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  • Sustainable land use urged to ease growing threats to food, water

    IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Franciscan Friars Conventual

    By Dennis Sadowski

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Leading five seminarians on an eight-week summer service program largely through Appalachia and South America, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lasky saw a new awareness rising in the young men's minds.

    It started by talking with visitors to the Shepherd's Table meal program at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, outside of the eastern town of Shamokin, and learning about people's sense of place in the once-burgeoning coal mining region.

    From there, they moved on to planting trees in Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky in an effort to reclaim a mountaintop stripped bare by coal mining. They learned, too, that the forests were shrinking because of the mining, leaving fewer nesting areas for the migrating Cerulean warblers from Colombia.

    The connection deepened during a hike in an old-growth forest in Colombia, one of the warbler's wintering homes. By the end, Father Lasky saw how the young friars began to better see their connection as part of God's creation.

    The venture -- including time in El Salvador and New Mexico -- was designed to help the seminarians become "lesser before God" and to listen the stories of the people, seeing connections across land and community.

    "I want them as a minister when they're done with the seminary training to look beyond the collar and see themselves as a member of the community in a holistic sense ... that they are interwoven in all of this," said Father Lasky, director of Justice, Peace and Care for Creation Ministry for his order's Our Lady of Angels Province based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

    It's that sense of interconnectedness that all people are called to understand and live that underlies the recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global land usage, in Father Lasky's view.

    In its report, the IPCC -- the United Nations body assessing the science related to climate change -- examined the growing human impact on land and how climate change compounds the stresses placed on land around the world: degradation, soil depletion, flooding and water shortages.

    The report determined that only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources -- including land use and food production -- can global warming be kept well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the target set in the 2015 Paris climate accord to avoid catastrophic effects on the environment.

    Scientific studies have found that global temperatures are about 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than 100 years ago and suggest that the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture and other human activities are the primary sources of global warming.

    "There are some huge challenges here. The report says we have to undertake fairly quickly a massive rethinking about how we use our land globally," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.

    Father Lasky and others told Catholic News Service the need for sustainable land use practices is crucial, especially in an era when land is viewed primarily as a commodity without regard to the needs of local communities or the future of the planet.

    Agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, working with national governments and nongovernmental organizations, have helped small farmers implement sustainable practices that involve water management, conservation of natural resources, companion planting of crops and trees and reducing fertilizer usage, said Olaf Westermann, senior technical adviser on climate change at CRS.

    "Our main approach is improving natural resource management because that is what poor people depend on mostly," he said.

    Although thousands of small farmers have seen their crop yields increase through sustainable practices, problems persist because of the widespread desire to exploit land for economic gain, said Michael Schuck, associate professor of theology and co-director of the International Jesuit Ecology Project at Loyola University Chicago.

    "The number one environmental crisis going on, now of all, where the most environmental activism is taking place worldwide, is not with respect to climate change, but the question of land grabbing," Schuck told Catholic News Service.

    Among others, he cited areas of Honduras and Guatemala where forests are being bulldozed and replaced with tracts of palm trees to meet the growing worldwide demand for palm oil.

    "We have a production system that doesn't respect land as a living breathing entity," he said. "It has commodified it."

    Schuck and others said they do not outright oppose profit-making, but rather they echo the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," to recognize that the long-term future of Earth is at stake unless practices related to high consumption and natural resource exploitation change.

    The IPCC report said much the same, projecting that food production will suffer if unsustainable land use persists.

    Indigenous lands have become increasingly sought for development, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples.

    "No one knows the conflicts between food, fuel and forests better than indigenous people and local communities. Indigenous and local people continue to face murder and criminalization when we face agro-industry, mining, logging and infrastructure projects that threaten our forests, our lives and the animals and plants we protect," she said during a news conference Aug. 8 at which the report was released.

    Nowhere is such land conflict better exemplified than in the Amazon forest of Brazil. A recent announcement by President Jair Bolsonaro's administration declared that Brazil will open indigenous lands -- primarily in the Amazon region, where 60% of the country's indigenous people live -- to mineral exploration.

    The number of recent requests for research and mining has generated concern among indigenous peoples, environmentalists and human rights advocates who defend the territories of indigenous peoples.

    Sonia Guajajara of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Articulation, representing about 300 indigenous groups, has criticized the model of large-scale agricultural production.

    "Our mission is to defend Mother Earth, to defend nature," she said. "When we do this, we not only benefit the indigenous people, but we benefit everyone. They want to make them believe that indigenous people no longer need land."

    Further, German climatologist Hans-Otto Portner, vice chairman of an IPCC working group, said in early August that the new Brazilian policies represent the opposite of what the IPCC report recommends.

    In Africa, Father Charles Odira, of the Kenyan bishops' conference, chairs the Kenya Interfaith Network of Action on the Environment. He told CNS climate change is disturbing the normal planting schedule for local farmers. Rains that once fell in February now have shifted by as much as a few weeks, he said.

    In addition, the unpredictability of water access causes some herding communities to expand where their herds of cattle graze, leading to confrontations over the land, he said.

    But there are successes. Father Odira recalled meeting one man during a pastoral visit in the territory covered by his parish in the Diocese of Homa Bay who managed to boost millet and corn yields significantly. Asking how, Father Odira learned that the man had implemented new practices on his arid land and he asked the farmer to share those practices with others.

    "From the church's perspective, it's better," he explained. "You can reach more families. And with the church involved, people trust it more."

    Schuck told CNS that kind of understanding and cooperation is needed on a broad scale and that it must begin immediately.

    "There's a reason for hope, but the timing is so critical," he said. "Do we have the time needed to slow us down before the precipice?"

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    Contributing to this story was Lise Alves in Sao Paulo.

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    Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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

CNS News Briefs

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  • 'So many funerals,' says El Paso priest who comforted grieving kin

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Fabian Marquez was the right priest at a very wrong time. He was among several priests in El Paso, Texas, summoned to help out where they could in the hours following the brazen Aug. 3 assault at a Walmart store in the Texas border town that left 22 dead and dozens of others wounded. Father Marquez's role was to go to an elementary school in the city that had been set up as a "reunification center" for the loved ones of those who might have been in harm's way during the massacre. And as for how many "hours following" the rampage? Father Marquez, by his own count, was there for 48 hours. It fell upon him to console family after family when police told them that a spouse, child or parent was among the dead. As a result, Father Marquez has celebrated many funeral Masses, even of Catholics who were not members of his church, El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) just outside El Paso in Sparks, Texas, where he has served as pastor for the past four years. When reached by Catholic News Service Aug. 16, he was hours away from presiding at the funeral Mass of Andre Anchondo. He and his wife, Jordan, were killed -- allegedly by Patrick Crucius, according to police -- as they were shielding their infant son, Paul, just 2 months of age, from the hail of gunfire.

    Update: Yearlong 'window' in New York statute of limitations on abuse suits opens

    ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- New York state's yearlong "window" in the statute of limitations opened Aug. 14, allowing suits to be filed by victims alleging abuse by priests, church workers and employees of public schools, hospitals and other institutions no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan in a video message on Twitter noted that the day was also the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp in Poland to spare the life of a young father. The saint, the cardinal said, is revered for his bravery but also for something else: "He kept his faith and hope and love in a very dark time. Today I don't mind admitting to you this is a dark time in the life of the church," Cardinal Dolan said. "You've probably been hearing that this is the first day of the opening of the statute of limitations, so we're going to hear a lot today about people bringing suit against the Catholic Church and other organizations, public schools, government organizations, Boy Scouts and hospitals ... you name it ... for past sexual abuse." Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law Feb. 14, opening this window in the state's statute of limitations and making it easier for abuse victim-survivors to sue over the next year. The state's Catholic bishops supported the final measure because it was drafted to include both private and public institutions. Earlier versions only targeted the Catholic Church.

    Update: Planned Parenthood says it expects to withdraw from Title X

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Attorneys for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an Aug. 14 letter that the organization would have to withdraw from the federal Title X program by the close of business Aug. 19 "absent emergency judicial relief." The appeals court is hearing a legal challenge to the Trump administration's "Protect Life Rule" to bar Title X funds from being used for promoting or providing abortion as family planning. On July 11, the court in a 7-4 decision said that even as court cases challenging it proceed, the rule can take effect. An emergency stay had been sought by some abortion rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood, and by 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Planned Parenthood has called the Trump "Protect Life Rule" a "gag order" on its operations that must be lifted. Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said in an Aug. 15 statement it was "no surprise Planned Parenthood is withdrawing from Title X." She said the organization knows this decision "will feed its reality distortion field that, despite being one of the most generously tax-funded nonprofits in America, it is somehow being attacked simply because the Department of Health and Human Services wishes to respect congressional intent. And Congress was clear: Title X was never meant to fund abortions. The law is clear."

    Retired Albany Bishop Hubbard says he has 'never sexually abused anyone'

    ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany said in a statement Aug. 16 he "never sexually abused anyone" and is taking a voluntary leave of absence from the Diocese of Albany to deal with the allegations. The Evangelist, Albany's diocesan newspaper, reported that a lawsuit filed Aug. 14 accuses Bishop Hubbard of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old in the late 1990s. The suit was filed the day New York state's Child Victims Act went into effect. The new law opens a yearlong "window" in the statute of limitations, allowing suits to be filed by victims alleging abuse by priests, church workers and employees of public schools, hospitals and other institutions no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. "When I retired as bishop of the Diocese of Albany five years ago, I put my name on the list of retired priests who help out as needed in our parishes," said Bishop Hubbard, who headed the diocese for 37 years. "For the last five years, I have had the privilege of celebrating Mass and presiding at weddings, baptisms, confirmations, graduations and funerals at parishes in every corner of our diocese. This opportunity for continued service to our people has been a spiritual joy for me," he said in a statement. "Earlier this week, I was publicly accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a minor in the 1990s. With full and complete confidence, I can say this allegation is false. I have never sexually abused anyone in my life. I have trust in the canonical and civil legal processes and believe my name will be cleared in due course."

    Gomez: With El Paso shootings, 'a line has been crossed in our nation'

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Since the mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio in late July and early August, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said he has been praying and reflecting on the tragedies but noted El Paso "hit me in a personal way. My family is Mexican and American, and we trace our roots back to the early 1800s in what is now Texas," he said. "I lived much of my adult life there, including my five years as archbishop of San Antonio. But El Paso is more than personal," he added. "With El Paso, a line has been crossed in our nation." Archbishop Gomez made the comments in an Aug. 13 column in Angelus News, the online media outlet of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. "In recent years, we have seen the evil of African Americans being targeted in racist terror attacks, notably with the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015," he said. "With El Paso, for the first time, a massacre has been carried out in the name of stopping Mexican migration." The shooter's rampage at a Walmart in an El Paso shopping center Aug. 3 left 22 people dead and another 26 injured. He reportedly posted a manifesto on a site called 8chan some minutes before his shooting rampage in which he described wanting to end "a Hispanic invasion" in Texas.

    Christians in northeast Syria appeal for prayer for safety

    AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- Groups representing Christians in northeast Syria are appealing for prayer, fearful that Turkey plans to make good its numerous threats to invade the region with its military forces. Since November 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to launch a large military operation east of the Euphrates River to "clear Kurdish terrorists" from the area. Syriac Christians view it as a pretext to enter more of Syria in a bid to change the northeast's demographic of Kurds and Christians, just as Turkey did in Afrin, Syria, in March 2018. The Christians' appeal was issued by the Syriac National Council of Syria, the Syriac Union Party, and the American Syriac Union. It was made available to Catholic News Service Aug. 15. Turkey has "massed its army and allied jihadists along the border. Even though the U.S. and French armies are present in northeast Syria, we know that Turkey will attack and destroy us," the three Syriac Christian groups said. They are appealing to U.S. leaders to intervene on their behalf to aid the 100,000 Christians in the region who they say are at risk. They warned that Turkey and its jihadist allies, including fighters from al-Qaida and Islamic State, could carry out "a massacre just as they did in Afrin (northwest Syria) in 2018, when the churches of Afrin were burned and the Christians and Yazidis there were hunted down. In northeast Syria, it would be much worse and destroy many more people."

    Jury finds Washington priest guilty on four counts of child sexual abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Capuchin Franciscan priest was found guilty Aug. 15 of four counts of child sexual abuse stemming from when he served as a parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington. Father Urbano Vazquez, who served at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart from 2014 until his November 2018 arrest, was found guilty in D.C. Superior Court on three felony counts of second-degree child sexual assault with aggravating circumstances, and on one misdemeanor count of sexual abuse of a child. The verdicts came after an eight-day trial and two days of jury deliberation. Father Vazquez, 46, will be sentenced in November and faces a maximum sentence of up to 45 years in prison. "The archdiocese respects the decision of the jury's finding that Father Vazquez is guilty of the charges brought against him and will continue to support the legal system through the sentencing process and any subsequent proceedings," the Archdiocese of Washington said in an Aug. 15 statement after the verdicts were announced. "Father Vazquez will have no authority to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington." Father Vazquez was arrested last November on charges of second-degree sexual child abuse, and was arrested again in December and charged with abusing two others, including a minor. Also in December, D.C. Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna ordered Father Vazquez to remain in jail until his trial.

    Illinois bishop decries 'crisis of gun violence,' asks for solutions

    BELLEVILLE, Ill. (CNS) -- Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville decried "a crisis of gun violence" in the United States and asked Catholics in his diocese to come together to suggest ways to stop it. "The crisis is caused, in part, by a small number of gun owners who abuse the firearms that are readily available to them and by the lack of consensus on the part of the American people and their elected representatives," Bishop Braxton said in his message, issued Aug. 6, days after the previous weekend's mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded. Bishop Braxton said that, in the past, he has asked Catholics in his diocese for prayers for the victims, the survivors, those grieving and for elected officials after noted mass shootings, but "in recent months, I have not written to you because these heartbreaking assaults on the value and dignity of every human life have been happening so frequently that it has not been possible to keep up." In his reflection, "A National Crisis: A Pastoral Reflection on the Deadly Epidemic of Gun Violence in the United States," he added: "According to published statistics, there have been 255 mass shootings -- four or more victims -- in this country already this year. One hundred people a day and 36,500 people a year die from gun violence." Bishop Braxton said, "Like you, I am deeply distressed by the erosion of fundamental moral principles."

    Ukrainian archbishop rules out 'appeasement' as fighting flares again

    KYIV, Ukraine (CNS) -- As fighting intensified in eastern Ukraine, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church warned against "appeasing the aggressor" in the five-year war against Russian-backed separatists. "However hard we try to heal the wounds of war, it will have no definitive effect until the aggressor stops inflicting these wounds," said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych. "Peace cannot mean capitulation and submission -- this would be an imitation peace with consequences worse than war itself. ... It would just be a change in how people are wounded." The archbishop spoke to Ukraine's news agency Aug. 14 as international monitors reported new deployments and shelling by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine, including around the besieged port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. He said conflict over the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics" had "cut a live scar" through his church, leaving 11 parishes under separatist control and the region's bishop unable to return for the past five years. A further five Catholic parishes in Crimea, forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014, were now functioning under "personal care" of the Vatican, Archbishop Shevchuk said.

    Massachusetts senior care community joins Carmelite health care network

    GERMANTOWN, N.Y. (CNS) -- A leading senior care and wellness community in Massachusetts has become a member of the Carmelite System, a Catholic not-for-profit health network sponsored by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The D'Youville Life & Wellness Community of Lowell, Massachusetts, is the newest member of the system, which has its headquarters in Germantown. The community "will continue to advance its mission of compassionate senior care while maintaining a strong local presence in Massachusetts, said an Aug. 13 news release. The agreement follows a request by D'Youville's founder and current Catholic sponsor, the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa, that the community form a new association with another Catholic elder care entity because the Sisters of Charity have experienced "a decline of numbers over time," it said. Facilities in the Carmelite System currently serve communities in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Ireland. "Each facility is dedicated to the mission and core values of the Carmelite System and its sponsor, the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm," according to the system's mission statement.

    Cardinal Bo: Myanmar is 'a bleeding nation,' people must seek justice

    YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) -- Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said the hopes that came with democracy have not been realized and, instead, the country is wounded and bleeding. In a 7,000-plus word statement, released on the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15, the cardinal expressed deep concerns about the challenges faced by Myanmar's people, reported "Seven years ago, we saw what we thought was the beginning of a new dawn," Cardinal Bo said. "As political prisoners were released, cease-fires were signed, space for civil society and the media relaxed, and a dialogue between political leaders led to the first credible elections in a quarter of a century and the election of a democratic, civilian-led government in 2015. "But in recent years, very dark clouds have appeared again, overshadowing the flickers of light that had begun to emerge. Continuing conflict, continuing abuses, and the spread of religious and racial hatred threaten the hopes, freedoms, and dignity of people throughout the country." The cardinal -- who interspersed his statement with quotes from church documents, previous popes and even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- added that the country faced growing threats to religious freedom as preachers of hatred incited discrimination and violence, while unjust laws and regulations imposed restrictions on religious freedom for minorities. Identity politics had also mixed race, religion and politics into a dangerous cocktail of hate and intolerance.

    Degree program delves into Catholic thought, perspective on human rights

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- This fall, five graduate students will embark on a unique, one-year journey back to the origins of thought on human nature. They will study natural law and natural rights, anthropology, international law, religious liberty, global politics and papal encyclicals, emerging from the program with a fully formed, Catholic understanding of human rights and a zeal to defend and explain these rights. The Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America is offering this master of arts degree in human rights for the first time in the fall of 2019. The program, headed and organized by William Saunders, lawyer and longtime human rights scholar and activist, is interdisciplinary, drawing classes from five of Catholic University's schools. "Now is the time for this, because we need people who can help us think clearly about human rights to be part of this conversation," Saunders told Catholic News Service. "Any ordinary person on the street would be in favor of human rights, but if you ask, 'What are human rights?' they don't know." According to Saunders, the master's program will provide students with a holistic understanding of the underlying philosophy that governing the accepted lists of human rights, and explaining their purpose.

    Vatican official: Church must be prudent judging Medjugorje apparitions

    KNOCK, Ireland (CNS) -- Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a place of prayer, conversion and pilgrimage for millions of people, but the church must be prudent and not rush to any judgment on the alleged Marian apparitions there, said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. Speaking to Catholic News Service at Knock Shrine in County Mayo Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, Archbishop Fisichella spoke of attending the first officially approved church festival at Medjugorje in early August. "I confess the experience was very beautiful, seeing about 70,000 young people praying and living together and listening to catechesis," he told CNS, describing it as a mini-World Youth Day. The presence of so many young people there was, he suggested, "one of the fruits" of the pastoral efforts of Medjugorje. Visionaries claim to have seen than 40,000 Marian apparitions since June 1981, when six teenagers first claimed they first saw an apparition of Our Lady while herding sheep. As always, when confronted with an apparition, the church "is always prudent," Archbishop Fisichella said.

    Mass with Swahili hymns brings new vibrancy to Edmonton parish

    EDMONTON, Alberta (CNS) -- As the sound of drums, tambourines and Swahili hymns reverberated through St. Andrew's Church, Elizabeth Muturi and fellow parishioners swayed their arms and hips, dancing down the aisle with the Book of Gospels raised behind them. For Muturi, who grew up attending Mass in Kenya, the sight and sounds were a dream come true. "It's so touching to see this come to fruition," she said. "Even to see our priest willing to learn to some Swahili -- it is exciting. I have to thank God, because it's all by the power of the Holy Spirit." A Mass that incorporated the Swahili language and African Catholic customs was celebrated for the first time at the north Edmonton parish Aug. 11. Muturi initiated the effort, and her prayer was that the Mass would bring many souls back to the church. "The way we celebrate the Mass back home is full of life -- you can sing, scream, clap your hands, you can freely be yourself and praise God," she said. "And I have to be honest, many people have told me that they stopped going to the Catholic Church after moving to Canada because they felt bored. But I left Africa and came to Canada and I did not change my faith. It's been my prayer for a long time that it will be the same for others. Because a lot of souls are running away, not just with Africans but with many other people. Even if it's only once a month, I know we can grab certain souls with this Mass and bring them back to church."

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  • Police in Wyoming recommend sex abuse charges against retired bishop

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Last August, a police department in Wyoming put out a public call looking for information regarding alleged sex abuse relating to Catholic clergy. Though they didn't name anyone in particular, it was no secret they were looking into allegations surrounding retired Bishop Joseph H. Hart, whom the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, had investigated and found "credible" allegations against. Now authorities in Cheyenne are recommending sex abuse charges be brought against an unnamed clergy member, believed to be the retired 87-year-old bishop, as well as against a second unnamed "person seeking membership" in the Catholic clergy for accusations of abuse that may have occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, said an Aug. 14 news release by the Cheyenne Police Department. "The investigation stems from a case initiated in 2002 that was reopened in 2018 when new information was produced and provided to the Cheyenne Police Department by an independent investigation conducted by the Wyoming Diocese of the Catholic Church," the release said.

    Attorneys say allegation against South Carolina bishop 'provably false'

    CHARLESTON, S.C. (CNS) -- Attorneys for Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston released a statement Aug. 14 saying that the allegations of sexual abuse of a minor levied against him are "provably false." In the lawsuit, Powers v. Diocese of Rockville Centre, filed the same day in State Court in Nassau County, New York, the plaintiff alleged that Bishop Guglielmone sexually abused him in 1978 or 1979. At the time, the bishop was serving as a priest at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Amityville, New York, in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. "These allegations are false, provably false," wrote attorneys Bruce Barket and Aida Leisenring. "As the plaintiff admitted to a family member, he made this up in order to get money from the church ('it's worth a try,' the plaintiff said)." The statement continued: "Bishop Guglielmone is a good man who has devoted his entire career to the church, education and community service. Although he was under no obligation to do so, he submitted himself to a polygraph examination, which he passed." The attorneys stated their intentions in no uncertain terms. "We will not allow these false allegations to tarnish the outstanding and selfless work he has done throughout his life. We will see the plaintiff in court and the bishop will be cleared," they stated. The lawsuit was filed the same day that New York state extended its statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims. The Child Victims Act allows victims to file civil suits and criminal charges against abusers or institutions until they reach age 55.

    LCWR calls on Trump to stop 'divisive and polarizing rhetoric'

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CNS) -- Delegates at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious' annual assembly, meeting in Scottsdale, approved a letter to be sent to President Donald Trump asking that he stop using "divisive and polarizing rhetoric. We implore you to never use language that disrespects, dehumanizes or demonizes others," the letter said. "We expect our president, and all who serve this nation as leaders, to be always mindful of the common good and the dignity of each and every person." LCWR, in an Aug. 14 announcement on the letter, said there were 663 members in attendance at the Aug. 13-16 assembly. LCWR represents religious orders with about 35,000 sisters. Trump has been accused of sowing division and discord with his public remarks and especially through his use of Twitter. "We are outraged and heartbroken when our political leaders appeal to our basest instincts and stoke the fires of fear that threaten to tear the fabric of our nation apart," the sisters said. "We cannot, we will not, let the voices of hatred and fear carry the day."

    Update: In Colombia, bishops, religious listen to Amazonians before synod

    BOGOTA, Colombia (CNS) -- Bishops, nuns, priests and residents of the Amazon basin met in Colombia's capital city in mid-August to prepare for a special Synod of Bishops for the Amazon this fall at the Vatican. The meeting gave bishops who will be attending the synod a chance to develop proposals and listen to residents of the Amazon region, before they head to the Vatican in October for the gathering. Similar pre-synod meetings have been held recently in Peru and Brazil. Pope Francis "wants to give visibility to the people of the Amazon and listen to their concerns, their teachings, their spirituality," said Bishop Joaquin Pinzon Guiza of Puerto Leguizamo-Solano, a vicariate deep in the world's largest rainforest. "As bishops we don't just want to take our thoughts to the synod, but also what lies within our peoples' hearts." The synod, announced by Pope Francis in October 2017, will focus on how to improve the church's work in the vast but sparsely populated Amazon biome, which sprawls across nine South American countries and is largely inhabited by indigenous groups. Approximately 110 bishops that lead church jurisdictions in the Amazon will attend as well as representatives of continental episcopal conferences and 32 observers, including indigenous leaders. One of the topics that will be discussed is the ordination of married men as priests in far-flung villages where Catholics are currently struggling to get sacraments, and even celebrate Sunday Mass, due to the scarcity of qualified church personnel.

    'You cannot be a Catholic and sit on the sidelines,' archbishop says

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a crowded bar, bustling with young adult Catholics from the Washington area for the monthly Theology on Tap, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory shared his pain over what this archdiocese suffered in the past year due to priestly abuse scandals, and encouraged the young adults to turn to the Eucharist as a source of healing. "I'm not quite as young as you, but I, too, am let down by the leadership in the church," Archbishop Gregory said. "I've been embarrassed. I've been embarrassed as a Catholic, as a priest, and as a bishop, because of the behavior by some of my fellow clerics. When the family has been embarrassed, everyone in the family feels embarrassed, and I do too," said the 71-year-old archbishop. "I know this past year has been an extraordinarily painful year for Washington." Hundreds attended Theology on Tap Aug. 13 to hear from the archbishop, who answered questions ranging from his daily prayer life and his favorite restaurants in Rome, to his conversion story as a young boy in Chicago. He also answered questions about the abuse crisis, inclusivity and sensitivity within the church, and evangelization. "You cannot be a Catholic and sit on the sidelines," Archbishop Gregory told the young people. "To be a member of the church means you've got to get in and get your hands dirty in the mix of the whole arena of faith from what we believe and profess to how we live and treat one another. ... You can't not invest yourself into this family."

    Singles for Christ organization grounds daily life, says meeting attendee

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- JD Duran was 2 when his parents noticed something was off. He could run and walk, but he was tripping far more than a typical toddler. Concerned, they met with numerous doctors in search of answers. Eventually their son received a diagnosis -- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a degenerative nerve disorder. "I didn't always need a wheelchair," Duran, now 24, told a crowd of Catholics at this year's national Singles for Christ conference. Though his disease is not considered fatal, it's characterized by progressive loss of muscle tissue and sensation across various parts of the body. How it will affect him long term is unclear. What did become clear through intense prayer is that "Jesus -- he's got me covered," said the member of St. Charles Parish in Northeast Portland. Duran's story of moving from fear and uncertainty to solace and strength was one of many testimonies shared at the 25th Singles for Christ conference. The love of God, the power of community and the need to share one's gifts were among the central messages of the Aug. 2-4 gathering, which brought around 350 young adults from across the country to Portland.

    After protests, Sudanese bishop says country is fragile, future unclear

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Sudanese Catholic Bishop Yunan Andali of El Obeid said his country has become too fragile, after months of protests in which demonstrators have been pushing for a civilian government. The bishop said developments had left most civilians confused, with glaring signs that the ruling Transition Military Council was not ready for a civilian government. He said he feared the council was using tricks to continue the authoritarian rule of ousted President Omar al-Bashir. "The situation is too fragile; the future is very unclear. This is a country of coups, and anything can happen here," said Bishop Andali. "(For the) experienced and specialized in our country's history, the country is back to its rulers, and the revolution lost the track." On Aug. 4, Freedom for Change, a body representing the protesters and the council, announced an agreement to form a transitional government. The proclamation, to be signed formally Aug. 17, cut the military council's participation in the process of transitioning to a civilian government, ended the military leaders' immunity from prosecution and put the brutal Janjaweed militia under the command of the armed forces. Six civilians and five military officials will lead the Sudanese government, but Bishop Andali said the current political and constitutional arrangements had left out issues that initially ignited the uprising.

    All San Diego diocesan employees meet to hear new steps in abuse fight

    SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego gathered all 2,500-plus diocesan employees for the first time in its history to announce an expansion of the fight against the sexual abuse of children not just within the local church but in the greater society. U.S. church reforms adopted in the early 2000s have contributed to a dramatic decline in cases of child abuse by clergy. The San Diego Diocese has not had a confirmed incident of sexual abuse of a minor by any of its priests in the past 20 years, records show. But much more remains to be done to confront abuse, Bishop McElroy told the employees at the Aug. 13 meeting at the University of San Diego. The bishop said Pope Francis, in a directive issued in May, had challenged bishops worldwide to not merely change procedures, but to commit to personal and institutional transformation to eradicate abuse. Bishop McElroy then outlined his plan to drive that transformation within the diocese. In his "motu proprio" titled "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You Are the Light of the World"), Pope Francis challenges Catholics to "recognize that while the church's mission to eliminate sexual abuse must begin with the internal life of the church and the sin and scandal of clergy sexual abuse, our efforts as disciples of Jesus Christ must also reach into those structures of societal and family life that generate and protect the sexual victimization of minors," Bishop McElroy said.

    New England dioceses launch system for reporting misconduct by bishops

    SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (CNS) -- In advance of a mandated national third-party reporting system for allegations or complaints regarding bishops, the Catholic dioceses of four New England states have launched a third-party, independent system to report abuse by Catholic bishops. The dioceses in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine make up the Boston Province, led by Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who is the metropolitan archbishop of the province. The bishops of the province have agreed to make a reporting system available now in the wake of Pope Francis' document "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world") and the bishops' vote during their spring general assembly in June to implement it. The pope issued the landmark document in May to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable. The "motu proprio" was one of the measures that came out the Vatican's February summit on clergy sexual abuse attended by the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences. "I am grateful to Cardinal O'Malley for his leadership in implementing this important facet of 'Vos Estis Lux Mundi' here in the Boston Province," Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said in a statement in response to the Aug. 14 announcement of the Boston Province establishing the independent reporting system.

    Assumption feast invites people to look to heaven with hope, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mary's assumption into heaven calls people to put aside all those insignificant, mundane and petty concerns competing for their attention and instead be drawn to God and his greatness, Pope Francis said. After reciting the Angelus prayer on the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15, Pope Francis also blessed thousands of rosaries that will be given to Catholics in Syria "as a sign of my closeness, especially for families who have lost someone because of the war. Prayers made with faith are powerful. Let us keep praying for peace in the Middle East and the whole world," said the pope, who explained that Aid to the Church in Need spearheaded the initiative to send some 6,000 rosaries to Catholic communities in Syria. He also expressed his concern and prayers for those affected by monsoons in South Asia. A week of heavy rains triggered deadly landslides and flooding in India, where, according to government officials, nearly 300 people died and more than 1.2 million people were forced from their homes. Officials in Myanmar reported more than 50 people have died there.

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  • Fearing threat, Pittsburgh church cancels summertime parish festival

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced Aug. 13 it was canceling a popular summer event, its parish festival, after receiving what it called "a disturbing message." In a news release, the diocese didn't disclose more detailed information but only said that an office in its pastoral center received a handwritten letter that said "cancel August 14-17 Festival Security Problem is Huge," and that "only one parish, Our Lady of Grace in Scott, was scheduled to hold a festival on those dates." The release mentioned recent incidents of mass violence in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and also the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where a synagogue was the scene of a mass shooting in October 2018. "Although there was no direct threat, the letter raised grave concern due to the appalling chain of mass violence that our nation has experienced," the diocese said. "Father David Bonnar, the priest-administrator, was immediately notified, and he immediately notified law enforcement. The sender has not been identified, so Father Bonnar announced today, with deep regret, that the festival has been canceled." In an Aug. 13 story, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review daily newspaper said the priest was worried about safety and didn't want to risk loss of life, even if it meant the parish would lose money.

    Bishops reflect on abuse crisis on anniversary of Pa. grand jury report

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On the anniversary of the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing alleged abuse by clergy and other church workers over several decades in six dioceses, bishops in those dioceses reflected on what the past year has wrought and described how their dioceses have acted to help past victims and prevent future victims. The grand jury report, released Aug. 14, 2018, was based on a monthslong investigation into alleged abuse in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Harrisburg and Greensburg, Pennsylvania. It covered a 70-year period starting in 1947. "It was devastating for me, as the pastor of this diocese, to see the ugly details of what had happened within the church," said a statement by Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie on his diocese's website. "I knew that survivor/victims, as well as all Catholics and the entire community, would need time to grapple with the report. Their deep pain, anger and grief was understandable." He added, "My apology is only one step in the long and complex process of healing. I know words mean very little without action. The Diocese of Erie has taken many important steps in the last year, and will continue on this path." Bishop Persico said, "It is clear that bringing about healing and rebuilding trust is the work we are being called to do as church. It will take time, patience and fidelity, but the Lord will provide the grace we need. With every confidence in that grace, I look forward to the work that needs to be accomplished."

    Disrespect for life, lack of moral center seen as factors in gun violence

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In this American age of violence, where 165 shootings happened this year alone, where politicians scream at each other across the aisle about gun laws and Second Amendment rights without even the common ground of mutual respect, religious leaders, scholars and TV personalities alike notice a more insidious problem with American culture. The problem behind the problem, they suggest, is a pervasive disregard for the sanctity of life. On Aug. 5 in, the archdiocesan news outlet, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput republished a statement he had given before the U.S. Senate as testimony in response to the Columbine High School shooting 20 years ago in Colorado, when he was archbishop of Denver. He paired it with a current response to the shootings in Gilroy, California, in late July and in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in early August, which left a total of 34 people dead and dozens more injured. "The real problem (of Columbine-like violence in our culture) is in here, in us," Archbishop Chaput said before the Senate in 1999. "In the last four decades, we've created a culture that markets violence in dozens of different ways, seven days a week. It's part of our social fabric. ... When we glorify and multiply guns, why are we shocked when kids use them?"

    Mexican bishops: No matter how life is conceived, abortion is wrong

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Mexican bishops' conference has expressed concerns over a Supreme Court decision that upheld a health norm allowing access to abortion in public clinics if a woman has been the victim of sexual violence. "We say clearly: Respect for the right to life cannot be infringed upon by the circumstances in which a human being is conceived," the conference said in an Aug. 13 statement. "The Mexican bishops are not trying to impose a religious concept on the life and dignity of the embryo, rather adhere to the guarantee of the right to life, which should be administered by a government respectful of human rights." In an 8-3 decision Aug. 5, the court ruled a norm known as NOM-046 was constitutional, rejecting a petition from Baja California state government and the Aguascalientes state legislature to overturn the measure. The norm permits women, having suffered sexual violence, to request an abortion at any public health clinic without first filing a criminal complaint with the police. Only a sworn statement would be necessary. It also permits a victim over the age of 12 to receive an abortion in such circumstances without obtaining the permission of a parent or guardian.

    Church-backed petition has 1 million-plus names seeking elections in Congo

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Congo have gathered more than 1.5 million signatures on a petition that demands local elections to curb corruption and strengthen democracy. "Democracy must have roots right down to (the) local level, and people must be allowed to designate who governs them," said Msgr. Andre Massinganda, deputy secretary-general of the Congolese bishops' conference. "The Catholic Church stands ready to help obtain what's demanded for the good of the Congolese people -- it won't ever shirk its true mission," he said. In an Aug. 14 Catholic News Service interview, Msgr. Massinganda said the petition, launched in May with the Church of Christ, was the largest petition in the country's history, with 20 times the number of backers required to push through a constitutional revision. "The authorities can't ignore these demands -- we must hope they respond positively by agreeing to organize the elections," the bishops' conference official said. "There have always been great problems with voting here. But if the authorities have the will, they'll find ways of surmounting them, thus removing a source of corruption which gravely hampers development."

    Ground broken for new St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in New Mexico diocese

    GALLUP, N.M. (CNS) -- The rosary walk at a new shrine to be built in the Gallup Diocese to honor St. Kateri Tekakwitha "will imitate" the life and example of the Native American saint, popularly known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," said Gallup Bishop James S. Wall. "We will take advantage of the natural beauty that God offers to us, as the rosary will wind its way through the beautiful landscape that he has already given to us," he added in remarks during the Aug. 11 groundbreaking for the shrine. "We will rely on the intercession of Our Lady, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who we know first appeared to an indigenous person, that being St. Juan Diego. And so this shrine will be a special place for everyone, but especially to the indigenous people of this land, the Native American peoples of this land." The shrine is being built through a new partnership of the diocese, the Knights of Columbus and the Southwest Indian Foundation. The Knights announced its participation in the initiative during its Supreme Convention in Minneapolis in early August. The groundbreaking event featured drumming as well as the Butterfly and Eagle dances from members of the Laguna tribe. Besides Bishop Wall, others who spoke were Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Father Henry Sands, director of the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington.

    Minnesota Catholics join Archbishop Hebda for CRS trip to Laos, Cambodia

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- When Michael Wenger of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in St. Paul served lunches to hungry elementary school students in Laos, he knew exactly why he had accepted an invitation to join a trip to Southeast Asia with other local Catholics. Wenger -- joined by his father, Brian Wenger, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and three other local Catholics -- learned during the Catholic Relief Services-sponsored trip that the food the agency and its partners provide is critical to keeping the students nourished and in school. He said he was glad to witness the difference CRS, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, is making in the lives of people in impoverished communities worldwide. "I thought that was beautiful, just being able to be with (the students)," said Wenger, 24, who came away from the June 22-30 journey pondering the possibility of someday working for a relief agency such as CRS. "I was kind of entranced in the moment" while serving lunches of rice and vegetables. Later in the trip, the contingent visited the Lao Disabled Women's Development Center in the capital of Vientiane. There the group saw women learning and using skills to help earn money to support themselves and their families. Some of the dozens of women at the center had been maimed by explosives or landmines that date to the military conflicts of the 1970s.

    New seminary rector-president named to succeed late Bishop Christian

    MENLO PARK, Calif. (CNS) -- Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco has named Father Daniel B. Donohoo as president-rector of St. Patrick's Seminary & University and Father Anthony Stoeppel as vice rector. Both appointments are for five-year terms effective Aug. 15, the archdiocese announced in a website posting. These appointments became necessary upon the untimely death San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Christian in July. Bishop Christian was president-rector of the seminary from Jan. 14 until his death July 11. Archbishop Cordileone said Father Donohoo has served the seminary with dedication for more than six years, most recently as vice rector and dean of men. "He has a keen understanding of the challenges of diocesan priesthood and the spiritual and human formation required for a successful vocation," Archbishop Cordileone said in a statement. "Father Donohoo is uniquely prepared and qualified to take on the leadership of this important institution at this time." Father Donohoo's previous positions at the seminary include terms as dean of students and vice president of administration. In addition, in his home Archdiocese of Indianapolis he served as a judge in the metropolitan tribunal and led a successful program for continuing education for clergy. He also served as pastor of a number of parishes in the Indianapolis Archdiocese, including the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul.

    Independent firm reviewing Charlotte Diocese's priest files

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) -- An independent investigative firm is reviewing the Diocese of Charlotte's priest personnel files as part of the diocese's effort to release the names of all clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse, the diocese announced Aug. 12. U.S. Investigative Security Services Agency of Charlotte is conducting a comprehensive review of all priest files since the diocese was established in 1972, searching for any indication of sexual abuse of a minor. Their task involves reviewing tens of thousands of pages in more than 1,000 files. Any suggestion of abuse turned up will be forwarded to the diocese's Lay Review Board to determine whether the allegations are credible, the diocese said in a statement. Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte has committed to making public the names of any clergy found to be credibly accused, with the goal of publishing a list before the end of this year. Since 2002, the names of clergy credibly accused of abuse have been publicized -- no matter when that abuse occurred -- as called for by the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." The names of at least 20 priests who formerly served in the diocese have already been made public over the years, in the Diocese of Charlotte's newspaper, the Catholic News Herald, and other media.

    African bishop: Church must work to end violence against albinos

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- The church in Africa must work to end violence against people with albinism through its schools and other education efforts, said Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha, South Africa, first vice president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. The symposium, known as SECAM, condemns "all forms of violence against albinos," from murders to mutilations to harmful attitudes, Bishop Sipuka said in an Aug. 14 telephone interview. "It's the mindset that needs to be changed," said Bishop Sipuka, noting that superstitions are entrenched. About 150 people with albinism have been killed for their body parts since 2014 in countries that include Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Congo. With 76 murders, Tanzania reported the highest number of killings, Amnesty International said in an Aug. 14 statement from Johannesburg. Across southern Africa, albinos "live in fear of being killed or abducted for their body parts," Amnesty International said. "These waves of violent attacks are fueled by the false and dangerous myth that body parts of persons with albinism can make someone rich," it said. The body of a person with albinism can bring many thousands of dollars on the black market.

    Update: Marian apparition claims in Texas not endorsed by diocese, bishop

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, said claims that Bishop Michael F. Olson has authenticated local sightings and messages of Mary are "not true. These claims of apparitions and messages are not verified or endorsed by the church, and in no way are the claims true that the Mystical Rose is a ministry of the Diocese of Fort Worth or of St. Mark (Parish)," said the Aug. 8 statement. It also added: "Bishop Olson does not encourage anyone to offer credence or support for these claimed apparitions." A website about the reported apparitions, made by the visionary and others, claimed the first sighting of Mary was May 5, 2017, while she was praying inside Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. All subsequent visions happened at St. Mark Church in Argyle, Texas, hence the name Our Lady Mystical Rose of Argyle. Those appearances -- said to have occurred on the 30th of each month from July to December -- were in the church's outdoor courtyard. The initial seven messages are said to have focused on the sanctity of life. In February of this year, the visionary claimed to have received warning messages from Mary about a cleansing of the church and a "removal of bad shepherds who had taken the place of true shepherds." The website said these messages and oral and written accounts of what happened were given to the Fort Worth Diocese.

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  • As Calif. novena ends, Christians urged to be society's 'moral conscience'

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco called for Christians to be the "moral conscience" of society during a Mass marking the end of a novena against an upcoming abortion bill. From Aug. 3 to Aug. 11, Californian dioceses and archdioceses prayed a novena for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe to defeat a measure approved by the state Senate, S.B. 24, which would require state college and university health centers to stock medication abortion pills. The state Assembly was expected to take up the bill soon after the Legislature's Aug. 12 return from its recess. In his homily for the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral, the archbishop spoke about the culture of death's expression in society and how Christians can respond to it. He began by citing a recent New York Times editorial that called for embracing the basic values that have historically glued American society together. "The idea is that by focusing on the common good, we can retrieve a sense of public decency," he said. "This is a sentiment we can all agree with, certainly we're here in church, certainly this is something we all here would agree with," Archbishop Cordileone continued. "However, let's think about that, let's think about it deeply. Is it really possible to retrieve a sense of common decency when we consider what is going on in our country?"

    Catholic peace advocates commemorate Hiroshima, Nagasaki anniversaries

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 40 peace advocates representing about a dozen religious communities held a special Hiroshima and Nagasaki Commemoration Prayer Service of Repentance midday Aug. 9 outside the White House in Washington. It was the 74th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, killing about 74,000 people. Three days earlier, the group held a similar observance at the Pentagon to mark the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing by the U.S. of Hiroshima, killing more than 100,000 people. It was the first atomic bomb used in warfare. Japan surrendered Aug. 15. Organizers of the commemoration said the two nonviolent acts of public witness called on the U.S. government to repent for the bombings of Japan and urged the abolition of all nuclear weapons in the U.S. and worldwide. Anniversary actions and events were held Aug. 6-9 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as at nuclear weapons facilities throughout the U.S. In Washington, the peace group heard testimony from Michiko Kodama, who, at age 7, experienced the Hiroshima atomic bombing. At 82, she is now the assistant secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations.

    Final public Mass, tears mark closing of Poor Clare monastery in Memphis

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. (CNS) -- Concealed behind tall brick walls and strong iron gates in a struggling Memphis neighborhood, nuns have been quietly praying for the city and its people since 1932. Few people have been behind the walls of this monastery. The silent and prayerful lives of the women, who have chosen to live here in community, remain a mystery and a curiosity to most outsiders. But they do have friends. The many friends of the Monastery of St. Clare, are a loyal group of followers who have supported them in every way you can imagine, only asking for prayer in return. In a neighborhood that is plagued by crime and residents fighting to climb out of poverty, these women have chosen a life that St. Clare called the "privilege of highest poverty." The nuns rely on their friends for generosity, food, donations and even occasional help around the monastery. They have been called to a life of prayer and silence. To live in community and in radical poverty. The day they celebrated the feast of St. Clare, which is Aug. 11, the sisters were applauded for all the fruits of their prayer during their last public Mass for the Catholics of Memphis. The chapel was full; it was standing-room only. "In these past 87 years, the community began to dwindle," explained Franciscan Father Albert Haase during that Mass.

    Texas author's book a 'love letter' to Paris cathedral, the French people

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A testament to the great Notre-Dame de Paris, "The Girl and the Cathedral" is a beautiful retelling of the history of the "greatest flower of Paris" and the "garden of people" who grew around it. Texan Nicolas Jeter, a combination Francophile, history nerd and lawyer, wrote the children's book in remembrance of the great cathedral that watched French history roll by as a steady, stone sentinel guarding the city until the day of the fire in April. The book will proceed to the publication process in seven days if the project meets its $10,000 Kickstarter goal by Aug. 20. "In the broader sense, Notre Dame is an important building because of what it represents to so many Catholics, and because so much of our civilization is built on a Europe that was so heavily influenced by the Roman Church," the author said. "It is built into our cultural DNA. I think that explains why so many nonreligious Americans were so profoundly affected by the fire." Jeter tells the story through the eponymous "girl," whom he calls the "god" of Paris. At the beginning of the book, the girl plants a garden that grows into Paris, and the most beautiful flower in the garden is Notre-Dame de Paris. As other flowers bloom around the cathedral, the girl watches her garden in turmoil, as weeds pop up during the French Revolution and World War II, but she also sees times of flourishing. Finally, she witnesses the destruction of her greatest, most beautiful flower, Notre-Dame de Paris. The real-life vigils held in front of the cathedral the night of the fire inspired Jeter's retelling of that climactic scene.

    Religion, state of the church among topics at annual Napa conference

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Under the clear, California-blue skies of Napa Valley, 15 bishops and 100 priests gathered with over 500 lay Catholics and women religious to discuss religion and drink wine, brainstorm solutions and smoke cigars, not to mention celebrate Mass over 100 times in the span of just a few days. The Napa Institute, founded in 2010, hosted its ninth annual Summer Conference in late July, focusing on the theme of authentic reform and the current state of the church. John Meyer, executive director of the Napa Institute, explained the goal of the conference. "Faith and culture. We try to look at issues that Catholic leaders face in culture and respond to those issues in a meaningful way," Meyer told Catholic News Service. "We want people to really be able to articulate why we believe what we believe, and not just what we believe. ... We want them to be equipped to win the debate in the culture." During the conference, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington, spoke on a panel synthesizing discussions at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual spring assembly in June. Meyer described the panel as a sort of "State of the Union for the Church."

    Update: Those on path to legal immigration face roadblock on public funds

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Trump administration announced Aug. 12 a plan to deny permanent legal immigration status for those who use public funds such as food stamps or public housing. The news came as no surprise as administration officials had been publicly discussing for months instituting a "public charge" policy that would hurt immigrants' chances at permanent residency, citizenship and even threatened deportation for those who sign up for public benefits. The National Immigration Law Center said the term "public charge" in immigration law refers to "a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support," and explained the new rule "would broaden the definition of who is to be considered a public charge so that it includes immigrants who use one or more government programs listed in the proposed rule." Though immigrants have had to prove self-sufficiency to obtain permanent residency, the expansion of the definition would add a hurdle for some. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had long argued against it and in September 2018 said such action would "prevent families from accessing important medical and social services vital to public health and welfare." The new policy is set to take effect in 60 days, but it will likely be challenged in court. "Through the public charge rule, President (Donald) Trump's administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America," said Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, during a White House briefing Aug. 12.

    Update: Opinion on abortion's legality unchanged; some shifting within groups

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While a survey of more than 54,000 Americans showed little change in their attitudes between 2014 and 2018 on the legality of abortion, researchers detected movement in many demographic groups, Catholics included. Natalie Jackson, director of research for the Public Religion Research Institute, said the changes in attitude reflect the nation's political divisions. According to the survey, which was released Aug. 13, 54% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 40% believe it should be illegal in most or all cases. "These numbers are essentially unchanged since 2014," the survey said; then 55% of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 41% said it should be illegal in most or all cases. In an Aug. 12 phone interview with Catholic News Service, the 1% change in the overall numbers is not statistically significant, but "everything that we are calling out as differences (from the 2014 survey) are statistically significant," Jackson said. Catholics "mirror the rest of the country pretty closely, particularly white Catholics," she added. Fifty-three percent of white Catholics believe most or all abortions should be legal compared to 40% who say most or all should be illegal, Jackson noted, "so they're right in line" with the majority of Americans.

    Melkite Catholic young adults in Middle East find hope at gathering

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- Full of zeal for their faith, 920 Melkite Catholic young adults from the Middle East gathered in Lebanon for the first conference especially for them. Meeting under the theme, "To You I Say Rise," the participants, ages 18-35, came from the Palestinian territories, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon for the Aug. 9-13 event, hosted by the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate. Edward Nazarian, 22, a student in medical devices engineering from Aleppo, Syria, said the conference restored hope for young people, particularly those from Syria. "After going through so many years of war, we fell into despair. We are here to renew that hope, that confidence and faith," he told Catholic News Service. Melkite Father Kamil Melhem, spiritual director for young adults, told the group at the opening that the conference would "be the first spark that will illuminate the paths of our faltering lives in the East." The main venue was the Liqaa ("gathering") Conference Center, located in a valley beneath the Melkite Patriarchate in Rabweh, 12 miles north of Beirut. The event combined prayer, educational workshops -- including communication and social media -- and presentations related to the Melkite Catholic identity. Participants also visited holy sites of Lebanon, including Harissa, Our Lady of Lebanon, the tomb of St. Charbel and the biblical coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon in South Lebanon.

    Kenya wind farm welcomed, but indigenous wonder who benefits most

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- As turbines turn on Africa's largest wind farm on the shores of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, Catholic leaders welcomed the project as good for the environment and important for human development. Bishop Peter Kihara Kariuki of Marsabit, in whose diocese the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project is located, hailed the newly minted project as safe for the environment in the region, where climate change has led to dry pastures and water shortages that have ignited frequent, sometimes deadly, clashes among herder communities. "The windmills (turbines) are not destroying the environment. They are not interfering with the climate," Bishop Kariuki told Catholic News Service. "I have followed the project since its start and I think it's a good one. I welcome it." From a remote rocky and hilly stretch of the wilderness in Loyangalani district, the ever-present winds in the region effortlessly turn the turbines, producing 310 megawatts, about 17% of Kenya's current generating capacity. It's enough to power 1 million homes, according to projections. In all, 356 turbines stand on 40,000 acres on the homeland of the Turkana people and other nomadic indigenous communities that use the land for settlement, livestock grazing and access to water. "The local people have accepted the project. They believe it will open up their areas and bring more development. If the people are happy, we (clergy) are also happy," said Father Martin Omondi Oluoch, a priest at Loyangalani parish.

    Closeness is God's answer to suffering, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In hopeless situations of pain and suffering, God never abandons his children but rather remains close to them, Pope Francis said. "God's answer to our pain is a closeness, a presence that accompanies us, that doesn't leave us alone. Jesus made himself the same as us and for this reason we have him near us, to cry with us in the most difficult moments of our lives. Let us look at him, entrust him with our questions, our sorrows, our anger," the pope said in a letter published Aug. 13 in the Italian newspaper "Il Secolo XIX." In his letter, the pope commemorated the first anniversary of the fatal collapse of the Morandi bridge that killed 43 people and "inflicted a wound in the heart of your city. In the face of such events, the pain of loss is excruciating and not easy to relieve, as is the feeling of not resigning oneself in the face of a disaster that could have been avoided," he wrote.

    Update: Mexican Cardinal Sergio Obeso Rivera dead at age 87

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Sergio Obeso Rivera, retired archbishop of Xalapa, Mexico, who was created a cardinal by Pope Francis a little over a year ago, died at the age of 87. According to Vatican News, Cardinal Obeso died Aug. 11 in Xalapa. The pope expressed his condolences in an Aug. 12 telegram to Archbishop Hipolito Reyes Larios of Xalapa and prayed that Jesus may grant the deceased cardinal "the crown of glory that never withers. Remembering this selfless shepherd who, throughout many years and with faithfulness, gave his life to the service of God and the church, I pray for the eternal rest of his soul," Pope Francis said. In 1931, he was born into a prominent family, which founded and operates one of Mexico's main supermarket chains. Despite his upbringing, colleagues described the cardinal as austere and unassuming. He entered the seminary in 1944, studied philosophy and theology in Rome and was ordained a priest there in 1954. After his ordination, then-Father Obeso held various positions at the seminary in Xalapa and eventually was appointed rector.

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  • Bishops of four Mississippi churches condemn ICE raid, roundup of workers

    JACKSON, Miss. (CNS) -- Mississippi's Catholic bishops joined with the state's Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran bishops in condemning the Trump administration's Aug. 7 raid on seven food processing plants in the state to round up workers in the country illegally. Such raids "only serve to ... cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities," the religious leaders said in an Aug. 9 statement quoting Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, from a July letter he sent to President Donald Trump. "We, the undersigned, condemn such an approach, which, as he (Cardinal DiNardo) rightly states, 'has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the United States,'" they said. Signing the statement were Catholic Bishops Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson and Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi; Episcopal Bishop Brian R. Seage of Mississippi; Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church; and Bishop H. Julian Gordy, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Southeastern Synod. In what is the biggest sweep in a decade, ICE arrested and detained nearly 680 people. About 300 were released that evening; another 380 people remained in custody.

    Franciscans' Denver meeting first phase of making six provinces into one

    DENVER (CNS) -- History was made when close to 400 Franciscan friars -- from 25 states as well as Canada, Italy Jamaica, Mexico and the Philippines -- gathered in unity and fraternity in Denver for the religious order's "Chapter of Mats." The July 29-Aug. 2 meeting was one phase of a process by the Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor to form a new province out of six of the religious order's provinces. Friars in each of those six provinces voted May 30, 2018, to create the new province; they took the vote at meetings in their respective communities. Revitalization of Franciscan life and ministry in America is the goal of this multiyear process of restructuring that began in 2012 with discussions by the friars of the six provinces -- Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province based in Franklin, Wisconsin; Holy Name Province in New York City; Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sacred Heart Province in St. Louis; St. Barbara Province in Oakland, California; and St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati. "We have much in common with our brothers around the country," said Franciscan Father Jack Clark Robinson, provincial minister of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province. "This meeting gave us a chance to get to know more about each other and strengthen the bonds that unite us."

    Guatemala's new president faces U.S. challenges on migration

    GUATEMALA CITY (CNS) -- Sunday Mass Aug. 11 at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City included prayers for the two candidates running in that day's runoff election and the country's outgoing president. A woman at the Mass said, "We pray for the next president, lawmakers and public officials so they act honestly and effectively over the next few years and they are guided by the righteousness of reason and their intentions are illuminated by the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ." The next president of Guatemala will be Alejandro Giammattei, a former prison system director, who captured 58% of the vote after multiple failed attempts at winning public office. He decisively beat former first lady Sandra Torres. She polled well in rural areas rife with outward migration, but was polemic for her political past, which included divorcing her husband, then-President Alvaro Colom, so she could try to succeed him in 2011. The election came as Guatemala grapples with a proposed "safe third country" agreement, which would mean migrants wanting to apply for asylum in the United States, but having first stepped foot in Guatemala, would be returned to the impoverished Central American country to apply for asylum there. The largest number of migrants and asylum-seekers apprehended at the U.S. southern border come from Guatemala. The country's Catholic bishops have blasted the agreement as secretive and said the country is in no condition to receive so many migrants.

    Banks holds no resentment for wrongful conviction; he's focused on others

    SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- The new film "Brian Banks" recounts the true story of a high school football star whose promising future was derailed when he was falsely accused of rape. Facing the prospect of a 41-year sentence, he accepted a plea bargain and went on to spend more than five years in prison and another five on parole, during which he was required to wear a GPS ankle monitor and wasn't allowed to play football, before his conviction was ultimately overturned in 2012. The California Innocence Project, a law school clinic at California Western School of Law in San Diego whose work helped bring about Banks' exoneration, hosted a special screening of the film Aug. 3 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The film was released in theaters nationwide Aug. 9. The dignitaries walking the red carpet prior to the screening included the real-life Brian Banks (portrayed in the film by Aldis Hodge), who briefly played for the Atlanta Falcons after his exoneration, and Justin Brooks, director and co-founder of the California Innocence Project. Among those adding Hollywood glamour to the red carpet were Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear, who plays Brooks in the film, and director Tom Shadyac. Banks, who along with Brooks is one of the film's executive producers, told The Southern Cross, San Diego's diocesan newspaper, that he doesn't harbor any hatred or resentment over the injustice that he experienced.

    Abuse claim made against well-known Chicago priest Father Clements

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago has asked now-retired Father George Clements, 87, who is well known as a civil rights leader, an adoptive father and a national advocate of adoption, to step aside from ministry during an investigation into an abuse claim made against him. An Aug. 8 news release from the Chicago Archdiocese said the alleged abuse of a minor reportedly occurred in 1974, while Father Clements served as pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Chicago. "The allegation was referred to the archdiocesan Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review by the Chicago Police Department," the news release said. "In keeping with our child protection policies, the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State's Attorney." The statement added that the person making the allegation "has been offered the services of the archdiocese's Office of Assistance Ministry." In an Aug. 8 interview with the Chicago ABC-TV News affiliate, Father Clements called the accusation "totally unfounded. Here I am, 87 years old, and I don't know what this is all about or anything," he said.

    Laity participate for first time in Chaldean Catholic Church synod

    AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Ainkawa, a Christian enclave in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, in which laity from the church's various dioceses in the Middle East and the diaspora also participated for the first time. The synod, held Aug. 4-10 at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and parishioners from Iraq, the United States, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church's future in Iraq and worldwide. Cardinal Sako said it was important to engage the views of the laity and to "support the participation of people in the life of the church" at such a critical moment in the church's history. "The lay faithful, men and women, are members and partners of our church because of their faith and their common priesthood," he said. He said it was essential to "take advantage of their (laity's) charisma" in the service of the church during what he described as a time of great difficulty in Iraq and Syria for thousands of Iraqi Christians who were forced to abandon their ancestral communities, including in Mosul and the Ninevah Plain. "It is a good opportunity for us to study the complicated situation of our Chaldean Church in Iraq and diaspora, including the struggle with displacement, killing and destruction as well as current fears and concerns about the future," Cardinal Sako told attendees.

    Appeals court says Pennsylvania county seal can keep its cross

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A federal appeals court said a Pennsylvania county can keep the image of a cross on its official seal because it was not an endorsement of religion. The unanimous Aug. 8 ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia followed a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year when it allowed a historic cross-shaped memorial in Maryland to remain standing, saying it did not endorse religion. The ruling also overturns a 2017 lower court decision about the seal's cross. "Courts are not to focus solely on the religious component in challenged government displays; they should consider the overall message conveyed and the broader context in which the display appears," the ruling said. The 75-year-old seal in question, for Pennsylvania's Lehigh County, features a yellow cross in its center behind a courthouse. Around the edge are images of a farm, a bison, a factory, bunting, cement silos, a heart and the Liberty Bell. The court's decision said the seal "fits comfortably within a long tradition of state and municipal seals and flags throughout our republic that include religious symbols or mottos, which further confirms its constitutionality." It also said the seal with all of its symbols has historical significance.

    Philippine nun blames military in shooting of human rights defender

    BAGUIO, Philippines (CNS) -- A Catholic nun accused the military of being behind the shooting of a human rights defender in the northern Philippines Aug. 6. "It's the military," said Good Shepherd Sister Genoveva Dumay, who works with farmers and political prisoners in the northern region of the country. Gunmen shot and seriously wounded Brandon Lee, an American citizen who works as a volunteer for a farmers' organization, reported. Sister Dumay said Lee had told her that soldiers had been following and harassing him. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala denied the allegation. "The Philippine army is people centered, thus we strictly adhere to the provisions of human rights," he said. Lee, who is married to a Filipino woman, is fighting for his life after being shot several times. Philippine authorities said a special task force will investigate the shooting. Lee, 37, a paralegal volunteer for the Ifugao Peasant Movement, allegedly was "red-tagged," or declared a communist rebel sympathizer by the military in 2015.

    Update: Science project sparks Colorado girl's idea to help town in Kenya

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 2014, a science project sparked the compassion of a 10-year-old girl from Colorado. So, she set out on a walk that would change the lives of an entire town of people in Kenya. From that auspicious day in 2014 to the present, Jennifer Stuckenschneider, partnering with Unbound, raised over $16,000 to build pumps and sanitary outhouses and latrines in Kenya, Honduras, India and Uganda. Jennifer was in the midst of a Catholic school science project studying microorganisms through a microscope, when the thought popped into her head. She wondered about her Unbound pen pal, Rose, in Kenya. She knew Rose had to walk a long way to collect water for her whole family. Jennifer wondered if Rose's water was clean, or contaminated with the microorganisms that she was seeing through her microscope. She wondered how it would feel to carry water long distances. So, she tried it out. Filling up an empty milk carton, Jennifer began toting it around town with her, provoking all sorts of questions and the itching curiosity of her fellow 10-year-olds. They absolutely had to try it too. In that moment, Walking for Water was born. Four hundred people attended that first walk in September of 2014, and Jennifer raised enough money to install a pump for Rose and her family.

    Pope calls on nations to protect lives, dignity of war victims

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, Pope Francis urged nations to recall the need to protect the life and dignity of the victims of war and armed conflict. "Everyone is required to observe the limits imposed by international humanitarian law, protecting unarmed populations and civil structures, especially hospitals, schools, places of worship, refugee camps," he said, after praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square Aug. 11. The pope reminded people that Aug. 12 marked the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, which, he said, were "important international legal instruments that impose limits on the use of force and are aimed at protecting civilians and prisoners in time of war. May this anniversary make states increasingly aware of the indispensable need to protect the life and dignity of victims of armed conflicts," he said. "And let us not forget that war and terrorism are always a serious loss for all of humanity. They are the great human defeat!"

    Pope approves new statutes for Vatican bank

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis approved new statutes for the Institute for the Works of Religion, often referred to as the Vatican bank, that include structural changes and a mandatory external audit. The renewed statutes, which were approved by the pope "ad experimentum" (on a trial basis) for two years, were published by the Vatican press office Aug. 10. In a document signed by the pope Aug. 8, the pope emphasized the changes were to reinforce the Vatican bank's intended mission to manage assets for "the works of religion or charity." Among the primary changes to the statutes is the inclusion of an external auditor which, according to the document, can be either an individual or a company that is proposed by the institute's supervisory board and appointed by the Commission of Cardinals overseeing the institute's work. The external auditor, the statutes state, will "express opinions on the institute's financial statements in a special report" and "examine all the books and accounting documents." The auditor may also "request any information useful for auditing activities."

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  • Vocation, mission of 'people of God' focus of consultation's statement

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has released a new agreed statement titled "The Vocation and Mission of the People of God: 'A Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation.'" The consultation is co-chaired by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the Catholic archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios of Boston. The document issued Aug. 6 was finalized at the most recent meeting of the consultation, which took place in late May of this year at the St. Methodios Faith and Heritage Center in Contoocook, New Hampshire. It says: "The members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation want first to affirm the vocation and ministry of each member of the church: a vocation and a ministry rooted in Christ's call, first given through baptism and chrismation, and lived out through the relationships, responsibilities and obligations each of us encounters in daily life, in family, church and society." "In both our churches in recent decades," says the document, "there have been continuing discussions about the proper role of the laity in worship, administration and witness." The full text of the statement can be found at

    Smell, taste of sauerkraut marks successful Wisconsin parish festival

    BEAR CREEK, Wis. (CNS) -- Food, music and games are all essentials for a successful parish festival but at St. Mary Parish, another key ingredient is the smell and taste of sauerkraut. Since 1965, this farming community has been home to St. Mary's Sauerkraut Festival, which is more than a parish fundraiser, say organizers and volunteers who describe the event as a gathering of lifelong friends. "I just like the hometown feeling. Everybody from my childhood comes home," said Barb Havnen, chairperson of the 55th annual sauerkraut festival, which took place Aug. 3 and 4. "Our little community comes together, whether they are part of our parish or not. We've got a lot of nonparish members up here helping. The community all pitches in and makes it a good day." Bear Creek is home to GLK Foods, the world's largest producer of sauerkraut. According to GLK, it processes around 130,000 tons of cabbage a year. Sauerkraut (German for "sour cabbage") is made by pickling finely shredded cabbage. Norbertine Father Tim Shillcox, who was appointed pastor of St. Mary (along with St. Rose in Clintonville) in July, said the festival is "unlike anything I've ever been at" in previous parish assignments. "They are tapping into their local heritage and they are so proud" of being home to the largest sauerkraut producer, he told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

    Oregon family 'awestruck' Knights named them Family of the Year, says mom

    MINNEAPOLIS (CNS) -- A Catholic family from the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, has been chosen as the Knights of Columbus 2019 Family of the Year. Joseph and Nicole Krebs and their eight children are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help St. Mary's Parish in Albany, Oregon. The Knights announced the Krebs as the 2019 family Aug. 8, the last day of the organization's 137th Supreme Convention held Aug. 6-8 in Minneapolis. "The Knights have offered me an excellent path for how to be a better man, husband and father of my family," said Joseph, a member of Knights of Columbus Council 1577 based in Albany. "We were awestruck," Nicole said after learning her family won the award. "Just imagining all the incredible families across the world that we were measured with and to have the honor of that title being given to us, our responsibility is amazing." The Krebs children are: Isabel, 18; Caledon, 17; Maximilian, 13; Lucianna, 12; Gabrielle, 9; Theodore, 5; Benedict, 3; and Emilia, 1. Joseph and Nicole also sponsor a child in Guatemala and another in India, providing for their education, food and medicine.

    Tobin: Letter reminds priests Christ's 'joy, hope' constantly 'born anew'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, praised Pope Francis for his Aug. 4 letter to priests in which the pontiff expressed "gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others." The pope acknowledged the shame and frustration felt by priests who are discouraged by the actions of fellow clergy members who betrayed the trust of their flock through sexual abuse and abuse of conscience and power. "The Holy Father's letter to all priests is a most welcome gift, coming, as it does, at a particularly difficult time for the church," Cardinal Tobin said in an Aug. 7 statement as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. In his letter, which commemorated the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, Pope Francis also shared his concern that many priests "feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit." "Amid the pain, ugliness and anger, it is possible for the church, and especially those who are priests, to fall into despair -- the opposite of hope," the cardinal said. "Instead, the Holy Father reminds us that we must never lose sight of those 'luminous moments when we experienced the Lord's call to devote our lives to his service.'"

    In new interview, pope explains aim of synod, warns against nationalism

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is an "urgent" gathering, not of scientists and politicians, but for the church whose main focus in discussions will be evangelization, Pope Francis said in a new interview. However, the importance of the Amazon region's biodiversity and current threats it faces also will be addressed because "together with the oceans, (the Amazon) contributes decisively to the survival of the planet. Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from there. That's why deforestation means killing humanity," he said. The pope also talked about the dangers of surging nationalism and isolationist sentiments, saying, "I am worried because you hear speeches that resemble those by Hitler in 1934. 'Us first, We... We ....'" Such thinking, he said, "is frightening." The pope's comments came in an interview posted Aug. 9 by "Vatican Insider," the online news supplement to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Asked about the dangers of "sovereignism" or nationalism, the pope said it represented an attitude of "isolation" and closure. "A country must be sovereign, but not closed" inside itself, he said. National sovereignty, he said, "must be defended, but relations with other countries, with the European community, must also be protected and promoted." "Sovereignism," on the other hand, he continued, is something that goes "too far" and "always ends badly -- it leads to war."

    Philippine bishops submit response to sedition charges

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Catholic bishops accused of plotting to oust Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have submitted their response to sedition charges. Although only retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches was seen filing an affidavit Aug. 8, the Justice Department confirmed the other prelates had already submitted their replies to the allegations. All filed their "counter-affidavits" a day before the start of preliminary investigations into a complaint filed by the Philippine National Police last month. Philippine authorities have filed sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice charges against 36 people including the country's vice president and members of the opposition. Church leaders charged include Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, Divine Word Father Flaviano Villanueva, Jesuit Father Albert Alejo, Father Robert Reyes, and Lasallian Brother Armin Luistro, former education secretary. The charges stem from the release of a video that went viral on several social media platforms early in 2019 that showed a hooded man claiming that Duterte and his family were involved in the illegal drug trade. Peter Joemel Advincula, the man claiming to be the hooded figure, weeks later, however, was presented by the police to the media where he claimed the opposition to Duterte and were behind an alleged plot to oust the president. The church leaders have denied such claims.

    As Hong Kong tensions intensify, Catholics call for cool heads

    HONG KONG (CNS) -- More than 1,000 Catholics prayed during a candlelight vigil for Hong Kong to solve its political crisis in a peaceful, nonviolent manner. Organizers of the Aug. 8 vigil said they hoped the faithful can remain solely a prayer movement so that tensions ease in the weekslong series of mass demonstrations by Hong Kong citizens opposing a controversial extradition law. A crowd estimated at 1,200 demanded a full withdrawal of the extradition amendment proposed by chief executive Carrie Lam; the establishment of an independent committee to investigate the conflict between protesters and police; and accountability by the Hong Kong Legislative Council and chief executive. They gathered in front of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and marched through the central business district to the Court of Final Appeal of the Hong Kong, singing hymns and holding electronic candles. Hong Kong Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing addressed the gathering, saying the situation called for the Catholic Church to speak with peace and reason. "In the past two months, we have really experienced the limit of humanity and we should pray," he said. "Violence will only create more violence. Hatred will only produce more hatred. Injustice will never achieve justice. History will prove that only peace and reason can establish a long-term peace."

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  • Catholic Extension announces aid for families of deported breadwinners

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension will be helping families left without their main financial supporter in Mississippi, where families lost their breadwinner after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out massive raids Aug. 7. Federal authorities said they arrested 680 people at various food processing plants in the Southern state, in what may be one of the largest, if not the largest, immigration dragnets carried out in the U.S. The Chicago-based Catholic organization said it would send help immediately but also would begin fundraising to benefit those in need through its "Holy Family Fund," a program it launched earlier this year to financially help husbands and wives and children left without their main breadwinner because of detention or deportation. It will be managed by the Diocese of Jackson. "The program seeks to help bring some stability to what is a terribly destabilizing moment for families," the organization said in an Aug. 8 news release. Catholic Extension is the leading national supporter of missionary work in poor and remote parts of the United States. It is asking for donations for its Holy Family Fund at

    Kings Bay Plowshares tell court why they acted to disarm submarine base

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Seven defendants charged with a series of offenses for illegally entering a naval submarine base in Georgia to call for nuclear disarmament told a federal judge that their actions were motivated by their Catholic faith and not by their political beliefs. The testimony Aug. 7 from the seven, who call themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in Brunswick, focused on those beliefs and their protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They told Judge Lisa Godbey Wood that a federal magistrate who presided at earlier court hearings erroneously denied pretrial motions to dismiss charges of conspiracy, trespass and destruction and depredation of property. The charges stemmed from an April 2018 protest at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, one of two home ports for the U.S. Navy's fleet of Trident submarines, which carry about half of the U.S. active strategic nuclear warheads. The seven entered the base by cutting through a fence and spent more than two hours on the grounds, placing crime scene tape and spilling blood at different locales while posting an "indictment" charging the military with crimes against peace, citing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The defendants include longtime peace activists and several Catholic Workers.

    Faith was there 'in darkest moments,' said El Paso priest after shooting

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In upcoming days, Father Fabian Marquez plans to attend 17 funerals. He will officiate one and attend the other 16, including one in Chihuahua City in Mexico. He is connected to all of them -- for people who died in the Aug. 3 mass shooting at the El Paso, Texas, Walmart -- because he was there when members of each of these 17 families heard the news that their loved one died in the gunfire. In all, 22 people just going about a normal routine that day were killed by a 21-year-old who may face hate crime charges in addition to capital murder charges. These families waited hours -- into the night and then into the next day -- to find out about their missing family members at the MacArthur Elementary-Intermediate School in El Paso which was set up as a reunification center. Father Marquez, pastor of El Buen Pastor Catholic Mission, (Church of the Good Shepherd) in Sparks, Texas, said the priests in the El Paso Diocese were urged by Bishop Mark J. Seitz "to be present" to the community. He first went to the local hospital and then to the reunification center where he stayed from 1:00 p.m. Aug. 3 until about 5:30 p.m. the next day. Some slept during the night in the school building, but mostly they just waited, anxious to hear about friends or family members. Father Marquez didn't sleep. He said the initial crowd thinned as people were gradually reunited with their families but by the next morning those that remained were tired, frustrated and growing more fearful.

    Bishop: Shootings show 'all communities are affected by racism'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Three mass shooting incidents in the United States in the span of a week are now showing that "their emotional impact is resonating, understandably, across the nation," said Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. "The effects of the evil and sin, we are all impacted by it." Bishop Fabre said many people think of racism of being a matter for blacks and whites, "but I think there are many, many faces to racism, so I think it resonates with the pastoral letter," assembled by his committee and approved by the bishops last year, "when we say that this evil affects everyone, and all communities are affected by racism." The deadliest of the three shootings took place Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, where accused gunman Patrick Crusius opened fire at a Walmart store in the city, with 22 dead and dozens more wounded. Many of the victims were Hispanic. Crusius had posted a manifesto -- some called it a screed -- online against an "invasion" of the United States by Hispanics. Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting, a gunman shot nine people dead, including his own sister, at a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 4 before police gunned him down. On July 28, a gunman killed three people at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, before taking his own life. At least 15 others were injured. The pastoral letter, "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love -- A Pastoral Letter Against Racism," included separate sections detailing racist treatment directed at African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

    Pew survey shows majority of Catholics don't believe in 'Real Presence'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A new study about the level of Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist showed that a majority of Catholics do not believe that the bread and wine used at Mass become the body and blood of Christ. The report drew a strong rebuke from Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, who posted Aug. 6 on Twitter: "It's hard to describe how angry I feel after reading what the latest @pewresearch study reveals about understanding of the Eucharist among Catholics. This should be a wake-up call to all of us in the Church." In a video that accompanied the post, Bishop Barron's anger is not directed at Pew, but inward. "I'm blaming myself, bishops, priests and anybody" responsible for transmitting the faith, he said. "We're all guilty." He added, "It's been a massive failure of the church carrying on its own tradition." The Pew study, issued Aug. 5, showed that 69% of all self-identified Catholics said they believed the bread and wine used at Mass are not Jesus, but instead "symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ." The other 31% believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, known as transubstantiation. The full Pew study can be found online at

    Polish archbishop vows to resist 'ideology' that defies church teaching

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The president of the Polish bishops' conference confirmed the country's Catholic Church will resist "LGBT ideology" as equality campaigners demanded the dismissal of an archbishop who branded gays and lesbians a "rainbow pestilence." "People belonging to so-called sexual minority circles are our brothers and sisters for whom Christ gave his life," Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan said in a statement Aug. 8. "But respect for specific people cannot lead to accepting an ideology which aims at a revolution in social norms and interpersonal relations. This revolution in custom and morals, as Pope Francis stresses, often brandishes a flag of freedom, while in reality inflicting spiritual and material devastation," he said in response to ongoing disputes between church leaders and LGBTQ groups. Supporters of LGBTQ rights are planning a series of "equality parades" across the country in upcoming weeks. The archbishop said the "worsening polemic" was linked to the "offensive by LGBT-plus circles," as well as to related plans by some local authorities to introduce "a new approach to sex education" beginning in September. LGBTQ groups frequently have complained of discrimination in Poland, where the predominant Catholic Church has vigorously rejected same-sex marriage and backed the exclusion of LGBTQ staffers from Catholic schools.

    Three leaders honored as 'People of Life' during national conference

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- Three individuals received national awards for their work in the pro-life movement Aug. 5 at the 2019 People of Life Awards and Dinner Banquet held in the undercroft of the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville. Pro-life leaders from dioceses around the country attended the awards dinner, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The honorees were Cheryl Holley, Marian Desrosiers and Chuck Donovan. The People of Life award recognizes Catholics who answer the call to pro-life work as outlined by St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," a news release from the USCCB said. The award honors those "dedicating themselves to pro-life activities and promoting respect for the dignity of the human person," the release said. Holley is director of the Josephite Pastoral Center in Baltimore and on the board of the Gabriel Network, which serves pregnant women and children in Maryland and Washington. Donovan, a native of Louisville, is the president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the education and research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List political action committee. Desrosiers is former pro-life director for the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, and also led its Project Rachel Ministry. She continues to serve women and their children in her diocese's Women's Transitional Home.

    Pro-life leaders urged to persevere, continue to teach truth 'with love'

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, told diocesan pro-life leaders gathered in Louisville Aug. 5-7 that they are part of the "most important human rights effort of our time and our age." Eighty-five directors of pro-life ministry from 63 dioceses around the country gathered for the Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The theme of the conference was "Christ, Our Hope." Archbishop Naumann, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, delivered the conference's opening keynote address Aug. 5. In the talk -- titled "Life Will Be Victorious," which also is his episcopal motto -- he thanked the diocesan pro-life leaders for helping their bishops and dioceses "build a culture of life in this particular moment in time when the church is wounded by the clerical sexual abuse scandal; at a time of pro-life promise with the current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court; and a time when supporters of legalized abortion are incredibly motivated and energized." During the three-day conference, participants attended a variety of break-out sessions led by experts in law and medicine, diocesan leaders and parish priests. In his keynote address, Archbishop Naumann acknowledged the pain and anger caused by the clergy sexual abuse crisis and encouraged his listeners to persevere as leaders in the church.

    Bishops urge end to hateful rhetoric that many see as factor in shootings

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Three U.S. bishops' committee chairmen have called on the nation's elected officials "to exert leadership in seeking to heal the wounds" of the country caused by the Aug. 3 and 4 mass shootings and urged an end to hateful rhetoric many see as a factor in the violence particularly in Texas. "The tragic loss of life of 22 people this weekend in El Paso demonstrates that hate-filled rhetoric and ideas can become the motivation for some to commit acts of violence," the bishops said in a joint Aug. 8 statement. "The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic sentiments that have been publicly proclaimed in our society in recent years have incited hatred in our communities." The statement was issued by Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Social Development; and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. "Hatred and harsh rhetoric were echoed in the El Paso shooter's explanation about why he committed this weekend's shooting," they said.

    Nigerian bishops ask officials to review church licenses to marry couples

    LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) -- Six Catholic bishops appealed to the Nigerian government to review its stand on a directive that houses of worship must obtain an annual license before performing marriages and issuing marriage certificates to newly wedded couples. Archbishop Gabriel Abegunrin of Ibadan and Bishops Felix Ajakaye of Ekiti, Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Jude Arogundade of Ondo, John Oyejola of Osogbo, and Paul Olawoore of Ilorin made the appeal in a statement released at the end of their provincial meeting Aug. 6 in Ado Ekiti. The bishops urged the government to review the Ministry of the Interior directive to all places of worship. "It deserves a second look especially as it concerns the new annual levies for individual places of worship," the statement said of the directive from the Ministry of the Interior. "Contemporary circumstances in Nigeria demand that government needs to approach religious matters with utmost caution so as not to be considered partisan and partial on national issues." Georgina Ehuriah, permanent secretary in the ministry, raised concerns at a July conference that 314 of 4,689 houses of worship center had renewed their license to conduct statutory weddings. "The implication of this is that marriages conducted in unlicensed places of worship are not in line with the Marriage Act and cannot serve legal purposes when the need arises," she said. There was no immediate ministry response to the bishops.

    Nun links dismissal from order to protest of Indian bishop accused of rape

    COCHIN, India (CNS) -- An Indian Catholic nun was dismissed from her Kerala-based congregation for violation of its norms, but she said she plans to fight the action in court. Sister Lucy Kalapura, 54, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, maintained that she was dismissed Aug. 5 for publicly joining an earlier demonstration organized by members of another religious order seeking action against a bishop accused of rape, reported. The congregation's letter to Sister Kalapura said she had been dismissed for defiance and infringing on the vow of poverty. Sister Kalapura had been given the required canonical warnings but failed to show "needed remorse" and an explanation for her lifestyle in violation of the regulations of the congregation, said the letter signed by Sister Anne Joseph, superior general. Sister Kalapura said congregational leaders began moving against her after she supported the nun who claimed to have been repeatedly raped and then spoke to media seeking action against the accused bishop. Church sources maintained that the dismissal was not a vindictive action for Sister Kalapura's support for the nuns who organized the protest. They said Sister Kalapura, a teacher in a government school, had defiantly violated her congregation's rules for a decade and spent her salary on personal expenses, including buying a car and publishing a book. The nun denied wrongdoing.

    On anniversary, Japan's bishops renew hope for nuclear-free world

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the bishops of Japan renewed calls and prayers to build peace by abolishing nuclear weapons worldwide and promoting integral human development. They also expressed hope that Pope Francis' visit in November and his expected calls for peace will strengthen people's desire and boost efforts to bring about a nuclear weapon-free world. The first atomic bomb used in warfare was dropped by the United States on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, killing more than 100,000 people. On Aug. 9 another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing about 74,000 people. Japan surrendered Aug. 15. St. John Paul II visited both cities during a February 1981 trip and appealed for peace, calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons around the world. His speech inspired Japan's bishops to observe Ten Days of Prayer for Peace from August 6 to 15 every year. Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, said in a message for the days of prayer that guaranteeing peace and security in the world required "not only to eliminate the nuclear threat by abolishing nuclear weapons, but at the same time to make all people richer in all aspects" through integral human development. He said the bishops were looking forward to Pope Francis bringing "a new peace message to the world" during his expected visit.

    Priest at parish near El Paso shooting: 'Let's take care of each other'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Father Michael Lewis, parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in El Paso, Texas, first heard about the shooting that took place a mile and a half from his parish, he said he would do whatever was needed. Right away, that turned out to be providing a place for prayer. So, the night of Aug. 3, hours after the border town was harshly shaken from a normal Saturday routine and thrown into panic, fear and devastating loss, he opened the doors of the bilingual parish, Iglesia St Pius X, for a prayer vigil to pray for the victims, still at that point unidentified, for those injured in the gunfire and for the entire stunned community. Parishioners came in droves and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also came, unannounced. Father Lewis said he told those gathered: "The only way to combat hate is with love." "I cried with them that night and then I told them I had to go to the hospital to help with anointings," he said, adding: "In the moment I was trying to do the most I could do to be with the people of God." During his homily the next morning, he told parishioners: "We become rich in love, patience, kindness and compassion by giving those things away." This is something he has seen in abundance in the days after the horrific shooting, which upended the lives of so many in the community he said is known for its friendliness.

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