You are here

Top Stories

Subscribe to Top Stories feed Top Stories
Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
Updated: 20 min 39 sec ago

Chilean bishops fear new measure would enforce breaking confession seal

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 11:24am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Chilean bishops said that while they support legislation requiring priests and religious authorities to report crimes, they also fear that an update to the country's current law would force clergy to break the sacramental seal of confession.

The 155-member Chilean House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure April 23 that would add clergy and religious men and women to the list of police, members of the armed forces, teachers and civil servants who are obliged to report all crimes under article 175 of Chile's penal code.

However, the House of Representatives also rejected a proposal that would exempt crimes reported during the sacrament of confession. The measure will now be debated in the Senate.

Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos, secretary general of the Chilean bishops' conference, told Chilean news site La Tercera that while the church supports laws that will ensure justice to victims of abuse, rejection of the amendment presents a "serious difficulty" because confession "is a sacrament and, consequently, an act of worship that is protected by Chilean law, specifically the penal code."

Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo said that although the law is a "positive" step, legislators must also "safeguard the beliefs and the consciences of people, which is one of the most fundamental human rights."

"The sacrament of confession always implicates the right to safeguard the identity of the person who comes, and he or she knows that nothing said can be communicated to anyone under any circumstance," Bishop Gonzalez told La Tercera.

Father Ricardo Morales, apostolic administrator of Puerto Montt, said that priests cannot "violate the conscience of a person who manifests his or her sins before God."

However, he added, priests have the tools so that "a person who confesses a situation of abuse of a minor, for example, is not given absolution or not forgiven unless they report the crime" to authorities.

The updated law was first proposed in 2018 after Pope Francis wrote to Catholics in Chile expressing shame for the church's failure to listen to and defend survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

In the letter, the pope denounced the "culture of abuse and cover up" that not only allowed sexual abuse to occur but also "considered a critical and questioning attitude as betrayal."

Rep. Raul Soto, main sponsor of the updated law, told La Tercera that the proposal to exempt offenses reported in confession was rejected to emphasize the responsibility of religious authorities to report crimes and that priority must be given to victims.

"I believe that there is a very strong political majority that considers that, even under the seal of confession, there should exist the obligation to place all evidence at the disposal of the criminal justice system," Soto said.

According to the Code of Canon Law, the seal of confession "is inviolable," and it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

Pope Francis made it clear that the privacy of one's conscience before God, also known as the internal forum, must always be protected in the sacrament of confession.

In a speech to priests and seminarians attending an annual conference on the internal forum March 29, the pope said that the use of information obtained in confession to influence external decisions was "a sin against the dignity of the person who trusts the priest, who reveals his or her reality in asking forgiveness."

"The internal forum is the internal forum," he said. "It is something sacred."

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Filipinos reminded in Holy Week to reflect on Jesus' humility

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 10:58am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Reading the Bible and praying with it is "the best vaccine" against Catholic communities closing in on themselves or focusing only on self-preservation, Pope Francis said.

God wants "a church that does not speak from itself or about itself but has in its heart and on its lips the Lord and draws daily from his word," the pope told members of the Catholic Biblical Federation.

Greeting 200 federation members from 68 countries April 26, Pope Francis said that when Christians basically proclaim themselves instead of Jesus, they transmit nothing to the world.

"It is the word of God, not our own," he said, and "it removes us from being at the center, saves us from self-sufficiency and triumphalism and calls us continually to go out."

The Catholic Biblical Federation, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was founded to make the Bible more accessible to Catholics and to highlight "the central role of the Word in faith and mission," Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the federation, told Pope Francis.

The teaching of the Second Vatican Council, reaffirmed by then-Pope Benedict XVI in his 2010 exhortation "Verbum Domini" ("Word of the Lord"), Cardinal Tagle said, asks individual Catholics and the whole church if the word of God really inspires and guides their view of the world, pastoral priorities and use of resources.

"If the word of God does not inspire all of these ecclesial actions, then where does the inspiration come from?" the cardinal asked. "It's not a rhetorical question."

Agreeing, Pope Francis said, "it would be beautiful if the word of God increasingly became the heart of every church activity, the beating heart that gives life to the members of the body."

As Ephesians says, "The word of God is life," the pope reminded the federation members. "It neither dies nor even grows old," and when it is the foundation for all the church says and does, it keeps the church young, too.

"The Bible is not a beautiful collection of sacred books to be studied; it is the word of life to be sown, the gift that the risen Lord asks us to welcome and distribute so that there would be life in his name," the pope said.

The Bible gives the church a constant and necessary "injection of life," he said, which is why homilies based on the Scripture readings at Mass are so important.

"Preaching is not a rhetorical exercise or a collection of wise human ideas," he said. Rather, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is a sharing of "the divine word that touched the heart of the preacher."

"So many words pour into our ears each day, transmitting information and giving us multiple inputs, so many -- perhaps too many -- that they often surpass our ability to take them in," he said.

"But we cannot do without the word of Jesus, the only word of eternal life," the pope said.

God's word, he said, should not leave people serene, but should cause them to question and to seek. And "a church that lives by listening to the word is never content with its own security. It is docile to the unpredictable newness of the Spirit."

A church enlivened by the word, he said, "never tires of proclaiming, never gives into disappointment and never tires of promoting communion, because the word calls people to unity and invites each one to listen to the other."

Pope Francis prayed that in sharing the Bible with others, federation members would be filled with the enthusiasm of the disciples immediately after the Resurrection. "They all run: the women, Peter, John, the two on the road to Emmaus -- they run to encounter and proclaim the living Word."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Word of God must be 'beating heart' of church, pope says

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 10:58am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Reading the Bible and praying with it is "the best vaccine" against Catholic communities closing in on themselves or focusing only on self-preservation, Pope Francis said.

God wants "a church that does not speak from itself or about itself but has in its heart and on its lips the Lord and draws daily from his word," the pope told members of the Catholic Biblical Federation.

Greeting 200 federation members from 68 countries April 26, Pope Francis said that when Christians basically proclaim themselves instead of Jesus, they transmit nothing to the world.

"It is the word of God, not our own," he said, and "it removes us from being at the center, saves us from self-sufficiency and triumphalism and calls us continually to go out."

The Catholic Biblical Federation, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was founded to make the Bible more accessible to Catholics and to highlight "the central role of the Word in faith and mission," Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the federation, told Pope Francis.

The teaching of the Second Vatican Council, reaffirmed by then-Pope Benedict XVI in his 2010 exhortation "Verbum Domini" ("Word of the Lord"), Cardinal Tagle said, asks individual Catholics and the whole church if the word of God really inspires and guides their view of the world, pastoral priorities and use of resources.

"If the word of God does not inspire all of these ecclesial actions, then where does the inspiration come from?" the cardinal asked. "It's not a rhetorical question."

Agreeing, Pope Francis said, "it would be beautiful if the word of God increasingly became the heart of every church activity, the beating heart that gives life to the members of the body."

As Ephesians says, "The word of God is life," the pope reminded the federation members. "It neither dies nor even grows old," and when it is the foundation for all the church says and does, it keeps the church young, too.

"The Bible is not a beautiful collection of sacred books to be studied; it is the word of life to be sown, the gift that the risen Lord asks us to welcome and distribute so that there would be life in his name," the pope said.

The Bible gives the church a constant and necessary "injection of life," he said, which is why homilies based on the Scripture readings at Mass are so important.

"Preaching is not a rhetorical exercise or a collection of wise human ideas," he said. Rather, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is a sharing of "the divine word that touched the heart of the preacher."

"So many words pour into our ears each day, transmitting information and giving us multiple inputs, so many -- perhaps too many -- that they often surpass our ability to take them in," he said.

"But we cannot do without the word of Jesus, the only word of eternal life," the pope said.

God's word, he said, should not leave people serene, but should cause them to question and to seek. And "a church that lives by listening to the word is never content with its own security. It is docile to the unpredictable newness of the Spirit."

A church enlivened by the word, he said, "never tires of proclaiming, never gives into disappointment and never tires of promoting communion, because the word calls people to unity and invites each one to listen to the other."

Pope Francis prayed that in sharing the Bible with others, federation members would be filled with the enthusiasm of the disciples immediately after the Resurrection. "They all run: the women, Peter, John, the two on the road to Emmaus -- they run to encounter and proclaim the living Word."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

ADVISORY-SCHEDULE CHANGE April-25-2019

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 5:18pm

By

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."

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Benefit concert for Notre Dame Cathedral to end with Resurrection piece

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 3:55pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An organist from Notre Dame Cathedral -- performing an April 26 benefit concert in Washington for the reconstruction of the iconic Parisian church -- will end his program, fittingly, with a piece about Christ's resurrection.

The concert at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is free and open to the public with a freewill offering to help repair the cathedral that was severely damaged in the April 15 fire.

Funds from the concert will be added to donations that began immediately pouring in from around the world, boosted by large contributions from billionaires. French President Emmanuel Macron had said the cathedral could be reconstructed in five years.

Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica, told reporters April 25 that the day of Notre Dame's fire, basilica officials were talking about how to help and set up an online collection that night on the basilica's website.

The benefit concert was organized by the basilica and the French Embassy, in partnership with the Friends of Notre Dame and the French American Cultural Foundation. It will be broadcast live on Eternal Word Television Network.

The concert will feature the basilica's choir and organ pieces played by Johann Vexo, a Notre Dame organist who was playing when the fire began.

Vexo spoke to reporters the day before the concert in the basilica's choir loft, sharing his relief that the cathedral's Grand Organ with about 8,000 pipes and five keyboards was reported to be undamaged from the massive fire.

"We still have to switch it on to make sure that everything is OK," he added, with caution.

He also spoke lovingly of the cathedral's ancient and historic instrument, noting that it is both powerful and poetic and that there is not another organ like it.

Vexo said he had been playing the organ for daily Mass when the fire began but didn't know what was happening. After an alarm sounded, the priest said he would finish the Mass without music, urging the organist and cantor to leave, which Vexo did, only to realize later what was happening.

Vexo has been pleased by the outpouring of support for Notre Dame's rebuilding, but he is not entirely surprised, saying he knows how much the historic cathedral means to both Parisians and the world.

When asked what Notre Dame means to him, he spoke of its beauty and cultural and historical significance, but he also spoke of his familiarity with it, noting that he spends more time there than in his apartment.

"It's like a second home to me," he told Catholic News Service, and to prove his point, he said he has the keys to it.

- - -

Editor's Note: The website set up by Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for online donations for the Paris cathedral's reconstruction is www.SupportNotreDame.org.

- - -

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Church needs joyful disciples, pope tells young people, deaf association

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In back-to-back audiences with a group of French young people and an Italian association for deaf people, Pope Francis cited personal example and witness as a vital piece in the church's evangelization mission.

Meeting with young people from the Diocese of Aire et Dax in southwestern France April 25, the pope encouraged them to remain united with Christ through the sacraments and the example of the saints so that they can spread the message that "God wants to give to the world through your lives."

"Yes, let yourselves be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ to every environment and give witness to the joy and youthfulness of the Gospel," he said.

The pope told the young men and women their pilgrimage to Rome was an opportunity to reflect on the lives of the martyrs who remained faithful to Christ until the end.

The martyrs' example, he added, is important now more than ever "because many people today think it is more difficult to call themselves Christians and live their faith in Christ."

"The current context isn't easy, especially due to the painful and complex issue of abuse committed by members of the church," the pope said. "Still, I would like to tell you once again that it isn't more difficult than in other eras of the church: It is only different."

Pope Francis said that the youthfulness and enthusiasm of young people in the church is a visible sign that Jesus "does not abandon his church" and continues to entrust the church's renewal to younger generations.

"I am counting on you," the pope said. "The church needs your impulse, your intuition and your faith!"

Immediately after, the pope made his way to the Clementine Hall and met with members of the Italian Federation of Associations for the Deaf. Founded in 1920, it is the oldest organization in the country representing the Italian deaf community.

Acknowledging the prejudice people who are deaf experience, "at times even within Christian communities," Pope Francis urged them to overcome "the barriers that do not allow you to seize the potential of your active presence and go beyond your disability."

"You teach us that only by taking on our limitations and frailties can we become builders -- together with leaders and members of the civil and ecclesial communities -- of a culture of encounter, in opposition to widespread indifference."

Catholics who are deaf, he continued, are called to play an active role in evangelization and "place the fruits of the talents the Lord gave you at the benefit of families and all the people of God."

"God's presence isn't perceived through the ears, but through faith," Pope Francis said. "For this reason, I encourage you to revive your faith so that you may feel God's closeness more and more."

In this way, he added, "you can help those who do not 'hear' God's voice to be more attentive to it. This is a significant contribution that deaf people can make to the vitality of the church."

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

As refugee child, she knew no English; now as teen, she's poetry champ

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 4:57pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Oregon Arts Commission

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Belise Nishimwe remembers what it's like to feel voiceless.

Born in a refugee camp in Tanzania, she came to Portland at age 5 unable to speak or understand English. She couldn't pass her first year of kindergarten.

"But wow, she found her voice at a young age," said Erin Weisensee, an Oregon Catholic who helped the family resettle in the United States and remains a close friend. "She's powerful, articulate and unafraid."

At the end of April, Nishimwe will share her vocal and inner power at a national poetry competition in Washington. It will be livestreamed online at arts.gov.

The St. Mary's Academy sophomore month was named Oregon's Poetry Out Loud champion in March, beating about 8,000 high school contestants in the state, according to the Oregon Arts Commission. The commission organizes the state contest in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

"Other students gave beautiful recitations -- performances -- but Belise does not perform her poems; she speaks them as though they were her words; she inhabits them," said Ellie Gilbert, an English teacher at St. Mary's who coached the 17-year-old for the competition.

Poetry Out Loud competitors select poems, then study, memorize and recite them.

Nishimwe won first place for her recitation of "Love's Philosophy," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English Romantic poet; "If We Must Die," by Jamaican-born Claude McKay, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance; and "Worth," by Marilyn Nelson, whose work examines race, feminism and the ongoing trauma of slavery in America.

"Belise's background makes her particularly passionate about issues people face who live in the margins," said Sara Salvi, a creative writing instructor at St. Mary's who also helped prepare Nishimwe for Poetry Out Loud. "I believe that comes through in her poems; it gives her an authenticity."

Two of the poems are by black activists, and Nishimwe wanted Shelley's piece in the mix to show a different part of herself.

"People often have labels tied to them -- 'refugee,' 'immigrant,' 'woman' -- and others don't think about their ability to love. This poem was to show that I can be playful and loving," she told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

"If We Must Die" is a call to act against oppression. "I imagined making a speech like MLK," said Nishimwe, referring to slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "It exemplifies using my voice to empower others to do good."

She was drawn to the title of "Worth," a poem that addresses being black and a woman. "I tell myself that I'm worth something, and others in situations like mine that they are worth something."

Nishimwe's family escaped genocide in Burundi and spent about 10 years in a refugee camp. They resettled in the United States in 2007 with help from Oregon Catholic Charities and parishioners of Holy Redeemer Church in North Portland.

"They made it possible to keep my family together and get my entire family to America," said Nishimwe, who has seven siblings. "I know many refugee families are separated."

Salvi said the support the family received is an inspiring expression of community and faith.

Holy Redeemer parishioners helped find the family an apartment, taught them how to ride the bus, and provided everything from furniture and clothes to utensils.

Weisensee met the family hours after they got off a plane. "It was love at first sight," she said. That love and her family's assistance have endured for years. The mother of four even taught Nishimwe and her sisters how to read and speak English.

Once she knew the language, Nishimwe began writing poetry and dreamed of being an author. But she stopped composing pieces in middle school when it became increasingly difficult to juggle homework and responsibilities at home.

Like her older siblings before her, Nishimwe helps her parents, who speak little English, navigate life in the United States. She fills out forms for insurance and taxes and writes checks and permission slips.

"It's been hard a lot of times taking on these parental roles," said Nishimwe. "Sometimes I'm frustrated or angry and have to come to school happy and willing to learn. I can't always talk to my peers about it because they aren't going through the same thing."

She said the Poetry Out Loud competition "felt like a door back into writing poetry" and the joy it brings.

Nishimwe believes studying other poets' works challenges her to think critically about how to construct her own poems and strengthens her ability to communicate boldly. She eventually wants to study law and international affairs and hopes the skills she's gained help her "speak up for and lift up those who have been put down."

Gilbert said the teen's recent success sometimes has overwhelmed her.

"Belise's story is compelling; in many ways it's the American dream," said the teacher. "My hope is that Belise holds on to her own dreams -- that her heart remains clear ... so she can continue to follow it."

- - -

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

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Balkans visit: Pope to touch sensitive issues of ecumenism, migration

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alexandros Avramidis, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will head to the Eastern periphery of Europe May 5-7, visiting Bulgaria and North Macedonia, both predominantly Orthodox countries with a small, but active Catholic minority.

Christians in both nations claim the great 9th-century evangelizers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, as their own and both honor them with a national holiday May 24, recognizing their missionary endeavors, but also their contributions to literature and culture by creating the first Slavic alphabet.

The shared Catholic-Orthodox recognition of the importance of the holy brothers has provided opportunities in the past for members of both churches to come together and focus on the importance of faith for individuals and for the country.

But ecumenical relations have not been easy, and shortly before Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Bulgaria, the Holy Synod governing the Orthodox Church said Orthodox clergy would not participate in any gathering with the pope that involved common prayer.

Bishop Christo Proykov, exarch for Bulgaria's Eastern Catholics and president of the country's Catholic bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service April 23 that "during the persecution by the communist regime, the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Bulgaria were more united" as both suffered for Christianity.

But, he said, "we are pleased that during his visit to Bulgaria, Pope Francis will meet with Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neophyte, who is a very cordial and open man."

And, he said, as for the decision of the Holy Synod to limit its participation in papal events, "we accept that with respect."

Iva Mihailova, the Catholic bishops' spokeswoman, told CNS that Bishop Proykov and Patriarch Neophyte have been friends since they were priests, and they work together in the national council of religions, which brings together Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Bulgarian Catholics are not fretting about the position of the Holy Synod, she said. "Ecumenism is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and has its own pace; every confession has its distinctive traits and every country and church has its own situation that leads to specific decisions. We must respect that without jumping to conclusions because the encounter with the Orthodox is just one aspect of the Holy Father's visit."

Another aspect of the visit will be balancing the concerns and fears of the local population with the huge needs of migrants and refugees.

Both Bulgaria and North Macedonia have high unemployment and poverty rates, high rates of emigration and an ongoing struggle handling migrants and refugees trying to cross their territories to reach a better life in Western Europe.

Pope Francis is scheduled to pay what the Vatican described as a "private visit" to a refugee camp May 6 near Sofia, Bulgaria, but the Vatican provided no other details.

According to statistics from the Council of Europe, there were 154,000 migrants in Bulgaria at the end of 2017 -- 2.2 percent of the population -- and 123,000 migrants in North Macedonia, the equivalent of 6.3 percent of the population. However, both countries saw more of their citizens moving abroad than the number of migrants and refugees coming in.

Still, particularly in Bulgaria, assisting migrants has caused political turmoil since 2015 when large numbers of Syrians, Iraqis and others began trying to reach Central and Western Europe using overland routes rather than by crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The ongoing political tension led the government to refuse in December to sign the U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a nonbinding cooperation agreement strongly supported by Pope Francis.

According to Caritas Sofia, the archdiocesan Catholic charity, some 2,500 people sought asylum in Bulgaria in 2018, almost half of them in the last three months of the year, indicating a new wave of migration.

According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Bulgarian courts rejected 65 percent of the requests for asylum or temporary protection status in 2018, including 94 percent of the requests coming from Afghanis and 88 percent of those coming from Iraqis.

In addition, the council said, while the Bulgarian government has earmarked funding for local governments to offer integration programs -- including language classes, an introduction to Bulgarian culture and assistance finding a job -- "the national 'zero integration' situation" has continued for more than five years.

Caritas Sofia has stepped in, however. The St. Anna Integration Center runs an employment service that includes skills assessment, resume writing and job placement. Caritas workers also assist families in accessing health care, documents and schooling for their children. They also provide financial assistance for housing, Bulgarian language lessons and run "culture and civic orientation" groups for migrant and refugee women.

The Catholic charity is also the only Bulgarian organization with full-time staff members in the refugee camps and detention centers, and it offers activities and special assistance to children, women and vulnerable adults.

In the "open" camps, where residents are free to go into town, Caritas organizes excursions for the children and teens, including activities with their Bulgarian peers. Caritas staff also provide tutoring, homework assistance and language instruction to migrant and refugee children enrolled in Bulgarian schools.

"The Catholic faithful are very enthusiastic," Mihailova said. "There is great expectation for his visit also among the Orthodox faithful, many of whom will be in Nezavisimost Square (May 6) for the meeting for peace. This grassroots ecumenism is also important."

- - -

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Jesus replaced law of revenge with law of love, pope says

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The scales of justice cannot solve everything, especially when it comes to stopping a cycle of evil vengeance, Pope Francis said.

"Evil knows revenge and if it is not halted, it risks spreading, suffocating the whole world," he said April 24 during his weekly general audience.

Christians must forgive and love others even beyond what is due to stop the cycle of evil and to start things anew, he told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, which was still decorated with bright yellow, red and other colorful flowers from his Easter celebrations.

Pope Francis continued his audience talks about the Lord's Prayer by looking at how people ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The use of the word "trespasses" in the original Greek of the Gospel means "being in debt," so this part of the prayer recognizes how much people are in debt to God, especially for the gift of life and his infinite love and mercy, the pope said.

The so-called "'self-made man' doesn't exist in the church," he said, because Christians recognize the divine gifts and graces bestowed on them and the "beneficial conditions in life" they received from others.

"Those who pray, learn to say, 'Thank you.' Many times, we forget to say, 'Thank you.' We are selfish."

Those who seek to live a Christian life also realize "there always will be something" for which they will need to ask God's forgiveness, for example, for being too lazy or letting rancor take over one's heart, he said.

It would have been wonderful, the pope said, if the prayer only asked God to forgive one's debts to him, however, God asks for more.

"God's grace, so abundant, is always challenging" because God asks people to do unto others, what he has done for them. "God, who is good, invites all of us to be good," the pope added.

"Whoever has received a lot must learn to give a lot and not keep it all for oneself," Pope Francis said. God always offers his infinite love, mercy and forgiveness "vertically," from heaven to earth, and he expects it to be redistributed and given anew, "horizontally," among his children.

People are called to reflect that divine love and forgiveness onto others, he said, and create "a new relationship with our brothers and sisters," with one's friends, family, neighbors and even those "who have done something that is not wonderful."

The pope explained how this could be seen in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:21-35), in which a king forgave his servant's enormous debt, but the same servant refused to forgive a much smaller debt he was owed by another. The king punished the servant for not showing the same pity and compassion he had received.

The parable shows, the pope said, "If you do not push yourself to forgive, you will not be forgiven; if you do not push yourself to love, you will not be loved" at the final judgment.

Jesus shows the power of forgiveness, he said.

"Not everything in life is resolved with justice. No. Especially where a counterweight to evil must be placed, someone must love beyond what is due, to rebegin a story of grace."

Jesus replaces the law of revenge with the law of love: "What God has done for me, I return to you," he said.

In the days after Easter, the pope asked people reflect on whether they are able to forgive, and if they feel they can't, "ask the Lord for this grace because it is a grace" to be able to forgive.

"With a word, a hug, a smile, we can share with others that which we have received" -- the even more precious gift of God's forgiveness, the pope said.

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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 says 'love of Christ' compels him to proclaim Gospel of life

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 3:07pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Kurt Jensen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Preservation of the family, marriage and the unborn were the main themes of the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington April 23.

"Faith in the crucified and risen Christ shields us from two cold and deadly sins: arrogant presumption and cynical despair," said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, the guest speaker. "Neither of which are appropriate in a Christian leader. The enemy of our souls does not care which we prefer."

Bishop Olmsted, who is a consultant to the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the matter of legal abortion has defined his ministry, since he was ordained a priest in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1973, the year of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand.

"It is my pastoral duty to proclaim the Gospel of life and the protection in law of the most vulnerable among us. The love of Christ compels me."

Bishop Olmsted also recalled the words of St. John Paul II at a Mass on the National Mall in October 1979: "We will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life."

Speaking of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, recently blocked by House Democrats, Bishop Olmsted asked, "Where does blatant disregard for a child's life come from? From hardened hearts. A child demands love, and love costs."

"Any rejection of bodiliness," he added, "will immediately target two beautiful but demanding and sometimes inconvenient realities: marriage and the human child." Marriage, he said, "stands now in the way of the gender ideology. We Christians will stand for the reality of marriage today in our homes and the public square, even when facing persecution today."

A rapidly lowering birth rate in the United States, he said, means that the warning about contraception in St. Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," has come true, and "the disaster invited by theologians, bishops, priests and laity who protested Paul VI's prophetic letter is upon us," with sexual pleasure separated from procreation. "Enough!"

"Christians are called not to complacency, but to greatness, to have hearts great enough to be filled with God," Bishop Olmsted concluded.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke briefly about President Donald Trump's commitment to religious liberty.

"The president has allowed us Christians, of all denominations, to be very vocal about their faith and to prioritize our faith," he said. "Over the past two-and-a-half years, I think you can see the principles of our faith being manifested." Trump has addressed the annual March for Life rally via a video hookup the past two years.

Mulvaney, who combines the jobs of acting White House chief of staff and spoke briefly

"I can assure you," Mulvaney added, that he's sat in the Oval Office many times when Trump has admonished foreign leaders and diplomats in saying, "You're not doing enough to take care of the Christians in your country," or has praised them with "thank you for taking care of the Christians in your country."

"I won't lie to you, that that's pretty powerful stuff. To be able to be there, to be part of that, has been very invigorating," said Mulvaney, a member of Opus Dei and a graduate of Georgetown University.

"I'm comfortable as a Catholic, even though I'm working for a president who is not Catholic, that the principles of our faith are alive and well and well respected in this administration and driving many of our policies," he added.

The 1,400 attendees gave a standing ovation to Ted and Julie Sandmann, parents of Nick Sandmann, the Covington (Kentucky) Catholic High School who was thrown into the center of a national spotlight in January when videos of him and his classmates interacting with Native Americans and others near Washington's Lincoln Memorial went viral.

Also garnering a loud ovation was Abby Johnson, the pro-life activist who runs And Then There Were None, a ministry to former abortion clinic workers, who was recently portrayed in the film drama "Unplanned," which proved to be successful at the box office.

"The critics, they thought we'd make 40 bucks, and we're sitting on $17 million right now," she said. The film, which cost $6 million to make, is her story as a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who eventually rejected abortion to join the pro-life movement.

"I'm waking up every day getting emails from people; who told me they walked into the film pro-choice and walked out pro-life. This is why we decided to do 'Unplanned' -- for the conversion of hearts."

Also speaking were Sister Bethany Madonna, vocations director of the Sisters of Life, and Curtis Martin, the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The breakfast has been held annually since 2004. The event was established in 2004 in response to St. John Paul's call for a new evangelization. George W. Bush has the only president to address the gathering, doing so from 2005 to 2008. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the breakfast in 2017.

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Volunteer gardener at crisis maternity home provides balm for the wounded

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 11:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Farmer de la Torre, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Outside of a week or two in the darkest days of winter, it's always gardening season for Jana Hukriede.

A key volunteer at Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri's LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home in Springfield, Hukriede finds that hardly a day passes in which she is not organizing volunteers, looking for bargains on gardening supplies and planning which vegetables to plant when in the numerous raised beds at the home's 11-acre property.

Hukriede, 69, a retired Catholic school teacher, has been at it for seven years and has seen her involvement grow into one that the women who live at the maternity home have come to appreciate and welcome.

Catholic Charities USA recognized Hukriede's commitment as its 2019 volunteer of the year. She will be honored during the agency's annual gathering Sept. 25-27 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She kidded that she hopes the ceremony won't interfere with her garden schedule.

Hukriede said she started volunteering after seeing an invitation in her parish bulletin at Holy Trinity Church because she "felt moved by the Spirit."

"I thought, 'Well, gosh, what can I do to help?'" she recalled.

Joined by the dozens of volunteers she has recruited -- mostly retirees, but occasionally the group includes a few strapping college students who stop by to aid with a major project -- Hukriede has helped create a caring community focused on meeting the needs of pregnant women and young mothers challenged by homelessness, domestic violence or addictions.

Her efforts have led to a gradual expansion of the garden. The harvest of kale, broccoli, onions, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and squash has increased enough to become a significant source of healthy food for LifeHouse residents. Not only does Hukriede's team grow and harvest the food, but they have helped the women get involved in weeding, harvesting and canning the produce that is grown.

There's now a greenhouse on site so that vegetables can be grown year-round and Hurkiede is eyeing the eventual installation of a water irrigation system.

"It's just so gratifying, too, to get other people involved and work as a team for a common goal," Hukriede told Catholic News Service. "We all know we are doing a great service for Catholic Charities and the women at LifeHouse."

Michele Marsh, LifeHouse director, described Hukriede as motivated to serve women who have had more than their share of hardship in life.

"She a joyful person. She's dedicated. Really, she's inspired so many people. And she's a good role model," Marsh said.

It's more than the garden to which Hukriede has committed her time. She continues as an on-call substitute teacher, is a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Holy Trinity, and helps prepare meals after funerals for parishioners.

She said her husband of 34 years, Malcolm, supports her effort. The couple's son John, 36, is married and has a 3-year-old son with wife Linsey. Their son Stephen was born with cerebral palsy and died in 2010 at age 24.

Hukriede said she is pleased to be recognized for her volunteerism, but that awards are not why she has devoted so much time to gardening at LifeHouse.

"It's about giving service," she said. "That's what Jesus modeled."

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Curia reforms put priority on evangelization, synodality, cardinals say

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 11:10am

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The proposed apostolic constitution for reforming and governing the Roman Curia is expected to emphasize the church's missionary mandate with the creation of a "super-dicastery" merging two offices dedicated to evangelization.

"The main point of the new apostolic constitution is that the church's mission is evangelization. It puts it at the center of the church and of everything the Curia does," Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, told Vida Nueva, a Spanish weekly publication dedicated to news about the Catholic Church.

Cardinals Gracias and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, both members of Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals, spoke to the Spanish weekly about the final draft of reforms the council approved at its previous meeting in early April. Vida Nueva provided Catholic News Service with an advance copy of the Spanish-language article, which was to be published April 27.  

The provisional title of the new constitution, "Praedicate Evangelium" ("Preach the Gospel"), "shows that evangelization is the number one goal, ahead of anything else," Cardinal Gracias told Vida Nueva.

"Pope Francis always emphasizes that the church is missionary," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said, which is why the new dicastery will supersede the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in importance.

The new Dicastery of Evangelization will be a consolidation of the current Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which coordinates the church's missionary activities, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, which aims to promote a renewal of the faith in countries where Christian vitality has been waning.

Other major changes expected, the cardinals said, include: merging the Pontifical Council for Culture with the Congregation for Catholic Education; transforming the current Papal Almoner's office, which is charged with coordinating Pope Francis' acts of charity, into a Dicastery for Charity; and granting greater authority to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal Gracias said it was important the papal commission remain independent from the Roman Curia in order to maintain its credibility; however, "if you are not part of the Curia, you have no power over it."

He said, "It's necessary to strike a balance between credibility and effectiveness" for the commission, whose mandate has been advising the pope and helping local churches understand and utilize best practices when it comes to safeguarding minors from abuse.

A major focus of the constitution is to create a change in mentality and in the relationship between the Holy See and the local churches, represented by the world's bishops, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said.

The constitution places the Vatican dicasteries at the service of both the pope and the bishops, who are "successors of the apostles" and "are not in an ecclesiological position below those who work in the Roman Curia," the Honduran cardinal said.

Cardinal Gracias said, "The pope wanted a mindset of service to prevail and that the Curia also be directly available to the bishops" in order to help them.
 
The various Vatican offices, therefore, are not meant to be something placed between the bishops and the pope nor are they to be just an "instrument" the pope uses to "supervise" the bishops; the curia is meant to be at the service of both the bishops and the pope, the Indian cardinal said.

The constitution also will include reforms that have already gone into effect, such as the creation of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Communication.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said the new offices and upcoming reforms not only streamline the Curia, but also "emphasize the importance of the laity in the church and for the church" by allowing the possibility for a layperson to head a dicastery. Traditionally, congregations have a cardinal as prefect and pontifical councils have had either a cardinal or an archbishop as president.

The constitution's prologue will emphasize the missionary role of all baptized men and women, not just those who have been ordained or consecrated, the Honduran cardinal added.  

The draft has been sent to the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the leaders of world's bishops' conferences, the synods of the Eastern Catholic churches, the conferences of major superiors of men and women religious and some pontifical universities for their observations and suggested improvements.  

The two cardinals said they do not expect major changes to come out of the consultative phase since the five-year process of drafting the constitution involved gathering the ideas and concerns of the local churches and the various Vatican offices.

It is hoped each "overall assessment" will be handed in before the end of May -- in time for the six-member Council of Cardinals to study the suggestions and have an amended draft to give to the pope to sign June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. If the suggestions do not come in time, the constitution's publication would most likely be delayed until after the summer, the cardinals said.

The apostolic constitution will replace "Pastor Bonus," St. John Paul II's 1988 constitution reforming the Curia.

The new constitution was not going to be a mere "cosmetic change but will promote the change in mentality that has already started," Cardinal Gracias said.

"The Roman Curia will never be the same anymore," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga added.

The Council of Cardinals has been advising the pope on the reform of the Curia and church governance in general since Pope Francis created the body soon after his election in 2013.

The council currently has six members: Cardinals Rodriguez Maradiaga; Gracias; Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Sean P. O'Malley of Boston; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State.

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Encore: Argentine martyrs' road to beatification recalls period of military rule

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 4:43pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/David Agren

By David Agren

LA RIOJA, Argentina (CNS) -- Bishop Enrique Angelelli Carletti traveled to a rural corner of his diocese in July 1973 to celebrate the feast of San Antonio. He was run out of town instead.

A mob organized by wealthy landowners pelted him with stones. It was their response to his promotion of worker cooperatives at a time when such concepts were criticized as communist, and anything emphasizing the "social" was seen as subversive.

Bishop Angelelli's pastoral approach was inspired by the Second Vatican Council and Young Christian Workers Movement, but the resistance became more brazen in the ensuing years. He was murdered in a mysterious car crash in July 1976 -- a crime carried out by the then-ruling military dictatorship.

The bishop's murder followed the slayings of two priests -- Conventual Franciscan Father Gabriel Longueville and Father Carlos de Dios Murias -- and Wenceslao Pedernera, a pastoral worker.

The four churchmen are collectively known as the Martyrs of La Rioja. They will be beatified April 27 at a ceremony in La Rioja, 700 miles northwest of Buenos Aires in the arid Andean foothills.

Their road to beatification recalls the troubled period of military rule and church acquiescence as abuses occurred. But it also vindicates a pastoral approach since championed by Pope Francis, who, while Jesuit provincial, befriended Bishop Angelelli.

The La Rioja martyrs "are the first victims of the military dictatorship to be declared martyrs by the church," said Mariano de Vedia, author of a biography on Bishop Angelelli. "It's a gesture showing Francis' commitment to the church that's close to the poor."

The beatifications have been greeted with muted enthusiasm in La Rioja and Argentina, however. Many locals in La Rioja still know little of the martyrs' legacy, let alone their names.

Such is the controversy still clinging to Bishop Angelelli's legacy and the country's difficulties confronting the atrocities of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which some in the church hierarchy supported and many more did not actively oppose.

"Argentina is a country looking more at the past than to the future and more open to controversies than agreements," said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio.

"He is considered a socially minded bishop, very concerned with people's issues, very critical of the military dictatorship and, with few exceptions, the Argentina episcopate didn't defend him," said Poirier.

Bishop Angelelli was born in Cordoba, 250 miles southeast of La Rioja, in 1923. He entered the minor seminary at age 15, studied in Rome and was elevated to bishop by St. John XXIII in 1960.

He participated in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council and the 1968 Latin American bishops' council meeting in Medellin, Colombia, where the bishops proposed "a preferential option for the poor," a principle unpopular with Argentina's hierarchy, according to observers.

After Vatican II, the bishop returned to Cordoba, where he was an auxiliary, to implement new pastoral approaches, though his archbishop was not on board.

Bishop Angelelli "understood the Vatican II and its challenges," said Delfor Brizuela, a former priest and current human rights director in La Rioja's provincial government. "But he didn't really fulfill a bishop's role" in Cordoba, where "they sent him to a parish like any other priest, but (as) a bishop."

The bishop was appointed to La Rioja in 1968. He was sent there "as if it were the end of the world," Brizuela said, as the province was one of the poorest and least influential in Argentina, while social conditions were "semi-feudal." But he embraced the appointment and saw it as an opportunity to put the preferential option for the poor into practice.

Some of the changes were symbolic: He removed the names of the wealthy from the pews they reserved for themselves in the cathedral, where many poor Catholics preferred not to attend. He embraced popular piety, celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in poor pueblos and did not mind churchgoers not wearing their Sunday best.

Bishop Angelelli criticized injustices, but also promoted ministries for young people and for improving women's equality in a bastion of machismo, said Sister Maricarmen Paruas, who worked with the late bishop.

"He valued women and valued women religious," Sister Maricarmen said. "As women, as religious, he gave us opportunities to work in his pastoral projects as equals."

His pastoral approach attracted priests and religious wanting to put Vatican II into practice. Sister Maricarmen, 87, arrived in La Rioja from Spain in 1970 with the Religious of the Assumption congregation.

"When we came here, we saw the possibility of living a different church with a different bishop. We saw the prospect of working in barrios, in the midst of the people, and we stayed," she said.

"We established a presence of walking together, of listening and learning," she added. "We learned a lot from the people. He learned a lot from the people. He told us, 'Listen a lot before speaking. Drink lots of mate,'" an infusion popular in Argentina.

Though denounced as communist by the gentry and attacked mercilessly in the press, Bishop Angelelli "received the rich, the same as the poor," and "was able to forgive his worst enemy," Sister Maricarmen said.

Many of the bishop's conflicts with the wealthy stemmed from his promotion of worker-run co-ops.

Rafael Sifre, a collaborator in the rural movement supported by Bishop Angelelli, recalls an attempt to form a co-op to work the land of a vineyard owner, who had died. But resistance from local landowners was ferocious, to the point Sifre was kidnapped three times and the bishop was pelted with stones and accused of storing explosives in the local parish, he said.

Pedernera worked in the cellar of winery in Mendoza province, but moved to La Rioja to join Bishop Angelelli's rural movement. He also tried to form a co-op -- The Lucky Star to grow crops such as melons, tomatoes and peppers -- but also encountered resistance from landowners and the military dictatorship.

Susana Pedernera, one of his three daughters, recalls constant harassment and espionage -- to the point vehicles, driven by spies dressed as women, would pass by the family's farm. Wenceslao Pedernera was a catechist in the local parish and would "read a page from the Gospel after work," his daughter recalled.

But when he read the Bible, "People distanced themselves" and called him "communist" and "extremist," she said. "That's when problems started."

On the night of July 24, 1976, gendarmes pulled Wenceslao Pedernera from his home, at gunpoint, and beat him badly. He died of his injuries.

Six days earlier, Fathers Longueville and Dios Murias also were taken violently as they ate supper with a congregation of women religious. Their bodies were found beaten by railway workers.

"They tried to silence the bishop by killing those close to him," said Sifre, who was sent to Europe for his own safety. "He was persecuted for a church that tried to live the Gospel."

Few in the Argentine bishops' conference backed Bishop Angelelli. The Jesuits -- whose Argentine provincial was then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- held a retreat in La Rioja and, when the seminarians were sent away to study for their safety, the Jesuits welcomed them at their school in suburban Buenos Aires.

On Aug. 4, 1976, Bishop Angelelli was returning to La Rioja after celebrating a novena as part of the funerals for Pedernera and the two priests. His vehicle was run off the road by assassins in what was supposed to look like an accident. In 2014, two military commanders were found criminally responsible for his death.

Sister Maricarmen recalls Bishop Angelelli telling her on the eve of his murder, "They're closing in." She urged him to leave, but he refused.

"My place is here alongside my people," he said. "How can I leave my flock without a shepherd?"

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Sri Lankan attacks are the latest in series of Easter-related incidents

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 1:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

By

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) -- At least 290 people were killed and dead more than 500 injured in Easter attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka. The bombings were the latest in a string of Easter season bombings by extremists.

The others:

April 2, 2018: Four people were shot dead in an attack targeting Christians in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Easter Monday.

April 9, 2017: Bombings at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday saw 45 people killed.

March 27, 2016: 75 people died and more than 300 were injured after bombs exploded in a park in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, as people celebrated following Easter services; the Taliban claimed responsibility.

April 2, 2015: Christian students were targeted as the University of Garissa, Kenya, was attacked on Holy Thursday; 148 people died.

April 8, 2012: A suicide car bombing at Easter church services in the Nigerian city of Kaduna killed at least 38 people; the Islamist group Boko Haram claimed credit.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

N.Y. church, agency, union leaders on fact-finding trip to Central America

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 1:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

By Christie L. Chicoine

NEW YORK (CNS) -- A delegation that includes the head of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, union leaders, state officials and representatives of humanitarian aid agencies are visiting the three Central American nations that now face a cutoff of U.S. aid ordered by President Donald Trump.

During the April 22-26 fact-finding trip, the delegation planned to assess conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that have sparked years of migration northward to the U.S.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, told reporters during a news conference April 11 at the agency's Community Services - Immigration Legal Center in lower Manhattan that the delegation wanted to better understand the on-the-ground conditions people face daily in the Northern Triangle countries.

Joining Msgr. Sullivan on the fact-finding mission were New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, other Catholic Charities representatives and officials from Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

Briefing participants fielded questions related to immigration and border issues, unaccompanied minors and the impact of U.S. policies on families at the border and in New York.

"We are very, very pleased that so many of our Catholic Charities partners are here today," Msgr. Sullivan said, "because when we are at our best as a country, and as a city and as a state, we don't do things alone. We do them in partnership with those of goodwill who want to make our city, our state, our nation, a more compassionate, a more fair place."

Msgr. Sullivan acknowledged the concern and care New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has "for immigrants, particularly unaccompanied minors," throughout the years, "but especially last summer when we had the crisis of separated children."

The number of those who continue to come to the United States is increasing, Msgr. Sullivan said. "The partners that we have in New York City and New York state, although stretched, continue to provide compassionate, high quality care," through housing, social and legal services, and counseling.

"Today," Msgr. Sullivan said, "we want to say that as New Yorkers, that we continue to be the city that welcomes and ... encourages newcomers because we're stronger when we welcome and we open our doors to them."

Cardinal Dolan attended the news briefing along with David Hansell, New York City commissioner of the Administration for Children Services, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other legal and social service providers.

in response to a reporter's question about whether there is a limit to how many people can come into the country, cited some compelling statistics, Msgr. Sullivan said the archdiocese believes in secure borders as well as "a generous, legal, immigration policy."

"We also believe that there is a need for people to earn a way to remedy a situation that they may have gotten themselves into," he said.

Msgr. Sullivan said in traveling clinics Catholic Charities conducts throughout the New York metropolitan area, staffers see about 100 immigrants on a given day "who don't have the right documents. At the end of the day, 25 of those 100 really just were unaware that they could have the right documents."

He also shared a table listing the population densities of 225 countries. "The United States, on that list, is 175th from the top of dense countries," he said.

DiNapoli anticipated the trip would yield information "from the ground" to share with policymakers in New York state as well as some national leaders.

Cardinal Dolan said that for more than a century Catholic Charities has welcomed, helped and encouraged immigrants and refugees.

"We're going to keep doing it, but we can't do it by ourselves," the cardinal said. "And that's why the wisdom of a morning like this shows me the magnificent choreography of all the different partnerships that we have. So I thank our partners. Do we ever need you and do we ever appreciate you."

Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the city's Office of Immigrant Affairs, said the "false narrative of people just coming here for no reason, or that they're not children, or that they're not fleeing extreme violence, is just that -- it's false."

"And it's each and every one of our jobs," she said, "to ensure that we're telling the truth about why people are coming, that we're telling the truth about what it means if we leave people behind."

Applebaum, the union president, said the trip to the Central American nations could not have come at a more appropriate time. "We are leaving the day after Easter, which is also the middle of Passover.

"Passover was the story of a migration of people from their homes leaving in desperation. What happened so long ago should resonate with all of us in terms of what is happening today," he added.

To be true "to our faiths" and "to our city," Applebaum said, "we have to be speaking out at this time."

- - -

Chicoine is news editor of Catholic New York newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Only risen Christ can bring peace to world at war, pope says at Easter

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 8:39am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the machine of warfare continues to churn out more dangerous weaponry, only the power and joy of Christ's resurrection can fill hearts with comfort and peace, Pope Francis said before giving his Easter blessing.

"May the one who gives us his peace end the roar of arms -- both in areas of conflict and in our cities -- and inspire the leaders of nations to work for an end to the arms race and the troubling spread of weaponry, especially in the economically more advanced countries," the pope said as he prepared April 21 to give his Easter blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Jesus' resurrection from the dead is not only the start of a true renewal that "begins from the heart, from the conscience" but also the beginning of a new world "free from the slavery of sin and death" and now open to God's kingdom of "love, peace and fraternity," he said.

The pope's prayer for peace came a few hours after news broke of multiple bombs that exploded in several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing and wounding hundreds in the capital city of Colombo and the neighboring cities of Negombo and Batticaloa.

After giving his blessing, the pope expressed "sadness and pain" at the attack before leading the crowd in several moments of silent prayer for the victims.

"I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence," the pope said. "I entrust to the Lord all those who have been tragically lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this tragic event."

According to the Vatican, an estimated 70,000 pilgrims attended the Easter morning Mass in St. Peter's Square, where a vast floral arrangement adorning the steps leading to the basilica highlighted the festive atmosphere.

The display of flowers, imported from the Netherlands, featured more than 57,000 individual flowers, plants and trees, including tulips, daffodils, birch trees and more than 1,500 orange and blue strelitzia flowers that accented the joyful celebration of Christ's resurrection.

Pope Francis did not deliver a homily during the Mass; instead, an announcer invited the crowd to remain in silent prayer for several minutes. As a hushed silence filled the packed square, Pope Francis remained with eyes closed, hands folded and head bowed in prayerful reflection.

Standing on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after celebrating the morning Mass, the pope prayed that the risen Christ shine his light upon "those experiencing hardship, pain and suffering," especially in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Holy Land.

"May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability," he said.

The pope prayed that Jesus would bring peace to the African continent, which he said was "still rife with social tensions, conflicts and at times violent forms of extremism that leave in their wake insecurity, destruction and death, especially in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon."

He also prayed for peace in Sudan as well as neighboring South Sudan, whose leaders were recently at the Vatican for a spiritual retreat.

"May a new page open in the history of that country, in which all political, social and religious components actively commit themselves to the pursuit of the common good and the reconciliation of the nation," the pope said.

Turning his attention toward Latin America, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Nicaragua so that a "negotiated solution" would bring peace to its people.

He also remembered the suffering people of Venezuela who "lack the minimal conditions for leading a dignified and secure life due to a crisis that endures and worsens."

The pope prayed that political leaders in the country would put an "end to social injustices, abuses and acts of violence" while taking concrete steps "to heal divisions and offer the population the help they need."

Before delivering his blessing, Pope Francis urged Christians to be renewed by the living Christ who "is hope and youth for each of us and for the entire world."

"May the risen Christ, who flung open the doors of the tomb, open our hearts to the needs of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, and all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity," he said.

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 5:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said.

"Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside," the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil.

The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, "fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change."

Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope's candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world's largest Catholic church.

During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.

In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel scene of the women going to Jesus' tomb to anoint his dead body. Pope Francis imagined that the women were worried about how they would remove the stone sealing the tomb and said that in an analogous way it is a worry the entire Christian community can experience.

"At times," he said, "it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people."

"In the history of the church and in our own personal history," he said, it may seem that "the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life."

But, he said, "God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness."

The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, "and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment."

When the women entered Jesus' tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?"

Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming "cynical, negative and despondent."

The "stone of sin" also seals human hearts, he said. "Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away."

"Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God's light from entering in?" the pope asked people at Mass. "Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?"

Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, "for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty," Pope Francis said. "In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived."

"Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing," he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a "Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

On Good Friday, papal preacher says cross brings hope to the oppressed

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 7:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The cross serves as a warning to the powerful and a message of hope for the poor and oppressed, said the preacher of the papal household.

With Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, "a total reversal of roles has taken place: The vanquished has become the victor; the one judged has become the judge," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during an April 19 service commemorating Christ's death on the cross.

"The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope," he said.

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, which began with a silent, solemn procession down the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica. Two aides then helped the 82-year-old pope down onto his knees as he stretched himself prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance.

During the liturgy, the pope and thousands of faithful stood as three deacons and the Sistine Chapel Choir chanted the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John. As is customary, the papal household's preacher gave the homily.

Father Cantalamessa said the crucified Christ represents everyone who is despised and rejected; "the greatest man in history was one of you," he said, "the discarded of the earth, those from whom we turn aside our faces so as not to see them."

Jesus, who was bound, mocked and tortured by soldiers, is the epitome of all those who are handcuffed, "alone, at the mercy of soldiers and thugs, who take out the rage and cruelty they stored up during their lives on the unfortunate poor," the papal preacher said. On the cross Jesus "becomes the symbol of this part of humanity that is humiliated and insulted."

In his teachings, Jesus "solemnly affirmed that whatever we did for the hungry, the naked, the incarcerated, the outcast, we did to him, and whatever we omitted doing for them, we omitted doing to him," he said.

This is the mandate the church has received -- "to stand with the poor and the weak, to be the voice for those who have no voice," Father Cantalamessa said.

All religions, in fact, must not only promote peace, they must not remain silent "in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see. A few privileged people possess more goods than they could ever consume, while for entire centuries countless masses of poor people have lived without having a piece of bread or a sip of water to give their children," he said.

"No religion can remain indifferent to this, because the God of all the religions is not indifferent to all of this," he added.

The cross, therefore, also contains a message for those who are powerful and "comfortable in their role as 'victors,'" he said.

"It is a message, as always, of love and salvation, not of hate or vengeance," but it reminds them that they, too, are bound to the same fate of divine judgment in the end: "whether weak or strong, defenseless or tyrannical, all are subjected to the same laws and to the same human limitations."

The cross, a sign of hope and a world redeemed from sin, also "warns against the worst evil for a human being, the illusion of omnipotence," he said.

Pope Francis was scheduled to speak briefly later that night at the end of the Stations of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum. The meditations on the stations were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, an Italian nun working against human trafficking and ministering to women and girls forced by their captors to become sex workers.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

'Their Calvary was lengthy': Pope's Stations recall those exploited

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 6:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Recalling Jesus' death on the cross, Pope Francis led thousands on Good Friday in reflecting on the crosses of loneliness, fear and betrayal that crucify countless men, women and children in the world.

In the annual Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, the meditation for each station reflected the suffering and pain of people exploited and marginalized.

At the 13th station, Jesus is taken down from the cross, the meditation recalled the funeral of 26 young Nigerian women who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Their Calvary," it read, "was lengthy and difficult."

"Two of them were bearing in their womb the gift of a new life, children who would never see the light of day," the reflection read. "Yet their death, like that of Jesus taken down from the cross, was not in vain. We entrust all these lives to the mercy of God our father and the father of all, especially the poor, the desperate and the abased."

At each station, various people took turns carrying a large black cross and circling the famed Colosseum, which glowed a fiery orange from hundreds of candles placed around the ruins. Thousands of men, women and children standing outside also held lit candles as the sounds of prayers, reflections and music echoed throughout the hallowed site where many Christian executions took place in ancient Rome.

This year, the meditations for the late-night event were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a missionary who ministers to sex workers along the roadsides of Italian cities, in police detention centers or in church-run safehouses, helping them get off the streets and rebuild their lives.

Sister Bonetti is a leader among women religious working against human trafficking. She started and led anti-trafficking initiatives for the Italian Union of Major Superiors and helped educate officials in Italy and the United States about the problem.

Many of the meditations reflected on the horrors of human trafficking witnessed by Sister Bonetti.

The prayer during the meditation of the sixth station -- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus -- asked God to "cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children who, in many parts of the world, are living in poverty and squalor."

"Let us think of all those children in various parts of the world who cannot go to school but are instead exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, used and abused on our streets by many, including Christians, who have lost the sense of their own and others' sacredness," the meditation read.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis read a prayer he wrote, asking Jesus to help Christians today to "see in your cross all the crosses of the world."

He also prayed that Christians may see the cross of Christ in the church that, although faithful to the Gospel, "struggles to carry your love even among the baptized themselves" and is "continually attacked from within and from without."

In his prayer, which he read from a hillside overlooking a torch-lit cross and the crowds holding candles, the pope remembered the crosses of people "hungry for bread and love," especially those who are "lonely and abandoned even by their own children and relatives."

The pope also remembered the crosses borne by children "wounded in their innocence and purity," and who also "find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their families and their peers."

He also prayed for consecrated men and women who are "rejected, mocked and humiliated" for bring Christ's light into the world as well as those "who along the way have forgotten their first love."

Concluding his prayer, Pope Francis said, "Lord Jesus, rekindle in us the hope of the resurrection and of your definitive victory against all evil and all death."

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Solitary confinement in U.S. prisons qualifies today as torture

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 4:38pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Few people think about it in these terms, even around Easter, but Jesus was tortured as a prisoner before his death on a cross. There's no other way to characterize the 39 lashes ordered by Pontius Pilate, or the crown of thorns. Or, for that matter, the lance in his side to see if he was really dead or just looked dead.

It brings into sharp focus that, while the methods have changed over the past 2,000 years, torture remains part of prison life.

The federal Justice Department report April 3 on prison conditions in Alabama told of "a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature and pervasive." Among the findings, none of which were ever tracked by the state: 15 prison suicides in the past 15 months, a prison homicide rate well above the national average, and sexual assaults in "dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night."

The investigation began after a series of lawsuits earlier in the decade and published reports describing brutality, violence -- and torture -- in state prisons.

While states are rarely subject to the kind of federal scrutiny Alabama received, U.S. prisons have rarely been held up as models for rehabilitation. Even some tactics used in prison meant to rehabilitate prisoners now qualify as torture.

One such tactic is solitary confinement.

Benjamin Franklin and several Quaker leaders first instituted solitary confinement in Philadelphia in the late 18th century, believing that total isolation and silence would lead to penitence -- from which we get the name "penitentiary."

Instead, enforced solitary confinement led to severe mental health problems for prisoners, including insanity. "I believe it ... to be cruel and wrong," said novelist Charles Dickens after a visit to a Pennsylvania penitentiary that had nothing but solitary confinement cells. "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." The Quakers later apologized for their advocacy of long-term solitary confinement.

Yet the practice persists.

"We oppose the increasing use of isolation units, especially in the absence of due process, and the monitoring and professional assessment of the effects of such confinement on the mental health of inmates," said the U.S. bishops in their 2000 statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice."

"One form of torture is ... confinement in high-security prisons," said Pope Francis in an Oct. 23, 2014, address.

"As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss and significantly increase the suicidal tendency," Pope Francis said.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, or NRCAT, which is based in Washington, has led two-track initiatives decrying torture in prisons both in the United States and abroad.

Leading the U.S. side of the initiative is Johnny Perez, who knows something about extended solitary confinement.

"I was a total of three years in solitary. The longest was 10 months; that was testing positive for cannabis consumption -- smoking weed, in other words," Perez told Catholic News Service in an April 16 telephone interview from New York. "I rely on that experience" in working against torture, he added.

Asked how he made it through, Perez, who was raised Catholic, replied, "Lots of prayer, if that hasn't been obvious," adding a hearty chuckle afterward. "Meditation and understanding. And also the thought that if I don't make it, they win."

Perez said NRCAT works at "engaging faith leaders and mobilizing them" on the issue, "not only with correctional facilities but also legislators."

Faith leaders can be found nearly anywhere. Earlier this decade, NRCAT took its solitary prison cell replica -- a 6-foot-by-9-foot windowless box featuring audio from a maximum security prison in Maine -- to a national Catholic youth conference in Indianapolis. "People are invited to sit in the cell -- for up to one hour -- and those who have are very moved and motivated to take action," said the NRCAT website, www.nrcat.org.

In New York, New Jersey and California, according to Perez, "faith leaders have been able to create mitigation teams where they have direct communication with correctional staff to find some middle ground on what needs to change."

"Between policy and practice is a huge space, And to close that space, we need people who have been affected by these issues to directly engage," Perez said.

One high-water mark in the campaign against solitary confinement came in 2012, when the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights conducted a hearing on the practice.

The Innocence Project, based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, submitted testimony on behalf of several prisoners, exonerated after their conviction, of their time in solitary.

Julie Rea testified she was placed in solitary in an Illinois prison to keep her from harming herself and was then tormented by prison guards who played a recording of a woman being tortured to prevent her from sleeping. Cornelius Dupree, exonerated by DNA after spending 30 years in Texas prisons, recounted receiving one complete meal only every three days when he was in solitary. The other two days he received a spoonful each of rice and beans and a roll.

Nicholas Yarris, freed in 2003 after spending 23 years in solitary confinement on death row in Pennsylvania attempted suicide in prison. Despite his innocence, he asked a year before his exoneration that he be executed rather than continue to be held in what he called "endless degradation."

Clarence Elkins testified he had to spend the last three months in solitary confinement, despite evidence of his innocence to "protect" him from the person who had actually the crime in his case and was housed in the same prison.

Herman Atkins spent 11 years in prison in California, 16 months of it in solitary, before being exonerated. While in solitary, he said he was confined to a small windowless room with a light always on to allow correction officers to watch him at all times, and "when a government has the authority to treat people so poorly," he testified, "it's impossible to hold citizens to a higher standard."

NRCAT asks its affiliates and prison reform advocates to take part in "Together to End Solitary" actions the 23rd of each month. The 23rd is chosen because of the 23 hours each day a prisoner typically spends in solidarity.

"For 23 hours a day for months, years, even decades, more than 80,000 adults and youth are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers," the NRCAT website says.

Study guides for people of different faiths are available from NRCAT, including one for Catholics. The Catholic study guide features this admonition from Hebrews 13:3, which NRCAT translates as, "Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2019 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.

Pages

The Catholic Voice

The Archdiocese of Omaha • Catholic Voice
402-558-6611 • Fax 402 558-6614 •
E-mail Us

Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved.
This information may not be published, broadcast,
rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

Comment Here