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  • Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries decried, called hateful actions

    By Matthew Gambino

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Responding to the destruction of some 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput Feb. 27 deplored the "senseless acts of mass vandalism."

    The gravestones were discovered toppled over from their bases the previous morning at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.

    The archbishop issued a statement in which he called on the clergy, religious and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia "to join in prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed. Violence and hate against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable."

    The incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery mirrors gravestones destroyed at another Jewish cemetery near St. Louis about a week before.

    In a statement Feb. 24, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, expressed solidarity and support for the Jewish community and also called for the rejection of such hateful actions.

    "I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who have experienced once again a surge of anti-Semitic actions in the United States," said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, speaking on behalf of all the bishops and U.S. Catholics. "I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions. The Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism."

    Two days earlier, the National Council of Churches in a statement said that "anti-Semitism has no place in our society. Eradicating it requires keeping constant vigil."

    In his statement, Archbishop Chaput said that "for Catholics, anti-Semitism is more than a human rights concern. It's viewed as a form of sacrilege and blasphemy against God's chosen people. In recent weeks, our country has seen a new wave of anti-Semitism on the rise. It's wrong and it should deeply concern not only Jews and Catholics, but all people."

    Even as the archbishop issued his statement, a new wave of fear spread for Jewish people in the United States as about a dozen Jewish community centers across the country received anonymous threats of violence.

    Several centers in the Philadelphia region -- including the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center, which includes a preschool, in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood -- had been evacuated the morning of Feb. 27 because of bomb threats, local media reported. By the afternoon, the facility along with others in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware had reopened.

    Scores of other such threats have been received by Jewish community centers in recent weeks across the country.

    "As a community, we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize and incite prejudice," Archbishop Chaput said. "We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition.

    "Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding."

    The heads of the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia met the afternoon of Feb. 27 at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to discuss the situation. Msgr. Daniel Kutys, moderator of the curia for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, represented Archbishop Chaput at the meeting.

    The archbishop, who is a co-convener of the more than 30-member religious leadership council, was unable to attend the meeting.

    In St. Louis, an interfaith cleanup effort of the vandalized cemetery took place Feb 22 followed by an interfaith prayer service. Vandals toppled more than two-dozen gravestones and damaged an estimated 200 more at the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which dates to 1893.

    Represented by seminarians, priests, deacons, students and laity, Catholic St. Louisans stood with Jewish brethren at the cemetery in University City.

    They were among about 1,000 people who helped with cleanup, including Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitans. When he came unannounced to help rake leaves, Pence was wearing work clothes, as he had come from another event.

    "There is no place in America for hatred, prejudice, or acts of violence or anti-Semitism," he said later. "I must tell you that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place and the Jewish community. I want to thank you for that inspiration. For showing the world what America is all about."

    Greitens, who came ready to work in jeans, boots and a work shirt, described the vandalism as "a despicable act ... anti-Semitic and painful. Moments like this are what a community is about. ... We're going to demonstrate that this is a moment of revolve. We're coming together to share service."

    Seminarians were among those who answered St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's call Feb. 21 "to help our Jewish brothers and sisters." About a dozen used their afternoon free time to help out.

    "This is neat to see," said seminarian Cole Bestgen, watching the workers fan out on a sunny and unseasonably warm 67-degree day armed with rakes, trash barrels and buckets. Though toppled headstones already had been replaced, the volunteers took care of general cleanup and maintenance.

    The desecration sparked outrage from numerous ecumenical groups -- Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Muslims and more -- and dignitaries across the country, including President Donald J. Trump, who sent messages of thanks through Pence and Greitens.

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    Gambino is director and general manager of, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Contributing to this story was Dave Luecking in St. Louis.

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  • Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries decried, called hateful actions

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Responding to the destruction of some 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput Feb. 27 deplored the "senseless acts of mass vandalism." The gravestones were discovered toppled over from their bases the previous morning at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia. The archbishop issued a statement in which he called on the clergy, religious and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia "to join in prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed. Violence and hate against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable." The incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery mirrors gravestones destroyed at another Jewish cemetery near St. Louis about a week before. In a statement Feb. 24, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, expressed solidarity and support for the Jewish community and also called for the rejection of such hateful actions. "I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who have experienced once again a surge of anti-Semitic actions in the United States," said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, speaking on behalf of all the bishops and U.S. Catholics. "I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions. The Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism."

    USCCB committee chairmen applaud decision on transgender directive

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of two U.S. bishops' committees Feb. 24 praised President Donald Trump's repeal of the Obama administration's directive on transgender access to bathrooms. The guidance, issued last May by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, "indicated that public pre-K through 12 schools, as well as all colleges and universities, should treat 'a student's gender identity as the student's sex,'" said the bishops' joint statement. The document "sought to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with sensitive issues involving individual students," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education. "Such issues are best handled with care and compassion at the local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students," they said. In rescinding the directive, the Trump administration said that addressing of transgender access to bathrooms is best left to the states and local school districts, not the federal government.

    Reconciliation marks Melkite Catholic Church Synod of Bishops

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- The Melkite Catholic Church resumed its Synod of Bishops after a nearly eight-month interruption. The bishops thanked "the divine redeemer for the spirit of reconciliation and renewed commitment to walk together in partnership to restore peace in the church" in a statement released at the conclusion of the three-day meeting Feb. 23 at the patriarchate in Rebweh, Lebanon. The synod's resumption followed a boycott of it in June by several bishops, leaving the gathering without a quorum. At issue was the management of some landholdings of the Melkite Catholic Church. The bishops who did not attend had called for the resignation of Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, 83, who has held his post since 2000. "The synod thanks the Holy Father Francis for his attention to issues of our church property," the statement said. Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican's nuncio to Lebanon, and Cardinal Mario Zenari, nuncio to Syria, also attended the synod.

    Mexican priest, first convicted of sexual abuse, gets 16 years in prison

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A priest in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has been sentenced to 16 years and 6 months in prison for sexual abuse, marking the first ever conviction of a Catholic clergyman for such a crimes in the country. Father Gerardo Silvestre Hernandez, a priest in the Archdiocese of Antequera Oaxaca, was convicted in January of corrupting minors while serving as a priest in a remote indigenous village of Oaxaca. His sentence was made public Feb. 24, Mexican media reported. Father Silvestre was found guilty of plying his victims with alcohol, showing them pornographic films and then sexually abusing them. The crimes took place in 2009 and 2010, according to court documents, Mexican media reported, although other accusations were reported earlier. A coalition of nongovernmental groups known as the Oaxaca Childhood Forum alleged there have been other victims, too. Silvestre was arrested 2013 and had been detained since then. The case against the priest has received national media attention in Mexico as stories surfaced of the accusations against him being sent to the Vatican and archdiocesan delays in reporting the allegations to civil authorities.

    With Lilly grant, seminary will help parishes reach out to young adults

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Many studies over the past several years have shown that a growing number of young adults in American society have abandoned the faith with which they were raised, and now identify themselves with no organized religion. This has been shown to be common among young adult Catholics, in particular. In the Indianapolis Archdiocese, St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad is launching an initiative to help parishes reach out to young adult Catholics and help them rediscover and renew their Catholic identity. Late last year, St. Meinrad received a $1.38 million grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment to support the initiative. The grant is part of a broader $19.4 million initiative focused on young adults and faith in which the Lilly Endowment is partnering with 13 Christian institutions across the country. St. Meinrad is the only Catholic organization among them.

    Activist group shares vision of God's justice with sidelined communities

    MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Gloria Sanchez knows that at any time, she and her husband, Leopoldo Sandoval, can be picked up by law enforcement officers and find themselves on the road to deportation to their native Mexico. It's a concern that haunts Sanchez, 40, because they do not have legal permission to be in the country. Their six children, including five who still are at home, are just as concerned. But Sanchez's unease has not stopped her from taking a public stance in support of immigrants as a leader with Congregations Building Community, an interfaith coalition in Stanislaus County in California's Central Valley. Sanchez told Catholic News Service in the living room of her home Feb. 16 that her faith and desire to seek justice for marginalized people -- whether unauthorized or citizens -- keeps her and her three teenage children on the front line of the struggle for immigrant rights. Daughter Flor, 16, and son Leo, 14, are no stranger to activism. They have participated at rallies, written letters to legislators and advocated among their peers. They said that despite their involvement in the democratic give-and-take of American life, they cannot block the potential incarceration of their mother. "It's kind of scary because we don't know," Flor said. "It would be beautiful if she had her papers. It worries me some times that she may not be home (after school)," Leo said. Flor and Leo were at home for the day, as were younger siblings Eduardo, 12, and Gloria, 8, as part of a nationwide protest called "A Day Without Immigrants." In Modesto, hundreds of students were kept at home, some Latino-owned business closed and people did not go to work to make the point that immigrants -- those unauthorized in particular -- are a vital part of the American economy.

    Pope furthers sainthood causes of eight men, women

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of two medical doctors and six religious -- many of whom died just a generation ago. The pope approved the decrees during an audience Feb. 27 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes. The pope recognized the martyrdom of Salesian Father Titus Zeman, who secretly shuttled Salesians to Italy out of communist-controlled Czechoslovakia when religious orders were banned in the 1950s and members were sent to concentration camps. He eventually was arrested and jailed. Although he was released from prison in 1964, he suffered ill health because of his imprisonment and died in 1969. The pope recognized the heroic virtues of five other men and two women.

    Corned beef conundrum: Some dioceses give St. Patrick's Day dispensation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday, as it does about every seven years, the Lenten rule requiring Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays collides with the long-held tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage. The two occasions meet this year. March 17 marks the celebration of St. Patrick -- known as the Apostle of Ireland for his years of missionary work there -- and it also is a celebration of all things Irish and even green. This March 17, since it falls on a Friday in Lenten, also is a time of penitence. The timing has not gone unnoticed by some U.S. bishops. Before Lent even started, many of them issued dispensations for Catholics in their dioceses allowing them to eat meat on St. Patrick's Day. The dispensation does not take Catholics totally off the hook. Many bishops advised Catholics over age 14, who are required to abstain from meat on Friday, to do an extra act of charity or penance in exchange for eating meat. Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, took it a step further. In a statement, he said Catholics should also "exercise due moderation and temperance in festivities and celebrations of the memorial of St. Patrick, in keeping with the solemnity and honor that is due to so great a saint and his tireless efforts to inspire holiness in the Christian faithful."

    Philippine archbishop recalls deceased Cardinal Sin in time of upheaval

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Expressing concern about thousands of deaths in the nation's so-called "war on drugs," the president of the Philippine bishops' conference has sought courage from a deceased cardinal whose influence helped overthrow a dictator in the mid-1980s. Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan wrote a public letter to Cardinal Jaime Sin Feb. 25, the 31st anniversary of the peaceful People Power revolution, which led to the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos. Archbishop Villegas, who was a newly ordained priest and Cardinal Sin's personal secretary in 1986, recalled the four "glorious days" when millions of ordinary Filipinos converged on Epifano de los Santos Avenue outside of the country's military headquarters and toppled Marcos. He had been in power for more than 15 years, implementing an authoritarian style that grew more oppressive the longer he stayed in power. Marcos had ordered his military to disperse angry crowds that claimed he stole a snap election against opposition leader Corazon Aquino, but soldiers stood down, allowing Aquino to take office and restore democracy to the young nation. Cardinal Sin, who, with other church leaders, was being pursued by the Marcos government, sent a message on Catholic radio to religious and clergy to drop everything and pray with the crowds on the avenue. The message continued to be broadcast despite government attempts to destroy station transmitters. Marcos took sanctuary in Hawaii, where he died three years later.

    Vermonters urged to 'stand resolutely' against illegal drugs, gun violence

    ST. ALBANS, Vt. (CNS) -- The day after a Burlington man was arraigned in Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans for allegedly shooting a man in a Catholic church parking lot, the bishop of the statewide Diocese of Burlington issued a statement condemning illegal use of drugs as well as "any act of violence against any person." Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne noted that the incident was reported to be connected to a "drug deal gone bad. The fact that the crime occurred in one of our parking lots appears to be a coincidence," he said. Zakk Trombly, 22, of Burlington was arraigned Feb. 24 at Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans and pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder, St. Albans police said. He is accused of shooting Dustin Davenport, 22, of Richford in the head; Davenport remained hospitalized in critical condition. "The shooting did take place on church property in a busy and dense neighborhood," Bishop Coyne said in his Feb. 25 statement. "People were out walking in the good weather. Children were making their way home from school. Normal parish and Vermont Catholic Charities business was taking place in the parish center when the six shots were fired."

    Bravely tackle hardship knowing God will never let you down, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When life gets difficult, trust in God and don't worry unnecessarily about tomorrow, Pope Francis said. "Trusting in him doesn't magically solve problems, but it allows for facing them with the right spirit -- courageously," he said before praying the Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter's Square Feb. 26. "I am brave because I trust in my father who cares for everything and loves me very much." The pope's reflection looked at the day's Gospel reading (Mt 6:24-34) in which Jesus tells his disciples to "not worry about your life," what to wear and what to eat. Instead, look at how God provides for the wild flowers and animals, and learn from them that worrying will not "add a single moment to your life-span," the passage reads. Too much worrying "risks taking serenity and balance away" from one's life, the pope said. "Often this anxiety is pointless because it is unable to change the course of events."

    Pope to priests: Defend marriage ministering to those in irregular unions

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Reaching out to and guiding couples in cohabitation with tenderness and compassion is essential to promoting and defending the sanctity of marriage, Pope Francis said. Couples who have chosen to live together without getting married in the church "are, in spiritual and moral terms, among the poor and the least, toward whom the church, in the footsteps of her teacher and Lord, wants to be a mother who doesn't abandon, but who draws near and cares for," he said in an audience with parish priests Feb. 25. Look upon such couples with "tenderness and compassion," he said, urging the clergy to remember that ministry to the least and the neediest "is an essential part of your work in promoting and defending the sacrament of marriage." The pope spoke to parish priests who were in Rome attending a course on marriage preparation and the new rules to reform the process for verifying the validity of a marriage. The course was offered Feb. 22-25 and was sponsored by the Vatican's Roman Rota, a marriage tribunal. Pope Francis told the priests he was pleased the priests participated in the studies "because it is up to you, above all, to concretely apply (the teachings) in your daily contact with families."

    Ecumenism is a common journey, not a lab experiment, pope says

    ROME (CNS) -- The path toward Christian unity can't be found isolated in a laboratory hashing out theological differences, but rather by walking together on a common journey, Pope Francis said. While theological dialogue is necessary, Catholics and Anglicans can continue to "help each other in our needs, in our lives and help each other spiritually," the pope said Feb. 26 while answering questions from parishioners of All Saints' Anglican Church in Rome. "This cannot be done in a laboratory; it must be done walking together along the way. We are on a journey and while we walk, we can have these (theological) discussions," he said. The pope made history as the first pontiff to visit the Anglican parish, which was celebrating the 200th anniversary of its establishment in Rome. Invited by the Anglican community, Pope Francis took part in an evening liturgy and blessed an icon of Christ the Savior to commemorate the occasion. The prayer service included a "twinning" pledge between All Saints' Anglican Church and the Catholic parish that shares its name in Rome. As Pope Francis looked on, the pastors of both parishes signed a pledge to collaborate in joint retreats, works of charity and sharing meals with each other.

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  • U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on border shooting of Mexican teenager

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court took on a U.S-Mexico border issue Feb. 21 when it examined if the parents of a Mexican teenager can sue the U.S. border agent who shot and killed their son. During the oral arguments, the justices seemed divided over who was responsible for the action. Some of the justices stressed that it was a U.S. concern since the teen was shot by a U.S. agent; other justices said that since the 15-year-old died on the Mexican side of the border, the case should stay out of the U.S. courts. The case involves the 2010 shooting Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca in the concrete culvert of the dry riverbed of the Rio Grande River separating El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Robert Hilliard, attorney for the victim's parents, told the court that the teenager was "barely across the border, unthreatening and unarmed" when agent Jesus Mesa shot him from across the concrete culvert. The boy's family said they have been denied justice in U.S. courts since their son collapsed and died on the Mexican side of the border and was out of reach of U.S. constitutional protections. After a number of court reversals, they are now seeking a Supreme Court ruling to allow them to bring a suit to Texas against the border agent. On the other side of the issue, the agent's attorneys and the U.S. government say it is not a U.S. issue and even warned that it could have broader implications.

    Priest has ministry to street artists who are transforming neighborhood

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- When Pope Francis urged that the Gospel be preached at the peripheries of society, he may not have had the street artists of Bushwick in mind. But then again, Father Frank Mann is not so sure he wasn't talking about them. In fact, Father Mann recently began a special ministry to those young artists who have been transforming that Brooklyn neighborhood into a magnet for like-minded individuals and in turn, changing the face and the faces of the area. Assigned part time to St. Martin of Tours Parish, the 64-year-old priest spends most of his time walking the streets, sipping coffee in the burgeoning cafes, or pursuing his own art in his studio that is part of an artists' complex in what was an old factory. His door is always open and other artist-residents wander in and out to say hello, never quite sure what a priest is doing in their midst. "My objective is to be present and supportive both to the artists themselves and their work," he told The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn. "Likewise, I hope to be an active, listening ear for their multifaceted needs that are both personal and communal."

    Australian archbishops to ask Vatican for clarity on confession issues

    SYDNEY (CNS) -- Australia's five archbishops said they would consider asking the Vatican for clarification on concerns raised in a government inquiry into sexual abuse of children in the church. Among those concerns were whether the seal of confession includes only the sins confessed, not other information revealed in confession, and under what circumstances -- specifically concerning an abuser -- a priest could withhold absolution. Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide said the permanent committee of the bishops' conference would meet in early March to set the agenda for its May meeting. If the full conference approved, documentation could be sent to Pope Francis after the May meeting, asking the pope "to expedite it and deal with it," Archbishop Wilson said. "These are two very specific issues where the church must do more work at clarifying its own position so that those of us who are responsible for the formation of priests can make sure that our priests are properly educated in these matters," said Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth.

    Virginia families know the heartbreak of opioid use, addiction

    WARRENTON, Va. (CNS) -- Until he offered the funeral Mass for a 23-year-old son of a grieving family, Father Kevin J. Fimian was untouched by the reach of the opioid epidemic. "I wasn't aware how bad it really is," said the parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton. And bad has been getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of opioid overdoses in the United States has tripled since 2000. Opioid overdoses in 2014 led to nearly 30,000 deaths nationwide. Last year in the Warrenton town limits alone, police responded to 19 opioid overdoses -- 15 from heroin and four from prescription drugs. Six of those overdoses were fatal. "(People) do it once, and it's a rush that cannot be equaled in normal life and in subsequent use," explained Father Fimian. "It's a cult of death." Jamie, an 18-year-old high school graduate from Fauquier County, was one of the victims of the opioid epidemic. He played lacrosse in school, and had aspirations to be a sports trainer. "He was just an average kid today," said his grandmother, Ann MacMahon, "whose parents loved him so much."

    Governor's veto on defunding Planned Parenthood called 'deeply offensive'

    RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has again "demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the nation's largest abortion provider" by vetoing a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, said the state's Catholic conference. They said his action comes at the "expense of comprehensive health care for women" because the defunding measure would have redirected state dollars to community health centers that provide primary care to women and their families. The comments came in a statement issued Feb. 21 by the Virginia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops. Earlier that day when McAuliffe vetoed the bill, known as H.B. 2264, Planned Parenthood and its supporters held a veto ceremony on the steps of the governor's mansion in Richmond. He vetoed a defunding measure last year as well. "Attempts to restrict women's access to health care will impede the goal of making Virginia the best place to live, work, and run a business," he said in a statement. New reports said pro-life supporters also rallied at the mansion, holding signs that read "All Lives Matter" and "Say No to Planned Parenthood."

    Pope, top Curia officials launch new style of 'ad limina' visit

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For decades, the visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican were known for their formality and routine style, but Pope Francis launched "a whole new style of 'ad limina' visits," a Chilean bishop said. The bishops were expecting "to have a long meeting with a speech and then individual meetings," as in the past, Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos of Santiago, secretary of the Chilean bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service Feb. 24. Instead, the Vatican informed the prelates before their departure from Chile that they were going to have a group meeting with the pope and the prefects of several Vatican congregations and offices. "We were told that this was going to be a new way of doing things that was beginning with us, that looks for a more fruitful, more incisive dialogue between the representatives of the local churches and the pope with his main collaborators," Bishop Ramos said. After spending three hours with the pope Feb. 20, the Chilean bishops met again with Pope Francis Feb. 23. At the second meeting, the pope and Chilean bishops were joined by several top officials, including: Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Discovery of Earth-sized planets boosts hope of finding alien life

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The quest to find life on other planets got a boost when astronomers confirmed the existence of at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star just 40 light years away. Three of the planets are located in the so-called "habitable" zone, a kind of "Goldilocks" sweet spot in that their distance from the sun makes them not too hot, not too cold, but just right for having liquid water -- an essential ingredient for life. The pope's own astronomers applauded the new discovery around the dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, named after one of the many telescopes that detected the planets. The study's results were published in Nature magazine Feb. 22. "The discovery is important because, to date, it has revealed the highest number of Earth-sized planets revolving around a single parent star," U.S. Jesuit Father David Brown told Catholic News Service. "Depending on different factors, all of the planets could potentially harbor conditions for the possible existence of life on them," he said in an email response to questions Feb. 24. "It is also significant because it shows the existence of such exoplanets -- planets outside of our solar system -- around low-mass -- smaller than the Sun -- cool, red, dim stars, which are the most common types of stars in galaxies and which have long lifetimes," said the astrophysicist, who studies stellar evolution at the Vatican Observatory. He said scientists and astronomers will now want to use newer and more powerful telescopes to learn more about the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, such as the planets' atmospheres.

    Argentine attorney representing workers stays friends with Pope Francis

    MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Grass-roots organizing that seeks to overcome what Pope Francis has called "the economy of exclusion" is vital to the work of the Catholic Church, said an Argentine attorney who has stayed friends with the pontiff for a decade. "We are helping church, the institutional church, if you want to say, in this mission because church is like an iceberg," said Juan Grabois of the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy in Buenos Aires, the pope's hometown. "It's imperative (to organize). We see the bishops, maybe the priests, maybe the pope, but the real church is the holy people of God, which is at the bottom. We are helping the tip of the iceberg to do its job." Grabois chose strong words during a media briefing Feb. 18 to explain the work of his organization and dozens of others that gathered for the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in California's Central Valley. He said the efforts of popular movements is needed in a world where people are being left by the wayside in an economy in which a privileged few accumulate great wealth. He also stressed that the widespread crackdown on unauthorized people in the U.S. poses moral questions for the Catholic Church on how it will react to protect those threatened with deportation. The threat to immigrants and families has existed for years and extends from an unjust social structure that allows racism to remain in place worldwide, said Grabois, who was named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace by Pope Francis in November.

    Promote life by protecting, sharing clean water, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right and a key component in protecting human life, Pope Francis said. "The right to water is essential for the survival of persons and decisive for the future of humanity," the pope said Feb. 24 during a meeting with 90 international experts participating in a "Dialogue on Water" at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Looking at all the conflicts around the globe, Pope Francis said, "I ask myself if we are not moving toward a great world war over water." Access to water is a basic and urgent matter, he said. "Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance. Urgent, because our common home needs to be protected." Citing "troubling" statistics from the United Nations, the pope said, "each day -- each day! -- a thousand children die from water-related illnesses and millions of persons consume polluted water."

    South Sudan bishops condemn atrocities, appeal for help to prevent famine

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- South Sudan's Catholic bishops asked for the world's help to prevent mass starvation that threatens the lives of more than 5 million people. In a separate statement, they also said the looming famine was a man-made catastrophe. They denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating "scorched-earth" policies in defiance of international law. In a Feb. 23 appeal for humanitarian assistance, the bishops said farmers have fled lands without planting crops as civilians are targeted by both sides in the country's increasingly bloody three-year civil war. Food shortages have been compounded by problems of unemployment, soaring inflation and poor rains, meaning that the country had now entered a critical time, the bishops said. Citing government predictions, they estimated that about 4.9 million people would be facing famine by April and about 5.5 million people by July. Among the most vulnerable are more than 3 million refugees and people internally displaced by fighting between the supporters of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.

    Pope: Jesus guided by truth, mercy, not 'one size fits all' mentality

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus was motivated by truth and mercy, not blanket judgments that lead to deceit and hypocritical ways of skirting around God's law, Pope Francis said. Christians are called to be "just in mercy" rather than following the letter of the law but not the heart of the law, the pope said Feb. 23 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "To those who wanted to put him to the test, to those who thought with this logic of 'you can do this,' he regards them -- not here but in another passage of the Gospel -- as hypocrites," the pope said. The day's Gospel reading told of the Pharisees attempting to trap Jesus by asking his thoughts on Moses granting permission for men to divorce their wives. "Jesus doesn't answer saying whether it is lawful or not lawful; he does not enter into their case-based reasoning. Because they thought about faith only in terms of 'you can' or 'you can't'" do this or that, he said. However, the pope noted, Jesus uses the truth to trap them, calling them out on their "hard-hearted" nature, which is precisely what they used to justify their actions.

    U.S. senators discuss trafficking, immigration with Vatican officials

    ROME (CNS) -- U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met Feb. 23 with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to discuss U.S.-Vatican cooperation in fighting human trafficking and ending modern slavery. Corker told reporters Feb. 24 that while modern slavery was the focus of his visit, with so much international attention on President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, "certainly it came up. It was not stressed. We understand the pope has spoken very strongly about this issue." The senator said the United States and the Vatican have a "mutual interest in dealing with modern slavery," a phenomenon involving some 27 million people; 24 percent of them, he said, are involved in forced prostitution, while the remaining 76 percent are subjected to "hard labor." Pope Francis repeatedly has highlighted the connection between restrictive immigration policies and the growth of human trafficking. "Obviously, the migrant issue and the crisis it has generated there makes people even more vulnerable," Corker said.

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  • Chicago Catholic college's basketball chaplain? A 97-year-old nun

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Religious and clergy alike do their part to help the Ramblers' men's basketball team at Loyola University Chicago. The team's chaplain since 1994 has been Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is now 97 years old. She also is the newest member of Loyola's sports hall of fame. She was inducted Jan. 21. Sister Jean has become a fixture on campus, even getting her own bobblehead day before a game in appreciation for her service. She keeps an office in the Student Center where her door is always open, and she lives in a dorm with 400 undergraduate students, where she also serves as their chaplain. She leads the team in a pregame prayer. A writer for ESPN who listened in before one game characterized it as a mix of prayer, scouting report and motivational speech. She begins each prayer with the phrase "Good and gracious God. I love every one of them," she told the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. "I talk about the game to them and then they go out and play." In addition to the team, Sister Jean also leads the entire crowd in a prayer before tip-off. The 5-foot nun can be seen at every home game of the men's team. She's most often decked out in Loyola gear and wearing her trademark maroon Nike tennis shoes with gold laces that have "Sister" stitched onto the heel of her left shoe and "Jean" stitched on the heel of her right shoe.

    Supreme Court blocks Texas inmate's execution, cites racial bias

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court's Feb. 22 decision to block the execution of an African-American inmate on death row in Texas over racially biased testimony in his sentencing hearing is "another stride toward greater justice in our legal system," said a Catholic anti-death penalty leader. "This decision reflects the extent to which the death penalty is racially biased and a broken policy," said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty. In a 6-2 ruling, the court agreed that Texas inmate Duane Buck had been unfairly represented by an expert defense witness who told jurors that Buck was more likely to commit violent crimes in the future because he is black. "Buck may have been sentenced to death in part because of his race," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion. "Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are." Buck's guilt or innocence was not at stake -- he was convicted 20 years ago for the 1995 murders of his ex-girlfriend and another man in front of her children. What had been called into question was whether he was given a fair sentence. Now he will be able to go back to a lower court and request a new sentencing hearing.

    Vatican, al-Azhar ask world to help stop religious extremism, terrorism

    CAIRO (CNS) -- The Vatican and al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's leading institution of higher learning, called for the world's governments, organizations and leaders to cooperate with each other in countering extremist and violent groups, noting that such groups "have negatively impacted stability and peaceful coexistence among peoples." In the final statement after a Feb. 22-23 symposium at the Cairo university, representatives of al-Azhar and the Vatican called for finding realistic ways to fight terrorism and terrorist organizations: cutting off resources, including money and weapons, or closing down social communications that spread extremist ideologies to young people. They also called for eliminating the "spirit of hatred and animosity for religions and defaming religious symbols, since these are hostile actions." The joint statement pointed to the need to address the "causes of the phenomena of extremism, violence, poverty, ignorance and the political abuse of religion and incorrect understanding of religious texts."

    Literacy center teaches reading, writing, helps students' self-esteem too

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Mario Gamboa is on the move. There are too many words to read, and too few Latinos who can read them. His first stop, the Guatemala consulate in Silver Spring, Maryland. His second visit, a Spanish AM radio station across town in Wheaton, Maryland. Last stop, another consulate, but this time in Washington with El Salvador's diplomat. The conversation of the day: A Spanish literacy center colloquially known in Spanish as CENAES, or El Centro de Alfabetizacion en Espanol. "I first got the idea to help migrants read and write Spanish in 2003," the Peruvian said from his office at Our Lady Queen of the Americas Catholic Church in Washington. "I own a small lawn and house painting business. One day I left written instructions in the morning for two men to complete, and when I returned later that evening, nothing had been done. They told me they were very sorry but that they couldn't read or write." From there it was full-steam ahead -- letters, syllables, words and basic math. Gamboa offered to teach the men, and their friends, basic Spanish literacy from his basement apartment. "I started with eight students, but after I made a class announcement during Mass at Our Lady Queen of the Americas, enrollment jumped to 35 in 2004," the self-taught language instructor told Catholic News Service. "In 2005, I had 70 students. And in 2006, I had around 80." Today, the nonprofit Spanish literacy program has 130 students, 20 volunteer teachers and instruction six days a week in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Instruction is free.

    Australian archbishops: Leadership on abuse was 'catastrophic failure'

    SYDNEY (CNS) -- Five Australian archbishops testified before a government commission on child sexual abuse, reiterating apologies and taking responsibility for actions that occurred before they were church leaders. They also said they believed the culture of church and society had changed enough that it would help such abuse from occurring in the future. The abuse of children in the church was "a catastrophic failure in many respects, but primarily in leadership," Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Feb. 23, near the end of three weeks of public hearings. Gail Furness, the counsel assisting the commission, asked four other archbishops if they concurred with the assessment, and all agreed. The commission is wrapping up more than three years of investigation into the Australian Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse. During the initial hearings Feb. 6, the commission reported on summary data showing that between January 1980 and February 2015, 4,444 people made allegations of child sexual abuse that related to more than 1,000 institutions. The statistics did not differentiate between allegations and proven cases.

    Late bishop's Little Black Book provides many with Lenten inspiration

    ALLOUEZ, Wis. (CNS) -- Every year, Catholics look for ways to observe the 40 days of Lent. Finding inspiration for prayer -- one of the three Lenten faith traditions, along with fasting and almsgiving -- is a top priority and one favorite source for many is the Little Black Book. Now in its 17th year of publication, the Little Black Book has its origins in the Diocese of Saginaw and was the idea of Saginaw's bishop, the late Bishop Kenneth E. Untener. A gifted homilist and writer, Bishop Untener died in 2004. Cathy Haven has been editor of the Little Black Book since 2004. In an interview with The Compass, the newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese, she explained how this Lenten resource Bishop Untener created for members of his diocese turned into an internationally popular devotional book. It is now published in English, Spanish and Vietnamese and also comes in different colors and themes: the Little Blue Book for Advent/Christmas; the Little White Book for the Easter season; and the Little Burgundy Book, an undated four-week reflection on stewardship in light of the Gospels. For copies, visit

    Advocates return home knowing they have new partners in justice work

    MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- There was a time when Janny Castillo wondered if she'd ever find a home for her kids. For nine years in the 1980s and '90s, Castillo was homeless and carted her four kids from shelter to motel to home of a family member to shelter, making sure they didn't miss school and they had enough to eat. It was not the most stable of lives, she admitted. Life eventually improved and today, Castillo, 54, finds herself advocating for homeless and at-risk older adults as program coordinator of Seniors Advocate for Hope and Justice at St. Mary's Center, a program of the Diocese of Oakland, California. Castillo brought her skills, experiences and enthusiasm to see what she could learn from hundreds of advocates from 12 countries at the U.S. Regional Meeting of Popular Movements in California's fertile Central Valley. She said she was pleased to learn about the breadth of faith-based advocacy for people in need and would return to Oakland with a notebook full of ideas from the connections she made among the more than 600 people on hand. "It's inspiration, knowing about the on-the-ground work and the faith-based, community-led efforts," she told Catholic News Service. "To know the Catholic Church has created this at this level is inspiring."

    Vatican invites experts to promote safe, accessible water for everyone

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A special gathering of policy experts, government officials, religious leaders, scholars, and development and social justice advocates was looking at ways to guarantee water that is safe and more accessible to the world's people. More than 90 experts were invited from five continents to provide an interdisciplinary look at the role of public policies in water and sanitation management. The meeting, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Argentine-based School of Dialogue and the Culture of Encounter, was held Feb. 23-24 and was to include a speech from Pope Francis and a final "Rome Declaration" drafted and signed by participants. The opening sessions looked at the religious, moral and rational bases underlying a call for the universal right to safe and accessible drinking water. Jerome Delli Priscoli, an expert in water conflict negotiations and management, said people will not expand or facilitate access to water without an attitude that is also built on respecting human dignity. Water management and policies have to take into account values such as solidarity, just distribution, preferential option for the poor, respect for the environment and being "good stewards" who are "co-creative in the design process that God has set in motion."

    Catholic Extension's Lenten digital journey a spiritual trip across U.S.

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- This year during Lent, Catholic Extension -- a Chicago-based national fundraising organization that builds churches and the Catholic Church in America's poorest places -- is inviting Catholics to come along on a 40-day spiritual journey across the United States for Lent. Starting March 1 and culminating on Easter Sunday, Catholic Extension will take its followers on a digital immersion trip that will crisscross America and visit nine dioceses in remote and poor areas of the country. Each stop, from the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to the Canadian border in Montana, "will feature Catholic leaders who are transforming lives and communities through the power of faith," said a news release about the trip. Participants will receive a weekly reflection written by an inspiring Catholic leader and stories that offer a glimpse into the truly transformational work being done in some of the most unexpected places of our country where the Catholic faith is thriving. Those who wish to participate can sign up to receive emails at

    Trump administration announces wide-ranging immigration guidelines

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into the U.S. In a Feb. 21 news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the guidelines include hiring more border agents, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hiring more personnel to "repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly." The memos by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly also called for state and local agencies to "assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law" and for hiring "additional border patrol agents, as well as "500 Air and Marine Agents/Officers." The cost of implementing such programs, whether there's enough funding and how Congress will be involved, was not discussed. While there have been two arrests under the new administration involving recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, it was not mentioned in the new guidelines. The program grants a reprieve from deportation and allows a work permit for those who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission.

    Vatican offers support to local farmers in Italian earthquake zone

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an effort to help support the economy of the central Italian region devastated by several earthquakes in 2016, the Vatican has purchased food from local farmers and producers to feed the homeless. Pope Francis instructed his almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, to purchase large quantities of food from central Italy, known for its delectable selection of meats, cheeses and wine. Working with bishops from the devastated areas, Archbishop Krajewski purchased products from "several groups of farmers and producers whose businesses were at risk of closing due to the damage caused by the earthquake," the Vatican said in a statement released Feb. 23. "The papal almoner proceeded to purchase a large quantity of their products with the intention, expressed by the Holy Father, of helping them and encouraging them to continue their activities," the Vatican said. All of the products purchased by the papal almoner's office will be distributed to soup kitchens in Rome that prepare meals for the city's needy and homeless people.

    Ghanaian bishops: Avoid vices to keep Ghana as 'Star of Africa'

    ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) -- In preparation for Ghana's 60th anniversary celebration March 6, members of the nation's bishops called on Ghanaians to continue to make the nation truly the "Star of Africa," a symbol of hope for Africa's total liberation. The bishops also announced Ghana would hold a national eucharistic congress Aug. 7-13. "God has been good to us in these six decades. Let us continue to thank God for our heritage and ask for his forgiveness where we have failed, one and all, in our various vocations and professions to contribute to making Ghana what God is calling us to," the bishops said. Ghana became independent from Great Britain March 6, 1957. In a pastoral letter to Ghanaians issued Feb. 23, the bishops called on Ghanaians to work hard, be honest and just in all they do, and to do away with all forms of corruption and immorality. The bishops said avoiding these vices was the only way for Ghanaians to "enjoy God's abundant blessings and favors on our homeland." If truly, God's laws have been our "protection and shield," then Ghanaians must eschew all those vices that have engulfed society, such as armed robbery, the illegal use and sale of narcotics, bribery and corruption, they said.

    Bible calls believers to live in harmony, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, tell the story of God's love for humanity and his desire that people live in harmony with one another and with the created world, Pope Francis said. "In the midst of so many human words that lead to tragic division and rivalry, these divine words of covenant open before all of us paths of goodness to walk together," Pope Francis said as he was given an illustrated copy of the Torah with an introduction and notes written by an international, interreligious group of scholars. Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and a longtime friend of Pope Francis, led the group presenting the Torah to the pope at the Vatican Feb. 23. Those involved in creating the volume, published by Spain's Arte Scritta, come from "three continents, three generations and three religions," the rabbi said. The group also plans to publish an edition of the four Gospels and of the Quran, as well. "This is intended as a small, yet very significant cry to eradicate the hatred and animosities that are so tragically perceived today," Rabbi Skorka told the pope.

    #Ashtags: When posting Ash Wednesday photos, use your head

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes -- and walking around with them -- is pretty public. This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years. The online posting of one's ashes, often marked in the form of a cross on the forehead, thrills some people and disappoints others. Some say it diminishes the significance and penitent symbol of the ashes with their somber reminder that humans are made from dust and one day will return to dust. Others say that sharing the Ash Wednesday experience with the broader, virtual public makes it more communal and also is a way to evangelize. Those who aren't on either side of the argument say it all comes down to why it's done, if the ashes selfies are posted for personal attention or to highlight the day's message. A few years ago when this trend was just getting started, Jesuit Father James Martin, now editor-at-large at the Catholic weekly magazine America, said only the person posting knows if it is being done for the right reasons. "As with most things in life, you need a sense of moderation and only a person's conscience can tell them why they're posting these things," he told The Wall Street Journal.

    Pope: Christians leading double lives destroy through scandal

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People who pretend to be Christians publicly, but follow their own selfish passions privately, destroy themselves and cause scandal to those around them, Pope Francis. Jesus is severe with those who "lead double lives," because they cause others to see Christianity in a bad light, the pope said Feb. 23 during morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "So many Catholics are like this and they scandalize. How many times have we heard -- all of us, in our neighborhood and in other places -- 'But to be a Catholic like that one, it would be better to be an atheist.' That is the scandal. It destroys you, it throws you down," he said. The pope focused his homily on the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark (9:41-50) in which Jesus gives a warning about anyone who "causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin." Some people who go to Mass and belong to church groups still fail to live a Christian life, the pope said. "This happens every day; all you have to do is watch the news or read the newspapers. There are so many scandals in the newspapers and a lot of publicity on scandals. And these scandals destroy."

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  • Michael Novak, noted theologian, philosopher and author, dies at 83

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Michael Novak, a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author who was highly regarded for his religious scholarship and intellectual independence, died Feb. 17 at his home in Washington. He was 83. His daughter Jana Novak told The Washington Post the cause of death was complications from colon cancer. A funeral Mass is to be celebrated Feb. 25 in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Since last August, Novak had been a faculty member of The Catholic University of America's Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics in Washington. He joined the business school's Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship last year as a distinguished visiting fellow. He taught special topics in management and gave a series of lectures on campus on the topic of human ecology. Novak studied at Catholic University in 1958 and 1959 and had lectured at the university several times prior to last year's appointment. John Garvey, the university's president, remembered him as "a man of great intellectual honesty."

    Foundations seen as a way for dioceses to tap into donors to fund needs

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- More U.S. dioceses are turning to foundations to help meet their financial and fundraising priorities. And foundation executives in the diocesan realm believe they've only begun to tap into the potential for these gifts. Dan McKune, executive director of Catholic Community Foundation of Mid-Michigan, which covers the Diocese of Saginaw, said Catholic donors are used to giving to an annual diocesan appeal or a school fund. "They are getting used to it, but we still are not where we want to be," he said. "Our donor base is about 1,000 people and they've been very, very good givers," but he thinks the foundation could attract and retain 2,500 donors -- and possibly twice that. In Maine, a previous bishop authorized the establishment of the Catholic Foundation of Maine, covering the statewide Diocese of Portland, according to Elizabeth Badger, its executive director. The reasons to or establish the foundation, she said, was "to give people the opportunity to make planned gifts, to support Catholic ministries in Maine, primarily through endowments." Walter Dillingham, managing director for endowments and foundations for the New York City-based Wilmington Trust, and himself a Catholic, said foundations "are helping the church to build financial resources in a changing world."

    Sanctuary advocated by grass-roots leaders to blunt deportation crackdown

    MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- The push for sanctuary was on a lot of minds at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements. Concerns about President Donald Trump's intention to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants rose throughout the Feb. 16-19 gathering of more than 600 grass-roots and church leaders in California's Central Valley. Declaring sanctuary for people fearing forced removal and the breakup of family life was one way to resist government actions, activists and Catholic clergy said. Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Deliman of Philadelphia, who also is pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in suburban Bensalem, received a standing ovation when he told the gathering Feb. 18 that "what would be disruptive would be if we would declare our parish a sanctuary church. If that would spread and every parish in the diocese would do the same, we certainly could do what Jesus would want us to do," said Bishop Deliman, who has ministered alongside Latinos in the archdiocese for most of the 44 years of his priesthood. Afterward, the bishop told Catholic News Service that offering sanctuary at the parish is being considered and that he planned to discuss the idea with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

    It's families helping families as Catholics, others aid Syrian refugees

    OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- It's families helping families. That's the bottom line as parishes and Catholic ministries step up to help refugee families -- most recently, several from war-torn Syria -- adjust to a new life in the United States. "We reach out to our vulnerable brothers and sisters," said Kaela Volkmer, who chairs the social teaching ministry at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha and helped welcome a Syrian family -- Ahmed and Sahar Al Kango and their three boys -- two days before Christmas. As part of reaching out, Volkmer and others put on a party Feb. 12 at St. Wenceslaus Church's social hall for the Al Kangos and about 160 other Syrian refugees in the Omaha area. They were among those sponsored through Omaha-based Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska or the Refugee Empowerment Center by people of several faiths, such as Catholic parishes, Beth El Synagogue, First United Methodist Church and Countryside Community Church. "It was an interfaith gathering," Volkmer told the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Omaha Archdiocese. "It was a great time for them to have a safe, welcoming place to be together, and to know other families support them."

    Heeding 'call to discipleship' seen as key to efforts to build up church

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Will pastoral leaders simply parrot Pope Francis as they explore new ways to build up the church, or truly "deny" themselves and follow the example of Christ, regardless of the consequences? That was the challenge described by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori Feb. 17 during a late-afternoon Mass on day two of the sixth annual Mid-Atlantic Congress. He began his homily with a comparison of his parents, typical do-it-yourself members of the Greatest Generation, and the builders of the Tower of Babel. Whereas the former built and remodeled a house in southern Indiana that was founded "on faith, on discipleship and self-giving love," the ancient builders "sought to build independently of God and even in defiance of God," he said. How does that contrast relate to the reorganizations being undertaken by archdioceses and dioceses around the nation, such as the Archdiocese of Baltimore's pastorate planning process? "As we go about the work of pastoral planning, whether at the diocesan or parish level, we can fall into the trap of thinking about this project solely in terms of managing finances, personnel and buildings," the archbishop said. "We can sometimes adopt the language of the business world without pausing to 'baptize' it sufficiently -- giving the process only a patina of evangelization.

    Caritas center in Belarus offers support to children with cancer

    LVIV, Ukraine (CNS) -- Svetlana Kudriavets had never worked with children with cancer when she became the coordinator of St. Luke Social and Rehabilitation Center in Lieskauka, Belarus, last year. Now she feels that the work with these special children is particularly rewarding. "These kids have a unique maturity, they understand things which sometimes even adults fail to understand. They are open and feel deeply all lies and hypocrisies. I'm always moved how they support and help each other," she told Catholic News Service. "You just need to be close to them and share your love and warmth." With the help of the local Caritas agency, St. Luke Social and Rehabilitation Center was opened in 2003 as a housing facility for children who undergo treatment in the nearby Belarusian Research Center for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Immunology in Minsk, believed to be one of the world's biggest hospitals for children with cancer. Childhood cancer became an acute issue in Belarus after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, during which the country was exposed to large amounts of radiation. Every year some 300-350 children in Belarus are diagnosed with a cancer, and many are treated at the Minsk hospital. However, there are not enough housing facilities for children and their parents. Families with a sick child often have no money to rent an apartment close to the hospital. St. Luke's offers free housing for 19 families -- a child and one parent. Preference is given to underprivileged families, children who need treatment for long periods, and those who live in remote areas of the country. Caritas coordinates its activity with the state hospital.

    Taking care of world God created a moral, spiritual duty, archbishop says

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- With a proclamation of the story of the creation of the universe from the Book of Genesis and a blessing with water, the Mid-Atlantic Congress opened with a splash Feb. 16 in Baltimore with the theme "Blessed as Living Witnesses." Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Association of Catholic Publishers, in partnership with the Leadership Roundtable, the sixth annual conference for pastoral ministers up and down the East Coast attracted more than 1,400 people to the Baltimore Hilton Feb. 16-18. Opening keynote speaker Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta followed the creation story with a talk reflecting on the dignity of creation, especially considering Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'," about the care of our common home. The archbishop noted that the phrase "God saw how good it was" appears five times in the opening passages of Genesis, indicating he admired his works of creation. It also makes it a moral and spiritual obligation for people today to "see how good it was" and take care of the created world God entrusted to us, according to the archbishop. The created world is not good merely "because it is profitable or usable or exploitable. First and foremost, it is good because it reflects God's goodness itself," he said.

    Help stop war in Ukraine, aid children in need, says church leader

    ROME (CNS) -- The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church called on the international community to "stop the aggressor" in Ukraine's "forgotten conflict" and help the 1 million children in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. "I am appealing to the international community to defend Ukrainian children, victims of war, keeping in mind that in our country we are experiencing a humanitarian emergency in Europe that has not been experienced since the Second World War," said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Despite efforts the past three years, a "stable cease-fire" has never been achieved, "therefore, we ask international organizations to continue diplomatic approaches to stop the aggressor and end the war so that true peace can be reached," he said in a written statement received by Catholic News Service Feb. 22. The archbishop made the appeal after UNICEF released report Feb. 17 saying that 1 million children in Ukraine were in urgent need of humanitarian aid -- nearly double the number of kids in need the same time last year. The increased numbers were due to the ongoing fighting and deteriorating economic situation of families, loss of housing and reduced access to health care and education, the report said. One in five schools in eastern Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed.

    South African justice commission urges restraint after xenophobic attacks

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- After an outburst of attacks on property owned by foreign nationals in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, and neighboring Johannesburg, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference justice and peace commission called for restraint. "No grievance justifies the violence against foreign nationals," Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley, who chairs the commission, said in a statement Feb. 21. More effective ways should be found to "detect and counter xenophobic violence before it flares up," he said. The church needs to strengthen its anti-xenophobia work in parishes across the country, Robert Mafinyori, a coordinator at the justice and peace department in Pretoria, said in a Feb. 21 telephone interview. More than 30 shops belonging to immigrants were looted Feb. 20 in two neighborhoods in Pretoria, police said. This followed similar attacks in the city since mid-February, as well as the burning of houses and other property belonging to Nigerians in Johannesburg, by about 500 residents. Anti-immigrant violence flares frequently in South Africa against a background of about 27 percent unemployment, with foreigners being accused of criminal activities and taking jobs from locals.

    Pope appeals for aid as famine grips South Sudan

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis appealed for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan where famine threatens the lives of millions of people already suffering due to a three-year civil war. In the "martyred South Sudan," he said, "a fratricidal conflict is compounded by a serious food crisis, which has struck the Horn of Africa and condemns millions of people to starve to death, among them many children," the pope said. At the end of his weekly general audience at the Vatican Feb. 22, the pope said that a solid commitment from the international community to assist South Sudan is crucial "now more than ever." The United Nations Feb. 21 declared a famine in two counties of South Sudan, adding that the catastrophic food shortages will continue to spread, threatening millions of lives. Civil war has destabilized the world's youngest country for more than three years due to a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar.

    Greed, selfishness corrupt beauty of God's creation, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Humanity's greed and selfishness can turn creation into a sad and desolate world instead of the sign of God's love that it was meant to be, Pope Francis said. Human beings are often tempted to view creation as "a possession we can exploit as we please and for which we do not have to answer to anyone," the pope said Feb. 22 at his weekly general audience. "When carried away by selfishness, human beings end up ruining even the most beautiful things that have been entrusted to them," the pope said. As an early sign of spring, the audience was held in St. Peter's Square for the first time since November. Despite the chilly morning temperatures, the pope made the rounds in his popemobile, greeting pilgrims and kissing bundled-up infants. Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope reflected on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, which expresses the hope "that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption."

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  • Vigil near White House highlights worries over Trump immigration policies

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 80 people quietly holding placards that read "Love Thy Neighbor" gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House in springlike weather Feb. 19 to send a message to President Donald Trump in the wake of his executive actions on immigration and border security. Participants gathered near the park's statue of President Andrew Jackson for the vigil sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. "We're hearing stories of families preparing for the worst," Christopher Hale, the organization's executive director, told Catholic News Service. "We've also heard from priests who are afraid their parishes will be split in two." The vigil took place two days before Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued memorandums with guidelines for enforcing immigration law. Under the guidance, federal law enforcement authorities can more aggressively detain both unauthorized immigrants and legal immigrants with criminal records; increase the group of immigrants that would be a priority for deportation; and reduce the number of migrants' claims for asylum. Nothing in Kelly's guidance discussed deporting beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

    Grass-roots leaders join call for 'disrupting' oppression that hurts many

    MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Affirming that all human life is sacred and all people are "protagonists of their future," more than 600 grass-roots leaders echoed the call of a U.S. bishop to disrupt practices that cause oppression and violate human dignity. The leaders attending the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements concluded the four-day meeting Feb. 19 saying in a final message that a "small elite is growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families. Racism and white supremacy are America's original sins. They (the elites) continue to justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation over human needs," said the "Message from Modesto." The message broadly echoed Pope Francis' regular critiques of the world economy in which he has said the accumulation of wealth by a few people has harmed the dignity of millions of people in the human family. The representatives from dozens of faith-based and secular community organizations, labor unions and Catholic dioceses representing an estimated 1 million people called for eight actions to be undertaken. The actions included inviting faith communities, including every Catholic parish, to declare their sites a sanctuary for people facing deportation by the U.S. government; developing local leadership to hold elected officials accountable and, when possible to recruit grass-roots leaders to seek elected office; and a global week of action May 1-7 in which people "stand together against hatred and attacks on families."

    Norma McCorvey, plaintiff in Roe ruling who later became pro-life, dies

    KATY, Texas (CNS) -- Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff "Jane Roe" in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand, died Feb. 18 at an assisted-living facility in Katy. She was 69. The New York Times said a New York journalist named Joshua Prager, who interviewed her many times for a book he is writing about the Roe decision, confirmed that she had died. The cause of death was heart failure. Her funeral will be private, family members said. McCorvey became a pro-life supporter in 1995 after spending years as a proponent of legal abortion. She also became a born-again Christian. A couple of years later, she said she felt called to join the Catholic Church of her youth. Her mother was Catholic and her father was a Jehovah's Witness. After instruction in the faith, she was accepted into the church in 1998. "Losing a loved one is always a difficult time for a family. Losing a loved one who was also a public figure at the center of a national controversy brings additional challenges. It also brings additional consolations," said a Feb. 19 statement from McCorvey's family released by Priests for Life. The family thanked the "many people across America and around the world who, in these days, are expressing their condolences, their prayers, and their gratitude for the example Mom gave them in standing up for life and truth. Though she was the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, she worked hard for the day when that decision would be reversed." McCorvey's family said Priests for Life would be organizing memorial Masses and other services around the country "to give more people an opportunity to remember Mom's life and work."

    Protecting borders must be balanced with being openhearted, says rabbi

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- If there is a registry of Muslims in the United States, Rabbi Michael Cahana will register himself as a Muslim. Rabbi Cahana, of Temple Beth Israel in Portland, made the declaration Feb. 7 during an annual talk given jointly with neighboring Catholic and Episcopal pastors. Msgr. Patrick Brennan of St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Rev. Nathan LeRud of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral joined the rabbi in discussing the religious tradition of welcoming the stranger. Speaking to a crowd of hundreds convened in a Trinity Cathedral social hall, all three Portland faith leaders criticized the Trump administration's executive order to temporarily ban Muslim immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations. They did so not politically, but theologically. President Donald Trump's order on refugees has been held up in the courts. He planned to issue a revised executive order the week of Feb. 20. As for a registry, Trump as a presidential candidate in 2015 said he supported requiring Muslim immigrants to register. His administration, however, has said it has no plans for such a registry. The Obama administration had a registry in place until it was ended last December but it said the requirement had been dormant since 2011.

    Pope, Chilean bishops discuss abuse scandal, evangelization

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis spent nearly three hours with the bishops of Chile discussing several key issues they are facing, including fighting pedophilia and evangelizing the marginalized and the suffering. Meeting with 30 prelates from the Latin American country, the pope also spoke to them about reaching out to youth in an increasingly secularized society, the difficulties facing priests and a possible papal trip, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago said Feb. 20. "The pope wants to visit Chile, he wants to confirm the faith of the church in Chile and to pay homage through closeness and attention to the Chilean people," the cardinal said in a statement released after the meeting. Taking part in the "ad limina" visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican, Cardinal Ezzati said that "no subject remained outside" of the discussions with the pope, but there was a special focus on evangelizing to those who are secularized and far from the church. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Ezzati said the pope focused particularly on the need for the church to listen to young people. "The pope spoke to us about the 'apostolate of the ear,' of walking with them while listening and announcing the newness of Jesus Christ," he said.

    Cardinal Burke leaves Guam after interviewing witnesses in abuse case

    AGANA, Guam (CNS) -- U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, accompanied by an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and three canon lawyers, spent two days in Guam interviewing witnesses and alleged victims in a clerical sexual abuse case against Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana. The Archdiocese of Agana, in a Feb. 18 statement, said the cardinal and officials had left the island that morning after hearing testimony Feb. 16-17 "as part of the canonical penal trial" involving accusations against the archbishop. "They conveyed their appreciation to all individuals whom they interviewed during their work here and encouraged all of Guam's faithful to remain grounded in Christ," the archdiocese said. The Vatican press office had confirmed that Cardinal Burke was named presiding judge in the trial of the archbishop by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates and processes abuse claims against Catholic clergy. In the Agana archdiocesan statement, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, a former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, expressed his satisfaction that the Vatican is advancing its investigation.

    Ash Wednesday: Ancient tradition still thrives in modern times

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In more ways than one, Ash Wednesday -- celebrated March 1 this year -- leaves a mark. That's because not only are Catholics marked with a sign of penitence with ashes on their foreheads, but the rich symbolism of the rite itself draws Catholics to churches in droves even though it is not a holy day of obligation and ashes do not have to be distributed during a Mass. Almost half of adult Catholics, 45 percent, typically receive ashes -- made from the burned and blessed palms of the previous year's Palm Sunday -- at Ash Wednesday services, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Parish priests say they get more people at church that day than almost any other -- excluding Christmas and Easter -- and the congregations are usually much bigger than for Holy Thursday or Good Friday services. "Virtually every parish that I've worked with will have more people come to Ash Wednesday than almost any other celebration," said Thomas Humphries, assistant professor of philosophy, theology and religion at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Florida.

    Be ashamed when tempted to use church for power struggles, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Whenever one is tempted to use the church for pursuing personal ambitions or to be arrogant, pray to feel ashamed, Pope Francis said. When the competitive bug strikes, reflect whether one can "see my Lord on the cross" and still be capable of wanting "to use the Lord for moving up" the ladder of success, he said Feb. 21 during his early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "May the Lord give us the grace of shame, that holy embarrassment -- when we find ourselves in that situation, with that temptation," he said. In his homily, the pope looked at the day's Gospel reading (Mk 9:30-37) in which the disciples were arguing among themselves on the way to Capernaum about "who was the greatest." When Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, "they remained silent. They became silent because they were embarrassed about their discussion," the pope said.

    Aid workers offer alternatives to migrants aiming to cross Sahara Desert

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Catholic aid workers from Niger's poorest areas have moved north to help migrants in Agadez, the city that serves as the jump-off point for the trek across the Sahara Desert toward Europe. "We need to help people understand what they are getting into, and provide them with alternatives," Caroline Agalheir, Catholic Relief Services' program manager in Niger. "Young men mostly ask for training in welding," she said in a mid-February phone interview from Niamey, Niger's capital. Agalheir said by providing short, intensive courses as well as some basic materials, "we enable people to earn an income through making chairs, window bars, gates and other metal work." About 90 percent of the migrants from West and Central African countries who pass through Agadez are men. Those who attend the training classes are able to teach others their newly acquired skills as well as set up shop, Agalheir said. Niger is a vast, largely desert nation to the north of Nigeria. Most of Niger's 20 million people live in the South of the country, which is at the bottom of the U.N.'s Human Development Index and faces severe malnutrition and other poverty-induced health problems, Agalheir said.

    Cardinal Connell of Dublin dies at 90

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Irish Cardinal Desmond Connell, the retired archbishop of Dublin, died Feb. 21 at the age of 90. A philosopher and strong defender of traditional Catholic values, including regarding divorce, contraception and abortion, Cardinal Connell's accomplishments during his 16 years as head of the Archdiocese of Dublin were overshadowed by the church's sluggish pace in coming to terms with the scope and devastation of clerical sexual abuse scandals. During a Holy Thursday Mass, about two weeks before his retirement was announced in 2004, Cardinal Connell asked for forgiveness from those he offended, especially those abused by priests. "I ask pardon of all whom I have offended, especially of those who suffered unspeakable abuse by priests of the diocese and experienced a lack of the care that ought to have been provided," said the cardinal, who was 78 at the time. "I can only hope that the steps now taken will ensure that the future will see no repetition of what happened in the past," he said at the time.

    Populism fueling self-centered rejection of migrants, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Indifference, fueled by populist rhetoric in today's world, fans the flames of rejection that threaten the rights and dignity of migrants, Pope Francis said. Refugees escaping persecution, violence and poverty are often shunned and deemed as "unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will," the pope told participants of the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace. "Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist demagoguery, what is needed is a change of attitude to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors," he said Feb. 21. The Feb. 21-22 conference, "Integration and Development: From Reaction to Action," was organized by the Scalabrini International Migration Network and sponsored by the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. According to the forum's website, the conference focused on refugee crisis management while aiming to "influence migration policies and practices in Europe."

    Vatican court continues investigating possible cases of money laundering

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the trial of five people accused of leaking confidential Vatican financial documents captured headlines in 2016, the Vatican City court also continued investigating possible financial crimes, freezing more than $2.1 million in assets deposited at the Vatican bank. Gian Piero Milano, promoter of justice at the Vatican City court, summarized the city-state's judicial activity Feb. 18. The funds were frozen in 2016 as part of Vatican investigations of possible money laundering, Milano said. From 2012 through 2016, he said, the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority reported 23 cases of suspicious transactions to the court; 17 of those cases still are under investigation, he said. The total funds frozen over the past four years, Milano said, included almost 11.3 million in euros, just over 1 million in dollars and more than 320,000 British pounds -- a total equivalent to about $13.3 million. Since Pope Benedict XVI began introducing legal reforms in 2010 and with the establishment of the financial authority and new laws aimed at preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism, he said, the Vatican has been showing its commitment to supporting international initiatives "to fight phenomena like corruption, financial criminality and the borderline practices of high finance."

    With simplicity, not as royalty, Christians embrace the meek, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians embrace the lowliest and those most in need, treasuring and living out the simplicity of faith received from mothers and grandmothers, Pope Francis said. "From the simplicity of mothers, of grandmothers, this is the cornerstone. We are not princes, sons of princes or counts or barons, we are simple people, of common folk," he told the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception at the Vatican Feb. 18. "And this is why we draw near with this simplicity to those who are simple, to those who suffer the most: the sick, children, the abandoned elderly, the poor, everyone," he said. Addressing members of the Marian Fathers general chapter, the pope highlighted the congregation's charism: devotion to Mary, prayer for the deceased and service to God and the church wherever the need is greatest. He encouraged them to keep alive this tradition of service to the poor and humble by bringing them the Gospel "with language understandable to them, with works of mercy."

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  • Pope's tip for becoming a saint: Pray for someone who doesn't like you

    ROME (CNS) -- A practical first step toward holiness -- as well as for assuring peace in one's family and in the world -- is to pray for a person who has caused offense or harm, Pope Francis said. "Are you merciful toward the people who have harmed you or don't like you? If God is merciful, if he is holy, if he is perfect, then we must be merciful, holy and perfect as he is. This is holiness. A man or woman who does this deserves to be canonized," the pope said Feb. 19 during an evening parish Mass. "I suggest you start small," Pope Francis told members of the parish of St. Mary Josefa on the extreme eastern edge of the Diocese of Rome. "We all have enemies. We all know that so-and-so speaks ill of us. We all know. And we all know that this person or that person hates us." When that happens, the pope said, "I suggest you take a minute, look at God (and say), 'This person is your son or your daughter, change his or her heart, bless him or her.' This is praying for those who don't like us, for our enemies. Perhaps the rancor will remain in us, but we are making an effort to follow the path of this God who is so good, merciful, holy, perfect, who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good."

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  • Trump administration urged to do all it can to 'care for creation'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Quoting Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'," three Catholic leaders wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Feb. 17 urging the Trump administration to do all it can to care for creation both domestically and globally. "The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood the environment to be a gift from God, and we are all called 'to protect our one common home,'" the leaders told Tillerson in a joint letter. It was signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who is chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace; and Sean L. Callahan, who is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency based in Baltimore. The letter emphasizes the importance of adaptation policies and specifically calls for continued U.S. support of the Paris climate agreement as well as the Green Climate Fund, which provides poorer nations with resources to adapt to and mitigate changing climate realities.

    Catholic Charismatic Renewal marks 50th anniversary of founding this year

    NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- For the past 50 years, Patti Gallagher Mansfield has kept the Champion Wiremaster stenographer's notebook, 5-by-8 inches, safely tucked away among her most cherished, sacred items in her dresser drawer. The notebook has 80 ruled pages. It cost 25 cents. One was given to each of the 25 students from Duquesne University and La Roche College who attended a weekend retreat in February 1967 at The Ark and The Dove Retreat House just outside of Pittsburgh. Between the slightly faded, tan covers are page after page of Mansfield's handwritten reflections in blue ballpoint pen of the mysterious things that happened on that three-day retreat, a weekend that ultimately changed the course of the Catholic Church worldwide. "Who would have ever imagined -- 80 pages, Patti Gallagher -- that what I would record in this notebook would have any significance to over 120 million Catholics all over the world?" Mansfield, now 70, said. "It is amazing." The weekend -- now called the "Duquesne Weekend" -- is acknowledged as the birth of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in the United States, which has spread throughout the world. The Charismatic Renewal centers on the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" in which God's Spirit renews and fills a person with grace. Mansfield talks about releasing the graces already conferred through baptism and confirmation.

    Vancouver archbishop: Overdose crisis is 'devastating families'

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) -- Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver called on Catholics to respond to a drug overdose crisis that had been sweeping the city, "cutting across every segment of society, devastating families and communities." In a pastoral letter released Feb. 16, Archbishop Miller said that following Jesus' teaching would require Catholics to "scrutinize the sign of the times" and, in Vancouver, "these signs are calling the church to address today's lethal crisis of drug overdoses." A report released by the British Columbia Coroners Service revealed that 914 people died of illicit drug overdoses in 2016; those statistics prompted the provincial government to declare a public health emergency. That number represented an 80 percent increase in overdose deaths from the previous year. Archbishop Miller said three factors contributed to the overdose crisis: overprescription of opioid painkillers, social isolation and mental illness.

    New Mexico school a beacon of hope, faith for Native American youth

    SAN FIDEL, N.M. (CNS) -- National Catholic Schools Week has come and gone, but the work of forming students in a faithful Catholic environment is never finished for teachers, principals and school administrators across the country. The presence of Catholic schools is especially needed in some of the poorest areas of the country. By providing a quality education, the church helps young people in poor communities to realize their potential. This is exactly what principal Antonio Trujillo is accomplishing at St. Joseph Mission School in rural San Fidel in the Diocese of Gallup. Trujillo arrived at the school six years ago and saved it from the brink of closure. By integrating Catholic values into the students' everyday education, Trujillo and his staff are creating a hopeful future for the largely Native American student body in an area of the country where hope can sometimes be hard to find. "We service about a 10,000-square-mile radius of Native Americans who live in the area," Trujillo said in an interview with Extension magazine and in an accompanying video, "We are a mission diocese and we just don't have the resources because there is no major source of employment or population center."

    Vietnam-born priest offers to swap U.S. citizenship to allow refugee in

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Vietnamese-born Salesian priest has offered to President Donald Trump that he would trade his own U.S. citizenship with a refugee to allow into the United States someone from one of the countries Trump listed in his Jan. 27 travel ban. Father Chuong Hoai Nguyen, a Salesian of Don Bosco, who is serving in California, is a refugee-turned-U.S. citizen. He came to the United States as one of the Vietnamese "boat people" following the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam. His citizenship offer came in an open letter to Trump Jan. 27, the same day the president issued an executive order that suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days. The order has been held up in court. Father Nguyen said he has heard nothing from the White House since his open letter to Trump was published. The date on the letter, which has appeared on Commonweal magazine's blog and been the topic of a number of stories, also was the beginning of the Vietnamese New Year, called Tet. The priest told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview that he has talked with his superiors in the order about ministering in the country native to the refugee who would be the beneficiary of the swap. "Whenever you're ready, we'll pick you up and reassign you," he said, is the message he got from his conversation with his superiors.

    Bishop, advocates oppose Mississippi bill to outlaw sanctuary cities

    JACKSON, Miss. (CNS) -- A bill that would keep agencies, cities and college campuses in Mississippi from offering sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants would not keep communities safe and goes against the Christian tenet of caring for those in need, said Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson. He issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing S.B. 2710, also known as the "sanctuary cities" bill, which passed the state Senate in a 32-16 vote Feb. 9. The bill goes to the state House for consideration. The measure would prohibit cities and institutions of higher learning from declaring themselves sanctuary cities. There are currently no sanctuary cities in the state, although the city of Jackson proposed such a declaration last year. "As Christians we are called to welcome the stranger and care for those in need. As citizens, we are called to keep our communities strong and safe. We feel that the so-called 'sanctuary cities' bill being debated right now in the Mississippi Legislature damages both of those efforts," wrote Bishop Kopacz. In a sanctuary city, local law enforcement would not be forced to act as federal immigration agents, like the officers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In fact, they would be prohibited from asking a person they detained about his or her immigration status. S.B. 2710 would prohibit cities from enacting sanctuary policies.

    Church leaders hope Trump does not repeal conflict-minerals provisions

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Church leaders and organizations in Africa, Europe and the United States said it would be disastrous if U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order telling companies they no longer had to disclose whether their firms use "conflict minerals" from Congo. Western firms have been accused of working with violent gangs in Congo to obtain minerals used for producing mobile phones, laptops and other consumer objects, and of allowing trade in resources to perpetuate human rights violations. In the United States, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' International Policy Committee wrote the acting head of the National Security Council urging Trump not to suspend the rules related to Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act. "Congolese die every day in the illegal mines and at the hands of the armed groups that destroy communities in order to expel them from potential mining sites," wrote Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, committee chairman. "The estimated death toll in the Congo is the highest since the end of World War II. The international community, including our own nation, nongovernmental agencies and the church, provides emergency assistance to displaced and traumatized persons and families -- assistance that has real financial costs that do not appear on the balance sheets of corporations."

    Pope greets U.S. grass-roots groups, saying they help 'communities thrive'

    MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Pope Francis congratulated more than 600 representatives of grass-roots organizations for responding with mercy to society's hurting people during the opening of the four-day U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements. In a letter to the assembly Feb. 16 read alternately in English and in Spanish, the pope said the work of the organizations and the people involved "make your communities thrive." Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, read the pope's message in English. The letter encouraged wide-scale community organizing because it achieves social justice. The pope expressed hope that "such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism and intolerance." The message earned applause at points throughout its delivery, especially when the pope reiterated that "no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist and as he encouraged people to "defend creation" in the face of "disturbing warming of the climatic system."

    Counteract vitriol by toning it down, talking less, listening more, pope says

    ROME (CNS) -- Addressing the fear of immigrants, dissatisfaction with a "fluid economy" and the impatience and vitriol seen in politics and society, Pope Francis told Rome university students to practice a kind of "intellectual charity" that promotes dialogue and sees value in diversity. "There are lots of remedies against violence," but they must start first with one's heart being open to hearing other people's opinions and then talking things out with patience, he said in a 45-minute off-the-cuff talk. "It necessary to tone it down a bit, to talk less and listen more," he told hundreds of students, staff and their family members and friends during a visit Feb. 17 to Roma Tre University. Arriving at the university, the pope slowly made his way along a long snaking pathway of metal barricades throughout the campus, smiling, shaking hands and posing for numerous selfies with smiling members of the crowd. When handed a small baby cocooned in a bright red snowsuit for a papal kiss, the pope joked whether the child was attending the university, too. Seated on a platform facing an open courtyard, the pope listened to questions from four students, including Nour Essa, who was one of the 12 Syrian refugees the pope had brought to Rome on a papal flight from Lesbos, Greece, in 2016.

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