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Visiting bishops see 'incomprehensible complexity' of Holy Land situation

Top Stories - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 3:31pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Mazur via catholicnews.org.uk

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Visiting with Christian communities in northern Israel and the northern Palestinian Territories has helped bishops participating in the annual Holy Land Coordination see "the great need" to promote an understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, said Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Ireland.

"There is ... a need to devise ways for both people to understand that, ultimately and finally, for the common good of all, a permanent and sustainable solution is needed," said Bishop Treanor. "The kind of issues at stake here are not easily resolved, but some kind of solution has to be found. It is difficult to know when that will be achieved."

"It does not make sense that people living in such close proximity should be a source of conflict," he added.

He said every generation has the responsibility to take the necessary steps to promote mutual respect and understanding. Based on the Irish experience, he highlighted the important role the international community plays in finding solutions to such conflicts.

"The kind of problems faced here ... are part of the human condition," Bishop Treanor said. "An emphasis must be on the role of the international community. The world has become more interdependent ... and the international community must be involved so that people may live in peace and harmony."

The annual Holy Land Coordination includes bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa. Based this year in the northern Israeli city of Haifa Jan. 12-17, it has focused on the challenges and opportunities for Christians in Israel. The bishops visited Christian hospitals, schools and villages in Israel. They also met with Christian religious leaders, Christian mayors from Israeli towns, members of the Israeli Knesset, academics and internal refugees from the Melkite Catholic village of Ikrit.

The diverse meetings have helped highlight the "incomprehensible complexity" of the situation, said Bishop Treanor.

"We have also seen people working for peace and justice and the promotion of mutual understanding. Those are the ingredients for a sustainable solution and hope," he said.

On Jan. 13, the bishops celebrated Mass at the Church of the Visitation in the northern Palestinian village of Zababdeh and visited the Jenin refugee camp and a school run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine.

The school has been adversely affected by the U.S. government's withholding of funds to UNRWA, noted Archbishop Timothy Broglio, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

"The cutoff of USA aid is a very aggravating factor, which makes life more difficult," he said, noting that class sizes have increased to about 45 students per classroom and job training and job promotion programs had to be closed. "Those are innocent people caught in a battle."

Job promotion is critically important in helping young Christians remain in the Holy Land, he said.

He also noted the importance of meeting with the Christian community in Israel to learn about their perspective.

"They are Israeli citizens and do form a bridge. They can be loyal members of Israel as well as loyal members of our faith tradition," he said.

Archbishop Broglio said that while Christians in Israel have opportunities, they also face challenges and discrimination such as the newly passed Nation State Law, which recognizes Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people." Opponents say the law reduces non-Jews to second-class citizens.

The bishops' visit also inspires hope in the local Christian community that people abroad care about them and that will advocate for them to their governments.

In his homily at the Church of the Visitation in the West Bank, South Africa Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town told parishioners that the bishops understood the challenges they face and the importance of their presence in the Holy Land.

"We know and understand the difficult circumstances in which you live, and we also understand the important vocation you have of keeping the flame of Christianity alight in the place of the Messiah's birth, ministry, death and resurrection," he said.

Catholics cannot remain silent in the presence of untruth, injustice, hatred and violence, Archbishop Brislin said.

"The promotion of truth, love, justice and peace are integral to the mission of the church. In the presence of untruth, injustice, hatred and violence we cannot remain silent. We have an obligation to witness to the kingdom. We cannot be silent, nor can we be neutral," he said.

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Update: Parish of teen who escaped abduction credits power of prayer

Top Stories - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 10:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/FBI handout via Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For nearly three months, parishioners at St. Peter Catholic Church in Cameron, Wisconsin, were praying for the safe return of one of their own -- 13-year-old Jayme Closs.

When parishioners heard the news that she had escaped her abductor Jan. 10 and was safe, their prayers switched to gratitude.

The parish sign said, "Praise God Welcome Home Jayme," after its Mass times listing. It joined dozens of messages that had sprung up in signs and storefronts across the Wisconsin town and neighboring towns cheering the teen's safety.

"Our prayers have been answered and God is good," parishioner JoAnn Trowbridge told the local NBC affiliate, WEAU, after Jan. 13 Mass at St. Peter. She also said she thinks their prayers may have been answered because "God got sick of us nagging him."

St. Peter, in the Diocese of Superior, is where Jayme attended religious education classes and Mass with her parents, James and Denise, who were murdered Oct. 15, 2018. Their funeral Mass was celebrated at the church Oct. 27.

Superior Bishop James P. Powers said in a Jan. 11 message to priests and parish leaders that he hoped all parishes would add a "thanksgiving petition to God" during Masses that Jayme was found alive and safe. He said that during her nearly three-month captivity, she had to endure "God knows what kind of physical and mental torture as we kept her in our prayers asking for her safe return."

"We now want to keep her in our prayers asking God's healing touch on her body, mind and spirit," he said in a message posted on the Facebook page of the Catholic Herald, Superior's diocesan newspaper.

Jake Patterson, 21, has been charged with couple's murder and with kidnapping Jayme, both of which he has confessed to, according to a criminal complaint released Jan. 14 by the Barron County District Attorney.

Jayme was found in the town of Gordon, about 70 miles from her home in Barron, when she escaped the cabin in the woods where she had been held for 88 days and met a woman walking a dog who took her to a nearby home and called police.

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters when he announced the teen's return that she was back through the "hope and the prayers in this community and what everybody did."

He also primarily praised the teen saying: "She took that first step. Taking that step was just unbelievable." He said when people talk about this kind of situation with their kids they need to advise them: "Never give up hope, keep your prayers alive. When you get into a situation, you never give up."

Jayme is currently staying with an aunt. Her grandfather told The Associated Press that she is "in exceptionally good spirits."

St. Peter Church will hold a special service of Thanksgiving for her return Jan. 20.
During the parish's Jan. 13 Mass, parishioners prayed for Jayme and her family and for all who had searched for the teen while she was missing.

They said they want her to know of their support in the weeks, months and years ahead, particularly that she can "handle this and get her life back together," as one parishioner put it.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Foster dialogue, promote solidarity, pope tells Academy for Life

Top Stories - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 9:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking the Pontifical Academy for Life's 25th anniversary, Pope Francis encouraged the research and advisory body to promote human solidarity and fraternity as part of its mandate to promote human life.

A sense of fraternity between people and nations has been weakened with an erosion of mutual trust and "remains the unkept promise of modernity," Pope Francis said.

"The strengthening of fraternity, generated in the human family by the worship of God in spirit and truth, is the new frontier of Christianity," the pope said in a letter addressed to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the pontifical academy.

Speaking to reporters at a Vatican news conference Jan. 15, Archbishop Paglia said the letter's title, "The Human Community," indicated how the pope wants pro-life concerns to include a concern for human relationships -- in the family, in society, among nations as well as with creation.

"Life is not an abstract universal concept, it is the human person," and the way human beings live embedded in a specific context interwoven with others, he said.

Christians must rebuild and strengthen human bonds and relationships, the archbishop said, because "the weakening of fraternity, whether we like it or not, contaminates all the human and life sciences."

The pope sent the letter to mark the 25th anniversary of the academy's establishment by St. John Paul II on Feb. 11, 1994.

St. John Paul, the pope said, recognized the "rapid and sweeping changes taking place in biomedicine" and saw the need for greater research, education and communication aimed at demonstrating "that science and technology, at the service of the human person and his fundamental rights, contribute to the overall good of man and to the fulfilment of the divine plan of salvation."

Pope Francis said the academy's new statutes, issued in 2016, were meant to encourage its activities, expand its fields to include the rapid and complex discoveries and changes unfolding in science, medicine and technology, and recognize the social and relational effects of these new developments.

Today, the pope wrote, the human dimension is being lost.

"Mutual distrust between individuals and peoples is being fed by an inordinate pursuit of self-interest and intense competition that can even turn violent. The gap between concern with one's own well-being and the prosperity of the larger human family seems to be stretching to the point of complete division," he wrote.

People's estranged or strained relationship with others and with the earth is "the result of the scarce attention paid to the decisive global issue of the unity of the human family and its future," the pope said. It reflects the existence of an actual "anti-culture," which is not only indifferent to the community, it is "hostile to men and women and in league with the arrogance of wealth."

Progress has produced a "paradox," he said. Just when humanity has developed the economic and technological resources that make caring for the whole human family and its home possible, "those same economic and technological resources are creating our most bitter divisions and our worst nightmares."

People's awareness of this paradox often leaves them "demoralized and disoriented, bereft of vision," he said, and in even greater need of the hope and joy offered by Christ and of a taste for the beauty of a life lived in fraternity with others on the earth as a common home.

"It is time for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples," Pope Francis wrote. "We know that the faith and love needed for this covenant draw their power from the mystery of history's redemption in Jesus Christ."

But, he wrote, Christians must reflect whether they have been "seriously focused on the passion and joy of proclaiming God's love for the dwelling of his children on the earth? Or are they still overly focused on their own problems and on making timid accommodations to an essentially worldly outlook?"

"We can question seriously whether we have done enough as Christians to offer our specific contribution to a vision of humanity capable of upholding the unity of the family of peoples in today's political and cultural conditions," he said.

Perhaps, he said, "we have lost sight of its centrality, putting our ambition for spiritual hegemony over the governance of the secular city, concentrated as it is upon itself and its wealth, ahead of a concern for local communities inspired by the Gospel spirit of hospitality toward the poor and the hopeless."

The Pontifical Academy for Life has an important role to play in facing this difficult challenge, the pope said. Its scientific community has shown for the past 25 years how it can enter into dialogue with the world and "offer its own competent and respected contribution."

"A sign of this is its constant effort to promote and protect human life at every stage of its development, its condemnation of abortion and euthanasia as extremely grave evils that contradict the spirit of life and plunge us into the anti-culture of death," the pope wrote.

"These efforts must certainly continue, with an eye to emerging issues and challenges that can serve as an opportunity for us to grow in the faith, to understand it more deeply and to communicate it more effectively to the people of our time," he said.

Pope Francis expressed his hope that the academy would be "a place for courageous dialogue in the service of the common good," a dialogue unafraid of advancing "arguments and formulations that can serve as a basis for intercultural and interreligious, as well as interdisciplinary, exchanges" along with discussions about human rights and duties, "beginning with solidarity with those in greatest need."

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Editors: The pope's letter, "Humana Communitas" can be found in English at:
http://www.academyforlife.va/content/dam/pav/documenti%20pdf/
2019/LETTERA%20PAPA%2025anni/HC%20ENG_DEF_ENG_.pdf

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Abuse report's claim of cover-up, mishandling of cases called 'misleading'

Top Stories - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:58pm

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By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The conclusion reached by a Pennsylvania grand jury that six of the state's Catholic dioceses acted "in virtual lockstep" to cover up abuse allegations and dismiss alleged victims over a 70-year period starting in 1947 is "inaccurate," "unfair" and "misleading," said a veteran journalist in an in-depth article for Commonweal magazine.

The grand jury report was based on a months-long investigation into alleged abuse by clergy and other church workers in the Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Harrisburg and Greensburg dioceses, and it makes "two distinct charges," said Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, former religion writer for The New York Times and professor emeritus at Fordham University in New York.

The first "concerns predator priests, their many victims and their unspeakable acts" and is, "as far as can be determined, dreadfully true," he said in the article posted at www.commonwealmagazine.org.

Its second charge, he said, has had the "greatest reverberations" and is not documented by the report: the explosive claim that church leaders mishandled these abuse claims for decades, moved around many of the accused abusers to different assignments and were dismissive of the alleged victims -- all reportedly resulting in a major cover-up.

"Stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological and spiritual integrity of children and young people" are documented in the report, Steinfels said, as well and how "many of these atrocities could have been prevented" by promptly removing credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly ministry. It shows that some church leaders seemed to have an "overriding concern" for protecting the church's reputation while disregarding children's safety and well-being, he said.

A third or more of the crimes documented in the report, he said, "only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after." In 2002, the U.S. bishops approved their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which mandated automatic removal from ministry when a priest or church worker is accused of abuse.

But Steinfels said that if one reads the full report carefully, "it is clear" that it "does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction -- namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls -- except to conceal them."

The grand jury says "'all' of these victims ... were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all," he wrote. "Or as the introduction to the report sums it up, 'Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.'"

"This ugly, indiscriminate and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report's own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice," he said.

This charge "is contradicted by testimony submitted to the grand jury but ignored -- and, I believe, by evidence that the grand jury never pursued," noted Steinfels.

"The report's conclusions about abuse and cover-up are stated in timeless fashion," he said. "Whenever change is acknowledged, the language is begrudging."

Steinfels said his conclusions about the report do not "acquit the Catholic hierarchy of all sins, past or present" regarding the abuse crisis. "Personally, I have a substantial list," he added.

But right now, he stated, "the important thing is to restore some fact-based reality to the instant mythology that the Pennsylvania report has created."

He said the grand jury could have reached accurate and "hard-hitting findings about what different church leaders did and did not do," but chose "a tack more suited" to society's current "hyperbolic, bumper-sticker, post-truth environment."

Steinfels reached his assessment on the report by reading its "vast bulk," he said. He noted that in some PDFs of the report posted online it consists of 884 pages; but other versions include over 450 additional pages consisting of "photocopied responses from dioceses, former bishops, other diocesan officials, and even some accused priests protesting their innocence."

He reviewed "one by one" how hundreds of cases were handled; tried to match the dioceses' replies with the grand jury's charges; and examined other court documents and spoke "with people familiar with the grand jury's work, including the attorney general's office."

Released Aug. 14, the grand jury report was based on an investigation initiated by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office. It linked more than 300 priests and other church workers to abuse claims during the 70-year period it covered and said alleged victims numbered over 1,000.

The day after its release was the feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation, Steinfels noted, and millions of Catholics that day "went to church sick at heart" because of the report. "I was among them," he added.

"No Catholics serious about their faith, indeed no one of any sensitivity, could have read about the report without feeling horror and shame. And anger," said Steinfels.

The report made international headlines, he noted, prompting the Vatican -- along with the Pennsylvania dioceses' bishops and the U.S. church's national leadership -- to express sorrow and shame. It has prompted attorneys general in other states to pledge the same kind of investigation; Illinois for one has begun a similar probe.

"It is possible that these investigations could be productive and salutary. But only if they make distinctions between dioceses, leaders and time frames," something the Pennsylvania grand jury report does not do, Steinfels said.

As a veteran journalist quite familiar with deadline pressures, Steinfels said, he knows reporters were pressed to quickly get stories out on the report, so had to rely on its 12-page executive summary and were no doubt hard-pressed to find knowledgeable sources to interview who had actually read the report, he added.

"Almost every media story of the grand jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its 12-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples," he said.

He acknowledged his conclusions about the report "are dramatically at odds with the public perception and reception" of it, so to substantiate them, it was "essential to examine, step by step, how this report was produced, organized and presented; what it omits as well as includes; and finally, whether a careful sampling of its contents supports its conclusions."

With many Catholics "angry and dismayed" over abuse in the church, raising questions about the report "flies in the face of almost overpowering headwinds," Steinfels said. "To question let alone challenge the report is unthinkable. It borders on excusing the crimes that bishops and other church leaders are accused of committing."

"Before examining more closely what is in the report, it is important to ask what isn't" in the report, Steinfels said. "Beyond those references to more than 300 predator priests -- actually 301 -- and more than 1,000 child victims, to dozens of witnesses and half-a-million subpoenaed church documents, there are almost no numerical markers.

"There is, for example, no calculation of how many ordained men served in those six dioceses since (the mid-1940s), a figure that might either verify or challenge previous estimates of the prevalence of sexual abuse among the clergy. There are no efforts to discern statistical patterns in the ages of abusers, the rates of abuse over time, the actions of law enforcement, or changes in responses by church officials.

"Nor are there comparisons to other institutions. One naturally wonders what a 70-to-80-year scrutiny of sex abuse in public schools or juvenile penal facilities would find," he added.

Steinfels said it is true "that disturbing instances of apparent failures by church officials continue to come to light -- and will no doubt continue to do so, especially as the line between past cases and current ones is regularly blurred, and as cases from all around the world are increasingly blended with a few American ones into a single narrative."

"Church leaders must remove persistent doubts that these failures are being thoroughly investigated, with consequences for those found responsible," he said.

Regarding Pennsylvania, "whether one looks at the handling of old allegations or the prevention of new ones, the conclusion that a careful, unbiased reading of the Pennsylvania report compels is this: The Dallas charter has worked," he said.

"(It has) not worked perfectly" and is "not without need for regular improvements and constant watchfulness," he said, but it has worked.

"Justified alarm and demands for accountability at instances of either deliberate noncompliance or bureaucratic incompetence should not be wrenched into an ill-founded pretense that, fundamentally, nothing has changed," he said.

"Just as the grand jury report correctly though not consistently points to 'institutional failure,' something beyond the virtues and vices of individual leaders, the Dallas charter has apparently proved to be an institutional success," he added. "It set out, and has regularly fine-tuned, procedures, practices, and standards that can be overseen by middling caretaker leaders as well as outstanding, proactive ones."

The bishops' charter is "not a recipe that can simply be transferred to any society or culture or legal and governmental situation around the globe," Steinfels remarked, but he said the U.S. bishops "should go to the Vatican's February summit meeting on sexual abuse confident that the measures they've already adopted have made an important difference."

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Rome mayor says Caritas will still get Trevi Fountain coins

Top Stories - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 10:47am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By

ROME (CNS) -- After weeks of confusion and consternation, Rome's mayor told the Vatican newspaper that Rome Caritas would benefit not only from the coins tourists throw in the Trevi Fountain, but from coins tossed in any of the city's historic water features.

Caritas was informed in late December that it would no longer receive the coins that tourists toss over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, a ritual that is supposed to guarantee the person who pitched the coin would one day return to the city.

But, Virginia Raggi, Rome's mayor, said it was all a misunderstanding. The city needs to ensure an accurate count of the money, so instead of having Caritas volunteers sort and count the coins, the city will entrust that to ACEA, the city utility responsible for cleaning and maintaining the famous fountain.

In 2018, the international collection of coins added up to about 1.5 million euros or about $1.7 million, a significant portion of the Rome diocesan Caritas' budget for funding homeless shelters, soup kitchens and parish-based services to families in difficulty.

"No one ever thought about depriving Caritas of these funds," Raggi told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Jan. 14. "The diocesan agency plays an important role for many needy and for the city of Rome, which wants to continue to be the capital of welcome for the weakest."

Although the city council has been threatening since October 2017 to use the money for its own projects, Raggi said the decision reached in December was simply "an administrative act responding to the need to collect and quantify the coins tourist throw not only into the Trevi Fountain but into the other monumental fountains of Rome."

ACEA counting the money will bring "order and transparency" to the process, she said, and expanding the collection to other fountains will bring more money to Caritas.

Interviewed Jan. 12 by Vatican News, Father Benoni Ambarus, director of Caritas Rome, said, "The first thing I want to say is thank you to the millions of tourists who created a sea of solidarity with their coins."

The priest at that point was still hoping something would change before the change dried up in April. After all, the city council voted in October 2017 to start keeping the money in city coffers, but after a public outcry, the agreement with Caritas was extended to April 2018 and again to Dec. 31, 2018.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Faith is passed on at home, pope tells parents at baptism

Top Stories - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 8:57am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faith isn't something learned just by studying the catechism but rather is a gift passed on to children by the example of their parents, Pope Francis said.

Although children learn the tenets of the Catholic faith in catechism class, it is first transmitted in the home "because faith always must be transmitted in dialect: the dialect of the family, the dialect of the home, in the atmosphere of the home," he said before baptizing 27 babies.

The pope celebrated the Mass and baptisms Jan. 13, the feast of the baptism of the Lord, in the Sistine Chapel.

"The important thing is to transmit the faith with your life of faith: that they see the love between spouses, that they see peace at home, that they see that Jesus is there," Pope Francis said during his brief and unscripted homily.

As the lively sounds of babies' squeals and cries filled the frescoed Sistine Chapel, the pope said babies often cry when they are "in an environment that is strange" or because they are hungry.

Repeating his usual advice to mothers of infants, the pope urged them to make their children comfortable, and "if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them."

Children "also have a polyphonic vocation: One begins to cry, then another makes a counterpoint, then another and in the end, it is a chorus of cries," he said.

Offering a piece of advice to parents, the pope called on them to pass on the faith by letting their children see their love and refrain from arguing in front of them.

"It is normal for couples to argue, it's normal," he said. "Do it, but don't let them hear, don't let them see. You don't know the anguish a child has when he or she sees parents fighting. This, I may add, is advice that will help you transmit the faith."

Later, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis asked those gathered to pray for the newly baptized babies and their families. He also asked them to "keep the memory of your own baptism alive."

"There you will find the roots of our life in God; the roots of our eternal life that Jesus has given us through his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection," he said. "Our roots are in baptism."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Shutdown won't deter crowds from marching for life in nation's capital

Top Stories - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 4:52pm

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Neither snow nor sleet -- nor partial government shutdown -- will keep pro-lifers away from the nation's capital for the March for Life Jan. 18.

If it continues, the shutdown will be almost a month old by then. Daily news reports show the closures of monuments, memorials and the Smithsonian museums in Washington and trash cans overflowing on some federal property -- images that might lead some folks around the country to think it is affecting big events planned for the nation's capital.  

But not so.

"PLEASE NOTE: We plan to march even if the government shutdown is not yet resolved," declares the March for Life website, marchforlife.org. "We have marched for 45 years and will march again this year to end the human rights abuse of abortion."

Come to think of it, the start of what was a two-day historic blizzard that hit Washington in January 2016 had some impact on numbers, but marchers by the thousands still turned out that Jan. 22 to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion virtually on demand.

"The shutdown really did not factor into our planning at all," said Patrick Ford of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. Director of campus ministry and the Hintemeyer Catholic Leadership Program at the college, Ford is the point person for the school's pro-life contingent heading to the march.

"This year, especially, we have tried to make this trip more of a pilgrimage and less of a site-seeing event," he told Catholic News Service in an email Jan. 10. "The venues we will visit -- the (St.) John Paul II National Shrine and the Basilica of the National Shrine (of the Immaculate Conception) -- are not affected by local politics, so our trip should be entirely unaffected by the goings-on in Washington."

Ford added, "We look forward to another great March for Life with our hundreds of thousands of friends!"

The same goes for the 500-plus students coming in from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. They'll be carrying a giant green banner and wearing winter hats especially designed for this year's march, said Dominique Cognetti, a junior majoring in social work.

The entire effort -- from promoting the march in late September with fliers on campus to designing their gear for the march -- is led by the students, Cognetti told CNS in a telephone interview Jan. 9.

"I don't think at this time it's going to affect anything," she said of the shutdown, recalling that Franciscan students came to Washington "when the whole storm" took place in 2016.

They're coming in eight buses. This year, like always, they will begin their trip on the eve of the march with a late night Holy Hour. They depart at midnight to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception about 6 a.m., in time for the 7:30 a.m. Mass that sends participants forth for the March for Life rally, with a lineup of speakers, on the National Mall.

After the rally, the march itself goes up Constitution Avenue and ends at the Supreme Court.

This year's theme, "Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science" focuses on how scientific advancements reveal "the humanity of the unborn child from the moment of conception."

Speakers will include three members of Congress -- Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois and Chris Smith, R-New Jersey -- and a Democratic member of the Louisiana Legislature, Rep. Katrina Jackson.

"We are delighted to have these four pro-life champions speak at the March for Life rally," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. "The right to life is a nonpartisan issue and, regardless of politics, we should all unite for life and stand against abortion, the greatest human rights abuse of our time."

Others who will address the rally include Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus; Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None; Alveda King, Priests for Life's director of civil rights for the unborn; Dr. Kathi Aultman, fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and Ally Cavazos, president of Princeton Pro-Life.

Attending the March for Life is something Cognetti has been doing since she was a freshman in high school, she told CNS.

When she was younger, she would accompany her parents to the march, and later got involved on her own. To see the "amount of people" gathered for life, "especially those in my generation, really touched me. ... We have thousands of people coming to D.C. to defend what they believe in and not just older people," she said.

The March for Life is a great way for her and everyone from Franciscan University "to stand together, to stand firm in what we believe in. We know life starts at conception."

The march is "very eye-opening," she added, and provides a chance for people who say they are pro-life to do something about it.

Cognetti added that she feels her generation is making "a name for ourselves and not sitting down any more and saying we're pro-life -- we're taking action!"

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Follow asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Despite high turnover, number of Catholics little changed in Congress

Top Stories - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 3:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In most election cycles, there may be 30 to 50 new members of Congress. For 2019, there are 89 -- and a 90th may yet be headed for Capitol Hill based on how a disputed House election in North Carolina plays out.

Yet, despite the broad turnover, the number of Catholics in the current Congress is little changed from that in the past Congress.

Two years ago, there were 168 Catholics in the House and Senate combined, a high-water mark. This year, for the 116th Congress, the number is down five, to 163.

Even so, their representation in House, at 32.5 percent, is more than half again their representation in the U.S. population, which the Pew Research Center pegs at 21 percent.

Pew's biennial "Faith on the Hill" report, which breaks down the religious composition of Congress, notes that Catholics are the single largest denomination in Congress. The next highest, at 80: "unspecified/other" Christians who are members of denominations smaller than the 16 listed in the Pew report, or did not specify their religious affiliation.

Greg Smith, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said the percentage of those in Congress who did not specify their branch of Christianity is triple that of the general population, which registers at about 5 percent.

But one thing Pew can do in its surveys is follow up to ask respondents if there is a specific denominational affiliation. For its numbers, the "Faith on the Hill" survey depends on results from a questionnaire developed by CQ Roll Call and sent to each member.

Among those who did specify, Baptists come in at 72 members in both the House and Senate, followed by Methodists at 42 and Jews at 34. Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians/Anglicans are each tied at 26 members apiece.

The only other entries in double digits are Mormons and members of nondenominational churches, both with 10. Pew noted that the number of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Congress is the lowest in at least a decade.

Some argue "you can't be a Catholic and a Democrat," because of the party's support for legal abortion. But the Pew numbers show more Catholic Democrats in the House -- 87 -- than Catholic Republicans, who number 54. In fact, the number of Catholic Democrats is not far from the number of Protestant Democrats in the House -- there are 97 of them.

In the Senate, though, the margin is closer, but more Catholics in the upper chamber are Democrats than Republicans, 12-10. Protestant Senate Republicans, though, double the number of Protestant Democrats, 40-20.

Among new members, despite the high turnover rate, Catholics were the only religious group in double digits, with 29 new members.

The "Faith on the Hill" report said, "Catholics have held steady at 31 percent over the last four Congresses, although there are now many more Catholics in Congress than there were in the first Congress for which Pew Research Center has data." That was when there were an even 100 Catholics in both chambers, good for 19 percent of the total. It was the 87th Congress, which began in 1961 -- the year the nation's first Catholic president, John Kennedy, was sworn in.

While Catholics may be down five to 163 members in this Congress, they also had 163 in 2013-14, and 164 members in 2015-16.

The number of Protestants has dwindled over the past two generations from 398 in 1961. In four of the past six Congresses, they have totaled fewer than 300.

While much has been made of two Muslim women now serving in the House this term, there are just three Muslims overall in Congress. There are five Orthodox Christians, three Hindus, two Buddhists and two Unitarian Universalists.

Perhaps the most underrepresented group in Congress are those who claim no religious affiliation. While Pew puts their number at 23 percent of the U.S. population, there is just one who professes such: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

There may be others, as 18 members of Congress -- up 10 from two years ago -- either didn't or wouldn't answer the question from CQ Roll Call. "It's hard to know what to infer from that," Smith told Catholic News Service.

It is apparent, though, that candidates for office still see a need to check the "religion" box on their resume when presenting themselves to voters -- and that CQ Roll Call believes it to be important enough to continue to ask the question nearly a half-century after it started asking about religious affiliation.

"It is true -- it's definitely true -- when we look at our survey data, that being an atheist is, and long has been, a political liability," Smith said. That percentage has dropped, though, from 63 percent of Americans saying in 2007 they would be less likely to vote for an atheist, to a bare majority of 51 percent in 2016.

On the other hand, the religiosity of a candidate may not necessarily seal the deal with voters.

In early 2016, Pew asked survey respondents about the religiosity of a fistful of presidential aspirants. The percentage of those agreeing that the following candidates were at least somewhat religious were: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, 68 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 65 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, 61 percent, Hillary Clinton, 48 percent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, 40 percent; and, checking in at 30 percent, eventual President Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump was not widely seen as a particularly religious candidate and that did not hinder his candidacy for the Republican nomination," Smith said.

Religion in public life is, and can be, a good thing, according to Douglas A. Hicks, dean of -- and a religion professor at -- the Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta.

"Welcoming more faith perspectives into public debate risks even more cacophony and conflict than we already experience. Like most other matters of import today, citizens hold divergent religious beliefs and practices and will disagree," Hicks said in a Jan. 10 essay.

"Yet religious differences are part and parcel of our wider debate about what it means to be a flourishing democracy," he wrote. "To have those diverse perspectives present in our politics, including among our national leaders, is a positive step -- not only toward ensuring that many voices engage the democratic process, but also for reaching constructive solutions to the social, political, and economic issues that we face together."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Sister Pimentel disappointed about not being able to address president

Top Stories - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 1:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Johnston, courtesy University of Notre Dame

By Rose Ybarra

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- Sister Norma Pimentel was "truly disappointed" after not being given an opportunity to speak during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump during his Jan. 10 visit to McAllen.

The president traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to make his case for a southern border wall and other security measures amid a partial government shutdown that began over funding for the wall.

Calling the president's visit "quite an important moment," Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, lamented that representatives of local agencies working with migrant people and local elected officials were not invited to speak during the discussion.

"I was looking forward to this roundtable discussion, but there was no discussion unfortunately," Sister Pimentel told The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Brownsville Diocese. "There were certain people selected to speak, people who support the president's agenda," she added.

"We would like for President Trump to know who we are and what the reality is here on our border," said Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus

Trump arrived about 12:45 p.m. local time, along with Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House staff.

Supporters of Trump as well as protesters gathered on opposite sides of a street near the airport awaiting the president's arrival.

Trump was taken to a nearby U.S. Border Patrol Station for what was billed as a roundtable discussion with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, local officials and key players of the immigration story such as Sister Pimentel, who has spearheaded efforts to assist about more than 100,000 immigrants since June 2014.

A Jan. 10 Catholic News Service story incorrectly reported that Trump would visit the Catholic Charities-run Humanitarian Respite Center that Sister Pimentel oversees and that serves migrant people.

When asked what she would have said to the president if she had been recognized, Sister Pimentel said, "I would definitely say that I appreciate and understand the importance of border security and keeping our border safe -- that's so important. We must support our Border Patrol and their job to defend and protect our borders. We must know who enters our country."

Sister Pimentel noted she has a good working relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol and other government agencies.

"When I walked into the meeting room, all the Border Patrol agents present, even the ones from D.C. were happy to meet me and talk to me," she said. "It really demonstrates the importance of how we on the ground work together as a community -- city officials, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the volunteers -- to the realities we face at the border.

"We recognize, yes, it's important to keep our border safe to support our Border Patrol but we also recognize there are lots of families, innocent victims of violence that are suffering," she said. "We as a community are responding to help them. It's a part of who we are as Americans: compassionate, caring."

Sister Pimentel continued, "That's a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listen to. I would have loved to have the opportunity to personally invite him to the respite center, to meet the families, to meet the children. As Catholics, as people of faith, we feel God has asked us to support, defend and protect all human life and that's what we're doing here at the respite center."

In an op-ed posted to The Washington Post website Jan. 9, Sister Pimentel invited Trump to visit the center, which opened in 2014 to provide assistance in response to the influx of immigrants arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries.

Sister Pimentel said the center offers shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed in the U.S.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

In her column, she invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

The center is staffed with volunteers who offer food, clothing, toiletries, baby supplies and travel packets, which include supplies for their journey.

These immigrants, mostly women and children, already have been detained and released by immigration authorities. They have been granted permission to continue to their destinations outside of the Rio Grande Valley and given a date for a court appearance.

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Ybarra is assistant editor of The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

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Pope makes day trip to cloistered Poor Clares in Umbria

Top Stories - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 11:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Holy See Press Office

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis left the Vatican Jan. 11 to visit a community of cloistered Poor Clare nuns in Umbria, the Vatican said.

The pope made the "private visit" to encourage the sisters and to share the Eucharist, prayer and a meal with them, said Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office.

In some ways, Pope Francis was repaying a visit. Members of the Poor Clares of Santa Maria di Vallegloria in Spello, about 100 miles north of Rome, had visited Pope Francis in August 2016 at his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

During the 2016 meeting, the pope personally gave the Poor Clares -- and symbolically all contemplative women religious -- in his document "Vultum Dei Quaerere" (Seeking the Face of God), which updated rules governing contemplative communities of women.

The Spello monastery traces its roots back to 560 when it was founded by several followers of St. Benedict; the community was re-formed in 1230 by two disciples of St. Clare of Assisi.

After a major earthquake in 1997, which heavily damaged the Church of Santa Maria di Vallegloria and the monastery, the sisters maintained their cloister by living in the garden first in tents then in portable homes. The church and monastery were reopened in 2011.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope will go to Romania calling for unity, focus on the common good

Top Stories - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 9:05am

IMAGE: CNS image/courtesy Holy See Press Office

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will make a three-day apostolic visit to Romania in late May, the Vatican announced.

Accepting invitations from President Klaus Iohannis and from Catholic leaders, the pope will visit the capital of Bucharest, the cities of Iasi and Blaj, and the Marian sanctuary in Sumuleu Ciuc in the Transylvanian region.

A detailed schedule for the trip May 31-June 2 will be released later, the Vatican said in a statement Jan. 11.

The theme of the visit is "Let's walk together," and the trip logo shows a group of faithful gathered together with an image of Mary behind them, representing her protection over "the people of God in Romania," the Vatican said.

"Romania is often called the 'garden of the Mother of God,'" a term also used by St. John Paul II during his visit there in 1999, it said.

It said Pope Francis' visit also will have this Marian aspect as an invitation to Christians to unite their efforts "under Our Lady's mantle of protection."

"The Holy Father has always called for the uniting of various forces, refusing selfishness and giving central importance to the common good. The Successor of Peter is going to Romania to invite everyone to unity and to confirm them in the faith."

The overwhelming majority -- almost 82 percent -- of Romania's 20 million inhabitants say they belong to the Romanian Orthodox Church. About 6 percent of the population identifies itself as Protestant and over 4 percent identify as Catholic, belonging either to the Romanian Catholic Church -- an Eastern rite -- or the Latin rite.

The trip will be Pope Francis' fifth in the first six months of 2019. He is scheduled to be in Panama Jan. 23-27 for World Youth Day; and he will go to Abu Dhabi Feb. 3-5, to Morocco March 30-31 and to Bulgaria and Macedonia May 5-7.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Trump visits Texas migrant center at invitation of nun on front lines

Top Stories - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 1:55pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- President Donald Trump got a brief look at the work of a well-known Catholic Charities-run refugee center in South Texas during a daylong trip to the border.

His visit to the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen Jan. 10 came less than a day after Sister Norma Pimentel welcomed the president to the border and invited him to see the work of staff and volunteers assisting people from throughout Central America who are seeking asylum in the United States.

The invitation from Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, appeared in an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post.

The president also joined a roundtable presentation on the situation facing migrants and those who serve them during his visit to the center.

The column explained the work of the center since 2014, when tens of thousands of people mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras made their way northward to flee violence and poverty in their homeland.

Sister Pimentel said the center -- offering shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed into the U.S. -- has welcomed more than 100,000 people since opening.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

She invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

"We work closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Rio Grande Valley Sector, and our team has cultivated a culture of mutual respect and dialogue," wrote Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus. "Our center staff, in communication with the Border Patrol, prepares to receive groups of immigrants who have been released. We try to meet the need.

"It is vital that we keep our country safe, and I appreciate the work of the men and women in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection who are vigilant as to who enters our country. I pray for them daily."

She detailed daily life at the center, from early morning until bedtime in the evening, explaining the tasks staff and volunteers undertake to ensure the dignity of the immigrants.

"I am energized each day by the families I meet, especially the children," Sister Pimentel wrote. "I am energized as well by the volunteers. They come from our local communities but also from across the United States. We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.

"As the Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, bishop of our diocese, says, 'We must put human dignity first,'" the op-ed concluded.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Trumps visits Texas migrant center at invitation of nun on front lines

Top Stories - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 1:55pm

By

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- President Donald Trump got a brief look at the work of a well-known Catholic Charities-run refugee center in South Texas during a daylong trip to the border.

His visit to the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen Jan. 10 came less than a day after Sister Norma Pimentel welcomed the president to the border and invited him to see the work of staff and volunteers assisting people from throughout Central America who are seeking asylum in the United States.

The invitation from Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, appeared in an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post.

The president also joined a roundtable presentation on the situation facing migrants and those who serve them during his visit to the center.

The column explained the work of the center since 2014, when tens of thousands of people mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras made their way northward to flee violence and poverty in their homeland.

Sister Pimentel said the center -- offering shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed into the U.S. -- has welcomed more than 100,000 people since opening.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

She invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

"We work closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Rio Grande Valley Sector, and our team has cultivated a culture of mutual respect and dialogue," wrote Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus. "Our center staff, in communication with the Border Patrol, prepares to receive groups of immigrants who have been released. We try to meet the need.

"It is vital that we keep our country safe, and I appreciate the work of the men and women in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection who are vigilant as to who enters our country. I pray for them daily."

She detailed daily life at the center, from early morning until bedtime in the evening, explaining the tasks staff and volunteers undertake to ensure the dignity of the immigrants.

"I am energized each day by the families I meet, especially the children," Sister Pimentel wrote. "I am energized as well by the volunteers. They come from our local communities but also from across the United States. We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.

"As the Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, bishop of our diocese, says, 'We must put human dignity first,'" the op-ed concluded.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Bishops describe their retreat as inspiring, Spirit-filled

Top Stories - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 12:01pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although the weeklong retreat for U.S. Catholic bishops emphasized quiet reflection, several bishops spoke out on social media during the retreat and after it wrapped up Jan. 8 with positive reaction about it and to give shoutouts to the retreat leader, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has preached to popes and top officials of the Roman Curia for nearly 40 years.

One bishop said listening to Father Cantalamessa was akin to being in the presence of the early Christian theologians. "Clear, intensely filled with the Holy Spirit, and all for the Kingdom of God," Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Boulette of San Antonio said in a tweet. "Let us continue to pray for one another, our church and our world. A blessing to be here!"

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, tweeted that the retreat leader was a "true instrument of the Lord" and that the Holy Spirit was at work during the retreat.

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, described Father Cantalamessa's talks and homilies as "powerful and engaging."

He tweeted that he was glad they had time to reflect and pray about their role as shepherds, stressing: "We must start there to be able to offer healing. I am taking this very seriously but feeling positive."

Boston Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O'Connell said it was a "truly blessed experience" to be on retreat with Father Cantalamessa and fellow U.S. bishops.

"The Holy Spirit was powerfully present, and I was quite moved," he tweeted. He also thanked the pope for giving the bishops this gift.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980. The time of prayer Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago was planned largely in response to last summer's revelations of allegations of sex abuse that reached the highest levels of the U.S. church.

In a Jan. 8 column for Angelus News, the archdiocesan news outlet of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bishops' retreat leader focused "our attention on the vocation and responsibility of bishops in this moment in the church."

"We are praying together as a visible sign of our unity as bishops and our communion with the Holy Father. There is a collegial spirit here and a firm commitment to address the causes of the abuse crisis we face and continue the work of renewing the church," he added.

The archbishop said Father Cantalamessa asked them to "trust more in the Holy Spirit. We need to have confidence that we are always living in God's loving presence."

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, wrote a few blog posts about the retreat with some reflection about the retreat leader's message.

He said they heard about the need to emphasize in their preaching the fundamental belief in Jesus before delving into his message and teachings.

He also said Father Cantalamessa emphasized the need to root out "love of money" and all that it implies, including material possessions, honor or power.

"If this pursuit for 'money' needs to be rooted out from our Christian lives, then we need to embrace a true spirit of detachment," the bishop wrote, adding that he would add more to that topic in the days ahead.

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat was "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" drawing from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Reflections from the retreat do not seem to be about the crisis in particular, maybe for a reason.

In an email to Catholic News Service weeks before the retreat, Father Cantalamessa said he would "not talk about pedophilia and will not give advice about eventual solutions; that is not my task and I would not have the competence to do so."

"The Holy Father asked for my availability to lead a series of spiritual exercises for the episcopal conference so that the bishops, far from their daily commitments, in a climate of prayer and silence and in a personal encounter with the Lord, can receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solutions for the problems that afflict the U.S. church today," he added.

In a Jan. 9 column for the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the pope's intention for the retreat went beyond "this particular moment or challenge facing us bishops."

"We are not leaving this retreat with all the answers to the important questions facing the church in these days," he wrote, but he said the bishops now have a renewed sense of the importance of taking their cues from "Christ's spirit rather than our own efforts."

Another blessing from the week, he said, was being drawn closer to each other and to the pope.

"I have no doubt that just as the early church relied on Peter's unique ministry to meet the challenges of the day, so we will draw strength and insight from our unity with his successor," he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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A global response to abuse: Work already underway, Jesuit says

Top Stories - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 10:25am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By summoning leaders of the world's bishops' conferences and top representatives of religious orders to the Vatican in February to address the abuse crisis and the protection of minors, Pope Francis is sending the message that the need for safeguarding is a global issue.

Even though media attention and public fallout for the church's failings have focused on a small group of nations, abuse experts and victims know that does not mean the rest of the world is immune from the scandal of abuse or can delay taking action to ensure the safety of all its members.

While Catholic leaders in some countries might not recognize it as a global issue, Vatican offices that receive abuse allegations have a "clear idea about what is the situation now because allegations come from all parts of the world," said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the organizing committee for the February meeting.  

Because the Catholic Church mandates that all credible allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy must be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, "we have one office that has to deal with all of this so, for the time being, we know what are the allegations that come from different parts of the world," he said.

Allegations coming in from the English- and German-speaking countries that have been the center of the abuse scandal for decades "have diminished considerably" because of the safeguarding measures that have been put in place, he told Catholic News Service in early January.

But in those countries where abuse has not been talked about in society and in the church until recently, he said, allegations are just beginning to surface.

The doctrinal congregation has never released statistics on the geographical distribution of the clerical sexual abuse cases reported to it; in the past, the congregation has published the total number of cases reported and the total number of priests expelled from the priesthood because of abuse.

The last figures published by the congregation were for cases submitted to it in 2015. It said 518 cases involving "graviora delicta" ("more grave crimes") were submitted in 2015; the majority of those cases dealt with the sexual abuse of minors, including the possession of child pornography, but the category of "graviora delicta" also includes serious offenses against the sacraments.

What is not known, however, is the actual extent of abuse throughout society, Father Zollner said.

"There are no clear and no scientifically verified statistics for the prevalence of sexual abuse in societies worldwide. There are only estimates that range from 7 percent to 25 percent of all young people in a given society and, in some countries, it may be even much worse," he said.

However, because abuse is a global phenomenon, he said, the church -- as a global network with people and institutions in every corner of the world -- is perfectly positioned to be part of the solution.

In fact, while the February summit is being designed to bring church leadership together in solidarity, humility and dialogue and to strengthen their commitment to serving the most wounded and vulnerable, a very wide and global grassroots effort in safeguarding has been underway for years.

The Pontifical Gregorian University, the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and others established the Center for Child Protection in 2012.

"At the very beginning of the CCP, when we had only the e-learning program, the idea was to spread" its online studies in multiple languages and make them accessible "to the whole world," he said.

The center also reached out to other educational and academic institutions so that coursework in safeguarding would become part of the "normal curricula" for those studying psychology, social sciences, teaching or theology, said Father Zollner, who is also academic vice rector of the Gregorian University and dean of its Institute of Psychology.

The center has since developed a global alliance of organizations -- starting with some pontifical and Catholic universities -- who are committed to working with local experts and exchanging concrete information.

The center also offers a multidisciplinary diploma course and master's program in safeguarding for priests, religious and laypeople from all over the world. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples offers bishops' conferences in Africa and Asia full scholarships for either program for six people each year.

"This is very forward-looking because in those countries there are almost no resources either in society or in the church that have any kind of special training in this field," he said.

Graduates go back to their home countries, dioceses, orders or institutions, mostly to work in child protection, setting up programs, offering workshops and giving talks for church personnel and anyone who requests their help. In very poor or remote areas, sometimes they are the only experts available even for the government.

The feedback and reception safeguarding graduates have been getting back home, Father Zollner, "is very mixed because there is certainly a certain kind of reluctance and hesitancy and sometimes passive resistance" in some places.

One of the big challenges now, he said, is to give graduates "ongoing support so that they can push through and they can also exchange strategies that will help them and the church to really come to grips of the situation in their countries."

Father Zollner travels the world doing workshops and talks on child protection at the invitation of bishops' conferences and religious orders.

Just in the past year, he said, "I have been invited by the bishops' conferences of Papua New Guinea and Malaysia -- countries where just two or three years ago one would never have thought that there was any possibility to talk about (abuse) either in society or in church, and the church has started to face that now."

The international members of the papal commission on safeguarding also are invited to speak at seminars, conferences and workshops on every continent and provide education and insight, including survivors' testimonies to new bishops and staff at the Vatican.
 
Father Zollner said having skilled and motivated people on the ground to implement and share safeguarding measures will be very important for church leaders attending February's summit.

"Because once you have some good people, trained well and very committed, and all of them are really committed, you will find links to others, other church institutions and organizations and possible government structures, (then) you can really make a difference," he said.

It is a "very unfortunate" misconception that in most places nothing has been done in the area of safeguarding and prevention, Father Zollner said. "In many places in the world, safeguarding procedures are put in place, people are trained, schools, orphanages and so forth now have to have safeguarding training and screening of personnel."

"Again, this is not 100 percent present in all countries and in all institutions. Far from it," he said. "But there are very good examples of best practices even in areas where a few years ago no one would have had any clue about what to do and why to do what is necessary to protect minors."

Not all the world's roughly 200 countries are "doomed to repeat the same mistakes as the 20 countries or so that we know and talk about normally," he said. "I am positive especially about countries I visited in Central America or some parts of Africa and Asia where the bishops are really on board, the religious are on board; they have at least the potential to do it differently, to act before they are forced to act."

"The only choice they have is either we deal with it today, which needs courage and energy, or you will be forced or your successors will be forced to deal with it tomorrow," he said. "But there is no choice to avoid it or not to avoid it. You have to face it sooner or later."

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

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Vatican leaps into the world of sports

Top Stories - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 9:25am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced its plans to take a leap of faith into the wide world of sports with the creation of its first ever sports association.

The Vatican Athletic sports association, which will fall under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture and its "Culture and Sport" section, was presented during a briefing at the Vatican press office Jan. 10.

According to a press release by the association, the idea to establish a Vatican sports team began with Vatican employees who met for their daily morning runs along the Tiber River.  

"The Secretariat of State allowed this 'community' of friends to be given a suitable and completely innovative legal form of Christian witness in the streets, literally 'going out' as Pope Francis asks, among the women and men who live the passion of sport," the statement said.

Vatican Athletic, it continued, is not just concerned with competing with other athletes but also committed to giving a "concrete Christian witness with spiritual initiatives" in the world of sports.

The association currently is made up of 60 athletes, ranging from 19 to 62 years old, who work in various Vatican offices or serve with the Swiss Guard. It has also welcomed "honorary members," including two young Muslim migrants and "several young people with disabilities."

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council, told journalists the Vatican Athletic group represents a much-needed message of peace and unity in sports, which can sometimes be divisive.

The establishment of an official Vatican sports association also could open the possibility of athletes from the world's smallest state competing in future Olympic Games.

During the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a Vatican delegation, led by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the president of Vatican Athletic, was invited to take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and attend its general meeting as an official observer.

While a Vatican delegation attended the opening of the Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the South Korea games marked the first time the Vatican was invited to attend an annual session of the Olympic committee.

Msgr. Sanchez, who is also a former modern pentathlete, said the Vatican would not field an Olympic team anytime soon, but there may be a glimmer of hope that the gold and white colors of the Holy See may be seen one day at the global sporting event.

"A Vatican team at the Olympics? Seeing the Vatican flag fly at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a short or medium-term goal, but we aren't closing any doors," Msgr. Sanchez said. First, though, "I would like to participate in sporting events of symbolic value such as the Games of the Small States of Europe and the Mediterranean Games."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Catholic groups and others rail against Trump border 'crisis' speech

Top Stories - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 4:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- No sooner had President Donald Trump finished his Jan. 8 nine-minute speech, his first such event televised in prime time from the Oval Office, about what he called a "crisis" at the border, than Catholic groups and others began tearing apart his arguments.

In email statements, via Twitter, in Facebook posts that cascaded overnight, they denounced his words as incendiary and untruthful and called on him and Congress to find different solutions to the country's immigration woes, particularly ones that do not involve building a wall and include instead more compassion.  

Trump said the wall, whose lack of funding triggered the ongoing partial government shutdown that began at midnight Dec. 22, was necessary to stop drugs and violent immigrants from coming into the country, which he called a "humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border."

"Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now," he said.

On drugs, he said: "Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border."

Fact checkers from various news organizations quickly pointed out research, including a study from the journal Criminology, that showed "undocumented immigration does not increase violence," that most drugs come to the U.S. at already existing border crossings, so more wall- or barrier-building wouldn't stop their transport. The Center for Migration Studies, a think-tank in New York connected to the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, known popularly as the Scalabrinians, disseminated information from one of its studies in 2016 that showed the number of "undocumented in the nation had dropped to 10.8 million, a new low."

On Twitter, the Sisters of Mercy quickly responded: "Tonight's speech by President Trump was another, in a long list of speeches, rooted in untruths, fear and division."

They noted that the speech came as the Catholic Church in the United States marked National Migration Week, Jan. 6-12, to support and pray for immigrants, refugees, victims and survivors of human trafficking.

"It is particularly troubling that a speech of this nature comes while the church recognizes #NationalMigrationWeek, a moment to reflect upon the desperate and harrowing circumstances confronting migrants, immigrants, and refugees," the Mercy Sisters tweeted after the speech.

"Neither the continued government shutdown nor a declaration of national emergency aimed at funding a wall will correct years of failed U.S. immigration policy or ameliorate the U.S.'s role in the root causes of migration," the Mercy Sisters wrote in a response published quickly following the speech. "Make no mistake, there is a humanitarian crisis on the border, but it is one of the Trump administration's own making. One where asylum-seekers are forced to wait in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for weeks while their asylum claims are assessed and decided."

The following morning, without referencing the speech, a Texas border bishop, Brownsville's Daniel E. Flores -- who is facing a dispute with government officials seeking to survey church property to build a wall on -- tweeted that "mothers and children are fleeing the very criminal elements that we ourselves recognize represent a mortal danger. Are we not capable of sustaining a response that both protects the vulnerable and restrains the menace?"

More directly, Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, urged the president and lawmakers to look at the conditions of persecution and violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That, he said, is where this administration and Congress should focus, and instead fix the causes that drive the displacement of people.

"A series of measures designed to deter these vulnerable populations from fleeing their countries, including family separation, mandatory detention, zero tolerance and denial of entry at the border are undermining their legal and human rights, guaranteed under both domestic and international law," Kerwin said.

"They are handing themselves over to Border Patrol agents in search of protection, not trying to enter the country illegally," he said. "The administration and Congress should act to end these inhumane policies and provide protection to vulnerable women and children."

Instead of shutting down the government over a wall, Kerwin continued, Trump and Congress should enact a legislative package providing permanent status to those benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival and Temporary Protected Status programs, "immigrant populations who have built equities in our nation."

But neither the wall nor any other proposals to curb immigration set forth by immigration supporters seemed to gain traction after the speech. As the president and lawmakers met Jan. 9 to try to find common ground, reports trickled out about what was a failed effort.

Democrats said Trump slammed his hands on a table and walked out during the talks. Late in the afternoon of Jan. 9, the president tweeted his account of his meeting with top Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time," Trump tweeted. "I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!"

 

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Prayer has the power to change lives, hearts, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 8:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God is a father who never ignores his children when they call to him in times of suffering, loneliness and despair, Pope Francis said.

Although at times it seems that "so many of our prayers seem to have no result," Christians are called by Christ to "insist and not give up," the pope said Jan. 9 during his weekly general audience.

"Prayer, prayer always changes reality, let us not forget that: It either changes things or changes our hearts, but it always changes," he said.

Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope greeted thousands of cheerful pilgrims, shaking hands, embracing children and even taking a sip of mate tea offered to him by a pilgrim.

Continuing his series of talks on the Lord's Prayer, the pope reflected on the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray.

In teaching them to pray the "Our Father," he said, Jesus "explains to his followers in what words and with what feelings they must turn to God."

"Father -- that is such a beautiful word to say," the pope said. "We can pray just with that word, 'father,' and feel that we have a father; not a master but a father."

At important moments in his own life, Pope Francis explained, Jesus is "in an atmosphere of prayer" and guided by the Holy Spirit in his actions. He also prays for others, including "for Peter who will soon deny him."

"This consoles us, knowing that Jesus prays for us, he prays for me, he prays for each one of us so that our faith does not fail." the pope said. "We can also say to Jesus: 'You are praying for me; continue to pray because I need it.' (Pray) like that, with courage."

Even in his final moments, the pope added, Jesus is immersed in prayer, for example when consoling the women along the way of the cross, when promising the joys of paradise to the good thief and before taking his last breath.

"Jesus' prayer seems to dampen the most violent emotions, the desires for revenge and retaliation, he reconciles man with his most bitter enemy: death," he said.

When life seems incomprehensible, Pope Francis said, prayer "is ultimately the victory over loneliness and despair" because God is always present.

"What is at the end of our path, at the end of prayer, at the end of a time of prayer, at the end of life. What is there?" the pope asked. "There is a father, waiting for everything and everyone with open arms. Let us look at that father."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Nicaraguans face steeper challenges than most heading to World Youth Day

Top Stories - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 4:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Israel Gonzalez Espinoza

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Many will make sacrifices to attend the upcoming World Youth Day in Panama in late January, but few compare to the challenges facing young Catholics in nearby Nicaragua as the country deals with political and economic upheaval, some of it involving violent clashes with government forces that have plagued the Central American nation since last year.

"Some of the young Nicaraguans heading to (World Youth Day) have made extraordinary economic sacrifices, selling things, begging institutions for help, because it's a unique opportunity," said Israel Gonzalez Espinoza, a Nicaraguan journalist for Religion Digital, a Spanish-language online news site that focuses on the Catholic Church.  

The Jan. 22-27 gathering in Panama City will be the first time the event, first instituted by St. John Paul II in 1985, will be held in Central America and likely the only opportunity for many of the region's young adults and teens to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who arrives in Panama Jan. 23.

Past World Youth Day gatherings have taken place in Argentina, Spain, Poland, Brazil, the United States and other countries that have been cost-prohibitive to Central American youth, many who are now excited about their physical proximity to the upcoming celebration.

But it could not have come at worse time for young Nicaraguans, particularly because some have been involved in some of the clashes against the government of President Daniel Ortega, whose attempts to reduce pensions and salaries while increasing employee contributions to the social security system ignited fiery protests last April.

The situation became worse when hundreds of protesters died in the clashes against Ortega's administration, which kept moving toward getting a tighter grip on political power in the country, curbing tourism and business interests and sending the economy into a tailspin. An economy that was growing instead quickly contracted. Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that "more than 900 million dollars have fled the financial system" in Nicaragua since the conflict started.

Covering the crisis on the frontlines was Catholic journalist Gonzalez, a 25-year-old who has documented the particular role the Catholic Church has played in the drama, as the bishops' conference sought to mediate an end to the clashes, which have sent the citizenry running for cover into the country's Catholic churches and facilities. But because of it, Gonzalez has paid the price of being accused by government supporters of being an instigator and also a mouthpiece of Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez, who has been highly critical of the government.

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Managua Jan. 3, Gonzalez recounted how he was ready to give up journalism early last year and turn to a more lucrative way to make a living by opening up a small business. But he said he could not stay away when the crisis exploded in April.

"As a Nicaraguan journalist, it has been the most fruitful year but also a painful year," he told CNS.

Because of his dispatches about the role of the Catholic Church in negotiations with the government and other news he has reported, he has received threats, had his personal phone number and address published, and been threatened by pro-government supporters, who have called on police to have him arrested, he said.

Similarly, other young Catholics like Gonzalez wonder what they will risk by attempting to leave and then attempting to re-enter Nicaragua if they choose to attend World Youth Day.

"As a journalist, it's a bit risky for me to attend World Youth Day, because I have to take with me my equipment, my camera, microphone, but the problem is not leaving Nicaragua, it's coming back," he said.

Government forces, or even customs officials at the airport will ask about the equipment, his profession, what political sides he takes, whether he criticizes the government.

"All of that can put a person into a state of anxiety," he said. "And that I could have my equipment away, in my own country."

Other young Catholics, too, could face similar questioning, he said.

"Remember, that it's been the youth (of Nicaragua) who have been the vanguard of this movement," against the government, he said. "They have been the most affected by the government persecution."

Because of those fears and because of the country's deteriorating economic and political situation, which will make it difficult for many of them to afford even the short trip, only a fraction of young Nicaraguans will make it to the event. Estimates put the Nicaraguan delegation at between 5,000 to 6,000, said Gonzalez, who plans to cover the historic gathering.

Though he's put his plans to open a business on hold for the moment, Gonzalez said he decided to "bet on the side of journalism" and continue to document the church's role in Nicaraguan society, in seeking dialogue, peace and a democratic process in the country.

"I made a decision of conscience," he said. "A person with a conscience does not opt to remain silent when that person sees injustice."

It's hard to gauge, at the moment, what, if any effect, the crisis will have on pilgrims from Central American nations such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, traveling by land through Nicaragua. Gonzalez said he's heard that Panama has been in talks with officials in the country to expedite a safe passage of pilgrims traveling through and returning through Nicaragua before and after World Youth Day. He said he still recommends groups traveling by land to contact their respective embassies in the country a week before making the trip to avoid delays or problems.

 

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Young adults embrace opportunity to deepen their faith at SEEK2019

Top Stories - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:41am

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Shaughnessy, The Criterion

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Tears filled Missy Brassie's eyes as she talked about the most emotional part of the five-day SEEK2019 conference involving more than 17,000 young adult Catholics from around the world.

It happened the evening of Jan. 5 in a massive ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center during the conference established to give participants the opportunity to deepen their encounter with Jesus.

"All of these people coming together for eucharistic adoration is the best part of the conference," said Brassie, 31, a Denver resident who returned to Indianapolis, her hometown, for the gathering sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS.

"Surrounded by thousands of their peers during adoration, they feel that they're not alone in their faith, and they feel that they're personally spoken to by the Lord," she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "People say that everyone around them disappears. It's just Jesus and that person in that moment."

The overwhelming emotion Brassie experienced has happened before at SEEK conferences. This year's event, held Jan. 3-7, was her eighth.

"My relationship with Jesus is always deepened here," Brassie said. "Even though I've been to so many conferences, there is always something that renews me."

Brassie has been a FOCUS missionary for the last seven years, striving to bring college students to a deeper relationship with God at the University of Illinois, Texas A&M University and Ave Maria University in Florida. She also works at the FOCUS headquarters, based in the Denver area.

Her role as one of the nearly 700 missionaries in 159 worldwide locations has led her to interactions with a wide range of people, from international students who have no knowledge of Jesus to lifelong Catholics seeking to become closer to him. No matter their background, her conversations involve asking people two defining questions.

"I say, 'Do you know that God loves you? Do you know he has a plan for you?'" she explained. "Our conversations go from the basic level to deep discussions. That has been really cool. I don't have to have all the answers because Jesus loves them."

Other attendees were pleased to share their faith and return to their daily lives with a renewed sense of inspiration and awe in God.

Nigerian Timi Soyoola, 20, couldn't pass up the invitation to attend.

"I was coming on a flight from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis after visiting my uncle, and a lady was talking to me about this conference," said Soyoola, a senior pre-med student at Indiana University in Kokomo. "It's a new year, and I wanted to try something new. I wanted to learn more about my faith."

It didn't matter to Soyoola that she didn't know anyone else at the conference. After all, Soyoola -- whose full first name, Oluwatimilehin, basically translates to "God's got my back" -- already knew she could count on one person.

"Jesus is the person I depend on," she said, her eyes and her smile lighting up. "When you come to a new country, you don't know anyone. He's the one I depend on. He's the most important person in my life."

The opportunity to deepen their faith drew Josh and Katie Fatzinger from their home in Flagstaff, Arizona. The young married couple arrived at the conference with their 1-year-old daughter, Ellie, and other family members. Katie is expecting the couple's second child in February.

"I'm here with my mother, my wife, one of my sisters and three of my brothers," said Josh, 27. "I'm from a big Catholic family, one of 14. I encouraged my younger brothers to come because it was a great experience for me when I came in 2013. It's a great place to encounter a lot of people, and we're all here to encounter Christ."

Standing by Ellie's stroller, Katie looked around the crowd at the convention center and noted, "There's all the hope you see and all the excitement. It's very uplifting. It's really powerful to celebrate the sacraments and be with that many people praising God. I'm waiting to see how he can impact their lives."

Louis Cain held the same hope as he led a group of 60 students from McNeese State University in Louisiana during the conference that featured opportunities for Mass, confession and eucharistic adoration as well as faith-related workshops, inspirational speakers and entertainment by Catholic musicians. In his third year as a FOCUS missionary, Cain embraced the opportunity to bring other young adults to a stronger relationship with Jesus.

"It's really cool to have this time in my life when I'm trying to get closer to Jesus and help others to do the same 24/7," Cain said. "One thing that's cool about being here is that you realize you're not alone. Everyone is here to grow in their faith. It's pretty amazing."

Cain maintained that positive attitude as he answered a question about how he thinks the clergy sexual abuse crisis has affected young adults' perspectives of the church and their faith.

"Our church needs healing," he said. "In times of crisis in the church, great saints rise up. We need to have saints rise up in our church. It should motivate us to live our faith more seriously."

Amy Gasper, 19, a sophomore at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, felt much the same.

"You get to see how hungry people are for the Lord. It makes my heart leap for joy," she said. "There are people here who are wanting to devote their life to God and grow in their relationship with him."

She said the conference allows her to grow her faith.

"I know I'm alive for one reason, and that's to answer God's call for my life. It's a never-ending joy. So many people search for that. You have to let God take over your life for the good."

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

 

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