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To help Syrian refugees, get to roots of war, Melkite archbishop tells EU

Top Stories - Thu, 04/04/2019 - 1:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Melkite Catholic diocese of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa in Lebanon


BRUSSELS (CNS) -- Aside from humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and concrete efforts to help them return to their homeland, the international community should work toward eradicating the roots of wars and violence, an archbishop from Lebanon told members of a political party holding the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, whose diocese is near Syria's western border, addressed the plight of Christians in the Middle East and Syrian refugees April 3 with the European People's Party, a conservative and Christian democratic political party.

"Our situation is one of the deepest suffering and trauma," said Archbishop Darwich, who was born in Syria.

"What is happening in the Middle East today is a chain of events against Christians, unfolding since 2011. All these actions send a message to Christians in the area that they don't have a safe place anymore," he said.

"The fact that they became minorities in these countries is not an excuse for anyone to neglect the critical situation they are passing through," Archbishop Darwich said.

He stressed that Christians have always played a crucial role in the region and strive to foster peace, justice and democracy.

He also noted that Lebanon's episcopal committee for Christian-Muslim dialogue, for which he serves as president, is "working hard so that religions would find new ways to present their respective creeds as partners allied and not as adversaries."

"Religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence," Archbishop Darwich stressed.

As for the refugee crisis, Archbishop Darwich underlined that eight years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita and has the fourth-largest refugee population in the world.

More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living scattered throughout the tiny country among its existing population of about 4 million people. In addition, some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and thousands of Iraqi families dwell in Lebanon.

"The pressure of this situation on the Lebanese hosting community is felt in all sectors, including education, security, health, housing, water and electricity supply," he said.

Archbishop Darwich noted that his diocese, located about 18 miles from the Syrian border, "had the leading role" in helping displaced Syrians.

"We supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon till today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible" to the international community because they do not live in camps, he emphasized. As a result, he added, the Christians "are always neglected from any support or help."

However, the archbishop pointed out that the "tragedy of refugees is not restricted to a specific sect because all Syrians have suffered for almost eight years now of a new holocaust."

Various Catholic agencies such as Caritas members, including Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need have helped the Syrian refugees.

Archbishop Darwich's diocese is in the Bekaa Valley and provides refugees with help that includes rent assistance, clothing, education, health care, social support and daily hot meals at the diocese's St. John the Merciful Table.

While acknowledging the humanitarian role many European countries and international nongovernmental organizations have played "in reducing the impact of this long and ferocious war," the archbishop pointed to the challenge of helping refugees return to their homeland.

Archbishop Darwich stressed that refugees' return to Syria "cannot be realized unless the international community itself provides the means ... political and economic help in practical measures. Not only to put an end to their suffering, but also to assist them to contribute in the process of reconstruction."

"I sincerely believe that the international community is expected to plan for eradicating the roots of wars and violence rather than dealing with their consequences, because great countries are known by great achievements and great deeds," Archbishop Darwich said.

He added that the international community also must work toward putting an end to poverty, instability, occupation, oppression, fanaticism, fundamentalism and major wars.

"This is not wishful thinking," the archbishop said. "This is a pure call for generalizing justice among the whole world, and for the implementation of U.N. resolutions. ... Otherwise, we will always have to encounter demand for financial and humanitarian aid, because cruelty produces cruelty, and suppression produces suppression in an endless circle of violence and injustice."

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Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is supported in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA (

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Atlanta Archbishop Gregory named as new leader of Washington Archdiocese

Top Stories - Thu, 04/04/2019 - 7:00am


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta as the new archbishop of Washington.

The appointment was announced April 4 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Gregory, 71, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who helped navigate the conference through the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2002, is the first African American to be named to head the Washington Archdiocese.

He succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in October, nearly three years after he turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Cardinal Wuerl continued as apostolic administrator until his successor was named. The cardinal headed the Washington Archdiocese from 2006 to 2018.

Archbishop Gregory will be installed as the seventh archbishop of Washington May 17.

"I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for this appointment to serve the Archdiocese of Washington and to work with all of the members of this faith community," Archbishop Gregory said. "I look forward to encountering and listening to the people of this local church as we address the issues that face us and continue to grow in the love of Christ that sustains us."

Cardinal Wuerl welcomed his successor's appointment "with great joy."

"I join all who appreciate his pastoral abilities, his intellectual gifts and his leadership qualities," he said in a statement. "I have known Archbishop Gregory for many years. In working with him on a range of pastoral initiatives and programs, I have come to recognize how generously he shares his talents and his love for the church."

As the Washington Archdiocese "opens a new chapter and looks to the future," Cardinal Wuerl added, "we can all, with great confidence and enthusiasm, welcome our new shepherd."

Archbishop Gregory has served in Atlanta since 2005. He previously was bishop of Belleville, Illinois, for 11 years, beginning in 1994. He was named auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, he served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview; a faculty member at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein; and as master of ceremonies for Cardinal John P. Cody and Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin.

In moving to Washington, the archbishop steps into a high-profile position. The area that comprises the archdiocese includes the halls of power in Congress, the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court, the many embassies of governments from around the world, and nonprofit and lobbying organizations that advocate on a wide range of public policy issues. He also automatically becomes chancellor of The Catholic University of America's board of trustees.

Archbishop Gregory comes to an archdiocese with a rich ethnic diversity that includes a vibrant Hispanic community of 270,000 and historic parishes that date to the 19th century serving 100,000 people of African and Caribbean descent. Overall, the archdiocese has nearly 659,000 Catholics throughout the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties.

The archbishop served as USCCB president from November 2001 until 2004, a period that was perhaps one of the most difficult in the conference's history.

Under his leadership, the bishops adopted the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults" and essential norms for handling accusations of sexual abuse by priests or other church personnel; established a lay board to review how cases have been handled; commissioned an extensive analysis of the factors involved in the crisis and created a staff office to oversee those efforts.

When he was elected in 2001, much of the attention focused on the fact that he was first African American to head the conference. Before that he served three years as vice president of the conference. He was the third African American to be named archbishop of Atlanta.

A Chicago native, Archbishop Gregory was born Dec. 7, 1947. Though not raised as a Catholic, his parents enrolled him at St. Carthage Catholic School for the sixth grade. Within weeks he had decided he wanted to be a Catholic, and by the end of the school year he had been baptized, made his first Communion and been confirmed.

He graduated from Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College of Loyola University and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. After his ordination in 1973, he obtained a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome.

Since arriving in Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory has seen the archdiocese grow to about 1.2 million Catholics in the 69 counties it covers in northern and central Georgia. In addition, nine parishes were elevated and six missions established, 64 priests and 152 permanent deacons were ordained, nearly 150,000 infants, children and adults were baptized, and more than 16,000 people were brought into full communion with the church, according to the archdiocesan website.

Archbishop Gregory has issued pastoral statements on the death penalty, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and has published numerous articles discussing liturgy, especially within the African American community.


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Honoring saints can heal body, soul, says priest leading relics tour

Top Stories - Wed, 04/03/2019 - 1:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ed Koskey Jr., The Catholic Spirit

By Anthony Salamone

MIDDLESEX, N.J. (CNS) -- Father Carlos Martins preaches that for Catholics to reach heaven, they must possess forgiving hearts, participate in the sacraments and live their Christian identities to the fullest.

The priest, a member of the Companions of the Cross community, travels around the United States and beyond speaking about the faith, and -- perhaps more importantly -- providing people with tangible evidence to pursue their devotion in the exposition and veneration of sacred relics.

On a Saturday afternoon in March, Father Martins visited Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Middlesex to speak and host a special exposition, "Treasures of the Church." With more than 150 relics in an A-Z list -- from St. Agnes to St. Zelle Guerin, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux -- the unique collection also included relics of well-known saints such as St. Maria Goretti, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas.

As Father Martins' presentation made clear, the experience was unlike anything that most attendees had witnessed.

While non-Catholics might find the veneration of relics unusual or even strange, it is solidly rooted in Scripture and an important tradition of the Catholic Church, the priest explained during a 60-minute presentation before the exposition. Saints and their relics are not worshipped, but honored in a manner that acknowledges God's work in their lives, he said.

Before the estimated 500 people ventured from the sanctuary to the church hall to take in the relics, Father Martins instructed them on how to proceed.

"There's going to be one saint downstairs that's going to reach out and communicate with you in a personal way," he said. "There's going to be one saint that is going to say to you, 'I want to be your friend.' Your job ... is to find your saint."

And that's what people did. Fifteen tables held relics and brief descriptions of the saints. Attendees walked around the tables mostly quiet, and clutching medals and other items, touching them to the relics.

Besides the relic tables, the "Treasures" featured the mother lode of the exposition: a large piece of the cross of Jesus Christ; a piece of fabric from Mary's veil; a piece of thorn from Christ's crown of thorns and more.

Father Martins said he has seen God's work through the relics of the saints -- sometimes in surprisingly healing ways.

The Lacey family of Haddon Heights can attest to this.

Charlie and Cathy Lacey attended a "Treasures" exposition two years ago at St. Agnes Parish in Clark, with their family, including sons, Brendan, 15, and Patrick, 13, both of whom they said were cured from health-related issues, thanks to the relics.

Patrick was healed of cerebral palsy, the couple said, while Brendan has been cured of eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic immune system disease that has only been identified in the last two decades, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

"The healings come from God through the relics," Cathy Lacey told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

The family attended the March 16 event in gratitude to Father Martins, thankful for the miracle of two family cures and willing to share their news.

Among those in attendance were members of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish, including Bud Crede.

"(Father Martins) kept your attention," he said. "Did you notice how quiet the church was while he was speaking?"

Asked if he believed passing by the religious artifacts might get him closer to heaven, Crede smiled.

"No, not yet," he said. "I haven't seen enough relics yet. I need to look some more."

"We wanted to feel the presence of the saints in our lives," said Christina Breen of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, who attended with her children, Blair, 10, Sam, 8, and 5-year-old Nora. "It's just a moving experience to be this close to so many amazing, amazing people."

Blair Breen added, "I love this, because ... I really love the saints." As she spoke, her little sister Nora passed by the tables, picking up relics from their holders like a happy child who has found a lost toy.

"I pray every night," Blair said, while she held a favorite doll that was dressed in a green shamrock dress appropriate for St. Patrick's Day. "I try to pray as much as I can at school. Now that I'm here, I'm amazed at all the saints."

Ester Chung of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, who came with her family, also called it "amazing" to see the number of relics in one location, along with the cross of Christ and veil of Mary.

"I know the relics do God's work, and I just wanted to share the works of God with my son," Chung said, She said her 7-year-old child, William Nam, has been diagnosed with autism since he was 2, and she was seeking a saint's intervention to help cure him.

Bob Favocci, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who came with a contingent that included his two daughters and others, said the chance at a "personal encounter" with the saints prompted him to make the trip.

"When you see a collection of this concentration, it kind of shakes you down to your core," said Favocci, who works in Bridgewater. You realize you're part of a great heritage.

"They're a physical reminder that we're all called to be saints," he said. "These are human beings who had the same struggles, many of the same, if not worse conditions in life like we have. Certainly, they found various ways to get to the ultimate goal, eternity in heaven. Also, it kind of puts it in perspective that I have these folks to help me in my journey."

Father David V. Skoblow, administrator at Our Lady of Mount Virgin, said the "Treasures" exposition provided people a chance to experience "a special kind of holiness."

"We're called to sanctity. We're called to sainthood," Father Skoblow said. "What better way of approaching God and praying for holiness than to experience the holiness of those who've gone before us.

"So we're not only here to venerate the relics but to emulate the saints."

Father Martins, 44, who said he was an atheist before he joined the Catholic Church while in college, said he has felt blessed by all the goodwill and healings via the relics.

"I was at the right place at the right time," he said about his assignment. "God really wanted this done. This ministry didn't exist before me. I created the suggestion. I designed it, came up with the notion, and then the church said, 'Yes.'"

Father Martins also encouraged the faithful to contact him about any experiences, with the most dramatic effect he believes comes from the exposition is the healing within the human soul.

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Editor's Note: More information is available at The tour schedule can be found at

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Salamone writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

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People should not fear difference, but division, pope says at audience

Top Stories - Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:09am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No one should be afraid that God has allowed there to be different religions in the world, Pope Francis said.

"But we should be frightened if we are not doing the work of fraternity, of walking together in life" as brothers and sisters of one human family, he said.

As is customary, at his general audience April 3, the first after his March 30-31 trip to Morocco, Pope Francis reviewed his visit.

"People might ask themselves, 'Why is it the pope visits Muslims and not just Catholics?'" the pope said.

Catholics and Muslims are both "descendants of the same father, Abraham," he said, and the trip was another step on a journey of "dialogue and encounter with (our) Muslim brothers and sisters."

The pope said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of two great saints: St. Francis of Assisi, who brought a "message of peace and fraternity" to Sultan al-Malik al-Kami 800 years ago, and St. John Paul II, who visited Morocco in 1985.

Pope Francis said people also may wonder why God allows there to be so many different religions in the world.

Some theologians say it is part of God's "permissive will," allowing "this reality of many religions. Some emerge from the culture, but they always look toward heaven and God," the pope said.

"What God wants is fraternity among us," he said, which is why "we must not be frightened by difference. God has allowed this." But it is right to be worried when people are not working toward a more fraternal world, he added.

The pope's comment about God's "voluntas permissiva" or "permissive will" clarified a controversy that erupted during the pope's trip in February to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

He and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb -- a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, signed a document on human fraternity that said, "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."

In his audience talk April 3, the pope clarified that God did not create religious diversity, but rather allows it to happen, as he created human beings who possess free will.

During the general audience, the pope also spoke about the many encounters and events during the two-day trip, making special mention of his visit with migrants -- some of whom told him how their lives only became "human" again when they found a community that welcomed them as human beings.

"This is key," the pope said.

The Vatican supported the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was adopted by the majority of U.N. member states at a conference in Morocco in December, so that the international community could strengthen an approach that focused on welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants.

"It's not about assistance programs coming down from 'on-high'" but about everyone working together "to build cities and countries that, even preserving their respective cultural and religious identities, are open to differences and know how to see their value" as part of a sign of human fraternity.

Reading from his prepared text about the church's work with migrants, the pope looked up at the people in the square and said that, in all honesty, "I do not like to say, 'migrants,'" preferring to say, "people who migrate."

"We have fallen into a culture of adjectives. We use so many adjectives and sometimes we forget the substantive," that is, the noun or "the substance," he said.

When talking about people, it is better to remember the adjective should always go with a noun, "a person," he said.

"That way there is respect and no falling into this culture of adjectives that is too fluid, too airy" and lacking substance, he said.


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People of faith seen as key to creating more humane correctional system

Top Stories - Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Oregon Department of Corrections

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Prisons should be places where punishment is the absence of freedom and community, but where "everything else models life on the outside to every degree possible" and prisoners are treated with dignity, according to the director of the Oregon Department of Corrections.

The faithful are "a key piece" in creating such a correctional system, said Colette Peters, who is a lifelong Catholic.

Peters will be one of several speakers at an April 13 prison ministry conference hosted by the Archdiocese of Portland at Mount Angel Abbey.

Linda Showman, of the archdiocesan Office of Prison Ministry, hopes to draw "registrants with big hearts and serious concern about the widespread causes and effects of crime, mass incarceration and Jesus' mandate in Matthew 25 to visit the imprisoned."

As a former victims advocate, Peters knows well the issues faced by both victims and the incarcerated.

"For every person in custody, there is at least one victim, and being victimized is a horrific thing," Peters said. "It is easy for us to be afraid, especially if we watch the 5 o'clock news."

Yet her faith and experience challenge the notion that people must respond in fear or without a sense of an inmate's humanity or potential.

"We are so afraid that we label prisoners as monsters and demons," said Peters. "Some in our care and custody, it will never be safe to have them in our community. But they are rare."

While most "have done horrible things or they wouldn't have landed in prison, I believe people can change, make different choices," she said. "And I believe in forgiveness."

Peters sees her career as a vocation, and her faith and work are interwoven. "For me that whole notion of taking people in for who they are and helping them from that place where they are at -- that's what Jesus did," she told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

In her job managing Oregon's 14 prisons, Peters oversees the Department of Corrections' 10-year plan, referred to as Destination 2026. She'll address the plan at the Portland archdiocesan conference.

As part of Destination 2026's aim to build a stronger correctional system, department officials have been studying Norwegian prisons -- "the best in the world," said Peters. Norway incarcerates far fewer people than the United States, and its recidivism rate is about half Oregon's.

There are a number of ways to calculate recidivism, but looking at the number of convictions or incarcerations three years after release, Oregon's recidivism rate is between 30 and 40 percent, lower than the national average.

Last fall, Peters sent a group of seven correction officers to observe the Norwegian system firsthand. Officers now are working to implement what they learned.

Prisons in Norway are "grounded in normalization and humanization," Peters explained.

"They believe that you send people to prison as punishment, not for punishment," she said. The "normalization" means "the absence of freedom and of community -- that is the punishment, period," with life inside the prison walls otherwise modeling life outside.

The "humanization" refers to "interacting in a normal human way" with those who are incarcerated, said Peters. It's the belief that "people are not defined by their crime."

Norwegians, she said, see their correctional system as "helping to create good neighbors, because most people are coming back out into their communities."

Catholics can play a role in creating such a system. Peters hires chaplains, "but we couldn't provide the religious foundation and ceremonial opportunities to those in our care and custody without the volunteers" from outside faith communities, she said.

There is a ways to go when it comes to offering a full Catholic faith life inside prison.

"It's normal and expected for us as Catholics to go to Sunday Mass and receive holy Communion; it's normal and expected for us to participate in the sacrament of confession regularly, or at least once a year," she said. "We are not offering services to that degree inside our institutions."

Peters, though, is heartened by the Archdiocese of Portland's focus on prison ministry. Expansion of the ministry is one of the archdiocese's pastoral priorities.

"I'm over-the-top excited" about Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample's "vision and that he's putting the passion and resources into creating" a comprehensive ministry, said Peters.

She added that faith ministry not only helps those in her charge but improves the well-being of staff. The stress of the job takes a toll: Life expectancy for a corrections officer is 58 years, according to Peters. For the average American, it's 78.

Peters feels hopeful about the future. She pointed to the First Step Act, which reforms parts of the federal criminal justice system. It passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, and President Donald Trump signed it into law last December. Pope Francis, she said, humanizes prisoners; he's washed their feet and celebrated Mass in prison. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown "is learning about and supporting what we do," and there's Archbishop Sample's commitment to prison ministry.

"We now have the research that shows how to do this work," said Peters. "I think that the country is ready to change its thinking about criminal justice."

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

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Church, world need the gifts, enthusiasm of young people, pope says

Top Stories - Tue, 04/02/2019 - 6:31am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The life of a young person and the vocation to which God calls each one is "holy ground" that pastors and parents must respect, nurture and encourage, Pope Francis wrote in a new apostolic exhortation.

"Christus Vivit" ("Christ Lives"), the pope's reflections on the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, is a combination letter to young people about their place in the church and a plea to older members of the church not to stifle the enthusiasm of the young, but to offer gentle guidance when needed.

In the document, released April 2, Pope Francis talked about how the sex abuse crisis, a history of sexism and an overly narrow focus on just a handful of moral issues can keep young people away from the church.

But he also said many young people want to know and understand the teachings of the church and, despite what many people think, they long for and need times of silent reflection and opportunities to serve their communities.

"A church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum," Pope Francis wrote. "How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people?"

Young people have a natural desire to improve the life of the church and the world around them, the pope said. If older people in the church will let the young people try, it will keep the church youthful, too.

"Let us ask the Lord to free the church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill," Pope Francis wrote. "But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else."

The core of the pope's message to young people was that they remember they are loved by God and saved by Jesus, who continues to live and act in the world and in their lives.

"His love is so real, so true, so concrete, that it invites us to a relationship of openness and fruitful dialogue," even when one is angry with God, the pope said. "He does not get upset if you share your questions with him. He is concerned when you don't talk to him, when you are not open to dialogue with him."

Drawing on the final documents from the synod and from a presynod gathering of young people in Rome, Pope Francis urged parishes and dioceses to re-think their young and young adult programs and to make changes based on what young people themselves say they want and need.

"Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at," he said. "The language that young people understand is spoken by those who radiate life, by those who are there for them and with them. And those who, for all their limitations and weaknesses, try to live their faith with integrity."

Directly addressing young people, he said, "Take risks, even if it means making mistakes. Don't go through life anaesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make a ruckus!"

And, he told them, reach out to other young people, do not be afraid to mention Jesus and to invite friends to church or a church-sponsored activity.

"With the same love that Christ pours out on us," the pope said, "we can love him in turn and share his love with others in the hope that they too will take their place in the community of friendship he established."

Youth ministry cannot be elitist or focused only on the teens and young adults already active in the church's life, he said. It must be "a process that is gradual, respectful, patient, hopeful, tireless and compassionate," as Jesus was when he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Parents, pastors and spiritual guides must have "the ability to discern pathways where others only see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril. That is how God the Father see things; he knows how to cherish and nurture the seeds of goodness sown in the hearts of the young."

"Each young person's heart should thus be considered 'holy ground,' a bearer of seeds of divine life, before which we must 'take off our shoes' in order to draw near and enter more deeply into the mystery."

A long section of the document is focused on discerning one's vocation, which, he said, always is a call to serve God and serve others, but always in a unique way.

Discovering one's vocation, he said, "has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit."

For most young people that will mean marrying, forming a family and working, the pope said.

"Within the vocation to marriage we should acknowledge and appreciate that 'sexuality, sex, is a gift from God. It is not taboo. It is a gift from God, a gift the Lord gives us,'" he wrote. Sexuality "has two purposes: to love and to generate life. It is passion, passionate love. True love is passionate. Love between a man and a woman, when it is passionate, always leads to giving life. Always. To give life with body and soul."

Pope Francis also encouraged young people not to dismiss out of hand the fact that God may be calling them to priesthood or religious life.

God's call to each person is individual, made-to-measure just for him or her, the pope said, so discovering that call can be done only with calm, silence, prayer and the wise help of someone who truly knows how to listen and ask the right questions.

A vocation, he said, is a gift that "will help you live to the full and become someone who benefits others, someone who leaves a mark in life; it will surely be a gift that will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you. It will be a perfect fit for your entire life."


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Texas looking into city vote to bar restaurant chain over marriage views

Top Stories - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 5:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rashid Umar, Reuters


SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- The marketplace, not elected officials, should decide whether a company should open an outlet in a particular location, said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.

In a March 27 statement, he said he has been asked what he thinks of the San Antonio City Council's 6-4 vote March 21 "to exclude Chick-fil-A from the list of concessionaires that could operate at San Antonio International Airport" because the company is known for its support of traditional marriage.

"It is best in this circumstance that elected officials not restrict a restaurant chain's right to conduct business," Archbishop Garcia-Siller said. "Let the marketplace decide, and consumers will select which businesses to support -- or not support -- with their dollars, as they always do."

He said the issue reminded him of a statement made in July 2012 "by my beloved former prelate, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago," over the same issue: An alderman, with the Chicago mayor's support, said he would deny Chick-fil-A a permit to build a location in a section of the city he represented.

"Recent comments by those who administer our city seem to assume that the city government can decide for everyone what are the 'values' that must be held by citizens of Chicago," Cardinal George said at the time. "My understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval. Must those whose personal values do not conform to those of the government of the day move from the city?"

In Texas, supporters of the City Council vote also claim the Chick-fil-A owners discriminate against the LGBT community. Still others criticize the company for being closed on Sundays to allow employees to go to church if they choose.

In late March, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport decided not to go through with plans to add a Chick-fil-A location to its food court. News reports said this came after a New York state lawmaker raised concerns over the company's charitable giving to conservative organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

A spokesperson for the company issued a statement to a local Buffalo TV station stating that the company has no policy to discriminate against LGBT people.

"Recent coverage about Chick-fil-A continues to drive an inaccurate narrative about our brand. We do not have a political or social agenda or discriminate against any group," said the spokesperson. "More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand. We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity."

In his statement, Archbishop Garcia-Siller said: "Comments by some after the vote stated that the action was taken to reaffirm that San Antonio was a 'city of compassion.' San Antonio is truly a compassionate city that always comes together in mutual respect, especially in challenging times, recognizing the God-given dignity of every individual. This is what a family does."

"There were also comments that Chick-fil-A was rejected from the airport contract because their restaurants are not open for business on Sundays," the archbishop added. "However, many people admire the company because they do close on Sundays, saying corporately they take that stance in order to provide their employees a day to rest with their families and worship if they choose."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was investigating the city of San Antonio for potential First Amendment violations in the action to deny a spot in the airport concession area to the national restaurant chain.

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New head of CLINIC is experienced litigator, expert on immigration law

Top Stories - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 4:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

SILVER SPRING, Md. (CNS) -- Many people might not have noticed that Anna Gallagher took over Feb. 1 as executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC.

If they hadn't, they certainly would have March 8, when she called a Department of Homeland Security decision to not redesignate Temporary Protected Status for those fleeing war- and corruption-scarred South Sudan "morally reprehensible."

"Well, it was," she declared during a March 27 interview with Catholic News Service at CLINIC headquarters in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring.

Gallagher, 60, is herself the child of immigrants from Ireland. "They didn't have a sponsor, because you didn't need one back then," she said. "When my parents came to the United States, the immigration system was more welcoming. They simply had to submit proof that they would not be a burden to the country and were granted immigrant visas. Things are much different today."

Raised in Philadelphia, she got a bachelor's degree in political science and Latin American studies from Temple University in 1984. She earned her law degree at the Antioch School of Law in Washington three years later, and dove right into immigration law work -- as well other matters -- in the wake of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which had become law in 1986.

She moved to Guatemala City in 1992 to take a job as deputy director for the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, known by its Spanish acronym as CALDH, which investigated many high-profile cases.

"I investigated the Dianna Ortiz case," Gallagher said, referring to the case of the U.S. Ursuline nun who was ministering in Guatemala when she was kidnapped, jailed, tortured and raped in 1989. CALDH also investigated the case of Jennifer Harbury, a U.S. human rights lawyer and activist whose husband, a Mayan guerrilla leader in Guatemala, was "disappeared" and later murdered.

"I also came back with a child from Guatemala," Gallagher said. While she was there, she adopted an 11-year-old boy who had been placed in an orphanage by his caretaking older sister, who had become sick and could no longer care for him.

"He would come by, looking for something, a little money, a little something to eat. I made him a sandwich. I told him I wasn't going to give him anything else until he started to learn English," she said. "He returned for visits and I began to teach him English. After meeting his extended family, we agreed that I would care for him and my husband and I adopted him."

Even with Guatemala's civil war having ended two decades ago, "the government's as corrupt as it's ever been," she told CNS. Combined with gangs and a three-year drought, Guatemalans are leaving their homeland in greater numbers than ever.

As they journey northward, some Mexican gangs find more profit in kidnapping migrants than in trafficking drugs, Gallagher said. The gangs kidnap and hold refugees until their U.S.-based kin pay ransom. She added women traveling alone, and even with their children, are often subject to sexual assault.

Despite the deprivation and depravity they've suffered, they are often reluctant to tell an immigration judge those details. When asked why they came to the United States, they tell the judge, "I want a better life," which judges interpret as, "Oh, they're just here to make money," Gallagher said.

She vigorously disputes the notion put forth by the federal government that the border situation is at a crisis. On March 27, the same day Gallagher was interviewed by CNS, The Washington Post published an interview Kevin McAleenan, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, who said the U.S. immigration enforcement system along the Mexican border was at "the breaking point."

Gallagher had attended a border summit the month before in El Paso, Texas. "A priest working with migrants in Saltillo (Mexico) as they travel north spoke during the summit. He said, 'We can handle this. We can handle this. We can handle this.' He said it three times. I was very moved by what he had to say. If they can handle it, why can't we?"

Immigration judges, she said, would appreciate more lawyers representing immigrants: "They can get the initial master calendar hearings done in five minutes. They know the procedure." A judge having to explain each step of a hearing and the reason behind each question being asked to an unrepresented immigrant can easily take 15 minutes, thus creating bottlenecks in the system.

"People who leave their homes are very desperate," Gallagher said of immigrants. "But they are also very brave."

In her career, she has represented many seeking asylum. "Winning asylum for a client is a bittersweet victory," Gallagher said. "Of course, I'm happy that the individual is safe. However, it is bittersweet because she has lost her country and her country has lost a brave and resilient citizen."


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Pope: Countries that sell arms have no right to talk about peace

Top Stories - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 10:35am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Nations that actively engage in arms dealing and help foment war in other countries should not expect to find peace in their own lands, Pope Francis said.

During a wide-ranging interview with the Spanish news program, "Salvados," which aired March 31, the pope was asked his opinion by journalist Jordi Evole regarding the Spanish government's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is currently engaged in a conflict with Yemen.

The pope said that while he was saddened by the country's action, Spain "isn't the only country" involved in arms dealing.

Countries that sell arms, he said, "have no right to talk about peace. They are fomenting war in another country, and then they want peace in their own land."

He said it has a "boomerang" effect in which there's always a price to pay when taking a life. "If you start war over there, you're going to have it at home whether you want it or not."

Asked about migration in Europe, the pope cited the book of Deuteronomy, saying the act of welcoming migrants is "a Christian attitude."

While countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have received millions of migrants from Syria, the pope said he was "saddened" and did "not understand the insensitivity" toward migrants facing injustice of war, hunger and exploitation.

"For me," he said, "Europe's biggest problem is that they have forgotten. They forgot that after the war, their children went knocking on the doors of America, North and South America; they forgot. And along with that, (Europe) doesn't grow. We are living in a demographic winter."

Although birthrates in Europe continue to decline, some countries continue to reject migrants, thus running the risk not having a future, he said.

Evole also asked the pope what he thought about U.S. President Donald Trump's proposal for a wall along the Mexican border.

"Those who build walls end up becoming prisoners of the walls they built," he replied.

"And that is universal law, not only within the social order but also in one's personal life. If you build a wall within yourself, you end up becoming a prisoner of the wall you built. 'I'm defending my autonomy.' Yes, but you'll be as lonely as a cloud," he said.

When asked what he would say to Catholics in Spain who are against immigration, the pope replied, "That they read the Gospel, they are Catholics; that they read it and be consistent."

The pope also addressed the process of reform within Vatican City and praised his predecessors in their work to "clean up" the institution.

"The popes that were here before did so much good, like St. Paul VI who was a revolutionary, St. John Paul II, who also did many things," he said. "And Benedict, who although many said he was too much of an academic, grabbed the reins at certain moments and went in to clean."

Referring to the Gospel reading in which Jesus expelled the merchants in the temple, Evole asked Pope Francis if there were still many "merchants in the Vatican."

"There are ('merchants'), as there are in every place. Vatican City State is not exempt from the limitations, sin and shame of other societies. We are human beings and we have the same limitations and we fall, at times, into the same things," he said.

The church, the pope added, "must continue to be cleansed."

He was also asked for his thoughts on abortion, particularly women who seek to terminate their pregnancies after rape.

Pope Francis said that while he understood the "desperation" that women face in difficult circumstances, taking a human life was not the answer.

Single women who are pregnant, he said, "cannot be thrown to the streets. And thank God that, in recent years, there is a greater awareness about these cases, of women who are alone and are going to be mothers."

When asked further about countries that penalize unwed mothers, the pope replied, "I am not going to dispute the individual laws of a country. My question is, before civil law, before religious law, regarding the human (aspect): Is it right to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to resolve a problem? After that, the other answers will follow. But that is the basic question."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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