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  • Child protection commission seeks new ways to be informed by victims

    IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following the resignation of a prominent member and abuse survivor, a pontifical commission charged with addressing issues related to clergy sex abuse vowed to continue to seek input from victims and survivors.

    The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said the resignation of Marie Collins was a "central topic" of its March 24-26 plenary assembly, and it "expressed strong support for her continuing work" to promote healing for abuse victims and ensuring best practices for prevention.

    "Commission members have unanimously agreed to find new ways to ensure its work is shaped and informed with and by victims/survivors. Several ideas that have been successfully implemented elsewhere are being carefully considered for recommendation to the Holy Father," the commission said in a March 26 statement published by the Vatican.

    Among the main concerns addressed by the commission was outreach out to victims, an issue first raised by Collins shortly after she resigned from her position.

    In an editorial published online March 1 by National Catholic Reporter, Collins said an unnamed dicastery not only refused to respond to letters from victims, it also refused to cooperate on the commission's safeguarding guidelines.

    In its statement, the commission emphasized Pope Francis' letter to the presidents of the bishops' conferences and superiors of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, in which he called for their close and complete cooperation with the Commission for the Protection of Minors.

    "The work I have entrusted to them includes providing assistance to you and your conferences through an exchange of best practices and through programs of education, training and developing adequate responses to sexual abuse," the pope wrote Feb. 2, 2015.

    Commission members spoke again of their willingness to work together with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith communicating a "guidelines template" to episcopal conferences and religious congregations, both directly and through the commission website, the statement said.

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CNS News Briefs

Brief versions on news stories from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  • Child protection commission seeks new ways to be informed by victims

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following the resignation of a prominent member and abuse survivor, a pontifical commission charged with addressing issues related to clergy sex abuse vowed to continue to seek input from victims and survivors. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said the resignation of Marie Collins was a "central topic" of its March 24-26 plenary assembly, and it "expressed strong support for her continuing work" to promote healing for abuse victims and ensuring best practices for prevention. "Commission members have unanimously agreed to find new ways to ensure its work is shaped and informed with and by victims/survivors. Several ideas that have been successfully implemented elsewhere are being carefully considered for recommendation to the Holy Father," the commission said in a March 26 statement published by the Vatican. Among the main concerns addressed by the commission was outreach out to victims, an issue first raised by Collins shortly after she resigned from her position. In an editorial published online March 1 by National Catholic Reporter, Collins said an unnamed dicastery not only refused to respond to letters from victims, it also refused to cooperate on the commission's safeguarding guidelines.

    Mexican bishop who speaks out faces criticism from state officials

    CUERNAVACA, Mexico (CNS) -- For years, bishops in Cuernavaca have requested repairs to the 1525 Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. Bishop Ramon Castro Castro finally persuaded a federal lawmaker to fund repairs worth roughly $4 million -- but the money, by Mexican law, had to be administered by either the municipal or state governments. The bishop opted for the municipal government, figuring it was more trustworthy. "I requested that the money not arrive via the state government because they're accustomed to, in all ... public works and public subsidies, taking between 30 percent and 40 percent for themselves," Bishop Castro told Catholic News Service March 26. "Public works always have what we call a 'moche'" -- Mexican slang for a kickback. Bishop Castro has come under attack from politicians and public officials upset for voicing suspicions of corruption in Morelos, a small state just south of Mexico City served by the Diocese of Cuernavaca. After the state government was omitted from management of the cathedral repair funds, stories surfaced of Bishop Castro allegedly diverting money from renovations to build a personal tennis court in the seminary -- even though the courts were installed in 2014. Personal attacks and accusations of misdeeds are becoming commonplace against Bishop Castro, who arrived in Cuernavaca in 2013 and is increasingly portrayed in the press as the main political opponent of image-conscious Gov. Graco Ramirez, a self-proclaimed "progressive."

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  • Pope asks children to promise Jesus they will never be bullies

    ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis asked 45,000 children preparing for confirmation to promise Jesus they would never engage in bullying. Turning stern during a lively and laughter-filled encounter March 25, Pope Francis told the youngsters he was very worried about the growing phenomenon of bullying. He asked them to be silent and reflect on if there were times when they made fun of someone for how they looked or behaved. And, as a condition of their confirmation, he made them promise Jesus that they would never tease or bully anyone. The pope ended his daylong visit to Milan by participating in an expanded version of the archdiocese's annual encounter for pre-teens preparing for confirmation. An estimated 78,000 people filled the city's famed San Siro soccer stadium; the archdiocese expects to confirm about 45,000 young people this year. A boy named Davide asked the pope, "When you were our age, what helped your friendship with Jesus grow?"

    Spread hope, preach Christ, don't worry about numbers, pope says

    ROME (CNS) -- Visiting Milan, the center of Italian fashion and finance, Pope Francis spent the morning with the poor and those who minister to them. He had lunch at the city's historic San Vittore prison, where all 893 inmates -- men and women -- are awaiting trial. But Pope Francis began his visit March 25 on the outskirts of the city, at the "White Houses," a housing development for the poor built in the 1970s. Three families welcomed the pope into their apartments: Stefano Pasquale, 59, who is ill and cared for by his 57-year-old wife, Dorotee; a Muslim couple and their three children from Morocco; and the Onetes. Nuccio Onete, 82, was home for the pope's visit, but his wife, Adele, was hospitalized with pneumonia three days earlier, so the pope called her on the telephone. The people of the neighborhood gave Pope Francis a handmade white stole, which he put on before addressing the crowd. The fact that it was homemade, he said, "makes it much more precious and is a reminder that the Christian priest is chosen from the people and is at the service of the people. My priesthood, like that of your pastor and the other priests who work here, is a gift of Christ, but one sewn by you, by the people, with your faith, your struggles, your prayers and your tears."

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  • Author: Christians need 'some distance' between them, 'chaotic mainstream'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Author Rod Dreher's critics call him an "alarmist" for proposing that Christians today "put some distance" between themselves and "the chaotic mainstream," or Christianity will not survive. Those critics are right, he said. "I am alarmist about the state of our culture and of our civilization and the condition of the church within it," Dreher told a Washington audience. "If you're a faithful Christian and you're not alarmed, I think you're failing to pay attention, you're failing to read the signs of the times. "I do not claim 'the' world is coming to an end. ... What I am claiming, though, is that 'a' world is coming to an end," he explained. "And if believing Christians don't take radical action right now, the faith that made Western civilization will not survive for long into Western civilization's post-Christian phase." Dreher, currently senior editor at The American Conservative and author of several books, has written "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation." He spoke about his book at the National Press Club at an evening event sponsored by the Trinity Forum March 15.

    Former superior general of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur dies at 94

    IPSWICH, Mass. (CNS) -- Sister Catherine Hughes, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur for 69 years and a former superior general for her congregation, died March 22 in Liverpool, England, after a brief illness. She was 94. Her funeral Mass will be celebrated March 30 at a Redemptorist parish church in Liverpool, Our Lady of the Annunciation-Bishop Eton. Sister Hughes will be buried in the cemetery of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Parbold, England. Sister Teresita Weind, congregational leader, will attend the funeral, according to a statement issued by the Congregational Mission Office in Ipswich. "Sister Catherine was a fearless and just woman who demonstrated remarkable leadership within her religious congregation and among other women religious," the statement said. "Her sisters (in the congregation), her family and friends worldwide mourn the loss of this woman of vision, courage and confidence." Sister Hughes served from 1984 to 1990 in Rome as the 16th superior general of the congregation. During her term, the revised constitutions and directory of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur received Vatican approval. Promoting the new document within the congregation became the responsibility of the newly elected general moderator with her general government group.

    Remember shattered walls of past divisions, pope tells EU leaders

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Europe must recover the memories and lessons of past tragedies in order to confront the challenges Europeans face today that seek to divide rather than unite humanity, Pope Francis said. While the founding fathers of what is now the European Union worked toward a "united and open Europe," free of the "walls and divisions" erected after World War II, the tragedy of poverty and violence affecting millions of innocent people lingers on, the pope told European leaders gathered at the Vatican March 24. "Where generations longed to see the fall of those signs of forced hostility, these days we debate how to keep out the 'dangers' of our time, beginning with the long file of women, men and children fleeing war and poverty, seeking only a future for themselves and their loved ones," he said. Pope Francis welcomed the 27 European heads of state to the Vatican to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which gave birth to European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. Signed March 25, 1957, the treaties sought to unite Europe following the devastation wrought by World War II. The agreements laid the groundwork for what eventually became the European Union.

    Cardinal Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore, dies at 86

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's 14th archbishop, who was an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America's first cathedral, died March 23 at his residence at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 86. The archdiocese said the cardinal will lie in repose March 27 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore. His funeral will be celebrated March 28 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, also in Baltimore. Pope Francis, in a papal telegram March 24, sent condolences to Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and the archdiocese, expressing gratitude for "Cardinal Keeler's years of devoted episcopal ministry" and his "long-standing commitment to ecumenical and interreligious understanding. He called the cardinal a "wise and gentle pastor." "One of the great blessings in my life was coming to know Cardinal Keeler," Archbishop Lori said in a statement March 23. "Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed. I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the cardinal." Cardinal Keeler was the bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when he was appointed the 14th archbishop of Baltimore in 1989. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1994. He retired in 2007. As president of the U.S. bishops' conference from 1992 to 1995, he participated in a wide range of national and international issues.

    Deluges in Peru trigger flash floods, landslides; at least 85 dead

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Felicita Chipana was at work when the Rimac River began to rise. By the time she got home, her kitchen was gone, swept away by floodwaters that left scores of families homeless on the east side of this sprawling capital city. "We have no water, no electricity, and there are mosquitoes everywhere," she said as a bulldozer cleared sediment out of the river channel below what remained of her rustic house. Her granddaughter had developed a fever after being bitten by mosquitoes, and her daughter had taken the child to the hospital. Picking her way over boulders carried down the river by the flood, Chipana joined neighbors, who had also lost their houses, as Catholic Church workers coordinating emergency aid noted their names and the number of people in their households. All morning, dozens of volunteers from several Lima parishes had gathered at Santa Maria Parish in Huachipa, in the Diocese of Chosica on Lima's east side, the area hardest hit by flooding in March. They sorted and bagged donations of food and water for emergency distribution, setting aside huge sacks of clothes and bedding for later. Unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean off Peru is causing heavy rains on the usually arid coast, swamping cities that have poor drainage and destroying wood or mud-brick houses not built to withstand a downpour. As of March 23, 85 people were reported dead, 270 injured and 20 missing in the deluges. Nationwide, 111,000 people had lost their houses and another 670,000 had suffered damage to their homes.

    Indigenous, accompanied by church, fight for rights in Amazon rainforest

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The railroad runs more than 550 miles through 27 communities in the Brazilian Amazon. It runs so close to people's homes that the houses have cracked, and some people have hearing loss. The trains carry minerals out of the rainforest to the coast. But the tracks separate families from their schools, health centers and fields and, sometimes, the trains stop on the tracks. Sister Jakelyn Vasquez, a member of the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who works with communities along the tracks in Maranhao and Para states, said the trains often sit for hours, sometimes an entire day. In early March, a 336-car train stopped on the tracks in one of the villages. Sister Vasquez told Catholic News Service that the closest ramp to cross over the tracks was more than four miles away. So, as local residents sometimes do, a mother and her baby climbed under the train to cross -- and the train began to move. The mother lost her fingers; the baby lost an arm. It was not the first such accident, said Sister Vasquez. Many people have been run over by the train, she said, and they receive no financial compensation from the multinational company than runs the trains and mines -- "just the coffin." Sister Vasquez was one of about a dozen members of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network that visited Washington in March. The group, which included indigenous leaders who testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, also met with church and government leaders and the public to help spread the word about what members describe as injustices and human rights abuses.

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  • In talk with top diplomat, bishop stresses church concern for common good

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country's top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church's efforts toward building "the common good. After some small talk about Texas," the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas. Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know "that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don't have ulterior motives," and explaining the bishops' peace and justice committee's work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East. Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States' nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration.

    Family trumps fear for Minnesota refugee served by Catholic Charities

    MINNEAPOLIS (CNS) -- Suad Gele didn't know about the incoming U.S. president -- or his proposed policies' potential impact on immigrants and refugees -- when she came to the United States as a refugee in December 2016. "I have no idea about anything that's going on in the world," she said through a translator, because she is busy helping her nine children acclimate to life in the U.S. Gele, 34, and her children are living in a two-story house in Minneapolis as they begin new lives in safety, far away from their war-torn homeland of Somalia. Gele has found an advocate in Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis as she adjusts to a new country. The Catholic nonprofit organization has provided refugee resettlement services for people fleeing persecution and war since World War II. More than 20,700 refugees have resettled in Minnesota since 2007, according to the state's Department of Human Services. One of five organizations that works with the state agency in resettlement, Catholic Charities assists refugees for their first 90 days in the U.S. Gele said she received help with groceries, transportation and finding schools for her children, who range in age from 11 months to 17 years.

    No date yet for Blessed Romero canonization, archbishop says

    ROME (CNS) -- While documentation regarding an alleged miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero is being studied at the Vatican, there is no date scheduled for his canonization, the archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, said. "I must say, in all sincerity, that there is no date. And we understand it well because it involves a process. Blessed Romero's cause is at a decisive phase that is necessary for his canonization," Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said March 23 during a memorial Mass for Blessed Romero in Rome. Archbishop Escobar, along with the other bishops of El Salvador were making their "ad limina" visits to Rome and the Vatican and anticipated the 37th anniversary of Blessed Romero's death with Mass at Rome's Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Blessed Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a local hospital one day after calling on the government to end its violation of human rights against the population. During the nearly two hours Pope Francis spent with the bishops of El Salvador March 20, the pontiff expressed "his warmth and affection" for Blessed Romero, Archbishop Escobar told Catholic News Service after the Mass.

    Panel: After rescue, trafficking victims need help addressing trauma

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- It's not enough to rescue victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation -- they must be given supportive care to address their trauma, and tools to live economically independent lives free from abuse. That was the view of speakers at a March 22 U.N. panel that was co-sponsored by the Vatican's permanent observer mission to the United Nations. Representatives of religious, nonprofit and government agencies addressed "Economically Empowering Trafficking Survivors to Stay Permanently Off the Streets." Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world today, speakers said. Estimates vary of the number of people ensnared by human slavery, but most agree more than 20 million people worldwide are exploited as modern slaves. "This evil phenomenon of trafficking in persons is complex and has many ramifications," said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican's ambassador to the U.N. "One of the most hopeful developments in recent years," he continued, "has been the advent of an increasing number of individuals, organizations, governments and advocates at the international, national and local levels to fight against this atrocious scourge and crime against humanity and help those who have been victimized by it leave slavery and be rehabilitated patiently and compassionately toward true freedom."

    RCIA draws formerly homeless man to Christ; now he helps others find way

    UXBRIDGE, Mass. (CNS) -- After Todd Smith's mother died, he took care of other elders. After they died, he was left homeless. A piece of bread -- and the bread of life -- changed him. Smith, 55, tells this story of his life, with help from other St. Mary Church parishioners in Uxbridge. He and his father took care of his mother when she had cancer. She died in 2001 at age 65. "I lost three-quarters of myself," Smith recalled. "I loved my mother. I haven't found that type of love 'til now." Between then and now his life has been changed by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the Light of the World evangelization program of the Diocese of Worcester. Smith said that after his mother died, he became homeless. An elderly friend let him stay with her in exchange for taking care of her. He also took care of three other widows. After they died, he was homeless again. "I lived in a junkyard," Smith told The Catholic Free Press, the diocesan newspaper. "Then we get to the good stuff: I went to the food pantry."

    'Lots of tears' at chapel services, says priest serving Parliament

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The Catholic duty priest to the British Parliament said people were weeping at prayer services the day after the Westminster terror attack. The priest, Father Pat Browne, said he arrived at Parliament about two minutes after the March 22 attack and was sent home by police. He returned March 23 for three prayer services for those killed and injured when an assailant mowed down people on Westminster Bridge, crashed, and killed a police officer near Parliament before being killed March 22. Father Browne conducted the services in Parliament's Chapel of St. Mary's Undercroft with the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Speaker's chaplain and an Anglican. "There were lots of tears," Father Browne told Catholic News Service in a March 23 telephone interview. "There were a lot of staff there, members of Parliament, peers. People were very shaken. For some it was the first time they could sit down and reflect on what had happened. They didn't feel, until they got home last night, what had really happened. They are very shaken people."

    Democrats in Senate plan to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, moved into the March 23 testimony phase with those for and against his nomination taking the floor, the Democrats announced plans to filibuster his nomination. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, announced on the Senate floor he would oppose Gorsuch's nomination by joining other Democrats in a filibuster. This means Gorsuch will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate, and with only 52 Republicans, this would be unlikely. Schumer said that during the hearings Gorsuch was "unable to sufficiently convince me that he'd be an independent check" on the presidency. One way around the filibuster is if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, makes a rule change, allowing Gorsuch to be confirmed with 51 votes. A vote to confirm the judge for the high court is scheduled for April 3. The third day of confirmation hearings for Gorsuch March 22 continued along similar lines of questioning as the day before and failed to spark high drama. When asked again about his stance on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand, Gorsuch said he accepts the decision "as the law of the land."

    London cardinal calls for prayers for victims of Westminster attack

    LONDON (CNS) -- Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, whose cathedral is just a short walk from the scene of the London terrorist attack, called for prayers for the dead and wounded. "Yesterday's attacks in Westminster have shocked us all," he said in a March 23 statement. "The kind of violence we have seen all too often in other places has again brought horror and killing to this city." The five fatalities included Aysha Frade, a 43-year-old Catholic mother mowed down by a car driven by the assailant as he sped over Westminster Bridge toward the British Parliament. Frade was on her way to pick up her children from school when she was killed. After crashing the vehicle into railings, the British-born Muslim ran into New Palace Yard, near Parliament, where he fatally stabbed a police officer before he was killed by police. About 40 people were injured in the attack. "Pray for Aysha Frade, killed by the car on Westminster Bridge," Cardinal Nichols said, adding that her two children attended St. Mary of the Angels Primary School, a Catholic school in West London.

    With new website, Franciscans opt for their own 'hip-hop' style

    ROME (CNS) -- The head of the Franciscans hopes the order's new website will have a certain "hip-hop" style -- being very modern or "hip" and inspiring people to move, act or "hop." Franciscan Father Michael Perry, minister general of the order, said the March launch of the revamped website -- -- is just phase one of a comprehensive project that will include opportunities for the public to interact with the friars and for the friars to reflect formally on how, when and why they communicate. The Franciscans decided their website needed a radical redesign because "we discovered we were communicating only to ourselves and not to the world," Father Perry told Catholic News Service. "Reading the signs of the times" means not simply acknowledging a problem, but doing something about it, he said. So the friars engaged Longbeard Creative, a Canada-based digital design company, to help them move the website into the modern age and respond to the Franciscans' obligation to share the Gospel. "We see this as a continuity with what St. Francis and the early brothers did," he said. "Whenever they came across a need, when they saw a boundary, they decided they had to cross it, they had to respond," otherwise they would be "limiting the possibility of God's grace in their lives and the offer of God's love for the world."

    Top Vatican officials attend child protection seminar

    ROME (CNS) -- There is absolutely no excuse for not implementing concrete measures to protect minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse, said Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston. "Let there be no doubt about it: Pope Francis is thoroughly committed to rooting out the scourge of sex abuse in the church," he said, and "effectively making our church safe for all people demands our collaboration on all levels." The cardinal gave the opening prayer and address at a daylong seminar March 23 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University. The seminar was sponsored by the papal advisory body Cardinal O'Malley heads, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. A representative of every office of the Roman Curia attended, including: Cardinals Pietro Parolin, secretary of state; Kevin Farrell of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Joao Braz de Aviz of the Congregation for Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Marc Ouellet of the Congregation for Bishops; and Peter Turkson of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. Also in attendance were rectors of pontifical universities and colleges, and representatives from the Italian state police and the Vatican gendarmes.

    Pope recognizes miracle attributed to Fatima visionaries

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of two of the shepherd children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, thus paving the way for their canonization. Pope Francis signed the decree for the causes of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto during a meeting March 23 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the Vatican said. The recognition of the miracle makes it likely that the canonization ceremony for the two children will be scheduled soon. The cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation must vote to recommend their canonization and then the pope would convene the cardinals resident in Rome for a consistory to approve the sainthood. Many people are hoping Pope Francis will preside over the canonization ceremony during his visit to Fatima May 12-13. The pilgrimage will mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

    Hardened hearts can turn believers into atheists, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Not listening to God's voice can distance Christians from him and lead them instead to seek solace in worldly idols that offer only doubt and confusion, Pope Francis said. When Catholics are "deaf to the word of God," their hearts are hardened, and "they lose the meaning of faithfulness," the pope said March 23 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. The pope began his homily by reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Jeremiah in which God laments the unfaithfulness of his people who "walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me." The pope said: "Not listening to and turning our backs -- which hardens our heart -- takes us on that path of unfaithfulness." In the reading, "the Lord says: 'Faithfulness has disappeared,' and we become unfaithful Catholics, pagan Catholics and, even worse, atheist Catholics" without the necessary reference to the love of the living God, the pope said.

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  • Church leaders: Restoration on Jesus' tomb signals new cooperation

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Less than a year after restoration work began, the Edicule -- the traditional site of Jesus' burial and resurrection -- was inaugurated in an ecumenical ceremony led by representatives of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian churches, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The 200-year-old structure was rehabilitated for the first time after Israeli authorities deemed it unsafe and leaders from the three churches that share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher came to an agreement for the work to proceed. Some did not believe the churches could overcome their centuries-old disagreements, but the project was a sign that "with God, nothing is impossible," Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said at the March 22 ceremony. "This apparent mission impossible became possible because we allowed God to enlighten our thoughts and our eyes and our relations. Things do not change by themselves. If we are here for this celebration, it is because the different churches and leaders were able to hear the voice of God and understand and realize and accept that it was time to build new relations between us of trust and respect," he said.

    World faces pressing need to protect water, Vatican official tells U.N.

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- The right to clean water is a basic and pressing need for all people of the planet because without water "there is no life," said the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations. Addressing a U.N. meeting on water-related issues under the world body's sustainable development goals March 22, Archbishop Bernardito Auza called on all nations to recognize the responsibility to care for and share water because it is a life-sustaining resource. The archbishop's comments came as World Water Day was being observed. The day has been set aside by international agencies and governments to focus attention on the need for universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in developing countries. Events also focus on advocating for sustainable management of freshwater resources. WaterAid, a London-based international organization that helps communities access clean water and proper hygiene, said about 633 million people -- nearly 10 percent of the world's population -- cannot get the water they need. The group made the comments in a report released March 22. Archbishop Auza said there is an urgent need to protect and care for the earth, particularly its water supplies. "Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right and a condition for sustainable development," Archbishop Auza said. "Thus, it needs to be put front and center in public policy, in particular in programs to life people out of poverty."

    Nairobi Catholics deliver aid to citizens in drought areas

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Catholics in Nairobi delivered a convoy of aid to the dioceses of Isiolo and Marsabit, where thousands are facing a severe drought. The convoy, carrying 80 tons of food and supplies valued at nearly $78,000, included items donated by parishes in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, following an appeal by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops in February. The diocese also sent $16,500 in cash. Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo of Isiolo told Catholic News Service that the convoy was "a real Lent. It's going to save lives. e are now embarking on distributing the food in parishes," he added. "Some of the neediest areas are distant and the roads are poor." He said more relief would be needed because the drought was expected to continue. As the convoy left March 17, Nairobi Cardinal John Njue said the bishops had decided to mobilize for food aid because the drought had hit half of the counties in Kenya. "I extend my appeal to Christians and the people of goodwill to ... continue donating funds, food and nonfood items to save lives," he said.

    Texas history trots through town; trail riders visit Catholic school

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- Both Judy Fritsch and Father Benjamin Smaistrla were glad to see horses in the St. Ambrose Catholic Church parking lot. While the principal and her staff rounded up the 300 St. Ambrose Catholic School students to the safety of the grass surrounding the blacktop, Father Smaistrla was the first to see them. Led by flags and banners, the Sam Houston Trail Ride clopped down the road and made its annual stop at the northwest Houston parish, where Father Smaistrla is pastor. Students, prekindergarten to eighth grade, welcomed the wagons, horses and riders with hoots, hollers and howdies from the riders, many clad in their finest Western wear. They were bound for the world's largest livestock show and rodeo, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, held March 7-26 this year. The Sam Houston group is the second oldest trail ride to trek to the rodeo, having made the journey since 1955.

    U.S. Catholics asked 'to accompany' migrants, refugees seeking better life

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States." Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the reflection was issued "in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands," said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection," said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington. The 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation's bishops between their spring and fall general meetings. "To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear," it continued. "Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes."

    Famine, worsened by war, threatens South Sudanese, official says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Some 5 million people in South Sudan -- half of its total population -- are on the brink of starvation and a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished, a representative from the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services said. Famine has already gripped 100,000 people in Unity State and other parts of the nation, and if emergency food and aid don't get to people soon, "people will start starving to death or they will die of dehydration," Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, told Catholic News Service March 21. Farrell and other representatives from dioceses, CRS, Caritas and other Catholic aid and development agencies working in South Sudan were in Rome for a meeting March 21-22 hosted by Caritas Internationalis to discuss the worsening crisis in the country. Despite the ongoing civil war, if the security situation does not escalate, Pope Francis hopes to visit the ravaged nation sometime in October, Bishop Erkolano Tombe of Yei, South Sudan, told Reuters March 21. "We have been informed (by a Vatican official) that he will come in October, but we don't know the exact date yet," said the bishop, who was in Rome attending the Caritas Internationalis meeting. If the security situation "remains as it is now, he will come," he said.

    World needs those who can bring God's hope, consolation, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian hope is built on patiently enduring everything life brings and knowing how to see God's presence and love everywhere, Pope Francis said. God "never tires of loving us" as he "takes care of us, dressing our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy, meaning, he consoles us and he never tires of consoling us," the pope said during his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 22. The pope also invited all Catholics to "rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation" during the Lenten season by taking part in the "24 Hours for the Lord" initiative, being held March 23-24 in many dioceses and parishes worldwide. The pope asked people to make time for confession to "experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the father," who welcomes and forgives everyone. During his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of reflections on how the Apostle Paul describes the nature of Christian hope. In the apostle's Letter to the Romans (15:1-5), he said that it is "by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope."

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  • Bishop McRaith dies; served Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, for 26 years

    OWENSBORO, Ky. (CNS) -- Retired Bishop John J. McRaith of Owensboro, a strong advocate of the Catholic Church's rural life ministries, died March 19 at age 82. A native of Hutchinson, Minnesota, Bishop McRaith was ordained as the third bishop of Owensboro, located in western Kentucky, in 1982 and served the diocese for 26 years until he announced his retirement for health reasons in early 2009. Bishop McRaith was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 21, 1960, in the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. He served as a parish priest and chancellor and vicar general of the diocese before joining the National Catholic Rural Life Conference Jan. 1, 1972. He served as co-director until 1975 and then as executive director for three years until 1978. He believed the role of the organization, today called Catholic Rural Life, should be that of a "people changer" and not a "problem solver" and focused on bringing the Christian Gospel to rural communities. He took on the work of building the organization by encouraging diocesan rural life directors to be more active in the communities they served and increasing membership. The conference website said that during his years with the organization he urged people not to give up on the rural church and insisted that food, land and other natural resources must be understood and treated as gifts from a loving God to meet the needs of all.

    Chaput: Enforcement of immigration laws 'must be humane, proportional'

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Karol Diaz, a fifth-grader at Assumption B.V.M. School in West Grove, was among the youngest of those attending the Liturgy of the Word for justice for immigrants and refugees led by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput March 19 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. In very few words, Karol got to the heart of the matter. "I'm here for my parents. They are immigrants and they don't have papers," he said. This too was addressed by Philadelphia's archbishop in his homily when he spoke of the fear and anxiety in the immigrant community. "Parents are afraid of being separated from one another and their children," Archbishop Chaput said. "Children are afraid that when they come home from school their parents will be gone." The purpose of the liturgy, the archbishop said, was to gather as a church to pray and reflect on the immigration issue that is a source of great division and polarization in the United States today. "Since we are Christians we have a serious obligation, a vocation, to be concerned about justice, charity and mercy," he said.

    Eritrean Catholic bishop visits diaspora, says too many migrants perish

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Two weeks before arriving in Ohio on a nationwide pastoral visit, Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim of the Eparchy of Segheneity, Eritrea, got word that eight young people from his eparchy died trying to make their way to Europe in search of a better life. It's an all-too-common story, Bishop Tsalim told Horizons, newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, March 7. About 190 Eritreans died trying to cross into Europe in February alone, he said. The poor migrants usually make their way to Libya, where traffickers demand steep fees to herd them onto a raft that will set sail to southern Italy. Too often the shabby rafts sink in the Mediterranean Sea and the migrants perish. Bishop Tsalim, 46, was at St. John Chrysostom Parish in Columbus, Ohio, in early March visiting the Eritrean Catholic diaspora who have been worshipping with the Byzantine Catholic community since 2014. He is the first bishop of the Segheneity Eparchy, which was established in 2012. The bishop's U.S. visit was his second in five years to raise funds for pastoral projects, including the construction of a chancery and a bishop's residence. Plans to build a high school are on hold as the eparchy awaits a government permit to break ground, he said.

    Encyclical's influence on church's social action work continues

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Blessed Paul VI's encyclical "Populorum Progressio" ("The Progress of Peoples") institutionalized social action efforts in the U.S. Catholic Church that continue in one form or another today. Many dioceses nationwide that had not already established an office to address urban affairs or social action office did so in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their inspiration came from Blessed Paul, who announced in the encyclical of March 26, 1967 that the Vatican would have a Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Those dioceses and archdioceses that had an office that dealt with urban affairs -- Chicago and Hartford Connecticut being among them -- were responding to the war on poverty and the civil rights movement. But it was the encyclical, emerging from the Second Vatican Council, which moved bishops to approve social action initiatives that often were led by clergy, religious and lay advocates. Jeff Korgen, a consultant to Catholic social justice organizations, told Catholic News Service the urban ministries offices of the 1960s and 1970s emerged to address specific local needs. What was then the U.S. Catholic Conference responded within three months of the release of "Populorum Progressio" by establishing its own Office of World Justice and Peace. Today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continues the work in its Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

    Don't treat confessional like a dry cleaners, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The confessional is a place where one can go to humbly seek forgiveness; it is not a dry cleaners where one goes to remove the occasional stain, Pope Francis said. While forgiveness is "God's great work of mercy," Christians can take for granted the power of the sacrament of reconciliation and confess while being "unable to be ashamed" of their sins, the pope said March 21 in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "You did not go there ashamed of what you did. You saw some stains on your conscience and you were mistaken because you believed the confessional was a dry cleaners to remove stains," he said. Reflecting on the day's first reading from the prophet Daniel in which the people of Israel humbly beg God to pardon their sins, the pope said shame was "the first step" in seeking forgiveness. However, he noted, the Gospel reading from St. Matthew recounts Jesus' parable of the ungrateful servant who, although forgiven of a debt, refused to show the same mercy to another.

    Church experience more than just a cut-and-run flash mob, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young men and women can live a true experience of the church by joining together and reconnecting with the past, Pope Francis told Catholic young people. "The genuine experience of the church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways," the pope said in his message for World Youth Day 2017. The message, released March 21 at the Vatican, centered on a verse of the Magnificat: "The Mighty One has done great things for me." Pope Francis has chosen several verses that reflect on Mary's faith from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke as the themes for World Youth Day 2017-2019. This year and next, World Youth Day will be celebrated on a local level -- on Palm Sunday at the Vatican -- and in 2019 it will be an international gathering in Panama. The pope reminded young people that another event, the Synod of Bishops in 2018, will also help them to reflect on how they "live the experience of faith in the midst of the challenges of our time."

    At 50, 'Populorum Progressio' takes on new life through Pope Francis

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- These days when Pope Francis talks about integral human development and his vision of a church that goes to the margins of the world, he undoubtedly thanks a predecessor of 50 years ago for the inspiration. Blessed Paul VI addressed "the progressive development of peoples" as "an object of deep interest and concern to the church" in his encyclical "Populorum Progressio" ("The Progress of Peoples") that emerged in the years following the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has used language similar to that in the encyclical in his admonitions of the world economy and his vision for a more merciful world. Released March 26, 1967 -- perhaps purposefully on Easter -- Blessed Paul's encyclical rooted the Catholic Church in solidarity with the world's poorest nations. He called for the elimination of economic disparity and reminded people to recognize the common threads that unite humanity in a world with finite resources. "We are the heirs of earlier generations, and we reap benefits from the efforts of our contemporaries; we are under obligation to all men," Blessed Paul wrote in his only social encyclical. "Therefore, we cannot disregard the welfare of those who will come after us to increase the human family. The reality of human solidarity brings us not only benefits but also obligations."

    Catholic, indigenous ask Inter-American commission to protect land rights

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are calling for governments to protect the territorial rights of indigenous people suffering eviction from their lands and pollution of their water because of mining and oil operations in the Amazon basin. Testifying before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights here March 17, indigenous and church representatives from Ecuador, Peru and Brazil told of people being forced to leave their homes and communities pitted against each other because some support a mining company while others oppose it. Indigenous people suffer "abuse and exclusion from their ancestral territories" because the economy and development are "based on profit, with no attention to the possible negative consequences for human beings," Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, told the commissioners. Pope Francis has publicly defended indigenous people's right to be consulted about development projects that would affect their lands, but governments often skip the consultations and drag their feet on titling indigenous territories, said Mauricio Lopez, executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network. Archbishop Barreto is vice president of the network, which speaks out on social and environmental issues affecting indigenous people and other communities in the nine Amazonian countries.

    Northern Ireland political leader Martin McGuinness dies at 66

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- Martin McGuinness, 66, who went from being a paramilitary leader to laying the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland, died March 21. McGuinness was diagnosed with a rare heart condition in December and died in a hospital in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, surrounded by his family. The Londonderry in which McGuinness grew up was marked by deprivation and gerrymandering that ensured the majority Catholic community in the city was never able to exercise political influence. Discrimination in employment, housing and education was widespread. McGuinness was an early activist in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, formed in the late 1960s to work for equal rights for Catholics. However, he later joined the Irish Republican Army, which was leading an armed insurrection against British rule in Northern Ireland. The organization was classified as a terrorist group by the British and Irish governments and successive U.S. administrations. In 1973, McGuinness was imprisoned for six months for terrorism-related activates and later claimed he resigned from the IRA the following year. In the 1970s, he became a key figure in Sinn Fein, the political wing of Irish republicans opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland. He is credited with playing a key role in convincing the IRA to call a cease-fire in 1994 and embrace purely peaceful means. In the political talks that followed, he was named by Sinn Fein as the party's chief negotiator. Politicians said his military background in the IRA was instrumental in convincing militant republicans to keep faith in the peace process, even when they thought too many concessions were being made.

    In new book, archbishop describes how he believes America lost its way

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "We are passing through a revolution of sorts in America," says Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. Following such upheavals in the nation's moral life as the "normalization of pornography, premarital sex, divorce (and) transgenderism," the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage was "a symbolic overthrow of traditional Catholic sexual morality," he says. It was to help Catholics understand such changes, the archbishop says, that he wrote his new book, "Strangers in A Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World." "I was thinking about the confusion that exists in the lives of so many people, even ordinary, everyday Catholics who love the church and who love our country here in the United States, but at the same time have a sense that something is wrong and they really don't know what it's about," he told Catholic News Service during a phone interview March 17. For example, he said, "expressing concern about the change in the meaning of marriage is considered to be old-fashioned or retrogressive or bigoted and that leads people to be afraid to even talk about it."

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  • Justice Department to appeal decision blocking temporary travel ban

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Department of Justice issued a brief notice March 17 that it will appeal a Maryland federal judge's ruling that blocked President Donald Trump's new executive order on a temporary travel ban. An appeal of the March 16 decision by U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland sends the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia. A day before Chuang ruled, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu blocked the revised order, which called for stopping refugee resettlement programs for 120 days and banning citizens of six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The new order leaves out Iraq, which was in his first order. Both judges said the temporary ban, which was to have taken effect at midnight March 16, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says the government can pass no law that establishes religion or prohibits the free exercise of religion. If the Department of Justice had decided to appeal Watson's order, the case would have gone to the 9th Circuit, the court that upheld several lower court rulings that blocked Trump's first executive order.

    U.S. priest's home raided in Mexico

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- An American priest and prison chaplain in northern Mexico says his home, which doubles as a halfway house, was raided in the early hours of St. Patrick's Day as police came to arrest one of the three men who live with him. Father Robert Coogan, a New York native, also alleges that the police tried to plant drugs during the raid, part of a pattern of harassment against the former prisoners whom he helps transition from spending time behind bars to leading productive lives. "Since we opened the house, there has been harassment," said Father Coogan, who works in Saltillo, about 190 miles from the Texas border. He said if there is a problem in the neighborhood, people blame house residents. One longtime resident, Roger Zuniga -- whom Father Coogan considers "my right-hand man" -- was taken away at around 1 a.m. March 17 and subsequently put in prison, where he stayed for a little more than 24 hours. Local media have suggested the people raiding the home were organized crime members using weapons and uniforms similar to those of the state police, an explanation Father Coogan finds improbable. "It had to be the police that took Roger. How else did they put him in prison?" asked Father Coogan, who leads the prison ministry for the Diocese of Saltillo and runs the halfway house from his home in a neighborhood near the Saltillo prison.

    Advocates seek more on anniversary of ISIS genocide declaration

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Despite then-Secretary of State John Kerry's declaration one year ago that Islamic State's actions in Iraq and Syria amounted to genocide -- and unanimous votes in the House and Senate asking Kerry to declare genocide against minority Christian, Yezidi and Shiite Muslim groups in the region -- advocates at a first anniversary ceremony said they want more from the U.S. government than what's been done to date. While the genocide declaration is in itself rare, "there was more politics to the issue of genocide which I ever thought there could be," said Catholic University of America law professor Robert Destro at a March 16 event at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center sponsored by In Defense of Christians, an advocacy group for Middle East Christians. "The victims want their sufferings to be recognized," said Nadia Mourad, a Yezidi woman now living in Germany who had been kidnapped, raped and brutalized by Islamic State militants. Speaking through an interpreter, she added, "The genocide may happen for real if nothing is done." Mourad said, "A year has passed, and not a single ISIS fighter has been brought to justice." "Our work is not done," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, who co-sponsored the House version of the genocide bill with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska. "We can't take our foot off the pedal. We have to step on it."

    House bill's 'life protections' said laudable, other aspects 'troubling'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The inclusion of "critical life protections" in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits, are "troubling" and "must be addressed" before the measure is passed, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who is chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, sent a letter March 17 to House members. It was released March 20 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Regarding life protections in the bill, Bishop Dewane said: "By restricting funding which flows to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion -- including with current and future tax credits -- the legislation honors a key moral requirement for our nation's health care policy." Among the "very troubling features" of the bill are the Medicaid-related provisions, he said. Other aspects that must be addressed before the bill is passed include the absence of "any changes" from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services, Bishop Dewane said.

    Czech Cardinal Vlk, former window-washer, clandestine priest, dies

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who washed windows and ministered underground during communism, died of cancer March 18 in Prague at the age of 84. The retired archbishop of Prague was elected the first East European president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and dedicated his term to rebuilding the church and society after communism in the East and defending Christian values in the face of secularism and materialism in the West. In a telegram to Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague, Pope Francis recalled "with admiration" the late cardinal's "tenacious fidelity to Christ despite the privation and persecution against the church." The pope also praised his fruitful ministry, which was driven by a desire to share the joy of the Gospel with everyone and promote "an authentic ecclesial renewal" that was always faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Vatican releases pope's schedule for Fatima visit

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating the 100th anniversary of apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis will lead the evening recitation of rosary and celebrate Mass on the anniversary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima when he visits Portugal May 12-13. The pope will make the two-day pilgrimage to the site where Mary appeared to three shepherd children May 13, 1917. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church. During his visit, the pope also will meet with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and have lunch with the bishops of Portugal. Pope Francis will be the fourth pontiff to visit the Marian shrine, following in the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who each made visits on a May 13 to mark the anniversary of the first apparition.

    Pope apologizes for Catholics' participation in Rwanda genocide

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Pope Francis asked God's forgiveness for the failures of the Catholic Church during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and for the hatred and violence perpetrated by some priests and religious. "He implored anew God's forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church and its members, among whom priests and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission," said a Vatican statement released March 20 after the meeting of the pope and president. Some 800,000, and perhaps as many as 1 million people -- most of whom belonged to the Tutsi ethnic group -- died in the ferocious bloodshed carried out from April to July 1994. "In light of the recent Holy Year of Mercy and of the statement published by the Rwandan Bishops at its conclusion" in November, the Vatican said, "the pope also expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a 'purification of memory' and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center."

    Good Friday collection supports church in the Holy Land

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As Catholics commemorate Jesus' passion on Good Friday, the Vatican is asking them to support the church in the Holy Land with their prayers, financial contributions and possibly by making a pilgrimage. The global Holy Land Collection is taken up in most dioceses around the world on Good Friday, which is April 14 this year. The sites of Jesus' birth and of his death and resurrection have been undergoing restoration work and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land announced in late March that the Vatican had pledged a further $1 million for the second phases of projects at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The first phase of the work in Jerusalem, which repaired damage and reinforced the Edicule of the Tomb, believed to be where Jesus was laid to rest after his crucifixion, was to be inaugurated March 22 during an ecumenical prayer service. The hoped-for second phase of the project would seek to resolve problems due to moisture under the floor around the Edicule. Work cannot begin, however, until details of the project are agreed upon by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox communities that share responsibility for the church.

    St. Joseph was a dreamer of quiet strength, pope says at morning Mass

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church and Jesus' earthly father, was a "dreamer capable of accepting the task" entrusted to him by God, Pope Francis said. "This man takes God's promise and brings it forward in silence with strength; he brings it forward so that whatever God wants is fulfilled," the pope said March 20 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. Because the March 19 feast of St. Joseph fell on a Sunday this year, the liturgical commemoration of the feast was moved to March 20. St. Joseph, the pope said in his homily, provides an example needed "in this time where there is a strong sense of orphanhood." By marrying Mary, Joseph ensures that Jesus is born of the House of David and provides him with an earthly father and with a stable family. The biblical St. Joseph is "a man who doesn't speak but obeys, a man of tenderness, a man capable of fulfilling his promises so that they become solid, secure," he said.

    Amid warm relations, pope to visit Egypt

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Accepting an invitation from Egypt's president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29. In response to an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, "Pope Francis will make an apostolic trip to the Arab Republic of Egypt," the Vatican announced March 18. While saying details of the trip would be published soon, the announcement said the two-day trip would be focused on Cairo, the capital city. It will be the pope's 18th trip abroad in his four years as pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second pope to visit Egypt after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000. The invitation came amid increasingly closer relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar, which is considered the most authoritative theological-academic institution of Sunni Islam. El-Tayeb visited the pope at the Vatican in May 2016 -- the first time the grand imam of al-Azhar was received by the pope in a private meeting at the Vatican.

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  • In new audio drama, St. Patrick 'comes alive brilliantly,' says actor

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- St. Patrick "comes alive brilliantly" in a just-released eight-part audio drama from Augustine Institute Radio Theatre, said the British actor who is the voice of the elder Patrick in the series. St. Patrick was "a man who endures the most incredible suffering, endures slavery, and his faith -- which is perhaps marginal at the beginning -- grows and endures and then compels him to return not just to the land but to the man who enslaved him," John Rhys-Davies told Catholic News Service in a March 16 telephone interview. "The Trials of Saint Patrick" drama debuted March 17, St. Patrick's Day. It is available at Rhys-Davies leads an all-star cast, which includes Sean O'Meallaigh, who plays the younger Patrick. Rhys-Davies is best known for his roles in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. O'Meallaigh is known for his appearances in Irish television and has starred as Prudentius the monk in "Vikings," now in its fourth season on the History Channel. The audio drama is based on the history and writings of St. Patrick himself. He grew up a privileged youth in Britain. In A.D. 401 he was kidnapped and enslaved in Celtic Ireland. In six years as an ill-fed shepherd, he took solace in talking to God.

    Speaker: Taking Gospel to public square not always easy but necessary

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- The chairwoman of Black Catholics United for Life told a conference room of more than 1,000 Minnesota Catholics that they serve a mighty God and are willing to "speak the Gospel truth in the public square," even if they were fearful. "I am willing, and you are, too, and God knows that. And because you are willing, he has qualified you. As they say, 'God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called,' and that is you," said Gloria Purvis, who is the co-host of "Morning Glory" on EWTN Radio. Catholics from Minnesota's six dioceses gathered in downtown St. Paul March 9 for Catholics at the Capitol. They started the day with Mass and heard from Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, at the inaugural event of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, based in St. Paul. Purvis rallied the full conference room after they received their marching orders for meeting with legislators at the Capitol from Minnesota's bishops and Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. Despite a late night after speaking at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul March 8, and not having a restful sleep at the hotel, Purvis told the crowd, "I ain't no ways tired, and neither are you." The phrase served as motivation throughout the day of education and advocacy.

    Slain Jesuit inspires another Salvadoran archbishop and an ode to martyrs

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande has been credited with inspiring Blessed Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, toward a journey of defending the poor that led to his martyrdom in 1980. But now, Father Grande's life seems to have inspired the current archbishop of San Salvador, who issued a pastoral letter remembering, praising and apologizing for the long-overdue recognition of Catholics, including U.S. church members, who suffered persecution and death during Central America's armed conflicts. "In my capacity as pastor of this church, I have to acknowledge with humility that we have committed many mistakes," Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said in the letter issued March 12, the 40th anniversary of Father Grande's killing. "We have crossed the threshold of the third millennium in the Salvadoran archdiocese without having pronounced a word of recognition for all the men and women who were victims of persecution, torture, repression" and who ultimately died as martyrs, he said. The archbishop unveiled the letter in the hamlet of El Paisnal, the hometown of Father Grande, a vocal priest who worked with poor rural communities in El Salvador and advocated for better social conditions for them. He died in 1977 after being shot more than a dozen times in an ambush that also resulted in the death of two of his rural parishioners, Manuel Solorzano, a man in his 70s, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, a teenager of 15 or 16, who were accompanying him to a novena honoring St. Joseph, the patron saint of their hometown. Some say his death led Archbishop Romero, who was a close friend, to take up Father Grande's devotion to the poor.

    High-tech robotic device allows ailing student to stay connected to class

    EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CNS) -- The school and parish community of St. Bartholomew in East Brunswick recently tested the saying, "ask and you shall receive." In January, they rallied together to raise more than $8,000 to buy a VGo Robot to enable Tyler Knurek, a seventh-grader with Hodgkin's lymphoma, to connect virtually with his class and interact in real time while he remains at home for medical treatment. Ann Wierzbicki, principal of St. Bartholomew School, said Tyler's mother, Jackie, contacted her in January to ask whether the school could rent or buy the VGo Robot for him to use while he was out for the remainder of the school year. Jackie Knurek had learned about the robotic technology from a television news segment. After some research and a meeting with the school's information technology consultant, Wierzbicki said they created a plan to raise the money to buy the robot, which costs about $4,000 for a school. "It was an extremely successful campaign," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. "We came up with more than enough money in less than two weeks."

    Pope presides over Lenten penance service at Vatican

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A few hours after urging priests to be generously available for the sacrament of penance, Pope Francis went to confession, then offered the sacrament to seven Catholics. Presiding over the annual Lenten penance service March 17 in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis was one of 95 priests and bishops listening to confessions and granting absolution. After the reading of a Gospel passage, the pope did not give a homily. Instead, he and the thousands of people gathered in the basilica prayed in absolute silence for 10 minutes. Pope Francis spent about four minutes kneeling before a priest in one of the wooden confessionals before he walked to one nearby, put on a purple stole and waited for the first penitent to approach. As people were preparing, confessing and praying, the Sistine Chapel Choir alternated with the organist and a harpist in ensuring an atmosphere of peace. The pope spent 50 minutes administering the sacrament before leading the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving for the experience of the "goodness and sweetness of God's love for us."

    Gypsy woman left to die after childbirth among 115 Spanish martyrs

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- A 23-year-old illiterate basket-maker who died in prison after giving birth to a child will be the first Gypsy woman beatified by the Catholic Church. She will be among 115 martyrs from the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War beatified at a March 25 Mass in Spain's Almeria Diocese. In July 1938, despite being pregnant, Emilia Fernandez Rodriguez was given a six-year jail sentence for trying to shield her husband, Juan Cortes, from recruitment by Republican paramilitaries after they occupied Tijola and closed its church. An illiterate Roma, she was taught prayers by a fellow-inmate and sent to an isolation cell in Almeria's Gachas Coloras prison without proper food after refusing to betray her catechist during interrogation. She was left to die, alone and unattended, after giving birth to a daughter, who was taken away by the prison directors after being secretly baptized by other prisoners. The martyrs include 95 priests and 20 laity, all of whom died between July 1936 and January 1939.

    Bagpipes, drums more than St. Patrick's Day music for the McPhees

    JACKSON, Ga. (CNS) -- As a kid, Richard McPhee played the clarinet. But when his firefighter father asked for "Amazing Grace" at his funeral with the skirl of the pipes, McPhee pledged to his father, he'd take care of it. Now the family does not take a trip without the bagpipes. From national parks and Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the pipes have made an appearance. During a recent morning at their parish church, St. Mary, Mother of God in Jackson, the boom of the drum and the pipes could be heard from the parking lot. It was Missy McPhee swinging the mallets with a flourish, keeping the beat to Rich's pipes for "Scotland the Brave." This was a rare unscheduled morning for the McPhees, especially in March. The couple has plenty of performances on and before St. Patrick's Day -- in Atlanta and outside the city. The McPhees are members of the Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums USA. The band performed in Atlanta's St. Patrick's Day Parade, held March 11. The day before Richard played at the annual tribute to Civil War pastor Father Thomas O'Reilly at Atlanta City Hall.

    Canadian pastors experience pastoral pope on 'ad limina' pilgrimage

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sitting in a circle with nine other bishops, discussing with Pope Francis the joys and challenges of ministry, Bishop Claude Champagne of Edmundston, New Brunswick, said, "I recognized the one who wrote 'The Joy of the Gospel.' It was the same guy." The 10 bishops of Canada's Atlantic region made their "ad limina" visits and pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican March 13-18. They spent 90 minutes as a group with Pope Francis March 16. Bishop Champagne said Pope Francis' 2013 exhortation on joy in proclaiming the Gospel was a "very pastoral" document and spending time with him "we recognized again the man with that pastoral experience." "He was quite interested in what we had to say and he was quite willing to share with us his experiences as a bishop. It was very much like being with an older brother," Bishop Peter J. Hundt of Corner Brook and Labrador, Newfoundland, told Catholic News Service March 17. "At about the hour point," the bishop said, "some of us were looking at our watches and he said, 'Do you need to go?' And we said, 'No, but we thought you did.' And he said, 'Oh, there's no hurry. I have time.'"

    Trump vows to keep fighting for travel ban blocked again by courts

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- President Donald Trump, during a campaign rally in Nashville, vowed to fight the latest court ruling blocking his executive order temporarily suspending immigration from six Muslim-majority countries and refugee resettlement all the way to the Supreme Court. "We're going to fight this terrible ruling," the president told a crowd of cheering supporters in Nashville's Municipal Auditorium March 15. "The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear." Before the rally, the president visited the Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson, and laid a wreath at his grave in honor of the 250th anniversary of the seventh president's birthday. Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii issued a temporary restraining order against Trump's travel ban. In his order, the judge ruled that the government had not proved that the ban was needed to protect the country from terrorists trying to infiltrate the country through legal immigration or the refugee program. The travel ban would have barred citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria from entering the U.S. for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. It was the Trump administration's second attempt at implementing a travel ban. After the first order was blocked by a judge, Trump issued a new order that eliminated Iraq from the list of countries.

    Abortion, assisted suicide 'always wrong,' bishops tell Catholic lawmakers

    SANTA FE, N.M. (CNS) -- Comments made by Catholic legislators in New Mexico in support of abortion and physician-assisted suicide "do not represent" church teaching and "may be confusing to the Catholic faithful," said the state's Catholic bishops. "It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official church teaching," the bishops said in a statement. "This misrepresents church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful. Furthermore, this action publicly separates a person from communion with the Catholic faith. We the bishops of the state of New Mexico speak for the Catholic Church," they said. "We work to uphold the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death through our pastoral ministries and through our legislative advocacy via the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops." The bishops said they "encourage individuals to live and proclaim their faith. However, they must be steadfast in stating they speak for themselves and do not speak for the Catholic Church." The March 6 statement was signed by Archbishop John C. Wester and retired Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe; Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces; and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup. It was issued by the state Catholic conference, the bishops' public policy arm.

    In notorious Santiago community, church works to give people options

    SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- The residents of La Legua, Santiago's most notorious community, are never sure when the gunfights will begin. Resident Maria Escalona Devia said as a result, people live in fear. "The battles are between the rival drug gangs that run the area," she told Catholic News Service. "A fight will start over turf wars, or even if a drug dealer doesn't like the way someone looks at him. They aren't out to shoot us, but if a stray bullet gets in the way, then you can die." Catholic leaders of the Archdiocese of Santiago are trying to change that. Escalona works at Centro Vida Nueva, a local church-run health center. It has dentists, psychologists and free medicine, and about 600 people visit each year. "Stress and depression are the biggest problems here. Often people just want to be hugged and listened to," said Escalona. When the Chilean bishops visited Pope Francis for their "ad limina" visits in late February, Auxiliary Bishop Pedro Ossandon Buljevic of Santiago asked the pope to send a message to the local priests. So Bishop Ossandon recorded a video on his phone, a message from Pope Francis urging the priests to carry on with their fight against drugs and to help the children living in those neighborhoods.

    Make confession more available, God's heart is always open, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hear confession every time someone asks, Pope Francis said, and don't ever put limited hours on the sacrament of reconciliation. "Please, let there never be those signs that say, 'Confessions: Mondays and Wednesdays from this time to that time,'" he told hundreds of confessors and other participants attending an annual course sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the absolution of sin. "Hear confession every time someone asks you. And if you are sitting there, praying, leave the confessional open because God's heart is open," he said March 17. Confession "is a pastoral priority," and is a daily call to head to the "peripheries of evil and sin, and this is an ugly periphery," he said. "I'll confess," he told his audience, that the Apostolic Penitentiary "is the tribunal that I really like because it is a 'tribunal of mercy,' where one goes to get that indispensable medicine for our souls, which is divine mercy."

    Indian bishops set up online system to register migrants

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- The Indian bishops' labor office has created an online system to register migrant workers, promote safe migration and help them in emergencies, reported Cardinal Baselios Thottunkal, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, launched the web-based migrant data management system in New Delhi March 15. He said it would pave the way to protect migrants who leave rural areas for cities in search of jobs. "It will help enhance connectivity between villages and cities where migrant workers are based. It will also provide them with information from the government and the church," he said. Workers can register at 78 facilitation centers in Catholic dioceses across the country, where they can update their contact details, place of origin and where they work. Apart from registration, the system also is designed to provide pastoral care, welfare services and counseling to the workers, reported.

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