CNS Top Story

CNS Top Stories
  • World must respond to Islamic State genocide actions, U.N. conference hears

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

    By Daphnie Vega

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- While religious freedom in much of the Middle East is under siege and the civil war in Syria seems to have no end in sight, Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, and others called the United Nations to action.

    The U.N. plays a crucial role in securing the future of the region, particularly for people being tortured, kidnapped and killed because of their religious beliefs, Anderson said during a daylong conference April 28.

    Anderson's presentation came during one of three panel discussions at the conference sponsored by the office of the Vatican's permanent observer to the U.N. and joined by In Defense of Christians and other organizations focusing on human rights abuses in the Middle East.

    Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

    Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican's permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

    A 278-page report submitted to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that was co-authored by the Knights of Columbus and the group In Defense of Christians in March outlined what it called "genocide" being carried out against religious minorities by the Islamic State. Its contents focused largely on Christians who have been murdered and those indigenous communities who will or have been displaced from their region.

    On March 17, Kerry designated Islamic State actions as genocide, but the United States has yet to offer a plan to respond.

    The U.N. estimates that more than half of Syria's pre-civil war population of about 22.1 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Four million Syrian refugees now live outside of their homeland. Overall, at least 8 million people have been displaced throughout the region, human rights organizations estimate.

    Anderson mentioned published threats in the Islamic State's magazine, Dabiq, specifying what the group has called the "Crusader army" from the West. Such threats have not only been carried out in many parts of the Middle East but have haunted the lives of innocent men, women and children, he said.

    The Knights of Columbus has raised more than $10.5 million for relief since 2014 while partnering with dioceses and religious organizations to provide victims with food, clothing, shelter, education and medical attention, he said.

    Anderson concluded his presentation by proposing that the U.N. take legal action against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups to prevent the eradication of long-standing and indigenous communities in the Middle East. He called for punishment of the perpetrators and for the establishment of international standards of justice, equality, the rule of law and religious freedom.

    Sister Maria de Guadalupe Rodrigo, a member of the Congregation of the Incarnate Word who has spent 18 years in the Middle East as a missionary, spoke of her experienced living in Aleppo, Syria, a major battleground in the civil war.

    "I remember the first two months when this all started, we all remained inside," she said. "There were constant explosions and gunshots. We couldn't sleep. But these weeks turned into months and the months into years."

    Sister Maria de Guadalupe described how children playing on the street collect bullets and trade them with one another because they could find nothing else to play with. Children should not be concerned about safety, but safety is all they think about, she said.

    A child captured and tortured by ISIS also addressed the conference. Samia Sleman, 15, of Hardan, Iraq, a village north of Mount Sinjar, gave an emotional speech about her time in captivity. A member of the Yazidi minority, Sleman spent six months sequestered along with other girls who were starved, raped and sold to other Islamic State members.

    Sleman brought attention to the many girls whom Islamic State members take as sex slaves while their mothers are killed for being "too old." Some enslaved girls are as young 7 or 8 years old, she said.

    Despite the horrific actions of her captors, Sleman, whose family is still being held, spoke on their behalf so the U.N. and world governments would act to end the genocide taking place.

    In another session, Jacqueline Isaac, vice president of Roads of Success, a Southern California organization addressing human rights in the Middle East, asked, "Where are you, world?"

    Victims of ISIS are more than numbers, but human beings, she said, as many in the audience rose to their feet and applauded.

    - - -

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

CNS News Briefs

Brief versions on news stories from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  • Laughter, tears mark community's farewell to slain Florida priest

    ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (CNS) -- While sorrowful hearts mourn Father Rene Robert, two services that helped commemorate his life and allow family and friends to say farewell was wrought with as many laughs as there were tears. Police said Father Rene Robert, 71, died April 11. His body was found April 18 in Burke County, Georgia, about 260 miles away from St. Johns County, Florida, south of Jacksonville, where he had lived. Steven James Murray, 28, has been charged with malice murder in connection with the death. Father Robert had been ministering to Murray, who recently had been released from a Jacksonville, Florida, jail. A priest for 27 years and a Franciscan brother before that, Father Robert's ministry included serving as chaplain of Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, prison ministry and parish work. As mourners gathered at San Sebastian Church in St. Augustine April 25 for an evening prayer service for the priest, it became keenly evident that Father Robert touched the lives of clergy, lay and religious in many different communities.

    Iraq's Assyrian Christians form militias amid sectarian tensions

    ALQOSH, Iraq (CNS) -- A well-worn AK-47 in his hands, John Behnam ran up a hill overlooking the Ninevah Plain, which stretches in the distance toward the town he fled two years ago. As an instructor yelled at him to keep low, Behnam and other fighters practiced capturing an enemy position. Artillery echoed across the terrain, green with spring, as Kurdish Peshmerga forces traded artillery fire with the Islamic State group that holds Behnam's hometown of Qaraqosh. "Our ancestors lived there for thousands of years, so we have to go and retake our homes and lands and churches. We don't want to live like exiles in someone else's land. We want to go home," said Behnam, a private in the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, or NPU, an Assyrian Christian militia formed by former residents of Qaraqosh and nearby villages. The NPU, which numbers about 300 soldiers, was formed after the Islamic State rolled across the Ninevah Plain in 2014. Most of its members are inexperienced volunteers like Behnam, whose family lives in a sprawling displaced persons' camp in Ankawa, near the Kurdish capital of Irbil. The men's uniforms are a mix of hand-me-downs from other forces, and there are not enough guns to go around. Behnam said he has fired a total of nine bullets during several weeks of training. "But five of them hit the target," he proudly told Catholic News Service.

    World must respond to Islamic State genocide actions, U.N. conference hears

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- While religious freedom in much of the Middle East is under siege and the civil war in Syria seems to have no end in sight, Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, and others called the United Nations to action. The U.N. plays a crucial role in securing the future of the region, particularly for people being tortured, kidnapped and killed because of their religious beliefs, Anderson said during a daylong conference April 28. Anderson's presentation came during one of three panel discussions at the conference sponsored by the office of the Vatican's permanent observer to the U.N. and joined by In Defense of Christians and other organizations focusing on human rights abuses in the Middle East. Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities. Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican's permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

    Bishop Neil Tiedemann named auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y.

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Bishop Neil E. Tiedemann as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. The appointment was announced April 29 in Washington by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d'affairs of the nunciature in the United States. Bishop Tiedemann, 68, has been bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica, since 2008. He is a member of the Passionists and was ordained in 1975. He has served at parishes in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts as well as in Honduras and Jamaica.

    Ethics must guide medical research, protect human dignity, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Moral and ethical concerns must guide medical research so it will always be at the service of protecting human life and dignity, Pope Francis said. In that way, education and research can strive "to serve higher values, such as solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life, and fraternal and selfless love," he said April 29, during an audience with people taking part in a conference on adult stem cell research. "Research, whether in academia or industry," he said, "requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in attendance and had addressed the conference with a 29-minute speech on the need to invest in prevention, access and affordability in the fight against cancer. The conference looked at current and experimental techniques in using adult stem cells to fight disease, specifically rare illnesses afflicting children. The April 28-30 conference was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture; its foundation, STOQ, which is an acronym for Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest; and the Stem for Life Foundation, a nonprofit offshoot of the for-profit Caladrius cell-therapy company.

    Syrian archbishop would rather see Canada help Syrians stay home

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- Seated in a quiet room, the Melkite Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, spoke slowly, in an almost muffled voice. His eyes sometimes ran astray, lingering on the buildings across the street in downtown Montreal. He detailed how Fouad Banna's family was torn apart when their house was destroyed by an attack a few months ago. "He was only 13," said Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart. "It was awful: a bomb that the rebels deliberately launched on a Christian neighborhood, on a popular borough. It has blown everything apart, destroyed countless houses. Such was the case of Fouad's home, who died at this very moment," he said. Fouad's mother and father were badly injured. Struggling for their lives in an intensive care unit, they were not able to attend the funeral of their son, a ceremony led by Archbishop Jeanbart. Fouad's sister, Rosy, 17, was the only member of the family left unscathed by the attack. "When I visited her, to see what I could do for her, she nestled against me and said: 'Lord, pray so that my parents stay alive.' I then asked her: 'But what can I do for you?' She answered: 'Pray.'" He paused for a few seconds. The silence was at odds with the scenes he painfully described.

    Interfaith prayer service calls for change on anniversary of Baltimore riots

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Religious leaders gathered in prayer to mark the one-year anniversary of the riots that spread through Baltimore after the death of a man injured while in police custody. The leaders said they hear the cries of the people of the city during the interfaith service April 25 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "We come here because we have not only heard the cries of our people, we are responding to their needs," the Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor of Union Baptist Church, said during the service. Rev. Hathaway said it is important that the city have a moral center. The community, he said, recognizes that much of the development in the city centers around "eds and meds" -- education, schools and health care. "And that's good. But on this day, we declare that development, true development, is done by those people who are spirit-led," he said. He called for citizens to renounce divisive language, bigotry and all violence in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray Jr., the man who was seriously injured while being held by police and later died, sparking protests that erupted into violence.

    French cardinal admits errors on abuse, meets with archdiocesan priests

    LYON, France (CNS) -- A French cardinal under judicial investigation over his handling of sexual abuse accusations against clergy admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local priests. "The cardinal has accepted the archdiocese committed errors in managing and nominating certain priests and has reiterated how important it is for victims of sexual abuse by clergy to see their right to truth and justice recognized," the Lyon Archdiocese said. The statement was published in French newspapers following an April 25 meeting between Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin and 220 priests from the eastern archdiocese, which has been hit hard by abuse accusations. France's Catholic La Croix daily said the three-hour closed meeting in a Lyon suburb included testimony from at least one victim. It said participants described the atmosphere as "fraternal but noncomplacent" and said some priests had made "virulent criticisms" of the cardinal's conduct, while others urged clergy to "stick together."

    All Catholics have role in renewing marriage, family life, cardinal says

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation encourages a renewal of marriage and family life through a "pastoral accompaniment" on the part of the church and its members, bringing God's love and mercy to individuals and families in all stages of life, especially when they are facing difficulties. "For the Holy Father, the pastoral mission of the church, focused on the lived expression of mercy and love, is expressed in these four principal activities: listening, accompanying, discerning and evangelizing," the cardinal told an audience April 27 at The Catholic University of America. In "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), Pope Francis "also draws attention to stages of life where this pastoral accompaniment of families is especially important: in preparing for marriage, in the first years after marriage, during times of crisis, in cases of marital breakdown, and when families are touched by death," the cardinal told about 150 people. Cardinal Wuerl's address on the document was part of a special presentation to a class on the virtues taught by John Garvey, university president. The cardinal, who as archbishop of Washington serves as the university's chancellor, also occasionally gives talks in classes in his role as CUA's William Cardinal Baum professor of theology, a position named for the Washington archbishop from 1973 to 1980 who was a noted theologian and ecumenist.

    Suspects arrested in alleged plot against Vatican, Israeli embassy

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Italian authorities arrested six suspects who allegedly received orders from the Islamic State terrorist group to attack the Vatican and the Israeli embassy in Rome. The arrests made in Lombardy and Piedmont April 28 were the result of a joint operation coordinated by the district attorney of Milan and the Italian anti-terrorism agency. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, authorities arrested Abderrahim Moutaharrik and his wife, Salma Bencharki; Abderrahmane Khachia, and three people who have maintained contact with a couple that left Italy to join the Islamic State in Syria. All of the suspects are of Moroccan origin. A warrant has been issued for the couple, Mohamed Korachi and his Italian wife, Alice Brignoli, who are believed to have left for Syria in 2015. Authorities monitored a series of conversations between the suspects via WhatsApp. One of the messages sent to Moutaharrik said: "Dear brother Abderrahim, I send you ... the bomb poem ... listen to the sheik and strike," ANSA reported.

    Indian bishop kidnapped, released by attackers demanding money

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- A Catholic bishop in southern India was kidnapped and assaulted by unknown attackers demanding money. Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah was blindfolded, handcuffed and forcibly taken away while he was traveling home after celebrating Mass at Karunagiri Shrine April 25, reported He said unidentified kidnappers came in two vehicles and took "me to an undisclosed location. They hit me and punched me, resulting in injuries all over my body. I did not resist," Bishop Gallela told "Police are trying to find those behind the incident." The bishop said the kidnappers kept asking him about the financial transactions of the diocese. They also demanded 5 million rupees (US$75,325) and said that since "I help so many people, I should help them too," the bishop said. "When I asked who they were, they said they are from the police," but he added that police did not behave that way.

    Vatican prosecution witnesses testify at 'VatiLeaks' trial

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The first witnesses called by the Vatican prosecution in a case involving leaked documents testified about suspicious secret meetings and excessive photocopying of sensitive documents. Three former and current staff members of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See took the stand in the Vatican courtroom in late April during the trial of Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda; his former executive secretary and assistant, Nicola Maio; and Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA). The defendants are accused of leaking documents about Vatican finances and financial reform to Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi. Stefano Fralleoni, former accountant general of the prefecture, took the stand April 26, and said COSEA's investigations into the Vatican's finances, including those of the prefecture, caused a "fracture" within the office's staff. Fralleoni said he felt he was considered an "enemy" by Msgr. Vallejo Balda and Msgr. Alfredo Abbondi, another official who worked at the prefecture.

    - - -

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

  • Catholic, Anglican leaders welcome Irish priest's step toward sainthood

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- An Irish priest approved for the next step to sainthood was described as a holy man with special powers of healing. Senior figures in the Irish Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland welcomed Pope Francis signing a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to Jesuit Father John Sullivan, clearing the way for his beatification. Father Sullivan was raised as an Anglican. "He was not a medical expert or a faith healer, but a man who through his own prayer and personal holiness was able to transmit to those he encountered something of the healing power and the good news of Jesus Christ," said Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The archbishop said the Jesuit's Anglican heritage had "enriched" his faith. The son of a Protestant Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Edward Sullivan, Father Sullivan was baptized into the Church of Ireland tradition of his father and educated at the Protestant Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh and Trinity College Dublin. Jesuit Father Barney McGuckian said Father Sullivan's beatification would be a "a very ecumenical event," and he paid tribute to Portora college as "the first Irish Protestant school to produce a Catholic saint."

    New ordinations give reason for hope, but need for priests still great

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It's ordination season and Catholics have reason to be pleased with the numbers of priests who will serve the church well into the future. In recent years, the numbers of priestly ordinations have given Catholic Church observers reason to believe there is not a global vocations crisis, but they acknowledge there is still a need for more. "The good news is that the global number of priests stopped declining about five years ago," said Father Paul Sullins, associate professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Since 2012, the total has been stable at about 415,000 priests worldwide, a number that is the net of new ordinations and retirements or deaths, Father Sullins told Catholic News Service. "The church now has about the same number of priests that it had in 1970," he said. "The bad news, though it is not really bad news, is that the global population of Catholics has grown dramatically since then, so today we have far fewer priests per Catholic." Though the global numbers are currently strong and vocations are plentiful in some regions of the world, such as African and Asia, the quantity of priests are not as abundant in other continents, such as in parts of North America, Father Sullins said.

    Lebanese cardinal urges EU leaders to end Mideast wars, return displaced

    BRUSSELS (CNS) -- Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai urged the international community and the European Parliament to stop the wars in the Middle East through dialogue, and he called for a return of the displaced to their countries of origin. In a speech April 27 to the European Parliament in Brussels, the Maronite Catholic patriarch warned that the crisis in the region has direct consequences not only for Christians, but also for the Mediterranean Basin as well as Europe. He said the region's conflicts and wars must stop and that Palestinian refugees and displaced Iraqis and Syrians should "return to their own countries to preserve their own identities. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the growth of terrorist organizations may remove the Muslim moderation that Christians and Muslims in this region have patiently built over 1,400 years of living together" the cardinal said, adding that Christians are the guarantors of this moderation. "We absolutely must not give this land to fundamentalists and leave (an) open field to terrorist organizations. This would threaten world peace," he said.

    Iowa bishop supports medical marijuana bill in letter to lawmakers

    DES MOINES, Iowa (CNS) -- Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines urged state lawmakers to pass legislation that would legalize medical marijuana. In a letter April 26 to House and Senate members, Bishop Pates said a comprehensive bill was needed to "give Iowans the ability to produce a safe and consistent treatment as well as provide a legal avenue for physicians to recommend it to those who are in need." It is legal in Iowa for people who suffer from epilepsy to use cannabis oil under a 2014 law approved by legislators. No other illnesses are covered by the law. However, Iowans with epilepsy cannot legally obtain the medical cannabis in the state because legislators have not approved allowing for its production and distribution. Patients also cannot bring medical cannabis from other states without breaking federal laws. Bishop Pates reached his decision after visiting several people suffering from chronic, painful conditions who would benefit significantly from medical cannabis and having been contacted by several Iowa legislators. In the letter, he wrote that making the drug available for those who need it for medicinal purposes is a humanitarian issue, particularly during this Jubilee Year of Mercy initiated by Pope Francis.

    Russia's Catholic, Orthodox to rebuild church buildings in Syria

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Russia's Catholic Church has launched a joint project with Russian Orthodox leaders to rebuild churches and monasteries destroyed during the war in Syria. Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Russian bishops' conference, said the project should be viewed as the "first concrete outcome" of Pope Francis' February meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. The official also said the move did not indicate support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. "While we've been in contact with the Assad government, this isn't a political matter," he told Catholic News Service April 27. Less than a week earlier, the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate representatives announced the project. Msgr. Kovalevsky said the announcement did not include details of money raised or the program's likely starting date. "We hope all Russia's denominations will actively help this work and all Christians participate in raising necessary funds," Msgr. Kovalevsky said.

    Vatican finance watchdog notes jump in reports of suspicious activity

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican's financial watchdog agency reported a huge jump in the number of financial transactions flagged as "suspicious" and in the value of assets it has blocked or frozen. During 2015, the Financial Intelligence Authority "received 544 reports of suspicious activities -- almost three times as many as 2014," it said in its annual report, released April 28. "This was not due to a higher financial crime rate," it said, but because policies were being implemented, procedures for reporting had been strengthened and Vatican personnel were more aware of their duty to report questionable activity. The financial authority also suspended eight transactions in 2015, totaling more than $9.3 million and froze four accounts or assets totaling more than $8.6 million. It had blocked just three operations in 2014 for a total of $637,000. Rene Brulhart, president of the Financial Intelligence Authority, and Tommaso Di Ruzza, its director, presented the agency's annual report for the fourth time since the agency was established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. It monitors Vatican financial operations to ensure they meet international norms against money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

    Ryan says he was 'wrong' about views on poor in latest talk at Georgetown

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan apologized for his earlier criticism of recipients of government benefits as "takers and makers," and said Republicans strive for a country that is "open, diverse, dynamic" in a speech at Georgetown University. Ryan's one-hour talk April 27 at the Jesuit-run university's Gaston Hall was billed by him as an effort to reach out to millennials. Political observers described it as an effort to soften his image in preparation for a 2020 run for the presidency. The speech came nearly four years to the day that the Wisconsin Republican told a Georgetown audience, "The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it." This time around, however, Ryan said nothing about his Catholic beliefs. "What prompted you to reconsider your previous statements about poor people as takers?" asked Rachel Hirsch, a graduate student. "I was just wrong," Ryan replied. "I didn't mean to give offense. ... There are people who get knocked down in life. And to lump an entire category of people in one broad brush is wrong, I think."

    Holy Spirit works through listening to one another, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A person who is afraid of listening to others when confronting a new situation does "not have the Spirit in their heart," Pope Francis said. Only through listening to others with humility can the Holy Spirit work and "the communion of the church" be expressed, he said April 28 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "Even today there is resistance that continues in one form or another and the Spirit goes forward," he said. "This the path of the church: to meet, to meet together, to listen to one another, to argue, to pray and decide." The day's reading from the Acts of the Apostles (15:7-21) recalled the meeting of the Council of Jerusalem in which a debate arose on whether the salvation of the Gentiles hinged on their observation of the Mosaic law of circumcision. After a long discussion, Peter tells the apostles that in granting the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, God "made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts."

    - - -

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

  • Associate director retires after 36 years of highs, lows in pro-life work

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Many paths led Richard Doerflinger into pro-life work. And now his path is taking him into retirement as associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and eventually across the country to Washington state. Doerflinger, a 63-year-old native of the New York borough of Queens, served for 36 years as legislative assistant, assistant director, associate director for policy development and, since 2008, as overall associate director of the secretariat. His retirement was to begin April 29. Although he did not know it at the time, his first pro-life influence came when he was 14. His older brother Eugene was involved in a car accident and was left in what is now called a persistent vegetative state for several months. Doctors told Doerflinger's parents that Eugene's "life was over" and urged them to let him die, the younger Doerflinger said. Instead, they took him home and cared for him there until Eugene "became fully aware of the people around him. From that I learned never to give up on people and about the unconditional love of a family," Doerflinger said. But there was another bitter lesson when Eugene and his family realized how difficult it was for him to learn to stand and walk again when doctors had failed to treat his dislocated shoulder after the accident.

    At-home progesterone test could be game-changer for NFP users

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- A Colorado biologist looking to produce an at-home test to confirm ovulation has piqued the interest of natural family planning users in a big way. Ovulation Double Check is an at-home urine test that will detect the presence of progesterone, a hormone that indicates ovulation has taken place. Amy Beckley and her business partner, patent lawyer Christina Chamberlain, are working on the test under their Erie, Colorado-based company, MFB Fertility Inc., which is dedicated to supporting fertility and young children. Beckley also is working on a quantitative test that would read more specific progesterone levels. The duo launched a crowd-funding campaign -- -- in March to support production of Ovulation Double Check. As of April 27, they had met 92 percent of their $28,000 goal. The campaign was to end May 12. "I can see that the need is very, very apparent," Beckley said. "I didn't think it was going to be this huge in this community. As soon as we meet the goal, we hope to have the prototypes out there."

    After job-swap show, Irish street cleaner pledges help to Filipinos

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- An Irish Catholic street cleaner, who was filmed by a TV documentary crew as he temporarily swapped his job in the Irish capital for the poverty-stricken Philippines, has pledged to spend the rest of his life helping the struggling family he lived with. Mark Crosbie, a street cleaner with Dublin City Council, told how his perspective on life has changed forever since he spent a few days cleaning the streets of the Philippines' densely populated capital, Manila, for an Irish TV documentary, "Toughest Place To Be." As part of the program, which was watched by 330,000 viewers when it was screened in mid-April ago on RTE, Ireland's state broadcaster, the 47-year-old father-of-two stayed with the family of a local street cleaner, Mel Macaereg, who earns $15 a week to support himself, his wife, Merney, and their six children. But since filming ended in January, Crosbie has maintained weekly contact with his host family and has set up a charity drive to raise funds for the wider community that took him in. Crosbie, who sweeps the cobbled streets of Dublin's Temple Bar district for a living, said: "The poverty I saw over there was on a level I'd never seen before, and I struggled to adjust to life back in Dublin when I came back. I was scarred by it, but it was a positive scar.

    Kelly McCracken chosen first president of Franciscan Media

    CINCINNATI (CNS) -- Kelly McCracken has been promoted to the position of president of Franciscan Media, publisher of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, Servant Books and the website. There had been no position of president prior to McCracken's appointment. She, in effect, succeeds Tom Shumate, who had been chief operating officer, said Franciscan Father Dan Kroger, CEO and publisher of Franciscan Media. Shumate will stay with Franciscan Media on a contract basis to provide some accounting and transition service. McCracken had served the past two years as director of strategy and operations for the company, leading Franciscan Media's marketing, sales, customer service, accounting, finance, human resources, information technology, and warehousing and distribution teams. "We felt the title president was more specialized for what Kelly was doing -- strategic planning and implementation," Father Kroger told Catholic News Service.

    Pope advances sainthood causes of Irish Jesuit, Albanian martyrs

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of an Irish Jesuit, who was raised Anglican, and dedicated his life to the sick and the dying as well as the cause of 38 Albanian martyrs killed during the communist persecution of Christians. During an April 26 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope signed 12 decrees, including one recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Jesuit Father John Sullivan. Born in Dublin to a wealthy family in 1861, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 35 and entered the Jesuits four years later. Father Sullivan was known for traveling many miles on bicycle and on foot to comfort the afflicted in County Kildare, Ireland. With the decree regarding the miracle, a beatification ceremony can be scheduled for Father Sullivan. Formally recognizing the martyrdom of the Albanian martyrs and a group of Spanish martyrs, Pope Francis set the stage for their beatification ceremonies as well.

    Burundian Catholic woman honored for her work after ethnic violence

    YEREVAN, Armenia (CNS) -- When ethnic violence erupted in Burundi, Marguerite Barankitse hid targeted families and cared for orphaned children. Her public criticism of the leaders she blamed for the violence led to death threats, and finally to life as a refugee in neighboring Rwanda, where she continued to save thousands of lives through her charity work for people fleeing conflict. Many of her own family and friends were killed in Burundi's conflict, some "right before my eyes," she said, but "I had my (Catholic) faith and I kept hearing the Lord's message, and it was 'Do not be afraid, I am with you," Barankitse told Catholic News Service. "If God had not been with me, I would have probably tried to take my own life," Barankitse said. "We need to support each other as a human family, and to say 'never again!' No more dictators who oppress the people and receive money and arms from the international community," Barankitse told CNS. "How is it even possible that these tyrants exist in the 21 century? We must take appropriate measures." Her efforts were rewarded April 24 with the $1.1 million Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, presented by actor George Clooney at the end of an April 23-24 two-day global gathering in Armenia, set to correspond with commemorations in the former Soviet republic for the 1915 genocide of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

    True believers serve others, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To ignore the suffering of another person is to ignore God, Pope Francis said. And going to church does not automatically make someone love their neighbor, the pope said April 27 as he reflected on the Gospel parable of the good Samaritan during his weekly general audience. Christians are called to imitate the good Samaritan, stopping to help the injured, because the good Samaritan is a symbol of Jesus, who bent down to help and to heal all humanity, the pope said. By describing the priest and the Levite who passed by without offering help, Pope Francis said, the parable makes it clear that "it is not automatic that one who frequents the house of God and has known his mercy knows how to love his neighbor. You can know the whole Bible, you can know all the liturgical rubrics, you can know all theology, but that knowledge does not make loving automatic," he said. "Love has another path."

    - - -

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

  • Small Wisconsin town unifies after shooting outside high school prom

    ANTIGO, Wis. (CNS) -- Antigo's churches and schools were reaching out to students and parishioners following a shooting at a high school prom. Jakob Wagner, 18, shot two people outside of the Antigo High School prom late April 23 before being shot and killed by an Antigo police officer on a routine patrol of the parking lots surrounding the facility. Wagner graduated from the school in 2015. Physically, the victims' injuries are not life-threatening, police said. The male was shot in the leg and is recovering after what his parents said in a statement was a "long surgery." His prom date was grazed in the thigh. She was treated and released from Aspirus Langlade Hospital in Antigo. Neither victim was identified. Emotionally, the toll may be much higher in the town of 8,000 about 150 miles north of MIlwaukee. "Antigo has a long history of, when the chips are down, pulling together," said Father Charles Hoffmann, a retired priest of the Green Bay Diocese who has served in the community for more than five decades. "We all have a deep concern for the young people in the community." Area parishes and churches of various denominations offered prayers for the victims and the community April 24.

    Mercy: Austrian bishop says 'no' to border fence on church property

    VIENNA (CNS) -- An Austrian bishop said the government may not use church property to build a border fence to keep out refugees. "A border fence contradicts both the Gospel and the clear appeal of Pope Francis to Europe," said Bishop Agidius Zsfikovics of Eisenstadt. "This is especially true in our diocese, which functioned in the shadow of the Iron Curtain. In recent months, we've done everything to open our doors to people needing help, giving them not only a roof over their heads, but also guaranteeing them dignity with an open heart," the bishop said. In an April 23 interview with Austria's Kurier daily, the bishop said he had no objection to police and frontier-guard supply vehicles parking on Catholic parish territory. However, he added that local churches had sheltered many of the 200,000 refugees who crossed the border at Nickelsdorf, Austria, in 2015, and could not agree to the new controls, especially during the current Year of Mercy.

    Bishop Rice named to head diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Edward M. Rice, whose most recent assignment was auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, as head of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The appointment was announced April 26 in Washington by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d'affairs at the papal nunciature in the United States. Bishop Rice, 55, has served as an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis since 2010. He succeeds Bishop James V. Johnson, who was appointed bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, Sept. 15. A native of St. Louis, Bishop Rice was ordained to the priesthood for the archdiocese in 1987. He received the title of monsignor in 2008. Bishop Rice will be installed June 1 at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield. A farewell celebration to include a Mass of Thanksgiving and a reception is scheduled for May 23 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Bishop Rice told the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper, that when a Vatican representative called about the appointment, he was praying evening prayer at Holy Redeemer Church in Webster Groves, Missouri, where he lives. "Without hesitation, I said 'yes,'" he added.

    Relics of Lebanese saint revered at Maronite cathedral in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- Fragrant flowers, hymns and prayers from dozens of the faithful welcomed the first-class relics of Lebanese St. Sharbel Makhlouf at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral as part of a tour throughout the East Coast. The cathedral, the mother church of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, displayed the relics April 9-10, one of several events commemorating the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Subdeacons Norbert Vogl and Peter Frangie carried an ornate wooden box containing the mortal remains of the Eastern Catholic saint in an outdoor procession from the rectory to the church. Msgr. James A. Root, cathedral rector, incensed the relic as they passed through the Holy Door of the cathedral before being placed at the foot of the altar. The relics are on their first U.S. tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the saint's beatification. The tour was to continue to parishes in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina through June 5. Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour took a few moments to venerate the relics before hearing confessions. The cathedral also welcomed Dafne Gutierrez, an Arizona mother who offered testimony of regaining her sight through St. Sharbel's intercession after praying before the relics in January. She stayed a few days after the relics left to bring her story of healing to visitors.

    Philippine church officials outraged, sad over beheading of Canadian

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Some Philippine church officials expressed outrage and sadness over the beheading of a Canadian hostage in the restive southern part of the country, where they say lasting peace needs to be addressed. Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist group, had threatened to behead two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina if their ransom demand of $6.4 million for each hostage was not met by an April 25 deadline. The Philippine military as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the decapitation April 25 of John Ridsdel, a former mining consultant from Calgary, Alberta, who had been vacationing on Samal Island in the central south of Mindanao when the four were abducted in September. Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao offered condolences to Ridsdel's family. "This act is certainly vicious, heartless and should not be condoned at all," he told Catholic News Service. "In fact, we hope that this kind of terrorism by preying on innocent victims should be stopped as much as possible." Abu Sayyaf, notorious kidnap-for-ransom, is based in western Mindanao, where the country's largest concentration of Muslims has been on a quest for self-determination.

    Vatican suspends outside audit while reviewing contract

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Four months after announcing it had hired the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an external audit of its finances, the Vatican has suspended the work underway. "Issues have emerged regarding the meaning and scope of certain clauses of the contract (with PwC) and their methods of implementation," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, in a statement April 26. Shooting down rumors that had been flying around for a week after news of the audit's suspension broke, Father Lombardi insisted the pause had nothing to do with how PwC staff were conducting the audit and in no way indicated internal Vatican opposition to the audit specifically or to financial transparency in general. "The commitment to adequate economic and financial auditing remains a priority for the Holy See and for Vatican City State," he said. A financial audit of every Vatican office "is so complex that it should not be a surprise that there are things needing clarification," Father Lombardi told reporters.

    U.S., Mideast Christian leaders vow to work for peace, increase advocacy

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- Christian churches have a responsibility to work to bring the chronic conflict in the Middle East to a just peace, and more effective advocacy is needed in the United States, said church leaders meeting in Atlanta. Nearly 40 heads of Christian churches and church-related organizations in the U.S. and the Holy Land adopted a four-page document, "Pursuing Peace and Strengthening Presence: The Atlanta Summit of Churches in the USA and the Holy Land," after an April 19-20 meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta. "We believe that working toward a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would ... also promote peace in the Middle East region in general," the document said. "We affirm that the two-state solution, built on the basis of international resolutions, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in neighborly relations and at peace with each other, must be viable politically, geographically, economically and socially," it said. The church leaders said they would "urge the U.S. administration, Congress, politicians and public figures to adopt balanced and just positions that would pave the way for ... a just and enduring solution of the conflict."

    Chinese film on Tibetan Buddhists wins Signis Award at Filmfest DC

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- "Paths of the Soul," a Chinese film production about Tibetan Buddhists on pilgrimage, won the Signis Jury Award at the 30th annual Filmfest DC in Washington, which concluded April 24. Directed by Zhang Yang, "Paths of the Soul" offers "a look at a religious tradition different from that of most Westerners, and in so doing expands our understanding of human yearning for the divine," said an April 25 statement from jury chair Frank Frost. The movie "combines stunning cinematographic vistas with intimate details to track the pilgrimage by foot of 11 rural Tibetan Buddhists over steep mountains, across streams, and winding roads to their sacred city of Lhasa," said the Signis jury citation. The journey of 1,200 miles, taking many months, is "a metaphor of an inner journey as well, marked by untiring dedication no matter what obstacles they face," it added. "There is no antagonist or 'bad guy' in the story, only obstacles that must be overcome," said Guido Convents, a Signis juror from Belgium. "This is a journey to find harmony with the earth, and all who are in it." Signis also awarded a commendation to a Cuban film, "Behavior."

    Pope says pastors must 'serve, not use' laypeople

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Clericalism is a danger to the Catholic Church not only because on a practical level it undermines the role of laity in society, but because theologically it "tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace" of all believers, whether they are lay or clergy, Pope Francis said. "No one is baptized a priest or bishop," the pope said in a letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The fundamental consecration of all Christians occurs at baptism and is what unites all Christians in the call to holiness and witness. In the letter, released at the Vatican April 26, Pope Francis said he wanted to ensure that a discussion begun with members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America March 4 "does not fall into a void." The topic of the March discussion, he said, was on the public role of the laity in the life of the people of Latin America. In the letter, Pope Francis said that in lay Catholics' work for the good of society and for justice, "it is not the pastor who must tell the layperson what to do and say, he already knows this and better than we do." Pastors are not conceding anything to the laity by recognizing their role and potential in bringing the Gospel to the world; the laity are just as much members of "holy, faithful people of God" as the clergy, the pope said. "We are called to serve them, not use them."

    Pope names Camaguey archbishop, who helped rebuild church, to Havana

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis named Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodriguez, who has worked quietly to help rebuild the Cuban church, physically and spiritually, to be the new archbishop of Havana. He succeeds 79-year-old Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana, whose retirement was accepted by the pope the same day. The Vatican made the announcements April 26. The 67-year-old native of Camaguey has been described as a bishop in the style of Pope Francis. Known for his missionary spirit and as a man of prayer, he has the ability to remain calm in the midst of any storm. He was among the Cuban church officials who worked helping the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who lost their homes and belongings during one of the worst natural disasters in the country's recent history -- Hurricane Ike in 2008. At the time, Archbishop Garcia was president of the Cuban bishops' conference, but he was on the scene loading up sacks of beans, rice and "guayaba" paste, a popular type of fruit jam, to take to the people of the province of Pinar del Rio, which had been hard hit by the hurricane. He found ways to help catechize Cuba after nearly 50 years when religious practice was discouraged by the communist government. Funding from U.S. Catholics helped support projects throughout Cuba, including work by Archbishop Garcia, who enlisted grandparents -- who grew up at a time when they were taught about the church -- to help educate their grandchildren about the faith.

    Georgia teacher marries beau with her second-graders in the front row

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- When Beth Anne Ross was recently united in the sacrament of marriage with William Dempsey III at the morning Mass for students of St. Jude the Apostle School, her second-grade students were right with her. The wedding was the first in the school community's history. A second-grade teacher at St. Jude, the bride provided white carnations for her students to pin to their school uniforms. Her class, who had prime seats at the front of St. Jude Church, bobbed up and down for a glimpse of their teacher as she walked down the aisle in a tea-length wedding gown. Msgr. Joe Corbett, pastor, celebrated the Mass, which was attended by the entire student body, as well as the couple's friends and family members. "Class, today we're going to talk about marriage," Msgr. Corbett said. "We are delighted to be able to share in their happiness today," he added.

    Catholic agencies begin work of rebuilding after Ecuador quake

    QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) -- Catholic agencies are beginning to build temporary shelters for thousands of families in Ecuador made homeless by the South American country's worst natural disaster in nearly seven decades. As the death toll continues to climb following a magnitude-7.8 earthquake, which struck near the town of Muisne on the Pacific Coast April 16, officials are assessing the scope of the damage and working to provide humanitarian aid to the estimated 350,000 people who were affected, including 26,000 who were left without homes. Church organizations have been distributing food, drinking water and mattresses, while trying to establish contact with small communities that were cut off when roads and telephone lines were destroyed. "We're now up to 696 deaths and you can tell the psychosocial impact is serious,'' said Thomas Hollywood, director of Catholic Relief Services in South America. "They're trying to figure out what to do next. But the population is shell-shocked." Hollywood said CRS is working in nine communities to distribute 10,000 tarps that will be used with local materials to construct temporary shelters. It is also providing psychosocial services and doling out hygiene kits to communities that have lost access to potable water, raising concerns about the spread of diseases like cholera.

    - - -

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

  • Catholic University, Seton Hall receive huge business school grants

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With gifts totaling $47 million, including $15 million from the Busch Family Foundation, The Catholic University of America, Washington, said it marks the largest financial commitment the university has ever received. Catholic University's business and economic school will be renamed the Tim and Steph Busch School for Business and Economics. Tim Busch is founder and CEO of the Pacific Hospitality Group and the Busch Firm, both based in Irvine, California. He is also co-founder and chairman of the board of the Napa Institute, also in California, and is wrapping up 12 years of service on Catholic University's board of trustees this year. The Busch gift will be allocated to the renovation of Maloney Hall, where the business and economics school will be relocated. ... Patrick Murray, a graduate of Seton Hall University, and his wife Mary Ann Pfaff Murray have made a $5 million donation to the school in South Orange, New Jersey. The university, in an April 5 announcement of the gift, called it one of the largest donations the university has ever received. The donation will be used to establish merit- and need-based scholarships for students, to endow a faculty chair in Seton Hall's business school, and to fund renovations to athletic facilities. With the donation, the scholarship program, the endowed faculty chair in business, and the Leadership Forum for Student-Athletes will be named in their honor.

    South African bishop warns politicians against war rhetoric

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- War rhetoric from South African political leaders could incite election violence and civil war, a South African bishop warned. "We are deeply saddened to hear of war rhetoric by the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters" Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley, who chairs the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference justice and peace commission, said in an April 25 statement. Julius Malema, leader of the Freedom Fighters, said on national television April 24 that if the government continues to respond violently to protests, "We will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun. We have seen the evil consequences of civil war in other African countries including massive loss of lives a refugee crisis and irreparable damage to the economy. We do not want our nation to take such a path," Bishop Gabuza said. "We therefore appeal to all political parties to refrain from actions and rhetoric that could fuel election violence and civil war."

    Authorities say arson destroyed Idaho church; bishop pledges to rebuild

    BONNERS FERRY, Idaho (CNS) -- Federal investigators consider a blaze that destroyed a church near the Canadian border arson. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the office of the Idaho State Fire Marshal were attempting to determine exactly what sparked the blaze that destroyed St. Ann Church April 21. Located 27 miles from the Canadian border, St. Ann is the northernmost Catholic church in Idaho. Two months earlier, the building had been hit by vandals, with damage including satanic symbols drawn on the walls and the defacing of a statue. There were no injuries reported. The building sustained extensive damage and was razed after investigators concluded their work. "We have been heartened by the prayers and support of the community and of Catholics and others around the state reaching out to the people of St. Ann's in this hour of need," said Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Boise, in a statement released later that day. "Catholics have worshipped at St. Ann's for more than 120 years. We are cooperating with authorities investigating the cause of the blaze," he added. "Join me in praying for the people of St. Ann's and all those affected by this fire."

    U.S. teens say faith strengthened at youth celebration in Rome

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sharing and celebrating the joy of faith with thousands of Catholic teenagers from around the globe was a rare moment that not many people are able to experience, a U.S. teen said. "It was a different atmosphere than what I'm used to, but it's good because it shows that the beauty of the Catholic Church is there," Emily Sullivan told Catholic News Service April 25. Emily, her brother Ryan and parents Matt and Susan, came from North Carolina to participate in the Year of Mercy celebration for young teens April 23-24 in Rome. Both siblings, who are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation, said that despite the language barrier, they were able to join in singing and praying during the April 23 youth rally at Rome's Olympic Stadium. "It was awesome; the energy was insane," Emily said. "The people knew all the lyrics and they were jamming out. So we came up with a couple of words that we could sing along. It was really cool to be in that atmosphere."

    Friends of Dorothy Day commend important step in her sainthood cause

    WASHINGTON -- The recent update in the sainthood cause for American Catholic icon Dorothy Day is welcome news to many of her friends and associates who believe her understanding of Catholic social teaching should be held up as a church value. The Archdiocese of New York announced April 19 an important next step in the canonization process for Day: a canonical inquiry into the life of the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and famed peace activist. "For those who knew her, there is no question about Dorothy's holiness and her prophetic witness," said Patrick Jordan, a former managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper that Day helped launch in 1933 and one of her longtime companions. "Canonization, on the other hand, is a legal process meant to certify a certain individual's 'status' at the time of her or his death and what this means for the life of the church," Jordan told Catholic News Service. "Obviously, there are lots more saints than those included on the church's official list. Yet, for those memorable enough to be so designated, the legal process of canonization assures that their stories will be handed down to future generations to emulate and to value. All to the good." The canonical inquiry by the archdiocese -- which is sponsoring Day's sainthood cause and is where she oversaw some of the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality for poor and marginalized people -- will find a historical commission issuing a report placing Day's life in historical context and reviewing her unpublished writings.

    Ohio seminary approves changes to strengthen admissions process

    COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- Three initiatives designed to strengthen the admissions process at the Pontifical College Josephinum have been approved by the school's board of trustees. The initiatives include a formal recommendation to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to establish a national database listing all applications to each seminary and houses of formation in the United States; hiring a qualified private investigative agency to assist in verifying the integrity of all applicants, including a review of their social media postings; and interviews for all applicants with a representative of the seminary's admissions committee and the seminary's director of psychological evaluation and counseling. School officials planned to have the new practices in place for the 2016-17 academic year. The admissions changes were proposed by Msgr. Christopher Schreck, the seminary's rector-president, in March in response to criminal allegations against Joel Wright, 23, a former seminarian at the Ohio school and the Diocese of Steubenville. Wright was arrested in San Diego in January on federal felony charges. He pleaded guilty April 13 to one charge of attempted enticement of a minor as part of a plea agreement in which he said he traveled to Mexico with the intent of molesting children. He is to be sentenced July 1. The charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

    Dive into world's problems with courage, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Dive into the world's problems with courage and help people turn their lives of desolation into abundance and hope, Pope Francis said. "You must take life as it comes. It's like being the goalie in soccer -- grab the ball wherever they kick it," he told people gathered in a Rome park for an Earth Day event. "We must not be afraid of life, afraid of conflict," he said April 24, because it is only by confronting challenges head-on and together that they can be solved. Making a surprise late afternoon visit to Rome's Villa Borghese park, the pope spoke to more than 3,000 people attending a four-day event sponsored by the Focolare Movement and Earth Day Italy. In conjunction with the celebration of Earth Day April 22, the Focolare Movement tried to create a "village" in the park in the center of Rome to promote ways for people to live together in friendship and solidarity and with respect for the environment.

    Pope prays for Orthodox, Catholic Christians kidnapped in Syria

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis led Christians in praying for Catholic and Orthodox clergy and religious kidnapped in Syria and around the world. The pope expressed his continuing concern for the abducted "brother bishops, priests and religious, (both) Catholic and Orthodox" at the end of the final Mass of the Year of Mercy's jubilee for teenagers April 24. "May the merciful God touch the hearts of the kidnappers and grant that our brothers and sisters will be freed as soon as possible and allowed to return to their communities," he said. "For this reason, I invite you all to pray, without forgetting other people abducted in the world," he said. His remarks came shortly after the third anniversary of the abductions of Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul, both of Aleppo, who were kidnapped April 22, 2013, in northern Syria. The two Orthodox prelates were on a humanitarian mission to secure the release of two priests -- an Armenian Catholic and a Greek Orthodox -- kidnapped earlier that year.

    When it comes to happiness, there's no app for that, pope tells teens

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Happiness "is not an 'app' that you can download on your phones nor will the latest update help you become free and great in loving," Pope Francis told thousands of teenagers. Youth from around the world flocked to Rome for a special Year of Mercy event for teens aged 13-16. The celebrations began April 23 with confessions in St. Peter's Square. The pope caught many off guard as he made an unannounced visit to the square. After greeting several people, he placed a purple stole over his shoulders and sat down, joining more than 150 priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope "listened to the confessions of 16 boys and girls," spending more than an hour in the square. Celebrating Mass with the young people April 24, the pope told them true freedom is priceless and comes from making the courageous decision to do good and not from the mediocre belief that happiness can be easily obtained through worldly possessions and fashion.

    - - -

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

  • In Britain, disagreement over effects of gender-neutral facilities

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Catholic schools that voluntarily set up gender-neutral toilets or changing rooms to accommodate increasing numbers of transgender students could be sued in the event of a sex attack, a Catholic lawyer warned. Neil Addison, director of the Liverpool-based Thomas More Legal Centre, said schools that adopted such arrangements voluntarily would leave themselves open to legal action if a crime was committed because of their policy. Britain does not have a law that would force schools to set up such facilities. His remarks came just days after Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector schools and head of Ofsted, the government body regulating standards in state schools, suggested head teachers might introduce gender-neutral facilities. "I don't see why schools should not have that (gender-neutral facilities) if it's well-policed and well-supervised and well-monitored," he said in an interview with London-based LBC Radio. "As circumstances change and ... perhaps more parents want this, then obviously head teachers will try and accommodate that where possible," said Sir Michael, a Catholic and former head teacher. The Catholic Education Service, an agency of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, declined to comment on the possibility of Catholic head teachers introducing gender-neutral toilets. "Every pupil, regardless of what gender they identify as, is treated with the same dignity and respect," the service said in an April 18 statement emailed to CNS.

    JRS hoping to answer call to mercy with education for more refugees

    TORONTO (CNS) -- Jesuit Refugee Service has a very specific answer to Pope Francis' call to put mercy on the leading edge of a church reaching out to the peripheries. The answer is education. With a campaign called "Mercy in Motion," JRS is trying to raise US$35 million this year so that by 2020 it can educate an additional 100,000 refugees per year. Just 36 percent of the world's refugee children go to some form of high school. Less than 1 percent get anything beyond high school. In the world's largest refugee crisis, more than 2.6 million Syrian children are out of school. Jesuit Refugee Service has more than 150,000 students in its educational programs around the world, but that's not much in a world with 60 million people living as refugees or at risk of becoming refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says 51 percent of the refugees are under the age of 18. The refugees who will shape the 21st century are all over, not just in the Middle East, Jesuit Father Tom Smolich, JRS International director, told The Catholic Register.

    Former Planned Parenthood official tells students about abortion's reality

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood employee of the year who has become an outspoken pro-life advocate, told Georgetown University students April 20 that even the most strident abortion provider can have a change of heart. "I'm standing in front of you today as a testament to the power of conversion. No one is beyond the power of conversion. No one is beyond the power of Christ," Johnson said. Her address -- attended by nearly 100 people -- came just hours after a controversial lecture on the Jesuit campus by Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. Noting that the president of the largest abortion provider was invited to speak at the Catholic university, Johnson said, "I keep thinking, I keep believing and I have faith that one day instead of me standing here speaking on defending the sanctity of human life, it will be Cecile Richards standing here." Michael Khan, a sophomore at Georgetown and president of the university's right-to-life chapter, criticized Georgetown University's defense of having Richards deliver a lecture on campus as an issue of academic freedom and free speech. "Cecile Richards is not an academic. She is an activist," he told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. "Even if you believe in open dialogue (on the issue of abortion), she brings noting substantive to the table. I am disappointed in Georgetown's leadership for allowing her (Richards) to speak unchallenged."

    New nuncio to U.S. says he's ready to listen and learn

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new nuncio to the United States, said he is ready to learn about the Catholic Church in the country and will try his best to be Pope Francis' emissary, particularly in promoting a church that is close to those who suffer. The archbishop, who had a private meeting at the Vatican with Pope Francis April 21, gave interviews the next day to the English and the Italian programs of Vatican Radio. The 70-year-old French native has been in the Vatican diplomatic corps for almost 40 years and said a nuncio's job is to help the pope fulfill his ministry of building up the local churches, respecting their diversity, while keeping them united with the universal church. "The difficulty or the challenge," he said, is "to listen, to be careful about what's going on, to understand, to exercise dialogue -- I think that's very important -- to discover the beauty, the richness of the culture of the people, the way the people live (and) to help the inculturation of the Gospel in a particular culture." At the same time, he said, a nuncio's mission is "to help the pope understand -- the pope and those that work with him -- to understand what's going on."

    Wuerl: Politically correct 'choice' rhetoric hides ugly truth of abortion

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- One day after Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, spoke at Georgetown University, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl celebrated a University Mass for Life for college students at a nearby Catholic church, encouraging them to stand up for God's gift of human life. A Georgetown student group's invitation to Richards, the head of the nation's largest abortion provider, to speak April 20 at the country's oldest Catholic university drew nationwide criticism and was countered by a week of pro-life activities at the school. The events included panel discussions on the dignity of life and the importance of outreach to women facing crisis pregnancies, and talk by Abby Johnson, the former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who is now pro-life and speaks out about the reality of that agency's abortion practices. In his homily at the April 21 Mass at Epiphany Catholic Church, Cardinal Wuerl warned about a powerful politically correct movement and environment "all around us. ... It says to set aside such things as the value of human life and substitute the politically correct position that actually you should be free to choose to kill the unborn child. But the word of God says to us, 'Don't conform yourself to this age.'"

    Turnout at vigils for murdered priest testament to his love, commitment

    ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (CNS) -- In the days Father Rene Robert was listed as missing, the faithful gathered at two churches for prayer vigils. The turnout became a testament of the love and commitment Father Robert fostered for those he served. Kate Quigley Burns is a longtime friend and fellow advocate for the deaf community, which the late priest served for some 35 years. She was a sign language interpreter during a vigil April 15 at Sacred Heart Parish in Fleming Island, a parish Father Robert was assigned to from 2009 to 2012. She said she saw people from the deaf community whom she hadn't seen for years. "The community honored him because his life was about giving to others," she said. "He was a true servant." Father Robert, who was ordained in 1989 but was retired from active ministry, was first reported missing April 12 after he missed a church function a couple of days earlier. His body was found April 18 in Burke County, Georgia, about 260 miles away from St. Johns County, Florida, south of Jacksonville, where he had lived. Police, using bloodhounds, apprehended Steven James Murray, 28, in a wooded area of Aiken, South Carolina, about 46 miles from where Father Robert's body was found, on April 14, one day after he was identified as a person of interest in the case. Father Robert's car also was found near Aiken.

    Catholic official says Zambians shocked by xenophobic violence

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Zambians are shocked and ashamed of the xenophobic violence in the capital, Lusaka, in which mostly Rwandans' homes and shops were ransacked, a church official said. "We are totally at a loss trying to explain the reasons behind this violence," said Father Cleophas Lungu, general secretary of the Zambia Episcopal Conference, in an April 22 telephone interview from Zambia's capital, Lusaka. As a "home, protector and voice" of the marginalized, the Catholic Church was the first place people turned when fleeing the attacks, Father Lungu said, noting that about 300 refugees from Rwanda and other African countries were taking shelter at St. Ignatius Church in Lusaka. The violence started April 18 in a densely populated low-income area in Lusaka after residents accused a Rwandan shop owner of being behind suspected ritual killings. Homes of mainly Rwandans were destroyed and their shops looted. By the following day, the attacks had spread throughout the city's poor residential areas and involved other nationalities. This violence "is un-Zambian," Father Lungu said, noting that "as a nation, we are not associated with xenophobic tendencies."

    - - -

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

  • Planned Parenthood CEO at Georgetown said dismissive of pro-life views

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The controversy over the appearance by the head of Planned Parenthood at Jesuit-run Georgetown University April 20 became the background to a standing ovation. Cecile Richards was greeted warmly by more than 400 students, most of them women, at Lohrfink Auditorium. She was introduced by Helen Brosnan, a senior and president of the Georgetown Lecture Fund. Student Amber Athey, a member of Georgetown Right to Life, tweeted, "According to head of GU lecture fund, hosting an abortion provider is 'in the spirit of a Jesuit university.'" Richards' one-hour appearance, billed as "a conversation," earlier had been strongly criticized by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who wrote that "students, faculty, and the community at large are all impoverished, not enriched, when the institution's Catholic identity is diluted or called into question by seemingly approving of ideas that are contrary to moral truth." The event ran without incident, with only a small protest outside the auditorium by Georgetown Right to Life, a protest outside the campus by the Pennsylvania-based American Society for Tradition, Family and Property, and with heavy security, including District of Columbia police officers to supplement campus officers. Although it was closed to news media and accessible only to students with university IDs, Planned Parenthood later released a transcript of Richards' remarks. Much of what Richards and students said during a brief question-and-answer session was relayed through occasional tweets, including how well the CEO was received, and Students for Life also released a transcript of one exchange.

    Head of Knights urges action by U.S. after Kerry's genocide declaration

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If Christians and other religious minorities disappear in Iraq and Syria, "pluralism and stability leave with them," the head of the Knights of Columbus told a congressional commission April 19. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said the United States must help stop the genocide of Christians and others now taking place in the Middle East. But the nation also must act to prevent its recurrence and to ensure the future of the affected communities, he said. In testimony before Congress' Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Anderson said the situation "also implicates the national security of the United States." On March 17, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that atrocities carried out by Islamic State militants against Yezidis, Christians and other minorities were genocide, the first U.S. declaration of genocide since Sudanese actions in Darfur in 2004. Kerry said he was not judge and jury, but Islamic State had self-defined itself as genocidal because of its actions against Yezidis, Christians, Shiite Muslims and other minorities.

    Program teaches laypeople, seminarians, priests about church management

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- A church management program developed by Villanova University in response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal has trained laypeople, seminarians and priests from six continents to combine practical business skills with theological insights to benefit the parishes and dioceses they serve. Charles Zech, founding director of the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at the Villanova School of Business, said the program began in 2004. "Everyone recognized a good part of the scandal was due to poor management of the church. And when they looked at church management, they saw other issues, including embezzlement," he told Catholic News Service. "If the business school would have any contribution to (the university's) Catholic identity, we thought this was where we should put our efforts." The initial professional certification program was well-received, Zech said, and the university instituted a two-year online interactive master of science degree in church management in 2008. The 30-credit program begins with a weeklong residency at Villanova and includes courses in organizational ethics, Catholic social thought, church teaching and belief, information technology, stewardship and development, financial reporting and controls, organizational management, human resource management in a ministry setting, civil and church law for church administrators, and pastoral strategic planning.

    Inquiry into Dorothy Day's life next step in sainthood cause

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- A canonical inquiry into the life of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, will begin soon and extend to the end of the year, according to the Archdiocese of New York, which is sponsoring her sainthood cause and is where Day oversaw Catholic Worker houses. The Dorothy Day Guild, established in 2005 to promote her life and works, said on its website that the names of 256 people had been submitted as potential eyewitnesses to Day's life. Of those, 52 have been chosen for interviews. "Those too frail to travel will be interviewed in their home dioceses, some as far away as Europe," said an April 19 announcement by the archdiocese. "Because many of the eyewitnesses still live in voluntary poverty, caring for the poor, the archdiocese will assist with airfare and lodging for those requesting assistance." Some of the interviewees' memories go back to the 1940s. From the interviews, the archdiocese will gather the evidence and present it to the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes and to Pope Francis. If, after examining the information, the Vatican congregation and the pope recognize Day's heroic virtues, she will be declared "venerable," the next step in the canonization process. She now has the title "servant of God."

    Church is no longer 'church of the poor,' says Indian theologian nun

    COCHIN, India (CNS) -- One of the prominent female Catholic theologians in India said the church has lost its identity as "church of the poor. Today the church is no more the church of the poor, but one can even say it is the church of institutions," said Presentation Sister Shalini Mulackal, president of Indian Theological Association. "Starting from the '70s and extending to late '80s, there was a great zeal in the church to be at the service of the marginalized," Sister Mulackal told the Eighth Congress of Asian Theologians, organized by the Christian Conference of Asia, April 20. "Individuals and groups were fired with the zeal of Jesus, who took the side of the poor and the outcast. Now churches own many institutions and, regrettably, some are mere money-making institutions," she said. She urged the 100 Asian theologians of different denominations "to be authentic to our vocation. The challenge before us is to bridge the gap between theological articulations and our own lifestyle," she said. "In the long run, what is important is that our theologizing (has) to be a credible exercise."

    Lay missionaries find purpose and spiritual growth during work abroad

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Before Connor Bergeron of Reston, Virginia, left to serve as a lay missionary in Bolivia, he wasn't sure how the experience would impact his life, other than soaking in the excitement and intrigue of living abroad. After graduating from college, Bergeron was looking for an experience that would help him tie together what he had learned in school with some practical understanding with the world beyond his American upbringing. At first, he considered teaching English in a foreign country. However, after consulting with a parish priest, he looked into doing a year of missionary work, went on the Catholic Volunteer Network website and found a program with the Salesian Lay Missioners that appealed to him. He set off for Yapacani, Bolivia, in the summer of 2014. Bergeron knew he would be using his experience crafting video stories in his work at the Salesian-owned radio and television station, that he would be teaching Bolivian children and serving as an English translator in the Spanish-speaking country. "My family and friends didn't know what I was signing up for and to be honest, I didn't know exactly either," he said. "Which was fine. Because this is something I was being called to."

    Bishops welcome Commons vote to declare ISIS atrocities 'genocide'

    LONDON (CNS) -- Catholic bishops have welcomed a unanimous vote by the House of Commons declaring atrocities committed by Islamic State as "genocide." Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said the 278-0 vote recognized "the tragedy being suffered by the people of Syria and across the Middle East. Their plight demands our attention and action," said Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, in a statement emailed to Catholic News Service after the April 20 vote. "The violence must stop, and that will require international assistance," he said. The British government has consistently resisted attempts to recognize the alleged genocide of Christian, Yezidi and Shiite Muslim minorities in Syria and Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State group, also known by the Arabic term Daesh. It has insisted that it would be guided instead by any decision of the International Criminal Court to pursue and prosecute members of the terror group. But the motion introduced into the House of Commons by Fiona Bruce, a member of the ruling Conservative Party, called on the government to reverse its policy and to proactively demand that both the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court acted swiftly to pursue the group for genocide.

    Norwegian bishop: To avoid same-sex marriage, no more civil weddings

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A Norwegian bishop said the country's clergy will no longer officiate at civil weddings, after the predominant Lutheran Church's governing synod voted to conduct gay marriages in Norway. Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo told Catholic News Service that he would have to seek permission from the Vatican, but added, "It's clear we must distinguish our own church marriages from others. This is a matter of liturgy, so it doesn't necessarily reflect broader change in our society's moral values. But politicians may now get aggressive toward churches who resist these weddings, so the best option is for us to stop conducting marriages on the state's behalf." He said Norwegian Catholics "hope to maintain good relations with the Lutheran Church," but said they would "make it clear we don't understand their decision and hope they'll still reconsider it." Bishop Eidsvig told CNS April 21 that many Norwegians remained strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, which has been legal since 2009. He said Lutheran churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America had also "strongly condemned" the synod decision.

    Charity begins at home, but must not stop there, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Charity is an essential sign of Christian faith, one that is learned in family relationships and must spread from there, Pope Francis told leaders and volunteers from Italy's diocesan Catholic charities. "The cradle and the home" of Catholic charity is the family, the pope said April 21 during a meeting with about 700 delegates to a convention of diocesan Caritas operations. The same "merciful love" that family members give and receive must be extended to "accompany, discern and integrate situations of fragility" found outside the family home, he said. Catholic charity must be concrete and local -- something families are particularly good at, especially when they work together, the pope said. But in responding to the needs of the poor and fragile, attention also should be paid to the root causes of the suffering and to legislation that makes the problems worse or that could be a solution. Most of all, Pope Francis told the diocesan Caritas workers, their job is to ensure that every single Catholic recognizes he or she has a personal obligation to engage in charity as a witness of Christian faith and a sign that the entire Catholic community is the body of Christ reaching out to those in need.

    Rescued refugees report hundreds drowned in Mediterranean

    ROME (CNS) -- The same day Pope Francis brought 12 Syrian refugees to Rome from Greece, a merchant ship rescued 41 refugees, including a 3-year-old child. They told human rights workers they saw as many as 500 others drown when the refugees' boat sank. The U.N. Refugee Agency reported April 20 that its personnel interviewed the rescued men and women who said they were being transferred to a large, overcrowded boat, which sank in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy. The survivors -- 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, 6 Egyptians and a Sudanese -- were rescued April 16, the same day the pope visited refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. Taken to Kalamata, Greece, the survivors told U.N. staff that they had been part of a group of between 100 and 200 people who departed from Libya the previous week. "After several hours at sea, the smugglers in charge of the boat attempted to transfer the passengers to a larger ship carrying hundreds of people in terribly overcrowded conditions," the U.N. Refugee Agency said in a statement. "At one point during the transfer, the larger boat capsized and sank."

    - - -

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

  • Groups hail defeat of Mississippi bill on police detaining immigrants

    JACKSON, Miss. (CNS) -- A Catholic Charities official in the Jackson Diocese sees "a tremendous victory" in the April 19 death of a Mississippi bill that would have required local law enforcement officers to detain anyone who is in the country illegally or who might be, regardless of why they were stopped by police. Local officers then would have had to notify federal authorities to come and pick up the suspect. "Our impetus in opposing the bill was to support our clients," said Amelia McGowan, program director and immigration attorney for the Migrant Support Center for Catholic Charities in Jackson. "Under this bill, if someone was stopped without their driver's license, they could be detained and transferred" to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, McGowan explained. Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson joined the coalition opposing the bill, known as S.B. 2306, and has spoken out against it. The measure also called for a ban on so-called "sanctuary cities," which are places where local law enforcement are not allowed to ask any suspect about his or her immigration status. There are currently no sanctuary cities in Mississippi, but the bill's author, Sen. Sean Tindal, felt the state should be doing more to enforce immigration laws.

    Brazilians dismayed as deputies cite God during impeachment vote

    SAO PAULO (CNS) -- Christian leaders said they felt uncomfortable that so many members of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies invoked religion as they voted to authorize an impeachment process for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Romi Benke, general secretary of the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil, said that as federal representatives made their way to the microphone to cast their votes, she felt incredibly uncomfortable with the words uttered by dozens of Congressional representatives. "It was shocking to hear the Lord's name said in vain," she told Catholic News Service. "The number of representatives who used the phrase 'for God,' 'for our Lord' or 'in the name of the Lord' to justify their vote was alarming." Benke said the session showed a widespread "instrumentalization of religion" by the representatives. "I am convinced that they were not all speaking for all of the Brazilian Christians, and yet they spoke as though they were speaking for all of us," she said.

    Dominican nuns keep hope alive among displaced in northern Iraq

    IRBIL, Iraq (CNS) -- When the Islamic State group rolled across Iraq's Ninevah Plain in 2014, tens of thousands of Christians fled for their lives to Kurdish-controlled areas of the country. They still wait in limbo in crowded camps, facing an undefined future. The only certainty they enjoy is knowing that whatever happens to them, a group of Dominican nuns will be at their side. "We will not leave our people. Wherever they go, we will go with them," said Sister Luma Khudher, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. The Iraqi congregation was founded in Mosul in the late 19th century and, over the decades, the nuns have operated schools and clinics throughout the country. In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion, many of their facilities became refuges for families displaced by the violence. By 2014, driven out of Mosul by the Islamic State, many of the nuns were in Qaraqosh, where they were repeatedly assured that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters would protect the city. But the Kurdish troops pulled out late Aug. 6, 2014, and the sisters were among the last to hurriedly flee for their lives. Sister Khudher drove one of the convent's four vehicles, the sisters packed tight as they crept along the dark and crowded highway to Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. It took 10 hours to cover 30 miles.

    Church leaders survey Philippine candidates for servant-leader traits

    MANILA, Philipppines (CNS) -- Philippine church officials surveyed five presidential candidates to see who were the best servant-leaders, a move designed to help voters. Father Anton Pascual, president of Radio Veritas, the Philippines' largest Catholic radio network, said the yes or no questions were based on the concept of a "leader as servant," a concept developed in the United States. "These traits exhibit family values," said Father Pascual. "Even Pope Francis came out with the new encyclical, 'Amoris Laetitia,' focusing on the importance of the family as the core foundation of building life and love ' so to voters' let's look at which of these candidates are truly pro-family and show family values." The face-to-face survey asked 1,200 registered Filipino voters -- with no consideration for their religion -- whether each candidate showed the following qualities: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community.

    Groups ask Congress to pass conscience protection for health care workers

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For decades, Congress and U.S. presidents -- both Republican and Democrat -- have approved federal laws "protecting conscientious objection to abortion," but it is increasingly clear current laws "offer far less protection in practice than in theory," said a group of faith-based, health care and pro-life organizations. A group of 26 organizations made the comments in a joint April 19 letter to members of the House of Representatives urging them to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, or H.R. 4828. "Even many 'pro-choice' Americans realize that the logic of their position requires them to respect a choice not to be involved in abortion," the group said. "We represent millions of Americans and tens of thousands of health care professionals with a profound concern about abortion, and particularly about the conscience rights of health care professionals and facilities," it added. The letter pointed to several loopholes in current law that it said would be addressed by the Conscience Protection Act, introduced March 22 by Reps. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, and Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri. Fleming is a medical doctor.

    Church-run restaurant in El Paso takes parish dining to new level

    EL PASO, Texas (CNS) -- Move aside pancake breakfast. La Tilma Mexican Grill has brought parish dining to a new level. Taking its name from the miraculous cloak of St. Juan Diego, La Tilma is a ministry of Sacred Heart Church in El Paso's Segundo Barrio, one of the city's oldest communities. "This is the best breakfast deal in town," said manager James Martinez on a break from taking orders one Sunday morning. He said the restaurant prepares home-style Mexican favorites at prices that can't be beat. Each Saturday and Sunday a team of cooks assembles plates of eggs, chilaquiles, beans and tortillas. Red chiles are prepared by hand for chilaquiles, a dish of fried corn tortillas and red chile sauce. Steaming soups are ladled into cups and triangles of soft tortillas constantly sizzle at the fry station. Everything is made fresh to order. La Tilma is a nonprofit business but working there is not a volunteer opportunity. The positions are paid, in line with the mission of the grill and parish's social ministry efforts, Martinez said. "We call it social entrepreneurship," he told Catholic News Service. "Our focus is to generate employment for people in the area."

    Spence resigns as CNS director and editor-in-chief, held post since 2004

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Tony Spence has left his position as director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, a post he held since 2004. Spence's years at CNS "marked significant contributions to the Catholic press," said James L. Rogers, chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the search process for a successor would begin immediately. In the interim, Rogers has assumed Spence's administrative duties. As head of CNS, Spence oversaw the work of its Washington staff, its Media Reviews office in New York City, its Rome bureau and a cadre of stringers around the world. CNS is the oldest and largest English-language religious news organization in the world. During Spence's tenure, CNS formed global partnerships with Salt+Light Television in Canada, Bayard Presse and other Catholic press agencies in Europe, Africa and Asia. Those partnerships have helped CNS reach even more English- and Spanish-speaking Catholic news and media consumers around the world. As head of CNS, he also helped two other agencies get off the ground: Presence religious news service in Montreal and a Catholic news service for Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya.

    Look at your own sins before judging others, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must look to their own sins and failings and not fall into the temptation of hypocrisy that causes them to believe they are better than others, Pope Francis said. "The relationship of salvation" with God cannot move forward if people justify themselves and look at the mistakes of others instead of fixing their gaze on the Lord, he said at his weekly general audience April 20. "This is the line of salvation, the relationship between me -- the sinner, and the Lord," he told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square. The pope reflected on one aspect of mercy exemplified in Jesus' encounter with a woman who was considered sinful. While Jesus dined with one of the Pharisees, she entered the house weeping, bathed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. "Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little," Jesus said.

    Education, trauma counseling key to helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon

    ZAHLE, Lebanon (CNS) -- On a rainy spring day, the misery of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees is compounded as they shelter in dilapidated shanties dotting a long muddy swathe of the verdant Bekaa Valley. Colorful plastic sheeting, advertising cameras and cosmetics, bundle the creaky structures like unusual parcels stacked in jaunty rows, but the sheeting does little to keep out the damp and cold. Approximately 1,500 such informal camps for Syrian refugees exist in the valley because the Lebanese authorities do not allow the United Nations to set up camps in the country. The refugees must pay Lebanese landowners $35-$100 a month to park tents and shanties on land used mainly for agriculture. Such victims fleeing Syria's 5-year conflict were among those visited by Pope Francis on the Greek island of Lesbos, as their hopes of starting a new life in Europe fade. Hundreds have died in the past year making the perilous journey into Turkey and onward to Greece in flimsy skiffs. But the more than 1.06 million Syrians who remain in neighboring Lebanon face continuing struggles with war trauma, dwindling funds, and a very uncertain and often dangerous future. "They have internalized the violence and loss in the conflict in Syria. Perhaps they saw loved ones killed, their houses destroyed in front of their eyes, or even being uprooted from their country has caused trauma," Monette Kraitem, a Lebanese psychologist working the Catholic charitable agency Caritas, told Catholic News Service.

    - - -

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

  • Late ambassador recalled for her smile, strength, being true to her faith

    NEW ROADS, La. (CNS) -- With a wide-dimpled smile and affability, Corinne "Lindy" Claiborne Boggs was known as a gentle, yet strong, worldwide leader. The Dames and Knights of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, dressed in regalia, recently commemorated the 100th anniversary of Boggs' birth at a Mass at St. Mary of False River Church in New Roads in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. It was at that church she was baptized, received first Communion, was confirmed and married Hale Boggs. The church also is the final resting place for Boggs, who died July 27, 2013, at 97. She is interred in the church's cemetery. A former congresswoman and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Lindy Boggs was admitted to the Order of St. Lazarus in 1979. Founded in 1098 by Hospitaller Knights in the Holy Land, the chivalric order is composed of lay and religious men and women from North and South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe. The order is dedicated to service, Christian unity and supporting a variety of causes -- from providing relief following natural disasters to promoting organ and tissue donation awareness and registration. It was the only chivalric order organized to care for the needs of Hansen's disease patients.

    'Collective international response' only counter to terror, nuncio says

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Only a "collective international response" can thwart the specter of terrorism that crosses borders, according to the Vatican's permanent observer mission to the United Nations. "This response must also address the root causes upon which international terrorism feeds," said Archbishop Bernardito Auza April14 during a U.N. Security Council debate titled "Threats to International Peace and Security by Terrorist Acts." "The present terrorist challenge has a strong sociocultural component," he added. "Young people traveling abroad to join the ranks of terrorist organizations are disillusioned by what they experience as a situation of exclusion and by the lack of integration and values in certain societies." Archbishop Auza urged the international community to stop Islamic State's international reach. "Their access to cyberspace must be denied. Their access to funding must be cut off. No country, no company and no individual must be permitted to 'do business' with terror groups, in particular in arms and ammunitions," the U.N. nuncio said.

    Speakers hopeful post-Scalia court will have religious liberty advocate

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Even without Justice Antonin Scalia and with the likelihood of deadlocks by an eight-member Supreme Court for some time to come, there's still hope for a strong religious liberty advocate, a panel of speakers concluded. And the next leading light on the issue might be Justice Elena Kagan, who typically disagreed with Scalia's statements. That was the conclusion of Hannah Smith, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. She spoke at a recent discussion of Scalia's legacy at the Newseum in Washington. Scalia's views on the prominence of religious faith in American public life were his trademark. "He really didn't hold anything back," Smith said. "He had a very clear idea that religion must be protected on the public stage." Scalia went further than that in his last public speech Jan. 2, just over a month before his unexpected death at a Texas resort. He told his audience at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, Louisiana, that the idea that government must be neutral between religion and an absence of religion had "no place ... in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?" he asked. "To be sure, you can't favor one denomination over another but can't favor religion over non-religion?"

    Pope reminds world of suffering in war-torn Ukraine

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' pleas for humanitarian aid for Ukraine is bringing needed attention to a forgotten war, said Ukrainian Catholic leaders. The 2-year-old war has caused thousands of deaths and forced more than 1 million people to seek refuge abroad, the pope said. After Mass April 3, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis asked that Catholic parishes throughout Europe take up a special collection April 24 as a sign of closeness and solidarity with people suffering because of the war in Eastern Ukraine. He prayed that the collection also "could help, without further delay, promote peace and respect for the law in that harshly tried land." Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris, head of external church relations for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said the three things needed most are "to pray for peace and justice in Ukraine, to stay informed regarding the true situation in this ancient European land and to show your solidarity."

    Refugees are not a problem, they are a gift, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Refugees, often perceived by society as an added cost or a problem, are a gift and a reflection of the face of God, Pope Francis said. People who escape oppression, war, pollution or "the unjust distribution of the planet's resources are a brother and sister with whom to share bread, home and life," he said in a video message to the Centro Astalli, the Jesuit Refugee Service center in Rome. "You are witnesses of how our clement and merciful God can transform the evil and injustice you have suffered into a good for all," he said. The pope's message to refugees and volunteers April 19 marked the 35th anniversary of the center's founding by Father Pedro Arrupe, superior of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983. Pope Francis said the center's work in assisting refugees is a courageous form of following Jesus' words, "For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me."

    - - -

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

Updated throughout the day by Catholic News Service.

National/World multimedia:

Check out the Catholic News Service multimedia player on the Catholic Herald Web site front page, featuring daily Vatican video reports, coverage of the church in the U.S. and more.

NOTE: requires Adobe Flash Player.

What is Catholic News Service?
Catholic News Service (CNS), the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

Top of page

Please support our advertisers: