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Pope prays for victims of 'devastating' mudslide in Sierra Leone

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 10:00am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis offered his condolences and his prayers to the people of Sierra Leone after flooding and a major mudslide Aug. 14 led to the deaths of hundreds of people and displaced thousands.

"Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time," said a message sent to Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of Freetown by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Pope Francis "prays for all who have died, and upon their grieving families and friends he invokes the divine blessings of strength and consolation," said the message, which was released by the Vatican Aug. 16. The pope also "expresses his prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster."

Visiting the hard-hit town of Regent, about 15 miles east of Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma described the devastation as "overwhelming" and pleaded for international assistance.

Soon after the disaster struck, Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, published an appeal to donors.

"More than 300 people were killed and property was destroyed" in the mudslide, CRS said. At least 100 homes were covered and more than 600 people were still missing early Aug. 16.

"The death toll is expected to rise," the CRS appeal said. "Families affected by the Sierra Leone landslide need food, shelter, water and clothing," which CRS and its partner Caritas will strive to provide.

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Papal envoy calls Blessed Romero 'martyr of hope'

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 5:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rodigro Sura, EPA

By

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- Blessed Oscar Romero, the murdered archbishop of San Salvador, is a martyr of hope, said Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Pope Francis' envoy to the celebration of the centennial of the archbishop's birth.

Blessed Romero "is a true martyr of hope ... a great martyr of hope," said the Santiago cardinal. "He is so for the continent's poor, he is so for the people of El Salvador, he is so for the hope of our beloved church, for all who struggle for justice, reconciliation, peace and affectionately call him 'St. Romero of America.'"

Cardinal Ezzati gave the homily Aug. 15 at the Salvadoran cathedral, where people gathered for a special Mass. He said Blessed Romero's "closeness to the poor ... led him to see, with his eyes, the injustice the peasants were suffering."

Repeatedly interrupted by applause, the cardinal quoted a letter from Pope Francis to the Salvadoran bishops on Blessed Romero's beatification in 2015: "Those who have Archbishop Romero as a friend in faith ... those who admire him, find in him the strength and encouragement to build the people of God, to commit to a more balanced and dignified social order."

"Those words by Pope Francis confirm our intuition that Blessed Romero is a saint of hope," the cardinal added.

Shortly before he was assassinated in 1980, Blessed Romero promised that if God accepted his martyrdom, he would forgive those who would take his life, the Santiago cardinal said in his homily Aug. 15 at the cathedral in San Salvador.

He also quoted Blessed Romero's words shortly before he was murdered: "Martyrdom is a grace from God which I do not believe I deserve. But should God accept the sacrifice of my life, that my blood be the seed of freedom, it is a signal that hope will soon be a reality. Should they kill me, I forgive and bless them."

Cardinal Ezzati arrived Aug. 12 in San Salvador to take part in different activities to mark the centennial of Blessed Romero's birth, which included a pilgrimage,"Caminando hacia la cuna del Profeta" ("Walking Toward the Prophet's Birthplace"), from San Salvador to Ciudad Barrios, the eastern city where the martyr was born Aug. 15, 1917.

Ordained April 4, 1942, in Rome, the Salvadoran religious leader was appointed archbishop of San Salvador Feb. 23, 1977, and was gunned down during Mass in a hospital chapel March 24, 1980, a day after a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers to obey what he described as God's order and stop carrying actions of repression.

The archbishop's March 30 funeral at the cathedral, attended by more than 200,000 mourners, was interrupted by gunfire that left 30-50 people dead. It is widely believed direct perpetrators of the unpunished crime were members of a paramilitary squad.

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Genocide of Christians continues in Middle East, says new U.S. report

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 5:07pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Suhaib Salem, Reuters

By Josephine von Dohlen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Trump administration renews its commitment to the protection of religious minority groups threatened by the Islamic State in the Middle East, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the preface of the annual State Department report on international religious freedom, released Aug. 15.

"ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled," Tillerson said in a statement Aug. 15. "ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities."

Since the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the State Department documents the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries around the world, reporting to Congress the "violations and abuses committed by governments, terrorist groups, and individuals."

Ambassador Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, which produces the report, spoke about it in a news conference Aug. 15, saying the report is used to create a fact base for U.S. government decision-making.

Kozak reported that while conditions for many do remain critical, there are signs of hope for the future.

"ISIS is being defeated," Kozak said. "Since the defeat of ISIS in great chunks of Iraq, it means that religious minorities can return to their liberated towns and villages and the next challenge is to see that they have security and that their homes are rebuilt."

Over the past 15 years, the number of Christians has fallen from between 1.4 million and 800,000 Christians to 250,000 Christians in Iraq today, with two-thirds being members of the Chaldean Catholic Church and nearly one-fifth members of the Assyrian Church of the East, according to the report. In Syria, less than 10 percent of the entire population is Christian.

"There is a growing consensus on the need to act, the genocidal acts of ISIS awakened the international community to the threats facing religious minorities," Kozak said.

One way the U.S. responds to the threats of IS, as the Islamic State also is known, is through the Global Coalition, which was founded in 2014 as a group of 68 members, formed specifically for the purpose of reducing the number of threats from IS through military and other campaigns against the militant group, as well as providing humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and Syria.

"In the areas liberated from ISIS, the preferred option is to return people to their traditional villages and areas because we don't want to uproot communities that have been there for thousands of years and take them elsewhere, if we can help them with the security and other means that they need to be able to resume traditional role as the valued members of their own societies," Kozak said.

Kozak told the press that the U.S. has a "good record" in fighting against genocide, stating that the U.S. is in the process of "defeating the perpetrators of genocide pretty soundly" in Iraq and elsewhere, as he discussed the legal and moral obligations of countries working to combat genocide.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry first used the word genocide to describe the IS attacks in Iraq and Syria against minority religious groups such as the Christians, Yezidis and the Shiite Muslims back in March 2016.

Trump recently nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to the post of ambassador at large for international religious freedom, whose position would allow him to work with the office of international religious freedom in the U.S. State Department to support religious freedom throughout the world.

In his weekly video address in April, President Donald Trump reminded America of the country's commitment to religious freedom.

"From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship," Trump said April 14. "Sadly, many around the globe do not enjoy this freedom. ... We pray for the strength and wisdom to achieve a better tomorrow -- one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience."

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its own report covering the 2016 calendar year and up to February 2017. Separate from the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, the commission offers similar recommendations to the administration and to Congress on the state of religious freedom worldwide.

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Pope entrusts to Mary victims of disasters, conflict, social tension

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a week in which natural disasters, war and racial conflicts dominated the headlines, Pope Francis prayed that Mary would bring peace to a divided world.

After reciting the Angelus prayer on the feast of the Assumption, the pope asked Mary to obtain "for everyone consolation and a future of serenity and harmony."

"To Mary, Queen of Peace -- who we contemplate today in the glory of paradise -- I entrust once again the anxieties and sorrows of the people who suffer in many parts of the world due to natural disasters, social tensions or conflicts," the pope told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square Aug. 15.

Pope Francis did not name any specific location, but as he spoke, the search for survivors continued in Sierra Leone after a devastating mudslide engulfed the outskirts of the capital, Freetown, killing more than 300 people. Flooding and landslides also struck southern Nepal, killing at least 70 people.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, clashes between white nationalists and protesters resulted in the death of three people, including a 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, who was killed Aug. 12 when a car plowed into a group protesting the white nationalist rally.

In his main Angelus talk, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading, which recalled Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

The joy felt by Elizabeth and the child in her womb reflects the interior joy Christians feel in Christ's presence, the pope said. "When Mary arrives, joy overflows and bursts from their hearts because the invisible yet real presence of Jesus fills everything with meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people. Everything!"

In response, Mary proclaims the Magnificat, her hymn of praise to God for his great works. Pope Francis said it is the hymn of "humble people, unknown to the world, like Mary, like her husband Joseph as well as the town where they live, Nazareth."

God accomplishes "great things with humble people," the pope said, inviting people in St. Peter's Square to reflect on the state of their own humility.

"Humility is like an empty space that leaves room for God. A humble person is powerful because he is humble, not because he is strong. This is the greatness of humility," he said.

The joy Mary brings because she brings Jesus to the world gives all Christians "a new ability to pass through the most painful and difficult moments with faith" as well as the "ability to be merciful, to forgive, understand and support each other."

"Mary is a model of virtue and faith," Pope Francis said. "We ask her to protect and sustain us that we may have a faith that is strong, joyful and merciful. May she help us to become saints, to meet her one day in paradise."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Catholics on Guam pray for peace amid threats by North Korea

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 1:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters

By Tony C. Diaz

HAGATNA, Guam (CNS) -- The Catholic Church on Guam is urging its members and all people on the island to be prayerful and stay centered in Christ amid threats of missile attacks by North Korea.

Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes of Agana asked all priests to promote prayers of peace at all Masses Aug. 13 as tensions continue, following threats by North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un to attack this American territory in the Marianas Islands.

"In your Masses this Sunday, especially in the prayer of the faithful, please offer prayers for peace between our nations, just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action," Archbishop Byrnes said in a message to all priests of the Archdiocese of Agana Aug. 11.

"Please also offer prayers for the men and women of our military, especially those whom we host on Guam, that they might find grace for diligence and courage as they execute their respective duties," he said.

Guam has long had a high strategic military importance to the United States because of its location in the Marianas Islands and has been home to several U.S. military bases for many decades. B-52 bombers were regularly deployed from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and '70s.

Residents of this predominantly Catholic island community first woke up to the alarming news of North Korea threats to Guam Aug. 9. The archdiocese issued a message to all Catholics and the community in general that same day urging everyone to "stay grounded in the peace of Christ."

"Look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened and pray always," the archdiocese said.

That message by Father Jeff San Nicolas, the coadjutor archbishop's delegate general, cited the Gospel of John: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

The archdiocese also echoed the message of Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo asking everyone to remain calm and trust that the security of the island is in good hands with local and national defense forces in place to address such threats.

In his Aug. 11 message, Archbishop Byrnes said, "Ever since being appointed the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana, I have been both struck and encouraged by Isaiah 33:2-6. ... It speaks to our current situation very well:

"O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. At the tumultuous noise peoples flee; when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered, and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers; as locusts leap, it is leapt upon. The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion's treasure."

"We have strong encouragement from the Lord Jesus, to trust that our Father is the source of our salvation both spiritually and practically," the archbishop continued. "Jesus is still on the throne, and we can be confident that He will work out his will in every situation," the archbishop also told the priests."

He added, "We do not 'put our trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no help' (Psalm 146:3). The Lord himself is the source of our stability in any time."

The archdiocese also encouraged people to join an Aug. 13 rosary rally and pray for peace during a celebration of the 100th year anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima in the capital of Hagatna.

The rally was organized by Catholic laypeople as part of a worldwide call for praying the rosary in the public square.

The Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense planned to make a presentation on emergency preparedness related to the North Korea threat for clergy, Catholic school administrators and chancery staff Aug. 17.

The presentation had been scheduled even before the threat by North Korea but the archdiocese asked that it be held sooner because of current developments.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Bishops ask for peace after white nationalist rally turns deadly

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 11:49am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the aftermath of a chaos- and hate-filled weekend in Virginia, Catholic bishops and groups throughout the nation called for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11 and 12.

A 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, was killed when a car plowed into a group in Charlottesville Aug. 12. Various news outlets have identified the driver as James Alex Fields, who allegedly told his mother he was attending a rally for President Donald Trump. Reports say the car allegedly driven by Fields plowed into a crowd during a white nationalist rally and a counter-rally the afternoon of Aug. 12.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early Aug. 14 the "evil attack" meets the legal definition of domestic terrorism and suggested pending charges for Fields who was in custody and has been charged with second-degree murder, among other charges. He was being held without bail.

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, was one of the first to call for peace following the violence in Charlottesville late Aug. 11, which only became worse the following day.

On the evening of Aug. 11, The Associated Press and other news outlets reported a rally of hundreds of men and women, identified as white nationalists, carrying lit torches on the campus of the University of Virginia. Counter-protesters also were present during the rally and clashes were reported. The following day, at least 20 were injured and the mayor of Charlottesville confirmed Heyer's death later that afternoon via Twitter after the car allegedly driven by Fields rammed into the crowd of marchers. Two Virginia State Police troopers also died when a helicopter they were in crashed while trying to help with the violent events on the ground.

"In the last 24 hours, hatred and violence have been on display in the city of Charlottesville," said Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a statement on the afternoon of Aug. 12. "I earnestly pray for peace."

Charlottesville is in Bishop DiLorenzo's diocese.

Virginia's governor declared a state of emergency Aug. 12 when violence erupted during the "Unite the Right" white nationalist protest against the removal of a statue of a Confederate general, Gen. Robert E. Lee. But the trouble already had started the night before with the lit torches and chants of anti-Semitic slogans on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the events "abhorrent acts of hatred" in an Aug. 12 statement. He said they were an "attack on the unity of our nation."

Other groups, including many faith groups, seeking to counter the white nationalist events showed up during both events. Authorities reported clashes at both instances.

"Only the light of Christ can quench the torches of hatred and violence. Let us pray for peace," said Bishop DiLorenzo in his statement. "I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully."

On Twitter, Jesuit Father James Martin denounced racism as a sin and said: "All Christians, all people of faith, should not only reject it, not only oppose it, but fight against it."

Other bishops quickly followed in denouncing the violence.

"May this shocking incident and display of evil ignite a commitment among all people to end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that we have seen too often in our nation and throughout the world," said Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, Tennessee, in an Aug. 13 statement. "Let us pray for the repose of the souls of those who died tragically, including the officers, and for physical and emotional healing for all who were injured. May ours become a nation of peace, harmony and justice for one and all."

Chicago's Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said Aug. 12 via Twitter: "When it comes to racism, there is only one side: to stand against it."

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia called racism the "poison of the soul," and said in a statement that it was the United States' "original sin" and one that "never fully healed."

He added that, "blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity."

On Aug. 13, Cardinal DiNardo, along with Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement saying: "We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love's victory over every form of evil is assured."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Cling to the Lord, not horoscopes, fortunetellers, pope says

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 10:06am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Akhtar Soomro, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When passing through the storm of life's difficult moments, Christians must latch on to Christ and not the false sense of security offered by psychics and soothsayers, Pope Francis said.

Speaking to pilgrims before reciting the Angelus Aug. 13, Pope Francis talked about the day's Gospel passage, which recounts the story of Jesus walking on water. Jesus tells St. Peter to come to him, but his lack of faith when walking on the water toward Jesus during a storm leads to him slowly to start sinking in the sea.

Christians today, Pope Francis said, also can doubt the assurance of Christ's presence when confronting life's "turbulent and hostile waters."

"When we do not cling to the word of the Lord, but consult horoscopes and fortunetellers to have more security, we begin to sink," the pope said.

Although most Romans escape the city during the summer, hundreds of pilgrims still made their way to St. Peter's Square, waving banners and flags while cheering loudly as the pope appeared in the window of the Apostolic Palace.

Pope Francis said the Sunday Gospel reading invites all Christians to reflect on their faith "both as individuals and as an ecclesial community, even the faith of all us here today in the square."

St. Peter's request that Jesus call him, his moment of doubt and his subsequent cry for Jesus to save him, the pope said, "resembles our desire to feel close to the Lord, but also the fear and anguish that accompanies the most difficult moments of our life and of our communities, marked by internal frailty and external difficulty."

"Today's Gospel reminds us that faith in the Lord and in his word doesn't open a path where everything is easy and calm; it doesn't take away life's storms," the pope said. "Faith gives us the security of a presence, Jesus' presence, which pushes us to overcome existential storms, and the assurance of a hand that grabs us to help us face the difficulties, showing us the way even when it is dark."

The image of the boat in troubled waters, he added, also can represent the church, which throughout history has faced storms that "threaten to overwhelm her."

What saves the church is not "courage or the quality of its members," but rather "faith in Christ and his word."

"In short, faith is not an escape from life's problems but sustains it along the journey and gives it meaning," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Archbishop says Blessed Romero could be canonized next year

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 9:30am

IMAGE: CNS

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The archbishop officially promoting Blessed Oscar Romero's cause for sainthood said he hopes the process will conclude within a year and Catholics around the world will honor St. Oscar Romero, martyr.

"Keeping alive the memory of Romero is a noble task, and my great hope is that Pope Francis will soon canonize him a saint," Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of the Salvadoran archbishop's cause, said in a homily Aug. 12 in London.

In an interview with Vatican Radio's English program, Archbishop Paglia was more specific: "We could hope that in the next year perhaps it is possible" that the Congregation for Saints' Causes will have completed its review of an alleged miracle attributed to Blessed Romero's intervention and present its findings to the pope. Recognition of the miracle would clear the way for canonization.

Archbishop Paglia, in addition to promoting Blessed Romero's sainthood cause, is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and chancellor of Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

The biggest hurdle in the sainthood cause was obtaining recognition that Blessed Romero, who was shot while celebrating Mass, was a martyr, Archbishop Paglia said in London. Some church leaders, including some who worked in the Roman Curia, had insisted Blessed Romero was assassinated because of his political position.

But, Archbishop Paglia said, "The essence of his holiness was his following the Lord by giving himself completely for his people."

Still, he told the congregation in London celebrating the 100th anniversary of Blessed Romero's birth, "Romero was not a Superman. He was afraid of dying, and he confessed that to his friends on a number of occasions. But he loved Jesus and his flock more than he loved life. This is the meaning of martyrdom."

"Love for Jesus and the poor is greater than love for oneself: This is the power of Romero's message," Archbishop Paglia said. "A simple believer, if overwhelmed by love, becomes strong, unbeatable."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Bishops ask for peace after white nationalist rally turns deadly

Sat, 08/12/2017 - 9:11pm

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The bishop from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia called for peace following violence in Charlottesville late on Aug. 11 and subsequent events at the University of Virginia that left at least one person dead after a car plowed into a crowd on the afternoon of Aug. 12 during a white nationalist rally.

The Associated Press reported that at least 20 were injured Saturday and the mayor of Charlottesville confirmed one death in the afternoon via Twitter after the car rammed into the crowd of marchers.

"In the last 24 hours, hatred and violence have been on display in the city of Charlottesville," said Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a statement. "I earnestly pray for peace."

Charlottesville is in Bishop DiLorenzo's diocese.

Virginia's governor declared a state of emergency Aug. 12 when violence erupted during the "Unite the Right" white nationalist protest against the removal of a statue of a Confederate general. But the trouble had already started the night before. The New York Times reported that hundreds of men and women with lit torches chanted anti-Semitic slogans late the previous day on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the events "abhorrent acts of hatred," in an Aug. 12 statement. He said they are an "attack on the unity of our nation."

Other groups, including many faith groups, seeking to counter the white nationalist events showed up during both events. Authorities reported clashes at both events.

"Only the light of Christ can quench the torches of hatred and violence. Let us pray for peace," said Bishop DiLorenzo in the statement. "I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully."

On Twitter, Jesuit Father James Martin denounced racism as a sin and said: "All Christians, all people of faith, should not only reject it, not only oppose it, but fight against it."

Christopher J. Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, announced via social media a Mass at the University of Virginia on Aug. 13 "in light of the white nationalist rallies that have terrorized the campus."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Experts say law-abiding migrants at greater deportation risk under Trump

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 4:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, EPA

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The stories come in dribs and drabs on the evening news or in timelines via Twitter, but they're steady.

On Aug. 2, two young popular soccer players, brothers living in Bethesda, Maryland, were deported to their native El Salvador. In mid-July, Jesus Lara Lopez, a 37-year-old father of four in Cleveland, was deported to Mexico. On Aug. 1, Lourdes Salazar Bautista, a Michigan mom with three U.S. citizen children also was deported to Mexico.

At some point, they all had contact with immigration authorities, but none had criminal records or a violent past, and regularly checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to inform the agency of their whereabouts.

During President Barack Obama's administration, migrants like them, in the country without documentation, were not priorities for deportation, said John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE. They had been granted stays or were under supervision by immigration officials likely for humanitarian reasons -- they were taking care of family or had extenuating circumstances.

"Individuals in this group had mostly been checking in with us ' very rarely are these individuals convicted criminals," said Sandweg during a July panel titled "Immigration Policy and Practice Under the Trump Administration: Understanding What's New, What's Not and Why It Matters," sponsored by the Washington-based immigration reform group America's Voice.

Under President Donald Trump, however, the fate of these migrants has changed, said Sandweg.

"What we've seen is lots of those individuals getting picked up, and the reason those individuals get picked up is they are the lowest hanging fruit," said Sandweg. "They are the individuals who ICE can arrest most quickly and deport within a matter of two, three weeks. They're also the most sensitive cases and the cases least likely to pose a public safety threat."

But it's part of a strategy, Sandweg believes, by the Trump administration to increase the total number of deportations to record levels -- a task that will be difficult to match since Obama was given the moniker "deporter-in-chief" because of the record-breaking 2.5 million deportations that took place under his administration.

"It's very clear to me that their mission is to transcend the number of deportations. How do you do that? You don't focus on criminals," said Sandweg. "Criminals are slow to remove. Criminals who are at-large are very difficult to find and it's very time-consuming. It's time-consuming, difficult work."

Some migrants and their supporters already are sensing the shift in focus.

In early August, when Maria De Loera was called to a deportation hearing in Texas, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso attended the meeting in her place so she could stay at the bedside of her cancer-stricken 8-year-old daughter at the hospital. De Loera left Mexico in 2014 after her husband was assassinated and fled to the U.S. looking for asylum, which was later denied. 

Some supporters had feared De Loera would immediately be deported if she showed up to the meeting with immigration officials, meaning her daughter would be left to attend cancer treatments alone at the hospital.

After Bishop Seitz met with immigration officials, De Loera was granted a six-month stay so she could continue to care for her daughter. These days, it seems as if "the most obvious humanitarian reasons for allowing a person to stay are no longer sufficient," said the bishop, while also expressing worry about the people who seem to be the new focus of deportations.

"The church certainly is going to be very concerned about action leading to prioritization of people who are really not any threat and who have not committed any crime, and who are productive members of our community," Bishop Seitz said in an Aug. 7 phone interview with Catholic News Service.

The emphasis, he said, should be on criminals "who are really a threat to our citizens," not spending time and energy going after people who are law-abiding.

David Leopold, partner and chair of the Immigration Practice Group and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the Trump administration would like others to believe "we're focusing on criminals. That's our priority."

But the focus is on "non-criminals, folks who have worked hard, have done everything they were supposed to do, played by the rules, have been here for a long time," said Leopold, who also was part of the America's Voice panel. "They're the easiest to arrest because they comply. They're going after those cases."

And while there may not be much talk about raids taking place, they're happening but in the lobbies of immigration offices, he said.

"I call them silent raids because where they're occurring is at these check-ins," said Leopold.

While fathers and mothers and children wait for their ICE removal officers, meetings that never yielded unusual developments now turn into meetings in which many have ankle bracelets placed on them, and given a date to leave, he said.

In a July 31 essay for America, a national Catholic magazine run by the Jesuits, Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, said that under the Trump administration, Catholics must shift their focus toward opposing mass deportations because it's clear that under this presidency, steps have been taken "to implement a major deportation campaign targeted at all undocumented immigrants, including the population the U.S. bishops have sought for years to make citizens."

For fiscal year 2018, the administration has asked for 1,000 more ICE agents, 500 more Border Patrol agents, plus more than 10,000 more detention beds, not to mention $1.6 billion for a border wall, wrote Appleby.

"It is clear where this administration is headed on immigration," he wrote. "The goal is not to legalize 11 million undocumented persons but to get rid of them."

While some bishops have been on the front lines during critical moments involving the deportation of noncriminal migrants who have been long-term residents and contributing members of certain communities, Appleby urged the participation of all bishops, so as to have a plan for what to do when deportations take place in their respective dioceses and to lead other Catholics to support vulnerable immigrant families.

"We are entering a dangerous time in the history of our immigrant nation," Appleby wrote. "The stakes for our immigrant brothers and sisters, and their children, are high. History will judge whether Catholics stood up and protected their neighbors during this dark period."

Parishes are a great place to talk about those issues, to listen to "unheard narratives," said Bishop Seitz, while acknowledging that sometimes it feels as if people are listening to two different Gospels in church pews: one that says we have limited resources and we have to protect ourselves from outsiders, and one that says we're called to love others. But a person cannot call him or herself Catholic without expressing the compassion of Jesus, he said.

When a person loves others and gives of oneself for others "God will care for us even though there may be sacrifices involved," said Bishop Seitz, adding that if we give what's good and charitable, God will care for us.

"I don't think those elements are to be found in the dumbed-down Gospel that's out and about today," he said.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Nun known as 'Mother Teresa of Pakistan' to receive state funeral

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 11:53am

IMAGE: EPA

By Anto Akkara

THRISSUR, India (CNS) -- The government of Pakistan will accord a state funeral to Sister Ruth Katharina Martha Pfau, a German-born member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan.

Sister Ruth, dubbed the Mother Teresa of Pakistan, died Aug. 10 in Karachi. She was 87.

"Sister Ruth was a model of total dedication. She inspired and mobilized all sections of society to join the fight against leprosy, irrespective of creed or ethnic identity," Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, president of Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic News Service Aug. 11.

"We are happy that the government is according her a state funeral on Aug. 19," the archbishop said, noting it would be at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Sister Ruth would be remembered "for her courage, her loyalty, her service to the eradication of leprosy, and most of all, her patriotism."

"Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan," he said.

Born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1929, she went to France to study medicine and later joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. Archbishop Coutts said she arrived in Karachi in 1960 due to some visa problems en route to India and was touched by what she saw at the leprosy colony off Macleod Road in Karachi. She decided to join the work Mexican Sister Bernice Vargasi had begun three year earlier, Archbishop Coutts said.

In 1962 Sister Ruth founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, Pakistan's first hospital dedicated to treating Hansen's disease, and later set up its branches in all provinces of Pakistan. She spent the rest of her life in the country and was granted Pakistani citizenship.

In 1996, the World Health Organization declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to be free of Hansen's disease. The Dawn daily reported in 2016 that the number of those under treatment for leprosy fell to 531 from more than 19,000 in the 1980s.

The Pakistani bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace called Sister Ruth a "national hero of Pakistan." It said her services for humanity "were nothing less than a pure manifestation of God's divine love."

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Cardinal calls Salvadorans to reflect on true meaning of martyrdom

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 8:58am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The celebrations of the 100th anniversary Blessed Oscar Romero's birth should be a time to reflect on what it really means to call someone a martyr, said Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador.

Too many people in El Salvador "continue to call martyrs those who picked up arms and died following an ideal" in the country's 12-year-long civil war, the cardinal wrote in an article for L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The country's real martyrs, the cardinal said, "never stained their hands with blood," and they were "men and women who strove to love God and their neighbors."

The real martyrs of El Salvador are Blessed Romero, "the assassinated priests and the four U.S. women -- three religious and a laywoman -- whose lives were taken in December 1980," he said, referring to Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, a laywoman.

In addition, he wrote, "we all have a debt that we must begin to settle as soon as possible. We are obliged out of gratitude to God and love for the truth to redeem the memory of hundreds of anonymous martyrs, most of whom were humble campesinos."

"For us, martyr means witness," he said. "We must walk with them in the name of Christ."

The article by Cardinal Rosa Chavez was published Aug. 10 in the Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano, but was written for the newspaper's Spanish edition, which published a special issue for Blessed Romero's birthday Aug. 15.

The cardinal began his article thanking Pope Francis for naming Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile, as his personal envoy the celebrations of Blessed Romero's anniversary.

In the nomination letter, he said, the pope described Blessed Romero as "bishop and martyr, illustrious pastor and witness to the Gospel and defender of the church and human dignity." The pope also noted that as a priest and as a bishop, Blessed Romero worked for "justice, reconciliation and peace."

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Bishop Cantu calls for diplomacy to ease U.S.-North Korea differences

Thu, 08/10/2017 - 3:59pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Diplomacy and political engagement are necessary to resolve the differences between the United States and North Korea and avoid a military conflict, the chairman of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Writing Aug. 10, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, echoed a recent call from the Korean bishops' conference to support talks to secure the peaceful future of the Korean Peninsula.

Bishop Cantu acknowledged that the escalating threat of violence from North Korea's leaders cannot be "underestimated or ignored," but that the "high certainty of catastrophic death and destruction from any military action must prompt the United States to work with others in the international community for a diplomatic and political solution based on dialogue."

The letter follows days of back-and-forth threats between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump has threatened to unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen" in response to Kim's warnings of imminent attacks on the U.S. Meanwhile, Kim has said his country was preparing to fire missiles into waters around Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with two military bases.

The angry talk between the leaders has escalated since the Aug. 5 passage at the United Nations of new economic sanctions threatening to cut off a third of North Korea's exports. Russia and China, two of Pyongyang's few economic trading partners, supported the sanctions. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also adopted a statement expressing "grave concern" over North Korea's actions related to the development of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

Bishop Cantu's letter said his committee agreed with the stance of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea in its support for South Korean President Moon Jae-in's proposal for humanitarian and military talks with North Korea.

"In solidarity with the Catholic Church in Korea and the efforts of the South Korean government, we urge the United States to encourage and support these talks," Bishop Cantu wrote. "This avenue, unlike most others, offers the Korean Peninsula a future free from military conflicts or crises, which could simultaneously threaten entire nations and millions of lives in the region."

A former Vatican diplomat supported such talks.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 9, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said that "instead of building walls and creating dissidence or admitting the possibility of recourse to violence," both countries must have a constructive approach that benefits the people.

A former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts tasked with monitoring and implementing North Korea sanctions also called for calm and a negotiated solution to the differences between the two countries.

George A. Lopez, chair emeritus of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Catholic News Service Aug. 10 the interests of both countries can be addressed at the negotiating table.

"We need somebody to talk about what are the underlying security needs of both North Korea and the United States and is there a forum to talk about that," Lopez said. "If the U.S. issued a simple pledge that we seek no first use against North Koreans, we seek some way to bargain this out, you'd get some response to that."

Asian nations want stability rather than uncertainty and that will require that talks get underway to assure the peaceful co-existence of both countries, Lopez said. "So how do we get there?" he asked.

Bishop Cantu's letter reminded Tillerson that "this crisis reminds us that nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction do not ensure security or peace. Instead, they exacerbate tensions and produce and arms races as countries acquire more weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to intimidate or threaten other nations."

The bishop also cited a call in July by agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released by the USCCB and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to "map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons."

Bishop Cantu and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, conference president, signed the statement.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace organization, told CNS the organization was praying that both nations would step away from potential confrontation. She said Aug. 9 Pax Christi expected to release a statement on the situation within days.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Italians debate whether rescuing migrants at sea can be a crime

Thu, 08/10/2017 - 1:24pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Elio Desiderio, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As temperatures heated up in Italy in late July and August, so did the debate over migration policy and, particularly, over the rescue of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Italian officials are investigating an Eritrean Catholic priest and a German humanitarian organization on suspicion of "aiding and abetting illegal migration," but overcrowded and unseaworthy boats carrying migrants and refugees continue to make their way toward Italy's shores.

For years Italy has been the first port of call for refugees and migrants desperate to reach Europe and, as Pope Francis often has noted, the country has received little help from its European Union partners in rescuing, caring for and processing the newcomers.

The EU's 2013 Dublin Accord stipulates that requests for asylum and migrant processing must be handled by the first EU country a migrant or refugee enters. Because of its geographical proximity to Libya -- the primary port of departure to Europe -- Italy usually is that first country, although Malta also is a frontline destination.

In late July, Italy's prime minister announced an agreement with the Libyan government to have Italian military ships join Libyan ships in patrolling the Libyan coast. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the aim was to halt human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Migrants pay criminals for a place on the boats.

But, of course, many Italian politicians applauded the move as the best way to stop the influx of migrants and refugees.

Pope Francis, the Vatican office for migrants and refugees and a host of Catholic agencies and humanitarian organizations have long argued that the best way to defeat the traffickers is to expand quotas for legal immigration throughout Europe. Bypassing the traffickers would allow countries to organize the reception and would save migrants from the dangers that come from the sea and from extortion by the traffickers and a host of players that prey on the desperate in Libya.

The Italian government's second approach to handling the migration crisis was to attempt to forge an agreement with the nongovernmental organizations who are rescuing people at sea, providing food, water, medical care and safe transport to an Italian port.

Right-wing political groups have claimed the likelihood of being rescued simply emboldens smugglers, who provide boats that are in increasingly bad shape, betting those onboard will be rescued.

Italy asked the NGOs to sign a "code of conduct" promising, among other things: to refrain from communicating with or signaling to refugee boats in a way that facilitates their departure from Libyan waters; to inform the Rome-based Maritime Rescue Coordination Center about migrant sightings and rescue operations; to ferry rescued persons directly to a port without transferring them to or from other rescue boats; and, when requested, to allow police onboard to investigate possible cases of migrant smuggling or human trafficking.

Some NGOs, like Doctors Without Borders, refused to sign the agreement. The rule against transferring migrants between boats would mean all rescue vessels would be making long roundtrips, rather than having the bigger boats go to port and smaller boats continuing to patrol, the organization said. In addition, the organization asked for a stipulation that investigating police would not be armed because it does not permit weapons aboard its ships; the Italian Interior Ministry declined to amend the agreement.

Jugend Rettet, a Germany-based group that raised money from young Europeans to buy a rescue ship, also declined to sign the agreement.

Italian authorities seized the Jugend Rettet's ship, the Iuventa, Aug. 3, claiming that on as many as three occasions, the group did not technically rescue migrants at risk in the sea, but rather transferred them to the Iuventa from the hands of smugglers. The prosecutor in the case emphasized, however, that the group is not accused of accepting money or anything else from the smugglers.

Also under investigation for "aiding and abetting illegal immigration" is Father Mussie Zerai, a Rome-based priest from Eritrea and hero to many refugees and aid agencies that assist them. Since 2003, when someone wrote his phone number on the wall of a migrant detention center in Libya, Father Zerai has responded to distress calls from migrants on sinking boats in the Mediterranean and forwarded the position of the boats to the Italian and Maltese coast guards and to NGO rescue ships.

He told Avvenire, the Italian Catholic newspaper, that he never has had contact with Jugend Rettet, if that's how his name came up, and he has never contacted any NGO for a rescue without informing either the Italian or the Maltese coast guard. The charges, he said Aug. 9, are "slanderous."

For Vatican officials, Catholic aid agencies and even a top official from the Italian foreign ministry, the campaign against humanitarian agencies is a bizarre twist in the debate over the best way to handle the migration crisis.

Mario Giro, vice minister for foreign affairs and the former Africa expert for the Catholic Sant'Egidio Community, said Jugend Rettet and others may be examples of "humanitarian extremism," but that is more humane and more Christian than any of the other extreme positions being voiced.

"Are the NGOs right to save lives in the sea or should their salvation be the exclusive prerogative of state action," Giro asked in a guest column in Avvenire Aug. 8. Deciding whether to proceed with criminal charges against Jugend Rettet, the Italian magistrates will have to determine "how to 'sanction' those who do not respect some of the rules of conduct established by the government without introducing -- as an Avvenire editorial phrased it -- a kind of 'humanitarian crime.'"

Giro called for caution and calm, urging his government and the NGOs to take seriously each other's concerns and work together for a solution. Even with their limits, he said, the NGOs represent "the globalization of aid" as surely as the migrant smugglers and human traffickers represent the globalization of crime.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Catholic Relief Services looks to change concept of world's orphanages

Thu, 08/10/2017 - 11:29am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Stipe, courtesy Catholic Relief Services

By Chaz Muth

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Catholic Relief Services has released an emotion-filled video as a way of starting a conversation about the world's orphanages.

Children no longer end up in orphanages in the United States, and officials at CRS want a world where there is no longer a need for such institutions.

They are not advocating shutting down orphanages in poor countries and turning the children out onto the streets. CRS officials said their vision is to transform orphanages in countries like Haiti and South Sudan into family resource centers, offering families the support they need to keep their children at home.

To help people rethink the concept of orphanages, the international Catholic aid organization wrote a script, scouted locations, employed a film crew, hired actors and traveled to Puerto Rico to tell the story of a poverty-stricken mother making the heartbreaking decision to send her daughter to an orphanage, said Sean L. Callahan, president and CEO of CRS.

Though these institutions are called orphanages, Callahan said few of the children raised in them are actually orphans. Most people are unaware that 80-90 percent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent and, in most cases, poverty or disability is the reason why they are there, he told Catholic News Service in an August interview.

CRS hopes the video, released Aug. 10, will help drive home this point, particularly to well-meaning donors who think they are helping children by supporting orphanages.

"We are battling a false perception that is deeply ingrained in the public psyche," Callahan said. "If we are to break the orphan myth and return children to their families, we need to tell the all-too-common story of how children, sadly and unwillingly, come to live in an orphanage. That's why we made this important video."

The video is a departure from CRS's tradition visual storytelling style. Typically, the organization films subjects in areas where it works and produces videos in short documentary form to show how people are affected.

"For this topic, we wanted to show the emotional response of a parent and child separating at an orphanage, and we didn't see a way of authentically capturing that with a real family," said Mark Metzger, branded content producer for CRS. "We needed to recreate that ourselves."

Though actors portray the characters in the video, the scenes were written from first-hand accounts of CRS colleagues who have witnessed such gut-wrenching events, Metzger told CNS.

Callahan said although donors in countries like the U.S. often support orphanages for the right reasons, too many of the institutions they support do little more than raise money, leaving actual child care as an afterthought.

Children in orphanages are at greater risk of sexual abuse and violence than those in family care, he said.

CRS, and its partners Lumos -- founded by author J.K. Rowling -- and Maestral International are committed to breaking what they call the orphan myth and working, country by country, to replace orphanages with family care centers for more than 8 million children now in institutions throughout the world.

The CRS video, "Changing the Way We Care," can be viewed at https://youtu.be/umSJ3b1kcDk, and Metzger said he is encouraging people to share it on social media.

"We want to get the word out," he said. "We want to educate our audience as best we can so they can understand the struggles and difficulties that families are living through, day in and day out."

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Let Jesus be 'your teacher, your life coach,' archbishop urges teens

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 12:22pm

IMAGE: Victor Aleman, Angelus News

By

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told 1,600 Catholic teens gathered for the "City of Saints" conference that their faith and love for Jesus was an inspiration.

"Your desire to live your faith and share your faith -- it is so beautiful to witness. And it is so inspiring," he said in an Aug. 5 homily at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The archbishop and the Office of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles hosted the third annual "City of Saints" conference for teens, offering them an encounter with Christ through fellowship, praise and worship.

Teenagers attended from 80 parishes and schools throughout Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the three counties that make up the archdiocese.

The Aug. 4-6 event featured speakers as well as music with contemporary Catholic-Christian band WAL.

Attendees had an opportunity to participate in facilitated group time and the sacrament of reconciliation. Archbishop Gomez celebrated an afternoon Mass Aug. 4 to welcome the teens, then led them in an outdoor eucharistic procession to open a area designated as "Sacred Space," where spiritual directors described different paths of prayer for the weekend..

"I want to say, as we heard St. Peter say in the Gospel passage tonight -- 'It is good that we are here, Lord!' Thanks be to God!" the archbishop said in his homily at the Aug. 5 Mass closing the full day of the conference.

"Our Gospel tonight, leads us up the high mountain -- the mountain of God," he continued. "It is almost like we are chosen witnesses to go up with Jesus. Just as he chose the three apostles to go with him in the Gospel -- St. Peter, St. James and St. John."

"We have the privilege tonight in this Gospel to see what they saw, to hear what they heard -- the 'transfiguration' of our Lord Jesus Christ," Archbishop Gomez said.

That scene was amazing, he said, with the face of Jesus "shining like the sun," his clothes turning into "white light," and the prophets Moses and Elijah appearing "out of nowhere."

Imagining what they saw "reminds us that our lives are part of a great mystery -- a cosmic reality -- the loving plan of the living God. My young friends, you and me, we are 'part of the plan,'" the archbishop told the teens.

"The purpose of our lives is to be transformed and transfigured. To become more like Jesus every day of our lives. Until one day we will shine like the sun -- just we saw his face shine like the sun in the Gospel today," Archbishop Gomez explained. "This is God's plan for your lives -- to be his sons and daughters. Just as Jesus was his beloved Son."

"Jesus is the answer" as to how to do this, he said. "Listen to him! This is the best advice you will ever receive, because it comes from God himself. Let Jesus be your teacher -- your 'life coach,' your 'personal trainer.' Enter into his plan for your life. It is a plan of love, a plan that will lead you to happiness."

Archbishop Gomez told the teens about two practical things in his life that he said have helped him listen to Jesus -- prayer and reading the Gospels. He urged them to make those two things a habit in their own lives.

He suggested they download a Bible app onto their smartphones, so "you will have the Gospels with you everywhere you go."

"When you get a minute, you can read a passage from the Gospel," Archbishop Gomez said. "It is way better than checking your Instagram feed."

And "it is true that you can follow me on Instagram, so you should check that out, too!" he added.

"The more we pray, the easier it becomes to open our hearts to God," Archbishop Gomez said. "The more we reflect on the Gospels -- the more we begin to see Jesus alive and working in our lives and in the world."

"The more we try to listen to Jesus, the easier it becomes to hear him," he said. "The more we want to be with him -- in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of reconciliation."

By following these practices, Archbishop Gomez said, "slowly, we have a 'transfiguration' in our lives. That is how it works."

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Pope says he's saddened by 'perfect' Catholics who despise others

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 9:59am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God did not choose perfect people to form his church, but rather sinners who have experienced his love and forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

The Gospel of Luke's account of Jesus forgiving the sinful woman shows how his actions went against the general mentality of his time, a way of thinking that saw a "clear separation" between the pure and impure, the pope said Aug. 9 during his weekly general audience.

"There were some scribes, those who believed they were perfect," the pope said. "And I think about so many Catholics who think they are perfect and scorn others. This is sad."

Continuing his series of audience talks about Christian hope, the pope reflected on Jesus' "scandalous gesture" of forgiving the sinful woman.

The woman, he said, was one of many poor women who were were visited secretly even by those who denounced them as sinful.

Although Jesus' love toward the sick and the marginalized "baffles his contemporaries," it reveals God's heart as the place where suffering men and women can find love, compassion and healing, Pope Francis said.

"How many people continue today in a wayward life because they find no one willing to look at them in a different way, with the eyes -- or better yet -- with the heart of God, meaning with hope," he said. But "Jesus sees the possibility of a resurrection even in those who have made so many wrong choices."

Oftentimes, the pope continued, Christians become accustomed to having their sins forgiven and receiving God's unconditional love while forgetting the heavy price Jesus paid by dying on the cross.

By forgiving sinners, Jesus doesn't seek to free them from a guilty conscience, but rather offers "people who have made mistakes the hope of a new life, a life marked by love," the pope said.

The church is a people formed "of sinners who have experienced the mercy and forgiveness of God," Pope Francis said. Christians are "all poor sinners" who need God's mercy, "which strengthens us and gives us hope."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Bishop attends ICE meeting for mother fearing separation from sick child

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 5:31pm

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After hearing about the plight of a cancer-stricken child whose mother was facing imminent deportation, a U.S. border bishop, Texas Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, decided to pay the pair a visit at the hospital.

On Aug. 7, he prayed at a Texas hospital with bed-ridden 8-year-old Alia Escobedo, suffering from bone cancer, and her mother Maria De Loera, the child's only caretaker, before heading to a meeting with immigration officials -- a hearing in which the mother was to report for deportation but one which the bishop attended in her place.

"I was informed about the situation over the weekend, I'd heard rumblings," said Bishop Seitz in an Aug. 7 phone interview with Catholic News Service. "As a parish priest, one of the most rewarding ministries was through the sick. I always felt close to children who were sick."

At the hospital, he said, he read Scriptures with the mother and daughter, who are Catholic, and prayed. He said he tried to reassure the mother that there were a lot of people trying to help.

"It was a pleasure to be able to meet them and hopefully bring a bit of a consolation to this young child," he said. "They're amazingly resilient. This mom had her husband killed in (Ciudad) Juarez, escaped to El Paso running for her life. When she came here, her youngest daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer."

The last two and half years have been filled, not just with treatments at the hospital, but also with the threat of deportation. An asylum request De Loera filed in 2014 was denied the following year, and since then, she has been in the process of being removed from the country by immigration officials.

Bishop Seitz, along with other clergy, accompanied De Loera's lawyer to see officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, "to reconsider ' given the circumstances," he said.

He said he met with a case worker and a supervisor as well as other officials.

"I think they were relatively receptive," he said.

On Aug. 8, ICE officials granted De Loera a six-month stay to continue watching over her daughter during treatment, said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, which also has been involved calling in attention to the case. At her daughter's bedside, De Loera wears an ICE-issued ankle monitor to track her location even though she has not committed a crime and arrived seeking asylum, Corbett said.

"Maria and Alia are the human face of a broken immigration system and militarized border enforcement," said the Hope Border Institute in an email statement. "They're the reason we're fighting for reform and a more human border."

"I'm concerned about the very fact that we had to intercede on behalf of this mother under these circumstances," Bishop Seitz said to CNS, because it shows that "even the most obvious humanitarian reasons for allowing a person to stay are no longer sufficient."

Bishop Seitz made headlines in July because of a pastoral letter in which he denounced the "demonization of immigrants" and pleaded with others for compassion and solidarity. He said he's aware that even among Catholics, the issue of immigration can spark disagreement.

"I just ask them to bring these issues to their prayer," he said. "And also, to get to know a recent immigrant and, especially, to get to know one who fled here without the opportunity to arrange documents because they were fleeing for their lives, before deciding what the proper resolution of these cases should be."

Jesus, he said, spoke to questions of law and recognized that there is the law of God and human laws, and human laws can be good or they can be bad.

"Bad laws need to be changed and sometimes bad laws cannot be followed," he said. "One example is the law that permits abortion. Just because the law says it's OK, it does not make it OK."

He also asked others to think about the circumstances that lead others to flee their native countries.

"If any of us lived in a situation, in a country where there is extreme violence, we would do whatever it took to find a situation of safety, even if it meant crossing a border," he said. "We would do it if our children were starving. We wouldn't say 'I guess we'll just stay here and watch our children die.' Nobody would do that. We would do whatever we needed to do."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Lessons about New York church's historic pipe organ part of music camp

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 1:26pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Sheridan

By Armando Machado

NEW YORK (CNS) -- At the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan, Polina Maller, 11, took a few moments from her violin lesson to talk about her appreciation for music.

"It's fun, and I like it. Music makes me feel like I'm free inside; it makes me feel like I could create things, and then I feel good about myself," Polina, a classical music aficionado, said July 26 in an interview with Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper.

She was midway into a week of a summer music camp on the cathedral grounds.

Eleven children took part in the first-time program, "Pipes, Pedals & Peals," sponsored by the Friends of the Henry Erben Organ. The group is a charitable organization devoted to the conservation and restoration of the 1868 Henry Erben Organ inside St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.

The five-day camp, which operated three hours each morning, was open to children ages 7 to 12. Organizers expect to make it an annual summer program.

The Friends group also supports live musical performances, education and training of young musicians and organists, after-school music education programs and organ demonstrations, coordinators said. In addition, it supports concerts for visiting tour groups, arts and cultural organizations, schools and universities.

The week's activities for the music camp children included lessons in playing the violin and handbell chimes, and hands-on lessons about the history, uniqueness and intricacies of the Henry Erben Organ -- yes, hands-on, they got to play the special organ. Polina played a prelude by Bach.

The wood Erben Organ has three manuals, or keyboards -- an organ keyboard played by the hands is called a "manual." It stands about 45 feet high and has 2,500 pipes. "It's about the size of a small apartment," said Anne Riccitelli, president of the Friends group.

The children also assembled a special kit, creating a small, functioning organ similar to the Henry Erben Organ. The Orgel miniature organ kit was developed in the Netherlands; it is an educational organ that measures about 3 by 3 by 2 feet, weighs more than 40 pounds, and has about 48 pipes.

Additionally, the children performed at a summer camp recital -- with violin and handbell chimes -- during a July 30 Mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral; the liturgy, celebrated by the pastor, Msgr. Donald Sakano, was followed by an Erben Organ demonstration, and later a festive reception in the undercroft.

The cathedral's organist is Jared Lamenzo, who gave the demonstration. The children casually played the small organ at the reception.

"They're learning a lot in one week -- the small organ will help them understand how the big organ works," Lamenzo said while the children were learning how to play the handbell chimes July 26, a lesson given by Michael Bodnyk, a cantor at both St. Patrick's Old Cathedral and St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, the mother church of the New York Archdiocese.

The violin lessons were taught by Addie Deppa, who noted, "Music in general, I feel, brings on a window of purity and beauty to children's lives. I think it's super important for children to have music. ...They (the music camp children) are wonderful; they're very eager to learn, a lot of energy."

Robert Hodge, 10, also was among the music camp children. "I love the class, and the teachers are nice. It's very educational," Robert told Catholic New York.

Msgr. Sakano noted the old cathedral community's love of the arts. "We have a program called Basilica Voices, where our young people who are preparing for first holy Communion and confirmation are also being trained to sing. ... And then we have the camp, which is not a Catholic teaching program per se -- but it is faithful in the sense that music is the sound that God likes hearing."

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Machado writes for Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

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Chapel ministers to souls who visit, live amid Grand Canyon splendor

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 12:57pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ana Rodriguez-Soto, Florida Catholic

By Ana Rodriguez-Soto

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (CNS) -- Father Rafael Bercasio pastors perhaps the smallest parish in America -- and the most uniquely situated.

A short walk away from the south rim of the Grand Canyon sits El Cristo Rey Chapel, a small wooden building that serves as the spiritual home of the Catholic families who work at the national park.

El Cristo Rey, a parish of the Phoenix Diocese, has 26 registered families, who are "always outnumbered by the tourists," Father Bercasio said.

The chapel is located within the boundaries of Grand Canyon Village, a residential neighborhood of around 1,500 households that includes a school, a grocery store and a post office. Residents are employed as park rangers and naturalists, maintenance workers, and hotel, restaurant and retail staff. Some live there only six months out of the year, although the park is open year-round.

"You cannot live here if you're not working in the Grand Canyon," the priest explained.

Grand Canyon Village is perhaps more familiar to park visitors as the site of historic hotels such as El Tovar and the stopping point for the most photographed views of the canyon. Visitors can catch glimpses of the village's less visited residential areas as they ride on the shuttle -- a free bus that moves the park's vast quantities of tourists throughout the south rim's hotels and restaurants.

El Cristo Rey Chapel is not on the park's shuttle route. But its Mass schedule -- along with directions for walking there -- was posted near the registration desk of El Tovar, when this reporter was visiting in March.

Father Bercasio, a native of the Philippines, is just completing his first year as pastor. He was appointed last July by the Diocese of Phoenix, which took over responsibility for the church in 1974. He is the first priest to be assigned full time to the chapel.

"We are the only Catholic church within a national park of America," he told a standing-room only crowd of tourists who had gathered for Sunday Mass.

Actually, Grand Teton's Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Wyoming also is located within that national park and is open daily to visitors, although it does not have a resident priest. It is a summer mission of Our Lady of the Mountains Church in Jackson.

Priests from nearby parishes celebrate weekend Masses at the Grand Teton chapel during the busy summer season. Sunday Mass also is celebrated during peak seasons at many other national parks.

From his base at El Cristo Rey, Father Bercasio also ministers to a mostly Hispanic community founded five years ago about 30 miles outside the entrance to the park.

El Cristo Rey Chapel was officially established in 1960, although priests from the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, began coming to celebrate Mass for El Tovar's workers around 1919-1920.

Father Bercasio celebrates a daily Mass at 8 a.m., and most of the time, he said, he is the only one in attendance. He celebrates two Masses on Sundays, plus a vigil on Saturdays in summer.

Attendance averages seven or eight people in winter. The standing-room crowd in March was highly unusual, he said, but the congregation swells in summer to the point where chairs need to be placed outside.

"Every Sunday is new because I get to meet a lot of people from different states and every country. That's the one thing I don't experience in a regular parish," Father Bercasio said at the conclusion of the Mass.

This is his fourth assignment in his 13 years in the Phoenix Diocese.

Father Bercasio added that he finds inspiration not only in his surroundings, but in the people who visit.

"I always commend the tourists for fulfilling their obligation," he said. "You are in the midst of your gallivanting and still you are here. It is a testimony that your faith does not take a vacation. It's very inspiring."

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Rodriguez-Soto is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.

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