cardinal Dolan wrote.

He also noted that last year "an esteemed pro-life Democrat in Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski, effectively was blacklisted by his own party" when Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez "insisted that pro-life candidates have no place in the modern Democratic Party."

He said that in the state of New York in particular, these issues important to Catholics have been hit hard as "in recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children."

"Opposing the bill reduces the ability of fine Catholic schools across the state to continue their mission of serving the poor, many of them immigrants," Cardinal Dolan said.

In closing, Cardinal Dolan said that it was difficult to have to write about the Democratic Party abandoning Catholics: "To Archbishop Hughes, Dolores Grier and Grandma Dolan, I'm sorry to have to write this. But not as sad as you are to know it is true."

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Salvadoran: Blessed Romero, family friend, used visits to escape horrors

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 2:36pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joe Tuckman

By Jo Tuckman

SANTA TECLA, El Salvador (CNS) -- Leonor Chacon remembers every emotion she felt March 24, 1980, as if it were yesterday.

It started, she recalls, with the happiness that always accompanied the expectation that Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador would be coming to eat with her family in the small city of Santa Tecla, just west of the Salvadoran capital.

Later there was her disappointment when her husband returned home with the news that the archbishop could not make it because he was committed to celebrating Mass that evening in the chapel of the cancer hospital next to where he lived.

And then there was the call informing her he had been shot while celebrating that Mass.

"I ran to the room where my husband was and we cried together," recalled Chacon, now 80. "It was a very great pain."

Today, El Salvador eagerly awaits the canonization of the archbishop who began his pastoral life as a conservative priest known for his charity work and spent his final years accused of being a communist agitator for defiantly speaking out against the death squads and political repression.

But while Chacon celebrates the attention focused on Blessed Romero's message of peace, for her he was also a dear friend, who treated her little family restaurant and home behind it as a refuge from the horror.

Taking a break from making pastries she sells in glass jars on the counter of the restaurant, Chacon let the anecdotes flow.

She recalled the way he would ask to be told jokes, as well as his belly laughs from the sofa when the family would clown about. She smiled fondly at the memory of the time he spent hours sitting with her father, watching telenovelas, and at his voracious appetite for her refried beans.

"He used to say that he came here to disconnect and the rest," she said. "He would say it was like going to the house of Martha and Mary of Bethany."

Chacon first met Blessed Romero on her wedding day in 1963. Her fiance, Raul, had told her about the priest who had taken him in to live in his parish in the nearby town of San Miguel when he became an orphan at the age of 7, so she wrote to ask him if he would marry them. Blessed Romero married them and stayed for the small banquet the family threw for the newlyweds, then he whisked them off to a hotel for their wedding night, paying the bill himself.

From then on, Blessed Romero began regularly dropping by for lunch on his way to and from the capital, developing individual relationships with many of the family members, including her sister, Elvira, who became his secretary.

Chacon said he preferred not to talk about politics when he visited and would brush off concerns for his safety, as he did the last time she saw him, March 8, 1980. He dismissed the idea that he should be traveling with someone, saying he did not want to put anybody else in danger.

Like many in El Salvador, Chacon said the archbishop wrote his own death sentence in the homily he gave the day before his murder, in which he ordered soldiers to "stop the repression."

"He knew they were going to kill him, but he wasn't afraid," she said. "He was smiling a lot the last time he came here."

Chacon told of the children and old people crying as thousands filed passed his coffin as it lay for five days in the San Salvador basilica. She also described how that grief then turned to fear on the very day of his funeral in the cathedral, when snipers fired on the mourners. Dozens died, many in the stampede to escape. Listening to the funeral on the radio in her home, she said the transmission cut out soon after the gunfire and screams began.

A few months later, rumors circulated that anybody found with photographs of the archbishop would be killed. Her husband, who died in 2002, wanted to burn their photos, but she refused. Instead she wrapped them in cloth and put them at the bottom of a chest.

Now she has hung those same photographs proudly on the wall in a kind of shrine she proudly shows to anybody who visits.

"He used to say that there are more people who love me than hate me, and it's still true" she said. "The people who come here get all emotional."

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