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  • Retired Pope Benedict XVI says he 'feels protected' by Pope Francis

    IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his first public address in almost a year, retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness "from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply."

    "More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected," Pope Benedict said June 28.

    Pope Benedict also conveyed his hope that Pope Francis would continue to "lead us all on this path of divine mercy that shows the path of Jesus, to Jesus and to God."

    Pope Francis led a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict's priestly ordination. The two were joined by the heads of Vatican offices and congregations and several guests, including a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

    Those gathered gave Pope Benedict a standing ovation as he made his way into the Clementine Hall and took his seat to the right of the pope's chair.

    A few minutes later, Pope Francis entered the hall and made a beeline for his predecessor, who respectfully removed his zucchetto before greeting him. Pope Francis has made no secret of his admiration for the retired pontiff, often comparing him to a "wise grandfather at home."

    During his return flight to Rome from Armenia June 26, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict for "protecting me and having my back with his prayers."

    Recalling Pope Benedict's promise of obedience to his successor in the days leading up to the conclave, Pope Francis said he had heard that some people have been "sent away" by the retired pontiff after complaining "about this new pope."

    "If (the report) isn't true, it is well-founded, because this man is like that: a man of his word, a righteous man!" Pope Francis exclaimed.

    Speaking at the anniversary celebration, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict's life of priestly service to the church and recalled his writings on Simon Peter's response to "Jesus' definitive call: 'Do you love me?'"

    "This is the hallmark dominating an entire life spent in priestly service and of the true theology that you have defined -- not by chance -- as 'the search for the beloved.' It is this that you have always given witness to and continue to give witness to today," he said.

    Even in retirement, he said, Pope Benedict continues to serve the church and "truly contributes with vigor and wisdom to its growth" from the "little 'Mater Ecclesiae' monastery in the Vatican."

    The monastery, Pope Francis continued, is the complete opposite of those "forgotten corners" society often assigns to those who have reached old age.

    Instead, like the Porziuncola where St. Francis spent his final days in prayer, the Mater Ecclesiae monastery "has become a 'Franciscan' place that emanates tranquility, peace, strength, faithfulness, maturity, faith, dedication and loyalty which does so much good for me and gives strength to me and to the whole church," Pope Francis said.

    Congratulating his predecessor, Pope Francis expressed his hope that Pope Benedict "would continue to feel the hand of the merciful God that sustains him" and that he may "experience and give witness to God's love."

    When Pope Francis finished speaking, Pope Benedict clasped his hands together and signaled his thanks to the pope. With a bit of effort, he rose to his feet and stretched out his arms to embrace Pope Francis.

    After short speeches by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, the retired pontiff slowly stood up once again to express his gratitude.

    Despite his frailty, Pope Benedict vividly recalled his ordination 65 years ago, remembering a Greek word a priest ordained with him wrote on the remembrance card of his first Mass: "Eucharistomen" ("We give you thanks").

    "I am convinced that this word, in its many dimensions, has already said everything that can be said in this moment," the retired pope said.

    The word "eucharistomen," he added, can bring everyone closer toward that "new dimension" of thanksgiving given by Christ, who transformed the cross, sufferings and the evils of the world "into grace and blessing."

    "We want to insert ourselves in this grace of the Lord and thus truly receive the newness of life and help in the transubstantiation of the world. May it be a world not of death but of life, a world in which love has overcome death," he said.

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  • Retired Pope Benedict XVI says he 'feels protected' by Pope Francis

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his first public address in almost a year, retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness "from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply. More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected," Pope Benedict said June 28. Pope Benedict also conveyed his hope that Pope Francis would continue to "lead us all on this path of divine mercy that shows the path of Jesus, to Jesus and to God." Pope Francis led a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict's priestly ordination. The two were joined by the heads of Vatican offices and congregations and several guests, including a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Those gathered gave Pope Benedict a standing ovation as he made his way into the Clementine Hall and took his seat to the right of the pope's chair.

    Suicide bombers hit predominantly Christian Lebanese village near border

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- Suicide bombers attacked a predominantly Christian village in northeast Lebanon twice in one day, and residents called on the government to support them, saying Islamic State fighters were holed up on the outskirts of town. Two separate sets of four suicide bombers attacked the village of Qaa June 27; the first attack killed five people in addition to the bombers. About 30 people were injured in the two incidents, the second of which occurred near St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church as people were preparing for the funerals of the people killed in the first bombing. The incidents sparked fears that the Syrian civil war was spilling into Lebanon; Qaa is near the border with Syria's Homs district. Local news reports and security sources said the Islamic State group was suspected of the attacks, but no one claimed responsibility. The Lebanese Army has indicated Islamic State hopes to force the Christian community to leave the village and, by controlling Qaa, its militants will be able to start ensure a corridor to the Mediterranean Sea. Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Rahal of Baalbek traveled to Qaa after the first attack and told Catholic News Service by phone: "We pray, we pray, we pray for the dead, for the injured. ... We are here for the families and for their children," he said, because people "are shaken by these terrorists."

    Catholic, Orthodox must show each other mercy, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Professing the same faith in the mercy of God, Catholics and Orthodox must do more to ensure mercy marks the way they treat each other, Pope Francis told a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. "If, as Catholics and Orthodox, we wish to proclaim together the marvels of God's mercy to the whole world, we cannot continue to harbor sentiments and attitudes of rivalry, mistrust and rancor," the pope said June 28. The delegation, led by Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, was in Rome to represent Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the pope's celebration of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patron saints of the church of Rome. Since 1969, the patriarchs have sent delegations to the Vatican for the June 29 feast and the popes have sent a delegation to Turkey each year for the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the patriarchate. Metropolitan Methodios is the Orthodox co-president of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. Pope Francis used his presence at the Vatican as an opportunity to praise the "fruitful work" of the North American group. "Instituted more than 50 years ago, this consultation has proposed significant reflections on central theological issues for our churches, thus fostering the development of excellent relations between Catholics and Orthodox on that continent," the pope said.

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    Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Flooding devastates West Virginia; residents told to expect more rain

    WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston asked for prayers for those affected by the devastating floods in West Virginia that have left 26 people dead, including a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old. As of June 27, almost 500,000 were without power and 44 counties were under a state of emergency. "We pray for those affected by this natural disaster, including those who have lost their homes and livelihoods; those who do not have electricity, food or clean water and, most importantly, for those who are injured and have lost loved ones," Bishop Bransfield said. "Let us prayerfully remember those who died. As floodwaters rise and recede, I ask you to please join me in praying for the protection of the brave men and women who are working to bring relief to our neighbors," the bishop added. Damage from the flooding was widespread, with the southeastern region of the state being hit the hardest. Walls of water came crashing into towns and small communities leaving ruin and heartbreak in their wake. "It's pretty devastating," said Father Chapin Engler, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in White Sulphur Springs. "It was the most significant rain event I've ever experienced. ' The main waterway that goes through the valley of White Sulphur completely flooded its banks and took with it many houses."

    Project's report gives data on cases of mothers, children detained by ICE

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project has identified more than 40 children and mothers who have been arrested in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and detained in Dilley or Karnes City, Texas, according to a recent report released by the project. The report shares the cases of Central Americans who were arrested and taken to detention centers in the United States after fleeing their own countries to escape violence. "CARA" is the collective name for volunteers working on these issues from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "The report itself is produced by data we collected from the cases that were brought to the residential center of the people who were picked up in a raid that we worked with," said Ian Philabaum, a staff member in Dilley who helped gather information for the report. "All the data comes directly from the service that we were able to provide, making sure that these asylum seekers, these refugees, were safe. It is providing direct services to these refugees that are about to be deported by ICE." Those detained were "denied due process," according to the report, and were treated with "aggressive and inappropriate conduct" during the ICE raids.

    Restoration of adobe church helped project's workers rebuild own lives

    ABEYTAS, N.M. (CNS) -- Sometimes foundations crumble. They need to be rebuilt. Such a story happened in Abeytas in central New Mexico -- both to an ancient church and to the men who fixed it. Originally built by the Abeytas family in 1874, San Antonio de Padua Church has a rich history. It is one of five mission churches belonging to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in La Joya -- which together serve 250 families -- in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Over the years, the beloved church served the town of Abeytas during its growth time of ranching and farming in the early 1900s and its decline after World War II to its present population of 56. In 2011, the "mayordomos" -- caretakers of the church who assist the pastor with its upkeep -- noticed stress cracks running vertically from the roofline to the ground. The walls made of adobe and "terreon," a mud mixture used long ago, were starting to deteriorate. With help from experts, they discovered that the corrugated tin roof was leaking and that moisture was being trapped inside the walls. There was danger of a collapse. A couple years passed before a new pastor, Father Denis Kaggwa, arrived at Our Lady of Sorrows and took action. He understood the urgency of the church's condition but faced financial struggles. The total annual budget for the parish and its five missions was $120,000, and the cost to repair San Antonio Church alone was estimated to be $72,000.

    Bomb scare interrupts Mass offered in Puerto Rico for shooting victims

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- A Mass offered for Puerto Rican victims of the June 12 mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub was interrupted when local police entered the San Juan de Bautista Cathedral to investigate the possibility of a bomb inside. Twice during the Mass June 24, lay church personnel approached Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan at the altar about what seemed to be a problem. The issue turned out to be a backpack left unsupervised on a side aisle, raising suspicion among some in the congregation. At the start of the consecration, cathedral employees approached the altar once again, this time with three police officers. After the archbishop talked to them, he returned to the altar and finished the consecration. "Communion will be given outside," Archbishop Gonzalez told Massgoers. "We will be exiting through this side door, everyone through this door." Quietly and orderly, the cathedral was vacated and Communion offered outside. The Mass was resumed inside after the bag was claimed by its owner. who was not identified. The Mass was said in observance of St. John the Baptist's feast, patron saint of Puerto Rico's capital city and, until 1969, patron saint of the whole island. The Mass was offered for "victims of the Orlando massacre -- dead, wounded, family members, loved ones, friends, as well a medical personnel, first-aid technicians and volunteers," according to the archdiocesan invitation.

    Brexit vote concerns European church leaders that unity may be fractured

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- European Catholic leaders expressed concern that the decision by United Kingdom voters to leave the European Union threatened unity across the continent, but they also cautioned the EU bloc to rethink its values and priorities. The concerns arose after voters decided June 23 to exit the EU by 52 percent to 48 percent. The decision led Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his resignation and sent shock waves through world financial markets. In London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the vote must be respected and that the United Kingdom is setting out on a "new course that will be demanding on all. Our prayer is that all will work in this task with respect and civility, despite deep differences of opinion," he said in a statement the morning after the vote. "We pray that in this process, the most vulnerable will be supported and protected, especially those who are easy targets for unscrupulous employees and human traffickers. We pray that our nations will build on our finest traditions of generosity, of welcome for the stranger and shelter for the needy. We now must work hard to show ourselves to be good neighbors and resolute contributors in joint international efforts to tackle the critical problems our world today," he added.

    U.S. Supreme Court strikes down regulations on Texas abortion clinics

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 5-3 vote June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, challenged a 2013 state law, H.B. 2, placing the requirements on the state's abortion clinics. Opponents of the law claimed the requirements were aimed at closing abortion clinics. But the state and many pro-life advocates maintained that the law protected women's health. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups submitted a joint friend of the court brief in the case supporting the Texas law, which was similar to other state laws regulating abortion clinics across the country. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion, said the restrictions on the clinics "provide few if any health benefits for women, pose a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitute an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so." Reaction to the court's ruling was immediate. Those in favor of the regulations said the court's opinion put women at risk and those opposed to the state law called it a major victory. "The court has rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety," said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

    With decision on Texas law, women across U.S. 'just lost,' says pro-lifer

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just after 10 a.m. East Coast time June 27 in Washington, Kristan Hawkins, director of Students for Life, made an announcement to her small rally in front of the Supreme Court: "Women across America just lost!" Her comments followed the high court issuing its 5-3 decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The court struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The case challenged a 2013 state law, H.B. 2, placing the requirements on the state's abortion clinics. Opponents of the law claimed the requirements were aimed at closing abortion clinics. But the state and many pro-life advocates maintained that the law protected women's health. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The same five had issued an earlier ruling allowing abortion clinics in Texas to remain operational until a final decision was handed down in the case.

    South African church leaders criticize politicians for fueling violence

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- South African church leaders have urged an end to pre-election violence and criticized politicians for fueling it. "We are disappointed that our political leaders have not been visible and loud enough in their condemnation of the recent factional violence and political assassinations," Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley, who chairs the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference justice and peace commission, said in a June 27 statement. At least three people have been killed in the Tshwane area around South Africa's capital, Pretoria, in late-June riots triggered by the ruling party's choice of a mayoral candidate for municipal elections, scheduled for Aug. 3. Shops have been looted and cars and buses set alight in violent protests over economic hardship. Politicians "are mobilizing the young people in our communities, especially the unemployed youth, to engage in pre-election violence," Bishop Gabuza said. He urged young South Africans "not to allow themselves to be used by politicians who show signs that their primary interest is greed for power and government tenders."

    Orthodox meeting focuses on building unity; pope says it's step forward

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although they did not manage to convince all the Orthodox churches to send representatives to the Great and Holy Council in Crete, participating Orthodox leaders supported the idea that the council should become a regular institution and meet every seven to 10 years. In the final message from the June 19-26 gathering, more than 200 bishops from 10 Orthodox churches affirmed their full unity with one another and with the four Orthodox churches that refused to attend. "The key priority of the council was to proclaim the unity of the Orthodox Church," the message said. "Founded on the Eucharist and the apostolic succession of her bishops, the existing unity needs to be strengthened and to bear new fruits." The 14 autocephalous, self-governing Orthodox churches are not "a federation," but one church, the message insisted. Its unity is expressed through and strengthened by conciliarity, which is why participants urged a regular convocation of pan-Orthodox councils. The Orthodox Church had tried off and on for some 50 years to organize the meeting that, in the end, was held in Crete. The Russian, Bulgarian, Antiochian and Georgian Orthodox churches did not send representatives. Each of the four churches cited reasons ranging from unresolved disputes with other Orthodox churches to objections over the procedures adopted for running the council.

    Former Holy Land 'custos' named apostolic administrator of Jerusalem

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem and appointed Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, former "custos" of the Holy Land, as the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Franciscan will serve as apostolic administrator until the appointment of a new patriarch and he will be elevated to the dignity of archbishop, the Vatican said. His episcopal ordination will be in September. The resignation and appointment were announced June 24 by the Vatican. Patriarch Twal, who has served as head of the Latin Patriarchate since 2008, stepped down for reasons of age. In October 2015, he turned 75 -- the age at which bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignations to the pope. Archbishop-designate Pizzaballa served as "custos" of the Holy Land for 12 years. The "custos" is the provincial minister of the Franciscans in almost all of the Middle East, with jurisdiction over territory extending through Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus and Rhodes, and at their monastery in Cairo.

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  • Christians should apologize for helping to marginalize gays, pope says

    ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM ARMENIA (CNS) -- Catholics and other Christians not only must apologize to the gay community, they must ask forgiveness of God for ways they have discriminated against homosexual persons or fostered hostility toward them, Pope Francis said. "I think the church not only must say it is sorry to the gay person it has offended, but also to the poor, to exploited women" and anyone whom the church did not defend when it could, he told reporters June 26. Spending close to an hour answering questions from reporters traveling with him, Pope Francis was asked to comment on remarks reportedly made a few days previously by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops' conference, that the Catholic Church must apologize to gay people for contributing to their marginalization. At the mention of the massacre in early June at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Pope Francis closed his eyes as if in pain and shook his head in dismay. "The church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times, many times -- when I say the 'church,' I mean we Christians because the church is holy; we are the sinners," the pope said. "We Christians must say we are sorry."

    Shared faith should lead to joint action, pope and patriarch say

    YEREVAN, Armenia (CNS) -- Applying the common faith they professed publicly earlier in the day, Pope Francis and Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II urged common action on behalf of persecuted Christians, welcome for refugees and defense of the family. The pope and the Oriental Orthodox patriarch signed their joint declaration at the end of Pope Francis' June 24-26 visit to Armenia. Earlier in the day, at an Armenian Divine Liturgy, both had spoken of their unity as believers in Christ and of their conviction that Christians are called by God to assist the poor, the persecuted and the needy. While their joint declaration mentioned the progress made in the official Catholic-Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue and their hopes for its continuation, the heart of the text focused on common Christian action to relieve suffering. "We are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes," the two leaders said. "Countless innocent people" are "being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world."

    Brotherly embrace: Pope, Armenian leader highlight Christian unity

    VAGHARSHAPAT, Armenia (CNS) -- Recognizing that the church of Christ is one and that Christian divisions are a "scandal" to the world, Pope Francis and Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II offered their faithful the example of praying and working together. Approaching the end of his three-day trip to Armenia, Pope Francis attended the Divine Liturgy celebrated June 26 by the patriarch at Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church. To accommodate the crowd, the liturgy was held outdoors at a towering stone sanctuary used for major celebrations. Under a gold-trimmed red canopy, the patriarch and pope processed to the sanctuary together before the pope bowed to the patriarch and moved to the side. He used a small booklet to follow the liturgy, which is celebrated in "grabar," as ancient liturgical Armenian is called. In his homily, Catholicos Karekin told his faithful and his guests, "During these days together with our spiritual brother, Pope Francis, with joint visits and prayers we reconfirmed that the holy church of Christ is one in the spreading of the Gospel of Christ in the world, in taking care of creation, standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man."

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  • Be known for your love, pope tells people of Armenia

    GYUMRI, Armenia (CNS) -- Acts of love and kindness must be a Christian's "calling card," the characteristic that identifies them more than anything, Pope Francis told Catholics in northern Armenia. Traveling June 25 to Gyumri, a city with a significant Catholic population and one still bearing the scars of an earthquake almost three decades ago, Pope Francis once again praised the steadfast faith of the Armenian people. Thanking God for all that had been rebuilt since the 1988 earthquake, the pope also asked the region's people to consider what they are called to build today and, more importantly, how they are called to build it. Celebrating the only public Mass scheduled for his three-day visit to predominantly Orthodox Armenia, Pope Francis told thousands of people in Gyumri's Vartanants Square that memory, faith and merciful love must be the foundations of their lives. The joy that comes from encountering Christ, he said, "renews our life, makes us free and open to surprises, ready and available for the Lord and for others." The exercise of charity renews and rejuvenates the church, he said.

    Never again: Pope prays for Armenian genocide victims, future peace

    YEREVAN, Armenia (CNS) -- In silence and in prayer while a mournful hymn was sung, Pope Francis formally paid tribute to the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18. Visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, a monument to the martyrs, Pope Francis wrote in the guestbook, "May God preserve the memory of the Armenian people. Memories should not be watered down or forgotten; memory is a source of peace and of the future." The words were in addition to those the pope had planned to write June 25, praying that humanity would never again know the large-scale massacre of a people and that by remembering such tragedies of the past, people would learn to vanquish evil with good. Accompanied by the Armenian Orthodox patriarch, Catholicos Karekin II, and by bishops and clergy from both the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches, Pope Francis blessed a wreath of yellow and white flowers placed before the towering stone shards that protect the eternal flame at Tsitsernakaberd. He and the catholicos descended a few steps to the flame's basin and laid roses at its edge before praying several minutes in silence.

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  • Family's journey puts human face on Supreme Court's immigration ruling

    TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) -- "What's the point of working so hard in school if you're going to end up cutting grass?" Those words stick with Jose Aguilar two decades later. He was sitting in a New Jersey classroom, a teenager in the country without legal documents, and took his ex-Marine teacher's hard-nosed advice as license to, as he puts it, "give up." Aguilar remembers his teacher calling him an "excellent student," but saying, "I see a lot of kids just like you who end up working as a landscaper. If I was you, I'd just quit school, and find something you're good at." When he was young, Jose had been brought across the U.S.-Mexico border without documentation as his family pursued economic stability and a brighter future. His choices led him to instability and a brush with death. But his journey didn't end there. A conversion experience, becoming a father and making a trip to a Catholic Charities immigration office helped him regain the promise his family sought when crossing the border decades ago. In many ways, Jose's story exemplifies the challenges and opportunities facing the roughly 700,000 young people brought to this country without legal permission who have found permanent legal status in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

    Chicago parishes, schools pray for summer of peace, end of gun violence

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- George Anderson, age 17. Christian Bandemear, age 16. Tyshawn Lee, age 9. Amari Brown, age 7. These are just four of the over 100 names of children and young people under 20 who have died as a result of gun violence in Chicago since June 2015. The names of all those children and young people were read on the steps of St. Sabina Church June 17 during the parish's end of the school year rally and peace march. Mothers who lost children to gun violence read the names and ages before an estimated crowd of over 1,000. The mothers were from Purpose Over Pain, a group formed in 2007 by several Chicago-area parents who lost their children to gun violence. St. Sabina's pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, led the annual event in the city's Auburn-Gresham community, which included local elected officials and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who used to be a commander in that district. The event kicked off the parish's Friday evening marches for peace, which will take place every Friday of the summer. That weekend 43 people were injured and 13 killed by gun violence in the city. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of June 21, 1,792 people were shot in Chicago in 2016 and there were 307 homicides. One of those killed was Salvador Suarez, who was shot around 1:30 p.m. June 19 outside Holy Cross Church while Mass was being celebrated.

    Father Reese to chair Commission on International Religious Freedom

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Thomas Reese was elected chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom June 21. He was appointed to the commission two years ago by President Barack Obama, who early this year reappointed him to a second two-year term. Father Reese said he was honored to serve as the commission's chair and to work with others on the group that serves as a monitoring and advisory panel to the federal government on religious freedom abroad. "World events underscore the importance of this fundamental right," said Father Reese, adding that religious freedom is "under serious and sustained attack across much of the globe" and that the bipartisan federal government commission provides recommendations to help U.S. government leaders advance such freedom. A White House news release announcing the priest's new role noted his current post as a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, his two stints as a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and his term as associate editor and then editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine America. Father Reese has been a Jesuit since 1962, and a priest since 1974. In addition to undergraduate and master's degrees including a master's of divinity, he holds a doctorate in political science.

    Two sisters in Puerto Rico help raise children from poor neighborhoods

    ARECIBO, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Most young people ages 9 to 15 are not actively seeking out more "parental" guidance. It's the age of independence and branching out to peers. But those attending an after-school program in Arecibo, are embracing another set of parents -- in the form of two caring religious sisters -- because they realize that this extra boost is transforming their lives. The program, Animacion Misionera Espiritual, is run by Sisters Vicky Beaz Diaz and Brenda Ubinas Lazzarini of the Missionaries of Christ the Savior in the Diocese of Arecibo, in the northern part of the island. The goal is to provide a nurturing place for children where they can be safe and productive from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Founded in 1989 in two neighborhoods to the Cotto neighborhood of Arecibo, the program has served more than 1,000 children. The newest site currently has 45 children and has served 150 in total. "All the children in the poorest of neighborhoods, especially those who are lonely or have been abandoned, have the right to be treated as people and as the children of God," Sister Diaz told Extension magazine. "It is our duty to go to meet them, love them, accept them and walk with them as they improve their lives. We are trying to break the chains of violence," she added. "These children come from bad situations at home. Poverty, drugs, unfit parents. They come here hungry."

    Saskatoon bishop tries out homelessness for 36 hours in charity challenge

    SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (CNS) -- Thirty-six hours may not seem like a long time to be without a home, but for Bishop Donald J. Bolen of Saskatoon and nine others, it was long enough to better understand what being homeless is really like. The bishop, who lives in an apartment in central Saskatoon, said the brief experience of living on the streets opened his eyes. "The most powerful experience was the vulnerability of the situations that we were in," Bishop Bolen said after the June 17-18 Sanctum Survivor event to raise funds for Sanctum Care Group, which provides hospice and transitional care for homeless people and individuals struggling with the virus that causes AIDS. "There are a whole lot of things in my neighborhood that I knew were there and I acknowledged their existence, but I got to see firsthand a lot more of the hurt and the pain in the neighborhood, as well as the joy, and the simple relationships that exist," he said. The bishop confessed that the challenges homeless people face are overlooked when driving a car or rushing to get somewhere.

    Teacher shortage hitting San Francisco archdiocesan Catholic schools

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- A long-predicted California teacher shortage is now hitting Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, with many parish schools still looking to fill one or more positions at a time when principals usually have next year's staff roster wrapped up. "We do have a tremendous shortage," said Maureen Grazioli, principal of St. Charles School in San Carlos. "The shortage exists not just in the Catholic schools but in the public schools." A scan of the San Mateo public school job postings showed about 200 vacancies listed online, she said. Four years ago, the spring archdiocesan teachers' fair drew "an amazing selection" of teacher candidates, Grazioli told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper. "Last year and this year, there were more principals at tables than visitors." The archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools is in the midst of increasing salaries across the board for elementary school teachers for the 2017-18 school year, said Bret Allen, associate superintendent for professional and educational leadership. A draft of the proposed new three-year salary scale is being prepared by an ad hoc committee that will share it with pastors and principals for their input, he said. The archdiocese serves a total of 25,000 students. It has 59 elementary schools, including 49 parish schools, two archdiocesan schools and eight independent Catholic schools. There are four high schools directly under the archdiocese and 10 independent Catholic high schools. The independent Catholic schools set their own salary scales.

    Protocol for high-risk industry can protect kids, church official says

    ROME (CNS) -- The mindset and specialized procedures used in nuclear power plants, hospitals and air traffic control towers are being adapted for child-protection programs for the Catholic Church. High-risk industries "have safety practices in place in terms of their culture because in those industries, one accident would have such catastrophic, fatal results," said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection. Just as catastrophic is the abuse of a child so if so-called "high reliability organization" practices were developed to increase safety and effectiveness in certain industries, the same HRO practices could be implemented by the church to ensure a safer environment there for children, he told Catholic News Service June 23. Deacon Nojadera was one of about 70 people taking part in the annual Anglophone Conference on the Safeguarding of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults, held this year at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University June 20-23. The deacon told the bishops, representatives of religious orders and child protection officers from 19 countries about pilot programs underway in more than 44 U.S. dioceses using HRO practices.

    Christianity is the 'religion of the future,' cardinal tells Irish audience

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- One of Pope Francis' top advisers said during a visit to Ireland that he believes the Christian faith is "the religion of the future" as he mapped out a role for the church in increasingly complex pluralist societies. Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Germany, a member of the pope's Council of Cardinals and president of German bishops' conference, told a packed lecture hall that the Christian faith is not a religion dealing in "magic" things, referring to a 2000 speech by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedcit XVI. "It is instrument for a better world and that must be shown, and so it is very important that the church has a positive view of the modern world," he said during an international conference on "The Church and the Challenge of Freedom" hosted by the Loyola Institute at Trinity College Dublin. The conference focused on the theme "The Role of the Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?" and attracted an audience from across Ireland. Cardinal Marx suggested the church must provide formation to its members to deal with the complex issues they encounter in pluralist societies today and in the future "without forgetting" their faith sources and principles.

    Faith, tried and true, gives hope for future, pope tells Armenians

    YEREVAN, Armenia (CNS) -- A solid, sorrow-tested Christian faith gives believers the strength to overcome even the most horrific adversity, forgive one's enemies and live in peace, Pope Francis said. Arriving in Armenia June 24, Pope Francis went straight to the twin concerns of his three-day visit: Promoting Christian unity and honoring the determined survival of Armenian Christianity despite a historic massacre and decades of Soviet domination. The high profile of the pope's ecumenical concern and the importance of faith in Armenian culture were highlighted by making the trip's first official appointment a visit to the cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church at Etchmiadzin. The arrival ceremony at the airport was defined as informal, but featured a review of the troops and a greeting by a young boy and a young girl, who offered Pope Francis the traditional gifts of bread and salt. His entrance into Holy Etchmiadzin, as it commonly is known, was heralded with the pealing of church bells. As the pope and patriarch processed down the aisle between crowds of flag-waving faithful, a deacon led them, swinging an incense burner. For the first two events on the papal itinerary, the English translations of the speeches of the pope's hosts -- the Armenian Orthodox patriarch and the country's president -- repeatedly used the word "genocide" to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918.

    Supreme Court tie vote blocks temporary plan to stop deportations

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With a tie vote June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration's plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. The court's 4-4 vote leaves in place a lower court injunction blocking the administration's immigration policy with the one-page opinion stating: "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court." Legal experts have called it an ambiguous and confusing political and legal decision that leaves many in a state of limbo. It also puts a lot of attention on the vacant Supreme Court seat that may determine how the case is decided in an appeal. Religious leaders were quick to denounce the court's action as a setback for immigrant families and stressed the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform. Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, said the court's decision was a "huge disappointment" and a setback, but he said the focus now needs to be on how to fix the current immigration system. "We must not lose hope that reform is possible," he said.

    Puerto Rico's debt, humanitarian crises focus of briefing, prayer service

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of religious leaders came together on Capitol Hill June 16 to pray for the people of Puerto Rico, who are facing extreme economic hardship, high unemployment and difficult access to health care. Sponsored by Jubilee USA at the Senate Dirksen Office Building, the service included lunch and a briefing about the Puerto Rico debt and humanitarian crises. The Rev. Stacy Martin, chief philanthropy officer for Lutheran Services of Florida, began the prayer service with a quote from Jeremiah. The Rev. Priscilla Austin, pastor of the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle, followed her, with an emotional description of how the Puerto Rico debt crisis has affected her family. "They don't want to leave the island," said Rev. Austin, "they have to." Eric LeCompte, director of Jubilee USA, spoke briefly about the urgency of Puerto Rico's situation, and introduced Father Enrique Camacho, director of Caritas Puerto Rico. Father Camacho described his work with the poor, providing food, aid, shelter, emergency relief and help for the sick and elderly left behind by young people fleeing high income taxes. "Five times more people need help now than they did in 2011," he said, citing a 12 percent unemployment rate and a 56 percent poverty rate for children. "Even professionals are in personal bankruptcy ... are coming to my office asking for help."

    Some Melkite bishops boycott synod, resulting in lack of quorum

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- The Melkite Catholic Synod of Bishops was canceled after some bishops boycotted, resulting in a lack of quorum. The needed quorum of bishops is 12 and only 10 were present at the June 20 opening of the synod in Ain Traz, summer seat of the patriarchate. Those who did not attend called for the resignation of Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, who has held his post since 2000. They are protesting the duration of his time as patriarch and some landholdings of the Melkite church. In a statement issued June 21 after the synod concluded prematurely, the patriarch cited the bishops' absence as a "case of open rebellion," which he said contradicts the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. He maintained that "the patriarchal seat is considered vacant only (upon) the patriarch's death or renunciation of his office. I shall not resign, and I will not give in to illegal and deceptive pressures. I will remain at the service of my church," the 83-year-old patriarch stated. He called for the synod to resume, possibly in October.

    Pope hails Colombia peace accord, briefly comments on Brexit

    ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO ARMENIA (CNS) -- Commenting on the peace agreement reached in Colombia, Pope Francis hailed the end of "more than 50 years of war and guerilla warfare and so much bloodshed." Pope Francis told reporters flying with him to Armenia June 24 that he prayed Colombia would "never return to a state of war" again. Although he usually does not answer questions on his flights from Rome to other countries, Pope Francis was asked by his spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, to comment on both the Colombia agreement and the results of a June 23 referendum in England on membership in the European Union. The decision to leave the EU "was the will expressed by the people," the pope said. The English decision, he said, "requires great responsibility on the part of all of us to guarantee the good of the people of the United Kingdom and the good and coexistence of the whole European continent."

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  • Blueprint of Catholic response to Orlando: Pray, act, show solidarity

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As Orlando, Florida, and the nation moves on from the shock of the June 12 nightclub attack, many are finding that there is no set path to find solace. But in the midst of collective mourning over the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the Catholic Church has something to say not only about the senseless attack on human life but also about finding peace in troubled times and showing solidarity with the suffering. Many U.S. Catholic bishops condemned the shooting at the gay nightclub, which left 50 dead, including the shooter, and more than 50 others injured. Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich took the lead in expressing sorrow that the gay community was singled out by the gunman. He said he and the Chicago Archdiocese stood with members of the gay community in the wake of "the heinous crimes" in Orlando "motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence." Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg and several others similarly expressed sadness for gay community's loss and the pain they experienced because of prejudice and hatred. That's a start, some say, hoping those messages will begin to diffuse hateful rhetoric that can lead some people to violence. "Church teaching does not say you should be evil toward people," said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, who said the heart of the church's message is the need to love our brothers and sisters and welcome all.

    Catholic universities examine sexual assault, misconduct environments

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Several Catholic universities are following Vice President Joe Biden's lead and taking a closer look at sexual assault and misconduct on their campuses. Just two days after Biden's address on violence against women at the United State of Women Summit in Washington, Georgetown University released the results of its first comprehensive sexual assault and misconduct climate survey. The survey, launched in January, followed the same format as the Association of American Universities' 2015 study of these issues at 27 U.S. colleges and universities. More than 7,000 students took Georgetown's version, one of the highest response rates in the nation. The Georgetown survey found that 31 percent of female undergrads had experienced non-consensual sexual contact, which University President John J. DeGioia called unacceptable in a statement accompanying the survey results. Many students also said they felt uncomfortable intervening, with 77 percent of bystanders who saw a drunk person about to have a sexual encounter doing nothing to stop them. A quarter of respondents said they didn't know what to do. These data, the president said, were consistent with national trends.

    Bishops seek assault weapons ban, say civilians have no need for them

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two U.S. church leaders called for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, saying they have no place in the hands of civilians. Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas issued their appeals in response to recent incidents in which people have been killed by attackers armed with semi-automatic rifles. "There's no reason in the world why these guns are available. There's no logic," Bishop Farrell told Catholic News Service June 22. The bishops' stance puts them in opposition to gun rights advocates, who say that any effort to limit the sale and acquisition of firearms would violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was weighing a statement June 23 as the national debate on the need for action on gun control rose in intensity. Since the mid-1990s, the bishops have called for "sensible regulation" and "reasonable restrictions" on firearms. Bishop Farrell's appeal came in a June 13 blog, a day after a gunman killed 49 revelers in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub.

    Artists' work in Washington exhibit focuses on immigrant experience

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Artwork on display in a new exhibit at a Washington museum captures the immigrant experience. The art by 10 immigrants who left their countries in Latin America for different reasons over the past several decades and have made Washington their home is on display at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. Titled "In the Looking Glass," the exhibit is sponsored by the Alper Initiative for Washington Art, funded by a major gift to American University from alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper. The initiative is an effort to understand and appreciate the art and artists from the Washington metropolitan area. At the exhibit's opening June 18, Cuban-born F. Lennox Campello spoke to Catholic News Service about his painting -- "Happy Bicentennial America! Wish We Were There!" -- and why he fled Cuba. Born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, in 1956, he moved to the United States with his family in 1960. He relocated to the Washington area in 1992. His piece in the exhibit is made from a newspaper dated July 4, 1976, and has as its central focus the island of Cuba.

    Chaldean Catholic clergy meeting seeks renewal, restoration of church

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church urged clergy to renew their commitment to Christ and "serve people with love" under difficult circumstances caused by violence and displacement. The call from Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad came during a two-day conference focusing on renewal and restoration of the Chaldean Church in Iraq for five bishops and about 65 priests, seminarians and deacons. They met at the patriarchal seminary in Ankawa, in the Kurdistan area of northern Iraq. "We realize that we have a long, spiritual way to go on the steps of Jesus Christ, inspired by the Gospel that has been implanted in this land and watered by the blood of our martyrs," the patriarch said in his opening address at the conference under the theme "Merciful like the Father." Patriarch Sako called on clergy to be determined "to prepare the Chaldean Church for an important phase of restoration and renewal" to help Iraqi Christians to live out their mission courageously. The meeting was the first for the Chaldean Church in which the agenda focused on the spiritual, pastoral, cultural, educational and social challenges priests and bishops face in their daily work. The patriarch stressed the importance of standing by the faithful in their suffering.

    With record-high temperatures, volunteers help keep the vulnerable safe

    PHOENIX (CNS) -- As triple-digit temperatures hit the desert Southwest, charities are working overtime to keep homeless and vulnerable people safe. "This is our winter," said Shannon Clancy, chief philanthropy officer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. "Out West when the heat turns up, the need actually increases." So far in June, the Catholic society has opened its dining centers for heat relief and emergency overnight shelter. The homeless and those without proper home cooling can rest and get water and snacks. Emergency rooms see some 2,000 people with heat-related illnesses in the state each year, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. The most vulnerable people are those age 65 and older, people who work or exercise outdoors, infants and children, the homeless, low-income families and those with chronic medical conditions. At least five people have died in Arizona because of the heat. Four of them were hiking June 19.

    Vatican following case of Chinese Bishop Ma, spokesman says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican said it has had no direct contact with Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai, who apparently wrote a blog post in June that gave many people the impression he had recanted an earlier decision to abandon the Chinese government's Catholic Patriotic Association. At his episcopal ordination in 2012 -- an assignment that came unusually with the approval of both then-Pope Benedict XVI and the Chinese government -- Bishop Ma said he would no longer hold any position in the Catholic Patriot Association so that he could focus on pastoral work and evangelization. He was immediately placed under house arrest at Sheshan Seminary and the government rescinded his appointment. Paying homage to the late Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai in a blog attributed to Bishop Ma June 12, he said cooperation with the patriotic association was one of the reasons why Bishop Jin was so successful in his ministry. With Bishop Ma under house arrest, the Diocese of Shanghai has been without a bishop since Bishop Jin died in 2014 at the age of 96.

    U.S. aid helps Ecuadoran church begin rebuilding after earthquake

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Grants totaling nearly $390,000 from the U.S. bishops' Office for the Church in Latin America will enable two Ecuadoran dioceses to reconstruct facilities damaged or destroyed in an April earthquake. The Archdiocese of Portoviejo received $375,000 to rebuild Mary Our Lady of Help of Quiroga Church and St. Joseph Church. Funds also were provided to establish a team of engineers to plan for work on more than 25 church structures destroyed in the disaster. Another $14,300 was sent to the Diocese of Babahojo for four smaller repair projects, including reconstructing a chapel in Beldao. The diocese is located on the edge of the earthquake zone. Trinitarian Father Juan Molina, director of the Office for the Church in Latin America, said Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York, was to travel to Ecuador in late June to help assess the needs of the dioceses affected by the earthquake. Additional funds are expected to be sent to the Ecuador church in the coming months, Father Molina said. The money was collected through the annual collection in parishes for Latin American churches. Adveniat, the German bishops' agency for solidarity with Latin America, and Aid to the Church in Need also are providing funds to the archdiocese.

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  • Stories of persecution suffered by religious led Marist brother to vocation

    BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CNS) -- It was the stories of how his teachers, Mexican-born religious brothers, had suffered persecution that steered Marist Brother Paul Phillipp of south Texas, now 92, to his religious vocation. Reared on a farm some 25 miles west of Brownsville, young Paul's parents valued a Catholic education. So to get him and his siblings to the all-boy and all-girl schools just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, they bought a brand new 1937 Ford sedan. It was there at "St. Joe" that the then-sophomore met English teacher Brother Paul Aleman of Mexico. Brother Paul said Brother Aleman crossed the Rio Grande in 1906 with other Mexican religious teachers and brought stories of Catholic persecution and blood-drenched altars. "This inspired me," he recalled in an interview with Catholic News Service at the school, now called St. Joseph Academy and coeducational since 1971. "The persecutions and all these brothers had left their homes (for safety) and came here to Brownsville to learn English." Two years later in 1939, during his senior year, Paul accepted the teachers' invitation to walk in their footsteps. Brother Paul said that although his parents believed in advancing his post-secondary Catholic education, they didn't want him studying overseas. By taking courses in Mexico he might be subjected to religious harassment. And in Spain, where many Mexican religious studied, he could die in their waning civil war.

    HHS says California can require that all health plans cover elective abortions

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A federal agency has determined that California can continue to demand that all health plans under the jurisdiction of the state's Department of Managed Health Care -- "even those purchased by churches and other religious organizations" -- cover elective abortions for any reason. The coverage includes late-term abortions and "those performed for reasons of 'sex selection.'" The chairmen of two U.S. Catholic bishops' committees June 22 said the administrative ruling issued a day earlier by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fails to respect the right to life and religious freedom. "It is shocking that HHS has allowed the state of California to force all employers -- even churches -- to fund and facilitate elective abortions in their health insurance plans," said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. The cardinal is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Lori chairs the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. "Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion," they said in a statement.

    Cardinal visits Ukraine to show solidarity with those suffering from war

    LVIV, Ukraine (CNS) -- Liza, 15, left Donetsk in June 2014. Her father was a pro-Ukrainian activist, and it became too dangerous for her and her mother to remain in Donetsk, which pro-Russian militants later made the headquarters of their self-proclaimed republic. "When I left Donetsk, we thought that's just for two-three weeks," said Liza, who asked to identified only by her first name. She has lived in Lviv for two years, most recently in a house run by Jesuits. Her grandmother stayed in Donetsk -- elderly people often stay in occupied territories to protect the property from looting. Volodymyr Shynkarenko with his mother worked in the Donetsk opera house. They were members of the Ukrainian Catholic community and sang in the church choir. "Mother was a co-founder of our parish and conductress of the choir," he said of his mother, who died of cancer earlier this year. The Shynkarenkos also left Donetsk in June 2014 because their apartment was close to the city airport, and the house was under the constant shelling. First they lived with relatives and, after they knew that the mother was ill, they moved to the Jesuit house for displaced in Lviv. Both families are among 1.7 million internally displaced Ukrainians who moved from the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Some have returned since the hostilities ended. Hundreds of thousands live in so called grey zone, close to the conflict line.

    Colombia is moving toward peace, but issues remain, says archbishop

    TUNJA, Colombia (CNS) -- After decades of war, Colombia is moving rapidly toward peace, said Archbishop Luis Castro Quiroga, who has maintained a pastoral presence at peace talks in Havana. Archbishop Castro, president of the Colombian bishops' conference, said the government and the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia still have "many issues to work through." He spoke in early June, before the June 22 announcement that the two sides had reached an agreement on several sticky issues, including a bilateral cease-fire. The Tunja archbishop admitted that while the talks have been praised by other countries, "inside the country there is a lot of criticism." For instance, former President Alvaro Uribe has sharply criticized the talks, claiming those responsible for violence will not be punished, but Archbishop Castro disagreed. "There will be no impunity. There will be a judicial process in which people who speak the truth will have certain benefits, while those who don't speak the truth will have certain penalties. It will not be a comedy. It will be justice with truth for the guerrillas," Archbishop Castro said. He faulted the government of President Juan Manuel Santos for not explaining the process well to the general public, which will have to approve any agreement in a referendum.

    Saints' relics seen as reminder of today's threats to religious liberty

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori linked urgent matters of "immigration, marriage and the church's teaching on sexuality" to a pair of 16th-century martyrs during a June 21 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore that began the fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom. The theme of this year's fortnight is "Witnesses to Freedom." It features relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, an English layman and bishop, respectively, who were martyred in a 16-day span in 1535, when they refused to accept Parliament's Act of Supremacy, which had declared that King Henry VIII was head of the church in England. On display for veneration were St. John Fisher's ring and a piece of bone of St. Thomas More. According to Jan Graffius, curator of Stonyhurst College in England, which holds the relics, it came from St. Thomas More's skull, which was rescued by his daughter, Margaret, from a spike on London Bridge. During a Mass that was televised nationally by the Eternal Word Television Network, Archbishop Lori's homily connected Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher to an array of 21st century struggles, among them the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate that the Little Sisters of the Poor continue to challenge in the nation's highest courts. "This night we recognize gratefully the courage of all who are resisting the mandate, especially the Little Sisters of the Poor," the archbishop said. "They are vigorously defending their freedom and ours -- and they are doing so with a beauty and a joy, borne from the heart of the Gospel."

    Unity, honor and hope on pope's agenda for Armenia

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he would travel to Armenia June 24-26 to promote closer bonds with the Armenian Orthodox church, honor the Armenian people's steadfast faith in the face of tragedy and support them in their efforts to build a peaceful future. In a video message transmitted June 22 on Armenian television, the pope said he admires the Armenian people but also shares their pain over the difficult moments of the country's history and its people. In more than 1,700 years as an officially Christian nation, he said, "you have found in the cross of Christ and in your genius the strength always to rise again even from the sufferings that were among the most terrible that history recalls." The remarks were an obvious reference to what is widely known as the Armenian Genocide when 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18. However, he said, "we must not allow painful memories to take possession of our hearts. Even in the face of repeated assaults of evil, we cannot give up." Connecting with Armenia's traditional attachment to the story of Noah's Ark, which according to legend came to rest on Mount Ararat, which is now in neighboring Turkey, Pope Francis told the people that they should be like Noah, "who after the flood never tired of looking toward the heavens and kept releasing doves."

    CRS, other agencies helping Iraqis fleeing Fallujah fighting

    LONDON (CNS) -- Catholic Relief Services and other international aid agencies are working with local Christian and Muslim charities to help about 70,000 people fleeing Fallujah, Iraq, as conflict deepens between Islamic State militants and Iraqi forces seeking to regain the beleaguered town in Anbar province. "They have escaped active fighting and at least are in some safety now," Hani El-Mahdi, Iraq country director of Catholic Relief Services, told Catholic News Service from Iraq. "They are awaiting permission to enter Baghdad, but in the meanwhile the majority are sheltering in decrepit tents with few latrines available." "These people desperately need food and water," Nikki Gamer, a CRS communications officer, told CNS. "There is little infrastructure in place to address the needs of so many people at once." Gamer said CRS was working with Caritas Iraq to provide "food, emergency living supplies and hygiene items, like soap." El-Mahdi told CNS that an urgent priority is to get more water, portable latrine and other wash facilities in place to meet growing needs of the displaced as numbers increase. He said that an initial 1,000 families have been helped as part of an immediate response undertaken in conjunction with Islamic charities operating in the area.

    Relic tour for fortnight highlights saints' courage, religious liberty

    ST. CLOUD, Minn. (CNS) -- A nationwide tour of relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, two 16th-century martyrs who exemplified courage and conviction in the face of persecution, is part of the U.S. Catholic Church's Fortnight for Freedom observance this year. Both men were executed by King Henry VIII for their Catholic beliefs. The "Strength of the Saints" relic tour will go to Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington. The tour is sponsored in part by the Knights of Columbus and organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops along with Jesuit-run Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe, England. "Witnesses to Freedom" is the theme of this year's June 21-July 4 fortnight observance. The relics will travel with Jan Graffius, curator of collections at Stonyhurst, where they are kept. "Relics are reminders of people we love," Graffius told The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud, one of the stops on the tour. "Parents keep baby shoes, locks of hair (and) birthday cards as reminders of those who are important to us. A physical object such as the More relic reminds us that he was a human being, and by viewing it, we find ourselves closer to him as a person. It is a prompt for reflection, examination and inquiry," she said. "And, hopefully, that experience can bring us closer to Thomas More and John Fisher as human beings and encourage us to learn more about them."

    Before Brexit vote, liturgy highlights plight of refugees

    LONDON (CNS) -- As Europe held its breath on whether Britain would vote to remain or exit the European Union, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that numbers fleeing war and persecution have soared four times over the past decade, to 24 people per minute or more than 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. Concerns over immigration might tip the so-called Brexit vote, but a June 19 liturgy brought home the precarious plight of the displaced and how Christians respond to it. A stark, weather-beaten cross stood at the center of the ornate 17th-century baroque St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral in the English capital. It was carved by Italian carpenter Francesco Tuccio from pieces of a boat wrecked Oct. 11, 2013, off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. More than 300 Eritrean and Somali refugees drowned while attempting to reach Europe that day, but the inhabitants of Lampedusa helped to save the lives of 155 others. After meeting some of the Eritrean Christian survivors and frustrated at what he could do to help, Tuccio created a cross from the wreckage of the boat for each one as a reminder of their salvation from the sea and hope for the future. "There were and are wooden boats coming to Lampedusa carrying people looking for help. And I have helped many. I also saw children and adults downing," Tuccio said. "After I had seen so many landings, I was utterly dismayed.

    Benedict shows core of priesthood is being 'immersed in God,' pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI's decision to retire and live a life fully dedicated to prayer represents one of the most important lessons he gives the world's priests, Pope Francis said. In retirement, Pope Benedict shows "in an even clearer way" the core of priestly ministry is a life fully immersed in God, something "that deacons, priests and bishops must never forget," Pope Francis said in a written preface to a new book. "The primary and most important service is not the management of 'day-to-day business,' but praying for others without interruption, body and soul, exactly like the pope emeritus does today -- constantly immersed in God." The new book, "To Teach and Learn God's Love," was to be released in German, Spanish and Italian June 29 -- the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict's ordination to the priesthood. Pope Francis was scheduled to join Pope Benedict celebrating the anniversary during an audience June 28 in the Apostolic Palace. The new book, a collection of homilies focusing on the priesthood, was to be published in English by Ignatius Press. Cardinal Ludwig Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote the book's introduction.

    World Day of Migrants to reflect on vulnerable, voiceless minors

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Migrant children, the most vulnerable and fragile victims of war and persecution, will be at the heart of the Catholic Church's annual day of reflection and prayer on the situation of migrants and refugees. The theme chosen by Pope Francis for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2017 will reflect on "vulnerable and voiceless" minors, the Vatican announced June 22. The pope also will release a message for the world day prior to its celebration, which will be Jan. 15 in most countries. Explaining the pope's choice for the theme, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers said the pope wants "to focus attention on the littlest of the little." "Oftentimes, children arrive alone in their countries of destination, they are unable to make their voices heard and easily become victims of grave violations of human rights," the council's statement said. The World Day of Migrants and Refugees began in 1915 "to raise awareness on the phenomenon of migration and promote a collection to support pastoral work" for Italians emigrating to other countries and the formation of missionaries to assist them, the council said.

    Christians don't exclude, they welcome, pope says at general audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Flanked by a group of refugees, Pope Francis appealed to Christians to care for and welcome those whom society often excludes. "Today I'm accompanied by these young men. Many people think they would have been better off if they had stayed in their homelands, but they were suffering so much there. They are our refugees, but many people consider them excluded. Please, they are our brothers," the pope said June 22 during his weekly general audience. The group, holding a banner that stated "Refugees for a better future together," caught the pope's attention as he was making his way to the stage in St. Peter's Square. He signaled them to come forward and instructed aides to allow them to sit in the shade on the stage. In his main talk, the pope discussed the Gospel story of the leper who begged Jesus to heal him, saying: "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." The pope noted that the leper not only asked to be "purified" in both body and heart, but also broke the law by entering the city to find Jesus in search of healing.

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  • Mexican churchmen say teacher conflict indicates greater social unrest

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Churchmen in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas have offered to mediate a conflict between the government and protesting teachers and their supporters after an attempt at dislodging a roadblock left eight dead and dozens more injured. They also warned of simmering social tensions as ordinary residents in an impoverished part of the country -- rife with inequality, corruption and political conflicts -- show increasing sympathies for protesting teachers attempting to turn back an initiative that the federal government says will overhaul the country's underperforming school system by subjecting educators to evaluations and weakening union influence. "Each day that the government does not facilitate dialogue this is going to continue growing and will turn into a catalyst for other expressions of discontent," said Father Alejandro Solalinde, director of a shelter for Central American migrants in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca. He plans to form a group promoting discussions between the government and teachers. "The problems in Chiapas are serious and complex, and the teachers' conflict is a raw nerve," said Archbishop Fabio Martinez Castilla of Tuxtla Gutierrez, adding the church was willing to act as a mediator in a state where priests have intervened in an increasing number of local political disputes. Local media reported the archbishop called it a "situation of social discontent."

    Chicago archdiocesan outreach to gay community remembers Orlando victims

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- When members of the Chicago Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach gathered the evening of June 19 for their regular weekly Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, they had as their focus the victims of the mass shooting June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 others wounded. A memorial to the dead stood in front of the altar with photos of the victims. During the prayers of the faithful at Mass, the names and ages of victims were read while candles were lit for each person. After Mass, many people went up to the altar to pray before the memorial and to take photos. The Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach began in 1988 as a way to extend the church's pastoral outreach to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics throughout the archdiocese. In addition to holding service projects in the community and social events, the community meets each Sunday for an evening Mass. At Mass June 12, the day of the Orlando shooting, a letter to members of the outreach from Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich was read. "For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you," the archbishop said in the letter.

    Philippine bishops issue letter on police killing of suspected criminals

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- In light of a spike in killings of suspected criminals, Philippine bishops appealed to law enforcement officials to use "reason and humanity." A June 20 pastoral letter touched on five points police ought to consider regarding killing of suspected criminals. In addition, Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle released a novena for the protection of the Philippines to be prayed starting June 21, nine days before the country's newly elected leaders officially take office. In the pastoral letter, the bishops said the concept of "shoot to kill" can only be legitimately carried out under three circumstances: "only first, when there is unjust provocation; second, when there is a real, not only conjectural, threat to your life or to the lives and safety of others; third, when there is due proportion between the threat posed and your own use of a firearm aimed at the threatening subject." It added, "Suspicion is never the moral equivalent of certainty, and punishment may be inflicted only on the ground of certainty." President-elect Rodrigo Duterte ran for president on the promise to rid the country of crime during his first six months in office. Since he was elected May 9, police statistics showed 29 suspected criminals were killed by law enforcement. That is more than half the 39 killed from Jan. 1 through May 9.

    Security, criminal justice experts seek lessons after Florida shooting

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) -- As grief and shock turns to worry following the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, security and policing experts are looking for long-term lessons from the June 12 tragedy in Orlando. The shooting by Florida resident Omar Mir Seddique Mateen at the Pulse gay nightclub left 49 patrons dead and another 53 injured. Most of the victims were Latino and there for a dance party. Mateen died in a gun battle with SWAT team members. The lone gunman's motivations may never be fully known, but the FBI June 20 released partial transcripts of a 911 call Mateen made during his rampage in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers. Details were still emerging about any ties he may have had to the terrorist group. As in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, the shooting presents a potential minefield of conflicting impulses and responses related to immigration policy, interreligious relations, gun ownership and what constitutes hate crimes or if that term accurately applies in this situation. "We are in a difficult place in the history of our country because terrorism is not going away anytime soon for three reasons: It's cheap, it is easy and it is extremely effective," said Joseph Augustyn, who was a deputy associate director of Central Intelligence for Homeland Security following 9/11.

    Death penalty fosters revenge, not justice, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Use of the death penalty is an unacceptable practice that sows vengeance and does not bring justice to the victims of crime, Pope Francis said. No matter how serious the crime, to kill a convicted person is "an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person," as well as a contradiction of God's plan and "his merciful justice," the pope said June 21 in a video message to participants at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty. "It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty," the pope said in his message to the meeting in Oslo, Norway. The June 21-23 conference, sponsored by the French association, "Together Against the Death Penalty," promotes the universal abolition of the death penalty. The group expected more than 1,300 people -- including government officials -- from more than 80 countries to attend. Thanking the participants for their commitment to "a world free of the death of penalty," the pope said growing opposition to the death penalty as a legitimate means of social defense is "one sign of hope."

    Colombian church works to make victims' voices heard at peace talks

    TUNJA, Colombia (CNS) -- Colombia's Catholic Church has worked to ensure that peace talks to end their country's decades-long war are not just a dialogue between those who have fired weapons at each other. The church has made sure that the voices of victims have been heard at the Havana talks between the government and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The bishops' conference chose 60 representative victims -- what Archbishop Luis Castro Quiroga of Tunja called "a drop in the sea" of some 8 million victims -- and accompanied them in groups of 12 to Havana. Archbishop Castro and other church officials helped prepare them to make presentations at the negotiating table and ensured that they felt welcomed by negotiators. "The government and the guerrillas heard the victims speak with clarity and energy. It was a positive experience for the victims as well, for they all went with their hearts filled with bitterness, yet they were able to express all that they had lived and felt, and they asked for an explanation of what happened in their situation. At the same time, each victim had the possibility to hear 11 other victims and to realize that they weren't the only ones in the world who suffered. Some also realized that there were others who suffered even worse; they could relate to their situation. But at the end, all could begin to move toward forgiveness," Archbishop Castro, president of the Colombian bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service.

    Tourists must blow whistle on trafficking during Olympics, religious say

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Religious priests, brothers and sisters in Brazil are urging everyone attending the Olympic Games to report instances of exploitation of vulnerable people and to turn in suspected traffickers. Their campaign, "Play for Life," invites tourists, residents and visitors "to take a stand, not to submit passively to the arrogance of those who want to manipulate and use everything, even sports and life, for power, pleasure and greed," according to a global network of religious. "Talitha Kum," an international network of consecrated men and women working against trafficking in persons, sponsored a news conference at Vatican Radio June 21. The group unveiled a new campaign organized by "Um Grito pela Vida," the Brazilian network of religious against human trafficking. The campaign was being launched for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 5-21. The risk of exploitation against workers, women and children increases in the run-up to and during major events, which can be used to deceive people "with false promises of more jobs and a better life," said a Talitha Kum press release June 21.

    Vatican marks 'Laudato Si'' anniversary with new website

    ROME (CNS) -- Marking the first anniversary of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace launched a new website dedicated to the document and efforts around the world to put its teaching into practice. The site -- www.laudatosi.va -- "witnesses not only to the impact of the encyclical, but also the creativity and generosity of the people of God everywhere in the world," said Cardinal Peter Turkson, council president. The council celebrated the first anniversary of the document, "Laudato Si'," June 20 with a small conference at Rome's Basilica of St. Mary in Montesanto. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a video message, said that as scientists, governments, economists and concerned citizens were pushing for an international agreement to combat climate change, Pope Francis' encyclical provided the "moral imperative to take bold action." Published six months before the Paris summit on climate change, she said, the pope's document raised the issue in "the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people who may not otherwise have considered climate in their daily lives."

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    Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Mercy, forgiveness reflect true character of church, says speaker

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- The motif of God's mercy is not a minor key but "the ground melody of the Bible and Christian heritage," according to Passionist Father Donald Senior, president emeritus, chancellor and professor of New Testament studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Yet, there are serious voices in the church today who are uncomfortable with such an emphasis on mercy, he told participants at the New York Catholic Bible Summit June 18. Father Senior gave the English-language keynote address at the bilingual conference. More than 600 people from four states attended the seventh annual daylong event at the New York Catholic Center. The program celebrated the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz Arenas, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization delivered the Spanish-language keynote on mercy as the vocation of the church. Father Senior cited the biblical foundations for the Year of Mercy in his talk on "The Tender Mercy of Our God. "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith," he said. "Mercy in the Catholic tradition reveals the nature of God and God's relationship to humanity, characterizes the mission of Jesus as a revelation of God's mercy, and illumines what should be the fundamental stance of the Christian and the Christian community in its mission to the world," Father Senior said.

    Maronite archbishop urges Mideast Christians to witness to Christ daily

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Jesus is asking spiritual and civilian Christian leaders to be messengers of the word of God, especially in these difficult times in the Middle East, said Maronite Archbishop Moussa El-Hage of Haifa and the Holy Land. "Do we witness to Christ in our lives, we who received the teaching of Christ?" the archbishop asked participants in the 13th Extraordinary Prayer of all Churches for Reconciliation, Unity and Peace. "Is Jesus with us and in us? Do we always remember the presence of Jesus in us? And how we live this presence?" Speaking June 19, Pentecost on the Julian calendar followed by most Eastern traditions, Archbishop El-Hage said, "We came today to hear the word of God and celebrate the Eucharist, from all the Christian churches, and to open our hearts and minds to the work of the Holy Spirit and to listen to his inspiration." Archbishop El-Hage said that, at a time when Middle Eastern Christians are facing grave trials, it is imperative that they not be forgotten and remain in everyone's prayers. He also prayed for participants in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete. Since 2010 Jerusalem churches have called on Christians around the world to join in a special intercessory prayer calling for reconciliation and unity among the churches and peace in the world. Emanating from Jerusalem and in recent years also broadcast abroad by Christian channels, the special prayer is hosted by a different faith community each time it is held. This year the service was at the Maronite patriarchal exarchate church.

    Bishops, others offer consolation, resolve after Orlando shootings

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishops of dioceses which themselves fell victim to mass shootings in recent years were among the flood of Catholic leaders offering condolences and consolation to survivors and family members of the victims of the mass shooting June 12 at a gay nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 others wounded. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, a city that suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement: "For those of us in San Bernardino, this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center. "In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the city itself," said the statement. "Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community." Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, which takes in Newtown, where four years ago 20 children and six adults were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the gunman took his own life, said in a June 14 statement that all Catholic must raise their voices against hatred. The attack in Orlando, he said, "has unmasked once again ... an evil that must spur us to rededicate ourselves to fostering a true spirit of unity and reconciliation."

    First Puerto Rican victim of Orlando mass shooting laid to rest at home

    GUANICA, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Songs blared June 18 while a white horse-drawn hearse and a weeping crowd departed Barriada Esperanza sector of Guanica with the body of Angel Candelario Padro. "He left, little brother, danged destiny, he left without me seeing him again," said one song as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the first Puerto Rican victim to be interred in his homeland after the mass shooting June 12 at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Candelario, a 28-year-old ophthalmology technician who expected to begin doctoral studies in September, was buried with full military honors because he also held the rank of captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. "It is sad what we are having TO live through," Jaime Cordero, a lifelong friend of Candelario's, told Catholic News Service at the Guanica Municipal Cemetery. "The LGBT community and this whole town stand in solidarity with his immediate family, although we are all his family." A teary Cordero, wrapped in the rainbow flag symbolizing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, let loose a white dove during the funeral, symbolizing "Angel's soul elevating to God." The shooting left 50 dead (including the gunman) and more than 50 wounded. News reports said that of those who were killed, more than half were of Puerto Rican origin. Some 300,000 people of Puerto Rican heritage live in the metropolitan area of Orlando.

    Maronite bishops call for maintaining Christian presence in Middle East

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- Maronite Catholic bishops from around the world warned against plans to partition the Middle East and urged Christians to stand firm and to preserve coexistence with Muslims. In a statement at the conclusion of their June 13-17 synod, the bishops stressed the importance of continuing the presence of Maronite Catholics in Lebanon and the region. Particularly after reviewing the situation of Maronite bishops in Syrian eparchies in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia, the prelates resisted "all international plans" for partitioning the region and called instead to preserve "living together, Christians and Muslims, in a climate of freedom, democracy and respect for diversity." They decried the suffering of the Syrian people, especially in recent months due to the worsening war and the deterioration of the economy and the national currency stressing that "poverty has become universal." The bishops pointed out that in Aleppo, people are suffering from "a scarcity of (the) necessities of life, such as water, electricity and food, and the demolition of homes and the loss of life-taking, in addition to thousands of dead and wounded, widows and the displaced." Lebanon borders Syria, and the bishops called on the international community to support Lebanon with financial support "to provide adequate assistance" to Lebanon's 2 million displaced -- most of whom are Syrians -- and "to work seriously for their early return to their country." The synod, presided by Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, took place at the patriarchal seat of Bkerke, north of Beirut. It was preceded by a spiritual retreat.

    Renew efforts to build peace, help refugees, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Assist and accompany refugees while working to build peace in the world, Pope Francis urged on the eve of World Refugee Day. "Refugees are people like everyone, but war took away their home, work, relatives and friends," he said in the run-up to the United Nations-sponsored day June 20. Seeing the faces and hearing the stories of refugees should lead Christians "to renew our obligation to build peace through justice," he said after praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter's Square June 19. "This is why we want to stand with them -- to encounter them, welcome them, listen to them -- in order to become together with them artisans of peace, according to God's will," the pope said, referring to the day's theme, "We Stand #WithRefugees." The pope's appeal followed a joint effort by the Vatican police, the Greek government and Rome's Sant'Egidio Community to bring a group of Syrian refugees to Italy. The Vatican police accompanied nine refugees -- six adults and three children -- from Athens to Rome June 16. The community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay organization, was arranging their housing.

    Pope offers prayers as pan-Orthodox council opens on Crete

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church opened with only 10 of the 14 Orthodox churches represented, Pope Francis offered his prayers. After reciting the Angelus prayer June 19, the pope had thousands of visitors in St. Peter's Square join him in praying a Hail Mary for "all of our Orthodox brothers and sisters." Pope Francis noted that the day was Pentecost on the Julian calendar followed by the Orthodox. "Let us unite ourselves to the prayer of our Orthodox brothers and sisters, invoking the Holy Spirit so that it would assist with its gifts the patriarchs, archbishops and bishops gathered in the council." The pope's daily tweet repeated his message: "Let us join in prayer with our Orthodox brothers and sisters for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church opening today in Crete." Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who is presiding over the council meetings, retweeted the pope's message.

    Martyrs are witnesses of faith, not just victims of genocide, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Using the word "genocide" to describe the persecution of Christians in the Middle East risks downplaying the courage and witness of those who boldly profess faith in Jesus Christ even in the face of death, Pope Francis said. "I want to say clearly that I do not like it when people speak of a 'genocide of Christians,' for example in the Middle East," the pope said, responding to questions June 18. Calling the persecution "genocide," he said, is using a juridical and sociological category to speak of "something which is a mystery of the faith: martyrdom." Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis "was not speaking about the use of the term 'genocide' on a political level, but on a level of faith. When applied to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the dimension of faith is essential," particularly when victims are murdered for not renouncing faith in Christ. Pope Francis spent more than an hour responding to questions during an afternoon visit to Rome's Villa Nazareth, a residence for university students and headquarters of a foundation dedicated to helping gifted students who do not have the financial resources to continue their studies. Recalling the Islamic State's martyrdom of 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach in 2015, Pope Francis said none of them were theologians, "but they were doctors of Christian consistency; they were witnesses of the faith." Fidelity to Christ and being living witnesses requires sacrifice, though usually not to the point of death, he said. It requires many little acts of martyrdom, "the martyrdom of honesty, the martyrdom of patience, of raising your children, of fidelity in love when it's easier to take another path."

    At consistory, pope sets October canonization date

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will declare four men and one woman -- Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a French Discalced Carmelite mystic and writer -- saints at the Vatican Oct. 16. The date was announced June 20 during an "ordinary public consistory," a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process. In addition to Blessed Elizabeth, he approved the canonizations of Blesseds Manuel Gonzalez Garcia, a Spanish bishop known for his devotion to eucharistic adoration; Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis Leclerq, a Christian Brother martyred during the September Massacres in Paris after refusing to swear allegiance to the new government following the French Revolution; Lodovico Pavoni, the Italian founder of the Sons of Mary Immaculate, now commonly known as the Pavonians; and Alfonso Maria Fusco, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene.

    Pope: Before you judge, take a good look in the mirror

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must take a good look at their own sins before calling out their neighbor's faults, Pope Francis said. "Look at yourself in the mirror, not to put on makeup so your wrinkles can't be seen; no, that's not (Jesus') advice. Look at yourself in the mirror to see yourself as you are," the pope said June 20 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew recounted Jesus telling his disciples to not judge so "that you may not be judged." "You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye," Jesus says. Pope Francis said it is clear that Jesus "gets a little bit angry here" and is reminding the disciples that those who judge put themselves "in God's place."

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