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Updated: 9 min 32 sec ago

Sisters minister to intellectually disabled people, offer catechesis

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 2:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Daughters of St. Mary of Providence

By Joseph Albino

SYRACUSE. N.Y. (CNS) -- In the nautical world, a "spar" is the straight pole used to support the sails and rigging of a ship.

In the world of faith and the ministry of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in the Syracuse Diocese, SPAR is the support offered to Catholics with intellectual disabilities to help them to recognize the presence of God in their daily lives and to act in light of the Gospel message.

The sisters' Special Adult Religious Formation Program apostolate, better known as SPAR, operates in accordance with the Catholic Church's teaching that "all baptized persons with disabilities have a right to adequate catechesis and deserve the means to develop a relationship with God."

In Syracuse, the sisters concentrate on offering support for older teens and adults with intellectual disabilities who, when they were of school age, were not able to receive the sacraments of reconciliation, Eucharist and confirmation. They are offered a catechetical program designed with them in mind.

The foundation of the sisters' apostolate is "respect for life and dignity of every human person," according to the sisters' Guanellian ethics code, named for the congregation's co-founder, St. Louis (Luigi) Guanella.

"We hope to contribute to the good of every person who must be helped to live his or her life with conditions that require support, attention and care," the code says. "The centrality of every human person continues over time and cultural changes in our world today."

The Congregation of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence traces its roots to 1881 when a group of young women in the community of Pianello del Lairo, near Como, Italy, wanted to pursue a ministry for needy individuals including those with disabilities. They rented a house, which they eventually were able to buy, and named it the Little House of Divine Providence and began an apostolate modeled on the Gospel example of the good Samaritan.

The house became known as "Noah's Ark," because the sisters took in orphans, young working women looking for a place to live, people living with epilepsy, the elderly and those living with intellectual disabilities, among others.

The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence came to the U.S. in 1913, arriving in Chicago. Being Italian themselves, the first sisters to arrive assisted Italian immigrants. They established a motherhouse in Chicago for the congregation's U.S. province and opened a residential facility for intellectually disabled children.

The congregation has different missions in various countries, but in the U.S., the sisters made their primary concern caring for and teaching the faith to those with intellectual disabilities.

They also minister to the elderly in nursing homes and those in assisted living and independent living arrangements. Some of the sisters also may serve in parishes as teachers and directors of religious education programs and as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to provide the Eucharist to the homebound. In years past, they taught in Catholic elementary schools.

After the order became established in Chicago, it spread to East Providence, Rhode Island; Syracuse, New York; Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; Milbank, South Dakota; and Elverson, Pennsylvania, where the sisters operate a retreat center. The U.S. province now encompasses Mexico and the Philippines. There are more than 500 sisters around the world.

The congregation has a male counterpart, the Servants of Charity, founded in 1908. Its priests and brothers pursue similar apostolates in various countries. In the United States, they serve in Chelsea, Michigan; Springfield, Pennsylvania; and Providence, Rhode Island.

The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence were invited to come to the Diocese of Syracuse at the invitation of the late Bishop James M. Moynihan because of a Holy Family Church parishioner, Mary Lou Coons, who was seeking a way to help the intellectually disabled, often praying before the Blessed Sacrament for an answer.

In answer to her prayers, she felt God led her to the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence. She communicated with them through emails and visits and then brought them to the attention of diocesan officials.

Three of the sisters have a home near Holy Family Church in Fairmount, a western suburb of Syracuse.

"It was because of her faith and perseverance in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and her love for the intellectually disabled that Mary Lou Coons searched and found a community that served that category of persons," said Sister Caryn Haas, one of the three sisters.

Sister Haas provides pastoral care for the homebound, which includes helping families prepare for the baptism of their children or for other sacraments through monthly classes. She also can make arrangements for the homebound to receive the Eucharist.

Another of the sisters, Sister Beth Ann Dillon, teaches religion at nearby Bishop Ludden High School and also is campus minister there. Another, Sister Arlene Riccio, schedules faith activities for people with intellectual disabilities on the first floor of the sisters' residence, called the SPAR Center.

For those adults with intellectual disabilities who have received religious and sacramental education through their parishes, SPAR offers a continuing formation program once a month to help deepen the faith planted and grown in their families and parishes.

As the head of the SPAR apostolate, Sister Riccio strives to deepen the faith of those with intellectual disabilities whom she encounters in parishes in the greater Syracuse area.

In addition, for those individuals whose disabilities make classroom learning difficult, Sister Riccio offers small group or one-on-one sessions in a sacramental preparation program. The individuals with intellectual disabilities come to the meetings from a number of different parishes in the area as well as from group homes.

Individuals who live at home are invited regularly to monthly meetings at the SPAR center through a phone call or a mailed flier.

Classes may be held once a week for those individuals who are preparing to receive any of the Sacraments. Often, a sister will go to the home of a person with intellectual disabilities who may not be able to attend a regularly scheduled meeting because of transportation and/or health problems.

Sister Riccio's other goals through the SPAR apostolate include going to group homes to teach general spirituality to residents who are Christian and to teach the Catholic faith to those who are Catholic. Another goal is to line up volunteers who could assist group home residents to go to a church of their choice for Sunday services.

Participants in SPAR programs have different levels of capability, ranging from needing just a little bit of help to needing to learn the difference between ordinary bread and the consecrated eucharistic bread for Communion.

Some need to be taught that reverence is called for at church. Those with intellectual disabilities can be prepared to receive the sacrament of reconciliation if they are able to tell right from wrong and know to confess committing an act that was wrong.

Catechetical materials Sister Riccio uses include the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program, the recognized full curriculum for people with intellectual disabilities, and "Seasons of Grace," which concentrates on the church's seven sacraments. Loyola Press of Chicago also offers an adaptive religious education program in the faith and in the sacraments.

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Miracles attributed to Pope Paul VI, Romero clear way for sainthood

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 8:33am

IMAGE: CNS photos/files/Octavio Duran

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has cleared the way for the canonizations of Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero.

At a meeting March 6 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, Pope Francis signed decrees for the causes of 13 men and women -- among them a pope, an archbishop, two young laywomen and a number of priests and nuns.

He recognized a miracle attributed to Blessed Paul, who, according Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, will be declared a saint in late October at the end of the Synod of Bishops on youth and discernment. Blessed Paul, who was born Giovanni Battista Montini, was pope from 1963 to 1978.

Pope Francis also formally signed the decree recognizing the miracle needed to advance the sainthood cause of Archbishop Romero of San Salvador, martyr.

El Salvador's ambassador to the Holy See, Manuel Roberto Lopez, told Catholic News Service March 7 that the news of the pope's approval "took us by surprise."

"They told us before that the process was going well and that all we needed was the approval of the miracle, and it turns out the pope approved it yesterday," he said.

Lopez told CNS that he was happy that Blessed Oscar Romero's canonization was imminent and that his holiness was recognized alongside one of his earliest supporters.

"To see that he will be canonized along with (Blessed) Paul VI, who was a great friend of Archbishop Romero and supported his work, is a great blessing," Lopez said.

The Vatican did not announce a date for Blessed Romero's canonization.

The pope also recognized the miracles needed for the canonization of: Father Francesco Spinelli of Italy, founder of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament; Father Vincenzo Romano of Italy; and Mother Maria Katharina Kasper, founder of the religious congregation, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.

He recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Maria Felicia Guggiari Echeverria, a Discalced Carmelite from Paraguay whom Pope Francis has upheld as a model for the youth of Paraguay. Affectionately called, "Chiquitunga," she died from an unexpected illness in 1959 at the age of 34 before she could make her final vows.

The pope also recognized the martyrdom of a 16-year-old laywoman from Slovakia. Anna Kolesarova, who lived from 1928 to 1944 in the eastern town of Pavlovce, was murdered during Slovakia's occupation by the Soviet army in World War II after refusing sexual favors to a Russian soldier.

In causes just beginning their way toward sainthood, the pope signed decrees recognizing the heroic virtues of Polish Redemptorist Father Bernard Lubienski, who entered the congregation in England and then returned to Poland to re-found the Redemptorists there in the 20th century, and Sandra Sabattini, a young Italian lay woman who was active in helping the poor with the Pope John XXIII Community. She was hit by a car and died in 1984 at the age of 22.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of Antonio Pietro Cortinovis of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (1885-1984) and three Italian women -- two who founded religious orders and a laywoman who founded a lay fraternity.

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Junno Arocho Esteves in Rome also contributed to this story.

 

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U.S. Catholics' political leanings affect their approval ratings of pope

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 2:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the advent of Pope Francis' fifth anniversary in the papacy, a new Pew Research poll of U.S. Catholics shows their regard of the pope is, for the first time, colored by their political leanings.

The survey, released March 6, said it saw "signs of growing discontent with Francis among Catholics on the political right, with increasing shares of Catholic Republicans saying they view Francis unfavorably, and that they think he is too liberal and naive."

In 2014, one year into Pope Francis' papacy, "there was no discernible difference between the share of Catholic Republicans (90 percent) and Democrats (87 percent) who expressed a favorable view of Francis," the survey said. "Today, by contrast, the pope's favorability rating is 10 points higher among Catholic Democrats (89 percent) than among Catholic Republicans (79 percent)."

"In our polling about John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when we look at them we don't see any falloff from them over time," Greg Smith, a Pew senior researcher, told Catholic News Service. "What's interesting about this survey that this is the first one where this political polarization among American Catholics really stands out."

The March 6 poll was the eighth time Pew had asked Catholics their views about the pope. Pew had asked Catholics about Pope John Paul or Pope Benedict eight times total over 25 years -- five times for Pope Benedict and three for Pope John Paul.

Pope Francis still maintains marks any religious or civil leaders would covet: 94 percent of Catholics say he is compassionate and 91 percent say he his humble -- numbers unchanged from a 2015 Pew survey. His overall favorable rating is down one point, from 85 to 84 percent, from a 2014 poll. Those with unfavorable views of the pope were double that of 2014, but still in the single digits at 8 percent.

But "the share of American Catholics who say Pope Francis is 'too liberal' has jumped 15 percentage points between 2015 and today, from 19 percent to 34 percent," the poll said. And 24 percent of U.S. Catholics now say he is naive, up from 15 percent in 2015.

Since 2014, "the share of Catholic Republicans who say Francis represents a major, positive change for the Catholic Church has declined from 60 percent to 37 percent. By contrast, there has been little movement since the end of Francis' first year as pope in the share of Catholic Democrats who view him as a major change for the better," the poll said -- 71 percent today vs. 76 percent four years ago.

Other groups hold Pope Francis in high esteem, although not as much as Catholics do. Of white mainline Protestants, 67 percent approve of Pope Francis' tenure, as do 58 percent of religiously unaffiliated adults.

Slimmer majorities of black Protestants (53 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (52 percent) also approve of the pope. Nine percent of white evangelicals were unfavorable toward Pope Francis when he was chosen pope in 2013. That number has since tripled to 28 percent; it had been 31 percent last year.

The survey introduced new questions not asked in past polls.

Fifty-five percent of Catholics said the priests at their parish are "very supportive" of Pope Francis. Another 23 percent say their priests are "somewhat supportive" of the pontiff.

Similar approval numbers were generated when Catholics were asked whether Pope Francis was doing an "excellent" or "good" job appointing new bishops and cardinals; 58 percent said so. And 55 percent say he is doing an "excellent" or "good" job addressing environmental issues.

A somewhat larger majority -- 63 percent -- said Pope Francis "has done at least a little to promote acceptance of homosexuality," the survey said, adding he has done "about the right amount" or that they would like to see him "do more" on this issue. Also, 64 percent of Catholics say the pope has done at least a little to increase acceptance of divorce and remarriage.

The survey further asked Catholics to describe the most significant thing Pope Francis has done in his time as pope. In response, American Catholics named a broad range of accomplishments without being prompted as to specific issues. Nine percent noted Francis' work in setting a good Christian example, another 9 percent cited his "opening up the church and becoming more accepting." Eight percent said helping the poor; 7 percent said Pope Francis has made the church more accepting toward gays and lesbians; 6 percent mentioned his global outreach; and 5 percent said he is uniting the Catholic community and encouraging open communication and dialogue.

Four percent each cited two negative or neutral actions: becoming overly involved in politics or alienating conservative Catholics. Another 4 percent of respondents said he hasn't done anything significant at all, or that they are still waiting to see what he will do. And 29 percent either did not know or could not name any significant thing that Pope Francis has done.

The Pew survey was conducted Jan. 10-15 by phone among 1,503 adults, including 316 Catholics -- three times as many being contacted by cellphone than by landline. The margin of error was 2.9 percentage points for the full survey, and 6.4 percentage points for Catholics.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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

Don't hold grudges; forgiveness comes from forgiving others, pope says

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 9:03am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must let go of resentments and forgive those who have wronged them so that they may experience God's forgiveness, Pope Francis.

This can be particularly difficult when "we carry with us a list of things that have been done to us," the pope said in his homily March 6 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"God's forgiveness is felt strongly within us as long as we forgive others. And this isn't easy because grudges make a nest in our heart and there is always that bitterness," he said.

The pope reflected on the day's first reading from the prophet Daniel in which Azariah, one of three young men condemned to death in a fiery furnace, courageously prays for deliverance from God.

"Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord," Azariah prayed.

Although Azariah is innocent of the crime he is condemned for, the pope explained, his attitude of recognizing his own personal sins is the same attitude Christian men and women should have when approaching the sacrament of penance.

"Accusing ourselves is the first step toward forgiveness," the pope said. "To accuse one's self is part of the Christian wisdom. No, not accusing others; (accuse) ourselves. 'I have sinned.'"

God, he added, "welcomes a contrite heart" and when Christians readily admit their faults, "the Lord covers our mouths like the father did to the prodigal son; he does not let him speak. His love covers it, he forgives all."

"These are the two things that help us understand the path of forgiveness: 'You are great Lord, unfortunately I have sinned' and 'Yes, I forgive you 70 times seven as long as you forgive others," Pope Francis said.

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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.

Claims of heresy over 'Amoris Laetitia' are out of place, cardinal says

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:25pm

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' exhortation on the family should prompt discussion and even debate, but accusing him and others of heresy is completely out of place, said German Cardinal Walter Kasper.

"A heresy is a tenacious disagreement with formal dogma. The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage has not been called into question on Pope Francis' part," the cardinal, a theologian, told Vatican News March 5.

Cardinal Kasper was interviewed about his new book, "The Message of 'Amoris Laetitia': A Fraternal Discussion." The interview was published just a few days after Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington issued detailed guidelines for accompanying couples, including those who are divorced and civilly remarried.

In his book, Cardinal Kasper describes "Amoris Laetitia" as "a creative renewal of traditional teaching."

Vatican News asked Cardinal Kasper specifically about the path of discernment Pope Francis sees for some divorced and civilly remarried to return to the sacraments, including Communion, in some circumstances.

"Sin is a complex term. It not only includes an objective principle, but there is also the intention, the person's conscience. And this needs to be examined in the internal forum -- in the sacrament of reconciliation -- if there is truly a grave sin, or perhaps a venial sin, or perhaps nothing," the cardinal responded. "The Council of Trent says that in the case in which there is no grave sin, but venial, the Eucharist removes that sin."

"If it is only a venial sin, the person can be absolved and admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist," the cardinal said. "This already corresponds with the doctrine of Pope John Paul II and, in this sense, Pope Francis is in complete continuity with the direction opened by preceding popes. I do not see any reason, then, to say that this is a heresy."

Catholic tradition, he insisted, "is not a stagnant lake, but is like a spring, or a river: it is something alive. The church is a living organism and thus it always needs to validly translate the Catholic tradition into present situations."

Speaking more generally about "Amoris Laetitia," Cardinal Kasper said that reading the document has helped many engaged and married couples come to a deeper appreciation of the church's teaching on marriage and family life and about the joys and challenges facing families today.

"It is not high theology incomprehensible to people," he said. "The people of God are very content and happy with this document because it gives space to freedom, but it also interprets the substance of the Christian message in an understandable language."

In a world where there is so much violence, the cardinal said, "many people are wounded. Even in marriages there are many who are wounded. People need mercy, empathy, the sympathy of the church in these difficult times in which we are living today. I think that mercy is the response to the signs of our times."

Also in early March, Bishop Semeraro, secretary of Pope Francis' international Council of Cardinals, released a pastoral instruction on "welcoming, discerning, accompanying and integrating into the ecclesial community the faithful who are divorced and civilly remarried."

The guidelines for the Diocese of Albano, Italy, were published after every meeting of the diocesan presbyteral council in 2016-17 was dedicated to discussing the pastoral care of such couples.

The discussions made it clear that welcoming and integrating into parish life "those who approach us with the desire to be readmitted to participation in ecclesial life requires an appropriate amount of time for accompaniment and discernment that will vary from situation to situation," Bishop Semeraro wrote. "Therefore, expecting a new general, canonical-type norm, the same for everyone, is absolutely inappropriate."

No "right" to the Eucharist exists, the bishop said, but there is a right to be welcomed and to be heard. Couples who have remarried civilly without an annulment of their sacramental marriage and who have started a new family will be asked "to make a journey of faith starting from becoming conscious of their situation before God" and looking at the obstacles that would prevent their full participation in the life of the church.

Couples who have recently divorced and remarried, those who "repeatedly fail" to uphold responsibilities toward their children and original spouse and those who pretend that there is nothing wrong with divorce and remarriage should be encouraged to spend time studying and praying before trying to begin the process, the guidelines said.

"Amoris Laetitia," Bishop Semeraro wrote, "never speaks of a generalized 'permission' for all divorced and civilly remarried to access the sacraments; nor does it say that the path of conversion initiated with those who want them must necessarily lead to access to the sacraments."

At the same time, he said, priests must recognize that "it is no longer possible to say that all those who find themselves in a so-called 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin, deprived of sanctifying grace," precisely because, as "Amoris Laetitia" taught, a host of factors are involved in determining the degree of guilt of the individuals involved.

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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.

Immigrants, advocates navigating post-DACA-deadline landscape

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 1:34pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The last government shutdown -- well, threatened shutdown, anyway -- seems so long ago.

The nine-hour "funding lapse" of Feb. 9, like the three-day shutdown that began Jan. 20, hinged on how Congress was going to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump said he would end March 5. He also called on Congress to pass a measure to save the program, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama via executive order.

In the January shutdown, Democratic lawmakers backed down on their threat to keep the government closed until a DACA deal was reached. In the February funding lapse, Democrats and Republicans agreed to conduct a debate and vote on DACA in the weeks to come, as a six-week continuing resolution to keep the government funded through March 23 was overshadowed by the $1 trillion spending package of which it was a part.

The congressional sidestepping of DACA prompted the U.S. bishops to declare a "National Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers" for Feb. 26, one week before the program's expiration date. The day resulted in thousands of phone calls to lawmakers.

That, in turn, was overshadowed by the Supreme Court declining that same day a request by the administration to bypass federal appellate courts and rule on whether the administration has the right to shut down DACA.

The justices' action wiped out the March 5 deadline date, leaving DACA up and running at least until the high court accepts the case for the appeals court -- and possibly renders a decision -- or until Congress finally deals with it. The high court's action only keeps DACA intact for those currently with DACA status; two federal judges have blocked Trump, saying the administration must continue to accept renewal applications for the program. The rulings do not make DACA available to those who had not already applied for it.

While the exact path ahead is unclear, at least there is a path.

"I think a lot of people feel a little insecure, they don't feel safe and they're unsure what's going to happen because things are up in the air," said Michelle Sardone, director of strategic initiatives for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

"They're feeling fear about whether or not to apply: 'Will the government use information they have on me to use against me?' If you submit your application with the application fee, will it be adjudicated or ... will it be a waste of your money?" Sardone said. "Each person has a particular case. They should go to an accredited legal services provider to find out the best situation for them and for their family."

"We just buried a man in his 60s who came from Ireland in a house with no electricity, no plumbing. He came over to the U.S. without a trade, became a pipe fitter and a coach," said Mary Harkenrider, a member of the Southside Catholic Peace and Justice Committee in Chicago, which sponsored a forum March 1 to show support for the city's DACA holders.

In talking to Catholic News Service, she used the example of this Irishman to illustrate what immigrants bring to this country.

"As a coach and a family man, he affected people throughout the city and across the country and at his funeral there were thousands of people who pay respect to this immigrant, who came to this country without a STEM education or highly advanced skills," Harkenrider added. 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some arguing for the reform of U.S. immigration laws say preference should be given to the highly educated immigrants.

She added: "We would be amiss without the talents of the immigrants in our communities. ... whether it's the Irish or the Polish or the Hispanic. I think we have to continue to recognize our history and build on it."

Chicago, Harkenrider said, is "a city of immigrants."

Nor is Chicago the only town that can claim that mantle.

Camden, New Jersey, is such a town. Mexican-born Monica Perez Reyes, 20, has lived there since her parents brought her to the United States at age 2. They entered the country without legal documents. She has kid sisters born in the United States who are U.S. citizens. As for Perez, "I'm good for two years" with DACA.

She admits to frustration with Congress, though. "I'm kind of offended. They're sort of playing around with my future," she said. "And the manner they're handling it, one day they may say they'll do something to make it better like have a path to citizens, ship, but the next day they say they're going to terminate it altogether."

Perez added, "I know some people are scared, but I'm not necessarily scared unless something is set in stone. I have a plan A, a plan B, a plan C. If worse comes to worst, I have a plan; I'll have to go to Mexico and make my new life there."

She was accepted to study art at a California college, but her status as an immigrant without documents left her ineligible to receive scholarship money. So Perez is attending community college in Camden while planning to major in art therapy, working to make money to pay her tuition.

Another such town of immigrants is Pasadena, Maryland. Hector Guzman, 19, also born in Mexico, was brought here by his parents, he said, when he was 1 year old. A soccer goalie and midfielder, a German scout recommended he go to England to try out for professional soccer there. He had to decline. "I could get there on my Mexican passport, but I couldn't come back," he said.

Guzman has his own plan B. Like Perez's, it involves going to a community college and working as a butcher and chef to pay tuition. He'll add landscaping work as the weather warms. He's starting up a small business already. At some point, he said, he'd like to open a restaurant, maybe several of them, "and maybe have a ranch or a farm." He said the DACA process was easy.

Patricia Zapor, a CLINIC spokeswoman, said a January check of DACA applications showed the government was still processing applications from 2016. Zapor noted that the government had cut staff in anticipation of DACA ending, then had to ramp up staffing with the upsurge in applications and renewals. Renewals ordinarily took two to three months; Zapor said without DACA, immigrants in the country without legal permission cannot legally work in the United States.

Guzman said he's not worried. "My parents are a little worried," he said. An older sister, who like him has DACA status, "doesn't act like she's worried," he added.

With the days winding down until Trump's original March 5 deadline, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the upper chamber would debate a banking bill in early March, making no mention of DACA -- deferred action, indeed.

How to deal with this interim period is "tricky, right?" said Ian Pajer-Rogers, communications and political director for Interfaith Worker Justice, which has more than 30 affiliated worker centers around the country.

"We have taken the position that only a clean DREAM Act will do with no riders or add-ons from the right -- no wall, no border security measures. We'll continue that. Where that leaves us with the party in power and the party that is trying to negotiate for our people, the Democrats, is less clear." 

The DREAM Act he referred to stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.

Anxiety among DACA families cuts both ways, he said. "What I've seen among the undocumented folks is a very willingness to self-sacrifice. Among the DACA recipients I've worked with they don't want to trade their parents' safety and security for their own. ... I think you find the parents who are willing to say the opposite, almost. They're willing to see more enforcement and risk detention if their kids are safe. We're really going for the starting point that all are protected."

"The more pressing thing might be the (Feb. 26) Supreme Court ruling," Pajer-Rogers said, "that folks who are in detention can be detained indefinitely without bond. So if there's something on the mind of workers today, it's probably that."

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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.

A Salvadoran immigrant serves as barber, friend to Washington's poor

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 10:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Hair clippers and brushes are the tools 34-year-old Rudy Romero uses to carry out his mission to help the poor and homeless.

For the past four years, he has rushed three times a week or so from his day job over to the basement of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington to visit his clientele.

Though this hairdresser gets no tips, his payment largely comes in smiles.

"I do the best I can to help lift their spirits," said Romero, in between clips and shaves and brushes to the nape of the neck of one of his clients, one of 10 men lined up in the basement of the Catholic church that serves the homeless and anyone else in need of a hot dinnertime meal in Washington Monday through Friday. Along with the meal, they can sign up to get a free cut from Romero.

Though most people don't think about it, for someone who can't afford food or shelter, a haircut is financially out of the question, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Moises Villalta, the shrine's pastor, but a haircut can help them feel a little bit better.  

"This teaches you to have patience," said Romero, being careful as he buzzes off uneven pieces of hair from the side of a man's head. "It's not easy."

Some of the clients have a variety of challenges, including addictions and mental health issues, and it can be trying to cut their hair, said Romero. He wanted to put to good use the skill he learned at age 17 from his grandfather, who used to cut hair in his native El Salvador.

"My grandfather used to cut hair in his free time," he told Catholic News Service. "So now I've taken his place."

He gently brushed swaths of recently shaved salt and pepper hair that had fallen on the barber's gown draped around the client, and turned him around to see if he looked happy. If he weren't an active member of the Catholic Church, it would be a difficult task, Romero said, but he keeps in mind the importance of works of mercy, of helping and being with the poor.

Before he became their official hairdresser, he volunteered for years serving the food many of his clients receive before the haircut or cleaning the makeshift dining room where they gather.

"He's very dedicated," said Father Villalta. "He wants to help them, he wants them to feel clean and to give them dignity."

Romero said he does his best to carry out the clients' wishes and gives them any haircut they want. Some want their entire hair gone, but many opt for a cut that's easy to maintain on the streets. Some of them recognize him and greet him while he's walking around the bustling neighborhood, remembering he's the one who helps them stay clean.

"It makes them happy" to get a cut and that, in turn, makes him glad, to ease at least a little bit of the difficulties they face, he 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.

<p>By </p><p>TRENTON,

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 1:20pm

By

TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) -- Superstorm Sandy-weary diocesan and parish officials lauded a Federal Emergency Management Agency policy change announced earlier this year that reverses a prior exclusion for religious organizations and houses of worship from applying for federal aid to recover from natural disasters.

"This change in eligibility for FEMA public assistance to religious organizations is monumental," said Joe Cahill, director of the Diocese of Trenton's Department of Risk Management.

Cahill's comments came before the Feb. 9 passage of the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act by Congress as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act. The bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump, codifies this change in FEMA policy.

The fairness provision directs FEMA to make disaster relief assistance available to houses of worship "on the same terms as other nonprofit entities," said a statement released the same day by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had urged its passage.

These provisions ensure that houses of worship are treated fairly. That's good not only for houses of worship but for the communities that depend on them," added the statement issued jointly by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

When it announced the policy change Jan. 2, FEMA attributed it to a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision last June, which held that Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri should not have been denied a public benefit just because it is a church.

In urging Congress to pass the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, the U.S. bishops and others also cited the Trinity Lutheran case.

Damage to Texas churches and Florida synagogues following hurricanes Harvey and Irma sparked additional legal challenges, as well as lawsuits filed against FEMA. In the fall, members of Congress -- including Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey -- advocated for legislative changes to allow for disaster relief funding eligibility for houses of worship.

In an interview prior to the federal budget bill's passage, Cahill said the ongoing debate over the funding has resonated across the Diocese of Trenton, particularly in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy.

"The memory of Sandy remains at the Diocese of Trenton," Cahill told The Monitor, newspaper of The Trenton Diocese. "Many parishes on the barrier islands and other coastal areas have not fully recovered. Some homes remain abandoned or have been demolished.

"Parishioner count has declined in some locations as local economies suffered from the effects of the storm and (as) people moved away for reason of employment or available housing."

Some 65 individual parish properties incurred more than $14 million in damages and cleanup costs in Superstorm Sandy, Cahill said.

Considerable funds were necessary for removing debris, pumping out flood waters, decontaminating flooded buildings and demolishing water-damaged infrastructure, with churches, chapels, schools, community centers, food pantries, rectories, convents, offices, cemeteries and other diocesan and church properties among the affected sites.

"If FEMA assistance was available early on, it would have eased the cash flow burden on the Diocese and parishes," Cahill said, "as the cost of emergency work in the early days after the storm was significant and could have covered a portion of the flood insurance deductible for a named storm."

Under the prior review process, Cahill said that a religious organization would have to prove that assistance was for flood damage to buildings that were not religious in nature -- but even then, the process was lengthy.

Msgr. Edward J. Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, remembers all too well the significant damage his parish and school community sustained at the hands of Superstorm Sandy. It took four weeks before the church could reopen, and all electric, heat and air conditioning systems had to be replaced. The parish center and first floor of St. Rose High School had to be completely restored and rebuilt, and the roof of St. Rose Grammar School was torn off by wind and had to be replaced.

"I can't emphasize enough that good planning and management by the Diocese of Trenton in having adequate flood insurance saved the day," Msgr. Arnister told The Monitor. "St. Rose would have been in serious financial difficulty without that." FEMA did provide some limited funding for recovery efforts.

In Congress, Smith introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act first in 2013, and again in 2015 and 2017.

Houses of worship "are hubs in our communities for humanitarian assistance year-round, and especially during times of natural disaster," he said in an interview before the vote on his legislation as part of the budget bill.

Smith praised the Diocese of Trenton for its "professional and meticulous" response to Superstorm Sandy, noting the significant role that religious organizations play in the wake of a natural disaster.

"So many churches are directly involved in disaster relief and bring with them a cadre of committed volunteers," he said.

"In every federal disaster, local synagogues, churches -- their schools, community centers, and physical houses of worship -- provide supplies, food, medicines, shelters and coordination of volunteer services," Smith said.

"Without them, our national recovery efforts would be significantly diminished and as such, churches should not be discriminated against when applying for federal assistance," he added.

James King, director of the Office of Social Concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference -- the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops -- visited Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which left in its path significant devastation. King was on hand to support Catholic Charities efforts on the island.

Reflecting on his experience, King shared his observations on how church communities stepped up to provide support to victims, despite the significant damage sustained by those communities themselves.

"I worked with local parishes that converted parts of church buildings into distribution centers for essential items like food and water, despite damage to those buildings," King said. "Throughout my deployment, I heard numerous times that if it were not for the Catholic Church having numerous facilities throughout the island, some towns would not have received these essential items."

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Karas is a correspondent for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.

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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.

Salvation is gift of God, brings people into community, document says

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 9:00am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Salvation in Christ is a gift of God that cannot be earned by human efforts alone, and it is not simply some kind of interior transformation, but touches the way Christians live in the world and relate to others, said a new document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"Both the individualistic and the merely interior visions of salvation contradict the sacramental economy through which God wants to save the human person," said the document "Placuit Deo" ("It Pleased God") on "certain aspects of Christian salvation."

Released at the Vatican March 1, the document was the first issued since Archbishop Luis Ladaria became prefect of the doctrinal congregation in July.

The document, approved by Pope Francis in mid-February, focuses on two errors Pope Francis has said seem to underlie the statements and attitudes of a growing number of Christians: neo-Pelagianism, the idea that people can save themselves by being strong and very disciplined; and neo-Gnosticism, in which the focus is so strongly placed on knowledge that it ends up despising the body, the physical needs of others and the creation of a community.

"Salvation cannot be reduced simply to a message, a practice, a gnosis (knowledge) or an interior feeling," Archbishop Ladaria said in his presentation of the document. It flows from a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, which in turn leads to incorporation in the church and an effort to live as Jesus did, especially in attention to the poor and the suffering, he said.

Responding to reporters' questions, Archbishop Ladaria said it is probably easier to identify traces of neo-Pelagianism than neo-Gnosticism because "we all have a tendency toward self-sufficiency."

The document, he said, "does not want to point fingers," but does want to draw people's attention to "the tendency of self-sufficiency" and "the tendency of isolation, which does not take into account that salvation is something eminently communitarian."

To respond to "both to the individualist reductionism of Pelagian tendency and to the neo-Gnostic promise of a merely interior salvation," the document said, "we must remember the way in which Jesus is savior."

"He did not limit himself to showing us the way to encounter God, a path we can walk on our own by being obedient to his words and by imitating his example," it said, but he became the way, and a relationship with him is essential.

"Furthermore, this path is not merely an interior journey at the margins of our relationships with others and with the created world," it said, because Christ "assumed the entirety of our humanity and lived a fully human life in communion with his Father and with others."

Understanding the role of the church, "the community of those who have been incorporated into this new kind of relationship begun by Christ," is essential for combatting the tendencies of self-sufficiency and isolation, the document said.

"The participation in the new kind of relationships begun by Jesus occurs in the church by means of the sacraments, of which baptism is the door, and the Eucharist is the source and the summit," it said.

Reaffirming age-old Christian teaching, the document insisted "total salvation of the body and of the soul is the final destiny to which God calls all of humanity."

Since the church is "the universal sacrament of salvation," all Christians are called to share the good news of Christ and invite others to a relationship with him, it said. But, citing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, it also said "Christians must also be prepared to establish a sincere and constructive dialogue with believers of other religions, confident that God can lead 'all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way' toward salvation in Christ."

Archbishop Ladaria said the Catholic Church continues to affirm Vatican II's teaching that the one church of Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him."

"But it adds immediately," he said, that "many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its (the Catholic Church's) visible structure."

"It's not that the church has turned back from this definition, this declaration, this affirmation of the Second Vatican Council. No," he said. "Naturally, the Catholic Church is and will continue to be committed to ecumenism out of this conviction" that God is at work in other Christian communities as well.

"The church recognizes this and does so willingly," Archbishop Ladaria 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.

U.S. leaders praise Rev. Billy Graham at U.S. Capitol ceremony

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 2:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/pool, Susan Walsh via Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump and congressional leaders paid tribute to the Rev. Billy Graham Feb. 28 in a brief ceremony before the public could pay respects to the evangelist while he lies in honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

"Today we give thanks for this extraordinary life. And it's very fitting that we do so right here in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, where the memory of the American people is enshrined. Here in this room we remember America is a nation sustained by prayer," said Trump.

Rev. Graham, who died at age 99 Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, was known as "America's pastor" and was a spiritual adviser to 13 U.S. presidents, from Harry S. Truman to Trump.

He is the fourth person to lie in honor at the Capitol. The last person to have this honor was civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005. U.S. Capitol Police officers Jacob Joseph and John Michael Gibson, who were killed in the line of duty in 1998, also received the honor.

Members of Congress and Cabinet members attended the private ceremony along with Rev. Graham's family. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, received the casket when it arrived at the Capitol.

Trump told the assembled group that he heard Rev. Graham address a crowd at Yankee Stadium because his father, Fred Trump, "who was a big fan," wanted the family to attend.

Paul Ryan, who is Catholic, said Rev. Graham's message to presidents, leaders and ordinary people alike "never diminished" and said the well-known preacher was "made great not by who he was, but by who he served, with all of his heart and all of his soul, and all of his mind."

"When our country was on its knees he reminded us, he convinced us, that is exactly when we find our grace and our strength," he added.

McConnell said Rev. Graham was more than a personal success story noting that the evangelist's life was always focused on preaching the gospel.

And this preaching is how he was best known and will likely be remembered. The stadium events where he preached around the world were called Billy Graham crusades. At these venues, including a 16-week run at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1957, he spoke to the crowds about Jesus and invited people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

He also reached at least 210 million people through his personal appearances and through his radio and television ministries.

Rev. Graham's body will lie in honor Feb. 28 and March 1 before it will be returned to North Carolina for his private funeral March 2 at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

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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.

Immigrant youth express fears, determination through self-portraits

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 11:48am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities of Oregon

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- "I want my dad to stay with me."

"We are not giving up. We keep going."

The words of first- and second-generation immigrant students in Portland are written across bold self-portraits, conveying fear and courage during a time of uncertainty.

"Some are afraid they might lose a friend, an uncle or grandmother; one student has a dad in deportation proceedings," said Kat Kelley, director of operations for the Pope Francis Center, an initiative of Oregon Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Portland.

The portraits are part of "Ni de aqui, ni de alla" -- a collaborative project between the Pope Francis Center and El Programa Hispano Catolico. The goal is to give voice to youths affected by immigration and support the expansion of Catholic Charities' low-cost and pro-bono legal services for families at risk of forced separation. The agency has the only full-time nonprofit attorney in Oregon handling immigration cases.

The Spanish phrase "ni de aqui, ni de alla" translates to "not from here, not from there" and frequently is used by bilingual and bicultural young people to describe the complexity of being both American and immigrant.

The artwork, created last fall by 11 students from Reynolds High School in Troutdale, allowed participants not only to express their thoughts and feelings but also to take action, said Adriana Lopez Garcia, youth services program manager for El Programa Hispano Catolico, who coordinates a mentoring program for the youths.

"They were very happy and proud at the chance to raise money for (legal services), because sometimes they feel powerless," Lopez Garcia told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland's archdiocesan newspaper.

Local artist Patricia Vasquez Gomez, a longtime immigrant advocate, guided the students through six printmaking classes. The students took photos of themselves, traced their silhouettes and then painted the images.

Last November, the art series was released in several galleries in downtown Portland, including Portland Center Stage, through a partnership with the Portland Art Dealers Association. The pieces will be installed temporarily in the state attorney general's office this spring.

Kelley said the fear of deportation is a daily experience for the students, with many wondering: "Am I going to come home from school and find my parents gone?"

Yet they don't want to burden their families with their concerns, added Lopez Garcia. "This project is a way for them to share in a safe way their anger, frustration and sadness. It's powerful for them to be able to let that out."

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Scott is special projects reporter at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

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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.

Update: Christian leaders to reopen Church of the Holy Sepulcher Feb. 28

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 3:26pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Christian leaders in the Holy Land announced they would reopen the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Feb. 28 after the Israeli government has set up a negotiating team to resolve a municipal dispute over property taxes.

The heads of Christian churches expressed "our gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to uphold the Christian presence in Jerusalem and to defend the Status Quo," the 19th-century agreement that governs Jerusalem's holy places.

They said they looked forward to bargaining with the government committee "to ensure that our holy city, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three monotheistic faiths may live and thrive together."

The committee's formation was announced Feb. 27, two days after Christian leaders closed the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where tradition holds that Jesus was buried. Church leaders sent out a brief press notice acknowledging they had received a statement from the prime minister's office concerning the crisis and said they were holding consultations.

The church remained closed for a third day as pilgrims continued to visit the square in front of the church, to pray, kneel and sing hymns.

Although the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was not being taxed, in early February the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer.

The Israel Hayom newspaper reported that the religious institution with the biggest tax bill was the Roman Catholic Church, owing more than $3.3 million.

Among the properties slated to be fined was the Vatican-owned Notre Dame of Jerusalem hotel, restaurant and conference center across from the Old City. The director of the complex declined to comment on the issue.

The Holy See and Israel have been in negotiations over the status of its Jerusalem holdings since 1993, when diplomatic relations were established.

The Israeli government said the team negotiating the current tax crisis would consist of representatives of the finance, foreign affairs and interior ministries as well as from the Jerusalem Municipality. According to a statement from the prime minister's office, the Jerusalem Municipality will suspend the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.

The committee is also slated to look at the issue of Jerusalem land sales by the Greek Orthodox Church. Church leaders feared a bill in the Israeli parliament would allow for state expropriation of church land. Media reported that work on the bill was suspended until the committee could present its findings.

Earlier in February, some political commentators suggested that the threat to impose taxes on church property was a ploy by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to try to get more funding for his city from the Ministry of Finance. Prior to this crisis, he had urged municipal workers to go on strike, leaving the city buried in garbage in an attempt to get more funds.

Despite rumors, sources told Catholic News Service that church bank accounts had not been frozen, although at least the Greek Orthodox Church had received a notice that such actions could be taken.

The church leaders said taxing commercial properties decreases revenues for the church's good works and breaches "existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the churches, in what seems as attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem."

The church leaders' closing of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during Lent, close to Easter, the busiest time for pilgrims, drew international attention and condemnation.

In Amman, Jordan, Feb. 25, Mohammad al-Momani, Jordanian minister of state for media affairs, called on "the Israeli government to immediately reverse the decisions taken against churches and respect its obligations under international law as an occupying power in East Jerusalem."

Under a 1994 peace accord with Israel, Jordan is recognized as the legal custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It is also only one of two Arab countries to have a signed peace treaty with Israel.

In a statement made available to Catholic News Service, al-Momani reiterated "Jordan's absolute rejection of Israeli authorities' systematic measures to change the historical and legal status quo in East Jerusalem's holy sites, including Islamic and Christian property and endowments as well as imposing further restrictions on Christian churches in Jerusalem, the most recent of which was the Jerusalem municipality's seizure of church property and bank accounts on the pretext of not paying financial dues related to building taxes."

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Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman.

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Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @jsudireports.

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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.

Dozens of Catholics arrested as they call on Congress to help 'Dreamers'

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 2:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dozens of Catholics, including men and women religious, were arrested in the rotunda of a Senate office building in Washington Feb. 27 as they called on lawmakers to help young adults brought to the U.S. as minors without documents obtain some sort of permanent legal status.

Many of the arrested included Sisters of Mercy, who recalled the arrival of their religious order to the U.S. and their contributions to the country, and asked that the young adults they called "Dreamers," a reference to a legislative proposal, be allowed to do the same.

Though about 30 to 40 were arrested, hundreds showed up to take part in the "Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers," organized by the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organization based in California that gathered the coalition of Catholic social justice organizations based in Washington for the event.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese addressed the plight of the young adults in a news conference before the arrests and said "giving legal status to 'Dreamers' is not a political issue. It is a moral issue."

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, blessed those "standing up for their brothers and sisters," prior to their arrests as police began warning the group via loudspeaker against their act of civil disobedience.

MORE TO COME


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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.

Muslims (literally) hold key to Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 10:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Nuseibeh family

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Jerusalem's most famous Christian church, shared by three denominations, is unlocked each morning by a Muslim.

Since the seventh century, the family of Wajeeh Nuseibeh, 69, has handed down the responsibility of opening the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

"If the key would be in the hands of the Greek Orthodox, then that would signify they are the owners of the church. If it is the hands of the Catholics, then it would be a Catholic Church, the same with the Armenians (Orthodox)" Nuseibeh told Catholic News Service in a 1999 interview. "So Muslims are neutral people to open and close the door."

Nuseibeh was the one to officially close the doors of the church Feb. 25 as the heads of churches announced its indefinite closure to protest for Israeli measures they described as a "systematic campaign ... against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land." He said he felt very saddened by the turn of the events.

"I am very sad pilgrims are coming from distances to come here ... they come to visit the church and are not able to see it because of a mistake made by the mayor" of Jerusalem to charge property taxes on church-owned property, he said. "Only if pilgrims stop coming will he stop with the issues of taxes. There will be more problems until this is solved with the municipality. I get my orders from the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian and the Catholic. Not from the government."

Since the time of the Turkish rule in Jerusalem, another Muslim family, the Joudehs, has been responsible for holding the key. The Joudeh and Nuseibeh families employ another Muslim man to open the doors early most mornings.

Nuseibeh arrives to take his post at 9 a.m. and spends most of his day near the entrance of the church.

As a child, Nuseibeh used to visit the church with his father, Jacob. Wajeeh Nuseibeh took over his father's position when he died in 1986. His father had held the position since 1967, when he replaced his cousin.

In a place like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the 1885 Status Quo agreement is guarded by all the Christian groups in the church, this responsibility is no small matter, and the centuries-old traditions are taken very seriously.

"If he didn't open the door, it would stay shut," the late Dominican Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, a professor of the New Testament at L'Ecole Biblique, told Catholic News Service in 1999. "It is crucial to the maintenance of the whole Status Quo. If things were to change, then all the elements of the agreement would be up for grabs, and I don't think any of the churches would be interested in that."

During most of the year, Nuseibeh's job consists of keeping track of when and how to open the door, depending on which group is having a religious procession and what time it is. Every afternoon at 4 p.m., he shuts the door halfway to signal the beginning of the Franciscan procession and to keep people from entering or leaving to prevent disruption of the event.

"My father showed me everything, what to do and what is the right way to do it. He wrote down notes and explained it to me," said Nuseibeh.

The February protest closure was only the second time the doors have been shut off schedule, said Nuseibeh. Twenty years ago, the church was closed because of a disturbance caused by a visitor to the church, he said.

Every inch of the church is so carefully watched over by the different denominations that even the ladder used to reach the window in front of the door's padlock is under contention. Sometimes it is symbolically in the possession of the Armenian Orthodox, or the Greek Orthodox or the Catholics. It is Nuseibeh's responsibility to pound the heavy door knocker on the ancient doors, signifying the figurative changing of ownership of the ladder.

The busiest time of the year for Nuseibeh is during Holy Week. During that week, Nuseibeh gets the key from the Joudeh family, a representative of whom is also present during Holy Week, and opens the door at 4 a.m.

Traditionally on a day when all three denominations have a holy day, representatives of the Greek, Armenian and Catholic churches unbolt the door from inside, then pass the ladder outside the trap-door window, where it is received and placed upon the door. Nuseibeh then climbs the ladder, a representative of the Joudeh family gives him the key, and he opens the lock. A bell inside is rung to announce the opening, and the three representatives open the inside lock and, at the signal, pull the handle together. Finally, they all go outside to take the ladder inside.

On Holy Thursday, the key is temporarily given to the vicar of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. That afternoon he is the one who hands the key to Nuseibeh to open the door, then it is once again returned to the Joudeh family.

On Good Friday, said Nuseibeh, the key is given to the Greek Orthodox in a similar fashion. The same ritual is followed for the Holy Fire ceremony for the Armenian Orthodox. Nuseibeh also plays a role in this traditional ceremony and is a witness to the sealing of the tomb of Jesus.

Discussions about opening a new emergency door to the church have never been completed, although the three denominations have agreed on a location.

"If there were to be a second door, who would be in charge of the key?" asked Father Murphy-O'Connor almost two decades ago. "If there is an emergency, who would have the key? It's very complex when you start thinking of the details."

The question remains unanswered.

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Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @jsudireports.

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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.

Therapy dog brings joy, stress relief to students at Catholic school

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 1:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Kohout, Catholic Voice

By Mike May

OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- Every Wednesday morning, Bo roams the halls at St. James-Seton School in Omaha.

But he's not a student ducking class -- he's a golden retriever/Labrador mix eager to offer a friendly greeting to everyone he meets.

As a trained therapy dog, Bo helps students de-stress before and after school, and between classes, by providing unconditional love and comfort as they pet and hug him.

His owner, Suzi Richardson, the school's director of student services, began bringing her 7-year-old dog to school in October to greet students at the beginning of the day, walk the halls between classes or rest in her office, ready for any students who need some "Bo time."

One student who especially benefited from Bo's special brand of love is Sydney Gatzemeyer, a kindergartner being treated for brain cancer.

Currently in remission, Sydney required frequent trips to the school nurse's office for temperature checks or when not feeling well, which upset her, said her mother, Sarah Gatzemeyer.

"She's calmer when Bo is there, and she always talks about it when she gets home," Sarah told the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Omaha Archdiocese. "She tells me, 'Bo likes to cuddle with me when I don't feel good.'"

"I think it's great for the kids," Sarah said. "Dogs just have that sense of when someone doesn't feel good. Sometimes that's all a child needs is someone to make them comfortable."

And other students agree.

"Bo is very nice and makes my day, especially if I'm upset or stressed about school or my schoolwork," sixth-grader Nathan Davis said. "He helps me a lot with my emotions and helps me calm down so I can be ready for school."

"Bo really motivates us to come to school and to get our work done, because after we get that done, we can go see him," said seventh-grader Sam Lee.

"I think Bo is extremely beneficial because, not only is he a fun companion to have around, but he's very beneficial to kids with anxiety issues," said seventh-grader Ella Daly. "He's very calming and we love having him around."

"He's also really cute, so people really enjoy him," said seventh-grader Zoe Rauterkus.

For Richardson, sharing Bo's gentle, friendly nature with students is a way to give back. When her daughter was recovering 10 years ago in a hospital from a brain injury suffered in a snowmobile accident, visits from a therapy dog made a significant difference in her attitude and recovery, Richardson said.

"I said right then, if there's ever a time I can pay it back, I would do it."

She also was impressed with how therapy dogs help her grandson, who is on the autism spectrum.

"On mornings when he didn't think he could handle going to school, he would look forward to seeing the school's therapy dog, and that would help get him to school," she said.

Richardson met Bo as a 1-year-old shelter dog that had been abused and needed love.

She trained him and gained certification for him through Paws for Friendship, a volunteer group whose members share their pets with people needing comfort worldwide.

Therapy dogs visit people in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, schools, hospice facilities, and other places where people need comfort or simply need something to lift their day.

But the pet must have the right temperament, Richardson said. They must enjoy being around people and other animals, be able to respond to commands and not be startled or distracted by loud noises or other disturbances.

"Bo has been a great stress reliever," Richardson said. "Some kids who've had a rough day, they'll come in to see him and he gets their mind off their problems. They go away with a smile."

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May is on the staff of the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

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Mideast Christian leaders shut Church of Holy Sepulcher to protest taxes

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 4:58pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Protesting several recent actions they described as a "systematic campaign ... against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land," the heads of Christian churches announced Feb. 25 they were closing of the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for an undisclosed period of time.

Bewildered pilgrims milled around the square in front of the church as Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III -- flanked by Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian -- read a short statement to the press. At the same time, the only two people allowed to close the doors -- the Muslim custodian of the key, Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Al Husseini, and Muslim door keeper Wajeeh Nuseibeh -- closed and locked the doors.

"This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic ... and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades," the heads of churches said in their statement.

The church leaders were protesting the Jerusalem municipality's intention to impose property taxes on church property, such as hotels and convention centers, not used for worship purposes. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries.

In addition, the church leaders said they oppose a bill in the Israeli parliament that would limit the ability to sell church-owned land to private owners. The bill, whose vote was postponed following the church protest, would be specifically detrimental to the Greek Orthodox Church, which owns large tracts of land in central Jerusalem upon which many private homes are built; many of those 99-year-old building rental contracts will soon expire. The church already has sold some of the land to private owners, and homeowners whose apartments are on the land worry about losing their homes.

Rachel Azaria, the member of Parliament who sponsored the bill, said it is not meant to affect what the church can do with its property, but what happens when the land rights are sold to a third party.

As media gathered to hear the church leaders, pilgrims wandered around the church square, some kneeling in front of the massive wooden doors -- the closest they would come to entering the church.

"We had one shot," said Flavia Falcone, 25, an Italian Catholic living in Poland, who had come to Israel for four days. "This was a bad decision. Faith and politics are two different things. I came here all this way to see the church and I find it closed. It is not very pleasant."

It is only the second time the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have been closed in the middle of the day, other than for traditional religious ceremonies. The other time was 20 years ago, when a visitor to the church began taking down crosses and candles, said Nuseibeh.

The church leaders said taxing commercial properties decreases revenues for the church's good works and breaches "existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the churches, in what seems as attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem."

"The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school," they said.

In early February, the Jerusalem municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer.

Patriarch Theophilos has traveled to meet world leaders, including Pope Francis, on the legislative issue.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat went on social media in response to the Feb. 25 protest, clarifying that there was no intention to tax places of worship, but rather church businesses such as hotels and conference halls.

"Commercial buildings are not exempt from municipal taxes regardless of their ownership," he said. He noted that, by not taxing commercial properties owned by churches, Jerusalem residents were missing out on revenue.

"We will no longer require Jerusalem's residents to bear or subsidize this huge debt," he said in a tweet, assuring that -- like all churches, synagogues and mosques -- the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was exempt from municipal taxes.

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Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @jsudireports.

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Inmates at Louisiana prison built casket for Billy Graham

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 4:04pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy BillGraham.or

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- In 1995, as inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola lowered the makeshift, cardboard casket containing the body of fellow inmate Joseph Siegel into freshly dug ground at the prison's cemetery, Siegel's body fell through the bottom of the coffin.

Then, as the pallbearers positioned the casket with care over his body and began shoveling dirt, the top collapsed.

Burl Cain, in his first year as warden at the nation's largest maximum-security prison, where all but a fraction of the 5,000 men will die without ever walking back through the gates, had seen enough.

Cain gathered inmates for what, by Angola standards, would be an unusual warden-prisoner talk. Many of the prisoners were skilled craftsmen, who had worked for years to set up the popular Angola Prison Rodeo.

"I told them, 'Men, you're going to die here, and we've got to do this with dignity,'" Cain recalled. "'Y'all are going to build a coffin, and it's going to be a nice coffin. When you die, you've served your sentence, and there's no reason for anybody to kick your body.'"

That event more than two decades ago led to inmates at the prison building the casket for the Rev. Billy Graham, the charismatic evangelical Christian leader who died Feb. 21 at age 99.

Cain served as warden at Angola for 21 years and is credited with changing the violent and deadly prison culture through an emphasis on what he calls "moral rehabilitation."

"I coined that term because everybody liked 'morality' and everybody liked 'rehabilitation,' and the ACLU would leave me alone," Cain said. "I couldn't say 'faith-based' and I couldn't say 'Christian.' That would get me sued."

Cain established seminary education, sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and built several interdenominational chapels, including a hospice chapel funded by Catholic entities and an Alamo chapel, a replica of the original Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, used often by Catholic inmates.

Cain said he was being "selfish" when he decided to open Angola to the outside world, with an emphasis on theological training.

"I realized this: Moral people don't rape, pilfer and steal," Cain said. "So, if I could get these guys to become moral, I'd have a safer prison, I could survive."

In 1997, Chuck Colson, an evangelical Christian who had served prison time for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal and who had begun a national prison ministry, visited Angola with Tex Reardon, who was associated with the Rev. Graham and his worldwide evangelical crusades.

"In the 1950s, my mother would send a check for $5 every month to Billy Graham, even though she was a school teacher and my parents were poor," Cain said. "So, I asked Tex Reardon if there was any way he could get Billy Graham to come here -- because this prison needed him."

Not long after that, Graham's son Franklin visited Angola and was so impressed he set the wheels in motion for the construction of two more chapels -- one for the inmates and another, Cain said, for "the employees of our little city."

"They wanted their own people to come build it, because it was a ministry for them," Cain said. "They wanted the pews to be just old-timey so that it would look like an old-timey church."

They put an old bell in the top of an imposing steeple. The bell came from a locomotive that hauled sugar cane around the 18,000-acre Angola plantation the late 1800s, before it became a prison that was larger than the island of Manhattan.

"The Grahams wanted that steeple to be tall enough so that you could see the church from death row," Cain said.

During one of Franklin Graham's visits to Angola, he walked into the prison museum and saw an inmate-made casket. He was overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the treated plywood. The white bedding for the inside of the coffins comes from Walmart.

"He told me, 'This is one my Dad would want to be buried in. It's so plain, but it's built by prisoners. We've got to have these,'" Cain said.

Franklin Graham ordered six coffins, including for Rev. Graham and his wife Ruth, who died in 2007.

Three inmates -- Richard "Grasshopper" Leggett, Clarence "Mr. Bud" Wilkerson and David Bacon -- had the special assignment. Of the three, only Bacon is still alive. He was paroled in December 2012.

"They would pray before they started every day and ask that God would anoint their work, because this was a very serious thing," Cain said. "Billy Graham was a human -- he wasn't God -- but he was one of the godliest humans on the earth. They took it very seriously. And, it was a reverent operation."

At Franklin Graham's request, the three inmates wood-burned their names into the outside of each casket.

Rev. Graham was to be laid to rest March 2, in that Angola coffin, after lying for two days in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Cain said the convergence of sacred circumstances -- how Rev. Graham and faith brought peace to Angola and how Angola brought peace to the Graham family -- leaves him almost speechless.

"If my mother in heaven knows what's going on down here, she would be so proud, because when she wrote those little $5 checks, it influenced her son to like Billy Graham," Cain said. "She led me in that direction."

While, because of ill health, Rev. Graham never could visit Angola, Cain sent him a key to one of Angola's old cells. A few years ago, Cain traveled to the mountains of Montreat, North Carolina, to offer his thanks for all that Rev. Graham and his son had made possible at Angola.

"I got to spend the afternoon with him, and he said, 'I pray for you every day, and my nurse can verify it,'" Cain said. "And then he took out that key and he said, 'Every day, I have a devotional, and I hold that key in my hand, and I pray for you and I pray for your prison.' No wonder we were successful."

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Peter Finney Jr. is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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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.

Update: As DACA deadline nears, Catholics urge fix for immigration woes

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 2:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Last September, as President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he also gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a permanent legislative solution that would help some 800,000 young adults living the U.S. who were brought into the country without legal permission as children.

As the deadline approaches, with no legislative solution in sight for DACA, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders as well as Catholic organizations from around the U.S. have been loudly clamoring for relief for the young adults.

So far, lawmakers have failed to deliver any solution even as the deadline approaches and the president's repeal of DACA gets tangled up the courts. Some beneficiaries already face deportation and the loss of permits that allow them to work, drive and attend school.

On Feb. 23, officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops again urged all U.S. Catholics to participate a "National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers" they have declared for Feb. 26. Participants can call lawmakers by calling (855) 589-5698 and visiting https://tinyurl.com/ycjrrxoa for resources in English and Spanish. The phone number is for the Capitol switchboard' callers press "1" to connect to senators and "2" to connect to representatives.

"With the March 5th deadline looming, we ask once again that members of Congress show the leadership necessary to find a just and humane solution for these young people, who daily face mounting anxiety and uncertainty," said a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.

They are asking Catholics to contact their members of Congress to urge them to: "Protect 'Dreamers' from deportation; to provide them a path to citizenship; and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process."

Many U.S. bishops have been making personal pleas, peppering various social media channels, posting videos on Facebook and YouTube, and tweets urging Catholics to push lawmakers for action.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a Mass dedicated to Dreamers will be celebrated at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles Feb. 25. It will include testimonials from Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone made two videos, in English and Spanish, urging participation in the Feb. 26 call-in day. The archbishop's videos can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/SFHLD or at sfarchdiocese.org/immigration.

In his video message, Archbishop Cordileone said Catholics need to call members of Congress to demand "a legislative fix for DACA, so our brothers and sisters, young people who are here without proper documentation, can get on a track for citizenship and continue contributing to our country, to ask as well for reform of immigration policy that will favor keeping families together. Families are the basic unit of society and society stands and falls on family unity."

In the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Archbishop John C. Wester issued his second action alert in a week asking Catholics in the state to participate in the national call-in day.

"As Catholics, we believe the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our immigrant and refugee children and youth, must be protected," he said in a late Feb. 22 statement. "The sanctity of families must be upheld. The Catholic bishops have long supported undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents, known as Dreamers, and continue to do so.

"We ask you to engage with your elected officials to voice your support for these young people and call on your members of Congress to find a bipartisan legislative solution to protect Dreamers immediately," added the archbishop, who also pointed Catholics to https://tinyurl.com/y8jznv2z to view a video of Bishop Vasquez discussing the issue.

To help tell the story of DACA recipients, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe also calling attention to a music video by the local band Reviva that depicts agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picking up three workers, including a teacher and a construction worker. Its message reflects that reality some in the country are facing.

Workers are handcuffed and taken into custody in the "Take Me Away" video, as a little girl arrives home from school to find her parents gone. The songwriter graduated from St. Pius X High School, a Catholic school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The video can be seen at https://youtu.be/f4N5OuNfofc.

The Ohio-based Association of U.S. Catholic Priests urged its members to fast and pray, but also to call their lawmakers in Washington asking that Congress pass permanent relief for the young adults affected. The group also asked priests to encourage their parishioners to take part in personal and public actions on behalf of DACA.

In a Feb. 21 newsletter, the association asked its members via email to "fast on Fridays in union with Father Gary Graf, the Chicago priest who has been fasting in support of Dreamers every day," and to support Father Ray Pineda, an ordained priest in Atlanta, who has benefited from DACA and also is facing an uncertain future in the country.

Father Graf has announced he will march in front of the White House for 40 hours straight, from 9 a.m. (local time) March 4 through 5 p.m. March 5. The priest said it will be his final attempt to encourage Trump to extend DACA. As he marches he will hold placards illustrating the number of Dreamers who are losing their status per day, 916, and per week, 6,412. By the end of March, he said, 25, 648 will have lost DACA status.

Hundreds of Catholic leaders have declared Feb. 27 a "Catholic Day of Action" in Washington and planned to pray and sing inside the Russell Senate Office Building.

A news release that the group of leaders includes women religious, who will call on House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Catholic, to remember Catholic social teaching about the obligation to protect immigrants, and lead House Members in passing a clean DREAM Act.

The measure -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- has long been proposed. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.

The USCCB also has created a series of videos available on its YouTube channel and Facebook.com/USCCB.


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Prayer for peace in Congo, South Sudan a call to action, cardinal says

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 9:06am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in war-torn countries like South Sudan and Congo is also a reminder for world leaders to protect their countrymen from violence and injustice, a Vatican official said.

In an article for L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said leaders have "the duty of securing a peaceful life for their fellow citizens."

"We will ask the Lord to tear down the walls of enmity and strengthen the will of government leaders to look for peaceful solutions through dialogue and secure negotiations," the cardinal wrote in the article, published Feb. 22.

In early February, Pope Francis had called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.

"Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish; he heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds," the pope had said.

Fighting involving government troops, rebel forces and militias continues in Congo, especially in the East, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

Expressing sadness over the violent deaths of peaceful protestors, Cardinal Turkson said the international community has "the responsibility of guaranteeing a nonviolent transition toward a new presidency in Congo."

He also highlighted the need for action in South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.

Noting that the situation was so dire that Pope Francis was forced to cancel a planned visit in 2017, the cardinal said action was needed to aid refugees and displaced people "who represent one-fourth of the population."

"They, too, are men and women, children, young and old who are looking for a place to live in peace," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Turkson said the pope's call for a day of prayer "once again shows his care for the universal church and its closeness to the people who suffer most," as well as a way bring attention to those forgotten by the world.

The day of prayer and fasting is just the latest initiative of Pope Francis "to draw the attention of the international community to extremely painful situations of violence that do not find adequate coverage in the media," the cardinal said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Chileans speak to Vatican team sent to investigate abuse cover-up charges

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 11:32am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Santana, Reuters

By Jane Chambers

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Chilean clergy sex abuse victims gave testimony to a Vatican team sent to investigate charges that church officials covered up the abuse.

But many of the victims gave their testimony to a Spanish-speaking Vatican official after the main Vatican envoy underwent emergency surgery.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta underwent emergency gallbladder surgery in Chile Feb. 21. The next day, on Twitter, the archbishop thanked "all those who have kindly expressed their support and generously offered their prayers as I continue in my recovery. God bless!"

Archbishop Scicluna decided to make the trip to Chile even though he was not feeling well. While listening to testimony Feb. 20, he started feeling worse, but was determined to finish the day. He went to the hospital for a checkup later that evening.

After Archbishop Scicluna was hospitalized, Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, an official of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, continued hearing testimony. He also met with some Catholics from Osorno, a town in the south of Chile. 

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

The victims' spokesman, Juan Carlos Claret, said he was glad they could meet with Father Bertomeu.

"Unlike Scicluna, he's a native Spanish speaker, so he doesn't need a translator to help with our conversations," Claret told Catholic News Service.

Claret said the controversy over Bishop Barros was dividing the Catholic community, and many people do not want a bishop they are convinced covered up for Father Karadima.

Pope Francis sent Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu to Chile after a controversy that reignited during the papal visit to Chile in January. Speaking to reporters, Pope Francis supported Bishop Barros and said, "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

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

After their meeting with the Spanish priest, Claret and the other members of his team said they were very pleased that they are finally getting a chance to be heard. He said they spoke about the atmosphere in Osorno and how it is affecting the people living there.

Officials expect it will take Archbishop Scicluna up to 72 hours to recover and said he is determined to carry on with the hearings.

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

On Feb. 20, the archbishop spoke to Chilean James Hamilton, who first met Father Karadima many years ago as a teenager in his parish in Santiago. Hamilton's testimony about his abuse helped lead to Father Karadima's conviction by the Vatican.

After Hamilton met with Archbishop Scicluna, he said, "I am sure that the information that comes from these talks will be truthful and sincere."

Hamilton criticized Chilean church leaders, claiming they were "even capable of misleading the pope." Hamilton accuses them of blocking his and other victims' efforts to have their voices heard by the Vatican.

Jaime Coiro, spokesman for the Chilean bishops, said of the investigation, "This is a process where people are invited to be listened to, but there will be no response until the investigation is complete."

Before coming to Chile, Archbishop Scicluna traveled to New York to hear from another of Father Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz.

Cruz called the four-hour meeting "a good experience ... I feel that I was heard, it was very intense and very detailed and sometimes eye-opening for them."

During their visit to Chile, the Vatican team was scheduled to hold around 20 meetings with people who want to denounce Bishop Barros. All of them have been asked to send written documents containing their accusations.

"The pope needs to understand that is what survivors need -- to be heard," said Cruz.


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