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'Sand Nativity' scene to display in St. Peter's Square

Top Stories - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jesolo Tourism Office

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although sand castles and sculptures usually conjure up images of hot summers on the beach, the Vatican will unveil a massive Nativity scene made entirely of sand during the cold Roman winter.

According to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, the Nativity scene displayed in St. Peter's Square will feature a 52-foot wide sand sculpture from Jesolo, an Italian seaside resort town roughly 40 miles north of Venice.

The intricate sculpture, along with a 42-foot-tall red spruce tree donated by the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone in the northern Italian region of Veneto, will be unveiled at the Vatican's annual tree lighting ceremony Dec. 7.

Bas-relief sand sculptures, like the one that will be featured in St. Peter's Square, are a tradition in Jesolo which, since 1998, has been the home of an annual sand sculpture festival.

At the helm of the sculpture project, dubbed the "Sand Nativity," is U.S. sculptor Rich Varano from New Smyrna Beach, Florida. According to the city's website for the Nativity scene, Varano is an accomplished sand sculptor with over 40 years' experience and has organized various international sand sculpture festivals, including the annual event in Jesolo.

Varano is joined by 11 artists from around the world, including Damon Farmer from Kentucky and Canadian artist David Ducharme, who are assisting in creating the massive "Sand Nativity" before its December unveiling.

Jesolo mayor Valerio Zogga presented sketch designs of the project in December 2017 to Archbishop Francesco Moraglia of Venice. The process of creating the sculptures involves compressing sand and water into blocks that are then sculpted to life-size figures.

Unlike the sand castles vacationers often see disintegrate by a single touch or the occasional passing wave, the compression allows for a more durable sculpture that is able to withstand light rain.

The "Sand Nativity" scene and tree will remain in St. Peter's Square until the feast of the Lord's Baptism Jan. 13, L'Osservatore Romano reported.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Detroit Archdiocese unveils 'Unleash the Gospel' missionary movement

Top Stories - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 3:35pm

IMAGE: CNS illustration/courtesy Detroit Catholic

By Mike Stechschulte

DETROIT (CNS) -- What began as a rallying cry for the Archdiocese of Detroit is slowly building into a full-fledged missionary movement called "Unleash the Gospel."

Inspired by Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's 2017 pastoral letter on the missionary transformation of the archdiocese, the movement was being launched at parishes in southeast Michigan the weekend of Nov. 3-4.

It is serving to help the faithful continue in what diocesan leaders called a journey of transformation and spiritual renewal centered on Jesus and the life-changing message of the Gospel.

Hundreds of volunteers were to be dispatched to all 218 parishes. The volunteers were commissioned to encourage parishioners to take up the mission of renewal through a six-day challenge.

The challenge, which includes a digital component, asks Catholics to devote five minutes per day to learn and pray about what it means to be a church on mission filled with joyful, missionary disciples.

"We have heard the Holy Spirit speak clearly of God's missionary plan for our archdiocese. We are called to go back to the original mission of the church and to share the good news of the Gospel -- to unleash the Gospel -- throughout southeast Michigan and beyond," Archbishop Vigneron said in a statement.

"It is with a renewed spirit of hope and faith in the Lord Jesus that I invite the faithful throughout the archdiocese to embrace this mission and walk with us this path to the kingdom of God," he said.

At the core of the initiative, which follows the 2016 archdiocesan synod on evangelization, is the need to make the message of salvation readily accessible and available to a culture that often seems to have forgotten Jesus, said Father Stephen Pullis, archdiocesan director of evangelization, catechesis and schools.

"'Unleash the Gospel' really is a missionary movement of the Holy Spirit that seeks to invite people to consider how God might be active in our age," Father Pullis said. "It's not enough to simply say we believe in Christ. We need to equip evangelizers by inviting people to become joyful, missionary disciples and learning how to share that message with others."

In a sense, he explained, the movement is about returning to the church's roots of proclaiming the "kerygma," or the initial, basic message of salvation: that humans were created in God's image, man and woman betrayed God's friendship through sin, and Jesus Christ was sent to repair that relationship through his saving death and resurrection.

The initiative also was designed to teach people to live that basic message of salvation as being true -- which includes sharing that Gospel with others.

The archdiocese planned to do that through a multi-pronged effort that includes an overhaul of the way the church communicates and engages with the faithful, said Edmundo Reyes, director of communications.

"'Unleash the Gospel' is a movement," Reyes said. "Think about what a movement is. At its core, a movement is when something is wrong that needs to be right, and enough people know about it and are willing to do something about it."

In introducing the initiative and its digital components, 550 volunteers were to visit parishes. Reyes said it was crucial to meeting people on the "digital continent."

In addition, the archdiocese rolled out a new digital news service and website Oct. 29. Called Detroit Catholic, the service includes daily email, video, audio and social components.

It succeeds the archdiocese's newspaper, The Michigan Catholic.

In 2019, the archdiocese plans to launch a separate magazine and online evangelization and faith-formation platform centered on "Unleash the Gospel."

The archdiocese also planned to introduce a podcast in November and make resources available to parishes to help parishioners becoming bold Christian witnesses.

Matthew Hunt, a youth minister at St. Isidore Parish in Macomb, was to be among the volunteers visiting parishes. He said he is excited about the possibilities the initiative creates.

"Not everyone knows what Unleash the Gospel is, but if we do this right, it's going to be huge," Hunt told Detroit Catholic.

Susan Wit of St. Hubert Parish in Harrison Township said it is inspiring to see the Catholic Church taking a lead in using modern communication tools.

"It seems like we're always two steps behind because there's always something new that the young people are into that we don't know about yet," said Wit, another volunteer. "I think it's a good starting point to get people interested and aware. We're the jumper cables to get people excited about it."

Reyes said part of the weekend's challenge is helping people to see "Unleash the Gospel" not as a letter, which will unavoidably age with time, but as a Spirit-led transformation of the archdiocese.

"That's the difference between a pastoral letter and a movement: You read a pastoral letter, but you join a movement," he said. "A movement grows stronger the more people join. We need to go all in."

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Stechschulte is editor-in-chief of Detroit Catholic, the digital news service of the Archdiocese of Detroit.


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One man glad to be in court to see priest plead guilty to abuse

Top Stories - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Darrell Sapp, courtesy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Father David Poulson of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty Oct. 17 to felony counts in connection with sexual assaults against one boy and the attempted assault of another boy, Jim VanSickle was there to witness it.

VanSickle, 52, said Father Poulson assaulted him when he was a teenager.

"It was very rewarding for me in the sense that I was able to look at him (and) watch him plead guilty to sexual charges," VanSickle told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 31 telephone interview from Pittsburgh, where he now lives.

According to VanSickle, Father Poulson was one of just two priests -- out of 301 clerics and other church workers named in the August Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses -- to be subject to criminal charges for abuse committed within the state's statute of limitations.

VanSickle said his own abuse occurred 37 years ago.

This is why he wants reform of the state's statute of limitation when it comes to sexual abuse. Pennsylvania's eight Catholic dioceses, as well as the state Senate, have backed the creation of a victims' compensation fund for abuse claimants whose assaults took place before the statute of limitations.

VanSickle told CNS the fund may be of help to some victims who have financial problems or who don't want to endure a civil trial. But a fund, he said, "would not expose the information pertaining to each one of these predators, and that information could possibly bring light to other victims or abusers, so we would not want that being suppressed."

The other argument against a compensation fund, VanSickle added, is that 'It doesn't give us our day in court, and that's not about money."

VanSickle said he was 15 when Father Poulson abused him, adding the Pennsylvania statute of limitations prohibits both criminal charges from being filed or a civil suit being brought against Father Poulson.

Under state law, victims who were over age 18 at the time of the abuse have two years to file civil cases. Victims who were under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred have 12 years after their 18th birthday to file civil suits.

The Pennsylvania bishops have argued a statewide compensation program is better than lifting the statutes of limitation on claims, even for a one- or two-year period, to allow suits to be filed for current time-barred civil claims would "inevitably result in bankruptcy for dioceses."

"Bankruptcy would cripple the ability of a diocese to provide compensation and healing for survivors, while vastly reducing or eliminating social service programs that greatly benefit all Pennsylvanians by serving some of the most at-risk people in our communities," they said in a recent statement.

VanSickle said he supports a one-time, two-year window for survivors of past child sexual abuse who were previously blocked from seeking civil damages to seek redress in the courts.

Also backing the change is the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Statutes of limitation, it argues on its website, "imposed arbitrary time limits which do not provide the time, distance and personal healing from sexual trauma that many survivors require before they are able to pursue justice and accountability from the individuals who harmed them, and in some cases, institutions that protected the perpetrators."

The crimes to which Father Poulson pleaded guilty in a county courthouse in Brookville, Pennsylvania, were corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children -- both of which are third-degree felonies under state law. Father Poulson took the boys, who were between the ages of 8 and 18, to a remote cabin -- on acreage co-owned by the priest and a Pennsylvania State Police sergeant -- between 2002 and 2010.

Father Poulson, who has been ordered by Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie to not present himself as a priest, is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-January. VanSickle said he plans to be in court then, too.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison


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People must choose: path toward holiness or nothing, pope says

Top Stories - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 10:53am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Saints are not just the well-known men, women and young people on the liturgical calendar, Pope Francis said on the feast of All Saints.

They include simple people "from next door, our relatives and acquaintances who now are part of that 'immense multitude'" in heaven, he said, which makes the Nov. 1 feast of All Saints "a family celebration."

"Saints are close to us, rather they are our truest brothers and sisters. They understand us, they love us, they know what is truly good for us, they help us and wait for us. They are happy and they want us to be happy with them in paradise," he said.

Before reciting the Angelus Nov. 1 with people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope talked about God's call to holiness and happiness, which entails following the beatitudes. Thousands of people braved the uncertain weather to join him as scattered showers alternated with torrential downpours.

"The Gospel says, 'Blessed are the poor,' while the world says, 'Blessed are the rich.' The Gospel says, 'Blessed are the meek, while the world says, 'Blessed are the bullies.' The Gospel says, 'Blessed are the pure of heart,' while the world says, 'Blessed are the cunning and pleasure-seekers,'" the pope said.

But those who are the true victors in the end are the saints, not the world, and the saints "exhort us to choose their side, the side of God who is holy," he said.

"Let's ask ourselves which side are we on? Heaven or earth? Do we live for the Lord or for ourselves? For eternal happiness or for some immediate gratification?" he asked.

People need to ask themselves whether they really want to be holy or are they content being Christians who believe in God and respect others, "but without going overboard."

The pope said that the Lord, "who asks everything of us," offers in return true life and the happiness for which people were created.

"Therefore, either holiness or nothing!" he added.

From their place in heaven, the saints are "cheering for us so that we choose God, humility, meekness, mercy, being pure of heart, so that we develop a passion for heaven rather than the world," he said.

The saints also want people not just to listen to the Gospel, but to put it into practice by "walking the path of the beatitudes," which does not require doing "extraordinary things, but to follow every day this path that brings us to heaven, to family, back home."

After praying the Angelus, the pope greeted the many men and women who ran in the annual 10-kilometer Race of the Saints, praising the "beautiful initiative" celebrating the feast day.


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Custom of dressing up for Halloween 'devotional in spirit,' says bishop

Top Stories - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 1:28pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec


TULSA, Okla. (CNS) -- Halloween is an opportunity for Catholics "to express in every detail of our observance the beauty and depth of the feast of All Saints," said Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa.

It is important to maintain "the Catholic meaning and purpose of all holy days, especially those which have been adopted and adapted by the culture around us," he said in a recent memo posted on the diocesan website,

Also known as All Hallows' Eve, Halloween is the eve of All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, which is a holy day of obligation for Catholics. All Souls' Day is Nov. 2. The word "hallows" means "holy ones" or "saints," noted the bishop.

"The custom of dressing up for Halloween is devotional in spirit," he added. "By dressing up as the saints whom we most admire, we imagine ourselves following their example of Christian discipleship."

"This practice," he continued, "allows the lay faithful in festive celebration to become 'living icons' of the saints, who are themselves 'icons' or 'windows' offering real-life examples of the imitation of Christ. In dressing up as saints we make Christian discipleship our own in a special way, following the exhortation of St. Paul, 'Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ' (1 Cor 11:1)."

Even Halloween's appeal to the "frightful" has "a devotional meaning in the Catholic tradition," Bishop Konderla said. "Props such as skulls and scythes have historically recalled our mortality, reminding us to be holy because we are destined for judgment (Heb 9:27, Rev. 14:15). Visible symbols of death thus represent a reminder of the last things -- death, judgment, heaven and hell."

The "Gothic" aspect of the day is even a reminder of Christian teaching "about the resurrection of the dead," he said, but secular culture "often represents this in a distorted manner. ... Separated from Catholic teaching, grim or ghoulish or 'Gothic' costumes can furthermore be mistaken as a celebration or veneration of evil or of death itself, contradicting the full and authentic meaning of Halloween."

The bishop also advised Catholics to "intentionally avoid" Halloween images contrary to the faith that have become popular in the secular adaptation of the celebration.

"Turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we want to refrain from glamourizing or celebrating anything involving superstition, witches, witchcraft, sorcery, divinations, magic, and the occult. ... We want to be good models of Christian virtue for those we serve and make clear distinctions between that which is good and that which is evil," he said.

He urged all Catholics "to express in every detail of our observance the beauty and depth of the feast of All Saints" this Halloween.

"Let us make this year's celebration an act of true devotion to God, whose saints give us hope that we too may one day enter into the kingdom prepared for God's holy ones from the beginning of time," he added.

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Editor's Note: The full text of Bishop Konderla's memo can be found at

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Copyright © 2018 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

Pakistan court sets aside death sentence for woman convicted of blasphemy

Top Stories - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:42am

IMAGE: CNS photo/SRahat Dar, EPA


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNS) -- Pakistan's Supreme Court has set aside the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Catholic convicted of blasphemy, and ordered her release from prison.

A three-member court bench announced the verdict Oct. 31. The apex court ruled that Bibi be released from death row immediately if she had no other case registered against her, reported

Members of Tehreek-e-Labaik, an extremist group, initiated protests and blocked roads after the verdict.

Khadim Rizvi, leader of the group, recently warned the judges, the government and local as well as international nongovernmental organizations of "dire" consequences if Bibi was set free. He also threatened Bibi's lawyer.

"We will hold massive protests and not let the government function if it releases Asia Bibi to appease the United States," said Rizvi.

Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim farm worker.

The Supreme Court reserved its judgment on the blasphemy case Oct. 8 and had barred media from covering the issue until the decision was announced by the court.

Samson Salamat, the Christian chairman of the interreligious Movement for Tolerance, issued a statement after the verdict.

"This is a highly tense and threatening situation for religious minorities, especially for Pakistani Christians, and there is fear of persecution of Christians and attacks on their churches and other properties," he said. He also called for a ban on "extremist groups who are involved in hate speech and use religion as a tool to promote violence in society."

Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, welcomed the verdict and said the case "illustrates the extent to which blasphemy laws can be exploited to target minority communities. These laws seek to protect entire religions rather than the individual, as should be the case under international human rights standards. It is deeply troubling that Bibi's case even reached this level, where she almost became the first person in Pakistan's history to be executed for the crime of blasphemy."

The commission also called on Pakistan to release the 40 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges and to repeal its blasphemy laws.

The USCIRF and Amnesty international noted that two other people who supported Bibi were killed. In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, was assassinated by his own bodyguard, who shot him 27 times. In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian Cabinet minister at the time, was assassinated outside his mother's home in Islamabad.

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Editors: The original story can be found at


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Fidelity is for every vocation, not just marriage, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 10:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Sixth Commandment's mandate against adultery is a call to fidelity that applies not only to married couples, but to all Christians called to love others through their vocation, Pope Francis said.

Married men and women, priests and those in religious life are ultimately called to live out their vocation faithfully and follow the "path of love that goes from receiving care to the ability to offer care, from receiving life to the ability to give life," the pope said Oct. 31 during his weekly general audience.

"Every Christian vocation is spousal because it is the fruit of the bond of love in which we are all renewed, the bond of love with Christ," he said. "Starting from (Christ's) fidelity, his tenderness, his generosity, we look with faith at marriage and at every vocation, and we understand the full meaning of sexuality."

Among the pilgrims present at the audience were the members of the Together in Hope choir, an ecumenical choir comprised of Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Reformed, evangelical, and nonreligious people based in Minneapolis.

Accompanying the choir was Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Lutheran Bishop Ann Svennungsen, head of the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who were greeted by Pope Francis after the audience.

During the audience, the pope continued his series of talks on the Ten Commandments, reflecting on the command, "Thou shall not commit adultery," which he said was a "call to love that is manifested in fidelity acceptance and mercy."

While the commandment refers to fidelity in marriage, the pope said it is not only addressed to spouses but is a "paternal word of God addressed to every man and woman."

Being mature is being able to "take upon oneself someone else's burden and to love without ambiguity," he said.

On the other hand, the pope said, adulterers and those who are unfaithful are "immature" people who interpret situations according to their own "well-being and satisfaction."

"In order to be married, it's not enough to celebrate the wedding! We need to make a journey from the 'I' to the 'we,' from thinking for yourself to thinking for two, from living by yourself to living with another person," the pope said. "It is a beautiful path; when we decentralize ourselves, then every act is spousal."

Priests and those who live chaste consecrated lives, he said, must also follow this path and live it "faithfully and joyfully as a spousal and fruitful relationship of motherhood and fatherhood."

"The church does not need aspirants to the role of priests, but rather men whose hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit with an unreserved love for the bride of Christ," Pope Francis said. "In the priesthood, we love the people of God with all the paternity, tenderness and strength of a spouse and a father."

Pope Francis said that the call to not commit adultery is a reminder of the Christian duty to love as Christ loves and to respect one another.

"The human body is not an instrument of pleasure but the place of our call to love," the pope said. "And in authentic love, there is no room for lust and its superficiality. Men and women deserve more!"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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Gift of nun doll collection helps preserve legacy of women religious

Top Stories - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin

By Nichole Golden

ATLANTA (CNS) -- Margaret Alsup of Cumming always considered her nun dolls to be like friends.

So, when it came time to look for a permanent home for her beloved figurines in late 2017, she found a place that would help preserve the historical legacy of the women religious these replicas represent.

The 75 carefully and meticulously created nun dolls in Alsup's collection are now in the care of the Archdiocese of Atlanta's Office of Archives and Records, where they are in full display.

These dolls not only offer the archdiocese historical context to women religious, they've spurred the curiosity of visitors, said Angelique Richardson, director of the office of archives and records.

Richardson said it's been fun to see people's reactions when they come to the archives office and notice all the dolls together on a table looking across the room. Visitors try to find the orders of the nuns who taught them or the ones who are family friends.

Educated by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, Alsup sewed the dolls' traditional habits by machine from authentic materials provided by Catholic sisters whose congregations are represented.

"There were people in my life that I think are kind of in them," she told the archivists who arrived to transport the dolls.

The collection, Alsup's second one of nun dolls, had been in attic storage for nine years, yet remains in excellent condition. She sold her first collection in the 1970s to fund a trip to Israel.

The dolls all have porcelain faces and range in height from 15 to 32 inches. They have rosaries and medals, and habits in a variety of fabrics. She started the second collection in the 1980s.

"They're very, very detailed," Richardson told The Georgia Bulletin, Atlanta's archdiocesan newspaper. "The habits are so well made."

Alsup also wanted the reality of each doll to be recognized, so she attached a handwritten card to each replica's religious order, the date of the congregation's founding and how the order has served the church.

It was a project that Alsup, now in her mid-80s, undertook during the span of many years.

"I just kept at it, you know, doing little things," she said.

Alsup first became interested in nun doll collecting after helping a stroke victim make clothes for dolls. After the woman died, her husband gave many of the porcelain dolls to Alsup out of gratitude.

Religious orders from around the country would send her something for the dolls in the mail, including discarded habits from which to fashion a smaller version.

"I always sent them a reward," she said smiling.

For a St. Frances Xavier Cabrini doll, a sister "tatted a little bonnet for me," she added.

She would order doll shoes and religious items, and authenticity was important.

"They all have real rosaries -- no fake stuff and real medals," said Alsup.

She first tried to locate a buyer for all the dolls, but not many people are still collecting today, she said. Alsup decided she wanted them to go to the archdiocese instead, so they would be appreciated.

Alsup also donated the reference books she used to research the various congregations, including "A Guide to the Catholic Sisterhoods in the United States," Richardson said.

The archives office now has a small display case set up in a lobby area of the archdiocesan chancery in Smyrna, as well as in the archives, with a few dolls on exhibition.

Every Sunday, the office of archives will feature a #SisterSunday image on its Facebook page -- -- one doll a week for 75 weeks.

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Golden is on the staff of The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.


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Update: Synod's words on 'synodal' church puzzle some people

Top Stories - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:36pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "Synodality," a key concept of Pope Francis' papacy, was used repeatedly in the final document of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocation discernment.

In simple terms, "synodality" means "walking together" with every member of the church, recognizing that the grace of baptism makes one part of the body of the church and, therefore, responsible for its life and mission.

"The church must really let herself be given shape by the Eucharist that she celebrates as the summit and source of her life," being like "the bread made from many stalks of wheat and broken for the life of the world," the synod document said.

"The fruit of this synod, the choice that the Spirit has inspired in us through listening and discernment, is to walk with young people going out to all to witness to the love of God," it said. "We can describe this process by speaking of synodality for mission, that is, missionary synodality."

Archbishop Hector Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, president of the Peruvian bishops' conference, told reporters Oct. 25 that especially with the involvement of young people at the synod, the bishops saw how synodality could be a way of life that "promotes everyone's participation."

"When I say everyone, I don't just mean the church as in the bishops, priests. No! It is also the laity and the faithful at all levels. And all of us bishops are called -- and this is part of that synodality -- to make collaboration grow," Archbishop Cabrejos said.

The International Theological Commission, a group of theologians appointed by the pope and working under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a lengthy document in March on "Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church."

"The concept of synodality refers to the involvement and participation of the whole people of God in the life and mission of the church," the commission said.

In its Catholic understanding and usage, the commission wrote, synodality "promotes the baptismal dignity and co-responsibility of all, makes the most of the presence in the people of God of charisms dispensed by the Holy Spirit, recognizes the specific ministry of pastors in collegial and hierarchical communion with the bishop of Rome, and guarantees that synodal processes and events unfold in conformity with the deposit of faith and involve listening to the Holy Spirit for the renewal of the church's mission."

In other words, consulting and listening to all members of the church is essential for discerning a path forward, but those decisions cannot violate the truths of the Christian faith and must be verified by a priest, bishop or the pope, depending on whether the decision is local, diocesan or has a universal impact.

As members of the Synod of Bishops reviewed a draft of their final document and prepared amendments to it, some bishops told reporters they thought the emphasis on synodality was exaggerated, since very few synod participants mentioned the term during the assembly, which began Oct. 3.

Others cautioned that for people living in countries with a large percentage of Anglicans or Protestants, the term could lead to confusion, almost as if the synod was saying it wanted a church where decisions were made prayerfully, but democratically.

The synod's final document spoke of the value of listening to, praying with and grappling with the questions brought to the gathering by the synod observers under age 30.

In that experience, the final document said, "we recognize a fruit of the Spirit who continually renews the church and calls her to practice synodality as a way of being and acting, promoting the participation of all the baptized and of people of good will, each according to his or her age, state of life and vocation. In this synod, we have experienced that the collegiality which unites the bishops 'cum Petro et sub Petro' (with and under Peter, the pope) in their concern for the people of God is called to articulate and enrich itself through the practice of synodality at all levels."

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, speaking to reporters at the Vatican Oct. 26, admitted that the term was not discussed in depth at the synod, but "it is what we have been doing for a month."

While the Second Vatican Council's call for "collegiality" refers to the College of Bishops acting with and under the pope, he said, "synodality is much wider" and refers to all the baptized taking responsibility for the church and its mission, each according to his or her talents and role within the church.

"It is to walk together, to be together on the way of faith and that concerns everybody," Cardinal Schonborn said. But "it doesn't take away the difference of function and ministry and roles."

While Pope Francis began speaking of synodality in the first months of his papacy, which began in March 2013, his most extensive treatment of the topic came in October 2015 when he led a celebration of the 50th anniversary of St. Paul VI's establishment of the Synod of Bishops.

"The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his church in the third millennium," the pope had said at the celebration. "A synodal church is a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn."


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Encore: Listen to those in need, pope says in World Day of Poor message

Top Stories - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 11:02am

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- How is it that God in heaven can hear the cries of the poor, but so many people watching or standing nearby either cannot or just do not care, Pope Francis asked.

People must make "a serious examination of conscience to understand whether we are really capable of listening to the poor," the pope said in a message for the World Day of the Poor.

The recently established commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to give Christians a chance to follow Christ's example and concretely share a moment of love, hope and respect together with those in need in one's community, the pope said in the message dated June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the poor. The Vatican released the message to the public June 14.

The World Day of the Poor -- to be marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time -- will be celebrated Nov. 18 this year and will focus on a verse from Psalm 34, "This poor one cried out and the Lord heard."

"We can ask ourselves, how is it this cry, which reaches all the way to God, is unable to penetrate our ears and leaves us indifferent and impassive?" the pope asked in his message.

To become aware of people's suffering and know how best to respond with love, people must learn to be silent and listen, the pope said.

"If we speak too much ourselves, we will be unable to hear them," he said.

That is often what happens when otherwise important and needed initiatives are carried out more as a way to please oneself "than to really acknowledge the cry of the poor," he said.

"We are so entrapped in a culture which forces us to look in the mirror" and unduly "pamper ourselves," he said. Such people come to believe their act of altruism is enough without having to feel any empathy or the need to sacrifice or "endanger" themselves directly.

Nobody seeks poverty or its many forms, which include marginalization, persecution and injustice, the pope said.

Poverty "is caused by selfishness, pride, greed and injustice. These are evils as old as humanity, but also sins in which the innocents are caught up, leading to consequences on the social level, which are dramatic," he said.

"God's answer to the poor is always an intervention of salvation in order to heal the wounds of body and soul, restore justice and assist in beginning anew to live life with dignity. God's answer is also an appeal in order that those who believe in him can do the same," he added.

The World Day of the Poor is meant to be a small contribution that the whole church can make so the poor may know their cries have not gone unheard, the pope said in his message.

"It is like a drop of water in the desert of poverty; and yet it can be a sign of sharing for those who are in need, that they might experience the active presence of a brother or a sister," he said.

This encounter is a call for personal involvement, not delegation to others, he said. And it is not cold, distant giving, but an act that requires "loving attentiveness" just like God offers everyone.

So many people in need are seeking the meaning of their existence and a response to their questions about "why they have fallen so far and how they can escape! They are waiting from someone to come up and say, 'Take heart; rise, he is calling you,'" the pope said.

Unfortunately, people are often repelled by, not drawn to the poor, he said. The cries of the poor are often met with rebuke and they are told, "to shut up and put up."

There is a real "phobia of the poor," who are seen not only as destitute, but also as carriers of "insecurity and instability," to be rejected and kept afar.

But this tendency to create a distance means people distance themselves from Jesus himself, "who does not reject the poor, but calls them to him and consoles them," he said.

Even though members of the Catholic Church who offer their care and assistance are motivated by their faith and the desire to share the Good News with others, he said bishops, priests, religious and lay Catholics should recognize that "in the immense world of poverty, our capacity for action is limited, weak and insufficient."

The church should cooperate with others so joint efforts can reach their objectives more effectively, he said.

The church should give freely with an attitude of humility, "without seeking the limelight," he said.

"In serving the poor, the last thing we need is a battle for first place," he said. The poor don't need heroes, but a love which knows how to remain hidden from worldly recognition, he said.

"The true protagonists are the Lord and the poor," and those who serve are mere instruments "in God's hands in order to make manifest his presence and salvation."

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters the pope hopes the day will remind everyone in the church to turn their gaze to the poor, truly listen to their needs and respond directly with love in a way that aims to restore their dignity.

Local churches, associations and institutions are again asked to creative initiatives that foster moments of real encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.

The archbishop said the pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Nov. 18 with the poor and volunteers, and he will have lunch afterward with about 3,000 people in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall. Other volunteer groups and schools were also set to offer free meals in an atmosphere of "celebration and sharing," he added.

Medical tents and mobile clinics will again be set up in the square adjoining St. Peter's Square Nov. 12-18, with extended evening hours until midnight for some services, he said. Anyone in need can find general and specialist care, including cardiology, dermatology, gynecology and ophthalmology.


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Update: Catholic groups urge humane treatment of migrants headed to border

Top Stories - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 6:28pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As a group from Central America heads to the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the Trump administration is said to be getting ready to send troops to meet them and Catholic groups are asking that the migrants be treated humanely.

"As Catholic agencies assisting poor and vulnerable migrants in the United States and around the world, we are deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America," said an Oct. 29 joint statement from the chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee and the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services and of Catholic Charities USA.

"While nations have the right to protect their borders, this right comes with responsibilities: Governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely and provide due process," said the three Catholic leaders, committee chairman Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Sean Callahan of CRS and Dominican Sister Donna Markham of Catholic Charities.

The mobilization of migrants is believed to have formed sometime in mid-October and comprised of mostly Honduran migrants seeking refuge from violence and poverty at home. It seems that, spontaneously, others from nearby countries have joined their ranks as the group travels north, likely seeking to ask for asylum in the United States.

"We urge the administration to manage refugee arrivals humanely and in a manner that respects their dignity and rights under U.S. and international law," said an Oct. 26 statement by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

"These people simply want to live with their families free of fear. According to international law, they have a right to seek asylum where they feel safe," said the Washington-based Franciscan Action Network in an Oct. 24 news release expressing solidarity with the group.

LCWR and the Franciscan network both denounced statements that insinuated the group of migrants is made up of people wanting to harm the population of the United States, including some made by President Donald Trump.

In its statement, LCWR said it was "deeply troubled" by the president's "continued denigration of those fleeing untenable situations in their home countries."

"These are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who have been forced from their homes by unimaginable violence and insecurity; runaway corruption; and droughts and floods linked to climate change," the organization of leaders of women religious said in its statement. "These are women and girls fleeing intolerable situations of domestic violence. These are young men and women who have no access to quality education and no hope of economic opportunity.

"These are courageous people who have rejected cultures of corruption and exploitation," they continued. They are traveling the same road trod by our forbearers who fled tyranny and violence in search of the American dream. They are people of hope and promise who only want the opportunity to contribute their toil and talent to this nation."

The group said women religious have accompanied such groups in the past and would continue to do so and welcome them.

The Franciscan Action Network also defended the group of migrants and called on the general public to "separate fact from fiction."

"As a nation of immigrants, we should welcome those who are escaping violence and persecution with open arms. Those in the migrant caravan are not gang members or terrorists, in fact many have family members in the United States who are citizens," the network said in its statement. "These people simply want to live with their families free of fear. According to international law, they have a right to seek asylum where they feel safe."

Bishop Vasquez, Callahan and Sister Markham also said in their joint statement that they "affirm that seeking asylum is not a crime" and urged "all governments to abide by international law and existing domestic laws that protect those seeking safe haven and ensure that all those who are returned to their home country are protected and repatriated safely."

The three said they "strongly advocate for continued U.S. investments to address the underlying causes of violence and lack of opportunity in Central America. Our presence throughout the Americas has convinced us that migration is a regional issue that requires a comprehensive, regional solution."

"An enforcement-only approach does not address nor solve the larger root causes that cause people to flee their countries in search of protection," they said, adding: "As Christians, we must answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions that honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life."

The Hope Border Institute of El Paso, Texas, published information Oct. 26 about the group being referred to as a "caravan," which it says numbers between 3,000 and 7,000 people and, of those, about 2,000 are youth and children.

The mobilization is said to have grown largely because migrants see safety in numbers and some of them rushed to join because of fears of being assaulted when traveling in smaller groups on the journey north.

Many Catholic grass-roots groups have joined other humanitarian organizations in providing food and shelter for the migrants along the way.

In its information, the Hope Border Institute says the group may arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border "sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or possibly sooner" and faith-based and other human rights groups are preparing to help.

News reports say the Trump administration is preparing legal action before that happens, hoping to block the group from entering, including issuing an executive order that will deny entry for those seeking asylum.

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Trappist Father Keating, leading figure in centering prayer, dies at 95

Top Stories - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 4:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Contemplative Outreach


SPENCER, Mass. (CNS) -- A funeral Mass will be celebrated Nov. 3 at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer for Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a leading figure in the centering prayer movement that got its start in the 1970s. He died Oct. 25 at the abbey.

He had been abbot there for two decades in the 1960s and 1970s. Father Keating was 95 and, according to his nephew, Peter Jones, had been in poor health for a number of years.

Pledging to God to become a priest if he survived a serious illness he had in childhood, Joseph Parker Kirlin Keating, the son and grandson of maritime lawyers, entered the Cistercians' Monastery Our Lady of the Valley in Valley Falls, Rhode Island, in 1944 and was ordained a priest in 1949. He took the name Thomas due to his admiration of St. Thomas Aquinas.

After the Rhode Island monastery burned down in 1950, the monks moved to the Spencer monastery. Father Keating stayed there until he was invited to help establish a new monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. He stayed until 1961, when he was elected abbot at St. Joseph's.

He turned to centering prayer -- a technique of praying silently to God without words -- based on the encouragement issued by St. Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council to rediscover the contemplative tradition. Father Keating returned to Snowmass and helped found Contemplative Outreach for centering prayer practitioners in 1984, serving as its president 1985-99.

The irony for the Trappist is that, to promote centering prayer, he left the confines of the monastery to speak at conferences worldwide.

"People are feeling a deeper desire for prayer and the structure to support it," he said in Omaha in 1990.

"Human nature has a dimension that requires silence," Father Keating added. "The tendency had been to put people interested in the contemplative life in a convent or monastery to protect them from us -- or us from them," he joked at a conference in Omaha. "Vatican II released a lot of desire and willingness to engage in contemplative prayer and it both deserves and needs to be ministered to."

In a homily at a 2000 Mass for the installation of Trappist Father Basil Pennington, another centering prayer proponent, at a monastery in Georgia, Father Keating reflected on the faith and suffering of Mary and Joseph. He said God's "relentless movement" shattered the vision Mary and Joseph had for their lives, but called such movement "the path of transformation ... the goal of the Christian life."

Father Keating also was a prolific author. The Contemplative Outreach website has a page listing 28 books -- what it said constituted "most of" his published works. His titles included "Awakenings" and "Manifesting God," and he co-wrote "Finding Grace at the Center: The Beginning of Centering Prayer."

Several of his books made the Catholic best-seller lists, including "Journey to the Center," "Invitation to Love," "Open Mind, Open Heart." The latter was translated into Spanish, and "Invitacian a Amar" was a Spanish-language Catholic best-seller in 2005.

In a Catholic News Service review of Father Keating's 1994 book "Intimacy With God," the reviewer, Margaret O'Connell, advised readers to "drop everything" and buy the book "regardless of the effort or the effect on your budget."

Father Keating was profiled in the 1996 PBS series "Searching for God in America," and was the subject of a 2013 documentary made by his nephew called "Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence."

It was from reading the priest's "Open Mind, Open Heart" that a California man, Mike Kelley, decided he wanted to share centering prayer with the inmates at Folsom Prison. Paul, one of the "lifers" at Folsom, recalled the day Kelley came to talk to the men about centering prayer as "an answer to one of our prayers." Hundreds of Folsom inmates took centering prayer classes from him.

By the time Father Keating came to California in 2000 to visit five prisons that taught centering prayer techniques, there were a dozen prisons in the program. Centering prayer is uniquely suited to effect a spiritual awakening among inmates, he said at the time. "It's a simple way of connecting with the divine indwelling," he noted. "It teaches them that no matter where they are, God is with them."

He described in 2001 how one gets started in centering prayer. "The great battle in the early stages of contemplative prayer is with thoughts," he wrote. "It is unrealistic to aim at having no thoughts.

"When we speak of developing interior silence, we are speaking of a relative degree of silence. By interior silence, we refer primarily to a state in which we do not become attached to the thoughts as they go by."

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Pope apologizes to young people who have felt ignored by the church

Top Stories - Sun, 10/28/2018 - 10:17am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Speaking on behalf of all adult Catholics, Pope Francis formally closed the Synod of Bishops by asking young people for forgiveness.

"Forgive us if often we have not listened to you; if, instead of opening our hearts, we have filled your ears. As Christ's church, we want to listen to you with love" because young people's lives are precious in God's eyes and "in our eyes, too," the pope said in his homily Oct. 28.

The Mass, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica, closed a month-long synod on young people, faith and vocational discernment. The pope thanked the 300 synod members, experts, observers and ecumenical delegates for working in communion, with frankness and with the desire to serve God's people.

"May the Lord bless our steps, so that we can listen to young people, be their neighbors and bear witness before them to Jesus, the joy of our lives," he said in his homily.

Living the faith and sharing it with the world, especially with young people, entails going out to those in need, listening, being close to them and bearing witness to Jesus' liberating message of salvation, Pope Francis said.

The pope used the day's Gospel reading (Mk 10:46-52) and its account of Jesus helping Bartimaeus as a model of how all Christians need to live out and share the faith.

Bartimaeus was blind, homeless and fatherless, and he begged for Jesus' mercy as soon as he heard he was near, the pope said. Many rebuked the man, "telling him to be silent."

"For such disciples, a person in need was a nuisance along the way, unexpected and unplanned," the pope said. Even though they followed Jesus, these disciples wanted things to go their way and preferred talking over listening to others, he said.

"This is a risk constantly to guard against. Yet, for Jesus, the cry of those pleading for help is not a nuisance but a challenge," the pope said.

Jesus goes to Bartimaeus and lets him speak, taking the time to listen, Pope Francis said. "This is the first step in helping the journey of faith: listening. It is the apostolate of the ear: listening before speaking."

The next step in the journey of faith, the pope said, is to be a neighbor and do what is needed, without delegating the duty to someone else.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" showing the Lord acts "not according to my own preconceived ideas, but for you, in your particular situation. That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person."

Being present and close to people's lives "is the secret to communicating the heart of the faith, and not a secondary aspect," the pope said.

"When faith is concerned purely with doctrinal formulae, it risks speaking only to the head without touching the heart," he said. "And when it is concerned with activity alone, it risks turning into mere moralizing and social work."

Being a neighbor, the pope said, means bringing the newness of God into other people's lives, fighting the "temptation of easy answers and fast fixes" and of wanting to "wash our hands" of problems and responsibility.

"We want to imitate Jesus and, like him, to dirty our hands," just as "the Lord has dirtied his hands for each one of us," he said. "Let us look at the cross, start from there and remember that God became my neighbor in sin and death."

When "we too become neighbors, we become bringers of new life. Not teachers of everyone, not specialists in the sacred, but witnesses of the love that saves," Pope Francis said.

The third step in the journey of faith, he said, is to bear witness, particularly to those who are seeking life and salvation, but who "often find only empty promises and few people who really care."

"It is not Christian to expect that our brothers and sisters who are seekers should have to knock on our doors; we ought to go out to them, bringing not ourselves but Jesus" and encouraging each person by proclaiming that "God is asking you to let yourself be loved by him," he said.

"How often," the pope lamented, "instead of this liberating message of salvation, have we brought ourselves, our own 'recipes' and 'labels' into the church!"

"How often do people feel the weight of our institutions more than the friendly presence of Jesus! In these cases, we act more like an NGO, a state-controlled agency, and not the community of the saved who dwell in the joy of the Lord."

Just as Jesus journeyed in his ministry with others, "we too have walked alongside one another" during the synod on young people, the pope said, formally closing the synod assembly, which began Oct. 3.

Before praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope said the synod did more than produce a final document, it displayed a method of listening to the voices of the people of God and discerning responses in the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.

While the document was important and useful, he said, the methods employed during the synod and its preparations showed "a way of being and working together, young and old, listening and discerning, so as to reach pastoral choices that respond to reality."

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Synod document: Listen to, support, guide, include young people

Top Stories - Sat, 10/27/2018 - 3:50pm

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church and all its members must get better at listening to young people, taking their questions seriously, recognizing them as full members of the church, patiently walking with them and offering guidance as they discern the best way to live their faith, the Synod of Bishops said.

While the synod's final document spoke of friendship, affection, sexuality and "sexual inclinations," those issues were not the center of concern in the lengthy final document, which was released Oct. 27.

The synod, which began Oct. 3 and was to conclude with a Mass Oct. 28, brought together 267 voting members -- cardinals, bishops, 18 priests and two religious brothers -- and 72 experts and observers, including three dozen men and women under 30 to discuss "young people, the faith and vocational discernment."

For the vote on the final document, 249 bishops and priests participated; two-thirds approval or 166 votes, were required to keep a paragraph in the document. The version they voted on had 167 numbered paragraphs.

The focus of the final document was on improving ways to support young Catholics' baptismal call to holiness, to welcome the contributions they make to the church and help them in their process of growing in faith and in deciding the state of life that would best correspond to what God wants from them.

The emphasis on the church listening to young people also led to an emphasis on the church listening to all people -- including women -- renewing communities and structures for a "synodal church" where all members listen to, support and challenge one another and share responsibility for the church's one mission of spreading the Gospel.

"Listening is an encounter in freedom, which requires humility, patience, willingness to understand and a commitment to working out responses in a new way," the document said. "Listening transforms the heart of those who live it, above all when they take on an inner attitude of harmony and docility to the Spirit of Christ."

The bishops said they heard from many young people a need for "courageous cultural conversion and a change in daily pastoral practice" to promote the equality of women in society and in the church.

"An area of particular importance in this regard is the presence of women in church bodies at all levels, including in leadership roles, and the participation of women in church decision-making processes while respecting the role of the ordained ministry," the document said. "This is a duty of justice."

However, the final document was amended before passage to remove one specific suggestion on where to begin promoting greater equality in the church. The draft document had called for "avoiding the disparity" at the synod between the men's Union of Superiors General, which has 10 voting members at the synod, and the women's International Union of Superiors General, which had three non-voting observers at the assembly.

The document acknowledged how, in some countries, young people are moving away from the church or question its teachings, especially on sexuality.

The church's response, the synod said, must be a commitment of time and patience as it helps young people "grasp the relationship between their adherence to faith in Jesus Christ and the way they live their affectivity and interpersonal relationships."

Church teaching that all people are called to chastity and to refraining from sexual relations outside the bond of marriage between a man and a woman must be presented clearly, but not with a judgmental attitude, it added.

The document mentioned young people's questions about homosexuality, sexual orientation and differences between men and women and called for "a more in-depth anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration" on the church's position on those issues. The final document used the term "sexual inclination" rather than "sexual orientation" as the draft document had.

"The synod reaffirms that God loves every person and so does the church, renewing its commitment against all sexually-based discrimination and violence," the final document said. "It also reaffirms the decisive anthropological relevance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman and considers it reductive to define the identity of persons solely on the basis of their 'sexual orientation.'"

The paragraph, listed under "Sexuality: A Clear, Liberating, Authentic Word," passed by the required two-thirds, but received the fewest favorable votes -- 178 -- while 65 bishops voted against it.

Members of the synod also praised young Catholics who are involved in their parishes or communities, who dedicate themselves enthusiastically to service projects, who offer their time and talent to the celebration of parish liturgies and who are willing to do even more. However, the document said, too often young volunteers are met by priests and other adults who doubt their commitment or preparation or are simply unwilling to share responsibility with them.

While young people can feel overlooked or ignored, the synod members said such attitudes are detrimental to the church and to its missionary mandate. The final document said young people challenge the church to be better and their questions force older church members to find clearer ways to express church teaching or to respond to new situations with the wisdom of faith.

"Their criticism, too, is needed because not infrequently we hear through them the voice of the Lord asking us for a conversion of heart and a renewal of structures," the synod members said.

The clerical sex abuse scandal and financial scandals in the Catholic Church are leading many people, not only young people, away from the faith, the synod acknowledged.

Apparently responding to some bishops who felt the draft document's section on abuse gave too much prominence to the topic's importance in the United States, Ireland, Australia and Chile, the final document treated it in three paragraphs rather than the earlier five.

However, the final document, like the draft, said, "The Synod expresses gratitude to those who have had the courage to denounce the evil they have suffered: they help the church become aware of what has happened and of the need to react decisively" to ensure abuse does not continue to occur.

Behind the crime of abuse, it said, there lies a "spiritual void" and a form of exercising power that led some priests to believe their ordination gave them "power" over others rather than called them to serving others.

On "vocation," synod members emphasized how the basic, common Christian vocation is the call to holiness, which can and should be lived out in every state of life: young or old, single or married or in the priesthood or religious life.

"Vocation is neither a script a human being is called to recite, nor a spontaneous theatrical moment leaving no traces," the document said. God calls each person into a relationship with him, respects the person's freedom and yet has a plan for each person's life; discovering that plan requires prayer and self-examination.

The final document urged particular attention to marriage preparation programs as "a kind of 'initiation' for the sacrament of matrimony" and to careful selection of candidates for the priesthood and to seminary programs to ensure that future priests are men who can recognize the gifts of others, relate well to women and men of all ages and are devoted to serving the poor.

Young people who are poor or experience discrimination -- especially migrants, victims of religious persecution and those struggling to find employment -- received special attention at the synod and in the final document.

In fact, the synod said, "the world of young people is also deeply marked by the experience of vulnerability, disability, illness and pain" and Catholic communities have not always done everything possible to welcome and assist them.

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Canonists: Laity have a rightful place in church in addressing abuse

Top Stories - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 5:30pm

IMAGE: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Canon law gives Catholic laypeople the right to make an impact in addressing the clerical sex abuse crisis which has re-emerged anew in the church, said a number of canon lawyers interviewed by Catholic News Service.

Much depends, though, on the degree to which a local bishop is willing to consider the voices and expertise of the laity in this or other matters, they added.

And what canon law in itself may not explicitly provide, a "motu proprio" (on his own initiative) issued in by Pope Francis in 2016 just may.

"In the 1990s, there was a big role to promote the role of women in the church, and the bishops took that up as well," said Mercy Sister Sharon Euart, a former associate general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who is now executive coordinator of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.

"What we tried to do," Sister Euart said, "was to say let's look at what women can do that doesn't require ordination in the church. And you found there was a lot -- an awful lot -- of service that can be provided. Move forward 25 years and I think right now the call for laity is loud and it's clear -- but it's not focused on exactly what it is different groups are asking."

Susan Mulheron, chancellor for of canonical affairs for Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was among the canonists interviewed by CNS who cited "Book II" of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, titled "The People of God," and specifically the first part, "The Christian Faithful," as giving some rights to the laity.

Mulheron pointed to Canon 208, which says: "There exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action by which they all cooperate in the building up of the body of Christ according to each one's own condition and function."

"We cooperate in the work of the church" as laity, Mulheron said, and that can be read to include applying one's gifts and talents to address the abuse crisis.

Benedictine Sister Nancy Bauer, who teaches courses in canon law and in lay ministry at The Catholic University of America in Washington, cited Canon 212, a three-paragraph canon which presumes that "the Christian faithful" are "conscious of their own responsibility" and are "free to make known to the pastors of the church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires."

It also says: "According to the knowledge, competence and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors" -- bishops -- "their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful."

"I think that is actually happening. They (laity) may know this is actually happening," Sister Bauer said. "Writing letters, speaking to the press. When one person has a right, it often gives rise to an obligation on the part of someone else. If a layperson has the right to make her opinion known, it gives rise to an obligation of a sacred pastor, a bishop, to listen.

"'Listen.' It's the first word in the Rule of Benedict, which is pretty important to me," she added. "What are we listening for? We like to call it the will of God. I think it's more the desire of God."

Canon 228.2 says, "Laypersons who excel in necessary knowledge, prudence and integrity are qualified to assist the pastors of the church as experts and advisers, even in councils according to the norm of law."

Zabrina Decker, president of the Canon Law Society of America and chancellor of the tribunal for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said this canon does not apply to just any Catholic. "You have to have an expert, a medical doctor, just as you would get a civil lawyer. You have to get someone who knows what they're talking about," she said. "In this particular issue, this is a broad brush they can paint across a lot of different committees, a lot of particular involvement."

Canon 229 that follows also is relevant, according to Decker. It says the laity are "bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine appropriate to the capacity and condition of each."

"A lot of laypersons in the church don't know their rights and obligations that belong to them," Decker said. "If someone is qualified, if someone has the background, then they themselves have not only the right but that obligation to assist, to announce that message, to defend that message, to use that theological knowledge to be able to serve the church in concert with the magisterium," or teaching authority of the church.

Mulheron also cited the final 13 canons in the Code of Canon Law, which deal with "the removal or transfer of pastors."

"When the ministry of a pastor becomes harmful or ineffective, the diocesan bishop can remove him from a parish. You can see right there the recognition of that," Mulheron told CNS. "There's no specific canon that provides this for bishops, but we do see some in the 2016 'motu proprio' 'As a Loving Mother.' It basically provided this process for bishops" to be transferred. A "motu proprio" becomes part of canon law once issued, she said.

In the document, written as an apostolic letter, Pope Francis affirms that the church, "like a loving mother, loves all her children, but treats and protects with special affection the smallest and most helpless." This care is to be carried out "in particular through her pastors, including diocesan bishops and eparchs."

Canon law already provides the possibility of the removal from ecclesiastical office "for grave causes," but Pope Francis, in the "motu proprio," specifies these "grave causes" include a bishop's negligence in exercising his role, especially in relation to cases of "sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults."

"Who's the bishop's authority? The pope. On a practical level, it's a little more difficult for a bishop to be removed from office," Mulheron said. "We've seen it happen in Memphis (Tennessee) just this week," as Bishop Martin D. Holley, 63, was removed from governance of the diocese Oct. 25, barely two years after he was installed there as bishop.

Sister Bauer cautioned that the laity's voice is "always a consultative voice. The code doesn't provide for laypersons really to make decisions that belong to bishops right now." Nor can they depose a bishop. "They can complain to the pope," she said, "but they do not have the power or authority to remove a bishop."

Since the Pennsylvania grand jury report that faulted bishops for transferring abusive priests to other parishes without any warning to the new parishes, the sentiment has been expressed that the U.S. bishops are in no position to police themselves.

"I get that," Decker said, but "we can never forget that the church is a community. We are a community. We are here to call each other to responsibility, we are here to demand some sort of responsibility, but we are all part of that faith family. But actually scripturally, we are all called to account. The laity of the church can do that canonically. It's up to the magisterium to be able to bring laypeople into this conversation."

"The influence the laity can have is enormous with some of the issues raised recently in the church," Sister Euart said. "I don't see it as primarily saying yes or no to something, but having to influence, move the decision in a way that is for the good of the whole church."

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Follow Mark Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison


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Bishops sign document calling for action against climate change

Top Stories - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 12:57pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Six bishops representing episcopal conferences on five continents issued a joint statement calling on the international community to take immediate action against climate change.

Addressing world leaders who will be attending the COP24 Summit in Katowice, Poland, in December, the bishops urged them to take concrete steps "in order to tackle and overcome the devastating effects of the climate crisis."

"We must be prepared to make rapid and radical changes and resist the temptation to look for solutions to our current situation in short-term technological fixes without addressing the root causes and the long-term consequences," the bishops said in the statement.

The statement was signed at the Vatican Oct. 26 by: Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences; Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union; Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi of Lubango, Angola, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar; and Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David, Panama, president of the Latin American bishops' council's economic committee.

The document was also signed by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genova, Italy, president of the Council of Bishops' Conferences of Europe; and Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, president of the Latin American bishops' council, also known as CELAM.

Cardinal Gracias told journalists that on the issue of climate change, the church cannot rest until "the Paris agreement is fulfilled, adhered to and followed up."

"People who are affected most are the weakest," he said. "There is no doubt that this is something that is urgent, important, and it is our responsibility to throw our full weight on it."

Archbishop Hollerich said that a contributing factor to the crisis was the flow of money into industries that contribute to climate change, especially fossil fuels.

"If you do not look to the sources of money and where the money flows we have a very nice way of speaking, but things will not really happen," the archbishop said. "And things have to happen because everything is interconnected as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si' and we are responsible for the people in Europe but also the people of other continents."

He also recalled watching a television program that showed how the European landscape would change due to rising sea levels and how new technologies and structures could prevent it from happening.

"It made me furious. Yes, we can do it but other continents, other countries cannot," he told reporters. "We are co-responsible for this earth, there is only one. We have to act now and I think the urgency of this call is very important."

Joseph Sapati Moeono-Kolio, a Samoan observer at the Synod of Bishops and a member of Caritas Internationalis, said the bishops' declaration was "a huge symbolic step, it's a symbol of hope for many of us."

The future of young people, especially those living in Asia and Oceania, are threatened by climate change, which has resulted in many young men and women migrating, he explained.

"As you know, young people bear the brunt of a lot of bad decisions and we want to end it here," he said.

The effects of climate change, he continued, have resulted in more frequent and increasingly powerful cyclones that have struck his native Samoa. When those storms come, he said, villagers often run to the strongest building nearby: the local church.

"I think that's a very good image of what we're trying to do here, the importance of this document, the church now should be a haven of safety, especially for young people," he said.

Sapati told journalists that the issue of climate change is "more than just science, politics and ideology" and frequent debates have "bogged down" any genuine action.

"I'd like to remind you that there is a human face to climate change, you're looking at it," he said. "But I am not the only one; there are many of us vulnerable people back home and it's one of those issues where, eventually, we'll all become the face of climate change if we don't do anything soon."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Mexican parishes pitch in to help Central American caravan heading north

Top Stories - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 11:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/David Agren

By David Agren

HUIXTLA, Mexico (CNS) -- Members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in this southern Mexican city rose early Oct. 24 to feed but a fraction of the Central American migrants traveling in a caravan, which is trying to traverse Mexico and reach the United States border.

"Tortas! Take one. The road ahead is long," Rafael Gomez yelled from the bed of a white pickup to the passing migrants as they streamed out of town in the predawn hours. They had slept in the streets in what resembled an impromptu refugee camp.

"God bless you," the grateful recipients responded as they took the ham sandwiches and head for Mapastepec 40 miles ahead.

The caravan left Honduras Oct. 13 and has swelled to at least 4,500 participants, according to the Mexican government.

Nearly 1,700 people already have requested asylum in the country, but most of the migrants interviewed told Catholic News Service they want to arrive in the U.S., where an uncertain welcome awaits.

Catholics working with migrants describe the caravan as the response to a desperate situation in Central America's northern triangle -- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- as poverty, violence and drought push people to risk the treacherous road through Mexico. Political unrest and the persecution of anti-government protesters in Nicaragua have sent even more people fleeing with some joining in the caravan.

The problem, however, is especially acute in Honduras as prices rise, salaries stagnate and gangs prey on populations. Many Hondurans report being charged "war taxes," or extortion, to live in their own homes.

"This is an indignant reality caused by the current situation in our country," the Honduras bishops' conference said in an Oct. 20 statement on the caravan.

"It's forcing a determined group to leave behind what little they have, risking themselves without any certainty on the migrant route toward the United States, with the desire of reaching the promised 'American dream,' which would allow them to resolve their economic problems, improve their living conditions and, in many cases, preserve their physical safety," the bishops said.

They bitterly noted, however, the country has come to depend on remittances as Hondurans in the U.S. supported family members back home.

"We have preferred to be happy with remittances as a solution to our internal problems. What's new about this caravan is the massive way thousands of people, the majority young, are going with the hope obtaining sufficient resources to transform Honduras," the bishops said.

The origins of the caravan remain murky, but the migrants marching through Mexico said they either saw news reports, social media postings or heard rumors about it. Many thought it was a way to find safety in numbers as they headed north. Criminal gangs and crooked cops in Mexico often prey on small groups of migrants.

The caravan has captured widespread international attention. It also has caused controversy in the U.S. as President Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure. Trump has threatened to cut foreign aid to Central American countries in retaliation and adamantly stated the migrants will not enter the U.S.

Governments in Guatemala and Mexico have tried to impede the caravan.

Mexico closed its end of the bridge at its border with Guatemala, prompting migrants to swim and raft across the Suchiate River, which separates the two nations.

Mexico also sent two planeloads of Federal Police officers to its southern border, but the caravan pushed past them.

"Their hands are tied," Huixtla Mayor Jose Luis Laparra Calderon said of the Federal Police. He pointed to the presence of foreign journalists and human rights groups for preventing the Federal Police from taking a heavy-handed response.

Caravan participants act unfazed in the face of Trump's threats and expressed hope that he has a change of heart or a higher power intervenes. Almost all shared fears of being returned.

"We don't want to return to Honduras after all of this effort to get here. We only want to live a better life," said Elias Ruiz, 21, a construction worker who fled San Pedro Sula after being unable to support his wife and infant son.

Ruiz hit the road after having to pay tattooed gangsters the war tax. Work also was spotty and he couldn't make ends meet.

"If you don't pay them, they'll kill you," he said of the gangs. "They say, 'We'll make an example of you.' The example is they kill you."

Upon decamping Huixtla, the caravan slowly snaked along the coastal plain of Chiapas state under scorching temperatures. People walked until they were tired, then hitchhiked, hopping aboard pickups, dump trucks and tractor trailers. People even pushed strollers with infants and carried toddlers on their shoulders.

Chiapas is Mexico's poorest state, but people along the route shared bottles of water, bunches of bananas and surplus clothing and cushions with the passing throngs.

Parishes in the Diocese of Tapachula have collect supplies for the caravan and fed its hungry participants, with the parish in Huixtla distributing 3,000 tamales and other provisions. Karime Alejandro Garcia, 19, and Dana de los Santos, 17, brought bags of clothes collected at St. Bartholomew Parish to the highway as the caravan passed the town of Villa Comaltitlan.

"Every barrio was collaborating as it could, some collected clothes, others water, food," Alejandro said. "Little by little we're working to have something we could give our brothers."

"As a diocese, we're trying to accompany, as the Holy Father says, care for and protect migrants," Father Cesar Canaveral, diocesan migrant ministry director, said. "Unfortunately, we don't have a government that is responding to the needs of this caravan."


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Bishops, young people walk to St. Peter's on pilgrimage of faith

Top Stories - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following the Francigena Way, an ancient pilgrims' path, a group of about 300 synod participants and young people from Rome parishes headed to St. Peter's Basilica to pray at the apostle's tomb.

The wayfaring cardinals, bishops, priests and young people were stocked with small backpacks, shod with comfortable sneakers or hiking boots, and readied with hats and water bottles to walk 3.7 miles (6 km) from an urban nature preserve to Christianity's largest church.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, the pilgrimage was held Oct. 25 as part of the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment.

The walk gave participants opportunities to stop for prayer and for photos, but even more, according to the pilgrimage booklet, it offered a way to experience the itinerant condition of the church, which is the people of God journeying on their way to heavenly Jerusalem.

The Synod of Bishops, too, it said, "is a sign of a journey that the community of believers wants to accomplish as a response to God's call" to listen to his Word more closely, to renew one's heart and profess the faith in a more "committed and responsible" way.

Pope Francis met the group of pilgrims after they streamed into St. Peter's Basilica and he led them in a profession of the faith above the tomb of the apostle, who with his life and martyrdom, gave witness to the faith.

The pope then remained for the Mass celebrated by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the council for new evangelization, gave the homily and described how St. Peter's life and vocation started with the great trust he put in Jesus' word and the miracles that trust would reap.

However, Peter was never quite ready to give up everything for the Lord -- who was always patient and loved him all the same, the archbishop said.

It took 30 more years, he said, before the apostle was ready to do more than just follow Christ by giving up everything, including his own life, for God.

"Here Peter fulfills his vocation. It takes 30 years. It doesn't matter. God is patient with us," the archbishop said. "He has to find an open heart."


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Pope removes bishop from governance of Memphis, names administrator

Top Stories - Wed, 10/24/2018 - 1:12pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Cat


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has removed Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, Tennessee, from the pastoral governance of the diocese and has named as apostolic administrator Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.

Bishop Holley, 63, a former auxiliary bishop of Washington, was installed Oct. 19, 2016, as the fifth bishop of Memphis. He succeeded Bishop J. Terry Steib when he retired.

"I humbly accept the appointment of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Memphis, while remaining archbishop of Louisville," Archbishop Kurtz said in an Oct. 24 statement confirming his appointment.

"I am eager to work with the priests, curia and faithful of the Diocese of Memphis to promote stability, peace and healing until Pope Francis appoints a new bishop. I have admired the church in Memphis for many years, particularly from my time as bishop of Knoxville," he said.

"I ask for prayers for Bishop Martin Holley as he departs from this local church and for the entire church of Memphis. Let us pray for one another during this time of transition," he added.

Archbishop Kurtz told Catholic News Service in an email message that he had just arrived in Memphis the morning of Oct. 24.

No statement has yet been released by the Memphis Diocese as to what led to Pope Francis' decision to remove Bishop Holley from the pastoral governance of the diocese.

Some months after he was installed as bishop there, Bishop Holley came under heavy criticism from clergy and parishioners for his decision to reassign two-thirds of the diocese's 60 active priests, except for five who were slated for retirement.

"No set policy existed at the time Bishop Holley arrived, on how long a parish assignment would last," then-diocesan spokesman Vince Higgins told CNS in June.

"The amount of time a priest spends (in an assignment) depends on the location and influence of the parish," Higgins added. "Associate pastors are moved more frequently, and Bishop Holley has decided to appoint pastors for six-year terms, with a possible renewal of the term for six more years."

Asked about priests' and parishioners' criticism that the changes were not communicated well across the diocese, Higgins stated that "Bishop Holley is always attentive to the needs of the 40 parishes which make up the Diocese of Memphis."

The bishop also was criticized for bringing in a Canadian priest to be his vicar general, Msgr. Clement J. Machado, rather than choosing a vicar general from among the priests of the diocese. Local clergy raised questions about whether proper church procedures had been followed for Msgr. Machado's transfer to the diocese. The priest resigned from the post some weeks later and returned to Canada.

The complaints about Bishop Holley prompted the Vatican -- through the nunciature in the U.S. -- to assign two U.S. archbishops to make an apostolic visitation this summer to the diocese, Archbishops Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Citing two unnamed sources in the diocese, The Commercial Appeal daily newspaper reported that Archbishops Gregory and Hebda visited the diocese June 18-20 for a fact-finding trip. They reportedly talked to between 40 and 50 clergy and a number of laypeople.

No one from the Memphis Diocese or the prelates' respective archdioceses would comment on the visitation when CNS asked for confirmation it had taken place.

Before his appointment as bishop of Memphis, Bishop Holley was an auxiliary bishop of the Washington Archdiocese for 12 years. There he served as vicar general and was a member of the archdiocesan college of consultors, priest's council, seminarian review board, administrative board. He was chairman of the college of deans, which oversees the 14 deaneries in the archdiocese.

Bishop Holley was born in Pensacola, Florida. He attended Theological College in Washington and completed his seminary studies at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1987.

In Florida, then-Father Holley served as a parochial vicar and later administrator of St. Mary Parish in Fort Walton Beach. He also served at St. Paul and Little Flower parishes in Pensacola. He served as spiritual director of the Serra Club of West Florida, which promotes vocations to the priesthood, and for many years was a member of the Joint Conference of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

His ordination as a bishop to serve the Washington Archdiocese took place in 2004 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. He chose "His Mercy Endures" as his episcopal motto, after having developed a great devotion to St. Faustina and her message of Divine Mercy during his years as a priest.

He has served on a number of committees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including the committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Pro-Life Activities; and National Collections. He has also served on committees for communications and cultural diversity and subcommittees on Africa, African-American Catholics, Hispanic affairs and migration.

There are 42 parishes and three missions in the Memphis Diocese, which covers 10,682 square miles. Catholics number over 65,000, or 4.5 percent of the area's total population.

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Contributing to this story was Robert Glover in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Judge orders arrest of longtime suspect in St. Romero's 1980 killing

Top Stories - Wed, 10/24/2018 - 1:06pm


By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Days after the Catholic Church declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero a saint, a judge in El Salvador issued a capture order for a former military captain suspected of killing the religious leader in 1980 as he celebrated Mass.

Judge Rigoberto Chicas issued the order Oct. 23 for national and international authorities to apprehend Alvaro Rafael Saravia, who has for years been a suspect in the killing. He remains at large and is believed to be in hiding. It's not the first time such an order has been issued against Saravia.

He was arrested in 1987 in Miami and has faced a variety of legal proceedings in El Salvador for years that proved fruitless in any meaningful prosecution because of an amnesty law that prevented prosecution of human rights violations by the military tied to the country's 1980-1992 civil war.

However, the 1993 law was thrown out by the country's highest court in 2016 and the case involving the killing of the archbishop was reopened the following year.

On the day before his assassination in San Salvador on March 24, 1980, St. Romero had demanded that the soldiers stop killing innocent civilians and had advocated for an end to the violence engulfing the Central American country. The conflict went on to last another 12 years, claiming more than 70,000 civilian lives, including the archbishop's.

In issuing the arrest order, Chicas said authorities have sufficient evidence to charge Saravia for participation in the crime. A United Nation's Truth Commission accused another Salvadoran military strongman, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, a right-wing leader suspected of organizing the country's notorious death squads, of being the architect of the archbishop's assassination. D'Aubuisson died of cancer in 1992 and was never charged.

The arrest order comes nine days after the archbishop was declared a saint in a ceremony at the Vatican on Oct. 14. Maria Luisa de Martinez, D'Aubuisson's sister and a founder of the Archbishop Romero Foundation, attended the canonization.


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