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  • Labor Day statement ties lack of good jobs to decline in family life

    IMAGE: CNS photo/CJ Gunther, EPA

    By Mark Pattison

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Today's "economic and political forces have led to increasingly lowered economic prospects for Americans without access to higher education, which is having a direct impact on family health and stability," said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami.

    He made the comments as the author of this year's Labor Day statement from the U.S. bishops.

    Linking the decline in good jobs to family woes, Archbishop Wenski said, "Over half of parents between the ages of 26 and 31 now have children outside of a marriage, and research shows a major factor is the lack middle-skill jobs -- careers by which someone can sustain a family above the poverty line without a college degree -- in regions with high income inequality."

    The statement, dated Sept. 5, Labor Day, was released Aug. 22. Archbishop Wenski is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

    "Divorce rates and the rate of single-parent households break down along similar educational and economic lines," he continued. "Financial concerns and breakdowns in family life can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. The Rust Belt region now appears to have the highest concentration in the nation of drug-related deaths, including from overdoses of heroin and prescription drugs."

    Archbishop Wenski quoted from Pope Francis' address to Congress during the pope's U.S. visit last September: "I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them."

    The pope added, "We live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family."

    Archbishop Wenski said, "When our leaders ought to be calling us toward a vision of the common good that lifts the human spirit and seeks to soothe our tendencies toward fear, we find our insecurities exploited as a means to further partisan agendas. Our leaders must never use anxiety as a means to manipulate persons in desperate situations, or to pit one group of persons against another for political gain."

    In touting the "sanctity of work," Archbishop Wenski said, "Dignified work is at the heart of our efforts because we draw insight into who we are as human beings from it." St, John Paul II, in his encyclical "Laborem Exercens" ("On Human Work"), "reminded us that human labor is an essential key to understanding our social relationships, vital to family formation and the building up of community according to our God-given dignity," the archbishop added.

    "As we engage with our neighbors and our communities, we quickly find ways to deepen solidarity in a broader way, and to act on the structures and policies that impact meaningful work and family stability," Archbishop Wenski said.

    "Simply put, we must advocate for jobs and wages that truly provide a dignified life for individuals and their families, and for working conditions that are safe and allow for a full flourishing of life outside of the workplace," he added. "Unions and worker associations, while imperfect, remain an essential part of the effort, and people of faith and goodwill can be powerful leaven to ensure that these groups, so important in society, continue to keep human dignity at the heart of their efforts."

    And "if you are an employer, you are called to respect the dignity of your workers through a just wage and working conditions that allow for a secure family life," Archbishop Wenski said.

    "With time, we will begin to restore a sense of hope and lasting change that places our economic and political systems at the service of the human person once more."

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    Editor's Note: The full text of the U.S. bishops' Labor Day statement is available in English and Spanish at, respectively, and

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    Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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  • Phoenix communications manager, author named to USCCB public affairs post

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Judy M. Keane has been named director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Public Affairs, effective Sept. 12. Keane has spent about 20 years managing communications for high-profile organizations. Most recently she has been director of media relations and strategic communications for Arizona State University, where she served as spokesperson, communications adviser, and oversaw day-to-day and crisis communications, as well as social media and online content operations. "Judy brings an impressive wealth of professional experience in communications, I'm confident that she will bring valuable service to the conference," James Rogers, USCCB's chief communications officer, said in a statement Aug. 22. From 2008 to 2015, Keane was senior manager of public affairs and communications for Maricopa Integrated Health System, Arizona's public health care system, where she developed, planned and led strategic communications through a variety of channels and platforms. From 2001 to 2008, Keane was public affairs and volunteer services manager at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. There, she worked with media relations and communications, and managed and grew the volunteer services department to more than 375 members.

    Shot putter says he keeps faith front and center wherever he competes

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CNS) -- The universality of the Catholic Church has helped Olympian and world champion shot putter Joe Kovacs keep his faith front and center no matter where his sport has taken him. "(I) have to say that one of the coolest things about the Catholic faith ... is that every time you go to a church in a different country the format of the Mass is the same," Kovacs, 27, told Columbia magazine, published by the Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven. "In most countries, I know only enough words to order food in their languages, but when I go to church, I know what's going on and can participate in Mass," he said. Columbia interviewed Kovacs before he took the silver medal in the shot put event Aug. 18 at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A Q-and-A with the world-class athlete was published in the August issue of Columbia. Kovacs is a 2007 graduate of Bethlehem Catholic High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the Diocese of Allentown, and a Knight of Columbus himself. The All-American shot putter has a bachelor's degree in energy business and finance from Pennsylvania State University. In the interview, he described how his faith and his Catholic community back home play a major role in his life. He was raised in a Catholic home by his parents, Joseph and Joanna Kovacs.

    Labor Day statement ties lack of good jobs to decline in family life

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Today's "economic and political forces have led to increasingly lowered economic prospects for Americans without access to higher education, which is having a direct impact on family health and stability," said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami. He made the comments as the author of this year's Labor Day statement from the U.S. bishops. Linking the decline in good jobs to family woes, Archbishop Wenski said, "Over half of parents between the ages of 26 and 31 now have children outside of a marriage, and research shows a major factor is the lack middle-skill jobs -- careers by which someone can sustain a family above the poverty line without a college degree -- in regions with high income inequality. ... "Financial concerns and breakdowns in family life can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. The statement, dated Sept. 5, Labor Day, it was released Aug. 22. Archbishop Wenski is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

    For Catholics choosing a new parish, it's location, location, location

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The driving force behind Catholics' search for a new parish is location -- most likely how close it is to their new home. They choose nearness over other considerations, including the quality of the homilies, according to a new Pew Research Center survey issued Aug. 23, "Choosing a New Church or House of Worship." The survey said 76 percent of Catholics reported "location was an important factor in their choice of parish, reflecting the geographically based system by which Catholics typically associate with a local church." It added, "Catholics and members of the historically black Protestant tradition are less likely to say they have sought a new congregation. For Catholics, this may reflect that choosing a new congregation -- after a move, for example -- can be as straightforward as determining which Catholic parish they reside in, removing the need for a more extensive search." Only non-Christians, at 77, percent registered a greater percentage of respondents who said location was an important consideration. In fact, according to Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher for Pew, Americans' mobility was the reason behind the need for this survey. "The more they move, the more likely they are to look for a new church congregation," Mohamed told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 22 telephone interview. By contrast, people who have never moved are both less likely to look for a new house of worship to attend or to go to religious services at all, he said.

    Louisiana floods called worst U.S. natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy

    BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- The line of destruction caused by historic flooding in southern Louisiana stretches for 25 miles, and according to Red Cross officials, it is the worst natural disaster in the United States since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. "As we all know the severe flooding in many areas of our diocese has dramatically affected the well-being and livelihood of countless people," said Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench in a videotaped message posted to the diocese's website, "To those so impacted I express genuine empathy, heartfelt solidarity and commitment to help as best as we can," he said, adding his thanks "to those who have so impressively and sacrificially reached out to serve." He called the "outpouring of concern" extraordinary in "our area and beyond." On Aug. 14, Bishop Muench visited three evacuation shelters to comfort evacuees. Bishop Muench in his video message directed those who want to donate money or goods to the diocesan website. He said the site has information on how to donate and a list of stores run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that are taking donations of canned goods, clothes, cleaning supplies and even furniture for those who have lost everything.

    Vatican newspaper: 'Amoris Laetitia' is authoritative church teaching

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the "ordinary magisterium" -- papal teaching -- to which Catholics are obliged to give "religious submission of will and intellect," said an article in the Vatican newspaper. Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching authority in a "definitive way" in the document, it meets all the criteria for being an example of the "ordinary magisterium" to which all members of the church should respond with "the basic attitude of sincere acceptance and practical implementation." The Spanish priest's article in L'Osservatore Romano Aug. 23 came in response to questions raised about the formal weight of the pope's document, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"). For instance, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke has said on several occasions that the document is "a mixture of opinion and doctrine." Father Pie-Ninot said he examined the document in light of the 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the vocation of the theologian. The instruction -- issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now-retired Pope Benedict XVI -- explained three levels of church teaching with the corresponding levels of assent they require. The top levels are: "Infallible pronouncements," which require an assent of faith as being divinely revealed; and teaching proposed "in a definitive way," which is "strictly and intimately connected with revelation" and "must be firmly accepted and held."

    Bishop Steib of Memphis retires; Washington auxiliary named his successor

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tennessee, and has appointed as his successor Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington. Bishop Steib has headed the Memphis Diocese since 1993. He is 76. Canon law requires all bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope at age 75. Bishop Holley, 61, has been a Washington auxiliary since 2004. The changes were announced Aug. 23 in Washington by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d'affaires of the Vatican nunciature. Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said the appointment was "a blessing for that diocesan church" and "also a joy for all of us in Washington." "Bishop Holley has demonstrated both pastoral sensitivity and administrative ability that should serve him well as he now undertakes his new ministry in western Tennessee," he said in a statement. "We rejoice that the Church of Memphis is receiving such a talented and caring pastor of souls."

    Some Chilean homeless in tears at cathedral feast for Year of Mercy

    SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Outside the cathedral, Ricardo Reyes, dressed in a black tracksuit, waited with nearly 250 other homeless people to pass through white metal barriers for a special dinner to celebrate the Year of Mercy. Inside the nave, 10 tables were covered with red and white tablecloths, waiting for the food and guests. "I have been homeless for the last three years. My family kicked me out because I have problems with alcohol and drugs. It's tough living on the streets, because everyone thinks you are worthless and doesn't care about you. They don't want to give me work, so it is really hard to get by," he told Catholic News Service as he waited. People like Reyes had traveled from all over Santiago, invited by volunteers in different parishes around the city. At 5 p.m. Aug. 19, Santiago Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati greeted the guests and invited them into the cathedral. Many became emotional as they streamed into the church and took in their surroundings: ornate gold leafing; red-veined marble columns and high ceilings with frescoes illustrating biblical stories; freshly polished floors and altar arrangements of yellow lilies and red and white roses. Some embraced the cardinal, their eyes filled with tears of joy and disbelief to be in such a place.

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  • New Mexico's bishops reject governor's plan to reinstate death penalty

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CNS) -- The Catholic bishops of New Mexico in an Aug. 18 statement said they oppose Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's plan to reinstate the death penalty and called on the Legislature to reject it. The bishops recalled that when the Legislature in March 2009 repealed "the morally untenable practice of the death penalty," they applauded the move, calling it "a milestone" that was "moving New Mexico from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, justice and love. The state created life in prison without the possibility of parole. This renders a perpetrator harmless to society," they said. "In one voice, (we) once again echo the teaching of the church that life is sacred," the New Mexico bishops said. "There is one seamless teaching on God's gift of life that must be protected from conception in the womb to natural death. It is always tragic and sad when a member of the community is murdered. These senseless acts must be prevented by calling for systemic change in society beginning with our youngest children. Crime can be prevented, and this is done by an investment in social capital," they said.

    Ukrainian Bishop Seminack dies; recalled as 'an exceptional pastor'

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Bishop Richard S. Seminack, the fourth bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago, died Aug. 16 after a long battle with a heart ailment. He was 74. His body lay in repose Aug. 22 at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Chicago. The Divine Liturgy and a funeral service was to be celebrated the following morning at the cathedral. The morning of Aug. 26 his body was to lie in repose at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia before the celebration there of the Divine Liturgy and a funeral service. Interment was to follow immediately at St. Mary's Cemetery in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Bishop Seminack "was an exceptional pastor" and "loved by his people," Metropolitan Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette daily newspaper Aug. 22. St. John Paul II named then-Msgr. Seminack to head the eparchy March 25, 2003. He was ordained to the episcopacy June 4, 2003, by Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, then major archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine. The principal co-consecrators were Archbishop Soroka and Ukrainian Bishop Robert M. Moskal, then head of St. Josaphat Eparchy of Parma, Ohio.

    Lebanese cardinal decries terrorism at South Korea peace conference

    SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) -- Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, visiting the South Korean capital of Seoul, urged the international community to end the wars raging in the Middle East "fueled by foreign countries." Cardinal Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, also said that terrorist organizations "working for the destruction of the Middle East do not represent Islam or Muslim." Such groups, he said in an address during the Forum for Peace on the Korean Peninsula that met Aug. 18-21, work to destroy "a moderate and open Islam, resulting from coexistence with Christians. Cardinal Rai addressed the forum under an invitation of Seoul Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. He implored the international community "to speed up the solutions and impose a halt to the wars, fueled by foreign countries, raging in the Middle East." Stressing the need for a "series of reforms" in the Arab states, Cardinal Rai called for the separation of state and religion, the development of democracy and "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." He also called on the international community to "help the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia" which he said would reduce sectarian tension in the region.

    Rebuilding in Ecuador after April quake complicated by enduring poverty

    JAMA, Ecuador (CNS) -- Ask Jose Santos about the earthquake that struck the northern coast of Ecuador in April and he paints a vivid picture. "The ground moved like waves on the ocean," he recalls, while a pall of sulfurous-smelling haze rose over the town. Santos' welding shop collapsed, destroying the tools on which he depended for a livelihood. At his home in the village of Bigua, a few miles away, his wife and their children fled their house as the walls cracked. After the quake, they slept outdoors, afraid that one of the more than 150 aftershocks might bring the house down. Now, they and nearly 80 neighbors have temporary homes in 10- by 20-foot tents donated by the Catholic Church. Four months after the April 16 earthquake -- which killed more than 670 people, injured nearly 5,000 and left as many as 80,000 homeless -- residents of northern Ecuador are slowly rebuilding. But the disaster exposed long-standing problems that will take longer to solve, especially in rural areas. "People speak of before and after 16-A," says Alfredo de la Fuente, director of social ministry for Caritas Ecuador in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo. "It changed the lives of the vast majority of people" in the northern coastal provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas.

    Nation's first laywoman chancellor steps down after 27 years in post

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Mary Jo Tully, the first laywoman to become chancellor of a U.S. Catholic diocese, has stepped down from the post she held for 27 years at the Archdiocese of Portland. Tully -- known for wit, candor and a pebbly Midwestern voice -- taught, wrote and administered her way to unsought renown in Oregon. Daughter of a Chicago policeman, she charmed thousands of listeners and readers, but often accepted the role of tough cop on behalf of the four Portland archbishops she served. "What I have done, I have always done out of love for the church," Tully told friends at a farewell dinner in Portland July 29. She has moved to be near family north of Austin, Texas, and said she hopes to be of service to the church there. "The church is my family," Tully said during an Aug. 2 retirement luncheon. "People always ask me why I didn't become a nun. Well, it's because they wouldn't let me be superior," she joked, getting a big laugh from colleagues.

    Filipino bishops question why drug crackdown seems to miss kingpins

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines have called for a "deeper analysis" of the spate of killings in the country that have been linked to the government's anti-narcotics campaign. The Ecumenical Bishops Forum warned that the killings only will "exacerbate" the problem of illegal drugs. The religious leaders also noted that most of those killed are "small-time and poor people," reported. Meanwhile, five police officers and several town mayors and officials recently named by President Rodrigo Duterte as either drug users or protectors of drug syndicates "seem to be getting a special privilege; they remain very much alive," they said. The Philippine National Police estimates that more than 1,700 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed since the government intensified its anti-illegal drugs drive July 1. "While we believe and support President Duterte's war on drugs, there is a need for deeper analysis as to why the drug problem is thriving and who benefits from this," the bishops said in an Aug. 22 statement.

    End violence by building bridges, Milwaukee priest urges Massgoers

    MILWAUKEE (CNS) -- Violence stems from a breakdown in communication, Father Bob Stiefvater told more than 450 people gathered at All Saints Church in Milwaukee for a Mass of peace Aug. 18. Five days earlier, fires raged in an area of the city during unrest following the killing by police of an armed man during a traffic stop. And people need look only as far as their smartphones and computers to see that breakdown, said Father Stiefvater, who said after Mass that his homily was inspired by the prisoners with whom he meets regularly. "We live in a time in which we kind of separate ourselves out, sometimes by where we live, but an awful lot through our electronics," he told the congregation, challenging them to look at their phones and computers to see their last 10 texts, phone calls or emails. "My guess is they were from people who look like you, who think like you, who live like you, who pray like you," he said of the messages. "We have isolated ourselves and we have lost the power of conversation across these boundaries that we have made throughout our country and in this place and in this city." Father Stiefvater said God is calling us to take a look at how we communicate and with whom we communicate and how we communicate or not, "because I think when communications break down, we turn to violence and when communications are almost impossible, we divide ourselves completely into us vs. them."

    Receive forgiveness in confession, learn to forgive others, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God's mercy is poured out upon the repentant so that they can change and grow, sharing mercy with others and helping build families, neighborhoods and societies where people learn to forgive, Pope Francis said. "One is reconciled in order to reconcile," the pope said in a message to bishops, priests and church workers attending Italy's annual week of liturgical studies. "All liturgy is a place where mercy is encountered and accepted in order to be given, the place where the great mystery of reconciliation is made present, proclaimed, celebrated and communicated," said the papal message, which was released by the Vatican Aug. 22. Of course, he said, the gift of God's mercy is highlighted and experienced in a special way in the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. Although the repentance and absolution are personal, he said, "God's mercy cannot be sealed up in intimistic and self-consoling attitudes because its power is seen in its ability to renew people and make them capable of offering others a living experience of the same gift."

    Mother Teresa knew what being unloved felt like, priest says

    ROME (CNS) -- In the chapel of the first house Blessed Teresa of Kolkata established in Rome, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity talks about her life, mixing the concrete and even mundane with the spiritual and even mystical. "She was very human -- she loved chocolate, she loved ice cream," the priest said. At the same time, her letters to her spiritual directors make it clear "she's among the great mystics of the church," having experienced the sweetness of hearing Jesus' voice and, later, the desolation of feeling he had abandoned her. "Mother Teresa was no plastic saint," said Father Kolodiejchuk, who is superior general of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers and postulator of Blessed Teresa's sainthood cause. Mother Teresa was a "very concrete, feet on the ground" organizer and hands-on minister to the poorest of the poor, he said. The priest, a native of Canada, spoke to Catholic News Service Aug. 19 at the home Mother Teresa initially founded in Rome for novice sisters. Now a base for the order's priests, it is a warren of rooms built around a courtyard covered with a densely leafed grape vine laden with fruit nearing purple ripeness. The grapes should be ready for harvest by Sept. 4, the date Pope Francis is scheduled to declare Blessed Teresa a saint.

    Narrow gate of mercy difficult to enter with bloated pride, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The "narrow gate" to salvation described by Jesus isn't narrow because God is oppressive, but because pride bloats Christians and prevents them from entering God's merciful embrace, Pope Francis said. Christians "must seize the opportunities of salvation" and not waste time on trivial things before the gate is closed, the pope said before reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 22. "If God is good and loves us, why does he close the gate at some point?" the pope asked visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square. The reason, he said, is because "our life is not a video game or a soap opera; our life is serious and the goal to achieve is important: eternal salvation." In the day's Gospel reading, Jesus calls on his followers to "strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." By using the imagery of the narrow gate, Jesus tells his listeners that the question of how many will be saved is not as important as knowing "which path leads to salvation," the pope said.

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  • Nike 'Unlimited Youth' TV spot features religious who is triathlete at 86

    SPOKANE, Wash. (CNS) -- With every Olympics, summer or winter, the 24/7 coverage usually includes stories about the oldest athlete in history to compete in this sport or that sport -- and "oldest" usually means 31, 35 or perhaps early 40s. But Nike has launched a new TV campaign that features someone a lot older than that who is still active in her sport: 86-year-old Sister Madonna Buder, a Sister of Christian Community from Spokane, who is a triathlete. She is featured in Nike's "Unlimited Youth" ad campaign that has been running through the Summer Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro. "It wasn't until I was about 47, 48 that I was introduced to running -- actually by a priest. I'm Sister Madonna Buder, known as the 'Iron Nun,'" she says in a short video interview released in addition to the TV spot. "There were a lot of times I had to think about failures and not reaching the goal I may have set for myself. Then I realized the only failure is not to try because your effort in itself is a success."

    About 500 Catholic workplaces unionized, says Catholic Labor Network

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- According to a new report by the Catholic Labor Network, about 500 Catholic workplaces are unionized. The vast majority of unionized workers are in three distinct fields: health care, K-12 education and college education, with a smaller cluster in social services and other service professions. "Catholic social teaching endorses the right of workers to form labor unions and calls upon labor and management to establish cooperative relationships to advance their craft and the common good," said Clayton Sinyai, the report's author, in "The 'Gaudium et Spes' Labor Report," issued in mid-August to be available in time for Labor Day, which this year is Sept. 5. "When Catholic institutions and trade unions establish mutually rewarding partnerships, they exercise a true magisterium in deed as well as in word," Sinyai added. Representatives of both labor and management in the education sphere interviewed by Catholic News Service said the relationship has been beneficial.

    Knights council donates building to parish, helps expand its ministry

    MADISON, Wis. (CNS) -- By donating its building to a Catholic parish in Madison, a local Knights of Columbus council is helping the parish expand its ministry. The council's decision also answers a call by the head of the international fraternal organization for its members to get more involved in local parishes. The Diocese of Madison has approved the transfer of the building from Knights of Columbus Council 4527 to Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish. It will be a satellite location for the parish's Catholic Multicultural Center and will house the center's expanding Culinary Creations Catering job-training social enterprise. It also will be a means for other center services to reach the neighborhoods around the building. Last November Supreme Knight Carl Anderson delivered a call for "cultural change" within the order. In asking Knights to work more closely with local parishes, he encouraged them to donate buildings like clubhouses to parishes.

    Olympic swimming champion Ledecky returns home to cheering crowd

    DULLES, Va. (CNS) -- After winning five medals -- four gold and one silver -- at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, swimming champion Katie Ledecky is taking things one step at a time on her return home. Wearing her medals around her neck, the first step was right into the arms of friends waiting to greet her as she walked into the baggage claim area of Dulles International Airport outside of Washington Aug. 17. Dozens of others cheered and applauded the Olympic champion, a graduate of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland. Ledecky left the Olympics with gold medals in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle races and in the 4x200-meter relay. She broke her own world records in the 400- and 800-meter races. She earned silver in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Soon after saying her hellos, Ledecky told reporters that the next things on her to-do list were to eat a home cooked meal, sleep in her own bed and buy everything else she needs for her college dorm room at Stanford University, where she was soon to begin classes.

    With sign, high school sends message students must solve own problems

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- As the first week of school began at Catholic High School in Little Rock, a sign placed on the school office door is being discussed by national radio hosts, the media and parents. The boys school always has placed a high priority on responsibility and consequences, but the notice with a red stop sign prominently at the top is what is getting attention across the country. On Aug. 10 the sign was posted at the school and shared with parents: "If you are dropping off your son's forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence." After the sign was posted on the school's Facebook page, it was shared 117,000 times and had more than 3,600 comments. Many Facebook comments disagreed with the school's notice. But other commenters seemed to understand that the school was educating high school boys, not elementary students.

    Keeping Chesterton's memory alive seen as 'tremendous' gift to church

    SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. (CNS) -- When it came to championing the faith, G.K. Chesterton fought with "verve and passion, and panache" in his works, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles. He reflected a deep attitude of love and joy, the bishop said. "Every page of Chesterton is like a bottle of champagne." Bishop Barron, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, lauded the contributions of the English writer and journalist during the 35th Annual Conference of the American Chesterton Society in early August at Slippery Rock University. He addressed the audience of more than 300 via Skype in introducing his new series, "Catholicism: The Pivotal Players." Chesterton is profiled in the series, and the gathering had the opportunity to view the episode featuring him. Bishop Barron told the "Chestertonians" that he couldn't imagine a better audience to premiere the episode, and he said their keeping the memory of Chesterton alive is a "tremendous" gift to the church. "There's a real lack of clear voices in today's society speaking about the issues Chesterton wrote about," said Victoria Darkey, director of the Western Pennsylvania Chesterton Society. "People are hungry for that."

    Pakistan jail opens chapel for Christian prisoners

    KARACHI, Pakistan (CNS) -- A chapel for Christian inmates has opened at Landhi Jail in this southern Pakistani city. Christian social activists and jail authorities jointly inaugurated the chapel Aug. 5, which was built with the help of a nongovernmental organization. About 100 of the 4,500 inmates in the jail are Christians, reported Those incarcerated are awaiting trial or serving sentences for various crimes. The chapel was built near the jail mosque. Muhammad Hassan, a senior jail official, said all inmates are free to practice their faith. "There is no bar whatsoever on non-Muslim inmates worshipping," he said. Ishtiaq Awan, police assistant superintendent, said Christian inmates normally are kept together with Muslims for most of the year, but on special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter and Eid, they are given separate barracks to celebrate their festivals.

    Dialogue key in building communion with others, cardinal says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must never tire of seeking dialogue with others in order to promote mutual respect and forgiveness among people with different experiences and opinions, a Vatican official wrote on behalf of Pope Francis. In a message sent Aug. 19 to the Meeting in Rimini, an annual event sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, reflected on the importance of dialogue as placing "one's self in the other's shoes" while maintaining "the clarity of one's own identity." "We will discover that opening ourselves to others does not impoverish our outlook but rather enriches us so that we may recognize the truth in others, the importance of their experience and the background of what they say, even when there are behaviors and choices hidden behind them," he wrote. The choice to focus the gathering on the importance of communion and dialogue with others was a courageous choice at a time when "so many aspects of reality that surround us seem to take us in the opposite direction," Cardinal Parolin wrote.

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  • In Puerto Rico, mistrust fuels more public doubt than urgency on Zika

    SAN GERMAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Mistrust of local government and federal agencies has caused doubt among Puerto Ricans about reports the Zika epidemic poses a grave situation to the island. Local residents saw the first Zika detection last December as just another mosquito scare. Given the island's year-round tropical climate, and the current rainy season, mosquitoes are considered a normal part of Puerto Rican life. That attitude is complicated by past perceived episodes of epidemic-based corruption by government and pharmaceutical companies. According to the Puerto Rico Health Department, this year the island has had 23,864 probable cases of Zika. Of those, 10,690 cases have been confirmed, including 1,035 pregnant women, 90 patients treated in hospitals, and two deaths. Many people with Zika have few or no symptoms. That fact, combined with the disease's low mortality rate and discrepancies in information provided by local government and the media, has led to a low level of public awareness and prevention in Puerto Rico.

    Bishop known as 'humble servant,' 'strong advocate' for those in need

    DALLAS (CNS) -- During Bishop Kevin J. Farrell's tenure in Dallas, the diocese has made inroads in nearly all sectors of the life of the church, from an increase in priestly vocations to steady Catholic school enrollment during tough economic times. The diocese also has seen more than $1 billion in expansion, renovation or new construction of churches, parish elementary and middle schools and high schools and other related facilities. Bishop Farrell approved the consolidation of four elementary schools into two academies for more efficiency and accountability, acting on a recommendation from an ad hoc committee of local Catholic leaders charged with forging a new vision for Catholic education. On Aug. 17, Pope Francis named Bishop Farrell to head the Vatican's new Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which officially begins its work Sept. 1. Bishop Farrell's "accomplishments and influence are well known throughout the Dallas community at large," said Matt Kramer, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that over the past 25 years has provided $94 million in grants to religious, charitable and educational organizations through its hundreds of charitable trusts and funds.

    Philippine villagers claim victory over nickel mining firm

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Residents of a small island in the central Philippines hailed a government order that stopped one of the country's largest mining firms from removing nickel ore stockpiles from their village. The removal of the ore was ruining local ecosystems, the residents said. "We thought we'd see our island waste away first," Rebecca Destajo, a village leader on Manicani Island off the coastal town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar province, told Aug. 18 after the government announced its decision. Opposition to mining operations on the island had been ongoing since the Hinatuan Mining Corp., an affiliate of Nickel Asia Corp., acquired rights to mine in the village in 1987. The firm stopped operations in 1994 because of falling nickel prices, but resumed in 2001. Operations again were suspended in 2002 following local opposition supported by the Diocese of Borongan. In 2005, the company was granted a permit to remove its stockpiles but residents protested, resulting in clashes with police. Last month, a government audit found the mining company was taking too much soil and "disturbing the local ecology."

    Bishop headed to Vatican, will miss 'beautiful people, culture' of Dallas

    DALLAS (CNS) -- The importance of the vocation of marriage and the family is at the core for the future of not only the Catholic Church, but of society, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas said at a news conference Aug. 17. Earlier in the day the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed the bishop to lead a new Vatican office for the laity, family and life. Creation of the office is a continuation of the pontiff's quest to overhaul the Curia for more efficiency and transparency and to highlight the growing and important role of the laity among the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. At the news conference and in a letter to priests of the diocese and the pastoral center staff, Bishop Farrell thanked the pope for having confidence in him to lead the new office, but said he also welcomed the appointment with mixed emotions. "Dallas has been my home for 10 years and, from the beginning, I quickly grew to love the beautiful people and the culture here," he said in the letter. "The strong faith, kindness and generosity of the people in the Diocese of Dallas surpassed all of my expectations."

    Order of Malta Lebanon Camp: seeing the face of God in the disabled

    CHABROUH, Lebanon (CNS) -- The issue of disability is still somewhat of a taboo in Lebanon, and families often experience shame when they have a child with a disability. Because the Lebanese government does not offer support for people with disabilities, many families resort to putting their family member into an institution, where there is little connection with the outside world. The Order of Malta Lebanon addresses this inadequacy by bringing together disabled people from institutional settings and volunteers to spend a week together at its center in Chabrouh for a camp. Each disabled "guest" is paired with a volunteer for complete care and attention. One of the aims of the Order of Malta Lebanon camp is to give guests "the love and respect they deserve and to give them back their humanity," Patrick Jabre, project director for the Chabrouh camp, told Catholic News Service. Jabre was among the first volunteers when the organization hosted its first camp there in 1997. "By showing acts of love, we are demonstrating that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God," Anton Depiro, a 30-year-old Catholic volunteer from London, told Catholic News Service during a recent camp.

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  • 'Ben-Hur' remake stresses reconciliation theme, producer Downey says

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It's been 57 years since the last film version of "Ben-Hur" hit movie theaters. That alone is, for most Hollywood types, reason enough for a remake. But when the husband-and-wife team of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett saw the screenplay of the new version from John Ridley, he of Oscar-winning "12 Years a Slave" fame, "we loved the script," said Downey, an executive producer of the new film, as is Ridley. "We loved the rephrasing of the story as one of forgiveness and reconciliation instead of the previous incarnations which were revenge-driven." Downey added, "Certainly, my faith is important to me as a Catholic and I feel that the values in this film are important and valuable. In the time we're living, in a world that's uncertain, with fear and confusion, I feel the central themes of forgiveness and reconciliation is a message that's needed now more than ever. It's my hope that audiences will leave the film with this message of reconciliation." Downey and husband Burnett, one of the producers of "Ben-Hur," spoke to Catholic News Service during an Aug. 13 telephone interview from Los Angeles, in a last promotion push for the film, which was to open nationwide Aug. 19.

    Violence in Milwaukee unrest 'a self-inflicted wound,' says archbishop

    MILWAUKEE (CNS) -- Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee called the violence that broke out in the city as part of protests over the fatal police shooting of an African-American man "a self-inflicted wound." "Violence is never tolerated. Protests are certainly the right of every American, but violence such as looting, burning is never tolerated," Archbishop Listecki told the Catholic Herald in an Aug. 15 telephone interview. "It only creates a self-inflicted wound on the community." Protesters burned down six businesses in the city, including a gas station, and also torched a police car late Aug. 13 in response to the police shooting of Sylville K. Smith as he fled a traffic stop earlier that day. Police said Smith, 23, had a gun in his hand and had refused police orders to drop the weapon. Smith was African-American, as is the as-yet-unidentified officer who shot him. "The anger and hurt that accompanies any action certainly is understandable, but violence is never justified as a response," said Archbishop Listecki said in a statement issued later Aug. 15. Rather, he suggested "supporting the family, building the economy and attacking crime is a wonderful formula for defusing the intensity that creates the 'burn, baby, burn' mentality."

    French president meets pope to thank him after terrorist attacks

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with French President Francois Hollande, who said he felt it necessary to thank the pope in person for his words after the slaying of a French priest and other terrorist attacks in France. The president arrived in Rome Aug. 17 and went directly to the French national church, St. Louis, to visit a chapel set up as a place of prayer for the victims of terrorism. The chapel honors the memory of the 130 people who died during the November attacks in Paris, the 84 who died in Nice July 14 and Father Jacques Hamel, who was brutally murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26. Father Hamel's killers claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group. After the priest's murder, Hollande had phoned the pope, telling him that "when a priest is attacked, all of France is wounded." Pope Francis, traveling to Poland the next day, told reporters he appreciated Hollande's call, reaching out to him "as a brother." Hollande and the pope reportedly spent about 40 minutes meeting privately. The president also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

    Catholic school blesses, thanks members of Chicago Police Department

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Antwain Triplette has friends whose children are scared when they see the police and feel they have to run away and hide. However, his three children who attend Chicago's Academy of St. Benedict the African have a different response. "They try to give any police officer they see a high-five and I think that's good," Triplette told the Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper. His three children have learned police officers are their friends because members of the Chicago Police Department's 7th District have taken a special interest in the school, which is located in the often-violent Englewood neighborhood. One officer in particular, Mike Cleary, regularly stops by the school to make sure the kids get in and out of school safely. Cleary has stopped by the school for so long that he's formed a positive relationship with the students and staff. That carries over to the children's response to other police they encounter. "The kids love him. He's been coming for years," longtime principal Patricia Murphy said of Cleary.

    Bishops designate Wisconsin site of Marian apparitions as national shrine

    ALLOUEZ, Wis. (CNS) -- Nearly 160 years ago, on Oct. 9, 1859, Mary appeared to a young Belgian immigrant living in Kewaunee County. Today, it is the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States. On Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, the U.S. bishops formally designated the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion as a national shrine. Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay announced its new status at a news conference prior to the annual Mass celebrated at the shrine for the feast day. More than 1,500 people attended the outdoor Mass, which was followed by the annual rosary procession around the shrine grounds. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee was the main celebrant of the Mass, with Bishop Ricken as homilist. Bishop James P. Powers of Superior and numerous priests of the Diocese of Green Bay were concelebrants.

    Pope: Mercy, pastoral care should guide research on life, family

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Appointing Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as the new chancellor for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and new president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis said he wanted to make sure the two bodies help the church offer better care to people who are hurting. In a letter to Archbishop Paglia, published in the Vatican newspaper Aug. 17, Pope Francis said he believed the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and the Academy for Life should undergo "a renewal and further development" so their research and activity would focus "ever more clearly on the horizon of mercy." "From the Second Vatican Council to today, the magisterium of the church on these themes has developed in a broad and profound way," the pope said. He added that the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family and his exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," have "further extended and deepened its content." Appointing Archbishop Paglia to guide the two bodies, the pope said he wanted the institutions to renew their commitment to spreading church teaching on family, marriage and life issues "in relation to the challenges of contemporary culture. The sphere of reflection should be the frontiers," he said. "Even in theological study, a pastoral perspective and attention to the wounds of humanity should never be lacking."

    Shrine Mass honors St. Maximilian Kolbe on 75th anniversary of martyrdom

    ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (CNS) -- Amid the lush, green farmland of Howard County, several hundred worshippers filled the chapel at the Shrine of St. Anthony Aug. 14 to honor a man whose final days were spent starving to death in a crowded, underground bunker. It was 75 years to the day in 1941 when the man -- known as prisoner 16670 at the infamous Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland -- received a lethal injection after he spent two weeks without food while comforting and encouraging his nine fellow prisoners before they died. He would be canonized in 1982 as St. Maximilian Kolbe by St. John Paul II. Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Savannah, Georgia, recalled the incident in his homily at a special Mass at the shrine, which is in the Baltimore Archdiocese. Like St. Maximilian, the bishop is a Conventual Franciscan. "As novices," Bishop Hartmayer said, "we learned about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and the history of the Franciscan order. It was then that I first learned about the courage and the sanctity of Maximilian Kolbe."

    Congolese bishops optimistic about offer to mediate peace talks

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- An official of the Congolese bishops' conference said he is optimistic that the government and opposition will work with them to restart peace talks. Msgr. Leonard Santedi Kinkupu, secretary-general of the conference, said the bishops were "encouraged by the confidence shown in us by the main political actors and their readiness to cooperate." "The bishops are doing everything to save the country, at a time when the lack of any consensus risks igniting violent confrontations -- and both sides appear to be listening," he told Catholic News Service Aug. 16. The peace initiative was launched Aug. 10 by Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, newly elected bishops' conference president. Msgr. Kinkupu said the bishops had presented the initiative to U.S., U.N. and European Union officials, "and they're all supporting our church's efforts to stop a descent into disorder."

    U.S. embassy to launch online exhibit on Mother Teresa

    ROME (CNS) -- In late August the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See will launch an online exhibit documenting the deep ties Blessed Teresa of Kolkata had with the United States. "She had an impact on Americans -- quite a profound impact," said Ken Hackett, the U.S. ambassador, who knew and worked with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity while he served as president of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops. The online exhibit, compiled to mark Mother Teresa's canonization Sept. 4, will debut Aug. 26 on the embassy's website -- -- as well as on its Facebook page. The site will include many items from her repeated trips to the United States, the first of which appears to have been a trip to address the 1960 conference of the National Council of Catholic Women "in -- nowhere else but -- Las Vegas," Hackett said.

    Pope names Dallas bishop head of new office for laity, family, life

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas to head the Vatican's new office for laity, family and life. The Dublin-born bishop will celebrate his 69th birthday Sept. 2, the day after the new Vatican office officially begins its work. In a statement a few hours after his appointment was announced in Rome, Bishop Farrell said he was "extremely humbled" Pope Francis chose him to lead the new office. "I look forward to being part of the important work of the universal church in the promotion of the laity and the apostolate of the laity and for the pastoral care of the family in accordance with the pope's recent apostolic exhortation, 'Amoris Laetitia,' ('The Joy of Love'), and the support of human life," he said. At the same time, Bishop Farrell said he had "mixed emotions" about leaving Dallas, its people and priests. Bishop Kevin Farrell is the brother of Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Both brothers were ordained to the priesthood for the Legionaries of Christ, but the Dallas bishop was later incardinated in the Archdiocese of Washington and served as an auxiliary bishop there 2002-2007. Pope Francis, in a brief apostolic letter formally establishing the new "Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life," said the office should respond "to the situations of our age and adapt to the needs of the universal church."

    Pope: Jesus' compassion is a call to service, not a vague sentiment

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus' compassion toward people in need is not a vague sentiment, but a calling for Christians to bring that same compassion to others, Pope Francis said. By miraculously feeding thousands of people, Jesus made an act "of faith and prayer" that "shows the full strength of his will to be close to us and to save us," the pope said Aug. 17 at his weekly general audience. Thousands of people packed the Paul VI audience hall, waving and stretching out their hands eagerly, hoping to greet the pope. Noticing a small child surrounded by people trying to greet them, Pope Francis motioned the crowd to make way and gave the child a blessing. In his audience talk, the pope reflected on the Gospel reading of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus, he noted, "does not have a cold heart," but rather is moved by those who follow him and "feels bound to this crowd." However, the pope noted that Jesus is not only concerned with feeding the hungry crowd, but also invites his disciples to take part in feeding them. "The Lord goes out to meet the needs of men and women and wants to make each one of us concretely share in his compassion," the pope said.

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  • Faith communities gather at explosion site to offer hope

    SILVER SPRING, Md. (CNS) -- Days after a deadly explosion nearly leveled a four-story building near Washington, a group of Franciscan priests and other Catholics joined an interfaith group near the site of the blast to encourage hope for the more than 100 people displaced and to pray for seven who are missing. They prayed for those who have lost loved ones, those who lost their homes and those who helped others escape the inferno that followed the explosion. "We're gathered here as people of different faiths, Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of goodwill, to express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have suffered in this fire to offer a message of hope," said Franciscan Father Jacek Orzechowski, of St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring Aug. 14 to a crowd gathered near the explosion site. Father Orzechowski said the parish is still unsure how many of its members were affected by the Aug. 10 explosion. Singing "Where there is charity and love, there God is ever found" in Spanish, Father Orzechowski and other religious leaders led a procession of about 150 people, urging those who attended to offer their solidarity to the affected.

    Black women faced racism in pursuing religious vocations, says speaker

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- Black women desiring to serve a life devoted to the Catholic faith were not welcomed by religious communities with anti-black acceptance requirements from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, said historian Shannen Dee Williams. Those who could gain admittance faced discrimination from their fellow sisters, she added. "Black sisters matter, but they constitute a dangerous memory for the church," said Williams, assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was joined by Sister Anita Baird, a Daughter of the Heart of Mary, and Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, on an Aug. 12 panel discussing racism in religious life at the assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Atlanta. Williams upcoming book is called "Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America." It was the subject of her doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University.

    Church praised for offering 'Gospel hospitality' as shelter during storm

    ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (CNS) -- Two weeks after historic flooding killed two and impacted many others in Ellicott City, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a Mass at the church that served as a refuge during the storm. "Many of you volunteered to comfort and assist those most affected by the flooding," the archbishop told parishioners during his homily at the Aug. 13 vigil Mass at St. Paul, located a stone's throw uphill from the devastation. "So please accept my warmest thanks for your neighborly kindness, which is also a wonderful example of the Gospel hospitality." The archbishop asked the congregation to remember in the day's Mass "those who died and those who still suffer, even as we ask God's blessings on efforts to rebuild those parts of town that suffered the heaviest damage." With everyone preoccupied with water, Archbishop Lori crafted his homily around the fire of the Holy Spirit, which he said "enkindles in our hearts a genuine zeal for the Gospel -- a burning desire to share the good news of Jesus with others."

    Contemplation leads to 'transformational leadership,' LCWR assembly told

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- Two keynote speakers spoke to attendees at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Atlanta about keeping grounded and the mystery found in a changing world. Sister Pat Farrell, of the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque, Iowa, an LCWR past president, spoke of centering religious life leadership in contemplation. Margaret Wheatley, author and management consultant, urged members to push back against a current of reactive thinking. The Aug. 9-12 assembly drew nearly 800 participants under the theme of "Embracing the Mystery: Living Transformation." All of the speakers pointed to the need for contemplative engagement with the struggles and sufferings of the world. In her Aug. 11 keynote, Sister Pat said that on a personal level, contemplation is "transformative" and on a communal level it is "transformational leadership." Wheatley in her Aug. 10 address told the assembly: "We are living in a time of constant reactivity. I can say confidently, thinking has disappeared from leadership. Reactivity is at an all-time high." Taking the time to consider choices and contemplation is not withdrawing from the world, she noted. Instead, it shows wisdom, she said, instead of reacting to crisis after crisis.

    Women religious at assembly urged to face crisis with contemplation

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- Some 800 members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gathered in Atlanta for their annual assembly Aug. 9-12. With the theme of "Embracing the Mystery: Living Transformation," the sisters considered where God is moving in today's world as they face smaller and graying communities. "The whole assembly is about listening to the movements of God, not only individually, but collectively," said Sister Annmarie Sanders, a member of of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who is LCWR's communications director. In her presidential address Aug. 10, Sister Marcia Allen, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, called for "a new way of exercising hope" to envision a conference as the number of women religious serving the church continues to dwindle. LCWR has approximately 1,350 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, representing approximately 80 percent of the 49,000 Catholic sisters in the United States. In an unsparing report to the organization's members, she shared numbers about the drop in women and men who serve the church in religious congregations. "In the belief that something will come of the ravages of collapse, hope is forged," Sister Marcia said.

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  • Louisiana bishop comforts evacuees at shelters; flooding displaces 20,000

    BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- As Louisiana's governor announced the federal government had declared a major disaster for the state Aug. 14, Catholic churches in the Baton Rouge Diocese called for volunteers to help those displaced by extreme flooding and asked flood victims what assistance they needed. Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters at a news conference that about 20,000 people had been rescued from their homes and more than 10,000 people were in shelters after a slow-moving tropical storm system dumped nearly 2 feet of rain on southern Louisiana. Several rivers crested at record levels. As of mid-morning Aug. 15, state officials said at least six people have died in the floods. Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench visited three evacuation shelters Aug. 14 to comfort evacuees. In a statement the day before, he dispensed Sunday Mass obligations for all Catholics affected by the storm and urged parishioners to limit their driving over the weekend because of "the inherent dangers of unsafe driving conditions." "Please know of my prayers for your safety and the safety of your church parishes and parishioners," he said in a message to pastors.

    Archbishop: Catholic women's groups give witness with actions, influence

    HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (CNS) -- Women who belong to Catholic organizations give witness to God by the causes they support and the influence they bring to bear on a variety of issues, said Halifax Archbishop Anthony Mancini. At the opening Mass of the 96th annual national convention of the Catholic Women's League of Canada and the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations North American Conference, Archbishop Mancini told the women they acted on the word of God as Mary did, even "in a country inclined to hear many words, many voices, which are not always God wants us to hear." The archbishop linked the opening of the convention Aug. 14 to the following day's feast of the Assumption of Mary. "Mary experienced the real presence of the Word of God every time she went to the temple, but Mary also heard the word of God in her home, spoken by the angel Gabriel," he said. Mary "carried the Word of God, gave birth to the Word of God" shared God with the world around her and, in doing so, she shared in his victory, he said. More than 700 women from across North America were gathered for the Aug. 14-17 convention, which focused on palliative and hospice care.

    CRS uses lessons learned from Ebola to fight Zika in Cape Verde

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- The dust had hardly settled on Catholic Relief Services' work fighting the world's worst Ebola outbreak before the team was putting together a response to the Zika virus in the West African island nation of Cape Verde. "We put an enormous amount of effort into public education" fighting Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, "and this experience is now helping us in our response to Zika" in Cape Verde, Michael Stulman, CRS regional information officer for West and Central Africa, told Catholic News Service from Dakar, Senegal. The two-year Ebola outbreak in West Africa that started early 2014 left 11,310 people dead. Cape Verde, a tiny archipelago of islands about 300 miles off the west coast of Africa, has about 7,500 confirmed Zika cases in a population of 500,000 people. However, Roberta Rezende, who is coordinating CRS's work in Cape Verde, said the number of infected people in the former Portuguese colony could be higher because, unlike Ebola, the symptoms of Zika are mild and often go unreported. "We already have 400 volunteers doing door-to-door visits, helping families in their communities to identify and eliminate breeding sites" of mosquitoes that spread Zika, Rezende said in an Aug. 10 telephone interview from Santiago, the largest island of Cape Verde. "We find that it is more effective to do this with families rather than simply telling them what they should do."

    For Congolese priest, Mary's Assumption represents hope for tomorrow

    QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- For Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere, the feast of the Assumption represents his hope for better tomorrows for Congo. In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. But mostly, he writes to allow a people used to crying from under the rubble of chaos to speak once again. Father Mumbere is from North Kivu, a Congolese province that, for 20 years, has been at the heart of a conflict that has killed up to 8 million people in the East African nation. Sent to Quebec City by his religious order in 2009 to study theology, he eventually took up writing to tell of the Congolese drama. His French-language book, "La cloche ne sonnera plus a l'eglise de Butembo-Beni" ("The Bell Won't Ring Anymore at Butembo-Beni's Church"), is written like a series of letters addressed to his Aunt Assumpta, a fictitious name that serves two purposes: to protect her identity, and to have a constant reference to the feast of the Assumption. "Mary has walked the path that awaits us: the path of the Resurrection," said Father Mumbere. "The path toward the Father. She's like a model that encourages us, that tells us it's possible to make it. Stay strong. Mary is not the path. Jesus is." In this sense, he said, the Assumption is not just a devotion, "It's something real, alive."

    Assembly OKs document marking 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue

    NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When Martin Luther wrote his "Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" in 1517 -- mostly challenging the Catholic Church's sale of indulgences -- and posted it on the Wittenberg Castle door, it forever changed the church and sparked the Protestant Reformation. In preparation for the 500th anniversary observance of the Reformation in 2017, 2,000 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathered for its Churchwide Assembly Aug. 8-13 in New Orleans. Its theme was "Freed and Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God's Grace in Action." A key action at the assembly was the vote Aug. 10 on the document "Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist," paving the road to unity between Catholics and Lutherans. It was approved by a 99.04 percent margin -- 931 votes yes and only 9 votes no -- to an uproarious applause that lasted over a minute at the assembly. "Let us pause to honor this historic moment," ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said after the vote. "Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity."

    Pope prays for exploited women, Mary's intercession on feast of Assumption

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating the feast of the Assumption just three days after visiting a group of young women rescued from the sex trade, Pope Francis prayed for all exploited women and girls. "The Lord bows down to the lowly in order to raise them up as is proclaimed in the Magnificat," Mary's hymn of praise to God, the pope said Aug. 15. "Mary's canticle leads us to think of many painful situations today and particularly those of women overpowered by the burdens of life and the drama of violence, women who are slaves of the abuse of the powerful, girls forced into inhuman work, women forced to surrender body and spirit to the greed of men," Pope Francis told thousands of people gathered to pray the Angelus with him. The pope prayed that exploited women soon would be able to live "a life of peace, justice and love in expectation of the day they finally will feel held by hands that do not humiliate them, but tenderly lift them and lead them on the path to life." Pope Francis also prayed on the feast day that Mary would intercede to bring "compassion, understanding and agreement" to the many places in the world experiencing war and violent conflicts.

    On 'Mercy Friday,' pope visits women rescued from prostitution

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Continuing his Year of Mercy practice of going one Friday a month to visit people facing special struggles, Pope Francis paid a surprise visit to a community helping 20 young women get their lives back together after being rescued from prostitution. The pope visited the house operated by the John XXIII Community in northeast Rome the afternoon of Aug. 12. The community members, the Vatican said, were "20 women liberated from the slavery of the prostitution racket. Six of them come from Romania, four from Albania, seven from Nigeria and one each from Tunisia, Italy and Ukraine." The women's average age is 30, said a Vatican press statement. "All of them have endured serious physical violence" and are now being protected. Pope Francis' visit, the Vatican said, is another call to combat human trafficking, a reality the pope has described as "a crime against humanity" and "an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ."

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