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Can axe-throwing Man Tour hit target of leading young men to the church?

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 5:52pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/New Albany Deanery

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- While talking about The Man Tour, Conventual Franciscan Brother Andrew Hennessy shares his purpose for creating an evening that combines throwing axes, drinking beer, eating pizza, smoking cigars and participating in eucharistic adoration.

The 28-year-old friar, who's involved in young adult ministry, wants The Man Tour to deepen the bonds of young men who already share the Catholic faith while also connecting with young men who don't have a home in the church.

"My main hope is to strengthen the community for guys who are in the core group and to reach out to guys who are on the periphery of the church -- to feel some spiritual solidarity together, to make connections across parishes, to build up the church," Brother Andrew told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

"Hopefully, it will be a lot of fun, a lot of good energy, and a chance to come together before the Lord," he said, in advance of what he calls a "night of recreation and holiness."

The Man Tour, which costs $30, is open to 30 young men. On March 10 participants gathered at the Mount St. Francis Center of Spirituality in Mount St. Francis, in the archdiocese's New Albany Deanery. It's where Brother Andrew lives with his fellow Conventual Franciscans.

From the center, the group was chauffeured in two deanery vans to the Flying Axes establishment across the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, where they could throw axes, eat pizza and drink beer.

Brother Andrew explained that Flying Axes is set up like a bowling alley, "but you're throwing axes at plywood. It's a really cool concept, a macho thing to do."

The second part of The Man Tour involved a return to Mount St. Francis for evening eucharistic adoration followed by "cigar smoking and conversation."

Brother Andrew said that his inspiration for The Man Tour partly came from "my imagination running away from me."

"I work with a lot of young adults here. Being guys, we were just throwing out ideas of hanging out as guys, doing guy things," he told The Criterion. "We figured we'd get guys from across the deanery, have some fun together, pray together and build the community of the Church together."

That element of building community is at the heart of The Man Tour, Brother Andrew insists.

"Someone told me that the two things that bring guys together are work and play. As Catholics, I think we also add 'pray' to it -- even though it's not easy to get people to pray together," he said. "It's natural to come together to have fun, and it's natural to come together to worship.

"The thing in my head is the Christian community. It's a community centered around Christ. We're having fun, but we're centering it all around Christ."

Combining faith and fun is a way of trying to connect with young adults who aren't closely tied to the church, said Philip Wiese, director of youth ministries for the New Albany Deanery, who helped coordinate The Man Tour with Brother Andrew.

It's an age group -- from 18 to 35 -- that's searching for something deeper, that's at a defining time in their lives, said Wiese, who is 29, married and the father of four children, with another child arriving soon.

"It's such an important time," he explained. "When you become young adults, the questions in life become more clear: Am I going to be married or single? Is the Lord calling me to be a priest or a religious sister? Where am I working, and is the place good for me spiritually or bringing me down? What kind of community am I in, and is it building me up?

"We're made for community as human beings. That's why it's so important for young adults to have authentic community -- to be built up as a man and as a son of God, to be built up as a woman and as a daughter of God," he added.

When Brother Andrew shared his idea for The Man Tour, Wiese embraced it. He also wants to explore ways to draw young women closer to God and the church through some combination of faith and fun.

"Pope Francis talks about going to the peripheries," Wiese said. "We need opportunities for people to come into the church and to grow in their relationship with Christ and the church without being overwhelmed-to involve them in something that strikes them as interesting."

He called The Man Tour one step in that process.

"We want to bring men together to see where they are in their walk in life, and where they are in their relationship with Christ and the Church so we can better prescribe a men's ministry," Wiese said, adding, "I'm interested to see where this will go, where the Lord will lead us. Prayer and adoration will always be involved."

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

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

U.S. delegates say young people want mentors, a voice, unity

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 2:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people want trusted guides as they explore their faith and their vocation, said five young adults from the United States attending the Vatican's pre-synod meeting.

The U.S. delegates to the Vatican meeting March 19-25 also said the 305 young adults from around the world want to see young people consulted more often in their parishes and dioceses. And, one said, in conversations with other delegates, he discovered that Catholics in other countries are not experiencing the sharp divisions that U.S. Catholics are.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent three delegates to the meeting: De La Salle Christian Brother Javier Hansen, who teaches at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas; Nick Lopez, director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Katie Prejean-McGrady, a wife, new mother, youth minister, and a popular speaker from the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Chris Russo, a 23-year-old working in Boston, represented the Ruthenian Catholic Church. And Nicole Perone, director of adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, represented Voices of Faith, an international group that highlights the contributions of women in the church.

A topic that came up consistently at the meeting, Prejean-McGrady said, was young people's desire "to find companions on the journey, to look for people to walk with them."

"When you have personal relationships with people who are vibrantly living their faith, then you yourself are inspired to live your faith," she said. And the relationship also provides a trusted source for dealing with concerns about topics such as sexuality or church teachings that may be difficult to understand, she said.

"'Here's a book; believe it' -- that doesn't work with young people anymore, and we know that because they are consuming far too much media to where they are not going to read that book," Prejean-McGrady said. "You have to talk with them, you have to walk with them, you have to love them and really spend time with them."

Lopez noted that Pope Francis opened the meeting March 19 by telling the delegates that the church wanted to hear their opinions and their questions, even those they thought might make church leaders uncomfortable.

In ministry to young people, they need to know they can ask those questions and that "we are going to discuss them. Nothing is too radical. Nothing is out of left field," he said. If a young person is struggling with something, that is all the reason needed to discuss it.

"Human issues are church issues, and we aren't going to get anywhere unless we begin the conversation," Lopez said.

"Young people seem to live in this age of anxiety, meaning that in a world of seemingly endless possibilities, they are almost paralyzed because they have all of these different options and they want to go forth, but they want to make the right decision, and they want to do so without the fear of failure," Russo said. "My hope is that just as Christ walked with the apostles, the church will walk with young people as they are discerning all these different thoughts and considering different paths."

The accompaniment discussion was key for Perone, who counts herself blessed to have had the guidance and friendship of "a number of people, but especially women, really bright, faithful women who love the church and have dedicated their lives in service to the church."

The preparatory document for the synod, which will be held in October, talks about "role models, guides and mentors," she said, but a lot of young people do not know how to ask for such accompaniment, and many people do not realize they can offer that to young people.

Faith mentors to young people, she said, first must be "faithful Christians, people who are living their lives faithfully and are committed to walking the journey of holiness."

And, she said, "it has to be a person who is not afraid to acknowledge they are human and make mistakes. The words 'authenticity' and 'vulnerability' have come up constantly this week. Those are the two characteristics young people crave, desire and are drawn to" because they make a mentor both trustworthy and approachable.

The young adults said their experience in Rome -- meeting with the pope and formulating suggestions for the bishops who will meet in October -- is an amazing, global example of what young people would like to see at least a hint of in their parishes and dioceses.

"All young people within the Catholic Church want to be heard," Russo said. "They want to have their thoughts expressed as they journey closer to Christ."

In formulating suggestions for the bishops, Lopez said, "one of the main ones was having things like this pre-synod gathering more common in the parishes," for example, by including young adults on the parish or diocesan council or creating parish or diocesan advisory committees of youth and young adults "and having those councils meet often."

"In the U.S., we're blessed to have very passionate young adults who take the initiative to form independent Catholic groups for young adults to meet, outside the church and outside the parish," he said, "but we need to integrate them into parish life to show we are not a separate group, that we're actually part of that community."

The delegates spent most of the week in small groups, working on their suggestions for the synod. Brother Hansen said he told his group that "one of the characteristics of the American church is this extreme polarization between liberal and conservative Catholics, and I was surprised that one thing I found was that that is more or less uniquely American."

The delegates from the wealthy Western nations would talk about "church teaching on controversial issues" or the need to be present on the digital platforms where young people spend their time, but "we have to move beyond these First World problems," Perone said, adding that she was touched by the witness of delegates coming from places where Christians experience violent persecution.

In the United States, she said, "it's easy for us to get bogged down in this division and discord and soundbites -- all these things that really drive us apart, and we don't quite focus on the unity we really should be focusing on: the beauty of our faith, the joy of the Gospel, the beauty of the truth that unites us and not the nuances that divide us."

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

Pre-synod meeting is a chance to change the world, say young Africans

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Catholic Church at every level -- and governments, too -- would listen to young people and give them a voice in decision-making, they could unleash great potential, said two African young adults.

Vincent Paul Nneji of Nigeria and Tinyiko Joan Ndaba from South Africa were among the 305 young adults participating in a weeklong meeting designed to allow young people -- involved Catholics and others -- to provide input for Pope Francis and the world's bishops, who will meet in a synod in October to discuss "young people, faith and vocational discernment."

Nneji told Catholic News Service March 20 that the preparatory meeting offers a chance for young Catholics in his country who are considered "a minority voice" to speak out on important issues.

"When the pope sent a letter on this meeting, we said, 'Finally, the church in Rome has decided to give us a platform; they decided to give us a listening ear,'" Nneji said.

While struggles with "social injustice, bad leadership, poverty and financial insecurity" are just some of the difficulties facing young Nigerian men and women today, Nneji said, "the major challenge is trying to be a Catholic youth and a light for other people, even in the midst of the conflicts we face in Nigeria."

African youths today, Nneji added, have "so many things in our hearts we want to express and want to say," yet they often feel disregarded. Too many, he said, then resort to violence in the hopes of provoking change.

"Sometimes when you're not allowed to say these things, it's like a volcano and when it gets so big," it blows up, he said.

Nneji told CNS he hopes that, through the pre-synod meeting, the whole world "may see a reason for allowing youths to be heard, for allowing (young people) to be part of decision-making, even in society."

"If we were allowed to express ourselves, we would have less violence, we would have more peace in our society and in our world," he said.

"And of course, in various parts of the world where youths are being exploited and used for various forms of violence, those things will reduce, those things will stop because this time around they will say, 'We have a platform where we can talk, so we don't need to carry guns, we don't need to carry machetes. We just have to go and dialogue,'" Nneji said.

Ndaba told CNS, "I hope that young people can be given a chance to change society because I think we have so much potential."

"But we can't do it on our own," she said. "We need support from the people who have been there before and who can give us direction where to go."

Ndaba was chosen to attend the meeting by Talitha Kum, the anti-human trafficking organization where she works. The organization is an international network of consecrated men and women in 75 countries promoting initiatives against human trafficking.

While the Catholic Church in South Africa is doing its best to prevent future cases of human trafficking, she said, the church also must warn young people of the harm inflicted by those who exploit women, especially when "the demand is coming from Catholics."

During the opening session of the pre-synod meeting March 19, Blessing Okodion, a young Nigerian rescued from forced prostitution in Italy, asked Pope Francis what could be done to increase awareness of human trafficking.

Pope Francis noted that since the vast majority of Italians are Catholic, the majority of men who use prostitutes in Italy also must be.

"One who goes to a prostitute is a criminal, a criminal," Pope Francis told the young people. "This is not making love. This is torturing a woman. Let's not confuse the terms. This is criminal."

As one of many men and women working a to prevent human trafficking in Africa, Ndaba told CNS she was happy to hear the pope speaking frankly about a "hidden crime" that is "not talked about so much."

Human trafficking is an important topic for a youth gathering, she said, "because most victims of human trafficking are young people who are trying to find better jobs, a better life so they migrate and traffickers take advantage of that, most especially with young people.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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

Pope accepts resignation of communications prefect

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 8:37am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a very public controversy involving the use of a letter by retired Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Vigano as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication.

Announcing the move March 21, the Vatican published Msgr. Vigano's letter to Pope Francis asking to resign and Pope Francis' reply accepting it.

However, Pope Francis asked Msgr. Vigano, 55, to remain at the secretariat as "assessor" to "make your human and professional contribution" in assisting whoever is named the new prefect as the Vatican continues its long and complicated work of unifying its communications efforts and various media outlets.

The controversy began March 12 at the presentation of a 10-volume series of books, "The Theology of Pope Francis." Msgr. Vigano had asked the retired pope for a theological reflection on the series.

At the book presentation, Msgr. Vigano read selected sentences from Pope Benedict's letter declining to write the reflection. The Secretariat for Communications also published a photograph showing the first page of the letter, with several lines purposefully blurred, and the second page, except for the signature, covered by a book.

An uproar ensued over the intentional blurring of the photograph and questions were raised in the media about what exactly the letter said. In the end, the Vatican released the full text March 17. It showed that not only had Pope Benedict said he was unable to read the full series, but that he objected to one of the authors chosen to write one of the volumes.

In his letter of resignation, Msgr. Vigano told Pope Francis that although it was not intentional, his actions had "destabilized the complex and great work of reform" with which the pope had entrusted him.

"I think that for me stepping aside would be a fruitful occasion for renewal," the monsignor wrote.

Pope Francis had named Msgr. Vigano prefect of the secretariat when it was created in June 2015. The monsignor had been director of the Vatican Television Center. The new secretariat was charged with unifying into one the offices and tasks previously handled by nine entities: the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Vatican press office; the Vatican internet office; Vatican Radio; the Vatican television production studio, CTV; the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano; the Vatican printing press; the Vatican photograph service; and the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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

Supreme Court examines freedom of speech at crisis pregnancy centers

Tue, 03/20/2018 - 5:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In oral arguments before the Supreme Court March 20, justices seemed skeptical about a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers in the state to visibly display information about abortions to their clients that the centers say violates their right to free speech.

A few of the justices asked about the state's motivation to put the law in place, wondering if it was more about educating women about state-provided services or if it was meant to specifically target centers offering pregnancy-related services that clients might assume are medical facilities.

Justice Elena Kagan said it would be a problem and a First Amendment issue if the law was "gerrymandered" to only apply to certain types of service providers.

The law's requirement that licensed and unlicensed centers disclose their status in advertisements in large type and in many languages was seen as an "undue burden" by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked if this would apply -- and was told it would -- to an unlicensed facility that wanted to have a "choose life" or "pro-life" billboard. Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed that that aspect of the law, in some cases, was "burdensome and wrong."

The case is the first abortion-related one to be heard by the court with President Donald Trump's appointee, Neil Gorsuch, on the bench. The oral arguments drew people from both sides outside the court in the freezing rain on the first day of spring. Some signs, held aloft in between umbrellas, said "Patients want care not coercion" and "Give free speech life."

After the hourlong argument, Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, the group representing the pregnancy centers, told the crowd outside that he felt "very optimistic" about the outcome of this case.

California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, tweeted right after the arguments: "Information is power and all women should know the full range of their #healthcare options! A great morning with my team at #SCOTUS."

In a March 20 statement, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said he prayed the court would "do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case."

"Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child," said Cardinal Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

He noted that some government officials, instead of "applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers" want to "force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment."

The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, is about the constitutionality of the Reproductive FACT Act, a state law which says pregnancy centers must post notices in their facilities about available low-cost abortion services and also must disclose if they have medical personnel on staff. The Christian-base centers provide counseling and often offer supplies of diapers, formula, clothes and baby items. Centers that failed to comply with the law have been subject to fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Three pregnancy centers challenged the law in court saying it infringed on their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

The law was upheld last October by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that said the state could regulate professional speech because of its interest in safeguarding public health and to ensure that "citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion."

Last October, a California Superior Court judge granted a permanent injunction against the state attorney general preventing him from enforcing the FACT law.

Justice Stephen Breyer said during the oral arguments that if abortion providers must tell pregnant women about other options, then pregnancy centers should similarly tell their clients about outside services. "In law, as you well know, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," which he explained as coming down to this: "If a pro-life state can tell a doctor you have to tell people about adoption, why can't a pro-choice state tell a doctor, a facility, whatever it is, you have to tell people about abortion?"

The USCCB and several other groups including the California Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, in friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers, stressed that the government can't force people to say things they don't believe.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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

South Carolina artist honors memories of Holocaust victims with drawings

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 5:12pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Christina Lee Knauss, The Catholic Miscellany

By Christina Lee Knauss

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNS) -- Mary Burkett never had formal art lessons. Drawing was something she resolved to try as a hobby in January 2017.

She decided to sketch the face of a little boy she saw in a black and white photo on the internet.

To her surprise, Burkett was able to produce his image on the paper with amazing ease.

"It was like he was already there waiting for me, like he just peeked out at me," she told The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston. "I was entirely amazed. I didn't feel like I had drawn him. I felt like he was hidden in the page."

The image is of a boy with a wide-open gaze, fair hair spilling from under a vintage-style cap cocked back on his head. He looks bemused, as if he was forced to pause for a portrait on his way out the door to play.

It wasn't until later that she discovered the photo was of a Romanian Jewish boy named Hersch Goldberg. He died at Auschwitz in 1944, one of millions of children who were victims of the Holocaust.

Burkett had a visceral and emotional reaction to the innocent yet haunting face of Hersch. The fact that his life had been cruelly ended before it ever really began led her to search out images of other children with similar fates.

She felt as if she knew Hersch after drawing him and she wanted to learn the stories of other children like him. Eventually, she decided she wanted other people to learn their stories too.

A year later, that first drawing of the photo of Hersch Goldberg has blossomed into a collection Burkett calls "Beloved: Children of the Holocaust."

It features Burkett's sketch portraits of 25 other children killed in the Holocaust, as well as one of Janusz Korczak, a Polish pediatrician who ran an orphanage for Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto and was eventually killed at the Treblinka concentration camp.

"I wanted to give these children a chance to speak to the world," Burkett said. "I wanted to honor their precious little lives."

That first sketch launched a journey she never dreamed of when she first put pencil to paper. She has displayed the collection at churches and synagogues, colleges and universities. Several schools have asked her to speak to classes that are studying the Holocaust and she has traveled halfway across the country to share her work with others.

Burkett, who attends St. Peter Church in downtown Columbia, lived in Belgium for several years as a child, where she learned firsthand of the suffering and death that European Jews and other groups suffered at the hands of the Nazis. That perspective, and a lifelong love of children built through motherhood and a 40-year career as a pediatric nurse, likely are part of the reason her portraits of the children are so riveting.

To look at them is to briefly feel as if you have touched a tiny soul. Their eyes, especially, reach out with a spark of life.

Five-month-old Alida Baruch, who died at Auschwitz in 1942, looks like a Gerber baby. Fani Silberman, with dimples and tiny hoop earrings, has the twinkling innocence of a child movie star. Abraham Henselein, although he died at 6, already had an intense gaze. Perhaps he would have been a future scholar or national leader.

Burkett said their expressions convey so much because they were captured in an era when photos were more rare than today.

"Children weren't used to posing all the time back then, so we get to see more of who they really were," she said.

Burkett said her skill can only come from God. As she is quick to explain, she had no formal training prior to that January day when she first started to work. Her artist's tools are spare and simple.

What she calls her toolbox is a Ziploc bag with a few simple items. She uses a pencil in a shade of reddish-brown called sanguine, and smooths edges and lines with cotton balls and swabs. Burkett does most of her sketch work at a large table on the second floor of her West Columbia home, before a window where sunlight spills in on nice days and she can look out at a span of green hills and trees.

Just as she did not expect the "Beloved" collection would exist a year ago, Burkett says she does not know what the future will bring. All she knows is that the children who reached out to her from photos have been given a new life through her pencil.

"I just try to be faithful to what God is telling me and what he is doing in my life," she said. "I feel like through this work the children are being honored and God is being honored. My job now is to shepherd them on the journey. They have a path in front of them. I think part of that path is to show people the sanctity of all life and the true love of God."

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Editor's Note: To view the Beloved collection and learn more about Burkett's work, visit www.belovedchildrenoftheholocaust.com.

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Knauss is a reporter at The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston.

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

Imitate St. Pio's life, don't forget poor, marginalized, pope says

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy (CNS) -- Many people admire St. Padre Pio, but too few imitate him, especially in his care for the weak, the sick and those who modern culture treats as disposable, Pope Francis said during Mass at Padre Pio's shrine.

"Many are ready to 'like' the page of the great saints, but who does what they do?" the pope asked March 17. "The Christian life is not an 'I like,' but an 'I give myself.'"

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass outside the Shrine of St. Pio of Pietrelcina with about 30,000 people after visiting children in the cancer ward of the hospital St. Pio founded, Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering).

In his homily, the pope reflected on three words that both summarized the day's readings and, he said, the life of Padre Pio: prayer, smallness and wisdom.

Smallness, he said, calls to mind those whose hearts who are humble, poor and needy like the young patients cared for in Padre Pio's hospital and those who in today's world are unwanted and discarded.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he remembers being taught in school about the Spartans, who, "when a boy or girl was born with malformations, they would take them to the top of the mountain and throw them over."

"We children would say, 'How cruel,'" the pope said. But, "brothers and sisters, we do the same. With more cruelty and more knowledge. Whatever isn't useful, whatever doesn't produce, is thrown away. This is the throwaway culture. The little ones are not wanted today."

"Those who take care of children are on the side of God and defeat the throwaway culture, which, on the contrary, prefers the powerful and considers the poor useless," he said. "Those who prefer the little ones proclaim a prophecy of life against the prophets of death of every age."

Only with wisdom, motivated by love and charity for others, can true strength be found, he said. Christians aren't called simply to admire great saints like Padre Pio, but rather to imitate their way of fighting evil wisely "with humility, with obedience, with the cross, offering pain for love."

Prayer, he said, is "a gesture of love" that is often stifled by excuses and leads to Christians forgetting that without God "we can do nothing."

"We must ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble that of Jesus or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls? Or do we use them as tranquilizers to be taken in regular doses to relieve stress?" the pope asked.

Padre Pio recognized throughout his life that prayer "heals the sick, sanctifies work, elevates healthcare and gives moral strength," he said.

Pope Francis began his day of tribute to St. Pio with an early morning visit to Pietrelcina, where the Capuchin saint was born in 1887.

Thousands waited outside the square of the Chapel of the Stigmata which houses a piece of the elm tree Padre Pio sat in front of when he first received the stigmata -- wounds on his feet, hands and side corresponding to those Jesus suffered at the crucifixion -- in September 1918.

Pope Francis entered the chapel where he prayed privately for several minutes before making his way to the square to greet the faithful.

Standing in front of an iconic image of a young Padre Pio bearing the wounds of Christ's crucifixion in his hands, the pope said that it was in Pietrelcina that the future saint "strengthened his own humanity, where he learned to pray and recognize in the poor the flesh of Christ."

"He loved the church, he loved the church with all its problems, with all its woes, with all its sins -- because we are all sinners; we feel shame -- but the spirit of God has brought us here to this church which is holy. And he loved the holy church and its sinful children, everyone. This was St. Pio," Pope Francis said.

Recalling the time in Padre Pio's life when he returned to Pietrelcina while he was ill, the pope said the saintly Capuchin "felt he was assailed by the devil" and feared falling into sin.

Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope asked the people if they believed the devil existed. When only a handful of people responded, he told them it didn't seem "they were totally convinced."

"I'm going to have to tell the bishop to give some catechesis," he said jokingly. "Does the devil exist or not?"

"Yes!" the crowd responded loudly.

Christians, he continued, should follow the example of the Capuchin saint who did not fall into despair but instead found refuge in prayer and put his trust in Christ.

"All of theology is contained here! If you have a problem, if you are sad, if you are sick, abandon yourself in Jesus' arms," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Vatican tribunal finds Archbishop Apuron of Guam guilty of abuse

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 9:07am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican tribunal found Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Guam, guilty of some of the accusations made against him, accusations which included the sexual abuse of minors.

After a canonical trial conducted by the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican judges imposed the following sanctions on the 72-year-old archbishop: the removal from office and a prohibition from residing in Guam. The archbishop can appeal the sentence.

Archbishop Apuron is among the highest-ranking church leaders to have been tried by the Vatican for sexual offenses.

In a press statement released March 16, the tribunal said, "The canonical trial in the matter of accusations, including accusations of sexual abuse of minors, brought against the Most Reverend Anthony Sablan Apuron, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Agana, Guam, has been concluded."

"The apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, composed of five judges, has issued its sentence of first instance, finding the accused guilty of certain of the accusations and imposing upon the accused the penalties of privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Guam." U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a noted canon lawyer, was the presiding judge in the canonical investigation of Archbishop Apuron.

"The sentence remains subject to possible appeal," the Vatican statement said. "In the absence of an appeal, the sentence becomes final and effective. In the case of an appeal, the imposed penalties are suspended until final resolution."

Archbishop Apuron had been accused of sexually abusing several boys in the 1970s, and, in early January, one of the archbishop's nephews publicly claimed the archbishop had sexually abused him in 1990. Archbishop Apuron continually has denied the abuse allegations.

Pope Francis placed Archbishop Apuron on leave in June 2016 after the accusations were made public. The pope named an apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese for several months and then named Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, a former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, to take over.

Until the Vatican court handed down its sentence, Archbishop Apuron had continued to hold the title of archbishop of Agana, but did not hold the faculties, rights or obligations pertaining to the office, because they had been granted to Archbishop Byrnes.

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Blurred lines: Vatican manipulation of photo becomes the story (commentary)

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 1:46pm

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Media

By Greg Erlandson

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- What was meant to be an intellectual tribute to Pope Francis has instead become the backdrop to the latest tempest over transparency and this pontificate.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, unveiled a series of 11 books focusing on the intellectual roots and thought of Pope Francis.

Numerous theologians contributed to the volumes, and they are being published in several languages.

In a press conference attended by Catholic News Service, Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication who oversees LEV, explained that he had asked retired Pope Benedict to "write a page or a page and a half of dense theology in his clear and punctual style that (we) would have liked to read this evening."

Pope Benedict responded with "a beautiful, personal letter," Msgr. Vigano said. The retired pope explained that he could not write a theological reflection on the 11 volumes because he had not read them and would be physically unable to do so in time for the March 12 presentation. However, he expressed the hope that the series would contradict "the foolish prejudice of those who see Pope Francis as someone who lacks a particular theological and philosophical formation '."

Pope Benedict said the books "reasonably demonstrate that Pope Francis is a man with profound philosophical and theological formation and are helpful to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, even with all the differences in style and temperament."

So far, so good.

However, when the Secretariat for Communication released a photo of the first page of the letter, two lines at the end of the first page were blurred out, making it look as if someone had intentionally obscured the fact that the Pope Benedict had not read the series, and leaving only the words defending his successor.

Two days later, some Vatican watchers began writing about the blurred photo.

At this point, the blurring, not the book series, became the story. As reported by the Associated Press' lead Vatican reporter, Nicole Winfield, "The Vatican admitted Wednesday that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter of retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards."

Sources at the Vatican explained that the letter itself was never intended to be made public, which was why the second page was obscured in the carefully staged photo. One source called it a "photo illustration."

U.S. photojournalists adhere to strict standards regarding any sort of manipulation of a photographed image. AP norms, which are followed by Catholic News Service, state that "no element should be digitally added or subtracted from any photograph."

Whatever the intention on the part of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, the obscuring of a portion of the letter suggested something they did not want everyone to see. Read in this context, Pope Benedict could be seen to be qualifying his generic support for the publication of the series.

For those who attended the press conference, the context of Pope Benedict's comments was clear, and the fact that Msgr. Vigano read out loud the lines that were subsequently obscured in the image makes the incident sound more like a matter of poor judgment than deception.

The controversy comes on the heels of the publication of Pope Francis' World Communications Day message, which criticized the phenomenon of "fake news," defining the phrase as "false information based on nonexistent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader."

The entire incident is a reminder that in a media-sophisticated age, with a media-omnipresent pope, the Vatican communications apparatus must be committed both to transparency and to best journalistic practices. Anything less is a disservice to the church.

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Erlandson is director and editor in chief of Catholic News Service.

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Human trafficking called 'one of darkest, most revolting realities' today

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lilian Muendo, courtesy GSR

By Beth Griffin

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Mely Lenario quietly described her harrowing journey from ambitious, naive rural girl trafficked to hopeless, drug-fueled urban prostitute, through slow rehabilitation to a new life as an outreach worker.

After she finished her story, hundreds of people in a U.N. conference room jumped to their feet in a sustained ovation.

Lenario spoke March 13 on "Preventing Human Trafficking Among Rural Women and Girls," a panel co-sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

As an 8-year-old, Lenario was abused by her stepfather in the Philippines. He threatened her at knife point after she watched him rape her sister. When she confronted her mother and neighbors about it, she was placed into a Jesuit-run orphanage for seven years.

As a teen, she accepted an offer of work and a free education from an elegant woman visitor who arranged transportation to Cebu, a city distant from her hometown. In Cebu, she was prostituted and forced to use drugs to stay awake all night and improve the glum demeanor that discouraged customers.

Lenario begged for release but was told she had to pay for the transportation and other expenses incurred by her traffickers.

She resigned herself to a life of prostitution. "I felt hopeless and worthless. I felt already ruined," Lenario said.

Ultimately, she met compassionate women and men religious who introduced her to the Good Shepherd Welcome House in Cebu. With their help and five years of effort, she overcame her drug habit, finished high school and trained to be a nurse's aide.

"I had to learn how to forgive myself and the people who caused me pain," she said.

Lenario now studies social work and serves as an outreach counselor to trafficked women and girls at the Good Shepherd Welcome House.

"I want to give them hope. I want to be an inspiration and give voice to all the abused women out there. I want to show them that if I could change my life, they can, too," she said.

The U.N. panel was a side event to the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

It focused on the contributions of women religious to prevent trafficking by providing educational and employment opportunities for rural girls, women and their families, disrupt the "supply chain" of the trafficking business, and help survivors tell their stories.

Trafficked women are "marginalized by an environment that can't meet their needs," Mercy Sister Angela Reed said. Therefore, anti-trafficking strategies must address the root causes of the problem, which include poverty, unemployment, discrimination, violence, rural isolation and lack of access to education, she said. Sister Reed is the coordinator of Mercy Global Action at the United Nations.

"Human trafficking is one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today," said Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, Vatican deputy ambassador. Vulnerable rural women and girls suffer "compounded marginalization" and are at a "cumulative disadvantage prior to being trafficked," he said. "Their dignity and rights are not adequately respected before they're trafficked, something that makes them more susceptible to much worse violations of their dignity and rights later."

Religious sisters are "going to the existential peripheries" to do heroic work, but they cannot do it alone, Msgr. Grysa continued. Trafficking is "a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country. To eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself."

Sister Annie Jesus Mary Louis, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, is executive director of Jeevan Jharna Vikas Sanstha in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. She said, "Sexual exploitation is big business, governed by the same principles of supply and demand as any commercial activity."

The sex industry treats people like products and the sex trade has a supply chain of exploitation driven by demand and fueled by greed, vulnerability and deception. It is an illusion that women and girls freely choose prostitution, she said.

The supply chain can be disrupted and trafficking prevented when families have opportunities and feel like society cares about them, Sister Louis said. Families need loving accompaniment and rural women and girls should be protected with at least the same level of investment that is put into labor exploitation, she said.

The rural population is disproportionately affected by trafficking, said Mercy Sister Lynda Dearlove, founder of Women at the Well in London. Religious groups with long-term enduring local relationships have an advantage over large organizations in preventing trafficking, she said.

"Individuals hold the key to empowering women and girls," she said. Large international funding groups sometimes create an unnecessary layer between donors and those in need, she said.

Sister Reed said women must be seen as anti-trafficking advocates. The Religious Sisters of Mercy help women share firsthand accounts to bring women's voices into public policy discussions and prevention efforts. "We need to change the dominant narrative that trafficking is a random act" to an understanding that it is a sign of systemic marginalization and oppression, she said.

Successful preventive approaches counter the vulnerability of potential trafficking victims, Sister Reed said. They include providing an adequate standard of living and quality education, fostering human attachment and a sense of belonging in adolescents, and supporting decent work and full participation in society for adults.

Sister Sheila Smith, a Sister of the Sacred Heart, who is co-founder of Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans in Ottawa, Ontario, described the mutual relationship between human rights and human dignity in the context of rural trafficking.

"We work tirelessly for prevention because we value each other," she said.

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

It takes more than one 'Our Father' to ask for God's help, pope says

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 10:25am

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praying for God's intercession takes courage, dogged persistence and patience, said Pope Francis.

"If I want the Lord to listen to what I am asking him, I have to go, and go and go -- knock on the door and knock on God's heart," the pope said in his homily March 15 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"We cannot promise someone we will pray for him or her and then say an 'Our Father' and a 'Hail Mary' and then leave it at that. No. If you say you'll pray for another, you have to take this path. And you need patience," he said.

Pope Francis' homily focused on the day's reading from the Book of Exodus (32:7-14), in which God tells Moses how angry he is that his people have created a golden calf to worship as their god. God threatens to unleash his wrath on them and promises Moses, "Then I will make of you a great nation."

Pope Francis said Moses does not take the bait or get involved in "games of bribery." Moses sticks by his people and does not "sell his conscience" for his own gain, the pope said.

"And God likes this. When God sees a soul, a person who prays and prays and prays for something, he is moved."

Moses had the courage to speak "face-to-face" and truthfully to the Lord, he said, and successfully implored God to relent and not punish his people.

"For prayers of intercession, you need two things: courage, that is, 'parrhesia,' and patience," he said.

People's hearts must be truly invested in the thing or person they are praying for; otherwise not even courage and patience will be enough to keep going, he added.

People should ask God for the grace to pray frankly and freely to God, as sons and daughters would talk to their father, knowing that "my father will listen to me," Pope Francis said.

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Irish-born religious recall leaving homeland to devote lives to U.S. kids

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 4:53pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jerri Donohue

By Jerri Donohue

BRECKSVILLE, Ohio (CNS) -- When Sister Anne McCrohan said goodbye to her parents and most of her 10 siblings at a train station in County Kerry, she thought it was forever.

At age 18, Sister McCrohan had agreed to go to America to teach parochial school students.

"I just had the desire to do something special with the life God gave me," the 86-year-old Religious Sister of Mercy said of her youthful commitment.

After World War II, American classrooms swelled with baby boomers. Desperate for English-speaking sisters, some bishops turned to Ireland for help. Sister McCrohan arrived in the Diocese of Sacramento, California, in 1949, but Irish Sisters of Mercy had been working there since 1857. For more than 100 years, none returned home.

Sister McCrohan adapted to religious life, college and a new country -- all at the same time.

Because they lived with American and Mexican sisters, she and her four companions made an immediate adjustment.

"We couldn't talk Irish all day long and ignore everybody else," Sister McCrohan said in a phone interview from Auburn, California.

Four Irish-born pastors eventually urged the Mercy sisters' superiors to permit home visits. Somehow the priests arranged for funds for four or five sisters to make the trip each summer.

When Sister McCrohan's turn came in 1963, she already had made final vows, graduated from college and become an American citizen. She fondly recalls her family's first joyful reunion.

"It was amazing," she said. "There was a group of about 22 at the airport to greet me."

Sister Fabian Quigley left Tipperary, Ireland, in 1949 as a 15-year old postulant of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Religious vocations were common in her family.

"My father had four sisters as nuns and a brother a priest," Sister Quigley said.

In Cleveland, she graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school and started college. She didn't struggle with homesickness because there were many other Irish sisters in the community.

"What used to be a little more difficult was 'visiting Sunday' for the postulants and novices, when their families came and we had nobody coming," she recalled.

Sister Quigley received her first teaching assignment, a class of 65 sixth-graders, as soon as she completed two years of college. She then went to school on Saturdays and during the summer until she earned her degree. She was excused from work the day she and 11 other Sisters of the Incarnate Word became U.S. citizens. Sister Quigley rode the bus back to the convent, clutching her little American flag.

She returned to Ireland nine years after her departure.

"I couldn't believe my brother, because he had grown up," she said. "I forgot I had grown up, too."

Trips home became more frequent for Sister Quigley and other Irish sisters in later years.

"Our community was absolutely wonderful to us," she said.

Loreto Sister Josephine O'Brien was a 31-year-old teacher when she and four other Loreto sisters arrived in Phoenix in 1954. They wore long serge habits, lived without air-conditioning and suffered in the hot weather. But Sister O'Brien remembers their happiness.

"We had great fun among ourselves," she said. "We did Irish dancing and things like that. We were still Irish."

When her students misbehaved, Sister O'Brien sometimes reprimanded them in Gaelic, a successful ploy to quiet them.

She taught for two decades in Arizona and California before encountering a quirk of American culture when she transferred to the Chicago area. Another woman religious asked Sister O'Brien if she was a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan. Sister O'Brien was neither, and so the sister advised her to be a Sox fan like everyone else in the house.

"And so I'm a Sox fan, even though I don't know a thing about it," Sister O'Brien said.

She returned to County Offaly several times. Her doctor ruled out travel for health reasons 14 year ago. Six nephews and her brother, a missionary priest home on leave from Africa, came to America for her 60th jubilee.

Now 95, Sister O'Brien misses the sisters who came to the States with her in 1954.

"They have all gone to God," she said.

She spends St. Patrick's Day listening to Irish music alone in her room.

"I'm never not lonely on St. Patrick's Day," Sister O'Brien said. "I'm at home that day in my own mind."

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National School Walkout is time of prayer for many Catholic schools

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 4:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Davis for the Flor

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- March 14, exactly one month since the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, students from around the country planned to walk out of their schools in protest of the nation's gun laws for 17 minutes.

The time is meant to pay tribute to the 17 students and staff members killed that afternoon by gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The national movement, at 10 a.m. in all time zones in the U.S., was organized primarily by youths working with EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women's March, which organized marches for women's rights in Washington and many other cities after President Donald Trump took office. 

Another nationwide school walkout is scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. A related event is the "March for Our Lives" a youth-led demonstration March 24 in Washington, where 500,000 are expected to attend. Other demonstrations will take place in several U.S. cities to protest current gun laws.

The school walkouts are intended to make a statement and vary from simply walking out of school for the allotted time or attending an organized rally.

Most Catholic schools across the country did not sanction walkouts, but they planned to mark the somber anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Florida and also support youth-led advocacy of anti-gun violence in a different way -- through prayer.

Instead of walkouts, some schools were hosting "pray-outs," saying "rosaries for our lives" or attending school Masses to pray for recent shooting victims and their families and for an end to violence.

The focus is in "keeping with who we are as people of faith and a community of believers," said Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sister John Mary, a member of the Dominicans' St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee, said Catholic schools that are providing alternative school walkout events are teaching their students to pray for a situation that needs a response and encouraging them to take action by writing to legislators about gun legislation.

She sent Catholic school superintendents an email March 5 acknowledging that "many dioceses have chosen to support student participation in this important dialogue and discussion through a clear presentation of Catholic social teaching and peaceful civic engagement."

For many diocesan and private Catholic school leaders, balancing student advocacy and safety was a critical decision not made lightly.

The principal at St. Francis High School in Sacramento, California, wrote to parents in early March saying: "Like other schools and districts across the nation, we have been wrestling with the type of action we should take as a school community" to the walkout, recognizing that many students want to show solidarity and express their views but also noting there are "serious safety issues presented by students leaving campus in the middle of the school day."

The decision, announced by Elias Mendoza, who is principal of the all-girls school, was to "provide students with an alternative avenue to express their viewpoints in a constructive and meaningful way, while remaining on campus." The school planned a prayer service for peace and healing at 10 a.m. and said parents who wanted to allow their students to participate in a political rally that day would have to contact the school office.

The letter echoed what other Catholic school leaders have expressed: "At the end of the day, we know our focus is educating students and keeping them safe, not taking sides in politics or creating policy. Additionally, our staff is aware that we're tasked with the responsibility of maintaining political neutrality in our role as educators, regardless of our own political views."

Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Atlanta Archdiocese, said students walking off campus "cannot occur" because of concern that administrators wouldn't be able to keep students safe if they left the school property.

In an email to The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper, she said local high school administrators were talking with students "to allow them opportunities for solidarity with other students across the country who share the same concerns regarding gun control and mental illness issues as well."

On the day of the national walkout, students at some Catholic high schools in the Atlanta area will have the chance to exchange their uniforms for clothing with the school colors of the Parkland high school -- maroon and silver - and funds donated for this will be set aside for the victims of the Florida shooting.

Archdiocesan high schools also are amending some courses as students have expressed concern for the Florida high school community and want to talk about gun laws. Theology classes, for example, will examine these shootings from the Catholic perspective, asking questions about injustice and violence in the world and how believers are to respond.

In Michigan, students from throughout the Detroit Archdiocese planned to hold prayerful gatherings to remember the Parkland shooting victims and also a mother and father fatally shot allegedly by their son March 2 at Central Michigan University in the neighboring Saginaw Diocese.

"The Archdiocese of Detroit adamantly detests gun violence of any kind, and I have encouraged our schools to discuss as a community, ways to prayerfully respond to these tragic events," said Kevin Kijewski, superintendent of schools. "The result is a range of Catholic, faith-based responses to gun violence and a united appeal to the Lord for assistance during these difficult times."

In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, all Catholic schools have been asked to have 17 minutes of prayer during the National School Walkout -- beginning with a rosary, followed by an archdiocesan prayer against violence, murder and racism -- a prayer that is said aloud by Catholics at every Mass in the archdiocese.

"We didn't hear of any schools or students participating (in the walkout), but we were hearing from our school communities,'What could we do, what could we offer in support of lessening gun violence?'" said RaeNell Houston, the archdiocese's superintendent of Catholic schools.

Houston told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans' archdiocesan newspaper, that children deserve to be safe in our school communities and school officials felt that "intentional, dedicated prayer would yield more fruitful results than a walkout."

Chicago archdiocesan schools also were encouraged to take part in "peacebuilding activities" March 14.

"We believe this is a time to come together and work as a community of Catholic schools to help achieve a lasting peace," said Jim Rigg, archdiocesan school superintendent, in a March 6 letter to school principals.

The Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, planned school prayer services March 14 as a "positive way to respond to the concerns of students, for the safety of schools and to recognize the mourning of a country for so many lost," a diocesan statement said.

Father Edward Quinlan, diocesan secretary for education, said the time of prayer should not just be focused on the effects of gun violence. "School violence takes many forms," he said, "from the tragic assaults we saw in Florida to the day-to-day bullying and harassment of other students."

For some Catholic schools, the alternative walkout day event was simple. St. Saviour High School in Brooklyn, New York, was having a prayer service in the school gym that would include reading the names aloud of those killed in the Florida school shooting. Chaminade College Preparatory High School in West Hills, California, was inviting students to participate in a 17-minute walk at lunch around the track as an opportunity to show unity "and honor the students and faculty who lost their lives."

A week before the national school walkout, hundreds of students at St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, walked out of school in one of the first area school protests of gun laws joining the national discussion about gun legislation, the Kansas City Star reported.

"We wanted to make a statement," said a student of the all-girls school who was one of the organizers for the event where there were speeches against gun violence and a letter to local political leaders urging them to take a stand against gun violence was read aloud.

These students will not be taking part in the March 14 walkout, nor did their school plan an alternative event, because they are currently on spring break.

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Contributing to this report was Christine Bordelon in New Orleans and Andrew Nelson in Atlanta.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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

Five years a pope: Francis' focus has been on outreach

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 9:15am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope just a few days after telling the College of Cardinals that the Catholic Church faced a clear choice between being a church that "goes out" or a church focused on its internal affairs.

After the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected March 13, 2013, and chose the name Francis, he made "go out," "periphery" and "throwaway culture" standard phrases in the papal vocabulary.

Catholics have a wide variety of opinions about how Pope Francis is exercising the papal ministry, and many of his comments -- both in informal news conferences and in formal documents -- have stirred controversy. But, as he wrote in "Evangelii Gaudium," the apostolic exhortation laying out the vision for his pontificate: "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."

But there are two areas of internal church affairs that he recognized needed immediate attention: the reform of the Roman Curia and the full protection of children and vulnerable adults from clerical sexual abuse.

The organizational reform of the Curia has been taking place in stages, but Pope Francis has insisted that the real reform is a matter of changing hearts and embracing service.

On the issue of abuse, nine months into his pontificate, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection to advise him on better ways to prevent clerical sexual abuse and to ensure pastoral care for the survivors.

While Pope Francis has emphatically proclaimed "zero tolerance" for abusers and recently said covering up abuse "is itself an abuse," as his fifth anniversary approached serious questions arose about how he handled accusations that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who was a priest at the time, covered up allegations of abuse against his mentor.

The new scandal threatened to undermine the widespread popularity of Pope Francis and his efforts to set the Catholic Church on a new course.

For Pope Francis, that new course involves evangelization first of all.

"Evangelizing presupposes a desire in the church to come out of herself," he had told the cardinals just days before the conclave that elected him. "The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery."

Mercy is the first thing the Catholic Church is called to bring to those peripheries, he says.

Although in 2013 he told reporters he would not be traveling as much as his predecessors, Pope Francis has continued their practice of literally "going out," making 22 trips outside of Italy and visiting 32 nations.

But he also regularly visits the peripheries of Rome, both its poor suburbs and its hospitals, rehabilitation centers, prisons and facilities for migrants and refugees.

His desire to reach out has inspired innovations that were noteworthy at the beginning of the papacy, but now seem to be a natural part of a pope's day. For example, after beginning with Vatican gardeners and garbage collectors, the pope continues to invite a small group of Catholics to join him most weekday mornings for Mass in the chapel of his residence.

The residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, is a guesthouse built by St. John Paul II with the intention of providing decent housing for cardinals when they would enter a conclave to elect a new pope. Pope Francis decided after the 2013 conclave to stay there and not move into the more isolated papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.

On Holy Thursday each year, he has celebrated Mass at a prison, care facility or refugee center and washed the feet of patients, inmates or immigrants, both men and women, Catholics and members of other faiths. He also ordered the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to clarify that the feet of both women and men can be washed at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper.

During the 2015-16 Year of Mercy, he made a visit one Friday a month to people in particular need, including those at a school for the blind, a neonatal intensive care unit, a community of recovering alcoholics, a children's group home and a community for women rescued from traffickers who forced them into prostitution. Once the Year of Mercy ended, the pope continued the visits, although not always every month.

In September 2015 as waves of migrants and refugees were struggling and dying to reach Europe, Pope Francis asked every parish and religious community in Europe to consider offering hospitality to one family. The Vatican offered apartments and support to a family from Syria and a family from Eritrea. Then, seven months later, Pope Francis visited a refugee center on the island of Lesbos, Greece, and brought 12 refugees back to Rome on the plane with him.

Less than three months into his pontificate, he began denouncing the "throwaway culture" as one where money and power were the ultimate values and anything or anyone that did not advance money or power were disposable: "Human life, the person are no longer seen as primary values to be respected and protected, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are not yet useful -- like an unborn child -- or are no longer useful -- like an old person," the pope said at a general audience.

In the first three years of his papacy, he published three major documents: "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel); "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," on the environment; and "'Amoris Laetitia' (The Joy of Love), on Love in the Family," his reflections on the discussions of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and 2015.

People skeptical about the scientific proof that human activity is contributing to climate change objected to parts of "Laudato Si'," but the criticism was muted compared to reactions to Pope Francis' document on the family, especially regarding ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and the possibility that, under some conditions, some of those Catholics could return to the sacraments.

The strongest criticism came from U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and three other cardinals, who sent to the pope and then publicly released in November 2016 a formal, critical set of questions, known as "dubia," insisting that allowing those Catholics to receive the sacraments amounted to changing fundamental church teaching about marriage, sexuality and the nature of the sacraments.

Pope Francis has not responded to the cardinals, two of whom have since died. But in December, the Vatican posted on its website the guidelines for interpreting "Amoris Laetitia" developed by a group of Argentine bishops, as well as Pope Francis' letter to them describing the guidelines as "authentic magisterium."

The guidelines by bishops in the Buenos Aires region said the path of discernment proposed by Pope Francis for divorced and civilly remarried couples "does not necessarily end in the sacraments" but, in some situations, after a thorough process of discernment, the pope's exhortation "opens the possibility" to reception of the sacraments.

In the document and throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has emphasized God's mercy and the power of the sacraments to spur conversion and nourish Christians as they try to progress in holiness.

Like all popes, Pope Francis frequently urges Catholics to go to confession, telling them it is not a "torture chamber." And he repeatedly gives priests blunt advice about being welcoming and merciful to those who approach the confessional.

Like St. John Paul did each Lent, Pope Francis hears confessions in St. Peter's Basilica. But, he surprised even his closest aides beginning in 2014 when, instead of going to the confessional to welcome the first penitent, he turned and went to confession himself.

He also has surprised people by being completely honest about his age. In April 2017, when he was still 80 years old, he told Italian young people that while they are preparing for the future, "at my age we are preparing to go." The young people present objected loudly. "No?" the pope responded, "Who can guarantee life? No one."

From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has expressed love and admiration for retired Pope Benedict XVI. Returning from South Korea in 2014, he said Pope Benedict's honest, "yet also humble and courageous" gesture of resigning cleared a path for later popes to do the same.

"You can ask me: 'What if one day you don't feel prepared to go on?'" he told the reporters traveling with him. "I would do the same, I would do the same! I will pray hard over it, but I would do the same thing. He (Pope Benedict) opened a door which is institutional, not exceptional."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Wonder and wit: Five years of Pope Francis' unique turns of phrase

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 9:12am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A native-Spanish speaker who grew up with Italian-speaking relatives in Argentina, Pope Francis has a striking way with words.

Bringing a background in literary themes and devices with him to the papacy five years ago, the pope has shown himself to be a master of metaphor and allegory.

His cross-cultural and eclectic knowledge of literature and cinema has supplied him with numerous visual elements that he mixes and matches with a religious message, creating such compound concoctions as "the babysitter church" to describe a parish that doesn't encourage active evangelizers but only worries about keeping parishioners inside, out of trouble.

"Armchair Catholics," meanwhile, don't let the Holy Spirit lead their lives. They would rather stay put, safely reciting a "cold morality" without letting the Spirit push them out of the house to bring Jesus to others.

The Ignatian spirituality that formed him as a Jesuit also comes through many of his turns of phrase. Just as a Jesuit seeks to use all five senses to find and experience God, the pope does not hesitate to use language that involves sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

And so he urges the world's priests to be "shepherds living with the smell of sheep" by living with and among the people in order to share Christ with them, and he tells his cardinals that all Catholic elders need to share with the young their insight and wisdom, which become like "fine wine that tastes better with age."

No chorus is as wonderful as the squeaks, squeals and banter of children, he once said before baptizing 32 babies in the Sistine Chapel, assuring the parents that the commotion and chaos of new life was not only welcome, but wonderful.

The pope's visual vocabulary dips into the everyday with sayings and scenarios from daily routines: like sin being more than a stain; it is a rebellious act against God that requires more than just a trip "to the laundromat and have it cleaned."

Even country living holds some lessons. He once told parishioners to bother their priests like a calf would pester its mother for milk. Always knock "on their door, on their heart so that they give you the milk of doctrine, the milk of grace and the milk of guidance."

Food and drink hold numerous lessons. For example, to convey the corrosive atmosphere a bitter, angry priest can bring to his community, the pope said such priests make one think, "This man drinks vinegar for breakfast. Then, for lunch, pickled vegetables. And, in the evening, a nice glass of lemon juice."

Christians must not be boastful and shallow like a special sweet his Italian grandmother would prepare for Fat Tuesday, he has said. Explaining how it is made from a very thin strip of pastry, the crunchy dessert bloats and swells in a pan of hot oil. They are called "bugie" or "little lies," he said, because "they seem big, but they have nothing inside, there's no truth, no substance."

Pope Francis' frequent focus on the evils of living a hypocritical or superficial life has meant employing descriptions such as showy as peacocks, frivolous as an over-primped star and fleeting as soap bubbles. "A soap bubble is beautiful! It has so many colors! But it lasts one second and then what?"

To explain the kind of "terrible anxiety" that results from a life of vanity built on lies and fantasy, the pope said, "It's like those people who put on too much makeup and then they're afraid of getting rained on and all the makeup running down their face."

Pope Francis does not shy away from the gory or gross, calling money -- when it becomes an idol -- the "devil's dung" and saying the lives of the corrupt are "varnished putrefaction" because, like whitewashed tombs, they appear beautiful on the outside, but inside they are full of dead bones.

For the pope, who sees Christ as a "true physician of bodies and souls," there is no shortage of medical metaphors.

Of the most well-known, the pope pines for "the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds."

Speaking elsewhere about people who have done evil and know it, Pope Francis said, they live "with a constant itch, with hives that don't leave them in peace."

The consequence of pride or vanity, he warned on another occasion, "is like an osteoporosis of the soul: The bones seem good from the outside, but on the inside they are all ruined."

Another medical problem afflicting souls diagnosed by Pope Francis is "spiritual Alzheimer's," a condition that renders some people incapable of remembering God's love and mercy for them and, therefore, unable to show mercy to others.

If people were to get a "spiritual electrocardiogram," he once asked, would it be flatlined because the heart is hardened, unmoved and emotionless or would it be pulsating with the prompting and prods of the Holy Spirit?

And whether people recognize it or not, God is their true father, he has said. "First of all, he gave us his DNA, that is, he made us his children; he created us in his image, in his image and likeness, like him."

Meeting with cardinals and the heads of Vatican offices for an annual Christmas greeting, the pope explained the reform of the Roman Curia as more than just a face-lift to rejuvenate or beautify an aging body, but a process of deep, personal conversion.

Sometimes, he said the next Christmas, reform "is like cleaning an Egyptian Sphinx with a toothbrush."

 

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A small sampler of Pope Francis quotes

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 9:10am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his formal documents, many speeches and unscripted morning homilies the past five years, Pope Francis has given the church plenty of "food for thought" on many issues of great importance.

Here are a baker's dozen of quotes from the pope, organized by topic:

-- On clerical sexual abuse: "Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused, and it endangered other minors who were at risk." (Homily at Mass with survivors, July 7, 2014).

-- On communication: "Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony." (Message for World Communications Day 2016).

-- On creation: "We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters." ("Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home," May 24, 2015).

-- On economics: "Let us say 'no' to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth." (World Meeting of Popular Movements, July 9, 2015).

-- On faith: "Please do not water down your faith in Jesus Christ. We dilute fruit drinks -- orange, apple or banana juice -- but please do not drink a diluted form of faith. Faith is whole and entire, not something that you water down. It is faith in Jesus. It is faith in the son of God made man, who loved me and who died for me." (World Youth Day, July 25, 2013).

-- On the family: "No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love. ... May we never lose heart because of our limitations or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us." ("Amoris Laetitia," April 8, 2016).

-- On life: "Human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological." (Speech to the Italian pro-life movement, April 11, 2014).

-- On mercy: "Mercy: the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness." ("Misericordiae Vultus," April 11, 2015).

-- On migration: "Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life far from poverty, hunger, exploitation and the unjust distribution of the planet's resources, which are meant to be equitably shared by all. Don't we all want a better, more decent and prosperous life to share with our loved ones?" (Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016).

-- On religious freedom: "It is incomprehensible and alarming that, still today, discrimination and restrictions of rights continue for the single fact that one belongs to and publicly professes an unwavering faith. It is unacceptable that real persecution is actually sustained for reasons of religious affiliation! Wars as well! This distorts reason, attacks peace and humiliates human dignity." (Speech, June 20, 2014).

-- On Satan: "The devil exists even in the 21st century and we shouldn't be naive. ... We have to learn from the Gospel how to fight" against him. (Homily, April 11, 2014).

-- On vocations: "A vocation is a fruit that ripens in a well-cultivated field of mutual love that becomes mutual service, in the context of an authentic ecclesial life. No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, in the experience of fraternal love." (World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2014).

-- On young people in the church: "I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses. I want the noise to go out. I want the church to go out onto the streets. I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves." (World Youth Day, July 25, 2013).

 

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Retired pope says criticism against Pope Francis is 'foolish prejudice'

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 4:30pm

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the eve of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' election, retired Pope Benedict XVI defended the continuity of the church's teaching under his successor and dismissed those who criticize the pope's theological foundations.

In a letter sent to Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, Pope Benedict applauded the publication of a new book series titled, "The Theology of Pope Francis."

"It contradicts the foolish prejudice of those who see Pope Francis as someone who lacks a particular theological and philosophical formation, while I would have been considered solely a theorist of theology with little understanding of the concrete lives of today's Christian," the retired pontiff wrote.

Msgr. Vigano read the letter during a presentation of the 11-volume series March 12.

Before reading the letter, Msgr. Vigano said he sent a message to Pope Francis and Pope Benedict regarding the publication of the book series.

He also asked if Pope Benedict would be "willing to write a page or a page and a half of dense theology in his clear and punctual style that would have liked to read this evening."

Instead, the retired pontiff "wrote a beautiful, personal letter that I will read to you," Msgr. Vigano said.

Pope Benedict thanked Msgr. Vigano for having given him a copy of "The Theology of Pope Francis" book series, which was authored by several notable theologians.

"These small volumes reasonably demonstrate that Pope Francis is a man with profound philosophical and theological formation and are helpful to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, even with all the differences in style and temperament," he wrote.

Pope Benedict has made no secret of his affection for and admiration of Pope Francis.

During a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict's priestly ordination June 28, 2016, the retired pope expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness "from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply."

"More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected," Pope Benedict said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Haitian immigrant back home working for CRS says faith gives her hope

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 2:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Denis Grasska, The Southern Cross

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- When Cassandra Bissainthe left Haiti for the United States some 17 years ago, it seemed unlikely that she would ever return.

Political instability and economic insecurity were rampant in her homeland, and extreme poverty had driven desperate people to do terrible things.

Shortly after her relocation to Miami, Bissainthe discovered that she had been in danger of being kidnapped. Around that same time, her aunt actually was kidnapped and held for a week until the family paid a ransom.

"I never thought I would go back," Bissainthe, now 33, said during a visit to the Diocese of San Diego earlier this year.

Today, she is stationed in Haiti with Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. church's overseas relief and development agency. She is the agency's church partnership and capacity strengthening manager.

In the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in early 2010, she reflected on what she could do to help the suffering people of her homeland. She began working in Haiti for Trocaire, the international development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and then in 2015 joined the staff of CRS, the organization's U.S. counterpart.

Bissainthe holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Florida International University. She was drawn to development work both by the example of her mother, who had worked for the U.N. Development Program, and by her experience at her all-girls Catholic high school in Haiti, where community service requirements awakened within her a desire to work for a mission-driven organization.

In Haiti with CRS, Bissainthe has her work cut out for her. The country is ranked as the poorest in the Western hemisphere, with some 80 percent of the population subsisting on less than $2 a day. In addition to an unstable economy and political climate, Haiti also is still recovering from the damage caused by the 2010 earthquake, coupled with the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, which impacted more than 2 million people in late 2016.

"I like to be in the field," said Bissainthe, who added that her co-workers will confirm that she is rarely found behind her office desk. But, she said, "in the field, you get to meet people that have nothing, so those situations can (bring) you down."

Encountering people who are struggling amid poverty and natural disasters can be challenging, but in those moments, she relies on her Catholic faith, which inspires her "to look for the positive." Past experiences of CRS' life-changing work have given her reason for this hope, she told The Southern Cross, San Diego's diocesan newspaper.

She has seen, in villages where most of the youth used to drop out of school by the sixth grade, an increasing number asking for high school recommendations. After major disasters, she has encountered people whose entire livelihoods have been wiped out; yet, several months later, she has witnessed them rebuilding their lives with whatever support CRS was able to offer them.

A key component of CRS' approach to development and a reason for its success is its collaboration with local partners in the various regions in which it serves.

CRS only has three offices in Haiti, Bissainthe said, and it's only because of community partners that the organization is able to assist as many people as it does. Those partners continue to be key players in the community, even after CRS pulls up stakes and leaves the region, carrying on the programs that CRS put in place.

Bissainthe's job places her at the center of cultivating relationships with these partners, particularly the local Catholic Church, from the national to the parish level.

"It's truly crucial that we maintain a strong relationship with the church, because they are our eyes and our knowledge of the field," she said, adding, "They know these communities ' and they might know the needs better than (we do)."

Bissainthe visited San Diego in late January as part of a two-week U.S. tour to promote CRS Rice Bowl, a Lenten faith-in-action program that encourages U.S. Catholics to show solidarity with the poor through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Some 75 percent of the funds raised through CRS Rice Bowl support the organization's programs around the world, including agriculture, water and sanitation, microfinance and education projects. The remaining 25 percent benefits the poor and hungry in the communities where those funds were raised.

Just as she enjoys meeting the people CRS serves in Haiti, Bissainthe said she is grateful for the opportunity to meet the U.S.-based donors whose generosity makes CRS' work possible. During her recent tour, she was able to hear their stories while also sharing her own.

"I think it makes you even more humble about the work that you do," she said of her experience on the tour, "and also see the value in what we do."

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Grasska is assistant editor of The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego.

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Christian activists warn of slaughter of Syrian civilians in Afrin

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 12:17pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters

By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- Christian activists warn that 1 million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out "war crimes" and "ethnic cleansing."

They have appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump and top U.S. officials to stop the bloodshed, warning that failure to act jeopardizes the hard-fought U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State in Syria.

Civilians from other parts of Syria and outside the country have reportedly offered to stand as "human shields" between the Kurdish-backed fighters and Turkish forces set to storm Afrin.

Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, said, "I have never seen so much violence as in Syria." In remarks March 9, he likened the situation to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The nuncio called the situation in the war-ravaged land "hell on earth," especially for vulnerable children.

In March, Syria's conflict entered its eighth year. More than 350,000 people have died, 5 million are refugees and 6.3 million civilians are displaced within the country.

Syria is currently "one of the most dangerous places for children," Cardinal Zenari said. "It's terrible. I always say, it's a massacre of the innocents."

Two Christian activists, Bassam Ishak and Lauren Homer, told Catholic News Service of the relentless assault by Turkey and militants from hardline jihadist movements, including the so-called Islamic State.

"Turkey has committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing already in Afrin and the Federation of Northern Syria," or FNS, they told CNS.

Ishak heads the Syriac National Council and is a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Homer, an Anglican, is a Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer.

"Turkey has already 'cleared' villages of Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others, promising to replace them with Syrian refugees. In fact, Afrin already has enlarged its population by 50 percent to house (internally displaced) Syrians, who are among those being killed, injured or captured," they said.

People in and around Afrin are facing the warplanes, tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons of NATO's second-largest standing army, Turkey.

A local health authority reported more than 220 dead and 600 civilians injured in this mainly Kurdish area of northwestern Syria, some 30 miles from Aleppo.

Videos and photos from Afrin taken by both Kurds and members of the Turkish forces depict bombed-out houses, mangled bodies of children killed by the blasts and civilians being herded away.

Largely untouched by Syria's deadly conflict until recently, this part of the Federation of Northern Syria succeeded in creating a nonsectarian, pluralist, inclusive government system not seen elsewhere in the Middle East in which there is religious freedom and equal rights are granted to all.

Activists are calling for an immediate no-fly zone over Afrin, enforced by U.S. drones or warplanes; implementation of the Feb. 24 U.N. Security Council resolution requiring a cease-fire by Turkey in Afrin; humanitarian aid and safe passage out for civilians; and mediation of a long-term cease-fire and withdrawal of Turkish troops to its own borders -- potentially with promises of U.S. or U.N. border monitors.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish council that governs Afrin demanded the U.N. Security Council establish a no-fly zone over Afrin and forcibly respond to the Turkish offensive.

"This U.N. and U.S. and NATO inaction will go down in infamy as an inconceivable abandonment of our 'allies' the SDF and the FNS. Genocide seems to be only something we are interested in in retrospect, to mourn and wring our hands over," Homer warned.

Anti-aircraft weapons are needed to stop the attacks, observers say, but the Syrian Democratic Forces, composed of Kurdish and Christian fighters, were never given the necessary arms. At this point, U.S. aerial patrols would be needed. The Kurds and Christian fighters largely won the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State in Syria.

"Military solutions are no real solutions. Taking Afrin will not solve any problems, neither the internal problems for Turkey in the long run, nor will it help solve any issue that is part of the Syrian question," Ishak told CNS. Turkey says it is battling Kurdish "terrorists" as its pretext for invading Afrin.

"Instead, it will just further complicate the situation and increase the level of competition between actors jockeying for influence in Syria," Ishak said.

Meanwhile, the Syrian military, backed with Russian airpower, carried out intensive ground and aerial assaults on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Syrian government forces have reportedly captured more than half of the area.

The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the area since late February, while almost 400,000 residents are living under heavy bombardment, after having been subjected to nearly five years of siege, lacking food and medicines.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called on the international community to intervene in Syria to help end the violence. Calling the war in Syria "inhumane," Pope Francis urged for an end to the fighting, immediate access to humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and infirm.

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Confessors should seek to bring penitents closer to Jesus, pope says

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 10:25am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A good confessor is a good listener, Pope Francis said.

By truly listening to the penitent during confession, "we listen to Jesus himself, poor and humble; by listening to the Holy Spirit, we put ourselves in attentive obedience, becoming listeners of the Word" in order to know what God wants to be done, he said.

This is how priests can offer "the greatest service" to all penitents, especially the young, because "we put them in touch with Jesus himself," he said March 9.

The pope spoke to hundreds of confessors and other participants attending an annual course on the sacrament of reconciliation, sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the absolution of sin.

He warned confessors to avoid the temptation of becoming "masters" over other people's consciences, especially the young, who are very easily influenced.

A confessor must never forget his is not the source of mercy or grace, but he is, however, an "indispensable instrument, but always just an instrument," the pope said.

Being a conduit between the Holy Spirit and the penitent does not diminish this ministry, rather it leads to its fulfillment, he said.

The more the priest "disappears and Christ, the supreme and eternal priest, appears more clearly," the more the priest fulfills his vocation as "unprofitable servants."

In light of the October Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment, the course this year looked at the relationship between the sacrament of reconciliation and helping others discern their vocation.

The pope said young people should be able to hear what God is saying to them, both in their own conscience and by listening to the word. To achieve this, young people need wise accompaniment by a confessor, he added.

With priest and penitent both prayerfully listening to God's will, confession can become an occasion for discovering God's plan for the individual, he said. Vocations, he added, are never about what form they take, but are about building a life-giving and inseparable relationship with Jesus.

The pope asked confessors to be witnesses of mercy, "humble listeners of young people and of God's will for them; always be respectful of the conscience and freedom of those who come to the confessional, because God himself loves their freedom."

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