St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Life without parole is not a solution to crime, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sentencing someone to life in prison without the possibility of parole is "not the solution to problems, but a problem to solve," Pope Francis told Italian prison guards, prison chaplains and officials from the Ministry of Justice.

"If you close hope in a cell, there is no future for society," the pope told thousands of guards, chaplains, volunteers and their family members Sept. 14 during an audience in St. Peter's Square.

Among those present were two detainees who are serving life sentences, but are engaged in a formal process of recognizing the gravity of their crimes, making amends as far as possible and preparing to apply for parole.

While protecting its citizens, the pope said, every society also must seek ways to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and find ways to help them make positive contributions to society.

Making someone pay for the "errors of the past" cannot mean "canceling their hope for a future," he said. In fact, everyone has "the right to hope."

Saying he wanted to address all inmates, Pope Francis said he had one word for them: "courage."

Have courage "because you are in God's heart, you are precious in his eyes and, even if you feel lost and unworthy, don't lose heart," the pope said. "You who are detainees are important to God who wants to accomplish marvels in you."

Even behind bars, he said, "never let yourselves be imprisoned in the dark cell of a heart without hope; don't give in to resignation. God is bigger than every problem and he is waiting for you in order to love you."

"Put yourselves before the crucifix, under the gaze of Jesus, before him with simplicity and sincerity," the pope told prisoners. "There, with the humble courage of one who doesn't lie to him- or herself, peace will be reborn, and trust in being loved and the strength to go on will flourish."

Pope Francis was not speaking only figuratively. During the audience, he blessed the "cross of mercy" made by detainees in the Paliano prison, which the pope visited in 2017. The tall crucifix is decorated with "biblical scenes of liberation, ransom and redemption" and will be taken on pilgrimage to prisons throughout Italy.

Speaking to prison police, prison guards and prison staff, Pope Francis publicly thanked them for their work, which is often hidden and poorly paid.

"I know that it isn't easy," the pope said, "but when, in addition to watching over security, you are a presence close to those who have fallen into the web of evil, you become builders of the future, you lay the foundations for a coexistence that is more respectful and, therefore, for a society that is safer."

If a prison sentence has the ultimate aim of preparing detainees to return to society and contribute to their community as upstanding citizens, Pope Francis said, then the guards who spend the most time with them must be models of treating others with dignity and respect.

"I thank you for not only being vigilant, but especially for safeguarding the people entrusted to you so that in recognizing the wrong they did, they will accept avenues of rebirth for the good of all," the pope told the guards.

"You are called to be bridges between the prison and civil society," he told the guards. By "exercising a correct compassion, you can overcome the mutual fears and the drama of indifference" that separate the inmates and wider society.

 

- - -

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

Pope Francis: Life imprisonment forgoes the ‘right to start over’

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 08:48 am (CNA).- In an audience with penitentiary staff and prison chaplains, Pope Francis said Saturday that sentencing prisoners to life imprisonment diminishes their “right to hope.”

“It is up to every society … to ensure that the penalty does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects for reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed,” Pope Francis said Sept. 14 in St. Peter’s Square.

“Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems - I repeat: life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved,” the pope said.

Pope Francis explained that he believes that during the penitentiary process of rectifying mistakes, hope for the future should not be eliminated.

“Because if hope is closed in a cell, there is no future for society,” he said. “Never deprive one of the right to start over.”

Directing his message toward all prisoners, Pope Francis said: “Never let yourself be imprisoned in the dark cell of a hopeless heart; do not give in to resignation. God is greater than any problem and is waiting for you to love you.”

“Stand before the Crucifix, in the gaze of Jesus, in front of Him with simplicity and sincerity,” the pope told prisoners. “From there, from the humble courage that belongs to those who do not lie to themselves, peace is reborn with the trust of being loved, and the strength to go on flourishes again.”

“You who are detained are important to God, who wants to do wonders in you,” he said. “Have courage because you are in the heart of God; you are precious in his eyes, and even if you feel lost and unworthy, do not lose heart.”

“God is greater than our hearts,” the pope encouraged, quoting 1 John 3:20.

Pope Francis also thanked prison chaplains and volunteers for being “the bearers of the Gospel within the walls of prisons.”

He encouraged them to continue to “enter the most difficult situations with the sole strength of a smile and a heart that listens” and to carry others in prayer.

In his audience with the Italian Penitentiary Police, the law enforcement agency dedicated to the country’s prison security, inmate safety and transportation, Pope Francis encouraged the penitentiary staff to always recognize the “irrepressible dignity” in the face of “wounded and often devastated humanity.”

“Lay the foundations for a more respectful coexistence and therefore for a safer society,” he told the police and administrative staff.

 

 

Pope urges Eastern Catholic bishops to promote ecumenism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praising the fidelity of Eastern Catholics, Pope Francis also urged them to be more active in the search for Christian unity, especially unity with their Orthodox counterparts.

In heaven, he said, "the Lord will not seek an account of which or how many territories remained under our jurisdiction. He will not ask how we contributed to the development of our national identities. Instead, he will ask how much we loved our neighbor, every neighbor, and how well we were able to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to those we met along the road of life."

The pope met Sept. 14 with about 40 bishops in Europe from Eastern Catholic churches; they included bishops from the Eastern-rite Ukrainian, Romanian, Greek and Slovak churches, but also those who minister to migrant communities from outside of Europe, including the Coptic, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches from the Middle East and the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches of India.

The multiple expressions of Catholic liturgy, spirituality and governance are a sign of the Catholic Church's true unity, Pope Francis said. "Uniformity is the destruction of unity; Christian truth is not monotonous, but 'symphonic,' otherwise it would not come from the Holy Spirit."

Preserving their Eastern identity while holding fast to their unity with Rome came at the price of martyrdom for many of the Eastern Catholic churches, the pope acknowledged. "This fidelity is a precious gem in your treasury of faith, a distinctive and indelible sign."

Unity with the wider Catholic Church, he said, does not detract from the identity of the Eastern churches but "contributes to its full realization, for example, by protecting it from the temptation of closing in on itself and falling into national or ethnic particularisms that exclude others."

While the Eastern churches have national roots and cultures, and in many cases have contributed to preserving local languages and identity, the churches are called to proclaim the Gospel, not a national identity, he said.

"This is a danger of the present time in our civilization," the pope said, because one can see "particularisms that become populisms and seek to dictate and make everything uniform."

At the same time, he said, the witness of the saints and martyrs of the Eastern Catholic churches calls Eastern Catholics today to purify their "ecclesial memory" -- for example, the memory of knowing the Orthodox did not experience the same level of persecution under communism -- "and to aspire to ever greater unity with all who believe in Christ."

In a world where so many people sow division, he said, Catholics are "called to be artisans of dialogue, promoters of reconciliation and patient builders of a civilization of encounter that can preserve our times from the incivility of conflict."

"The way shown to us from on high is made up of prayer, humility and love, not of regional or even traditionalist claims; no. The way is prayer, humility and love," the pope said.

As churches that share a spirituality, liturgy and theology with the Orthodox churches, he said, the Eastern Catholic churches have a special role to play in promoting Christian unity.

Pope Francis encouraged shared academic programs, especially for priests "so that they can be trained to have an open mind."

But it is especially in concrete service to others that Catholics and Orthodox should join together, he said. "Love knows no canonical or jurisdictional boundaries. It pains me to see, even among Catholics, squabbles about jurisdictions."

 

- - -

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

Prince Charles to attend Newman’s canonization in Rome

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Prince Charles will attend the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman next month.

The heir to the British throne will travel to Rome to witness the canonization Mass of the first non-martyr English saint since the Reformation.

After the Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13, the Prince of Wales will attend a reception at the Pontifical Urban College, where Newman studied to become a Catholic priest, the prince’s office announced.

“We are delighted that HRH The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation for the canonisation of Cardinal Newman,” the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said after the announcement Sept. 12.

“Cardinal Newman’s exploration of faith, depth of personal courage, intellectual clarity and cultural sensitivity make him a deeply admired follower of Christ. His ministry, especially among the poor, is a permanent sign of the Church’s pastoral compassion and a challenge to us all today,” Nichols said.

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his writings are considered among some of the most important Church-writings in recent centuries.

Tens of thousands of people attended Newman’s beatification in Birmingham, England in Sept. 2010. At the beatification Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said that Newman’s “insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.”

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, met Pope Francis in April 2017 during a visit to the Vatican. The Prince of Wales previously met Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and St. John Paul II in 1985 with his first wife, Princess Diana.

Suicide is on the rise - What can the Catholic Church do to help?

Denver, Colo., Sep 15, 2019 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- This past week marked National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, a week where mental and public health advocates share tips and advice on suicide prevention and spotting the warning signs of suicide.

On Monday of that week, popular evangelical pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson, 30, reportedly committed suicide. Just hours prior to his death, Wilson had posted a message on Twitter about Jesus’ compassion for the depressed and suicidal.

“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts,” Wilson wrote. “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that,” Wilson tweeted.

Wilson had been a long-time advocate for mental health, and founded “Anthem of Hope,” a Christian outreach for the depressed and suicidal, with his wife. His death followed that of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another young, vibrant evangelical pastor and mental health advocate, who committed suicide last year. 

In the span of just 16 years, suicide rates among working-age Americans (aged 16-64 years) spiked 34% between 2000 and 2016, according to data from the Center for Disease Control. Among Americans aged 10-24, the spike was even more dramatic - CDC data shows a 50% increase in suicides among this group between 2000-2017.

The suicides of these two pastors highlight this concerning upward trend in suicide, especially among young people, even among those who are part of a Christian community.

CNA spoke with three mental health professionals about why suicide rates, particularly among young people, are increasing, and what the Catholic Church and other faith communities can do to help.

Overconnected, and under pressure

Deacon Basil Ryan Balke is a licensed therapist at Mount Tabor Counseling in the Denver area, and the co-host of the podcast “Catholic Psyche,” which aims to educate people on the integration between the psychological sciences and Catholic spirituality, philosophy and theology. He is also a married deacon with the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church.

Balke told CNA that he thinks one of the driving factors of an increase in suicide among teens and young adults is their constant connectedness to the world through mobile devices, coupled with a lack of greater meaning in their lives.

“When I was in high school...I would go home, and I wouldn't really have any contact with my friends unless I wanted it,” Balke said.

“And now with the saturation of the iPhone...you get the communication that is constantly there and constantly moving and so you can never unplug, and you can never continue on with life outside of the image you have to put out into the world (through social media),” he said.

“They’re always distracted, always moving forward. I was a youth minister for many years as well, and it was just - these kids never had a moment's peace,” he added.

Tommy Tighe is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay area in California, who also hosts a podcast on Catholicism and mental health called “St. Dymphna’s Playbook.” Tighe told CNA that despite having more connections, young people today are more isolated than ever.

“There's so much more pressure...there’s so much more of a drive to be popular,” Tighe said, but social media connections often do not equate to “a close-knit community of close friends.”

According to a 2015 article from the peer-reviewed research journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, frequent social media use in children and teenagers is associated with poor psychological functioning, as it limits their daily face-to-face interactions, impairing their ability to keep and maintain meaningful relationships.

The study found that students who reported using social media for two or more hours daily were more likely to poorly rate their own mental health, and experienced high levels of psychological distress and suicidal ideation.

“There’s a trend towards superficial relationships, and of course you don't post on Instagram ‘I'm depressed’ or something like that, so I think people don't know who to reach out to,” Tighe noted.

Furthermore, Balke said, “I think what is also happening is the younger people have lost meaning in their day-to-day lives as well. I think all of us have lost meaning as a force in our lives.”

Balke said especially for young people, there is an increasingly intense pressure to perform academically or athletically that has replaced the things that used to bring people a sense of greater purpose, such as faith or virtue or close familial connections.

“Whether it be sports, they have to be track stars, they have to be in all AP (advanced placement) classes, they have to have like 30 college credits before they graduate high school, a 4.0 is not good enough anymore it's gotta be a 4.3 or something,” he said. “I don't even know how you do that. They're pushing themselves so aggressively to the point where there's no meaning behind it all because they don't have an overarching purpose. These things are substitutes for that.”

“You might do something stupid like literally eating a tide pod, laundry detergent, and you become world-famous for thirty seconds. It's so crazy,” he said. “It's like these kids are just waiting for their next big break.” 

The lingering stigma of mental health care

Another driving factor in the spike in suicides among young people and other populations is the lingering stigma of seeking out therapy or other mental health interventions, Tighe said.

“I think we try to act like we’ve really changed (as a society) in our perception of mental health, but I don't think that's really true,” Tighe said.

“Especially...it seems like every time there's one of these mass tragedies in our country, mental health gets brought up and I think that pushes people even further away from wanting to reach out or identify as having an issue,” he added.

Additionally, Tighe said, not only do young people today have a harder time making meaningful relationships with their peers, parents are also often afraid to broach the subject of suicide and mental health with their children.

“I'm hoping that the younger generation of parents will be a little bit more willing, but it's scary, right? That’s super scary to talk about.”

But talk about it parents must, Balke said, and the more specific they are, the better.

“You want to use that exact phrase: ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ Or ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ You don't want to use the phrase ‘self harm,’ or ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’” he said. “You want to be very clear.”

Some people fear that bringing up suicide may plant the idea of suicide in their child’s head, or may worsen their depression, but Balke said that studies show that these fears are unfounded.

“Statistically speaking - you can't catch suicidal thoughts,” Balke said. “You're not going to be pushing kids to become suicidal by asking, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ That’s actually... helping them come out of that isolation.”

The Soul Shop movement: helping congregations prevent suicide 

In 1999, Fe Anam Avis was the pastor of a Presbyterian church in a small suburban town in southern Ohio when the suicide of three students within seven months rocked his community.

Searching for help and resources for his grieving congregants, he found that there was little to nothing when it came to faith-based resources for suicide prevention and mental health. He started traveling to speak about suicide, but noticed that clergy and church leaders weren’t among his audience members.

“He said, ‘I would go to these towns and they would have me in a fire hall and I would give a presentation about suicide and a hundred people would show up in a small town. And not one of them would be a clergy person,’” Michelle Snyder told CNA. Snyder is the director of Soul Shop, an organization founded by Fe that trains clergy and congregations in suicide prevention and interventions. Fe has since retired.

“(Fe) said consistently it felt like people in the church were not connecting this issue of suicide prevention with faith, and pastors were just not showing up to engage with this as an issue as a matter of faith.”

That’s what spurred Fe to found Soul Shop movement, a group which now travels the country to give workshops to congregations on how to speak about suicide, how to prevent it, and what the warning signs are.

“I'll often say to a group of faith community leaders, if you're asking yourself the question, is anybody in my parish thinking about suicide? You're asking yourself the wrong question. Because the right question is, which six people out of the hundred here are thinking about suicide right now?” Snyder said.

Part of the training consists in simply raising the awareness among clergy and church leaders that there are people in desperation within their own congregations who are at risk for suicide and need help. Snyder said they also train congregations on how to support people who have been impacted by the suicide of a family member or friend.

In addition, they study the stories about suicide, or suicidal ideation, found in Bible passages.

“There's quite a few,” she said. “We've got Judas, the story of Judas, and that's a suicide. But you've also got stories like Elijah (who was) praying to die. You've got Saul, who fell on his own sword and killed himself...you've got Job, who said death would be better than what I'm experiencing. You've got lots of heroes in the Bible who thought about (it) or else just said, ‘I'm in so much pain. Death would be better,’ but who didn't attempt (it). So you've got lots of suicide - you've got suicide attempts, you've got suicides, you've got suicide intervention.”

They also train church leaders in spotting some of the warning signs of a person who is at risk for suicide.

Tighe said some of those warning signs include people who have been noticeably depressed for long periods of time, social withdrawal, talking about suicide or self-harm, or the giving away of prized pocessions, among other things.

A warning sign that might seem strange, Tighe said, is when someone who has been depressed for a while is suddenly and inexplicably happy again.

“If someone's been super depressed and then all of a sudden they're sort of feeling really good...that makes us very nervous, because sometimes it’s because they’ve made the decision like, okay, on Friday, I'm going to do it. And they feel like a burden lifted off their shoulders, because there's an end in sight,” he said.

When those risk factors are spotted, those are the times to specifically ask people if they’re considering suicide, Tighe added.

During the Soul Shop trainings, Snyder said, the group takes a public health approach to suicide, meaning that they train faith communities to take a collective responsibility for the health of their own people.

“We spend a whole day equipping communities of faith on how to be communities of faith in relationship to this issue,” she said.

One of the biggest suicide prevention tools that communities of faith can provide, Snyder said, is being full communities of faith, where people feel connected and valued as whole people, and not just for one aspect of their identity.

People who are more resiliant to suicide are those whose don’t have all of their “eggs in one basket,” Snyder noted.

“If every egg is in the basket of being on a full scholarship for football, and then I get injured, every egg was in that basket. I have no Plan B, and so that becomes a risk. And helping our people in our congregation become well-rounded people with lives that are full and rich and diverse can be a suicide prevention initiative.”

Soul Shop, church communities that are trained in suicide awareness and prevention are called “full faith communities,” Snyder said, which are “communities where people are intentionally connected to each other...communities where everybody knows what to look for. Communities where we are aware of our tendency to shun when we get uncomfortable and are challenged to not do that.”

What else can be done?

Besides hosting a Soul Shop or other suicide prevention training, what else can pastors and parishes do to help prevent suicide?

Balke said he would encourage all pastors to meet with their staff and frequent volunteers in order to familiarize them with locally available mental health resources. They should know the location of clinics, the hours of those clinics, and what crisis numbers to call, he said.

“They need to have quick access to them, so that when someone is coming in their office, or after a bible study or whatever it is when this kind of conversation comes up, they have it on their phone ready to go and they won't have to go searching for it,” he said.

Tighe said he recommended that parishes have flyers posted on their bulletin boards with information on local mental health resources, as well as local crisis hotlines to call or text. In the United States, texting “741741” will connect users to a crisis text line.

Text lines get great response rates, Tighe said, because “everyone's like, okay I would send a text, because it's easier. And they're incredible. We get people who come to our clinic who are like, ‘I was driving to the bridge, (because that's a very popular thing here in the Bay Area for people who are suicidal), and for whatever reason texted these people and they told me to come to your clinic before I went.”

Pastors and clergy should also make it a point to build a personal relationship with the mental health professionals in their congregation, Balke said.

“Someone that they can just phone and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? What should I do in this situation?’” he said. “I have a number of priests and deacons who have phoned me on a regular basis and say, ‘You know, someone came into my office and said this this and this. What's going on here?’”

Pastors and other church leaders also need to treat suicide and mental health issues with the seriousness they deserve, Balke said, and not treat them as something that is either not a serious issue, or something that can be solved solely by prayer or spiritual direction.

“Mental health in the Church is a real problem, and...it's not necessarily being addressed with the seriousness, from an institutional level, that it deserves. People are committing suicide in our parishes and in our churches.”

Snyder said that she is confident that, if properly trained, churches and parishes have a key role to play in preventing suicides in their communities.

“We talk a lot about putting your seatbelt on before the accident happens. And that's kind of what we're describing here, is how do we do that in faith communities long before crisis strikes,” she said.

 

Pope Francis: God forgets our sins after confession

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional.

“How do you defeat evil? Accepting God's forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message Sept. 15.

“God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.

In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained.

“Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said.

Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“Jesus 'welcomes sinners and eats with them.' This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said.

“It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: 'Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added.

The pope focused on the lessons of God’s mercy and justice contained within Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He said that the elder brother’s rejection of the father’s mercy for the prodigal son contains an important warning.

“The eldest son, who does not accept the mercy of his father ... makes a worse mistake: he is presumed to be just … and judges everything on the basis of his thought of justice,” he said. “It is also a risk for us: to believe in a more rigorous than merciful god, a god who defeats evil with power rather than forgiveness.”

“We are also wrong when we believe ourselves to be right, when we think that the bad ones are the others. Let us not believe ourselves good because alone, without the help of God who is good, we do not know how to overcome evil,” Pope Francis said.

“Our Lady, who unties the knots of life, frees us from the pretense of believing we are righteous and makes us feel the need to go to the Lord, who is always waiting for us to embrace us, to forgive us,” he said.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his joy because of two beatifications this weekend. Benedetta Bianchi Porro, an Italian laywoman, who died in 1964 of a lifelong illness at the age of 28, was declared blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

At her beatification Sept. 14, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu called Porro a shining example of “what the cross can and must be for us Christians.”

On Sept. 15, Father Richard Henkes will be beatified in Limburg, Germany. Henkes was a Pallottine priest, who died a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau in 1945 while caring for sick prisoners in the camp.

“The example of these two brave disciples of Christ also supports our journey to holiness,” Pope Francis said.

“Don't be afraid: God loves you, loves you as you are,” the pope said. “Only His love can change your life.”

A bowl of soup, and a chance for compassion

Elmira, NY, Sep 14, 2019 / 04:25 am (CNA).- For nearly 15 years, a Catholic charity in south-central New York has sold ceramic bowls to raise both money for a local food pantry and awareness about the problem of homelessness in the region.

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler Counties is preparing for its 14th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon on Oct. 15, where donors will eat soup and hear the stories of homelessness.

Lindsay Baker, director of development for Catholic Charities in the area told CNA that the project informs people on poverty statistics and provides them with a souvenir bowl as a reminder of all the “empty bowls in the community.”

The project is a major event for the region. Local artists, including high-schoolers and students and faculty from nearby Elmira College, handcraft commemorative bowls for the luncheon.

“[We have partnered] with our local potters. They create commemorative bowls for each participant to take home with them. It’s meant to be a reminder of hunger in the community,” Baker said.

Most of the bowls are made by professional artisans, like Gene Carr, a local artist who helps each year with the pottery. Bowls are also made by two Elmira professors - Doug Holtgrewe, a former teacher of ceramic, and Chris Longwell, a professor of art. So far, they have made more than 200 bowls for the event.

Participants choose a custom-created bowl when they enter the luncheon, and are served soup from a local deli. Baker said last year the soup was chicken noodle and pumpkin squash.

“The idea is that you are satisfied but you are not stuffed. It’s a hunger awareness event so you may not leave extremely full, but people leaving the soup kitchen don’t always leave full too,” she told CNA.

During the event, those who have been homeless, or whose family members have been homeless, tell their stories.

“Last year, we had a woman share her story. Her son had been in a homeless shelter and he’s a heroin addict. She talked about the struggle she went through and how Catholic Charities met him where he is at and how is on a much better path,” Baker said.

She said the testimonies are a cause for personal reflection, but they’re also fun.

During lunch this year, Baker will read three testimonies from community members who have struggled with poverty. After the three people gather on stage, the crowd will guess which story belongs to whom.

She said the testimonies emphasize the work of Catholic Charities and the success of people who have overcome homelessness. She said stories help contextualize the reality of poverty because the testimonies are from ordinary people in the local community.

“I think this is one of the few events that highlight that it can happen to anybody. We have community members, we have volunteers, we have donors who will share their story. It’s not just somebody else’s problem. It’s actual human beings you can see.”

Proceeds will go to the Samaritan Center, an emergency shelter and a food pantry for homeless families and individuals. According to Catholic Charities, $40, the cost of a single ticket, will allow the organization to feed a family for a week, and $320, the cost for a table of eight, will cover the cost to temporarily shelter 15 people.

Baker said the event is a force for good in the region. She said the project is not only a fundraiser for the Samaritan Center, but it also promotes mental healthcare and awakens people to a reality which is often neglected.

“I think people are kind of numb to the reality of what life is like for some people,” she said. “[This event], in a nice way, slaps them in the face and tells them what life is like. People really leave moved. They have a better appreciation for what is going on behind the scenes.”

Violence, displacement on the rise in Sahel region of Africa

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services is warning of increasing violence and displacement in the Sahel— the vast area of western and north-central Africa stretching from Senegal to Sudan.

In 2018, more than 320,000 people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger were forced to leave their homes, CRS reports. Burkina Faso, in particular, saw a four-fold increase in displaced persons since the start of this year.

“The increase of violent attacks has been devastating to so many families,” Jennifer Overton, CRS’ regional director for West Africa, said Sept. 12.

 “People are struggling not only to keep their families safe and together, but also to meet basic needs like food and shelter.”

Ethnic tensions in the region, as well as threats from extremist groups including al-Qaeda affiliates, have boiled over in recent months.

Attacks by jihadist groups have increased since 2015, and AFP reported that almost 400 people have been killed in the past four years. The groups include Ansarul Islam, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

Last December, the government of Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces as a result of these ongoing attacks, Reuters reports.

Pope Francis has offered prayers for victims of attacks on Catholic churches in Burkina Faso, including a May 12 incident when a group of gunmen burned down a church building in Dablo while Mass was being celebrated, killing at least six people including a priest.

Four died in an April 5 attack on a parish in the Diocese of Dori. Fr. Joel Yougbaré, pastor of Djibo, was kidnapped in March. Six were killed in an April 29 attack on a Protestant church in Silgadji.

Several more attacks on Catholic Churches, with additional fatalities, took place at Catholic Churches in Burkina Faso in the weeks after that attack in early May.

“Let us unite our prayers for the repose in God of the martyrs, for a prompt recovery of the wounded, for the consolation of the weeping families, for the conversion of the tormentors and for peace in our country of Burkina Faso,” Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya said after a May 26 attack that killed four.

CRS is working the region to supply aid for those forced to leave their homes, in the form of clean water and sanitation services, food, shelter and household items, as well as long-term aid in the form of healthcare, education, and agricultural and peacebuilding projects, the group reported.

“Very simply, unless this trend is reversed, we risk losing so many development gains over the last decade,” Overton warned.

“The window to prevent this backsliding is rapidly closing and demands urgent attention from the international community.”

 

Irish abuse survivor disappointed with global reforms, accountability

IMAGE: CNS/Carol Glatz

By Christopher Gunty

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Clergy sexual abuse survivor Marie Collins kicked off a five-city U.S. speaking tour on "The Catholic Tipping Point" in Baltimore Sept. 10, noting that she is disappointed with the results of the Vatican summit on child protection and efforts toward accountability and transparency.

Collins, who was one of the original members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned from that group in 2017 because she was concerned that promised reforms were not being implemented and Vatican leaders were impeding the commission's work.

Speaking to a crowd of about 100 people at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, she said the abuse crisis has brought the church to a tipping point. "The church has come to a crossroads," she said. "It's got to decide where it's going to go next because if it doesn't change, it's going to lose everything."

And this change, she said, needs to come from the laity.

Collins told the group she had been molested by a hospital chaplain in Ireland when she was 12.

She said when she finally reported the abuse to a local priest many years later, she was told that she must have tempted the priest who abused her. The priest later lied about that meeting, she added.

Ten years later, she reported the incident to the Dublin Archdiocese and the hospital where the abuse occurred. The hospital offered counseling and reported the allegation to the police; the archdiocese said at the time that the priest had never had any such allegations against him, which was later was found to be false.

"I was lied to in the worst way," she said. When the archdiocese made a statement that it had followed church guidelines in reporting and dealing with the abuse, Collins said she later met with the archbishop, who told her that the archdiocese was allowed to ignore the guidelines because they had no bearing in canon or civil law.

She said that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the next archbishop of Dublin, set up a strong child protection office -- a "gold standard" that other bishops should follow. At the archdiocese's invitation, she joined a committee drafting child protection guidelines. "You can't criticize if you're not willing to help if asked," she said. The committee later voted to disband when the committee was encouraged to weaken the document.

"The document released was very weak," Collins said, and it noted that a complaint against a layperson would be reported to civil authorities, but a complaint against a priest would be handled internally.

In 2014, she was invited to be part of a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and she agreed to participate in the group, which was half laypeople and half clergy. Collins was the only member who was a survivor of clergy sexual abuse.

"Sadly, the promises were not kept," she said. The commission could not get adequate staffing and resources or access to other Vatican departments. She resigned in 2017 when she said it was clear the commission wouldn't be able to do what it had intended.

"We put forward a lot of good recommendations to the pope," she said. "They were sent to the Curia. None of the recommendations from 2014 to 2018 were implemented."

She praised Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who chaired the commission, for doing what he could. "I don't believe he's a liar," but she thinks Pope Francis has people "whispering in his ear" who don't have the best interests of children as a priority.

"I believe the pope is doing his best," she added, "but I believe he's not being told the truth."

She said she met with Pope Francis when he visited Dublin in August 2018 for the World Meeting of Families and on his flight back to Rome, she said the pope said: "Marie Collins is fixated about accountability."

"I am," she said, to applause. "I take pride in that."

She also told the Baltimore audience that the church "cannot continue to be an institution where clerical secrecy and total dysfunction can continue."

The church needs to remove anyone who would abuse children, she said. "They should all be cleaned out and any colleagues who protected them."

The laity have power in the church, she said. "It's our church. It's our children. We must act."

After Baltimore, Collins' "Catholic Tipping Point" tour was to visit Philadelphia (Sept. 12), Chicago (Sept. 14), New Orleans (Sept. 17) and Los Angeles (Sept. 20).

- - -

Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

- - -

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

Central Americans want to stay home; development programs help that happen

IMAGE: CNS photo/Julian Spath, Catholic Relief Services

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Vanessa Urbina understands how young people in Central America, not seeing an opportunity for work or a good education, could be attracted to make the dangerous trip north in the hope of a better future in the United States.

"Some live in neighborhoods dominated with guns, violence and drug trafficking," she said. "It discourages them from wanting to go to school. It closes the door for them."

As coordinator of Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy), a training and support program for teenagers and young adults in El Progreso, Honduras, Urbina is working to overcome such negative influences and engender a belief that emigration is not the only option.

The operation partners with Catholic Relief Service's YouthBuild program, which helps unemployed and out-of-school young people, ages 16 to 24, return to school, find work or start their own business.

Fe y Alegria enrolls 400 to 600 young people in each session, said Urbina, 37, who has been coordinator for more than six years after completing her master's degree in Taiwan.

The program's goal is to keep people in local communities so that they can help build a stronger economy in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. Students learn various skills in automotive and motorcycle repair, graphic arts, website development, baking and agriculture.

About 20 similar YouthBuild programs exist in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, said Rick Jones, senior technical adviser in Latin American and the Caribbean for CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

The program is adapted from a model of the same name developed in the United States in the 1970s. Coursework is based on demands of the local labor markets.

Beyond skill development, the programs help students develop interpersonal and life skills, including self-esteem, conflict resolution and teamwork.

Despite Fe y Alegria's efforts, some students are enticed to leave because their families decide to head north, Urbina told Catholic News Service. Last winter about 20 students -- of 467 enrollees -- joined caravans headed to the U.S., their fate unknown, she said.

The training lasts up to two years and focuses on developing the skills most in need locally. After completion, Urbina and her staff connect students with local companies seeking to hire people at reasonable wages. Some students even open their own business.

"There are many possibilities because they get a job. They don't have to leave. They have income," Urbina said.

"You can notice the difference in the young people from when they start and then when they finish," she continued. "They are more mature about their future. They want to be a different person. Some of them only know the violence in the towns and when they're in the program, they change their mind. They think they have a better future. If they have the right attitude, that can be possible."

Jones said about 80% of YouthBuild graduates find work. He credited the high success rate to not just skill development but also to providing the emotional support young people need to cope in the challenging environment in which they live.

Most young people want to stay in Honduras with their families, he explained.

"They'd much rather stay here because they're home," he told CNS. "There's a saying: 'Nobody leaves home unless home is in the mouth of a shark.' When you're threatened, people don't have any other choice (but to leave)."

YouthBuild also has been developing an agricultural program for young people. Trainers have encouraged young people to develop new products beyond the traditional crops.

Jones identified beekeeping as an area of growing interest. There's also an emerging specialty dairy market in which graduates are producing yogurt, cheeses and other in-demand products.

"A lot of young people are willing to do agriculture," Jones said. "This idea that they don't want to do agriculture is a myth. What they don't want to do is be tied to corn and beans. So what we're trying to do is find the crops that are in demand and finding more markets for what's being grown."

YouthBuild also is training young people to monitor the environment, a need that is growing in a region that is seeing changing weather patterns that has disrupted traditional planting and harvesting cycles.

"We just reactivated a rural high school degree in agriculture," he explained. "Right now education doesn't train people to stay on the land in the rural areas. We've got to get people reconnected and give young people exciting options where they use technology to create new opportunities and not feel the only action they have is to leave."

Elsewhere in Central America, largely in the region's so-called dry corridor that stretches across 10 of Guatemala's 22 departments and much of Central America, efforts are underway to help farmers better respond to a changing climate so they are not forced to migrate.

Dan McQuillan, technical adviser for agriculture for CRS in Latin America, said the U.S. bishops' relief and development agency is implementing Water-Smart Agriculture, or Agua y Suelo para law Agricultura, known in Spanish as ASA.

He said the program has moved from watershed management for household consumption to managing limited water resources, especially among subsistence farmers. The evolution emerged because of less predictable rain patterns caused by climate change.

The program also is working on a broader scale, educating urban and rural dwellers about water management.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program warned in an April report that prolonged droughts and brief heavy rains destroyed more than half the corn and bean crops of subsistence farmers, leading to declining production and more food insecurity. About 1.4 million people are facing food shortages, the agencies said.

In years past, farmers could anticipate when rain would come and prepare their fields appropriately. When necessary, they would borrow money for planting and then pay off the loan when they sold part of their crop beyond what they needed to feed their family.

With erratic rain patterns, however, farmers can misjudge when to plant and lose a substantial portion of their crop if they plant too early or too late. With reduced yields a family could face a greater risk of hunger or a loss of income. Further, common illnesses such as infectious disease, diarrhea and pneumonia compound hunger. Such a situation can fuel emigration to the U.S.

Under ASA, McQuillan said, farmers are learning about crop rotation, cover crops and other practices that hold water in the soil and limit the impact of inconsistent rainfall.

McQuillan said the practices farmers are implementing seem to encourage farmers to "stick it out." "One coffee farmer told us that he was thinking about leaving, and the last three years the yield has increased so he's working at it," McQuillan said.

ASA also has begun discussing how to more effectively use satellite data and other technology to the benefit of farmers. For now, McQuillan said, local efforts will concentrate on tracking rain and weather patterns to aid in the hope finding the optimal time for planting.

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

- - -

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