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Texas locality orders popular Catholic center for migrants to vacate

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 4:53pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of city commissioners in the border city of McAllen, Texas, voted in mid-February to remove from a building a popular Catholic-administered center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, who has been praised by Pope Francis for her work with migrants.

McAllen city commissioners voted Feb. 11 to vacate within 90 days the building that Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley uses to provide temporary shelter for immigrants who cross from Mexico into the United States but who have been released by federal authorities.

Sister Pimentel, who has won national and international praise for the type of work that takes place at the center, is the executive director for the charitable agency that runs the temporary shelter, which provides food, clothes, a shower and other necessities for migrant children and adults passing through the city in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.  

Residents were complaining to city commissioners about activity in their neighborhood that they said was coming from what's known as the "respite center," which began occupying the space in December, said a Feb. 11 story by the local newspaper, The Monitor. But Sister Pimentel, according to the report, said during a meeting to discuss the issue that the families the shelter helps are receiving services inside the building.

"They don't go wandering around," she said, according to the newspaper story.

Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said Feb. 13 via Twitter that "the decision of the McAllen City Commission was disheartening for many, yet, I continue to have hope in our collaborative relation with the city."

He said the diocese, as well as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, were committed to finding "a welcoming location to continue the work of the respite center."

"How we treat the poor is how we treat Christ. And to give him even a cup of water invites a blessing from God," he continued.

In a statement released by Catholic Charities Feb. 13, Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said she was disappointed but would continue to work with the city of McAllen "in efforts to treat immigrant families in a just and humane way and ensure that they are in compliance with existing immigration laws."

Last summer, a group from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which included the organization's president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and its vice president, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, visited a respite center, but in a different location, that Catholic Charities runs in McAllen.

The work of "welcoming the stranger" that takes place at the center has been the focus of fundraisers at the Vatican, featured on news shows, and has caught the attention of those such as Kerry Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's daughter, and TV celebrity Gayle King.

When President Donald Trump visited McAllen Jan. 10, Sister Pimentel invited him to visit the respite center, but he did not make a stop there.

The original respite center in the area began in 2014, when Sister Pimentel saw an influx of immigrants arriving in Rio Grande Valley region and with local volunteers, she began a makeshift operation to help the migrants obtain clothes and food. Out of a property that belonged to the local Sacred Heart Church, they began clothing and feeding the newcomers.

Since then, respite centers at various temporary locations have helped thousands of migrants, many seeking asylum and passing through the border city, have access to a shower after a harrowing trip, a clean change of clothes, a quick medical exam, if they need it, a warm meal and sometimes a snack for the road. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is raising funds to build a permanent facility.

"Our mission remains unchanged -- to restore and recognize the human dignity of all vulnerable people -- throughout our community including those seeking asylum," Sister Pimentel said in the statement issued following the decision.

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Contributing to this story was Rose Ybarra in San Juan, Texas.


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Update: Catholics, Muslims bond over weekly lunch at Indianapolis deli

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 1:38pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The openness to people of other faiths that Pope Francis modeled during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates has been embraced for more than 20 years at a weekly lunch shared by Muslims, Catholics and other Christians at Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis.

John Welch, a longtime member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, helped start the lunch meetings in 1997.

"It's the presence of Jesus in our midst," Welch told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Over the years, Welch and those sharing lunch and their lives together at Shapiro's have included members of the Italy-based Catholic lay movement Focolare, members of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, as well as Protestant clergy in the city.

Welch, 84, was honored at a recent lunch by those in attendance as he prepared to move with his wife, Mary, to Chicago to live closer to family.

He was inspired to reach out to Muslims in the Indianapolis community through his involvement in Focolare, which emphasizes building unity among people based on sharing the love of God with them.

Welch said that the members of Focolare, who are known as "Focolarini," are called to embody in their daily lives Jesus' teaching to love others as he loved them.

"Our vocation is that, when Jesus said, 'Whenever two or more are united in my name' -- which means his commandment to love one another -- 'there am I present in their midst,'" Welch said. "So whether we're a father (of a family), or a Protestant pastor, an imam, the vocation is to live such mutual love ... that Jesus dwells in our midst.

"If people are touched by their exposure to us, it's not us. It's the presence of God in our midst that attracts them," he added.

Michael Saahir, who is leader, or imam, of Nur-Allah, has been attracted to the principles of Focolare for decades, having met with Chiara Lubich, its founder, on various occasions before her death in 2008. He also has visited the Vatican eight times to participate in interreligious dialogue events.

After the recent gathering at the deli, Saahir spoke to The Criterion about the influence of Focolare and the lunches he has shared with Welch and others in his Muslim faith.

"I have to love the one nearest to me in the present moment, even if I don't like them, even if I don't want to be there," he said. "It exposed in me a shortcoming and, at the same time, forced me to develop a discipline to at least try to love the other person in that present moment."

Many in the United States didn't like Muslims after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Nur-Allah received bomb threats in the days following. But Welch and other Focolarini in Indianapolis wanted to show solidarity with the Muslims of Nur-Allah by attending their Friday prayer service, known in Arabic as Jumu'ah, a few days later.

"On Sept. 14, 2001, they put into practice what they'd been preaching," Saahir said. "It was real. It wasn't a conversation. It was a demonstration. You saw people put themselves where they didn't have to be. They came. It was awesome."

John Mundell, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and Focolare, was there that day and afterward saw the effects of this witness by him and his fellow Focolarini.

"We had some answers that people were perhaps looking for and got a lot of requests after that to share our understanding of how you can have a dialogue with people that are so different," Mundell said. "So that's what we did. We had an obligation to share it."

The kind of interreligious events that Saahir has attended at the Vatican often involve experts and high-level religious leaders.

The weekly lunches at Shapiro's, though, are shared by ordinary believers sharing with each other the joys and trials of their everyday lives and how they understand them in light of their faith.

One of the attendees at the lunch when Welch was honored was Nur Allah member David Shaheed, a retired Marion County judge. He was one of the original people who shared lunch with Welch starting in 1997.

He was thankful for the deep bond that the lunches at Shapiro's created among people of differing faiths over the years.

"Once you can sense that, even though a person may have Mass and you have Jumu'ah, when they tell you some of their experiences, it lets you know that God is not just speaking to your faith," Shaheed said. "There's a clear demonstration through the lives of others that God is working in the lives of other people."

Although he won't be attending the lunches any longer, Welch said that this bond will continue as he moves away.

"Keep on keeping on," he said. "We'll be hearing about you all of the time."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Territory is life, life is territory: what indigenous want church to know

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Fraser

By Barbara J. Fraser

LETICIA, Colombia (CNS) -- Rafael Noteno Capinoa, a Kichwa Indian, worries about what could happen to the forest around his village on Peru's Napo River if an oil company begins drilling in the area.

"The forest is where we are born, we grow up, we live, we die and are buried," he said. "During our lifetime, we use what we find there."

For the Kichwa and other Amazonian peoples, every plant and animal has a spirit, and humans live in harmony with them, he said. "But if people behave badly, nature may abandon them."

A year ago, during a visit to Peru, Pope Francis asked an audience of native people of the Amazon basin to help bishops and religious to understand their relationship with the natural world. Since then, church leaders have held more than 40 meetings in the nine Amazonian countries to listen to local people, in preparation for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to be held at the Vatican in October.

Noteno was among about 70 indigenous people who gathered at a Ticuna and Huitoto village outside this Amazonian town Feb. 2-4 to talk about what they would like the church to understand.

"The Catholic Church is increasingly aware of the many ways in which the Amazon is being destroyed," said Columban Father Peter Hughes, an adviser to the synod planning committee.

There are "constant threats (against) original peoples whose lands are being taken away, whose cultures are being disregarded, and whose land and rivers, the place where they live, are being destroyed," Father Hughes said. "The synod is a chance to give voice to the Amazon. The church has to listen."

The danger is real for Antonio Verisimo da Conceicao, an Apinaje Indian from Tocantins, a state in east-central Brazil. Although the Brazilian government has recognized the boundaries of his community of Pemxa, a dam threatens his people's water sources, he said, and industrial farms are encroaching on an area that his community has requested for expansion.

He and his son have both received death threats for standing up for their rights.

Parts of the Brazilian Amazon have long been dangerous for people who defend land rights. Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born member of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was murdered Feb. 12, 2005, near the town of Anapu in the Amazonian state of Para, where she helped small landholders defend their farms and forests.

In 2017, Brazil was the deadliest county for environmentalists, indigenous leaders and other defenders of land rights, with 57 killed that year, according to the nonprofit organization Global Witness.

For da Conceicao and other Amazonian people, "territory is life and life is territory," Father Hughes said.

The Amazon basin contains the largest remaining expanse of tropical forest in the world. In his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for our Common Home," Pope Francis highlighted its importance for the global climate, as well as its significance as a home to the region's original peoples.

Deforestation has been increasing in recent decades, however, as roads, industrial farms and cattle ranches continue to expand. Indigenous territories have significantly lower deforestation rates than surrounding areas and are sometimes even better protected than government-established parks or reserves, studies have found.

Maintaining a traditional way of life in the forest is increasingly difficult, however, as young people often leave their villages in search of jobs or a college education. Facing discrimination in cities, they may conceal their indigenous roots.

When young people move away from their communities, they lose the chance to learn traditional songs, stories and myths from their parents and grandparents. Some never learn their native language, because their parents were forbidden to speak it in school -- sometimes even in Catholic mission schools, said Washington Salvador Tiwi Asamat, 45, a Shuar man from southern Ecuador.

Those are values that the church wants to help people recover, said Father Hughes.

Mariela Rivera Diaz, a Yagua woman from the community of San Jose de Piri, in Peru's northeastern Loreto region, has watched her oldest children move away to get an education in distant cities. Worried that her native tongue might disappear, she began to teach the Yagua language to younger children in her community.

Santiago Yahuarcani, a Huitoto artist from Pebas, a town on the bank of the Amazon River in Peru, began to rediscover his people's history when he found that tourists were more captivated by his paintings of village life or mythical beings than scenes of forests and rivers.

He encourages young people in Pebas not only to speak their native language, but also to learn traditional music and dances.

As church leaders prepare for the synod for the Amazon, they have much to learn from native peoples whose lives are so closely intertwined with the forests and rivers of the region, Father Hughes said.

"The word of God exists in the air, the water, the plants, the animals," he said. "It is the Bible of life, the Bible of creation."

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Pope calls on world leaders to eradicate poverty, hunger

Top Stories - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 9:27am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Sustainable development in rural areas is key to making poverty and hunger a thing of the past, Pope Francis said.

In an address to members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development's governing council Feb. 14, the pope said that while achieving such a goal "has been talked about for a long time," there has not been enough concrete action.

"It is paradoxical that a good portion of the more than 820 million people who suffer hunger and malnutrition in the world live in rural areas, are dedicated to food production and are farmers," he said at the council's opening session at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The two-day meeting of the organization, commonly known as IFAD, was devoted to the theme: "Rural innovation and entrepreneurship."

Before addressing the gathering, the pope presented a gift to the organization: a sculpture by Argentine artist Norma D'Ippolito, titled "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the Man") depicting the hands of Christ bound with ropes.

In his speech, the pope said he came to bring the "longings and needs of many of our brothers and sisters who suffer in the world."

"They live in precarious situations: the air is polluted, natural resources are depleted, rivers are polluted, soils are acidified," he said. "They do not have enough water for themselves or for their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very inadequate; their houses are meager and defective."

While society has made advances in other areas of knowledge, he added, little progress has been made in helping the rural poor. Winning the fight against poverty and hunger requires using scientific and technological advances for the common good.

"Being determined in this fight is essential so that we can hear -- not as a slogan but as a truth -- 'Hunger has no present and no future. Only the past,'" he said. "In order to do this, we need the help of the international community, civil society and all those who have the resources. Responsibilities cannot be evaded, passed from one to another, but must be assumed in order to offer concrete and real solutions."

Pope Francis said that today's challenges cannot be resolved "in isolation, occasionally or ephemerally" but instead require a joint effort that affirms "the centrality of the human person."

Those who are suffering, he added, must be directly involved in the fight against hunger and not viewed as "mere recipients of aid that may end up generating dependencies."

He also encouraged the members of IFAD to continue along the path of innovation and entrepreneurship to achieve the goal of eradicating malnutrition and promoting sustainable development.

"It is necessary to promote a 'science with a conscience' and truly put technology at the service of the poor," the pope said. "On the other hand, new technologies should not be in opposition to local cultures and traditional knowledge, but rather complement them and act in synergy with them."

After his speech, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous groups present from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said in a statement that the pope's meeting with the delegates lasted nearly 20 minutes.

"The pope greeted each person present; several of them gave Pope Francis a handmade stole," Gisotti said.

Speaking to the delegates, the pope said that indigenous people are "a cry for hope" that remind the world of the shared responsibility in caring for the environment. While certain decisions have "ruined" the earth, he added, "it is never too late to learn the lesson and learn a new way of life."

Indigenous people, he said, know how "to listen to the earth" and to live in harmony with it.

"Let us never forget the saying of our grandparents: 'God always forgives, men sometimes forgive, nature never forgives,'" Pope Francis said. "And we are seeing this through its mistreatment and exploitation. You -- who know how to dialogue with the earth -- are entrusted with transmitting this ancestral wisdom to us."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Report finds no evidence of racist statements from Covington students

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 3:45pm

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An independent investigation into the much-discussed encounter that went viral between Catholic high school students, a Native American tribal leader and members of another protest group on the Lincoln Memorial grounds in Washington in January found no evidence that the students of Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School issued "offensive or racist statements."

A report on the investigation was released by the Covington Diocese Feb. 13.

Two days before releasing the report's findings, Covington Bishop Roger J. Foys wrote to parents of the high school students telling them he was pleased to let them know that his hope that an inquiry into the events of Jan. 18 would "exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives has been realized."

The investigation, conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc., which has no connection with the high school or diocese, "demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial," the bishop said.

The four-page report signed Feb. 11 said that four investigators spent 240 hours looking into the events of Jan. 18 when the Covington Catholic High School students -- in Washington for the annual March for Life -- met up with other groups while waiting for their buses to pick them up. The investigators spoke with 43 students, 13 chaperones and a number of third-party witnesses. They also reviewed about 50 hours of internet footage or comments focused on the groups' exchange.

Investigators were unable to question Nathan Phillips, tribal elder for the Omaha Tribe, who was chanting and beating a drum by the students, or Nick Sandmann, the student most prominent in viral footage of the encounter.

The incident in question gained national attention from a viral video of it that showed students surrounding Phillips, who was chanting and beating a drum. The students appeared to be mocking him and Sandmann, inches away from the drummer, who never moved and was smiling, was accused of flagrant disrespect.

The clip caused immediate outrage, particularly on social media. But by the next day, extended footage of how the situation unfolded revealed that another group had taunted the students. Phillips had walked over to the group as a type of intervention.

Just days after the video prompted rounds of criticism, Sandmann issued a statement saying he had "received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults."

In a Jan. 22 statement, the Covington Diocese said the incident and the reaction to it was "a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate."

The investigators' report said it found no evidence of the students responding in an offensive manner to the black Hebrew Israelites who first addressed them nor did the students chant "build the wall" as some had speculated.

According to the report, the students asked their chaperones if they could perform a school cheer to drown out the remarks of the protest group. The students also said they felt "confused" by being approached by Phillips and although some performed a "tomahawk chop" none of the students said "racist or offensive statements" to Phillips.

Some students said chaperones had reminded them that if "they engaged in a verbal exchange with the black Hebrew Israelites, they would receive detention when returning to school."

The investigators also noted that most of the students wearing the "Make America Great Again" hats had bought them in Washington during their visit. In previous years, chaperones said some students bought "Hope" hats in support of President Barack Obama. There is no school policy prohibiting political apparel on school-sponsored trips, the report said.

In his letter to the Covington Catholic High School community, Bishop Foys said that in the weeks since the original video went viral "two well-worn and oft-used adages have come to mind: Seeing is believing and perception is reality."

He said the immediate reaction to the initial video "led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality."

"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening. Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory," he wrote.

He said the students could "never have expected what they experienced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial" and added that their "stance there was surely a pro-life stance."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Filmmaker's new movie 'Across' tells story of Father Augustus Tolton

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Director Christopher Foley

By Robert Alan Glover

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest ordained for a diocese in the United States, was born into slavery and endured myriad obstacles, both inside the Catholic Church and out, as he relentlessly followed his call from God.

Nashville filmmaker Chris Foley, inspired by the story of Father Tolton's life, has written and directed a short film, "Across," about the Tolton family's escape from slavery.

"I spent about three years developing and writing the film, beginning with a short article I read about Father Tolton, then I attended a talk on him in Chicago given by Bishop Joseph Perry in 2015," Foley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

Bishop Perry, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, who has family from Nashville, is postulator for Father Tolton's sainthood cause, which was opened in 2010 by Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, giving the priest the title "servant of God."

"It was at the talk that I first mentioned my goal of making a film about 'Gus' -- as I now call him -- to Bishop Perry, but I don't think he took me seriously," recalled Foley.

Serious he certainly was because, said Foley, "this is a man who became a role model for priests -- black and otherwise -- in this country."

Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 on a plantation near Brush Creek, Missouri. He was baptized at St. Peter Church near Hannibal, Missouri.

His father left to try to join the Union Army during the Civil War; he later died of dysentery, according to accounts Father Tolton told friends and parishioners. In 1862, his mother, Martha, escaped with her children -- Augustus, Charley, Samuel and Anne -- by rowing them across the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois. They settled in Quincy.

While the family was living in Quincy, a parish priest allowed young Augustus to attend the parish school over the objections of white parishioners. There he learned to read and write and was confirmed at age 16.

He was encouraged to discern his vocation to the priesthood by the Franciscan priests who taught him at St. Francis College, now Quincy University, but could not find a seminary in the United States that would accept him.

He eventually studied in Rome at Pontifical Urban University. He was ordained for the Propaganda Fidei Congregation in 1886 at age 31 and was expecting to become a missionary in Africa.

Instead, he was sent back to Quincy, where he served for three years before going to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1889. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics. Dedicated in 1894, the parish grew from 30 parishioners to more than 600 under Father Tolton's energetic leadership. He died after suffering heat stroke on a Chicago street July 9, 1897.

"In the end, Father Tolton's story is a great example of suffering, because he never finished a church he was building in Chicago and died at age 43 from heat exhaustion during a heat wave in 1897," said Foley.

"After finishing my research, we finally started filming in 2017 -- eight days total with seven of them in Nashville, and one day in Missouri," said Foley.

The final cast features all local professional actors, including Daylon Gordon, who was 9 at the time Foley chose him to play the young Augustus Tolton.

Tennessee film locations included Percy Priest Lake and Kentucky Lake -- standing in for the Missouri River -- as well as Spring Hill and Paris. The Missouri location was Brush Creek.

"None of the African-American cast members were Catholic, and unfortunately there is still a small number of them in the church, but my goal (with the larger film) is to reach non-Catholics as well," said Foley.

Local actress and budding musician Nina Hibbler-Webster plays Father Tolton's mother.

"I did not know any of the details surrounding Father Tolton, nor his life, until I met Chris, but thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to portray such a person," said Webster.

"We see Martha in her 30s, along with Peter, the father, who died of dysentery while serving in the Union Army, Tolton's baby brother, Samuel, and his other siblings, Charley, who died at age 10, Augustine and Anne," said Webster.

Webster described Martha as "humble, but a woman who experienced a leap of faith and took a chance, based on that faith and a split-second decision to run, to accomplish what they did."

"As a Christian, I view this as a historical piece, and sometimes the only way we get a story like this out there is when someone makes a film from it," said Webster.

Foley hopes to secure enough financing to extend the short film into a full-length feature film that would cover all of Father Tolton's life.

"For one thing, we don't sugar-coat his persecution in the church, and we talk about those people behind it, including (a priest) ... who is -- let's face it -- the bad guy," said Foley.

"If we can finally get his story out there, I think its message will be that the church is calling you," said Foley.

Joan Watson, Nashville's diocesan director of faith formation, organized a Feb. 17 screening of Foley's film and a panel discussion to follow at the Catholic Pastoral Center.

"I knew a little about it, having gotten to know Chris and his wife, Mary Beth, several years ago," she said. "Mary Beth and I discussed doing a screening of the film here, to showcase the immense local talent we have right here in our own diocese, and to introduce people to the story of Father Tolton."

"While Father Tolton is not directly connected to the history of Nashville, I would encourage people who feel drawn to him to pray through his intercession," said Watson.

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Editor's Note: More information about the film at

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Glover writes for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

When it comes to prayer, there is no room for individualism, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Prayer is not just a private and intimate dialogue between a person and God, but rather an opportunity for Christians to bring the needs of others before the Lord, Pope Francis said.

"There is no room for individualism in the dialogue with God," the pope said Feb. 13 during his weekly general audience. "There is no display of one's own problems as if we were the only ones in the world who suffer. There is no prayer raised to God that is not the prayer of a community of brothers and sisters."

Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope was welcomed by the sound of a children's choir singing a song based on his own teaching of the three words that are important for family life: "please," "thank you" and "sorry."

Walking down the center aisle of the hall, the pope greeted the joyful pilgrims who held out their hands to greet him, have their religious objects blessed or their babies kissed.

Continuing his series of talks on the "Our Father," the pope focused his reflection on Jesus' instructions on how to pray, which he said was a secret act that is "visible only to God."

Prayer, the pope said, "avoids falsehood; with God, it is impossible to pretend. It is impossible! In front of God, there is no trick that has power. This is how God knows us: naked in our conscience. And it isn't possible to pretend."

While prayer is an intimate act, akin to the "exchange of glances between two people who love each other," Pope Francis said that true Christians also carry in their hearts their loved ones and those who suffer.

The pope highlighted the "impressive absence" of the word "I" throughout the text of the "Our Father," even though, he said, it is a word "that everyone holds in high esteem."

He also noted that the prayer's petitions are made on behalf of "us," for example, "give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses; lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil."

"Even the most basic human questions -- such as that of having food to extinguish hunger -- are all in the plural form," the pope said. "In Christian prayer, no one asks for bread for himself: he pleads for it for all the poor of the world."

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis recalled a conversation with a prison chaplain who asked him what was the opposite of the word "I."

"Naively, I said, 'You.' (The chaplain replied), 'Ah, that is the beginning of war. The opposite of "I" is "us," where there is peace, everyone together.' It is a good teaching that I received from that priest," the pope said.

Christians, he added, must always include the difficulties, sufferings and struggles of others in their prayers before God. If one isn't aware or doesn't take pity on those less fortunate, "then one's heart is made of stone."

"Saints and sinners, we are all brothers and sisters loved by the same father," Pope Francis said. "And toward the end of life, we will be judged on love. How we have loved. Not just sentimental love but compassionate and concrete love according to the Gospel rule: 'Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Great expectations: Vatican abuse summit has key, realistic goals

Top Stories - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 9:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- All eyes and ears will be on the Vatican during an unprecedented gathering Feb. 21-24 to discuss the protection of minors in the Catholic Church.

When Pope Francis announced the international meeting in September, it sparked an optimistic note that the global problem of abuse finally would be tackled with a concerted, coordinated, global effort.

The breadth of the potential impact seemed to be reflected in the list of those convoked to the meeting: the presidents of all the world's bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, representatives of the leadership groups of men's and women's religious orders and the heads of major Vatican offices.

But the pope tried to dial down what he saw as "inflated expectations" for the meeting, telling reporters in January that "the problem of abuse will continue. It's a human problem" that exists everywhere.

Many survivors and experts, too, have cautioned that it was unrealistic to assume such a brief meeting could deliver a panacea for abuse and its cover-up.

So, what should people expect from the four-day meeting? The following five points hit the highlights:

1. It will be first and foremost about raising awareness, including that the scandal of abuse is not a "Western" problem, but happens in every country.

To make that point clear, the organizing committee asked every participating bishop to sit down with a survivor of abuse before coming to Rome and hear that "Me, too," from a person of his own country, culture and language.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who is moderating the meeting, said there would be between 160 and 180 participants. He told reporters Feb. 12 to expect the presidents of about 115 bishops' conferences, a dozen heads of Eastern churches, prefects of Vatican congregations directly involved with Vatican norms regarding abuse and negligence, eight delegates from the men's Union of Superiors General, 10 delegates from the women's International Union of Superiors General, three members of the pope's Council of Cardinals who are not presidents of their bishops' conference and four members of the organizing committee.

Everyone invited will be expected to learn what his or her responsibilities are as a leader or a bishop and to know the church laws and procedures that already exist to protect the young.

2. Organizers hope that by listening to victims and leaders who have learned things the hard way, participants will be inspired to adopt a culture of accountability and transparency.

Hearing what abuse and negligence have done to people has the power to transform the listener, "to truly open the mind and heart," Jesuit Father Hans Zollner told reporters Feb. 12.

Just to be sure those voices are heard, the meeting will also feature testimonies from survivors from countries where the reality of abuse is still largely ignored, said the priest, an abuse expert who is part of the meeting's organizing committee.

He said the word "accountability" doesn't even exist in many languages, which often means that culture might lack a clear or coherent understanding of this key concept.

For that reason, the summit will devote a day to discussing accountability and "what structures, procedures and methods are effective" and viable in the Catholic Church, he said.

Church leaders must know what the norms are, he said, but the meeting also will stress that the procedures themselves "will not magically solve a problem."

For example, he said, it was "a source of delusion" for U.S. Catholics when the 2002 Dallas Charter did not fix everything.

In fact, the meeting will not be about producing any documents, but pushing people to take the needed steps toward greater transparency and accountability, Father Lombardi said.

Those steps already are spelled out, he said, in Pope Francis' 2016 document, "As a Loving Mother," on the accountability of bishops and religious superiors.

"It must be put into practice effectively," he said, adding that he was "convinced and firmly hope that this meeting will give a push in that direction."

3. There will be a kind of "parallel assembly" as large numbers of survivors and advocacy groups converge on Rome to call for greater accountability, action and reform.

A variety of events are planned, including an evening "Vigil for Justice" near the Vatican and a "March for Zero Tolerance" to St. Peter's Square, but a major focus will be media outreach and getting the voice and recommendations of laypeople and victims -- many who had gone unheard for years -- listened to.

4. Pope Francis will be present throughout the meeting, which will include plenary sessions, working groups, prayer, a penitential liturgy and a closing Mass.

In letters to the bishops of Chile and the United States, Pope Francis has made clear what he thinks the church needs to do to respond to the abuse crisis.

Administrative solutions involving new policies and norms are not enough, he has said.

He told Chile's bishops that abuse and its cover-up "are indicators that something is bad in the church body."

Therefore, they must not only "address the concrete cases," but also "discover the dynamics that made it possible for such attitudes and evils to occur."

Those attitudes are driven by the temptation "to save ourselves, to save our reputation," he told the Chilean bishops.

In his letter to the U.S. bishops, he warned against the tendency to play the victim, to scold, discredit, disparage others and point fingers.

5. Expect the meeting to be one critical step along a very long journey that began decades ago and must continue.

Further measures will be taken after the meeting, Father Zollner has said. For instance, a task force made up of child protection experts "will probably be instituted in the various continents" to help bishops create, strengthen and implement guidelines.

The different "teams" of the task force should be able to help "for years to come to measure the success of this exercise of realizing own's own responsibility, even on the global level, in the face of public expectations," he told the Vatican newspaper in January.

Even though the church is well aware of larger, related problems of abuses of power, conscience and abuse and violence against seminarians, religious women and other adults, the meeting will focus exclusively on protecting minors from abuse, Fathers Zollner and Lombardi said.

The idea is that the attitude and spirit needed to protect the most vulnerable of the church's members are the same that will protect and promote respect for the integrity and dignity of everyone.

In fact, Father Lombardi said, "I see this as a test of the profundity of the reform" of the church called for by Pope Francis.

In other words, the pope wants people "to examine how we live out our mission, with what coherence and how we can convert our attitudes, both in regard to our attention and compassion for those who suffer, as well as our consistent witness to the dignity of children, of women, and so on."

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Rome.

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In video, Bridgeport bishop calls sex abuse by clerics crime and sin

Top Stories - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 1:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a video posted Feb. 11 on YouTube, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, offered support for the "many sisters and brothers who have been wounded, violated, hurt and abused at the hands of priests and deacons" and whose sexual abuse in their youth "changed their lives forever."

"The crime and sin of sexual abuse in our midst is a deep evil that has created a deep wound," said Bishop Caggiano, who has been one of the most outspoken U.S. bishops on the topic of sex abuse by clergy.

Getting rid of the "evil" is not enough, he said, calling on others to offer support for those who have been victimized, "those whose lives sometimes have been completely shattered."

"We stand with them because we love them, because they're part of our family and even though some members of our family have betrayed them, you and I will not," he said. "We stand with them because in the name of Jesus, his love invites them and us to heal, for we are all in need of healing."

To move forward as a church, he said, its members have to stand with those who have suffered abuse.

"They, too, can be a light to us, to continue to teach us new ways to be renewed and purified and reformed," he said. "When a family experiences a great wound or crisis, it is a moment, an opportunity, to come together and in that coming together make the love of Christ ever more real in our midst because it is only Christ who can heal a broken life, a broken heart."

Last August, as a Pennsylvania grand jury published a report alleging past abuses, some decades old, by Catholic clergy and other church workers and a supposed cover-up in parts of the state, Bishop Caggiano began addressing what he called the "scandalous events." He also condemned revelations about alleged abuse on the part of former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, which are still being investigated by church officials.

"I have been sick to my stomach," he said in an Aug. 17, 2018, statement released by the Diocese of Bridgeport, just days after the Pennsylvania grand jury report. "Words like horrifying, betrayal and diabolical come to mind describing the evil abuse that was perpetrated against children, who were robbed of their innocence, and often of their faith and future. The failure of some bishops to report this evil is equally stunning and deeply sinful."

Since then, he has not shied away from addressing the topic, including by speaking about it before a group of U.S. pilgrims at World Youth Day in Panama in January.

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Actor Gary Sinise describes his road to the Catholic Church

Top Stories - Tue, 02/12/2019 - 11:46am


By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Gary Sinise, the actor perhaps best known for playing Lieutenant Dan in the 1994 movie "Forrest Gump," followed a rather unusual path to becoming a Catholic.

In a Feb. 4 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Los Angeles, Sinise told his story.

"At one point in the late '90s, I remember my wife (Moira) was doing a play, 'The Playboy of the Western World.' She was playing a woman in a tavern. She had just gone through sobriety, and she was new to her sobriety as she was playing this woman defending her life in a tavern," Sinise said.

"At one point, she went to a Catholic church looking for an AA meeting. This little French woman, she asked her, 'Where's the AA meeting?' She looked at her (Moira) and said, 'You should become a Catholic,'" he added. "Something happened to her at that moment -- I don't know, something that had been aligned within her. Her mother was Catholic, but she fell away from the church and married a Methodist. She was not raised in any particular faith."

After his wife finished the play, she met Sinise in North Carolina, where he was shooting a movie with Shirley MacLaine.

"There was a hurricane coming to Wilmington," Sinise recalled. "Well, she was telling me this story, and I'm telling here we've gotta get out of here and drive to Charlotte and we'll fly to Los Angeles. While we're driving, the hurricane was blasting behind us. She turns around and says, 'I'm going to the Catholic Church and I'm going to become a Catholic.'

"I laughed and said, 'Wait a minute. We just moved across the street from a public school.' 'Yes, and I'm going to send our kids to a Catholic school,'" he added. "Sure enough, when we go home she went to the RCIA program at our local Catholic church."

For the next year, his wife was in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. "We started going to Mass," Sinise said. "My wife was confirmed in Easter 2000. ... The following year that little church became a sanctuary, a place of great comfort" following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.

Oh, and "our kids started attending the school there," he added.

Sinise himself joined the church in 2010.

"I surprised my family. I'd gone through the confirmation classes and whatnot myself behind everybody's back and I didn't tell anybody that I was doing it," he said.

"On Christmas Eve 2010 I told the family I was taking them to dinner at Morton's Steakhouse and have Christmas Eve dinner," he said. "And on the way there, I pulled into the church, and everybody asked, 'What are we doing here?' I said come on in. We walked into the church. The priest was there, and he confirmed me. It was beautiful."

This is one of the many tales Sinise tells in his newly published book, "Grateful American." In the memoir, he details his life growing up in the Chicago suburbs, from being a bratty kid to trying out for a play in high school and catching the acting bug, to helping establish the still-going-strong Steppenwolf Theater Company in the Windy City, as well as his many adventures in films and on stage.

"It's an autobiography for sure, but it's a life-changing story," Sinise told CNS. The 9/11 terror attacks were a pivot for him. "Something happened when I went from actor to advocate for our nation's defenders," he said.

A look at the Gary Sinise Foundation's website,, includes a page listing his appearances and visits at military bases and hospitals -- a list so extensive that Sinise seems to be the Bob Hope for the current generation.

"That service to others was a great healer to a broken heart after that terrible day, when we saw that terrible thing happen and we were all afraid and we were all wondering what was going to happen to our country," Sinise said. "There's something to my book where I talk honestly and say that that particular day was turning a point for a life of service."


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Update: Mexican shelters strain with arrival of asylum-seekers at U.S. border

Top Stories - Mon, 02/11/2019 - 3:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/cDavid Agren

By David Agren

PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico (CNS) -- Gangs in Honduras first threatened Denia Garcia's husband six months ago, telling him to join with them or die. Her husband, a police officer, fled to the United States, arriving successfully.

In his absence, the gangs threatened Garcia, sending her on the migrant path with her children, ages 2 and 5.

Garcia, who recently arrived in this city across the U.S.-Mexico border from Eagle Pass, Texas, wants to apply for asylum in the United States, but it's a slow process. U.S. officials process only a small fraction of the migrants seeking asylum on a daily basis, forcing them to stay in Mexico until their names are called from long waiting lists. Some asylum-seekers also now are being returned to Mexico -- under a plan known as Remain in Mexico -- as their claims are adjudicated.

As she waits for her name to be called, Garcia said she had hoped to stay in the diocesan-run Dignified Border shelter in Piedras Negras, but found it unable to accommodate long stays.

"We don't know if we can stay here because supposedly it's only (a few days) here and we were hoping for more," she said at the shelter. "We don't have anywhere to sleep after that."

Asylum-seekers like Garcia arrive at legal ports of entries the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, but increasingly face long waits to lodge their petitions with U.S. officials, forcing them to spend weeks or months in unsafe Mexican border cities.

In Piedras Negras, the waiting list of asylum-seekers was more than 300 names long, but it was expected to swell after more than 1,700 migrants traveling with a caravan arrived Feb. 5. Only 15 names are called from the list each weekday, according to staff at the Dignified Border shelter. Even fewer names are called if U.S. officials have to process someone pulled from the Rio Grande, which separates the two countries.

The arrival of so many asylum-seekers in border cities is straining many of the Catholic-run shelters established to provide migrants with short-term humanitarian assistance as they travel through Mexico.

The formation of caravans, which attract Central American migrants seeking safety in numbers and the ability to avoid paying smugglers, complicates matters even more as migrants converge on border towns with false hopes of crossing the border quickly, but end up having to unexpectedly long stays instead, according to shelter staff.

"There are people who have to be here for 15, 20 days, so those who are only passing through, we can't receive them. We have no space," said Father Fernando Jimenez, shelter director in Piedras Negras.

Father Jimenez said the 80-bed shelter mostly serves migrants making a final push to the border. He said the composition of migrants started changing last summer, when asylum-seekers from as far away as Congo and Cameroon arrived in Piedras Negras. They thought it might be a safer and less-crowded alternative to border cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa to the east, where drug cartels commit crimes against migrants. The shelter in Piedras Negras is helping to house 40 families from Africa as they wait their turn to cross.

The focus remains on short-term stays and emergency situations, however, such as a pair of Hondurans rescued from the Rio Grande.

Deron Puerto, 25, spent three nights sleeping along the Rio Grande, hoping to find the right time to cross over -- but the heavy security on the U.S. side kept thwarting his attempts to swim across.

Puerto, an Afro-Honduran and lobsterman from the Bay Islands, says he came to Piedras Negras after attempting to cross into Arizona from Sonora state, where he was kidnapped.

"They told me, 'We need $5,000 so that you're still alive tomorrow,'" he told Catholic News Service after being dropped at the shelter. "I cried all night, but thanks to God, the federal police raided" the safe house.

Caravans are thought to offer migrants increased safety as they travel through Mexico. Officials in some Mexican states have provided travelers with shelter, food and medical attention.

In the border state of Coahuila, the state government provided buses for more than 1,700 caravan travelers to reach Piedras Negras, where they were immediately housed in an abandoned factory and not allowed to leave until immigration officials processed them and issued humanitarian visas.

Rows of federal police and soldiers guarded the shelter, prompting complaints from some migrants, who spoke through a chain-link fence with reporters as rows of police in riot gear and soldiers in fatigues kept a watchful eye on the installations.

"Why are so many police here if we're not criminals?" asked Arnold Salinas, 25, a barber from Honduras, who admitted not wanting to wait for Mexican officials to issue him a humanitarian visa as he entered the country from Guatemala.

Like most migrants in Piedras Negras, Salinas showed no interest in staying in Mexico, saying, "They'll never take away our American dream."

Others seemed unaware of the wait that they confronted or cited false information on what is required to request asylum.

Brother Obed Cuellar, a Dominican missionary managing the Piedras Negras shelter, said many caravan travelers arrive at the border thinking they can enter the United States.

"When they're told of a process that could take three, four or five months, they get upset," Brother Cuellar said, explaining the migrants' reaction is often, "They told me that at the border they will give us permission to work in the United States."

Juan Andrade, coordinator of a collective of Catholic-run shelters, said the caravans prompt U.S. officials to fortify the border, which drives up the price of hiring a smuggler. In Eagle Pass, U.S. border patrol agents block pedestrian lanes on the bridges to the ports of entry, have recently installed gates with concertina wire and parked patrol vehicles along their side of the river.

"Families of these migrants often don't send money (for hiring a human smuggler) as promised (and) they often end up living in the street," where they're exposed to criminals, Andrade said.

Local residents also voice suspicions, because caravans have been portrayed negatively in the Mexican media.

"Many people in Piedras Negras feel upset by this," said Elizabeth Cardenas, a migrant advocate in the city. "They think that (the government) is putting more importance on foreigners than the residents of Piedras Negras."


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Indiana parish opens 'Blessing Box' as a gift to people in need

Top Stories - Mon, 02/11/2019 - 11:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Father Doug Marcotte believes "there's no better way to change a community than one small act of kindness at a time."

So the pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville embraced a plan from one of the parishioners to help individuals and families in the community when they don't have enough food for their next meal.

The parishioner's idea involved making a "Blessing Box" -- a small, stand-alone structure that would be filled with nonperishable food items and toiletries that anyone in need could access at any time of day. The plan also would include placing the "Blessing Box" in a discreet setting on the parish grounds so no one would feel uncomfortable taking items from it.

"Everyone thought it was a great idea," said Father Marcotte about the parish council's approval of the plan. "It is an easy way to do one of the corporal works of mercy -- to feed the hungry.

"One of the things that's a reality is that there are always people who slip through the cracks. We're not trying to be a food pantry. We're hoping to provide for people who need a meal for their family today. It's a need we regularly experience."

The "Blessing Box" is one more way to help people in the community in Clark County, a county where 12 percent of the population and nearly 16 percent of children younger than 18 worry about their next meal, the pastor told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Set up Jan. 18, the "Blessing Box" was built by a parishioner and has been stocked by donations that include rice, pasta, canned goods, cereal and macaroni and cheese. Personal items such as socks, toothbrushes and deodorant have also been donated.

"People are excited about helping," said Father Marcotte, who noted that people "often feel overwhelmed by the injustices of the world" that are presented in media reports and social media. "I think it's important to let people know there's a way to make a difference. If everyone took responsibility for their neighbors, there wouldn't be as many problems in the world."

Students in the parish school also are excited about contributing to the effort, said the priest, who also is pastor of another Jeffersonville parish, St. Augustine.

"One of the nice things is that this is a way everyone can be involved. If someone needs help, it's available 24-7. And if someone wants to help, they can do it 24/7," Father Marcotte added. "The Blessing Box is a reminder to people that there's something we can do."

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Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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'Cardinal virtue' of justice must be protected, pope tells judges

Top Stories - Mon, 02/11/2019 - 9:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Justice, along with prudence, fortitude and temperance, is a virtue that must be defended for the good of society, Pope Francis told a group of Italian judges.

A world without justice risks weakening the very fabric of society and can transform it into "a breeding ground for illegality," the pope said Feb. 9 during a meeting with the Italian National Association of Judges.

"Without justice, all social life remains jammed, like a door that can no longer open or ends up screeching and creaking in a cumbersome movement," he said.

According to its website, the association, which was founded in 1909, is comprised of more than 8,300 Italian judges and is dedicated to protecting "the constitutional values, independence and autonomy of the judiciary."

Francesco Minisci, president of the association, praised the pope for his defense of "justice, solidarity, the fight against corruption, the mission and the exercise of mercy."

Commemorating the organization's 100th anniversary, Minisci emphasized its commitment to defending the Italian judiciary despite difficulties and tragedies, including the deaths of 28 Italian judges "who were killed by criminals while performing their duty."

"In this context, we not only must fight the mafias and the forms of organized crime, which are among the most aggressive in the world, but also the malpractice and corruption of the public administration which are among the major evils within Italian society," Minisci said.

In his speech, the pope emphasized the need for judges to continue to "affirm the superiority of reality over the idea" at a time when "truth is so often falsified and we are almost overwhelmed by a vortex of fleeting information."

"Your commitment to ascertaining the reality of the facts, even if made more difficult by the amount of work entrusted to you, should therefore always be timely, accurately reported, based on in-depth study and a continuous effort to update" their findings, he said.

Pope Francis encouraged the Italian judges to be merciful when administering justice, saying, "your gaze on those you are called to judge should always be a gaze of goodness."

"May the justice that you administer become ever more 'inclusive,' attentive to the least of these and their integration (in society). In fact, in giving everyone their due, the extreme weakness in the lives of so many, which influences their choices, cannot be forgotten," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Witness, discipleship are key to missionary work, pope says

Top Stories - Fri, 02/08/2019 - 10:26am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Proclaiming the Gospel is not the same thing as proselytism and often means simply being a neighbor and friend to someone while living an authentically Christian life, Pope Francis said.

Mission "is that dynamic that leads you to be a neighbor to others to share the gift you have received: the encounter of love that changed your life and led you to consecrate your life to the Lord Jesus, good news for the life and salvation of the world," the pope said Feb. 8.

Pope Francis spoke about mission and witness during a meeting with the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, men's and women's religious orders founded 150 years ago by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie of Algiers, Algeria.

Encouraging the missionaries to continue being "nomads for the Gospel," the pope asked them to be "men and women who are not afraid to go into the deserts of this world and seek together the means for accompanying brothers and sisters to the oasis that is the Lord so that the living water of his love can quench their every thirst."

To be a missionary, the pope said, a Christian first must be a disciple of Jesus.

And while the missionaries may be working in situations where an explicit invitation to follow Christ is not possible, he said, their own lives must be firmly rooted in "listening to his word, the celebration of the sacraments and service to your brothers and sisters so that your gestures manifest his presence, his merciful love and his compassion to those to whom the Spirit sends and leads you."

Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit would continue to make the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa "builders of bridges" and promoters of a "culture of encounter" and dialogue where everyone involved "learns to draw riches from the diversity of the other."

The missionaries' dialogue with Muslims deserves particular recognition and the gratitude of the church, the pope said.


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Judge allows survey of church property for border wall construction

Top Stories - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 4:28pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A judge in Texas ruled Feb. 6 that the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, must allow federal officials to survey some of its property for possible construction of a border wall on it.

The action had been blocked by Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores, who earlier said he could not consent to it because such a structure "would limit freedom of the church to exercise her mission."

But U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane said surveying the land would not constitute a "substantial burden" for the church and that federal officials could proceed.

Lawyers representing the diocese opposed the survey, particularly on the stretch of land that includes the historic La Lomita chapel. The structure, in the border city of Mission, is near a levee where the government wants to build part of President Donald Trump's proposed border wall.

Mary McCord, of Georgetown University Law School's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and lead counsel for the Diocese of Brownsville, said in a Feb. 7 phone interview with Catholic News Service that while the ruling was not about taking away property from the diocese at this time, attorneys representing the diocese wanted to make clear its opposition based on how it would affect the constitutional right to religious exercise.

"We felt it was important," she said.

The diocese was not surprised that the court granted the government temporary access to the property on which La Lomita chapel sits, and where it will survey, test and perform other investigatory work needed to plan the proposed border wall, McCord said.

"Even this temporary access is an intrusion on those using the chapel for prayer," McCord said in a statement. "But, as the diocese recognizes, the more substantial burden -- which it believes will violate its right to religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- will come if and when the government seeks to take the property for the building of a wall cutting off La Lomita from those who worship there."

McCord said there's no reason to believe that the area where federal officials want to build the wall near the chapel is of particular importance or shows heightened activity that would make it crucial to U.S. security. Instead, building a wall near it would only impede those who frequent it for religious services and prayer.

The government has proposed some sort of a gate or structure that would allow access to the chapel, if it's built, but even a gate would prevent easy access and may deter worshippers since they can be subject to interrogation just to go into a religious space to pray, she said.  

"It would destroy the peaceful feeling of the place," she told CNS, and so far, federal officials "gave us no indication that they weren't going to build a wall."

The federal government could take other property away from the diocese for the wall, and the " the bishop objects to it," she said, but the area near the chapel will be the most affected because of its nature as a place to worship.

"We still are hopeful" that the government will change its mind, McCord said. "We don't have to have a wall there."

The situation over the border wall near La Lomita could mean a long legal fight ahead, pitting the government's right of eminent domain, as well as its right to appropriate private property for public use, against citizens' rights to exercise freedom of religion.

"This is just the first step in our fight to protect the Rio Grande Valley Catholic community's right to free exercise of religious beliefs," said McCord.


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Archbishop Gomez calls for 'new humanism' amid troubled times

Top Stories - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 3:41pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Jacob Comello

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told a crowd of priests, women religious and students the story of a Spanish missionary named Montesinos.

Witnessing the cruelty of colonialists to Indians, Montesinos did not back down in a 1511 Advent sermon. The missionary declared: "Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourself?"

"In many ways, Montesinos' questions are with us again," Archbishop Gomez said, opening his address Feb. 6 during The Catholic University of America's seventh annual Hispanic Innovators of the Faith lecture series. "What does it mean to be human? What are the obligations we have toward our neighbors? Where is God and Jesus Christ in all of this?"

Speaking "not as a historian or a scholar, but as a pastor of souls," Archbishop Gomez addressed what he called "the crisis of man" in his address, explaining that he meant "a crisis of human nature. Men and women. All of us."

"People have been talking about a 'crisis of man' since at least the end of the Second World War," Archbishop Gomez said. "We forget that in the last century, millions were killed ... in Soviet gulags and Nazi death camps, in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in genocides in nearly every part of the world."

Archbishop Gomez recognized that the crisis persists to this day in the practice of abortion, contraception and euthanasia and even in human trafficking and the "worldwide debates over migrants and refugees."

He questioned how such a crisis started and why it was continuing.

"As I see it, this problem is rooted in our society's broader loss of the awareness of God," the archbishop said.

The crisis might not seem as jarring today, Archbishop Gomez admitted. However, he urged the audience to remain alert, saying that while "atheist humanisms have faded ... the project of the global leadership class to create a world without God and transform the human person according to political and economic dictates ... is still very much alive."

But the archbishop included all people in his indictment: "We think we do not need God to help us run the economy or the government. We think we can rely on politics or science and technology to ... answer every question."

Attempts to cleanse God from society, science and everyday moral sensibilities inevitably will create a society which "no longer believes in the existence of permanent or universal truths like right and wrong," Archbishop Gomez said. The harsh result will be, he explained, as it always has been, "the degrading of the human person."

Instead of realizing that people are all formed in the image of God, "we are coming to see, that if we are not made in the image of God, we can be remade in the image of those who appoint themselves as 'gods,'" he said.

Archbishop Gomez continued, showing the audience a bright path out of the pit: "Always in the church, renewal and reform means returning to the source."

Calling for a "new humanism" rooted in Jesus, the archbishop said the full potential of humanity can only be realized by a revival of Christ as a model for life. "We need to proclaim boldly that Jesus Christ reveals the human face of God and that in his face we see reflected the glory that God intends for our lives," he said.

As a counterpoint to the perspective of atheist humanisms, which he described as seeking to "throw off the 'burden' of God and create 'a new man,'" Archbishop Gomez stressed that accepting Jesus also requires a glorious reinvention of humanity. "In Jesus Christ, we discover that we are born to be 're-born' as God's children, his own beloved sons and daughters."

Archbishop Gomez concluded his address by lifting up Venerable Maria Luisa, a Carmelite nun who faced persecution in 1920s Mexico, as an example of a Hispanic innovator of the faith and someone who understood that humanity's destiny is rooted in Jesus.

"She used to tell people: 'For greater things you were born,'" Archbishop Gomez said, "In this short expression, we have the truth of the Incarnation. And this is the truth about our lives."


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Africa is also grappling with clerical abuse, say Catholic leaders

Top Stories - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 10:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters

By Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- When child sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests emerge in Africa, they do not draw a frenzied reaction similar to that witnessed in developed countries, but the continent's church is affected, said Catholic leaders.

While there is a general view that the scandals are a challenge of the church in Europe and America, African officials confirm the incidents, amid reports of some provinces expelling or defrocking priests.

In Africa, clerics view the issue as too delicate and sensitive for the public, and many remained tight-lipped on the subject. At the same time, the church leaders said they were concerned about the abuses and closely follow any such reports, both locally and globally.

"Africa is also affected like any other continent, but to what extent, I am not sure," Precious Blood Sister Hermenegild Makoro, general secretary of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic News Service.

In October, the South African church defrocked three priests over sexual abuse of children in the parishes. Since 2003, 35 cases of abuse involving priests have been reported to the church in South Africa.

Sister Makoro said out of the 35 cases, only seven were being investigated by the police, and one has led to a life sentence.

Some sources -- including former priests and seminarians -- say some women and Catholic sisters may be victims of the abuses, but Sister Makoro told Catholic News Service in mid-January that the National Professional Conduct Committee of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference had not received any complaints so far.

Father Christian Anyanwu, director of social communication of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, said cases of child abuses were not pronounced in the country when compared to Europe and America.

However, he noted that the church is a single family, and whatever happens to one anywhere is bound to affect others.

"There are measures being put in place by the (Nigerian) church to ensure that we avoid the mistakes that have been made in Europe and America with regard to child abuse," said Father Anyanwu.

In Kenya, Father Joachim Omolo Ouko, an Apostle of Jesus priest in the Archdiocese of Kisumu, agreed that cases of sexual abuse had also occurred in Africa, but few were reported.

"I think the cover-up is very strong," said Father Ouko.

The Rev. Peter Njogu, a former Catholic priest who left the Catholic Church to start his own church, said more cases had come into the open in the developed world because people were more independent in their faith.

"I think there could be more cases in Africa, but most go unreported because of fear. A Christian family may know a priest abusing a child, but they keep quiet because they fear the institution. I would say it is a colonial mentality; fear of institutionalized religion. Concrete and internalized religion is what is missing," said Rev. Njogu, who heads his Renewed Universal Catholic Church as its archbishop. He alleged there was evidence that some errant priests were getting involved in young families and breaking up marriages.

He claimed since priests started leaving the Catholic Church to join churches started by rebel priests, the Kenyan church has been cautious about disciplining errant priests.

In the Tanzanian Diocese of Bukoba, Father Chrisantus Ndaga said while sexual abuse is a universal problem in the church, the difference in Africa was media coverage and societal perception.

"Some case may be similar to those in other parts of the world, but here it is seen as a societal and a family problem. When it occurs, some families may not want it to go public," said Father Ndaga.

Archbishop Baptist John Odama of Gulu, Uganda, former president of the Ugandan bishops' conference, calls the abuses a crime against children and the failure of humanity.

"Its human weakness ... a failure of humanity to protect its own fruits," said Archbishop Odama. "We must understand it first, start separating the sectors to see where it is occurring, then look for remedies. If we don't understand it, we will be making a failure."

Clerical abuses are of great concern to the rapidly growing African church; analysts say growth is making the continent the future of Catholicism.

Vatican statistics indicate the African Catholic population increased by 19.4 percent from 2010 to 2015. Beyond the statistics, the church is also vibrant, playing a key role in the lives of Catholics.

Recently, some African bishops' conferences have responded by publishing guidelines to help them deal with the abuses.

Sister Makoro said the Southern African conference -- which includes Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland -- introduced child safeguarding policies in 2015 to strengthen the church's response to the abuses.

The Nigerian conference published "Guidelines for Processing Cases of Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults" in 2017.

"It is implemented in all the 56 dioceses in the Nigerian church. The document specifies what needs to be done in case of child abuse," said Father Anyanwu.

Father Ndaga said child protection was vital, and every institution should develop policies that safeguard and protect children.

"It's a gradual process and I think it's ongoing," said the former official of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa.

Meanwhile, as the scandals continue, Pope Francis has called to the Vatican heads the world's bishops conferences to discuss how to protect minors and vulnerable people in the church. The meeting is scheduled Feb. 21-24.

Father Ouko said many in the church are hoping that Pope Francis will give some guidelines that bar bishops and other church leaders covering up when such cases are reported.

"I think there should be some punishment for those who are involved in the cover-up," he said.

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Does God want religious diversity? Abu Dhabi text raises questions

Top Stories - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- That many religions exist in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates to believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing.

Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate Feb. 4 when they signed a document on "human fraternity" and improving Christian-Muslim relations.

"The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings," the document said.

The document goes on to insist on the basic human right to freedom of religion, appealing to both Christians and Muslims not only to tolerate the religious faith of the other, but to recognize the other's faith as something "willed by God in his wisdom."

In other words, the message seems to be, if God "wants" religious diversity, who are human beings to be intolerant of it?

But can God really "want" a variety of religions? And is that what the statement Pope Francis signed really says?

In a post on the document, Father John Zuhlsdorf, a blogger, tried to explain things by saying that God has an "active or positive will" of what he desires and makes happen, and "a 'permissive will' by which he allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order he established."

In that case, God tolerates other religions.

But Pope Francis and Sheik el-Tayeb seemed to assert something more and to demand of their faithful an attitude that goes beyond being tolerant of religious pluralism.

Speaking to reporters flying back to Rome with him Feb. 5, the pope said, "I want to restate this clearly: from the Catholic point of view, the document does not deviate one millimeter from Vatican II."

"Nostra Aetate," the council document on the church's relationship with other religions, affirmed: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men."

Proclaiming the church's "esteem" for Muslims, the council noted that "they adore the one God" and strive to submit to his will. "Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion."

The Vatican II document does not say that everything in all religions comes from God, but one cannot deny that God created human beings with a desire to seek and find him, and the world's religions contain at least elements of what is necessary to move toward God.

The Second Vatican Council's teaching gave a strong push to the area of study and reflection called "a theology of religions" or a "theology of religious pluralism."

The field of study is still relatively new, and some theologians specializing in the area have come under scrutiny by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the past 30 years, particularly when they were suspected of moving toward "relativism," a position that would seem to accept all religions as equally valid paths to God.

In "Dominus Iesus," a document published in 2000 on the essential nature of faith in Jesus and membership in the Catholic Church, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned of the danger of "relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism."

The future Pope Benedict XVI said the consequence of believing God willed a variety of religions is to hold "that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of Christian faith as compared with that of belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture" and "the universal salvific mediation of the church."

But many academics focusing on religious pluralism and missionaries involved in interreligious dialogue believed Pope Benedict went too far, highlighting a real danger, but describing it as something that always happens.

"Dominus Iesus," they said, implied that Catholics who saw God's hand at work in the formation and continued life of other religions were denying the most important truths of the Christian faith, including the central belief in the saving power of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

The document Pope Francis signed in Abu Dhabi offered hope to those theologians as they continue to explore the theological implications of affirming that religious pluralism is not an indication of human beings straying from God but is more a sign of the variety of ways God reaches out to his human creatures.

Jesuit Father Felix Korner, a professor of theology a Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, told Catholic News Service, "When we say 'willed by God in his wisdom' we look at the world in the faith that is shaped by the Bible and the church. God's wisdom has placed us into the story, so we are to contribute to the transformation of all that is."

"Our hope is that at the end all will be transformed into God's kingdom," he said. "On the way there surprising, incomprehensible, seemingly obstructive things happen," but the faithful believe that God will use them all for the good.

In dialogue, he said, "followers of other religions often hope that we join them; we often hope they discover the truth of Christ. But we respect the faith decision they have taken so far, recognizing in this their freedom and God's wisdom."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden


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Even with his team's loss, Rams exec counts health, family, faith as wins

Top Stories - Wed, 02/06/2019 - 2:11pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy the Pastoors Family

By Matthew Davis and Dave Hrbacek

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- When Tony Pastoors was 5 days old, his mother, Betsy, kneeled in a hospital chapel to pray that his life would be spared.

He seemed fine when he was born Sept. 24, 1987, at United Hospital in St. Paul. Betsy described him as a "huge baby" who weighed 11 pounds.

But, after bringing him home, she quickly discovered he wasn't able to have a bowel movement. Doctors diagnosed him with Hirschsprung's disease, which attacks the colon, and he was scheduled for surgery Sept. 29 of that year.

She pleaded for God to save him, and in those tense and prayerful moments never imagined that he would not only survive the surgery, but go on to star in football at Totino-Grace Catholic High School in Fridley, Minnesota.

He played defensive back and quarterback, and helped the Eagles win state championships in both his sophomore and junior years. The climb up the football ladder continued after he graduated from high school in 2006. He went on to Dartmouth College, where he played defensive back all four years.

The summer after his graduation from Dartmouth in 2010 with a history degree, he landed a front-office job with the then-St. Louis Rams. Now the vice president of football and business administration, he helped build the franchise, which moved to Los Angeles in 2016, into a Super Bowl team, helping with the draft and taking part in interviewing now-head coach Sean McVay.

The Rams lost to the New England Patriots Feb. 3 in Super Bowl LIII, 13-3.

Just days before the game, Betsy and her husband, Pat, who both graduated from Totino-Grace in 1980, boarded a plane for Atlanta, where they would reunite with their son and all would cheer for their newest blue-and-gold football squad.

"It's exciting," said Tony, 31, of being part of the Super Bowl. "I'll be honest, I haven't actually had a chance to step back and reflect on any of it because it has been so busy. We're welcoming our friends and family. We have three planes coming ... filled with friends and family."

He made the comments in an interview ahead of the Big Game with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Despite how far Tony has come, both on the field and in his faith, Betsy has no trouble going back in time to the day of her son's surgery. She was warned it would be long, and the track record of the procedure was short, as doctors only had been using it to treat the disease for five or 10 years. Prior to that, babies with the disease often died, she said.

She went into the hospital's chapel and made her plea for divine assistance.

"I do recall that very vividly," said Betsy, 56. "I just said, 'You know, Lord, not today, not this guy. You don't need this angel.'"

Seven hours later, her prayers were answered. After more surgeries over the next two years, Tony finally completed his recovery. There were no residual effects, and he eventually turned his thoughts toward athletics.

The youngest of three brothers, he followed in the footsteps of Tim, 35, and Ted, 33, and played three years of varsity football at Totino-Grace. He also competed on the track and field team. Of equal importance to the family was following the faith tradition. Tim and Tony both won the Lasalian Man of the Year award their senior year. It is a faith-based award given to one senior boy and one senior girl each year.

The youngest of the Pastoors children, Traci Bennington, 29, is now a campus minister at Totino-Grace and values even more the faith she sees in the older brother she got to go to school with for two years at "T-G."

"Just like on the football field, Tony shows leadership in his faith," said Bennington, who began working at the school in 2012 as a teacher and a track coach. "He was a member at T-G of our student ministry team, and I, being a younger sibling, got to observe and watch that.

"And now, being in charge of it (ministry), I know that faith in high school is a challenging thing, to be the kid to stand up and talk about their faith, and to be a reader at Mass. And, Tony was never ashamed or afraid to do that."

"He was a great leader, but also a great player," said Tim, who works at Totino-Grace as director of facilities and technology.

In his junior year, Tony was offensive MVP of the North Suburban Conference; in hi senior year, he was the conference overall MVP.

The success quickly faded after he graduated from T-G. Dartmouth had a losing season every year he played. And during his first year with the Rams, they finished 7-9. The team had a winning season a year ago, when they went 11-5 and lost in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

The losing seasons at Dartmouth and with the Rams forged one of his many character traits: resilience.

Pastoors credits his coaches and mentors at Totino-Grace for helping him grow as a man of faith and a football player, and he now follows the lead of his new mentor, McVay, who has put the organization on a winning path since his hiring before the 2017 season.

"It's all about the team, and it's all about the people with you and next to you and putting them first," Tony said. "I think that's really what this Rams team is -- it's something Sean (McVay) always says, 'The team has a 'we' not 'me' mentality.'"

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Davis and Hrbacek are on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Jesuit Father Arrupe's sainthood cause officially opens in Rome

Top Stories - Wed, 02/06/2019 - 9:12am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Jesuits Global

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The sainthood cause of Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe was formally opened in Rome at the Basilica of St. John Lateran Feb. 5, the 28th anniversary of Father Arrupe's death.

The cause of Father Arrupe, superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983, was set in motion by the Diocese of Rome, the diocese where the former superior general died in 1991.

The formal process of beatification and canonization includes compiling the priest's writings and gathering sworn testimonies about his life and holiness. Once the Jesuit postulator had the list of potential witnesses and had collected the writings, the formal opening of Father Arrupe's sainthood cause -- the diocesan inquiry -- could begin.

The documentation from the diocesan inquiry will be sent to the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, which reviews the gathered information. If he is found to have led a heroic life of Christian virtues, the church bestows the title "venerable."

The next steps would be beatification and canonization. In general, two miracles determined to have occurred through the candidate's intercession are needed for sainthood -- one for beatification and the second for canonization.

Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, vicar of Rome, presided at the ceremony Feb. 5, formally opening the diocesan inquiry.

He said Father Arrupe was firmly "rooted in Christ, whom he passionately loved and, with courageous faith, he let himself be guided in his journey by the wisdom and freedom that comes from the Holy Spirit."

"He was a true man of God" and of the church by seeking "to integrate the best values from tradition with those necessary for adapting Christianity to new times" in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal de Donatis said.

He was also "rich" in such treasured qualities as the ability to listen, understand, respect, help and trust others, teaching many how to become "men and women for others," said the cardinal.

Born in Spain in 1907, Father Arrupe entered the Society of Jesus in 1927. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in 1932, he continued his studies in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States. After ordination, he was sent to Japan in 1938.

According to the U.S. website of the Jesuits, Father Arrupe was serving in a Japanese mission outside of Hiroshima when the United States dropped the atomic bomb there in 1945. The Jesuit priest, who studied medicine before entering the society, and several companions "were able to give aid to 150 victims."

In 1965, Father Arrupe was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus.

Father Arrupe worked to help Jesuits rediscover the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the method of personal discernment and discernment in common helped the Jesuits renew their life, vows, community and mission.

He also established the Jesuit Refugee Service, which today serves refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in 52 countries.

Upon returning to Rome from a trip in Asia in 1981, he suffered a stroke. He resigned in 1983 and died in Rome Feb. 5, 1991.


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