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Christians' first mission is to witness that God is love, pope says

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 11:19am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNS) -- God is love, but too many Christians live their faith in a way that undermines any attempt to communicate that essential fact to others, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating a late afternoon Mass May 5 in Sofia's Battenberg Square, the pope wore over his chasuble a gold-embroidered, Byzantine-style stole given to him that morning by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

The pope's homily focused on the day's Gospel reading about the disciples' miraculous catch of fish after the risen Jesus told them to try again even though they had caught nothing all night.

After the resurrection, the pope noted, "Peter goes back to his former life" as a fisherman and the other disciples go with him.

"The weight of suffering, disappointment and of betrayal had become like a stone blocking the hearts of the disciples," he said. "They were still burdened with pain and guilt, and the good news of the Resurrection had not taken root in their hearts."

When things don't go the way people plan and hope, the pope said, it is natural for them to wish things could go back to the way they were and to just give up on hoping for something new and powerful.

"This is the 'tomb psychology' that tinges everything with dejection and leads us to indulge in a soothing sense of self-pity," Pope Francis said. But the resurrection of Jesus makes clear that a "tomb psychology" is not compatible with a Christian outlook.

However, the pope said, even when Peter seems about to give up, Jesus comes to him, calls him again and reconfirms his mission.

"The Lord does not wait for perfect situations or frames of mind; he creates them," Pope Francis told the estimated 7,000 people gathered for the Mass. Jesus "does not expect to encounter people without problems, disappointments, sins or limitations," but he encourages and loves and calls people to start over again.

"God calls and God surprises because God loves," he said. "Love is his language."

Christians draw strength from knowing God loves them and that love must motivate them to love others as they try to share the Christian message, the pope said.

With papal trips always described as visits to confirm Catholics in the faith, Pope Francis used his homily to encourage Bulgaria's 68,000 Catholics -- just 1 percent of the population -- to acknowledge the wonders God has done for them and to set out again on mission, "knowing that, whether we succeed or fail, he will always be there to keep telling us to cast our nets."

Thirty years after the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet bloc, the pope called Bulgarian Catholics to a "revolution of charity and service, capable of resisting the pathologies of consumerism and superficial individualism," and instead sharing the love of Christ.


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Catholics, Orthodox must work to heal divisions, pope says

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 7:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNS) -- On the day Bulgarian Orthodox celebrate as "St. Thomas Sunday" and read the Gospel about the apostle asking to touch the wounds of the risen Lord, Pope Francis said the divisions within Christianity are "painful lacerations on the body of Christ, which is the church."

Immediately after meeting Bulgaria's prime minister and president May 5, Pope Francis went to the Palace of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for a meeting with Patriarch Neophyte and top bishops. Also present was King Simeon II, 81, who ruled only as a child in the 1940s, was exiled and returned to his homeland in 1996.

Speaking of St. Thomas and the wounds of Jesus, Pope Francis prayed that Catholics and Orthodox, like the apostle, would "touch those wounds, confess that Jesus is risen and proclaim him our lord and our God."

Patriarch Neophyte welcomed Pope Francis with kisses on each cheek and the greeting, "Christos vozkrese" (Christ is risen). According to reporters present, the pope kissed the patriarch's "engolpion" -- an icon on a chain worn instead of a pectoral cross.

The patriarch thanked the pope for the special attention the Vatican has shown to his country and his church for decades. "This is the second visit of a pope to Bulgaria, which we cannot explain except as truly special attention," he said. St. John Paul II visited in 2002.

Although his church has withdrawn from the World Council of Churches and has a limited international ecumenical involvement, the patriarch told the pope that "here in the capital of Bulgaria -- Sofia, which is named for God's wisdom -- we always pray for the unity of the world in Christ and so that united, Christians will be stronger."

In his speech to the patriarch and synod, Pope Francis expressed hope that one day Catholics and Orthodox could celebrate the Eucharist together, but he pointed to signs that show there already exists a level of oneness in faith.

First, he said, are the "witnesses of Easter," the Catholic and Orthodox martyrs who gave their lives freely for the faith, especially during the times of communist persecution.

"I believe that these witnesses of Easter -- brothers and sisters of different confessions united in heaven by divine charity -- now look to us as seeds planted in the earth and meant to bear fruit," the pope said.

An ecumenism of service to the poor also exists, the pope said, and must be encouraged to grow. While doctrinal and disciplinary issues divide Christians, their call by Christ to assist those in need unites them.

The 9th-century missionary brothers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, are highly venerated in both Bulgaria and North Macedonia, where the pope was scheduled to travel May 7. The brothers, who evangelized Central and Eastern Europe before the division of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, are considered saints by both churches.

That shared veneration, the pope said, flows from an "ecumenism of mission," especially in a form that respects the traditions of different cultures, but preaches the one Gospel of Jesus.

The saints' respect for differences, he said, also teaches Christians today a way to approach the process of increasing European unity while respecting the variety of languages, faiths and cultures present on the continent.

"We too, as heirs of the faith of saints, are called to be builders of communion and peacemakers in the name of Jesus," the pope said.

After the pope's formal meeting with the Orthodox leaders, Metropolitan Antoniy of Western and Central Europe accompanied Pope Francis to the nearby St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral. The Orthodox synod had said their clergy would not participate in any joint prayer with the pope, so a chair was placed before the altar and the pope prayed alone in silence for several minutes.

In the square outside the church, the pope then led an estimated 3,000 people in praying the "Regina Coeli" prayer.

While Bulgaria is "an Orthodox country," with some 80 percent of the population belonging to the Orthodox Church, the pope said, some 10 percent of the population is Muslim and about 1 percent of the people are Catholic.

The country is "a crossroads where various religious expressions encounter one another and engage in dialogue," the pope said. He prayed that Mary would intercede with her son to ensure Bulgaria always would be "a land of encounter, a land in which, transcending all cultural, religious and ethnic differences, you can continue to acknowledge and esteem each other as children of the one heavenly Father."


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Bread for the World leader prepares his exit after 27 years at the helm

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 3:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Rev. David Beckmann is preparing to step aside as president of the Christian citizens anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World after 27 years. In fact, by the time a successor is chosen, it will be 28.

Despite having his hand on the till since 1991, "I love it more and more," said Rev. Beckmann, an ordained Lutheran minister. "I've grown in faith because of the work," he added during a May 2 interview at Bread for the World's offices in Washington. "This is a really unique perspective on the world," he said, waving his right hand in the general direction of the Capitol, "and watch our politics unfold, always with an eye on what's happening to 'the least of these.'"

Rev. Beckmann has a soft spot in his heart for Catholics. They make up about half the membership of Bread for the World, and he considers Pope Francis' encyclical "The Joy of the Gospel" "one of my favorite books -- and it's not even a book!" Moreover, at Bread for the World "the focus on hunger is embedded in Christian social justice teaching, which is probably best articulated by Catholic social justice teaching."

That focus is intentionally split between hunger and nutrition needs requiring immediate action, and structural issues that plunge entire populations into poverty and hunger. On the latter front, Rev. Beckmann had much good news to trumpet.

"The world has made tremendous progress in its hunger, poverty and disease. Nobody expected that, but it's true," he said. "A lot of people, me included, have come to conclude that we should be giving thanks to God for this. Hundreds of millions of people have escaped from extreme poverty. This is like an Exodus in our own time. It really is like an Exodus. It is a great liberation, and we should give God glory for it."

Rev. Beckmann never singled out Bread for the World -- often simply called "Bread" -- as the sole factor for any campaign's success. One example: "Bread for the World, working with the churches and others, has played a big role in dramatically increasing international assistance since about 2000. Assistance focused on poor people in the world from the U.S. government has more than tripled. And it's bipartisan. It's wonderful. Partly, church people have helped to build heroes on both sides of the aisle."

When Bread for the World signed on for the Jubilee 2000 campaign to forgive the international debt of the world's poorest nations, "we thought, 'This is a long way from hunger,'" Rev. Beckmann said. "When we first started talking about debt relief, people thought we were talking about their Mastercard debt. And it's a complicated subject: How are you going to talk about reducing debut in a way that's not just helping out corrupt governments but in a way that announcing jubilee to the people?"

But Bread for the World and its allies kept at it, and the reward was significant. "It got a whole generation of African kids in the schools," Rev. Beckmann said. "Dramatic expansion of schools that was funded by debt relief because the payments those countries didn't have to pay to industrialized-country debt, they had to use; part of the deal was they had to do that (redirect forgiven debt) for poverty-reducing investments. So debt relief, in retrospect, is obviously helped to reduce hunger, helped a lot of African countries get on a path to rapid growth and dramatic reductions in poverty."

Domestically for Bread for the World, the biggest victories seem to be the avoidance of losses. "Our country made a lot of progress against poverty in the Sixties and early Seventies, but really we haven't made much progress since then. We've just held our own, but we've held our own partly because Bread and other church groups with us have resisted huge political pressures to cut programs that assist people in poverty," Rev. Beckmann said.

He cited John Carr, then a domestic policy official for the U.S. bishops, for helping prevent some of the biggest potential losses.

"It was his idea to pull together the Circle of Protection in 2011," Rev. Beckmann said. "That's when the big budget controversies started in Congress. Every budget that's passed in either house of Congress since then has proposed to cut something like $2 trillion from low-income programs. And the churches rallied around in 2011 and held together ever since. So conservative churches, liberal, black, white, Protestant, Catholic have together said to Congress: 'Don't cut programs that are focused on poor people. Make them better. We'll help you make them better.'"

That episode was one reason Rev. Beckmann went back to notes he made prior to the CNS interview to declare: "I love Pope Francis, I love the Catholic Church, I love women religious, I love Catholic social teaching, and I love John Carr."

During Rev. Beckmann's tenure, Bread for the World has grown. Its current office is its fourth since he took the reins from the Rev. Arthur Simon, the founder. "And in terms of numbers, we have about 800,000 take action with Bread for the World now, and we're in touch with about 20 million people" thanks to digital communications, he said.

As for his future, while waiting for the board to choose a successor, he said part of the plan is to help guide a smooth transition between him and the next president. When he departs, he'll also give up the presidency of the Alliance to End Hunger, a companion organization that includes Bread for the World's counterparts in Judaism and Islam as well as corporations, hospitals and universities. "It's a secular world," Rev. Beckmann said. "If we're going to end hunger, it can't be just the churches."

Or maybe he won't depart after all. "May be I'll work at Bread for the World in some capacity," he chuckled. "I'll have to wait and see what the new boss says." But wherever and however, Rev. Beckmann added, "I'll keep working on hunger, poverty, politics, faith."


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Respect rights of indigenous people, culture, pope tells mining industry

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 10:08am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A "fallacious" economic model that exploits the earth's resources while disregarding the rights and cultures of indigenous people has left the planet in a precarious condition and requires a change of heart that places the common good before financial gain, Pope Francis said.

Addressing participants of a two-day conference at the Vatican May 3, the pope said that like all economic activities, mining "should be at the service of the entire human community," especially indigenous people who are often pressured "to abandon their homelands to make room for mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture."

"They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed," he said. "I urge everyone to respect the fundamental human rights and voice of the persons in these beautiful yet fragile communities."

The May 2-3 conference, titled "Mining for the Common Good," was sponsored by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and included representatives of the mining industry in Canada, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Members of the Anglican and Methodist churches, the International Union of Superiors General, and Catholic social justice and development organizations also attended the event.

Also present were members of communities affected by the mining industry, including representatives of the town of Brumadinho, Brazil. In late January, the Brumadinho dam, which is owned by the Vale mining company, collapsed.

The dam failure resulted in a catastrophic mudflow that killed over 200 people and caused vast amounts of toxic material from mined iron ore to seep into the soil. Experts believe that the toxic waste will eventually reach the Sao Francisco River, the longest river that runs entirely in Brazil.

In his speech, the pope said that leaders of the mining industry must ensure that their activities lead "to the integral human development of each and every person" and "should be at the service of the human person and not vice versa."

"Attention for the safety and well-being of the people involved in mining operations as well as the respect for fundamental human rights of the members of local communities and those who champion their causes are indeed non-negotiable principles. Mere corporate social responsibility is not sufficient," he said.

Citing his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis urged conference participants to "move away from the throwaway culture" and to continue to encourage industrial systems to adopt a "circular model of production capable of preserving resources and "maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them."

He also thanked the mining industry leaders as well as community and church representatives for attending the conference, which will aid them in safeguarding the planet while challenging them "to think and act as members of one common home."

"We need to act together to heal and rebuild our common home," the pope said. "All of us are called to cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Church across street from Charlotte campus shooting prays for peace

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 2:32pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) -- People gathered to pray at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlotte the day after a student opened fire April 30 in a classroom at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, which killed two people and wounded four others.

"Our hearts are broken, and our security shaken," said Father Patrick Winslow, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church during the May 1 daily Mass about the shooting that took place at the campus just across the street.

The Catholic parish of 2,300 families serves the university's student population through the Catholic campus ministry office of the Charlotte Diocese.

"In moments such as these, we feel helpless," Father Winslow said. "I encourage you to cling to your faith and to one another. In faith, we know that our Blessed Lord, who was himself unjustly slain and whose security was often threatened, is close to us and that in the end, God will make right these wrongs."

Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, a University of North Carolina-Charlotte student, was arrested April 30 and charged with two counts of murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon and charges related to shooting a gun on a school campus.

The two North Carolina students killed in the shooting were Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville, and Reed Parlier, 19, of Midland. Three of the four who were injured remained hospitalized in critical condition the day after the shooting.

"This is the saddest day in UNC-Charlotte's history," Philip Dubois, the university's chancellor, said in an April 30 statement. "The entire UNC-Charlotte community shares the shock and grief of this senseless, devastating act."

The day the shooting took place was the students' last day of classes. The campus was on lockdown for 12 hours.

The pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas also addressed the shooting at a special prayer service the afternoon of May 1, telling those in attendance how after Christ's resurrection, his first words to the frightened apostles were: "Peace be with you."

"This afternoon we too are huddled together with some fear and confusion, and like the apostles, we listen to hear the same words spoken to us, echoing throughout history with the force of the Spirit: 'Peace be with you.'"

He stressed that people are praying for peace for the souls of the students who were killed, for peace and healing for the four injured students and peace for their families and friends.

"We also pray that those in our community in the University City area and national leaders find some way to prevent these occurrences into the future," he said.

"We want to live peaceful lives," he added.

Father Winslow said that in the face of tragedies, "we realize quickly we have nothing to console us apart from our faith and one another. Cling to both, for the Lord God is the one who can provide us peace. And each one of us can help one another feel and find consolation in this moment."

Father Innocent Amasiorah, the campus minister at University of North Carolina-Charlotte, had already left the campus when the shooting began and only learned about what was happening when he started seeing messages from the students telling him: "I'm OK."

He offered them messages of comfort while they were on lockdown inside campus buildings and then joined some of them in the area where they were evacuated.

"This is something that people can't imagine," he said. "These tragedies unfortunately do occur around us. We can comfort one another, share in each other's pain at this time. We are strongly united in comforting each other," he said.

Father Amasiorah planned to gather with students on campus May 1 to pray the rosary prior to the prayer service at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

He said since April 30 was the last day of classes, the next day "should be the first day of joy. Instead, it's a day of anxiety and fear." He hoped gathering in prayer and allowing the students to share their feelings would help ease the tension and allow for healing.

A candlelight vigil was also held on campus the evening of May 1. St. Thomas Aquinas Church donated more than 1,700 candles for the vigil in memory of the students injured and killed in the shooting.

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Written by staff members of Catholic News Herald, diocesan newspaper of Charlotte.


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Fearful Venezuelan migrants find warm welcome from church in Brazil

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 1:27pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Barbara Fraser

PACARAIMA, Brazil (CNS) -- The border between Venezuela and Brazil has been closed since Feb. 22, but hundreds of Venezuelan migrants still stream across daily, seeking refuge from a worsening political and economic crisis.

They come from various parts of Venezuela, from the northern coast to the south, traveling only with what they can carry -- a suitcase, a backpack, a small child. But they have one thing in common: They are hungry. Some have not eaten for several days.

"People say that at least here (in Brazil) they can get food and medicine and their kids can go to school," said Sister Ana Maria da Silva, a member of the Sisters of San Jose de Chambery who works in this border town.

Even with the border closed, between 300 and 400 migrants a day cross from Venezuela and line up at the Brazilian government's Operation Welcome center to apply for asylum or residency. The government also helps with housing, food and transportation to other parts of the country.

But the number of migrants has overwhelmed government services, and Catholic Church organizations, including Caritas and various religious communities, are stepping up to provide vital assistance.

At the government center, rows of large, white tents provide temporary shelter in a place where sweltering heat will soon give way to rain. The tents are divided into rooms, each furnished with bunk beds.

Inside one room, Asia de los Angeles Jimenez, 27, cradled her 18-month-old son, Ismael, who suffers from seizures. Five-year-old Angel David, who has a spinal problem, dozed on a lower bunk.

Jimenez studied education and worked in a school in El Tigre, in northern Venezuela, before making the journey south with her husband and children by bus and on foot. People have treated them well in Brazil, she said, and she hopes her family can stay.

"It's not easy here," Sister Ines Arciniegas, a Consolata Missionary Sister from Colombia, warned her as she made a note of the medicine Jimenez needed for Ismael.

Outside, Sister Arciniegas stopped to talk with Yesenia Huarique, 31, who had arrived a week earlier with her 12-year-old daughter, Cris, who has cerebral palsy.

"I came because I was afraid that if I stayed (in Venezuela), she was going to die," Huarique said.

As Col. Antonio Vamilton Lopez de Franca Filho, coordinator of Operation Welcome, approached the tent, children ran up and greeted him with hugs. Several women said they were surprised to be treated kindly by Brazilian soldiers after being harassed and threatened by military men -- or thugs dressed in military uniforms -- as they left Venezuela.

Church workers point out, however, that Operation Welcome and the migrant flow also have served as a pretext for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to build up the military on the country's borders.

That has taken on new significance since April 30, when street protests erupted in Venezuela and rumors swirled that dissident members of that country's military were seeking to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Jesuits in Latin America have spoken against any military invasion of Venezuela.

"In an armed intervention, it's poor people who pay the price," Jesuit Father Agnaldo Pereira de Oliveira, national director of the Jesuit Migration and Refugee Service in Brazil, told Catholic News Service.

An estimated 3.5 million Venezuelans have left their homeland, and the figure could reach 5 million by the end of this year, Father Pereira de Oliveira said.

When the exodus from Venezuela began, the sheer number of migrants -- some 5,000 a day crossing into neighboring countries -- took everyone by surprise.

"No country was prepared for that number, and everyone is overwhelmed," he said.

Colombia has received some 1.2 million Venezuelans and Peru at least 700,000, but the real figures are probably higher. At least 350,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Brazil, although many continue to other countries, especially Argentina.

The next stop after Pacaraima usually is Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, where Sister Arciniegas shares a house with other Consolata Missionary Sisters. Every morning, they and volunteers hand out bread rolls and coffee to more than 600 Venezuelans.

About 4,000 migrants sleep in more than a dozen tent camps in Boa Vista, and several thousand more are on the sidewalks at night. They spend the days on the city's streets under the blazing sun, seeking odd jobs or trying to organize the next stage of their journey.

"I want to work, but there are no jobs," said Nerys Mujica, 53, as she sat on the curb outside the Consolata sisters' house with her 4-year-old granddaughter, eating bread slowly.

Children suffer most from the upheaval, church workers said. While at first most migrants were men, the increased numbers now include many families, some with children with special needs.

Venezuelan youngsters in a Jesuit-run school program for migrant children are often malnourished, and some have not attended school for several years before arriving in Brazil, said Jose Alberto Romero Blanco, coordinator of the Jesuits' Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy) school program in Roraima.

The program also offers Portuguese classes for the Spanish-speaking migrants.

Venezuelans cluster daily outside the gate of the Boa Vista diocesan pastoral ministry office, where Caritas manages the "roads of solidarity" program with Scalabrinian sisters, the Jesuits and other diocesan groups.

Workers listen to people's needs and provide emergency assistance while volunteers equipped with laptop computers help them fill out online applications for services. Caritas programs provide housing assistance and help migrants open their own small businesses.

Some migrants hope they can eventually return home, but others are resigned to starting over again.

Both government policies and the church could do more to help migrants settle into their new country, church workers said. The federal government provides buses to transport people to other cities, where they may have friends or relatives, but there is little coordination with local governments at their destination, said Scalabrinian Sister Valdiza Carvalho.

She and Father Pereira de Oliveira would like to see every Brazilian parish and diocese commit to receiving and resettling several migrant families. Besides providing needed assistance, that kind of contact helps break down discrimination against migrants, which sometimes erupts in violence, they said.

"It is possible, and it doesn't cost much," Father Pereira de Oliveira said. "These people come to contribute to the country with their labor. That's a positive aspect of migration."

Although Venezuelan migrants confront prejudice, "there are also many stories of solidarity," he said. "People know that migrants are coming to Brazil, but they don't know about the conditions in which they are living. When people understand that, their response changes."


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Holy boldness: Profile of women religious rising at Vatican

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 12:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican can move at a snail's pace but looking back over the past six years, the profile of women, especially women religious, at Vatican events has risen sharply.

The Roman Curia is not teeming with women leaders and Pope Francis has given no indication, for example, that he will open the diaconate to women, but women are taking center stage more often and doing so with the "parrhesia" or boldness Pope Francis encourages.

And rather than having to beg for a hearing, members of the International Union of Superiors General -- leaders of some 450,000 women religious around the world -- are regularly invited now to Vatican meetings at every level.

Sister Carmen Sammut, UISG president and superior of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, told reporters May 2 "with the Vatican dicasteries, many things have changed" over the past six years.

"We have, in fact, been knocking on doors, and doors have been slowly opening" at the Synod of Bishops and at the meetings of Vatican congregations and councils, she said.

Sister Sally Hodgdon, UISG vice president and superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery, said, "Since Pope Francis, things have changed radically."

Vatican offices, she said, "are much more open, more user-friendly."

"It seems each year they listen a little more and follow through more on our ideas," Sister Hodgdon said.

Vatican officials, she said, are realizing more and more that women have some of the skills and experience they need, and the sisters are realizing how they can be "prophetic in different ways."

One example is the Way of the Cross meditations written for Pope Francis' celebration at Rome's Colosseum by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a pioneer in the ministry of women religious to victims of human trafficking, particularly those forced into the sex trade.

Sister Bonetti's meditations for Good Friday were prayerful and pious, but also explicitly condemned men who go to prostitutes, governments who have slammed their borders closed against migrants and refugees, and Catholics who prefer to look the other way in both situations.

Another moment of holy feminine boldness came during the February summit on child protection at the Vatican when Sister Veronica Openibo, congregational leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, told Pope Francis and the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences that the hypocrisy of Catholic leaders who claimed to be guardians of morality yet remained silent about clerical sexual abuse has left the church's credibility in shambles.

A small sign of the changing status of women also can be seen in the pope's interaction with participants at the UISG plenary meetings, which are held every three years in Rome. Pope Francis was scheduled to meet with some 850 women leading religious orders May 10.

The first plenary he addressed, in 2013, was held just two months after his election. The superiors were excited by the new energy the new pope brought and his renewed focus on the serving the poor, which was and is their forte.

But the women were the audience, not the protagonists of the meeting, with the pope giving a speech that included a quip about the women religious not being "spinsters" or "old maids," which brought laughter, but didn't sit well with everyone.

Three years later, in 2016, the format of the UISG meeting with the pope had changed. This time the sisters asked challenging questions and the pope responded.

"I like hearing your questions because they make me think," the pope told the superiors general at the May 2016 meeting. "I feel like a goalie, who is standing there waiting for the ball and not knowing where it's going to come from."

Describing the questions as courageous, Pope Francis was asked, among other things, about: opportunities for women to preach; the importance of involving women in church decision making, especially when the decisions impact women; and handling requests from bishops and priests looking for free labor from religious orders.

But the most newsworthy question was whether he'd be willing to set up a commission to explore the roles of the women identified as deacons in the New Testament and to try to tackle the question of whether they were ordained or simply "blessed" in some way for service.

The pope accepted the challenge and less than three months later, appointed 12 scholars, six women and six men, to a study commission. Two members of the commission said in January that their work had been completed and a report given to Pope Francis.

While the pope has given no indication of what he will do with the report and what the next steps might be, the UISG plenary was a timely reminder that the issue is still out there.

Another ongoing issue involves not just the presence of women religious at gatherings of the Synod of Bishops, but the possibility that one day they may have a vote in the assemblies like the religious brothers elected by the men's Union of Superiors General.

Even more importantly, the UISG has become much more vocal about the sexual and psychological abuse women religious have suffered at the hands of priests and about the obligation their members have to work to end the abuse of child and vulnerable adults in the church and society.

Sister Sammut said the UISG plenary will include steps to help every religious order develop "protocols and codes of conduct," especially for working with children and vulnerable adults.

When the superiors of religious orders speak about abuse openly and honestly, she said, they create a climate in which their members, who may have been harassed or abused by a priest, feel more at ease discussing their experiences.

One thing that is essential, Sister Sammut said, is that women religious "don't understand obedience in a way of saying 'yes' to somebody who is going to abuse you. This is terrible. Religious obedience is something completely different."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden


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Nations stirring up nationalism betray their mission, pope says

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 10:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Migrants are not a threat to a nation's culture, traditions and values, Pope Francis said.

Every nation is a product of immigration and the integration of diverse peoples, united by specific values, cultures and "healthy traditions," he said.

That is why any nation that "stirs up nationalistic sentiments in its people against other nations or groups of people would betray their mission," the pope said May 2.

Pope Francis gave a lengthy speech to members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who were holding a plenary meeting May 1-3 at the Vatican on the nature and role of the nation-state, the development of international cooperation and today's resurgence of nationalism.

The Catholic Church, the pope said, has always promoted love and respect for one's nation and cultures while also warning against turning such affection into the hatred and exclusion of others -- a "confrontational nationalism that puts up walls, indeed, even racism and anti-Semitism."

"The church notes with concern the reemergence, a bit everywhere in the world, of aggressive currents against foreigners, especially immigrants, as well as that growing nationalism that overlooks the common good," he said.  

The state is meant to be at the service of people, families, the common good and peace, he said. "However, too often states become subservient to the interests of a dominant group, mostly for economic profit, who oppress -- among other things -- ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities who are on their territory."

In fact, he said, one can gauge a nation's understanding of human dignity and humanity by the way it treats migrants, he said.

"Every human person is a member of humanity and has the same dignity," he said, so whenever people are forced to flee their homeland, they must be humanely welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated.

"Migrants are not a threat to the culture, traditions and values of the nation that welcomes them," the pope said.

While migrants must integrate in their host nation, he said, that "doesn't mean assimilate," but rather share in the life of their new homeland while still being able to "be themselves as people" and enrich their new community.

The government must protect migrants and manage migration flows "with the virtue of prudence" as well as help local communities be more informed and encouraged to be part of the process of integration, the pope said.

Pope Francis called for more cooperation among nations, saying such multilateral support would help discourage nationalism, political hegemony, armed conflicts and "economic and ideological colonization by superpowers."

When globalization seeks to eliminate differences and smother local identities, he said, it is more likely "that nationalism and hegemonic imperialism reemerge."

The pope also called for greater efforts to help nations overcome their divisions and work together to solve pressing global problems like climate change, human trafficking and nuclear disarmament.

"If offensive and defensive nuclear weapons are installed, not just on earth, but now also in space," he said, "the so-called new technological frontier will have increased and not decreased the danger of a nuclear holocaust."

No one nation can provide the common good for its people all by itself, he said. "The common good has become global and nations must come together for their own benefit."

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Church attacked by Maduro loyalists after Mass, Venezuelan bishop says

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 10:17am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro raged across the country, National Guard forces loyal to the embattled head of state launched tear gas at churchgoers attending Mass at a local parish.

In a letter published May 2 by Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez of San Cristobal said chaos erupted in Our Lady of Fatima Church when two National Guard members entered the parish on motorcycles as Mass was concluding.

The bishop said that subsequently, "a horde of 40 Bolivarian National Guard members," led by a general known as Ochoa, tried to enter the church and berated the pastor, Father Jairo Clavijo, after he forbid them from entering.

"Not pleased with that, the members of the Bolivarian National Guard launched tear-gas bombs in the church, causing an immediate evacuation of the sacred place where there was a good number of faithful, including many elderly people," Bishop Moronta said.

In the ensuing chaos, he added, a religious sister in the church fainted.

"This event is very serious, and it is an attack against the Catholic Church. I hold General Ochoa and the military authorities in the region responsible for this vile event that speaks to the will of the attackers who do not respect human dignity nor fear God," Bishop Moronta said.

Expressing solidarity with Father Clavijo and the parish community, the bishop said the diocese will "make decisions accordingly and promote actions that they deem relevant."

News of the attack comes on the heels of massive nationwide protests after Juan Guaido, the opposition leader who declared himself interim president, rallied supporters April 30 to protest Maduro's government.

In various parts of the country, members of the Venezuelan military and National Guard who support Guaido clashed with forces loyal to Maduro. The conflict has also increased tensions between the United States, which supports Guaido, and two countries allied with Maduro's administration: Russia and Cuba.

Archbishop Jose Luis Azuaje Ayala of Maracaibo, president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, denounced acts of "repression and violence" committed by Maduro loyalists and pleaded for peace.

"The number of wounded and detained continually increase," Archbishop Azuaje said. "We ask for respect for dignity and the human rights of citizens as well as the freedom to protest peacefully. We ask that the repression may cease."


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Jockey Mike Smith, 2018 Triple Crown winner, relies on Catholic faith

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 12:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Benoit photo

By Jessica Able

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- Jockey Mike Smith, a Catholic who rode Justify last year to a Triple Crown victory, prays before every race, but he doesn't pray to win.

The 145th Run for the Roses on May 4, when he will try for his third Kentucky Derby win, will be no different.

"It can be a dangerous sport. I don't pray to win, I just pray for safety," he said during a phone interview two days after riding Omaha Beach to victory in the April 13 Arkansas Derby.

Smith is scheduled to ride Omaha Beach again in the Kentucky Derby. Early predictions have Smith and the dark bay colt as the favorite.

The Hall of Fame jockey credits his faith in God and hard work for his successes.

"My faith is my life, not a part of my life. Everything else is a part of it, except that," he told The Record, archdiocesan newspaper of Louisville.

He said he doesn't like to get the day started without prayer and that he also prays all day for whatever crosses his mind.

"It's funny, it's always been that way. I remember praying when I was in school, sometimes praying that I wouldn't get in trouble," he said with a laugh.

Ahead of the glitz and glamor of Louisville's most famous week, Smith headlined the Race for Grace charity dinner April 29 at Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby's racetrack.

Funds raised at the event, hosted by the Kentucky Race Track Chaplaincy, support the men and women who work on the backside of racetracks in Kentucky, including Churchill Downs.

Smith said he has a great deal of respect for the work of the chaplaincy to support track workers.

The jockey was born and raised on his family's ranch in New Mexico and knew from a young age his future would center on horses.

"As far back as I can remember, I always had a horse. While other kids got bikes, where I'm from, everyone got a horse," he said.

His parents and grandparents were the first teachers of his faith, he noted. His grandmother, Rosita Vallejos, in particular, instilled in him a love for the Catholic faith.

"She, without a doubt, was the strongest influence on my faith. She prayed with me before bed when I was little. She taught me prayers in English and Spanish," he recalled.

"My faith means everything to me. I would not have anything if I didn't have it," he said. "Life wouldn't be worth living without my faith."

The jockey said he believes "we are put here to do the great things the Lord wants us to do -- to help others if we can, be there for people, love people, to be humble, gracious, kind, considerate, caring."

His racing pedigree is well known to those who follow horse racing. He began racing in the early 1980 and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 2005, he rode longshot Giacomo to victory in the Kentucky Derby. And in 2018, when he rode Justify at age 52 to a Triple Crown, he became the oldest jockey to win the title.

When he's at home in Southern California, he attends St. Rita Church in Sierra Madre, where he has been a parishioner for about 15 years.

And with all his successes in horse racing, he said, he's still not done.

"It's who I am. There's nothing like it," he said, adding that nothing compares to the "thrill of riding an amazing athlete like a horse, especially when you are crossing the wire."

"I don't want to give it up, not yet anyway," he said.

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Able is on the staff of The Record, archdiocesan newspaper of Louisville.


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Satan, not God, tricks people with temptation, pope says

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 10:13am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God never tricks, traps or tempts his children to sin or commit evil, Pope Francis said.

God is with his people every step of the way -- during times of joy and sadness, triumph and tribulation -- and he always helps lead people away from the devil and his temptations, the pope said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

Marking the feast day, the pope prayed that the saint, a carpenter and Jesus' guardian, would support people sacrificing so much to do good in the world and intercede on behalf of all those who have lost their job or cannot find employment.

Unemployment "is a global tragedy today," he said at the end of his audience.

In his main audience talk, the pope continued his catechesis on the Lord's Prayer, looking at the next to last invocation, "Lead us not into temptation."

Modern translations from the original Greek expression "are a bit shaky" and do not give a precise rendering of the real meaning, he said. But recent Vatican-approved translations in some languages, like French, Italian and Spanish, include equivalents such as "Do not abandon us to temptation" or "Do not let us enter" or "fall into temptation."

Pope Francis already highlighted the translation issue as part of a television series on the Lord's Prayer in 2017 when he said some translations of the "Our Father" can give believers the wrong impression that God can and does lead people into temptation.

"I'm the one who falls. But it's not (God) who pushes me into temptation to see how I fall. No, a father does not do this. A father helps us up immediately," he had said in the interview.

The pope reiterated the same point at his general audience, saying that despite the various translations, one thing is undisputed: "We must exclude God as the source of the temptations that impede humanity in its journey as if God himself were on the prowl, setting snares and traps for his children."

In the Gospels, Jesus has revealed the true image of God as a loving, protective father, he said.

"Christians don't have anything to do with a jealous God who is competing with humanity or who enjoys testing them. These are images of many pagan divinities," the pope said.

God the father is not the source of evil, he said. Rather, when evil appears in people's lives, God is the one "fighting at their side so that they may be freed. (He is) a God who always fights for us, not against us."

Evil and temptation come from the devil, who even targeted Jesus in the desert before his public ministry began, Pope Francis said.

"So many people say, 'Oh, why do you talk about the devil when it is so old-fashioned? The devil doesn't exist.' Well, look at what the Gospel teaches. Jesus faced the devil and was tempted by Satan," he said.

But Jesus rejects every temptation and is victorious in his battle against evil no matter the difficulties and anguish it causes, the pope said.

During his moment of great agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his friends to stay and "keep watch" with him, he said. Instead, they fell asleep.

But "during the worst moments in life, the most insufferable, the most distressing, God keeps watch with us, God fights with us, he is always near," the pope said. "Why? Because he is a father" who never abandons his children.

The pope concluded by praying that God would "drive away from us" times of "trial and temptation."

"But when this moment comes for us, show us that we are not alone, that Christ has already taken upon himself the weight of that cross and he calls us to carry it with him," in faithful, trusting abandon to God's love, Pope Francis prayed.


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A bishop testifies on immigration as president seeks to change asylum

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 5:28pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a memo released late on April 29, President Donald Trump ordered changes for how refugees may apply for asylum to the U.S., requesting an application fee from asylum-seekers and denying them permission to work depending on how the applicant entered the country. Though the changes are not immediate, he gave administration officials 90 days to work on new regulations.

In the memo addressed to the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Trump said "that the immigration and asylum system is in crisis as a consequence of the mass migration of aliens across our southern border." He makes mention of caravans and large groups that travel with children.

"The extensive resources required to process and care for these individuals pulls U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel away from securing our nation's borders," he wrote. "Additionally, illicit organizations benefit financially by smuggling illegal aliens into the United States and encouraging abuse of our asylum procedures. This strategic exploitation of our nation's humanitarian programs undermines our nation's security and sovereignty."

In addition to the fees and eliminating work permits for those who entered the country illegally, the president called for all asylum applications to be ruled on within 180 days of filing. He said the purpose of the new norms is "to strengthen asylum procedures to safeguard our system against rampant abuse of our asylum process."

Hours after the memo was published, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, testified April 30 during a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations in Washington. He spoke of his and other border communities' response in helping families seeking asylum who have been released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Places such as Annunciation House in the El Paso area and centers run by Catholic charitable organizations, dioceses and other groups in the border communities of McAllen, Texas, as well as Tucson, Arizona, provide families and other individuals seeking asylum with a hot meal, a change of clothes, help with arranging travel plans en route to family or friends in the United States, he explained.

While their work, strength and compassion has been exceptional, Bishop Seitz said the government "has a responsibility to care for people who are arriving with credible claims for asylum and a responsibility to assist anyone in desperate need within our borders."

"It is an honor for the church and for Christians in general to serve these vulnerable people," he said, according to a prepared statement. "We do not begrudge the opportunity, but our resources and our volunteers are being significantly strained by the scope and duration of the high arrival numbers. The church and other humanitarian service providers and the local communities along the border are key partners in this effort and need to be recognized by our federal government as such."

He said the Trump administration's policies show "concerning" effects on the vulnerable populations of children and families at the border.

"There are serious concerns about the mistreatment families receive along the dangerous migration journey and, sometimes, at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol," he said. "I worry that with the continued dehumanizing rhetoric regarding immigrants and refugees, a culture of disrespect and corresponding negative policies for those who come seeking refuge has begun to take form. To this end, my brother bishops and I remain deeply troubled by the administration's recent efforts to curtail the ability of asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S./Mexico border to seek protection."

He highlighted the administration's attempt to bar individuals from being able to claim asylum if they entered the U.S. through the southern border without going through an official Port of Entry, the "Remain in Mexico" policy, which sends certain asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait while their cases are being adjudicated in the U.S. immigration court system.

"As my brother bishops along the border between Texas and Northern Mexico have noted, these policies harm our immigrant brothers and sisters in need," he said.

He particularly urged the administration to "rethink" the "Remain in Mexico" policy because it forces vulnerable people to wait in uncertain and dangerous conditions in Mexico and "poses grave safety, humanitarian and due process concerns," he said.

He urged Congress and the administration to look at the causes of migration and to look to support the struggling nations that immigrants are coming from, not withholding economic aid but investing in anti-gang and anti-corruption programs to help vulnerable families and children, as well as fund initiatives to promote human rights in the sending countries, Bishop Seitz said.

"Our nation has had a long and proud history of providing humane treatment to and due process for asylum-seekers," he said. "I urge us to reject policies and proposals that would abandon this tradition, and I ask our government to remember that those fleeing to our border are not the 'other' but fellow children of God."

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Advocate Father Richard Ryscavage, 74, led support for world's refugees

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 11:25am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jean Santopatre, courtesy Fairfield University

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Richard Ryscavage, whose research and advocacy on behalf of refugees and migrants was recognized around the world, died April 26 at age 74.

His career was devoted to serving people on the move globally and at one time led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services, one of the world's largest refugee resettlement agencies.

Father Ryscavage since 2017 served as an adjunct professor in the Institute for the Study of International Migration within Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, teaching a course on global child migration.

Former colleagues at the agencies he served recalled his kindness and his willingness to encourage young staffers in their response to the needs of refugees and migrants.

"A number of us who worked with him, particularly the junior people, really benefited by the way he would empower you and he asked you to think through systems and come up with ideas and do things in creative ways," Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies in New York City, told Catholic News Service.

"He was an extraordinarily kind, bright, caring and decent person who was committed to refugees and to other vulnerable migrants," Kerwin added.

Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense in Washington, credited Father Ryscavage for his deep intellect "combined with this deep sense of compassion" for refugees and immigrants.

"He was a steady presence in the field," Young said. "As a young professional, it was so great to learn from somebody who had been doing it for a while. He had that ability to see the issue from many perspectives, yet to center it in the saving of human lives."

A member of the Jesuits' Maryland province, Father Ryscavage was the founding director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Jesuit-run Fairfield University in Connecticut, exploring areas where religion and social and political issues intersect.

During his time at Fairfield, he also was a member of the federal government's Interagency Task Force on Unaccompanied Children, working with representatives of the U.S. departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice and Health and Human Services.

Earlier, he served as national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. He also organized the first program to provide religious coordinators for immigration detention facilities operated by the Department of Homeland Security.

At one time, Father Ryscavage was president of Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Service, which was established by the U.S. bishops to help new immigrants. He also was president of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, early in its history.

Father Ryscavage chaired the humanitarian section of Interaction, the largest coalition of American nongovernmental organizations working internationally through which he collaborated with federal officials, the United Nations and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

Additionally, the Jesuit was the first Arrupe Tutor at the Refugee Studies Center of Oxford University in England. In 2006, he was invited by the Vatican to join the Holy See's official delegation to the 61st session of the U.N. General Assembly and participated in meetings called by the U.N. secretary-general to discuss worldwide migration.

Father Ryscavage entered the Jesuits in 1967 in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, and was ordained in June 1977. He pronounced final vows at Georgetown University in 1990.

He graduated from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, with a degree in foreign affairs and earned master's degrees in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Boston's Tufts University, in political philosophy from Boston College, in divinity from the Weston School of Theology at Boston College and in international administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont.

He is survived by his brothers, Edward, Jr. and Thomas.

A funeral Mass was celebrated April 30 at Georgetown. Burial will be May 1 in the Jesuit Cemetery in Wernersville.


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Christian life impossible without the Holy Spirit, pope says

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 10:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit if they expect to live a Christian life, Pope Francis said.

Only through the Spirit can men and women "rise from our limitations, from our deaths," the pope said in his homily April 30 during morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"A Christian life -- or a person who calls himself or herself a Christian -- that does not leave space for the Spirit and does not allow the Spirit to go forward is a pagan life, dressed as a Christian one," he said.

The pope centered his homily on the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the need to be "born of the Spirit."

Listening to and understanding God's will through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, is similar to hearing the sound of wind blowing, yet "you do not know where it comes from or where it goes."

Jesus' message to Nicodemus, the pope explained, is that "we need to be reborn" and "give way to the Spirit."

"The Spirit is the protagonist of Christian life; (it is) the Spirit -- the Holy Spirit -- that is in us, that accompanies us, that transforms us and is triumphant within us," he said.

Pope Francis encouraged Christians to heed Christ's words to his disciples after his resurrection and "receive the Holy Spirit" who will "be your companion in Christian life."

"Let us ask the Lord," the pope said, "to give us this knowledge that we cannot be Christians without walking with the Holy Spirit, without acting with the Holy Spirit, without letting the Holy Spirit be the protagonist in our lives."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Catholic bishops condemn Poway synagogue shooting

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 3:06pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Gastaldo, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic bishops from around the U.S. were quick to condemn the April 27 attack on a Jewish community gathered at a synagogue near San Diego, which left one person dead and three others injured.

"Our country should be better than this; our world should be beyond such acts of hatred and anti-Semitism," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an April 28 statement. "This attack joins an all too long list of attacks against innocent people, people of all faiths, who only want to gather and to pray. It is a contradiction, a perverting of their teachings to believe that Christianity, Judaism, or Islam would condone such violence."

News reports say members of the synagogue Chabad of Poway were gathered to mark the last day of Passover, a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days, commemorating the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, when shots rang shortly before noon.

One of them ended up fatally striking 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye as well as injuring the rabbi and an 8-year-old girl, among others. Initial reports say the gunman's weapon then jammed and the assailant left, but not before being shot at by a security guard who was inside the house of worship. Authorities later said John Earnest, 19, was arrested and is suspected of the attack. So far, he has been charged with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

"Unfortunately, both in the past and today, too many preach such hatred in the name of God. This cannot be abided; it must end," Cardinal DiNardo said.

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy asked in a letter addressed to priests in the San Diego Diocese to pray at Sunday Masses on April 28 for the victims of the shooting.

"I know that you join in my profound sadness and outrage that violence born of hatred against people of faith has once again rent our nation, this time within our own diocese. I would ask you to include a prayer for the Jewish community and the Chabad victims in your petitions at Sunday Masses," he wrote.

The bishop suggested using the following petition: "For the victims of the Chabad shootings and their families; for the Jewish community, our elder brothers in faith, who are once again subjected to the evil of anti-Semitic hatred and violence, this time in our own diocese; and for our world, so consumed by anger and division, that we might understand that the gift of peace you give in today's Gospel is a command for us to love every man and woman in the human family; we pray to the Lord."

Other messages expressing condolences by cardinals and bishops from around the country followed.

"For the second time in a week, we received news of an act of senseless violence against people at prayer. This time, the victims were our Jewish brothers and sisters, gathered to mark the deliverance of their people from bondage," said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, on April 27, the day of the tragedy.

"We ask our Lord to deliver us from the evil that engenders hatred in the hearts of men. Let us pray, too, for the courage to insist our leaders remove the tools of terrorism from our society and take the steps other nations have taken to safeguard their people. We will not become indifferent to the suffering of these families and will recommit ourselves to breaking the bonds of prejudice and intolerance. Only then can we build a peaceful nation, with the liberty and justice promised by its founders," he added.

"Again, we are horrified by the atrocious act of a hate-filled gunman who opened fire inside a California synagogue during services closing the sacred Passover holiday," said Bishop Nelson J. Perez of the Diocese of Cleveland. "As people of faith, we condemn this evil act of violence. We offer our prayers asking our most merciful and compassionate Father for healing for those who were injured, loving care for the person who was killed and comfort and consolation for their families."

Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, of the Diocese of Beaumont in Southeast Texas, said via Twitter on April 28 that he was "saddened and deeply concerned that another house of worship has been touched by violence."


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SCHEDULE FOR Monday, April 29, 2019

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 11:15am


NEW YORK (CNS) -- In an April 12 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus said that "Christian towns in Iraq increasingly look neither Christian nor Iraqi -- but Iranian."

"The public identifies the threat against Christians in Iraq and Syria as emanating from Islamic State," wrote Carl Anderson. "After a hard-fought war, ISIS is no longer a territorial power. But the religious minorities persecuted under the caliphate remain in peril, thanks to the Iraqi government's tolerance of Iranian influence."

He said the threat to Iraq's Christians now is coming from Iran-backed militias that are keeping minority groups from returning home or fleeing once again.

Before he visited Iraq in March, Anderson said, he met with Pope Francis. "A Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East," the pope told him.

"Baghdad's ambassador in Washington often says that 'Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities,'" Anderson wrote.

He noted that five years ago, the Islamic State "swept through Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities."

Both the Obama and Trump administrations each declared the IS actions genocide, he said, "The proof lay not only in the dead but in the collapse of communities that had survived for millennia. There were as many as 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before 2003. Today some 200,000 remain."

The IS onslaught across Iraq "was intense but burned out quickly," he said. "The group swiftly took control of the ancient Christian homeland of Ninevah in 2014 but was forced out within three years. With their towns liberated, displaced Christians hoped to return, rebuild and work for a better future. "

The Knights of Columbus stepped in, committing $25 million to help with the rebuilding of homes and other structures as well as assist in the return of those who had fled the area. In August 2017, many Iraqi Christians were coming back.

The international fraternal organization also has led a national effort to prioritize funding for the reconstruction and resettlement of Karamdes, a devastated Christian town in Northern Iraq, which was liberated from IS in late 2016.

Anderson pointed out that the Trump administration "also promised to prioritize the needs of these minorities after previous aid programs had overlooked them."

"Water and power facilities, schools, hospitals and other public works have been refurbished and rebuilt, courtesy of the U.S. government," he said.

But during his visit to Iraq in March, Anderson said, he "learned of new threats that could undermine these projects and keep Christians from returning home."

As IS was dismantled, "a different menace took its place," he said. "Iranian-backed militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, quickly took root in the devastated, previously Christian towns."

While Baghdad "claims power over the Ninevah region," he said, "the reality is "the militias control much of it."

"They have made life nearly unbearable for Christians attempting to return to towns like Batnaya, where the Popular Mobilization Forces have stripped Christian family homes of plumbing, wiring and other metal," he explained.

Locals, church leaders, and American and Kurdish government officials "warn that the Iranian-backed groups have extorted Christian families and seized their property," said Anderson. "Credible reports of violent crimes have emerged. Iranian proxies now are conducting a program of colonization in the Iraqi sector -- building homes and centers for the use of Iraq's Shiite majority in historically Christian towns."

He described the two goals he said Iran has in Iraq: It wants to build a "'land bridge' to Syria through Iraq," he said. "Second, it aims to alter fundamentally the demography of Ninevah in favor of Tehran. The Christians are at best collateral damage."

So once again many of fleeing the country because they fear for their lives, because of the militias and no "rule of law in their hometowns," according to Anderson.

He said that the genocide IS carried out "is now being facilitated and even actively continued by Iran's proxies with the tacit support of the Iraqi government."

"The situation is beyond demoralizing for anyone who has stood by Iraq's minorities and prayed for their triumph after years of adversity," Anderson added.

He praised the fact that much aid has been directed to the Ninevah region, "but it will be undermined unless the country's overall security situation improves."

He support must continue for "these fragile communities" Ninevah as well as in Kurdistan and in Southern Iraq.

Anderson noted that Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. government officials have urged Iraq "to remove these irregular militias and take control of the region. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has proved unwilling to comply so far."

Like the U.S. government, those who have advocated for and supported displaced communities are not happy with Iraq's "dalliance with Iranian proxies."

"Washington's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization should encourage Baghdad to rethink its embrace of Iran-backed militias," Anderson concluded. "If Iraq wants Iraq to remain Iraq, it should get serious about protecting minorities before it is too late."

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Pope makes donation to help migrants traveling through Mexico

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 10:43am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By David Agren

TAPACHULA, Mexico (CNS) -- Pope Francis has donated $500,000 to assist migrants attempting to travel through Mexico, but who are increasingly being impeded by Mexican officials from reaching the U.S. border.

Those migrants who travel the length of Mexico are also being impeded in their attempts to apply for asylum in the United States and remain in precarious conditions south of the border.

The donation "will be distributed among 27 projects in 16 dioceses and Mexican religious congregations that have asked for help to continue providing housing, food and basic necessities to these brothers and sisters," the Vatican charity Peter's Pence said in an April 27 statement.

The Vatican already approved projects run by seven dioceses and three religious congregations: the Scalabrinians, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Hermanas Josefinas.

The donation comes as the crush of migrants arriving at the U.S. border reaches levels not seen in more than a decade. Mexico's Catholic Church has helped the migrants with little cooperation from the various levels of government.

Priests who work on immigration matters say the federal government has yet to outline a policy or offer a proper response, while state and local governments prefer not spend money on migrants.

"Nobody wants to take charge," said Father Javier Calvillo, director of the Ciudad Juarez migrant shelter.

The donation was made as Mexico comes under U.S. pressure and steps up its own enforcement against migrants -- backpedaling from a promise made by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in his 2018 campaign not to "do the dirty work of any foreign government."

In March, U.S. authorities detained 92,607 migrants, more than twice as many migrants as arrived one year earlier and the highest monthly figure in 2007. The number of unaccompanied minors and family unit detentions has soared in the fiscal 2019 by 66 percent and 374 percent respectively, when compared to the same period one year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"Men and women, often with young children, flee poverty and violence, hoping for a better future in the United States. But the U.S. border remains closed for them," the Peter's Pence statement said.

Thousands of Central Americans have traveled more than 2,500 miles in caravans from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to the U.S. border at Tijuana, Mexico, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump.

"All these people were stranded, unable to enter the United States, without a home or livelihood. The Catholic Church hosts thousands of them in the shelters of dioceses or religious congregations, providing the necessary to live, from housing to clothing," the statement said.

Further complicating matters, migrants who transit Mexico and request asylum in the United States are turned away at border crossings and required to put their names on long waiting lists, a process known as metering.

This process has put enormous pressure on migrant shelters in Mexico-U.S. border cities, which are often rife with insecurity and where migrants are preyed upon by criminal gangs. A plan known as Remain in Mexico has also sent hundreds of U.S. asylum-seekers back to the Mexican side of the border, while their claims are heard in U.S. courts.

"At the northern and southern borders, these places of welcome are currently overpopulated," said an April 27 statement from the Mexican bishops' conference.

Shelter operators in border cities say they cannot attend to migrants arriving from the south, a flood of deportees and ever-more asylum-seekers requiring long-term shelter as they wait in Mexico to make their claims in the United States.

Additionally, "Among the residents of the towns and cities where some of these shelters are, they have started to raise strong concerns about informal campaigns that 'criminalize' migrants and impede them from being able to obtain jobs, rent an apartment or travel quietly in the streets," the bishops' statement said.

Churches in the Dioceses of Tapachula, which serves the path through Chiapas state that caravans have followed upon entering Mexico, previously responded with outpourings of generosity when caravans first arrived. But priests say the fatigue has set in and fewer people pitch in.

Bishop Jaime Calderon of Tapachula told reporters April 28 the church would continue to support migrants, even if public opinion -- often influenced by false rumors spread on social media of migrants misbehaving -- wasn't favorable.

"We have spoken here of a humanitarian crisis and we believe, in accordance with our faith, we have to help. They're brothers," Bishop Calderon said.

Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said April 23 that 300,000 migrants had entered the country in an irregular fashion over the first three months of 2019.

Mexico started offering humanitarian visas in late 2018, allowing migrants to freely transit the country and avoid crimes like kidnapping, extortion and sexual assault. But it stopped the practice due to overwhelming demand. Mexico also is no longer offering "safe conduct" passage to the throngs of migrants from Cuba, Haiti and African countries to pass through the country.

Mexican officials also have started breaking up caravans, including one in late April in Chiapas. Priests say caravans are now forming in southern Mexico rather than Central America.

"The Mexican government faces an authority crisis to deal and walk with the migrant caravans," Bishop Calderon said. "They don't offer them dignified and humanitarian treatment. They don't even respect the documents they give them, which allow them free transit."


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Pope to hairdressers: Cut the gossip, highlight politeness

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 10:26am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian hairdressers, beauticians and barbers can live their faith by being kind and courteous to their clients and cutting out the gossip and petty chitchat, Pope Francis said.

"May you always act with integrity, thereby making a positive contribution to the common good," he told cosmetologists who belong to an Italian Catholic association dedicated to St. Martin de Porres.

Speaking April 29 to members of the association, who were on pilgrimage to Rome, the pope asked that their patron saint help them live out their Christian values in the workplace.

"May he inspire you, above all, to carry out your profession in a Christian way, treating clients with kindness and courtesy, always offering them a kind and encouraging word, avoiding the temptation of gossip that easily finds its way in your workplace, too. Everyone knows this," he said.

The pope praised the 16th-century Peruvian saint, who had only been allowed to take the vows of a Dominican lay brother because of his mixed-race; he was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black woman originally from Panama.

"He accepted this humble condition, living a life of total humility, radiant with love" and dedicated with great sacrifice to the poor and ill, using the medical skills he learned working in a pharmacy and for a barber-surgeon, the pope said. He helped found the first hospital in the Americas in Lima, Peru.

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Welcome to the CNS news report for Monday, April 29, 2019

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 7:00am


ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- In 1957, Sarah Wessel's great-grandmother, Isabella Brooks, hand-stitched a wedding gown for her daughter Mary Ann Kelsey. After the wedding, the satin gown was wrapped in blue paper and placed in a cedar chest, where it remained perfectly preserved.

It was taken out again in 1985 for Sarah's mother, Carolyn Page Wessel, and now it's Sarah's turn to wear it this September.

But before she wears the dress for her own wedding, there is another event the 21-year-old is eagerly counting down the days to -- her entrance into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil April 20.

"I just want the sacraments so badly," said Wessel, a senior math major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. "I am really looking forward to receiving Jesus' body, blood, soul and divinity, " she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

Wessel was baptized in the Episcopal Church, which she said fostered a deep love of Jesus and a serving heart.

"I remember going to the same church through my entire childhood and teenage years," said Wessel. "I felt like they were my family members. I truly love them and I see their love for God."

When she started college, she still desired the closeness she felt at her church back home. That's when she met Hunter Miller.

In June 2017, she was sitting with her friend at the Sugar Shack Donuts and Coffee shop in Fredericksburg. Seating was scarce, so she invited Miller and his mom, Norka, to join them.

"We talked a little bit about God and our lives, and then it was time for him to go to adoration and confession and he invited us to come," said Wessel.

Despite not knowing what adoration was, they agreed. "I remember thinking, 'I feel like God has a purpose here,'" she said.

That night ended up being very good for Wessel and Miller. His mom taught her the rosary and they spent quite a few hours in adoration.

"It was wonderful," said Wessel. "Pretty much every single time after that we went to church to pray."

Their courtship took off from day one and so did their talks about marriage and becoming Catholic.

"I knew that he really wanted me to be Catholic. He loved the Catholic Church. But for a little under a year, I was in denial. I asked him to take a step back in pressuring me and to allow God to make the change within me and call me so that way I would be converting for God and not for someone. He clearly understood."

For several months, Wessel said she just "let it be." She continued going to the Episcopal Church while also attending Mass with Miller. Soon, however, she started praying the rosary and going to church on her own.

"I really fell in love with adoration," she said, "because it is a time where it can be silent and I can feel God's spirit within me. I don't even have to think of anything and he fills me up with his love. I truly desire that and seek it."

After months of prayer and one particularly bad week that left her feeling alone and empty, she received a moment of clarity when she felt she should become Catholic and be engaged to Miller when that question came. And it did a few months later.

"I was like, 'I have to do this. I can't be happy without it. I can't be fulfilled without the church. I'm going to do it' and after that, I felt so much better," she said.

While she was relieved that the spiritual warfare inside her was over, she was apprehensive about talking to her parents since she hadn't kept her parents updated about her decision to become Catholic. Her newfound passion and determination surprised them.

"They didn't understand at first," Wessel said but added that her mom "just poured out love."

That following September she started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and has been counting down the days to the Easter Vigil ever since. She also has taken a more active role in the community by becoming the service chair for the parish young adult group.

"God is calling us to be saints and there are no exceptions," said Wessel. "In college, this is a time where everything is changing and I am so grateful that Jesus called me into the church at this time. Because it really helped me to realize the goal of life and who am I supposed to worship in all of my actions, and that is God."

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Editor's Note: A video accompanying this story can be found at

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Kassock is a contributor to the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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Prayer lifts up those struggling with alcoholism, says Byzantine priest

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Father John Russell via Horizons

By Laura Ieraci

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Numerous organizations, both private and public, seek to help those who struggle with substance abuse through programming and support services, but Father Bryan Eyman has committed to a different approach: prayer.

Confident in the power of Jesus to satisfy every thirst, Father Eyman has been offering prayers for people struggling with alcoholism for the past 20 years.

Once a month, he celebrates an Eastern Christian Marian prayer service -- an akathist -- dedicated to the Mother of God, the Inexhaustible Cup, Healer of Alcoholics, at St. Athanasius the Great Byzantine Catholic Church, where he is pastor. The most recent service was April 24.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 74 percent of the 19.7 million Americans who battle substance abuse are alcoholics. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also reports that about 88,000 people die of alcohol-related causes in the United States each year, making it the third-leading cause of preventable death in the country, after tobacco and poor nutrition.

With the situation as grave as it is, the church has an important role to play in ministering to this marginalized group, said Father Eyman.

The Eastern Catholic priest attributes his commitment to prayer for the healing of alcoholics to his mother, Margaret Kelly Eyman.

"She was an employee in one of the first alcohol treatment centers in in the world," he said.

His mother worked with Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin at Rosary Hall Solarium at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland. Sister Ignatia, along with Dr. Bob Smith, founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The nun was a family friend, and Father Eyman recalled being an altar server at her funeral.

In 1988, while he was pastor at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Father Eyman began in this area of ministry by being available for people in the fourth and fifth steps of AA's 12-step recovery program. These two steps consist of members telling another person about their addiction and seeking to make amends for the harm they might have caused, he said. He noted then, as now, the shortage of priests to help Catholics in the AA program.

Father Eyman continued in this capacity with AA when he was transferred to St. Andrew Byzantine Catholic Parish, now Holy Transfiguration Byzantine Catholic Parish, in Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio. There, he also welcomed a local AA group that was seeking a larger meeting space.

In the late 1990s, his ministry with alcoholics took an unexpected and more prayerful turn. It was the advent of the internet, and one of his first online searches produced a Russian icon of the Theotokos, the Inexhaustible Cup, Healer of Alcoholics. It came with the akathist prayer service that was translated from Russian into English.

He read about the miraculous healing associated with the icon. In late 19th-century Russia, a severe alcoholic, debilitated by his addiction, had a dream in which he was instructed to go to a particular monastery and ask for this icon. Upon praying before it, he was healed of his alcoholism, after which many other alcoholics were healed before the icon. This particular monastery was closed under communism, and a family hid the icon for safekeeping. The icon reemerged after communism, and the prayer service linked with this devotion restarted.

Moved by this story and sensing a call to action, Father Eyman began praying the akathist at St. Andrew Parish in 1999, before the AA meetings, and AA members were invited to participate.

He continued the prayer service when he was assigned to St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Marblehead, Ohio, and then at St. Athanasius the Great, where he serves currently. Prayer services are held usually on the third Wednesday of each month, unless there is a scheduling conflict.

Attendance varies from month to month, from four people to 25 people, but swells to about 100 for the prayer service that marks the feast of the icon, May 5, he said. The service includes praying for people struggling with alcoholism by name. Requests from people to include their loved ones continue to grow, he said.

"We get names from all over and we only use first names," Father Eyman said. "For me, it's not a matter of the number but the commitment to prayer to benefit people we may never meet. We just try to be faithful in doing it, with confidence that Christ will bring about the healing, if we are open to it," through the intercession of Mary.

Father Eyman said some people have received complete healing from the prayer service.

"In at least four cases, they have lost the craving for alcohol," he said. Others, even from different religions, have found the prayer "very moving and encouraging as they walked through the steps" of AA and began to seek healing from alcoholism from the Mother of God.

Father Eyman said the spiritual component to recovering from addiction "is very important for people to connect with, especially in the Catholic tradition, (where) there is forgiveness."

"When we repent and decide to change and pour that reality out to another person, that's when healing can begin," he said.

"Our spiritual life and sacramental life as Catholics can be tied in with our physical well-being and (we can) help people make that connection and see that inner dependency," he said. "It's basically people in need of God."

Father Eyman said he would encourage more priests to pray the service in their parishes. The impact of alcohol abuse on individuals and families is grave and "it runs the gamut," from "prayerful priests to outright atheists," he said.

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To submit the names of people in need of such prayer, email Father Eyman at

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Ieraci is editor of Horizons, newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio.


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