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Updated: 26 min 47 sec ago

Pope tells Belgian Brothers of Charity no more euthanasia for patients

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 12:27pm

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Pope Francis has given a Belgian religious order until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients.

Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the order, told Catholic News Service the pope gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients across Belgium, must reverse its policy by the end of August.

Brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the centers, also must each sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring that they "fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end."

Brothers who refuse to sign will face sanctions under canon law, while the group can expect to face legal action and even expulsion from the church if it fails to change its policy.

The group, he added, must no longer consider euthanasia as a solution to human suffering under any circumstances.

The order, issued at the beginning of August, follows repeated requests for the group to drop its new policy of permitting doctors to perform the euthanasia of "nonterminal" mentally ill patients on its premises.

It also follows a joint investigation by the Vatican's congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Brother Stockman, who had opposed the group's euthanasia policy, told Catholic News Service the ultimatum was devised by the two congregations and has the support of the pope.

"The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken," he said in an Aug. 8 email.

The ultimatum, he said, meant the group's policies must be underpinned by a belief that "respect for human life is absolute."

Brother Stockman told CNS that if the group refused to bow to the ultimatum "then we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text (of the new policy) and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity."

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, "then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law."

The Belgian bishops and the nuncio to Belgium have been informed about the ultimatum, he added.

Brother Stockman, a psychiatric care specialist, had turned to the Vatican in the spring after the Brothers of Charity group rejected a formal request from him to reverse the new policy.

The group also snubbed the Belgian bishops by formally implementing its euthanasia policy in June, just weeks after the bishops declared they would not accept euthanasia in Catholic institutions.

The group has also ignored a statement of church teaching forbidding euthanasia. The statement, written and signed by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former head of the doctrinal congregation, was sent to the Brothers of Charity Group members. A copy of the document has been obtained Catholic News Service.

The Brothers of Charity was founded in 1807 in Ghent, Belgium, by Father Peter Joseph Triest, whose cause for beatification was opened in 2001. Their charism is to serve the elderly and the mentally ill.

Today, the group is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year.

About 12 psychiatric patients in the care of the Brothers of Charity are believed to have asked for euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive the injections to end their lives.

The group first announced its euthanasia policy in March, saying it wished to harmonize the practices of the centers with the Belgian law on euthanasia passed in 2003, the year after the Netherlands became the first country to permit the practice since Nazi Germany.

Technically, euthanasia in Belgium remains an offense, with the law protecting doctors from prosecution only if they abide by specific criteria, but increasingly lethal injections are given to the disabled and mentally ill. Since 2014 "emancipated children" have also qualified for euthanasia.

The group's change in policy came about a year after a private Catholic rest home in Diest, Belgium, was fined $6,600 for refusing the euthanasia of a 74-year-old woman suffering from lung cancer.

Catholic News Service has approached the Brothers of Charity Group for a comment.

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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.

Salvadorans to walk 90-plus miles to mark centennial of Romero's birth

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 11:16am

IMAGE: EPA

By

SAN SALVADOR, El Savlador (CNS) -- Salvadorans plan to walk more than 90 miles in three days to mark the centennial of Blessed Oscar Romero's birth.

Participants will leave the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador Aug. 11 and are scheduled to arrive in Ciudad Barrios, the eastern city where Blessed Romero was born, Aug. 13.

The pilgrimage, "Caminando hacia la cuna del Profeta" ("Walking toward the prophet's birthplace"), will go through four dioceses -- San Salvador, San Vicente, Santiago de Maria and San Miguel.

Blessed Romero was born Aug. 15, 1917, and the actual centennial will be marked by a Mass at San Salvador's cathedral. Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzatti of Santiago, Pope Francis' special envoy to the celebration, will be the main celebrant.

Masses also are scheduled in other parts of the country. On Aug. 12, in the western Santa Ana Diocese, Archbishop Leon Kalenga Badikebele, apostolic nuncio to El Salvador, will deliver the homily at a commemorative Mass, while Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, a close friend of Blessed Romero, is scheduled to give a presentation on the archbishop's life and work.

When it announced the activities July 31, the Salvadoran bishops' conference stated that, as far back as three years ago, it "invited all the worshippers, Salvadorans and of the world, to prepare for this centennial to remember Blessed Romero as a man, a pastor and a martyr."

The murdered priest was beatified May 23, 2015, in San Salvador. In a letter to the gathering, read before an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the event, Pope Francis described Blessed Romero as "a voice that continues to resonate."

Ordained April 4, 1942, in Rome, the Salvadoran religious leader was appointed archbishop of San Salvador Feb. 23, 1997, and was gunned down after Mass at 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.

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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.

American community finds a new home in Rome

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- After years in exile from the church they had called home for the past 95 years, the American Catholic community in Rome moved to a new church they can finally call their own.

Located just a few steps away from the U.S. Embassy to Italy, St. Patrick's Church is the new official "mission for the care of souls for U.S. faithful residing in Rome," said Paulist Father Greg Apparcel, rector of St. Patrick's.

U.S. Catholics in Rome, guided by the Paulist Fathers, had called the Church of Santa Susanna their parish since 1922. But the cloistered Cistercian nuns, who have had a presence at the historic parish since 1587, found the American presence distracting and made various attempts over the years to evict them.

"I tried to understand their position," Father Apparcel told Catholic News Service Aug. 7. "It was their home, and they felt we invaded their home. We felt it was our home, (but) they didn't agree with that."

While there was no dispute regarding the ownership of Santa Susanna, the pastoral responsibility of the church had belonged to the Paulist priests for decades. In 2012, however, tensions rose when several large signs were placed in the church that stated the Cistercians owned the church.

Father Apparcel told CNS that he appealed to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, who in turn asked Pope Francis to intervene in the matter and allow the American community to return to the parish.

However, the Paulist priest said, "we were discouraged from coming back there because the Cistercian community owns the church, and they felt that they just wanted it to be them."

Instead, the Vatican encouraged Father Apparcel to move to St. Patrick's Church, a parish run by Augustinian priests from Ireland who decided in 2012 to leave their ministry in Rome due to "a lack of priests."

Several meetings between the Paulist Fathers and the Augustinian community led to an agreement that the church would become the new parish for American Catholics residing in Rome. The Augustinian community, Father Apparcel added, leased to the U.S. community the church and a hall currently being renovated to house offices, a library and classrooms "rent-free."

"They have been incredibly generous and hospitable to us. No question about it," the Paulist priest told CNS.

While the disagreement with the Cistercian nuns at Santa Susanna left relations at times strained, Father Apparcel said there are no hard feelings between the two communities.

"We had a very nice, very friendly conversation," he told CNS. "They said they had nothing but good feelings for the Paulist Fathers and the American community. And (they) offered their prayers and asked us to pray for them. They were sincere."

The nearly 400 families that make up the American parish in Rome, Father Apparcel added, are also "relieved" that they finally have their own church rather than attending in Mass in different parishes.

Despite the odds, Father Apparcel cared for the spiritual needs for the flock during that five-year period, often racing from one parish to another to celebrate Mass in English while Santa Susanna remained closed to the American community.

"I've gone through all the emotions from A-Z. The first year was really rough because I felt like, 'How much worse can it get?' I mean, basically, you're kicked out of your church!" he said. "In the beginning, I felt like I was a failure, that it was my fault."

However, with the support of his parishioners and Paulist Father Steve Bossi, his good friend and vice rector of the parish, Father Apparcel said he realized that "even though we weren't altogether in one place, we were still an identifiable Catholic community in Rome."

"This is a really visible example of the fact that the church is not a building, that the people are the church, that the community existed and even thrived during this period," Father Apparcel told CNS. "It doesn't matter that we didn't have a church. Though I'm glad we do now!"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

American community finds a new home in Rome

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- After years in exile from the church they had called home for the past 95 years, the American Catholic community in Rome moved to a new church they can finally call their own.

Located just a few steps away from the U.S. Embassy to Italy, St. Patrick's Church is the new official "mission for the care of souls for U.S. faithful residing in Rome," said Paulist Father Greg Apparcel, rector of St. Patrick's.

U.S. Catholics in Rome, guided by the Paulist Fathers, had called the Church of Santa Susanna their parish since 1922. But the cloistered Cistercian nuns, who have had a presence at the historic parish since 1587, found the American presence distracting and made various attempts over the years to evict them.

"I tried to understand their position," Father Apparcel told Catholic News Service Aug. 7. "It was their home, and they felt we invaded their home. We felt it was our home, (but) they didn't agree with that."

While there was no dispute regarding the ownership of Santa Susanna, the pastoral responsibility of the church had belonged to the Paulist priests for decades. In 2012, however, tensions rose when several large signs were placed in the church that stated the Cistercians owned the church.

Father Apparcel told CNS that he appealed to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, who in turn asked Pope Francis to intervene in the matter and allow the American community to return to the parish.

However, the Paulist priest said, "we were discouraged from coming back there because the Cistercian community owns the church, and they felt that they just wanted it to be them."

Instead, the Vatican encouraged Father Apparcel to move to St. Patrick's Church, a parish run by Augustinian priests from Ireland who decided in 2012 to leave their ministry in Rome due to "a lack of priests."

Several meetings between the Paulist Fathers and the Augustinian community led to an agreement that the church would become the new parish for American Catholics residing in Rome. The Augustinian community, Father Apparcel added, leased to the U.S. community the church and a hall currently being renovated to house offices, a library and classrooms "rent-free."

"They have been incredibly generous and hospitable to us. No question about it," the Paulist priest told CNS.

While the disagreement with the Cistercian nuns at Santa Susanna left relations at times strained, Father Apparcel said there are no hard feelings between the two communities.

"We had a very nice, very friendly conversation," he told CNS. "They said they had nothing but good feelings for the Paulist Fathers and the American community. And (they) offered their prayers and asked us to pray for them. They were sincere."

The nearly 400 families that make up the American parish in Rome, Father Apparcel added, are also "relieved" that they finally have their own church rather than attending in Mass in different parishes.

Despite the odds, Father Apparcel cared for the spiritual needs for the flock during that five-year period, often racing from one parish to another to celebrate Mass in English while Santa Susanna remained closed to the American community.

"I've gone through all the emotions from A-Z. The first year was really rough because I felt like, 'How much worse can it get?' I mean, basically, you're kicked out of your church!" he said. "In the beginning, I felt like I was a failure, that it was my fault."

However, with the support of his parishioners and Paulist Father Steve Bossi, his good friend and vice rector of the parish, Father Apparcel said he realized that "even though we weren't altogether in one place, we were still an identifiable Catholic community in Rome."

"This is a really visible example of the fact that the church is not a building, that the people are the church, that the community existed and even thrived during this period," Father Apparcel told CNS. "It doesn't matter that we didn't have a church. Though I'm glad we do now!"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

Vacation time should be prayer time, pope says

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 10:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Summertime can and should be a time for extra prayer, a moment of peace that allows Christians to savor the joy of their relationship with Jesus and find new strength to reach out with love to others, Pope Francis said.

Before reciting the Angelus Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, Pope Francis talked about the Gospel story of the disciples going up Mount Tabor with Jesus, "detaching themselves from mundane things" and contemplating the transfigured Lord.

Today, too, Christ's disciples need to "rediscover the pacifying and regenerating silence" that comes from prayer and meditating on a Gospel passage.

"When we put ourselves in this situation, with the Bible in hand, in silence, we begin to feel this interior beauty, this joy that the word of God generates in us," the pope said.

With high temperatures still plaguing Rome and most of southern Europe, many tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square came armed with umbrellas or bought paper parasols from wandering venders outside the square.

Pope Francis said he knew the students in the square were in the midst of their summer holidays and many of the other people in the square were on vacation. He told them, "It's important that in the period of rest and breaking away from daily concerns, you restore the energies of your body and soul, deepening your spiritual journey."

The disciples who saw Jesus' transfigured, he said, were changed by the event and descended the mountain, back into their daily lives, "with eyes and hearts transfigured by their encounter with the Lord. We, too, can follow this path."

An encounter with the Lord, he said, should inspire further steps of conversion and a greater witness of charity.

"Transformed by the presence of Christ and by the warmth of his words, we will be a concrete sign of the life-giving love of God for all our brothers and sisters, especially those who suffer, find themselves alone and abandoned, are sick, and for the multitude of men and women who, in different parts of the world, are humiliated by injustice, abuse and violence."

Pope Francis prayed that Mary would watch over people on vacation, but also that she would care for "those who cannot take a vacation because they are impeded by age, health or work, by economic difficulties or other problems."

Earlier that morning, Pope Francis went to the grotto under St. Peter's Basilica to pray at the tomb of Blessed Paul VI, who died Aug. 6, 1978.

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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.

Vacation time should be prayer time, pope says

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 10:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Summertime can and should be a time for extra prayer, a moment of peace that allows Christians to savor the joy of their relationship with Jesus and find new strength to reach out with love to others, Pope Francis said.

Before reciting the Angelus Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, Pope Francis talked about the Gospel story of the disciples going up Mount Tabor with Jesus, "detaching themselves from mundane things" and contemplating the transfigured Lord.

Today, too, Christ's disciples need to "rediscover the pacifying and regenerating silence" that comes from prayer and meditating on a Gospel passage.

"When we put ourselves in this situation, with the Bible in hand, in silence, we begin to feel this interior beauty, this joy that the word of God generates in us," the pope said.

With high temperatures still plaguing Rome and most of southern Europe, many tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square came armed with umbrellas or bought paper parasols from wandering venders outside the square.

Pope Francis said he knew the students in the square were in the midst of their summer holidays and many of the other people in the square were on vacation. He told them, "It's important that in the period of rest and breaking away from daily concerns, you restore the energies of your body and soul, deepening your spiritual journey."

The disciples who saw Jesus' transfigured, he said, were changed by the event and descended the mountain, back into their daily lives, "with eyes and hearts transfigured by their encounter with the Lord. We, too, can follow this path."

An encounter with the Lord, he said, should inspire further steps of conversion and a greater witness of charity.

"Transformed by the presence of Christ and by the warmth of his words, we will be a concrete sign of the life-giving love of God for all our brothers and sisters, especially those who suffer, find themselves alone and abandoned, are sick, and for the multitude of men and women who, in different parts of the world, are humiliated by injustice, abuse and violence."

Pope Francis prayed that Mary would watch over people on vacation, but also that she would care for "those who cannot take a vacation because they are impeded by age, health or work, by economic difficulties or other problems."

Earlier that morning, Pope Francis went to the grotto under St. Peter's Basilica to pray at the tomb of Blessed Paul VI, who died Aug. 6, 1978.

- - -

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.

New Smithsonian exhibit explores diversity of religion in early America

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 12:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Carolyn Mackenzie

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Smithsonian National Museum of American History's new exhibition, "Religion in Early America," celebrates the free exercise of religion and the religious diversity that define American faith life.

The exhibit features artifacts from Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major world religions. Peter Manseau, the museum's Lilly Endowment curator of American religious history, is the author of several books and curator of the new exhibit.

"We can't really think about the role of religion in America today without wondering about how it all began," Manseau told Catholic News Service.

The exhibit, which opened June 28, displays artifacts and stories of American religious life from the 1630s to the 1840s. Reflecting the many Christian denominations that made up early America, it also features noteworthy items of Jewish, Islamic, Mormon, Native American and other faith traditions. Visitors from diverse backgrounds will likely find their own religious beliefs represented in the objects.

"The real power is seeing all of these together, and recognizing that these are all part of the same American story," Manseau said.

Some of the exhibit's biggest draws are the Jefferson Bible, the George Washington Inaugural Bible, Archbishop John Carroll's chalice and paten and a church bell forged by Paul Revere. Manseau explained that the Jefferson Bible is an edition of the New Testament that Thomas Jefferson edited himself, removing certain passages while including others.

"He wanted to create a story of the life and teachings of Jesus that was in line with his understanding of the Enlightenment, with his desire to lead a reason-led life," Manseau said. "So he went through several copies of the New Testament with a penknife in hand and cut out those parts that he agreed with, and glued them together into a new book that he called 'The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.'"

Other noteworthy objects include the Communion cup of Gov. John Winthrop of Massachusetts, a Torah scroll damaged in 1776 during the British occupation of Manhattan, a 19th-century Arabic manuscript and an iron cross made by the first English Catholics in Maryland. Pope Francis used this cross at his papal Mass in Washington in 2015.

"According to tradition, it was made by the first English Catholics who came to America on the Ark and the Dove in 1634," Manseau said. "When they needed a cross to use in their public worship, they took iron ballast beams and had a blacksmith pound them together into a new iron cross that they used."

Manseau penned the book "Objects of Devotion: Religion in Early America," which presents images of some of the exhibit's artifacts and tells stories of religious movements and figures in American history.

The exhibit and book both highlight the influence of the Carroll family on Catholicism in America. Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, became a senator in the newly formed government. His cousin, Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore, became the first bishop in the United States, founded Georgetown University in Washington, and worked to create other schools and religious communities.

Manseau pointed out a chalice on display that belonged to Archbishop Carroll, explaining that such chalices were designed to be taken apart and disguised as a bell when placed on the side of a saddle. Such disguise was helpful to priests at a time when Catholicism was often met with disdain.

"We try to tell the full story of early Catholic experience in America, and we don't shy away from this early bigotry against Catholics," Manseau said as he described the purpose of such saddle chalices.

"And so we tell stories like that, but also stories of early Catholic triumphs, such as the building of the Baltimore basilica, again through the leadership of Bishop John Carroll," Manseau said.

Though many of the Catholic artifacts come from the mid-Atlantic, the exhibit does not organize its items based on religion. Rather, "Religion in Early America" is arranged by region, an approach that displays how America's beliefs are diverse in location as well as in content.

"Rather than presenting this story chronologically, we decided that presenting it regionally would be the best way to show that there was diversity in every part of early America," Manseau said. "So we have exhibit cases on New England, the mid-Atlantic and the South. In each of those regions there were a number of different religious traditions that were trying to establish themselves to be a part of the public square, and we wanted to show that that happened across time."

The exhibit does not so much strive to paint a depiction of the everyday early American's religious life as it emphasizes the diversity characteristic of the United States since the earliest settlers arrived.

"I think that the main takeaway that people have when they come into 'Religion in Early America' is that the religious traditions that were present here were far more diverse than many suspect, and that the practical implication of this diversity really was religious freedom," Manseau said.

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Editor's Note: The "Religion in Early America" exhibit runs until June 3, 2018. It can be viewed online at americanhistory.si.edu/religion-in-early-america.

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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.

New Smithsonian exhibit explores diversity of religion in early America

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 12:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Carolyn Mackenzie

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Smithsonian National Museum of American History's new exhibition, "Religion in Early America," celebrates the free exercise of religion and the religious diversity that define American faith life.

The exhibit features artifacts from Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major world religions. Peter Manseau, the museum's Lilly Endowment curator of American religious history, is the author of several books and curator of the new exhibit.

"We can't really think about the role of religion in America today without wondering about how it all began," Manseau told Catholic News Service.

The exhibit, which opened June 28, displays artifacts and stories of American religious life from the 1630s to the 1840s. Reflecting the many Christian denominations that made up early America, it also features noteworthy items of Jewish, Islamic, Mormon, Native American and other faith traditions. Visitors from diverse backgrounds will likely find their own religious beliefs represented in the objects.

"The real power is seeing all of these together, and recognizing that these are all part of the same American story," Manseau said.

Some of the exhibit's biggest draws are the Jefferson Bible, the George Washington Inaugural Bible, Archbishop John Carroll's chalice and paten and a church bell forged by Paul Revere. Manseau explained that the Jefferson Bible is an edition of the New Testament that Thomas Jefferson edited himself, removing certain passages while including others.

"He wanted to create a story of the life and teachings of Jesus that was in line with his understanding of the Enlightenment, with his desire to lead a reason-led life," Manseau said. "So he went through several copies of the New Testament with a penknife in hand and cut out those parts that he agreed with, and glued them together into a new book that he called 'The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.'"

Other noteworthy objects include the Communion cup of Gov. John Winthrop of Massachusetts, a Torah scroll damaged in 1776 during the British occupation of Manhattan, a 19th-century Arabic manuscript and an iron cross made by the first English Catholics in Maryland. Pope Francis used this cross at his papal Mass in Washington in 2015.

"According to tradition, it was made by the first English Catholics who came to America on the Ark and the Dove in 1634," Manseau said. "When they needed a cross to use in their public worship, they took iron ballast beams and had a blacksmith pound them together into a new iron cross that they used."

Manseau penned the book "Objects of Devotion: Religion in Early America," which presents images of some of the exhibit's artifacts and tells stories of religious movements and figures in American history.

The exhibit and book both highlight the influence of the Carroll family on Catholicism in America. Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, became a senator in the newly formed government. His cousin, Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore, became the first bishop in the United States, founded Georgetown University in Washington, and worked to create other schools and religious communities.

Manseau pointed out a chalice on display that belonged to Archbishop Carroll, explaining that such chalices were designed to be taken apart and disguised as a bell when placed on the side of a saddle. Such disguise was helpful to priests at a time when Catholicism was often met with disdain.

"We try to tell the full story of early Catholic experience in America, and we don't shy away from this early bigotry against Catholics," Manseau said as he described the purpose of such saddle chalices.

"And so we tell stories like that, but also stories of early Catholic triumphs, such as the building of the Baltimore basilica, again through the leadership of Bishop John Carroll," Manseau said.

Though many of the Catholic artifacts come from the mid-Atlantic, the exhibit does not organize its items based on religion. Rather, "Religion in Early America" is arranged by region, an approach that displays how America's beliefs are diverse in location as well as in content.

"Rather than presenting this story chronologically, we decided that presenting it regionally would be the best way to show that there was diversity in every part of early America," Manseau said. "So we have exhibit cases on New England, the mid-Atlantic and the South. In each of those regions there were a number of different religious traditions that were trying to establish themselves to be a part of the public square, and we wanted to show that that happened across time."

The exhibit does not so much strive to paint a depiction of the everyday early American's religious life as it emphasizes the diversity characteristic of the United States since the earliest settlers arrived.

"I think that the main takeaway that people have when they come into 'Religion in Early America' is that the religious traditions that were present here were far more diverse than many suspect, and that the practical implication of this diversity really was religious freedom," Manseau said.

- - -

Editor's Note: The "Religion in Early America" exhibit runs until June 3, 2018. It can be viewed online at americanhistory.si.edu/religion-in-early-america.

- - -

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.

Constituent Assembly will 'mortgage' Venezuela's future, Vatican says

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 10:51am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican called on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect the will of the people and respect the nation's current constitution.

The Vatican urged Maduro "to suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly, which, rather than fostering reconciliation and peace, encourages a climate of tension and confrontation and mortgages the future," said a statement released Aug. 4 by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Elections for seats on the assembly were held around the country July 30 amid massive protests and international outcry. Maduro's push for the assembly, comprised mainly of his supporters and designed to rewrite the nation's constitution, has led to violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died.

The Vatican's statement echoed a declaration made by members of the presiding council of the Venezuelan bishops' conference who condemned the elections as "unconstitutional as well as unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people."

"It will be a biased and skewed instrument that will not resolve but rather aggravate the acute problems of the high cost of living and the lack of food and medicine that the people suffer and will worsen the political crisis we currently suffer," the bishops said July 27.

Maduro declared victory following the election, claiming high voter turnout. While the government said that 8 million citizens voted in favor of establishing the Constituent Assembly, the company that provided voting machines for the election said the turnout numbers results were tampered with.

According to the BBC, Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, announced at a news conference in London July 31 that voter turnout result estimates were falsified by the country's National Electoral Council.

The news agency Reuters reported Aug. 2 that it had reviewed official election documents that stated only 3.7 million votes were registered 30 minutes before polls were closed.

Two days after the vote, security forces raided the homes of opposition members Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma. Government intelligence officials said both men were arrested for violating the terms of their house arrests, claiming they planned to flee the country after the elections.

Expressing concern over the "radicalization and worsening" of the crisis and "the increased number of dead, wounded and detained," the Vatican said Pope Francis was "closely following the situation."

The pope "assures his constant prayer for the country and for all Venezuelans, while inviting the faithful around the world to pray intensely for this intention," the Vatican said.

The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country.

"The Holy See addresses an urgent appeal to the whole society to avoid any form of violence, in particular by inviting the security forces to refrain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force," the Vatican statement said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

Constituent Assembly will 'mortgage' Venezuela's future, Vatican says

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 10:51am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican called on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect the will of the people and respect the nation's current constitution.

The Vatican urged Maduro "to suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly, which, rather than fostering reconciliation and peace, encourages a climate of tension and confrontation and mortgages the future," said a statement released Aug. 4 by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Elections for seats on the assembly were held around the country July 30 amid massive protests and international outcry. Maduro's push for the assembly, comprised mainly of his supporters and designed to rewrite the nation's constitution, has led to violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died.

The Vatican's statement echoed a declaration made by members of the presiding council of the Venezuelan bishops' conference who condemned the elections as "unconstitutional as well as unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people."

"It will be a biased and skewed instrument that will not resolve but rather aggravate the acute problems of the high cost of living and the lack of food and medicine that the people suffer and will worsen the political crisis we currently suffer," the bishops said July 27.

Maduro declared victory following the election, claiming high voter turnout. While the government said that 8 million citizens voted in favor of establishing the Constituent Assembly, the company that provided voting machines for the election said the turnout numbers results were tampered with.

According to the BBC, Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, announced at a news conference in London July 31 that voter turnout result estimates were falsified by the country's National Electoral Council.

The news agency Reuters reported Aug. 2 that it had reviewed official election documents that stated only 3.7 million votes were registered 30 minutes before polls were closed.

Two days after the vote, security forces raided the homes of opposition members Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma. Government intelligence officials said both men were arrested for violating the terms of their house arrests, claiming they planned to flee the country after the elections.

Expressing concern over the "radicalization and worsening" of the crisis and "the increased number of dead, wounded and detained," the Vatican said Pope Francis was "closely following the situation."

The pope "assures his constant prayer for the country and for all Venezuelans, while inviting the faithful around the world to pray intensely for this intention," the Vatican said.

The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country.

"The Holy See addresses an urgent appeal to the whole society to avoid any form of violence, in particular by inviting the security forces to refrain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force," the Vatican statement said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

- - -

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.

USCCB president urges Trump to quickly act to ease contraceptive mandate

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 4:48pm

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called on President Donald Trump to ease the "onerous" contraceptive mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act because it violates religious freedom.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in an op-ed piece in The Hill Aug. 3 that the mandate, which requires most employer-offered health insurance programs to cover contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices, "has tested this country's commitment to a healthy pluralism."

Citing Trump's pledge to ease the mandate during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, Cardinal DiNardo lamented that after three months no steps have yet been taken to erase the HHS mandate for organizations that object to it for faith reasons.

Religious charities, schools and pro-life advocacy organizations, the cardinal wrote, could face millions of dollars in fines from the federal government for not complying with the mandate.

"The president's promises were not just in his speeches," Cardinal DiNardo said. "The text of the executive order itself directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to 'considering issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.

"Yet the onerous regulations that are still on the books have not been amended," he said.

Cardinal DiNardo called on Trump to act so "that the government give us the space to fully participate in American life."

"Religious freedom is a fundamental right, not a political football. Freedom belongs to us by human nature, not by government dictate. A government that serves its citizens is one that respects the right to religious freedom," the cardinal added.

The column follows recent failed efforts by Congress to pass a law to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It also comes two months after the May 31 leak of a draft rule from HHS exempting religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. The draft was welcomed at the time by church officials and attorneys representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups that challenged the mandate in the courts.

The 125-page document remains under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It details objections to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers cover contraceptives in their employee health plans despite their moral objections to such coverage.

It would leave in place the religious accommodation created by President Barack Obama's administration for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies that are morally opposed to contraceptive coverage and can file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. The draft rule also would broaden this exemption to cover employers with religious or moral objections to providing coverage for some abortifacients. The new rule also makes it clear that insurers may issue separate policies to women whose employers are exempt from the mandate.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life. A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

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Editor's Note: The cardinal's column can be read online at http://bit.ly/2v3mLrW.

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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.

USCCB president urges Trump to quickly act to ease contraceptive mandate

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 4:48pm

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called on President Donald Trump to ease the "onerous" contraceptive mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act because it violates religious freedom.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in an op-ed piece in The Hill Aug. 3 that the mandate, which requires most employer-offered health insurance programs to cover contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices, "has tested this country's commitment to a healthy pluralism."

Citing Trump's pledge to ease the mandate during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, Cardinal DiNardo lamented that after three months no steps have yet been taken to erase the HHS mandate for organizations that object to it for faith reasons.

Religious charities, schools and pro-life advocacy organizations, the cardinal wrote, could face millions of dollars in fines from the federal government for not complying with the mandate.

"The president's promises were not just in his speeches," Cardinal DiNardo said. "The text of the executive order itself directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to 'considering issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.

"Yet the onerous regulations that are still on the books have not been amended," he said.

Cardinal DiNardo called on Trump to act so "that the government give us the space to fully participate in American life."

"Religious freedom is a fundamental right, not a political football. Freedom belongs to us by human nature, not by government dictate. A government that serves its citizens is one that respects the right to religious freedom," the cardinal added.

The column follows recent failed efforts by Congress to pass a law to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It also comes two months after the May 31 leak of a draft rule from HHS exempting religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. The draft was welcomed at the time by church officials and attorneys representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups that challenged the mandate in the courts.

The 125-page document remains under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It details objections to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers cover contraceptives in their employee health plans despite their moral objections to such coverage.

It would leave in place the religious accommodation created by President Barack Obama's administration for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies that are morally opposed to contraceptive coverage and can file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. The draft rule also would broaden this exemption to cover employers with religious or moral objections to providing coverage for some abortifacients. The new rule also makes it clear that insurers may issue separate policies to women whose employers are exempt from the mandate.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life. A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

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Editor's Note: The cardinal's column can be read online at http://bit.ly/2v3mLrW.

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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.

Catholic groups ask Congress to reject 'discriminatory' RAISE Act

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 2:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Zach Gibson, pool via EPA

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Calling a proposed piece of legislation "discriminatory," the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration called on the president and Congress to reject a bill that seeks to drastically cut legal immigration levels in half over a decade and which also would greatly limit the ability of citizens and legal residents to bring family into the U.S.

Other Catholic groups also called for an end to the legislation.

"Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago, many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops' migration committee.

In a news release late Aug. 2, he criticized the RAISE Act introduced earlier in the day by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, and David Perdue, of Georgia.

In addition to cutting legal immigration, the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or RAISE Act, would create a system of legal immigration different from the current one that favors family ties. Instead, it would move toward a system under which points would be awarded for a person's ability to speak English, level of education, age, as well as "high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative," according to a White House statement praising the proposal.

Other limitations proposed by the RAISE Act would permanently cap the number of refugees allowed safe passage, "thereby denying our country the necessary flexibility to respond to humanitarian crisis," said Bishop Vasquez.

"As a church, we believe the stronger the bonds of family, the greater a person's chance of succeeding in life. The RAISE Act imposes a definition of family that would weaken those bonds," he said.

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, said the bill "is a nonstarter from a Catholic perspective, as it weakens the family unit and favors the rich over the poor. It also is part of a larger strategy by the administration to reduce the ethnic diversity of the immigrant population in this nation."

The proposed bill was largely criticized and caused an uproar shortly after the president's televised support early Aug. 2, saying it would reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayer money, adding that many current legal immigrants are "low-skilled" and many receive welfare benefits.

Later in the day, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller further added to the controversy over the bill after he seemed dismissive during a news briefing of the Statue of Liberty's "The New Colossus" poem and the line "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," and in defending the bill's ability-to-speak-English requirement.

Even some of the president's fellow Republicans, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said he has supported "merit-based" immigration, said he would not support the bill.

Bishop Vasquez said the bill would be detrimental to families and negates contributions of past immigrants to the U.S., and he called on Congress and the administration instead "to work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact into law comprehensive immigration reform."

"I believe that such reform must recognize the many contributions that immigrants of all backgrounds have made to our nation, and must protect the lives and dignity of all, including the most vulnerable," said Bishop Vasquez.

Christopher G. Kerr, executive director of the Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national social justice education and advocacy organization, said from a faith perspective, it's hard to back the RAISE Act if you reflect on the words of the pope, who called on Americans during his 2015 apostolic visit "to not turn their backs on their neighbors."

But the RAISE Act does just that by creating "obstacles to family unity for immigrant families and block access to safety for tens of thousands of refugees," he said.

"We continue to call for immigration policies that support family unity, provide pathways to citizenship, and promote humane and just treatment of immigrants -- the RAISE Act does not respond to this call," said Kerr.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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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.

Ancient order, modern times: Order of Malta focuses on renewal

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 10:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- For more than 900 years, the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta has seen its fair share of victories, defeats and institutional changes.

However, those challenges did not prepare them for the intense media scrutiny that followed a very public crisis in the order at the beginning of the year.

Mauro Bertero Gutierrez, a member of the order's Government Council and the person overseeing the institutional reform of Order of Malta, said that while the first months of 2017 "were indeed troubled times," the crisis also offered an opportunity to "update the rules by reaffirming our identity."

"Our reform is directed mainly at reaffirming the mission we have had for the last 900 years. When we say mission, it's in many ways a way of going forward without forgetting that many times to go forward, you must be willing to go back" to the source of the order's spiritual commitment of service to the sick and the poor, Bertero told Catholic News Service Aug. 1.

The crisis was triggered by an incident involving one of the many charitable projects the Order of Malta is involved in through its humanitarian relief agency, Malteser International.

Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, the order's grand chancellor, was serving as health minister in 2013 when Malteser International worked with several aid agencies on a project in Myanmar aimed at preventing the spread of AIDS. Among other things, the project distributed condoms, something von Boeselager later said "had been initiated at a local level without the knowledge" of Malteser International headquarters.

Von Boeselager said that when he found out, he moved to halt the distribution of condoms and, he added, he never tried to conceal what had happened.

Fra' Matthew Festing forcibly removed von Boeselager from his post as grand chancellor Dec. 6, 2016, citing "severe problems" during his tenure as grand hospitaller of the Order of Malta and "his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand Magistry."

Pope Francis established a commission Dec. 22 to gather the facts and "completely inform" the Holy See about the circumstances leading to von Boeselager's removal as well as to foster dialogue and a peaceful resolution.

However, Festing insisted that the former chancellor's removal was an act of internal governance that fell exclusively within the order's power and questioned the legality of the investigation into von Boeselager's removal.

Although the order's sovereignty was at the heart of the argument against the papal commission, Bertero said the sovereignty was not "put into discussion" during the investigation and was affirmed by Pope Francis.

"We are members of the Catholic Church; we owe our total loyalty to the Holy Father," Bertero told CNS. "But make no mistake: We are a sovereign Order of Malta. We have been and we'll continue to be one."

After receiving the commission's report, Pope Francis met with Festing Jan. 24 and accepted his resignation.

The pope then named Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, as his special delegate to the knights, asking him to work closely with them to carry out "the appropriate renewal of the order's constitution."

The crisis put the Order of Malta into the media spotlight with numerous articles speculating about a rift between conservative and progressive factions within the ancient order.

"I don't remember any other time in our order's history of having such media publicity or high media profile," Bertero told CNS.

Nevertheless, while the institutional crisis could have "distracted us from our mission," Bertero said, the order never weakened its focus on serving those most in need.

Regarding the issue initially used to justify von Boeselager's removal -- the distribution of condoms -- Bertero said church teachings were never questioned and the order has a "different understanding of what happened."

"It's different when you are involved in a humanitarian effort to protect (women) who were being raped by people who are involved in a civil war than (it is) to go out distributing condoms in the discos in Rio de Janeiro during carnival time," he told CNS. "There is a morally important difference and perception. And I believe that was understood by the Holy Father and that was also understood by the world community."

However, he added, the order "learned from this" and now relies on the help of bioethicists both within and outside the order who assist in evaluating moral and ethical issues that arise as the order maintains its primary focus on providing healthcare and humanitarian relief to those in need.

"What would the Lord say? What would the Lord do? That's what we do in the Order of Malta," Bertero said. "We listen to our heart and we act according to the Catholic teachings of the church and our responsibility, which is a moral one as human beings.

The reform, he continued, is a way of assuring that the Order of Malta is better prepared to fulfill its charitable and humanitarian duties in the modern age without straying from the mission entrusted to it since their founding in Jerusalem in 1048.

"What did we do in Jerusalem? Defend the faith and help the sick and the poor," Bertero told CNS. "What do we do today in 2017? Defend the faith and bring our best service to our lords, the sick and the poor."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

- - -

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.

Ancient order, modern times: Order of Malta focuses on renewal

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 10:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- For more than 900 years, the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta has seen its fair share of victories, defeats and institutional changes.

However, those challenges did not prepare them for the intense media scrutiny that followed a very public crisis in the order at the beginning of the year.

Mauro Bertero Gutierrez, a member of the order's Government Council and the person overseeing the institutional reform of Order of Malta, said that while the first months of 2017 "were indeed troubled times," the crisis also offered an opportunity to "update the rules by reaffirming our identity."

"Our reform is directed mainly at reaffirming the mission we have had for the last 900 years. When we say mission, it's in many ways a way of going forward without forgetting that many times to go forward, you must be willing to go back" to the source of the order's spiritual commitment of service to the sick and the poor, Bertero told Catholic News Service Aug. 1.

The crisis was triggered by an incident involving one of the many charitable projects the Order of Malta is involved in through its humanitarian relief agency, Malteser International.

Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, the order's grand chancellor, was serving as health minister in 2013 when Malteser International worked with several aid agencies on a project in Myanmar aimed at preventing the spread of AIDS. Among other things, the project distributed condoms, something von Boeselager later said "had been initiated at a local level without the knowledge" of Malteser International headquarters.

Von Boeselager said that when he found out, he moved to halt the distribution of condoms and, he added, he never tried to conceal what had happened.

Fra' Matthew Festing forcibly removed von Boeselager from his post as grand chancellor Dec. 6, 2016, citing "severe problems" during his tenure as grand hospitaller of the Order of Malta and "his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand Magistry."

Pope Francis established a commission Dec. 22 to gather the facts and "completely inform" the Holy See about the circumstances leading to von Boeselager's removal as well as to foster dialogue and a peaceful resolution.

However, Festing insisted that the former chancellor's removal was an act of internal governance that fell exclusively within the order's power and questioned the legality of the investigation into von Boeselager's removal.

Although the order's sovereignty was at the heart of the argument against the papal commission, Bertero said the sovereignty was not "put into discussion" during the investigation and was affirmed by Pope Francis.

"We are members of the Catholic Church; we owe our total loyalty to the Holy Father," Bertero told CNS. "But make no mistake: We are a sovereign Order of Malta. We have been and we'll continue to be one."

After receiving the commission's report, Pope Francis met with Festing Jan. 24 and accepted his resignation.

The pope then named Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, as his special delegate to the knights, asking him to work closely with them to carry out "the appropriate renewal of the order's constitution."

The crisis put the Order of Malta into the media spotlight with numerous articles speculating about a rift between conservative and progressive factions within the ancient order.

"I don't remember any other time in our order's history of having such media publicity or high media profile," Bertero told CNS.

Nevertheless, while the institutional crisis could have "distracted us from our mission," Bertero said, the order never weakened its focus on serving those most in need.

Regarding the issue initially used to justify von Boeselager's removal -- the distribution of condoms -- Bertero said church teachings were never questioned and the order has a "different understanding of what happened."

"It's different when you are involved in a humanitarian effort to protect (women) who were being raped by people who are involved in a civil war than (it is) to go out distributing condoms in the discos in Rio de Janeiro during carnival time," he told CNS. "There is a morally important difference and perception. And I believe that was understood by the Holy Father and that was also understood by the world community."

However, he added, the order "learned from this" and now relies on the help of bioethicists both within and outside the order who assist in evaluating moral and ethical issues that arise as the order maintains its primary focus on providing healthcare and humanitarian relief to those in need.

"What would the Lord say? What would the Lord do? That's what we do in the Order of Malta," Bertero said. "We listen to our heart and we act according to the Catholic teachings of the church and our responsibility, which is a moral one as human beings.

The reform, he continued, is a way of assuring that the Order of Malta is better prepared to fulfill its charitable and humanitarian duties in the modern age without straying from the mission entrusted to it since their founding in Jerusalem in 1048.

"What did we do in Jerusalem? Defend the faith and help the sick and the poor," Bertero told CNS. "What do we do today in 2017? Defend the faith and bring our best service to our lords, the sick and the poor."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

- - -

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.

Bishop asks Congress to reject 'discriminatory' immigration bill

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 6:29pm

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Calling a proposed piece of legislation "discriminatory," the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration called on the president and Congress to reject a bill that seeks to drastically cut legal immigration levels over a decade, and which also would greatly limit the ability of citizens and legal residents to bring family into the U.S.

"Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago, many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops' migration committee.

In a news release late Aug. 2, he criticized the RAISE Act introduced earlier in the day by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arizona, and David Perdue, R-Georgia.

Other limitations proposed by the RAISE Act would permanently cap the number of refugees allowed safe passage, "thereby denying our country the necessary flexibility to respond to humanitarian crisis," said Bishop Vasquez.

"As a church, we believe the stronger the bonds of family, the greater a person's chance of succeeding in life. The RAISE Act imposes a definition of family that would weaken those bonds," he said.

President Donald Trump said earlier in the day he backed the bill and said it would reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayer money. Bishop Vasquez said the bill would be detrimental to families and negates contributions of immigrants to the U.S., and he called on Congress and the administration instead "to work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact into law comprehensive immigration reform."

"I believe that such reform must recognize the many contributions that immigrants of all backgrounds have made to our nation, and must protect the lives and dignity of all, including the most vulnerable," said Bishop Vasquez.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

- - -

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.

Religious leaders unite to fight Holy Land environmental issues

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 12:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- A heat wave in Israel and the Palestinian territories in July and near-record electricity usage -- where it was available -- are indications that, despite the continuous political tensions here, Christians, Muslims and Jews are facing a common enemy that needs to be confronted in a united manner.

"The level of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead Sea is lower than 10 years ago, and the landscape is changing because of a continuous construction of houses," Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, told Catholic News Service.

Father Patton and two other religious leaders spoke at a recent news conference organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a Jerusalem-based environmental organization. They spoke about the urgency of putting aside political and religious difference to face these challenges and the role religious leaders can take in increasing awareness of the issue.

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told journalists the Jordan River Valley, another area of Biblical importance, is facing an environmental crisis. In a covenant signed by religious leaders four years ago, they noted that over the past 50 years, the lower Jordan River has had 96 percent of its flow diverted, and what little water remains is polluted with saline and liquid waste or sewage.

Father Patton told CNS that other pressing issues in the Holy Land include the increasing water shortage, improper waste disposal and growing air pollution in various regions.

While Israel has begun a garbage recycling program, the Palestinian Authority has yet to institute such an effort. Awareness of proper garbage disposal is also an issue among certain sectors of both populations, with many people still tossing garbage on the side of the road or outside their buildings, with little regard to garbage bins at their disposal. In certain places of East Jerusalem, garbage pickup by the municipality is either lacking or erratic, and Palestinian residents often burn their own garbage for lack of a better solution.

Recent internal political differences have caused electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip. This has affected the ability of the sewage system to function properly, which has caused raw sewage to flow into the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Egypt and Israel.

The northern industrial Israel port city of Haifa, though often lauded for its political tolerance, is also often sighted even by its own residents for the lack of the environmental controls over the chemical factories located on its seashore. In a position paper earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Health noted Haifa has a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Israel and leads the country in asthma and breathing problems.

Father Patton, Rabbi Rosen and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head judge of the Muslim Shariah courts in Israel, said religious leaders needed to unite in their efforts to educate and create a greater awareness about these environmental issues.

"We should offer values that can inspire the everyday life of people, and also recall the principles of our religious traditions that can inspire wise economic and political policies and decisions," Father Patton told CNS.

He noted that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is in charge of holy places, is working on a pilot project to include environmental education in its local schools curriculum for the coming school year.

The impact of climate change can be easily ignored if a person lives in an acclimatized environment with the air conditioning on in the summer and heating on in the winter, said Father Patton, the son of a farmer in northern Italy. He told CNS he has seen how the harvest seasons have changed over the past 10 years.

"This means something has changed ... climate change is something which touches our lives," he said.

Referring to the papal encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Father Patton noted the value of an interfaith strategy toward environmental issues in the Holy Land in the form of an "integral ecology." He said the issue is not only one of "environmental ecology" but also of "cultural ecology," which "connects the ecological issue to many fields in a reciprocal relationship."

"In this place, it is particularly important to have a linked vision, to work on a connection ... between different cultures (and religions) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This is an integral vision of ecology in the encyclical of Pope Francis," Father Patton told CNS. "He speaks of the importance of dialogue between religions of different faiths in this field. We can work as people of goodwill."

At the news conference, the religious leaders discussed the common respect for the environment and nature inherent in their religious traditions and holy books, and the responsibility these teachings entrust to people.

Despite the continuing political violence and struggle to control land not only in Jerusalem and the whole Middle East, but also around the world, people need to start discussing the issues of real importance concerning climate change and environmental sustainability before there is no land left to fight over, said Zahalka.

"Our lives are more important than all these issues," he said. The issue of environmental sustainability "gives us the opportunity to rethink all these (political) issues and put them into context ... to focus and invest in what is really important, which is life."

Father Patton said the creation of an interfaith environmental dialogue could even serve as a confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians and others in the region, which could enable future discussions on social, political and religious issues.

"We received the gift of creation and, first and foremost, we are part of creation, we are not over creation. We have a shared responsibility toward this generation," he told journalists. "We can cooperate for something important for every human being in the present and in the future."

- - -

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.

Religious leaders unite to fight Holy Land environmental issues

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 12:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- A heat wave in Israel and the Palestinian territories in July and near-record electricity usage -- where it was available -- are indications that, despite the continuous political tensions here, Christians, Muslims and Jews are facing a common enemy that needs to be confronted in a united manner.

"The level of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead Sea is lower than 10 years ago, and the landscape is changing because of a continuous construction of houses," Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, told Catholic News Service.

Father Patton and two other religious leaders spoke at a recent news conference organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a Jerusalem-based environmental organization. They spoke about the urgency of putting aside political and religious difference to face these challenges and the role religious leaders can take in increasing awareness of the issue.

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told journalists the Jordan River Valley, another area of Biblical importance, is facing an environmental crisis. In a covenant signed by religious leaders four years ago, they noted that over the past 50 years, the lower Jordan River has had 96 percent of its flow diverted, and what little water remains is polluted with saline and liquid waste or sewage.

Father Patton told CNS that other pressing issues in the Holy Land include the increasing water shortage, improper waste disposal and growing air pollution in various regions.

While Israel has begun a garbage recycling program, the Palestinian Authority has yet to institute such an effort. Awareness of proper garbage disposal is also an issue among certain sectors of both populations, with many people still tossing garbage on the side of the road or outside their buildings, with little regard to garbage bins at their disposal. In certain places of East Jerusalem, garbage pickup by the municipality is either lacking or erratic, and Palestinian residents often burn their own garbage for lack of a better solution.

Recent internal political differences have caused electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip. This has affected the ability of the sewage system to function properly, which has caused raw sewage to flow into the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Egypt and Israel.

The northern industrial Israel port city of Haifa, though often lauded for its political tolerance, is also often sighted even by its own residents for the lack of the environmental controls over the chemical factories located on its seashore. In a position paper earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Health noted Haifa has a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Israel and leads the country in asthma and breathing problems.

Father Patton, Rabbi Rosen and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head judge of the Muslim Shariah courts in Israel, said religious leaders needed to unite in their efforts to educate and create a greater awareness about these environmental issues.

"We should offer values that can inspire the everyday life of people, and also recall the principles of our religious traditions that can inspire wise economic and political policies and decisions," Father Patton told CNS.

He noted that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is in charge of holy places, is working on a pilot project to include environmental education in its local schools curriculum for the coming school year.

The impact of climate change can be easily ignored if a person lives in an acclimatized environment with the air conditioning on in the summer and heating on in the winter, said Father Patton, the son of a farmer in northern Italy. He told CNS he has seen how the harvest seasons have changed over the past 10 years.

"This means something has changed ... climate change is something which touches our lives," he said.

Referring to the papal encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Father Patton noted the value of an interfaith strategy toward environmental issues in the Holy Land in the form of an "integral ecology." He said the issue is not only one of "environmental ecology" but also of "cultural ecology," which "connects the ecological issue to many fields in a reciprocal relationship."

"In this place, it is particularly important to have a linked vision, to work on a connection ... between different cultures (and religions) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This is an integral vision of ecology in the encyclical of Pope Francis," Father Patton told CNS. "He speaks of the importance of dialogue between religions of different faiths in this field. We can work as people of goodwill."

At the news conference, the religious leaders discussed the common respect for the environment and nature inherent in their religious traditions and holy books, and the responsibility these teachings entrust to people.

Despite the continuing political violence and struggle to control land not only in Jerusalem and the whole Middle East, but also around the world, people need to start discussing the issues of real importance concerning climate change and environmental sustainability before there is no land left to fight over, said Zahalka.

"Our lives are more important than all these issues," he said. The issue of environmental sustainability "gives us the opportunity to rethink all these (political) issues and put them into context ... to focus and invest in what is really important, which is life."

Father Patton said the creation of an interfaith environmental dialogue could even serve as a confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians and others in the region, which could enable future discussions on social, political and religious issues.

"We received the gift of creation and, first and foremost, we are part of creation, we are not over creation. We have a shared responsibility toward this generation," he told journalists. "We can cooperate for something important for every human being in the present and in the future."

- - -

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.

Knights to send $2 million to restore Christian town in Iraq

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Archdiocese of Irbil

By Josephine von Dohlen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 2014, the Islamic State removed hundreds of families of religious minorities from their homes in Karamdes, a mostly Christian town on the Ninevah Plain in Iraq. Just over two years later, the town, also known as Karemlash, was liberated.

The Knights of Columbus will raise $2 million to assist these families in returning to their homes, according to Knights CEO Carl Anderson, who announced their pledge at the Knights' 135th annual Supreme Convention being held Aug. 1-3 in St. Louis.

"The terrorists desecrated churches and graves and looted and destroyed homes," Anderson said in his annual report, which was livestreamed from the convention. "Now we will ensure that hundreds of Christian families driven from their homes can return to these two locations and help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq."

The Knights are following the example of the Hungarian government, whose new spending bill allowed for $2 million to be sent to the Archdiocese of Irbil in Iraq, assisting with the rebuilding of a Christian community near Mosul, Iraq.

Families who were previously displaced from their homes were able to return to their homeland because of the government of Hungary. This example served as proof to the Knights of the impact of returning families to their homes.

The cost of resettling one family is around $2,000, the amount the Knights are encouraging councils, parishes and individuals to donate.

"These Christian communities are a priceless treasure for the church," Anderson said to the Knights attending the convention. "They have every right to live."

The Knights have actively sought to provide humanitarian aid to Christians in Iraq, as well as Syria and the surrounding areas, donating over $13 million. In June, Anderson joined Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, in speaking in a news conference to urge the Senate to pass legislation that would provide U.S. humanitarian aid to the Archdiocese of Irbil, after the House unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

Pope Francis commended the Knights for their work in the Middle East in a letter sent to the Knights at the convention from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The pope professed his "gratitude for the commitment of the Knights to supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East," according to the letter.

Pope Francis also described the Knights' relief fund as "an eloquent sign of your order's firm commitment to solidarity and communion with our fellow Christians."

In a news conference July 27, Secretary of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert reaffirmed the use of the word "genocide" to describe the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

"When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yezidis, some of the Christians, the secretary (Rex Tillerson) believes, and he firmly believes, that that was genocide," Nauert said.

In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry first declared that that ISIS militants' actions in Iraq and Syria against minority Christian, Yezidi and Shiite Muslim groups was genocide.

The Knights of Columbus also will join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a "Week of Awareness" for persecuted Christians, which will begin Nov. 26 with a day of prayer for persecuted Christians.

In his annual report, Anderson urged each council of Knights to mark this day with "highest priority."

"Our work has truly changed history," Anderson said.

The work to rebuild Karamdes will begin the first week of August and any funds raised will go directly to the project.

- - -

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.

Knights to send $2 million to restore Christian town in Iraq

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:30am

By Josephine von Dohlen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 2014, the Islamic State removed hundreds of families of religious minorities from their homes in Karamdes, a mostly Christian town on the Ninevah Plain in Iraq. Just over two years later, the town, also known as Karemlash, was liberated.

The Knights of Columbus will raise $2 million to assist these families in returning to their homes, according to Knights CEO Carl Anderson, who announced their pledge at the Knights' 135th annual Supreme Convention being held Aug. 1-3 in St. Louis.

"The terrorists desecrated churches and graves and looted and destroyed homes," Anderson said in his annual report, which was livestreamed from the convention. "Now we will ensure that hundreds of Christian families driven from their homes can return to these two locations and help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq."

The Knights are following the example of the Hungarian government, whose new spending bill allowed for $2 million to be sent to the Archdiocese of Irbil in Iraq, assisting with the rebuilding of a Christian community near Mosul, Iraq.

Families who were previously displaced from their homes were able to return to their homeland because of the government of Hungary. This example served as proof to the Knights of the impact of returning families to their homes.

The cost of resettling one family is around $2,000, the amount the Knights are encouraging councils, parishes and individuals to donate.

"These Christian communities are a priceless treasure for the church," Anderson said to the Knights attending the convention. "They have every right to live."

The Knights have actively sought to provide humanitarian aid to Christians in Iraq, as well as Syria and the surrounding areas, donating over $13 million. In June, Anderson joined Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, in speaking in a news conference to urge the Senate to pass legislation that would provide U.S. humanitarian aid to the Archdiocese of Irbil, after the House unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

Pope Francis commended the Knights for their work in the Middle East in a letter sent to the Knights at the convention from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The pope professed his "gratitude for the commitment of the Knights to supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East," according to the letter.

Pope Francis also described the Knights' relief fund as "an eloquent sign of your order's firm commitment to solidarity and communion with our fellow Christians."

In a news conference July 27, Secretary of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert reaffirmed the use of the word "genocide" to describe the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

"When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yezidis, some of the Christians, the secretary (Rex Tillerson) believes, and he firmly believes, that that was genocide," Nauert said.

In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry first declared that that ISIS militants' actions in Iraq and Syria against minority Christian, Yezidi and Shiite Muslim groups was genocide.

The Knights of Columbus also will join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a "Week of Awareness" for persecuted Christians, which will begin Nov. 26 with a day of prayer for persecuted Christians.

In his annual report, Anderson urged each council of Knights to mark this day with "highest priority."

"Our work has truly changed history," Anderson said.

The work to rebuild Karamdes will begin the first week of August and any funds raised will go directly to the project.

- - -

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.

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