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Welcome Christ present in migrants and refugees, pope urges

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his "torn clothes (and) dirty feet," Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.

If Jesus' words, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," are true, the pope said, then "we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the 'others' who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person."

Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated Feb. 15 at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome.

The Mass was part of a conference titled, "Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear," which was sponsored by the Italian bishops' office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service's Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.

At a time when Italy's government is trying to severely restrict immigration, Caritas Italy said the meeting was designed to encourage those working with migrants and refugees and to counteract fear of migration by highlighting how individuals and the entire country benefit from welcoming them.

The prayers of the faithful, most of which were read by migrants, included asking God to help pastors educate all Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees and to help government leaders promote tolerance and peace. Ending, as is traditional, with a prayer for the dead, the petitions made special mention of people who were killed for their faith.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.

"The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear," the pope said.

"Fear is the origin of slavery," just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, "and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows."

Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don't understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.

"We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter," he said. "The encounter with the 'other,' then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted."

Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had "the joy" of assisting migrants and refugees to "proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation."

 

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Pope Francis: 'Inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity'

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2019 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis spoke out about inequality, the environment, sustainable development and the elimination of poverty during his visit to the United Nations’ agricultural development agency in Rome Thursday.

“Few have too much and too many have little, this is the logic of today. Many have no food and go adrift, while a few drown in the superfluous,” Pope Francis told staff members of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD.

“This perverse current of inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity,” he said.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is specialized agency of the United Nations based in Rome and dedicated to improving rural food security and fighting poverty through grants and low-interest loans to rural farmers and indigenous peoples around the world.

“The poorest of the earth” are people who live mostly “in rural areas, in regions far from big cities, often in difficult and painful conditions,” Pope Francis said.

“They live in precarious situations: the air is stale, the natural resources are depleted, the rivers polluted, the soils acidified; they do not have enough water for themselves or their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very deficient, their houses scarce and defective,” he said.

Francis added, “the exodus from the countryside to the city is a global trend that we can not ignore in our considerations.”

Three quarters of the poorest people in the world live in rural areas, according to IFAD, which has a particular focus on supporting indigenous communities in their traditional food systems and livelihoods.

After his formal UN address, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous peoples from America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.  

“The presence of all of you here shows that environmental issues are extremely important and invites us to once again look at our planet, hurt in many regions by human greed, by warlike conflicts that engender a wealth of evils and misfortunes, as well as for the natural catastrophes that leave in their wake poverty and devastation,” the pope said in Spanish.

“Native peoples … become for everyone a wake-up call that emphasizes that man is not the owner of nature, but only the manager, the one that has as vocation to watch over it with care, so that its biodiversity is not lost, and the water can remain healthy and crystal clear, the air pure, the forests leafy, and the soil fertile,” he continued.

“The earth suffers and the native peoples know of the dialogue with the earth, they know what it is to listen to the earth, to see the earth, to touch the earth. They know the art of living well in harmony with the earth. And we have to learn that,” he continued.

Pope Francis warned the UN agency of the danger posed by a humanitarian aid culture that “can end up generating dependencies” and hinder development.

Instead, he asserted, “The aim is always to affirm the centrality of the human person, remembering that the new processes that are being developed cannot always be incorporated into schemes established from the outside, but must start from the same culture.”

Pope Francis also acknowledged the potential of technology and sustainable development to aid the poor in meeting their daily needs.

“It is necessary to bet on innovation, entrepreneurial capacity, the protagonism of local actors and the efficiency of productive processes to achieve rural transformation in order to eradicate malnutrition and to develop in a sustainable way the rural environment,” he said.

“Put technology really at the service of the poor,” Pope Francis said, and exhorted the IFAD staff to always utilize the creative power of love.

“Those who love have the imagination to find solutions where others only see problems. Those who love help others according to their needs and creativity, not according to pre-established ideas or common places … love leads you to create, it is always ahead.”

Eucharist desecrated, statues smashed in series of French church attacks

Paris, France, Feb 15, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At least 10 incidents of vandalism and desecration of Catholic churches have been reported in France since the beginning of February, according to French news sources and watch groups.

Vandals in Catholic churches throughout the country have smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, scattered or destroyed the Eucharist, burnt altar cloths and torn down crosses, among other acts of desecration of religious items.

According to La Croix International, one of the earliest incidents occurred February 4 at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles, Yvelines, where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was found smashed on the ground. The church had experienced earlier incidents of vandalism just weeks prior, when the altar cross was found thrown to the ground and the celebrant’s chair was damaged.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, a Christian watchdog group, documented another attack at St. Nicholas Church on February 10, when the tabernacle was found thrown to the ground. A 35 year-old man later confessed to committing the act to police.

On February 5, an altar cloth was found burnt and crosses and statues torn down or disfigured at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. The fire was found early by a parish secretary and did not spread, though the smoke damaged the altar and adjacent walls.

The 800 year-old building had also recently undergone renovations, local sources reported.

“I strongly condemn the vandalism of Lavaur Cathedral and I share the outrage aroused by this intolerable act,” Jean Terlier, a local district deputy, said in a statement following the incident, according to La Croix.

“God will forgive. Not me,” the city's mayor Bernard Carayon said of the vandalism, La Croix reported.

On February 6, just a day after the Saint-Alain Cathedral incident, vandals at a Catholic Church in Nimes broke into the tabernacle and scattered the hosts on the ground, drew a cross on the wall with excrement and damaged other religious items in the church, according to local reports.

In a statement posted to the Diocesan website, Bishop Robert Wattebled of Nimes denounced the desecration, which “greatly affects our diocesan community. The sign of the cross and the Blessed Sacrament have been the subject of serious injurious actions. This act of profanation hurts us all in our deepest convictions,” he said.

The Bishop also announced that a Mass of reparation must be said in the church before regular Masses can continue, and noted that local religious orders of the diocese had already offered to observe days of fasting and prayer in reparation for the act. He encouraged lay Catholics to join in acts of prayer and reparation.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe documented another incident on February 9 at the Church of Notre-Dame de Dijon in Côte-d'Or, about 175 miles to the south and east of Paris.

Again in this incident, the tabernacle was opened and the Eucharist scattered. An altar cloth was also stained and a missle book was torn.

Father Emmanuel Pic from Notre-Dame parish told La Bien Public news that since nothing of great monetary value was damaged, it seems the vandals wanted to attack the “heart of the Catholic faith.”

“Nothing of value has been broken, but it is the intent that is very shocking. This is what characterizes profanation,” Pic said.

The vandals seemed to have known that attacking the altar and the Eucharist would be “a very strong symbol for (parishioners), since the hosts consecrated during the previous Mass are no longer just a piece of bread in the eyes of Christians” but the body of Christ, he added. The priest also posted photos of the desecration to his Twitter account. Mass resumed at the parish after a Mass of reparation was said by the local archbishop.

In a statement posted to the group’s newsletter, Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, joined local priests, bishops and civil authorities in condemning the “shocking” acts of vandalism.

“It is our sincere hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that awareness of increasing anti-Christian hostility in France reaches the public square,” she said.

In a statement posted to Twitter on February 13, Prime Minister of France Edouard Philippe also condemned the acts ahead of a meeting with the country’s bishops.

“In one week, in France, 5 degraded churches. In our secular Republic, places of worship are respected. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned. I will tell the bishops of France at the meeting of the forum of dialogue with the Catholic Church,” he said.

Besides the confession in the incident at St. Nicholas Church, investigations are ongoing as to the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism.

While it is yet unclear if the incidents are at all related, they recall the series of attacks and vandalism that the Catholic Church in France and Belgium experienced in 2016 by the Islamic State. The worst of those attacks included the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was killed by jihadists while celebrating Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. The assailants entered the church and took the priest and four others hostage. Local law enforcement reported that the priest’s throat was slit in the attack, and that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police.

 

Analysis: As abuse summit looms, Farrell appointed and McCarrick case lingers

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- As Pope Francis prepares for his long-awaited Vatican summit on sexual abuse, Catholic commentators and U.S. bishops are waiting to see what it can accomplish. But just as eagerly, they are waiting to see what will become of “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.

The two events have become, by dint of timing, linked in a way that many in Rome would rather have avoided.

To many, McCarrick’s case is an obstacle to be cleared ahead of a successful summit. But it seems increasingly likely that a verdict on McCarrick will serve only to highlight the issues that won’t be addressed next week.

While the pope has discussed “deflating expectations,” and said that next week’s meeting will focus on calling for sexual abuse policies concerning minors in the parts of the world that do not yet have them, some bishops have told CNA they fear that the Rome meeting will focus less on presenting solutions and more on defining the problem – or even defining parts of the problem away.

Rome has laid out a tentative itinerary involving listening sessions with abuse victims and has made it clear the pope wants attendees to understand the grave reality of sexual abuse, and to engage in discussions on the principles of accountability, rather than to expect a coherent response to emerge.

Indeed, for many observers, expectations have been tempered, and the stage does not seem set for a meaningful outcome that addresses the problems faced in recent months in the U.S., in Chile, and in Argentina- problems related to episcopal accountability and sexual coercion.

Leading reform advocates like Marie Collins, an abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have been outspoken and consistent about what they think would constitute real results, including serious mechanisms for holding bishops accountable for negligence, and a redefinition of the category of “vulnerable adult” in canon law. Neither of these appears to be on the docket for next week.

Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, has himself called for a broadening of the term “vulnerable adult” in law, citing the need to protect those who have suffered from sexualized abuse of authority, like seminarians.

Although he is widely recognized the Church’s most visible and credible advocate for abuse reforms, O’Malley was left off of the organizing committee for next week’s meeting. Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that the definition “vulnerable adults” will even feature in the conversation in Rome.

Several members of the planning committee for the summit, including Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, and Cardinal Blase Cupich, have indicated that the meeting will treat the abuse of minors only, leaving abusive behavior with adults off the table.

To some observers, this deliberate narrowing of the agenda overshadows the applicability of the summit to the situation of the Church in the U.S., and in countries that have already developed comprehensive policies related to safeguarding minors.

While there is certainly great need to convey the seriousness of the abuse crisis to bishops from other parts of the world, it is questionable how well that can be achieved by a few days’ discussion in Rome.

Meanwhile, in places like the U.S., there is an urgent need to address problems beyond the creation of basic reporting structures.

U.S. bishops are standing by the effectiveness of the Dallas Charter, but looking for a way to address a new set of problems involving bishops’ accountability and the abuse of adults. After being told in Baltimore to wait for Rome to take the lead, some now wonder why their concerns seem not to have made it to the agenda.

At the same time that Rome has been eager to downplay expectations around the abuse summit, curial officials (though not, it must be said, in the CDF) have been talking up a McCarrick conviction and laicization.

It is no secret that, whatever else they may disagree on, bishops in the United States and Rome are unified in understanding McCarrick’s departure as a necessary turning-of-the-page on the scandals of last year and a clearing of the deck before next week’s summit.

But, despite feverish speculation about the timing of an announcement, no decision has yet been published. Moreover, there is no clear indication that any guilty verdict would explicitly include reference to the accusations that McCarrick preyed upon seminarians.

Those victims, to say nothing of seminarians and the faithful across the United States, are waiting anxiously for some sign that their suffering, too, has been addressed. Yet the indications coming out of Rome appear, at best, not to have heard their concerns.

There is no disagreement, anywhere, that a priest (or any adult) who sexually abuses a child has committed one of the worst crimes imaginable. In the context of the U.S. Church, there is no shortage of consensus about how seriously such cases should be dealt with. Where consensus breaks down is at the other end of the age spectrum during adolescence.

Figures from both the United States and other countries indicate that the vast majority of clerical sexual abuse cases concern homosexual relations with teenagers.

While McCarrick faces multiple charges of sexually abusing minors as well as adults, the first accusation made public by the Archdiocese of New York underscores the problematic line between sexual abuse of a minor and an illicit encounter with an adult.

The accusation announced by New York in June concerned a former altar server who alleged he had been abused by McCarrick when he was 17 in the early 1970s.

While this announcement had the effect of prompting additional accusations against the then-cardinal, it was quietly noted by astute canon lawyers that, under the operative canon law of the time, the alleged victim was not – strictly speaking – a minor.

In civil and canon law, the necessity of an age of consent creates a kind of moral-legal disconnect. A relationship between a man and a boy a day before his eighteenth birthday is a grave crime; twenty-four hours later it becomes categorized in law only as a regrettable moral lapse – even if the victim was a seminarian coerced by his bishop.

It would be a bitter irony for many of McCarrick’s alleged victims if the implicit lesson of his conviction - reinforced by the limited agenda for next week’s summit - was that only abuse of legally defined minors merits the Church’s discipline.

While the potential for grave harm and injustice has become abundantly clear in recent months, engaging with the messy facts of cases at the upper end of the age spectrum is something for which Rome seems to have little interest or appetite.

Until that changes, it seems clear that, whenever an announcement is made about whatever fate awaits McCarrick, the former cardinal’s shadow will still fall over next week’s summit, and much of what follows for some time yet.
________

As many watch and wait for a McCarrick verdict, Rome instead announced that his most successful protégé, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, had been named cardinal camerlengo, regent of the Vatican during any future papal interregnum.

Farrell was for years one of McCarrick’s closest advisors in Washington, serving as his vicar general and even sharing an apartment with him.

For his part, the new camerlengo insisted last summer that he never had any reason to suspect the apparently well-known rumors concerning his mentor.

What Farrell suspected or didn’t in Washington to one side, promoting McCarrick’s most famous collaborator, at this of all times, suggests to many that Rome may be as oblivious to the signal it sends as Farrell himself claims to have been about McCarrick.

The announcement is even more baffling for Catholics in Washington, who are still waiting for an eventual successor to both McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Sources in both Washington and Rome have told CNA that a final list of candidates for the capital see has been on the pope’s desk at least since his return from the United Arab Emirates. The same sources have said that any announcement will be delayed until after McCarrick’s fate is decided, allowing the new archbishop to mark a new chapter in Washington, rather than begin under his shadow.

Satanic Temple loses abortion religious freedom case in Missouri

Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 14, 2019 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Missouri Supreme Court has rejected a legal challenge against an informed consent abortion law from a self-described Satanic Temple adherent who claimed the state violated her religious beliefs.

Chief Justice Zell M. Fischer, writing in a concurring opinion, said that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made it clear that state speech is not religious speech solely because it ‘happens to coincide’ with a religious tenet,” St. Louis Public Radio reports.

State law requires abortion providers to distribute a booklet from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which includes the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The plaintiff, who goes by the name Mary Doe in the lawsuit, became pregnant in February 2015. In May 2015 she traveled from southeast Missouri to a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic for the abortion.

She told her doctors that she held religious beliefs contrary to those of the booklet. She claimed her religious beliefs meant they did not need to follow the informed consent requirements. Planned Parenthood declined to ignore the law’s provisions, which include a mandatory 72-hour waiting period and offering an ultrasound.

Doe’s lawsuit, filed during the waiting period, claimed the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause barring the government establishment of an official religion. The woman also claimed her free exercise of religion had been restricted, in violation of the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, the plaintiff’s complaint cited Satanic Temple tenets professing a belief that a woman’s body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and a belief that health decisions are made “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.” The complaint said a pregnancy is “human tissue” and “part of her body and not a separate, unique, living human being.”

The state’s Supreme Court rejected the claim that the informed consent law adopted a religious tenet. It noted the law did not require the woman to read the booklet, have an ultrasound, or listen to the fetal heartbeat, because the statute “imposes no such requirements,” Judge Laura Denver Stith said in the decision.

W. James MacNaughton, a New Jersey lawyer representing Doe, said that the court “really avoided dealing with the issues.”

In January 2018 MacNaughton had told the Washington Post the lawsuit was prompted by the Hobby Lobby decision which sided with the art-and-craft company owners whose Christian beliefs conflicted with federal mandates to provide abortifacient contraceptives in their employee health plans.

The attorney thought religion was the defining issue in the case.

“Are you committing murder when you have an abortion? That’s a religious question,” he said.

A Cole County judge had dismissed the case, but on appeal the Missouri Court of Appeals sent it to the state Supreme Court, saying the case raised “real and substantial constitutional claims.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt praised the state Supreme Court’s decision, saying the law is “a commonsense measure designed to protect women from undue pressure and coercion during the sensitive decision of whether or not to have an abortion.”

“Judy Doe,” another self-professed adherent of the Satanic Temple, has filed a different challenge to Missouri’s informed consent requirement for abortion in a case pending in federal court. She is also represented by McNaughton.

The temple, based in Salem, Mass., was founded by self-described atheists who profess disbelief in a literal Satan.

While the Satanic Temple currently appears to support legal abortion, a previous version of its beliefs lacked the relevant tenet. According to a March 2013 cache of its website at the Internet Archive, it previously claimed “all life is precious in the eyes of Satan” and “the Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.”

At present the Satanic Temple website rejects claims that media attention is its primary object, or that it is a hoax or trolling. At its origins, however, are credible reports indicating it was launched for a mockumentary, with several of its founders having a background in film and entertainment.

In a July 22, 2014 Village Voice article, former Satanic Temple collaborator Shane Bugbee said he at first saw the group as a prank and “a joke on the public at large and, in general, the grossly inept media.”

He said the group’s purpose seemed to shift quickly, from an initial effort to make a mockumentary about satanism to “a real religious sect.” He contended that the group was exploiting Satanism while engaging in social climbing and “slick psychological marketing tricks.”

Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves, whose real name is Douglas Mesner, contended that Bugbee had quit working for the group over a financial dispute. He said that his effort is “a mission… especially for me.” Mesner said the group planned to leverage the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby religious freedom decision to advance “a women’s rights initiative.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, Mesner said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” he said, contending that the group has “moved well beyond being a simple political ploy and into being a very sincere movement that seeks to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to our cultural dialogue.”

Other initiatives by the Satanic Temple include efforts to place satanic statues on the grounds of government buildings and claims of planning black mass re-enactments.

The Satanic Temple has crowdfunded expenses to help pay for a Missouri woman’s abortion, though it is unclear whether this was linked to the legal cases. It has also crowdfunded its “reproductive rights” campaign, gathering over $45,000 by July 2015.

 

UK doctors perform prenatal surgery on child with a birth defect

London, England, Feb 14, 2019 / 03:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Doctors in the United Kingdom performed surgery Jan. 8 on an unborn baby, before successfully returning the child, Elouise, to her mother’s womb.

The mother, 26-year-old Bethan Simpson, learned during a routine 20-week scan late last year that Elouise had spina bifida, a condition that affects the spinal cord and backbone and can lead to many complications, including an inability to walk.

Her doctors spoke with her about her options; abortion was one of them.

“I physically couldn’t bring myself to consider termination,” Simpson told The Washington Post. “I feel her kick, kick, kick, and everything else was perfectly normal.”

Simpson ultimately decided to push ahead with the surgery, during which a team of British and Belgian doctors at University College Hospital in London would cut open her uterus, repair a lesion on the Elouise’s spine, and then close the womb up again.

Spina bifida surgery in the womb gives the baby a better chance at life compared to postnatal surgery, as a baby born with the condition is often incapable of walking and may require a series of operations to drain fluid from the brain later in life, according to the National Health Service (NHS).

Doctors have been performing fetal surgery to repair spina bifida since the 1990s, the New York Times reports. Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia has performed over 300 surgeries of this kind in the United States, but the NHS in the UK only just started performing spina bifida surgery on unborn babies in October 2018.

Simpson is the fourth mother in the UK to undergo the procedure, according to Yahoo! UK.

Doctors performed the operation at 24 weeks of pregnancy and it proved to be a success. Elouise is due to be born in April.

“Sadly, 80% of babies in England are terminated when their parents get told their baby has this condition. It’s not a death sentence. She has the same potential as every one of us,” Simpson was quoted as saying in Yahoo! UK.

“Yes, there are risks of things going wrong but please think more about spina bifida, it’s not what it used to be. I feel our baby kick me day in and day out, that’s never changed. She’s extra special, she’s part of history and our daughter has shown just how much she deserves this life,” she said.

Bishop to Maduro: Open your eyes to see the suffering of the people

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 14, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The bishop of San Cristóbal has exhorted Nicolas Maduro to consider the suffering of the Venezuelan people amid the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in the country.

“Open your eyes to see the suffering of the people. Hear the cry of the people who want not only freedom and democracy but to be considered in their dignity,” Bishop Moronta said in an interview this week with ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency.

Moronta, who is also the vice president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference said that “for several years the Venezuelan people have been asking for a change in the social-political and even economic orientation” of the country.

“The Church has insisted that it is the people who must be listened to. The political, social and economic leadership must be on the side of the people,” the bishop said.

Regarding Juan Guaidó. President of the National Assembly and recognized as interim president of Venezuela by the United States, member states of the European Union and more than 50 countries, the bishop positively characterized his “leading role” taken up on behalf of the nation’s citizens.

He said that it is the Venezuelan people themselves “who can and should make the changes” in the country.

The bishop said it is the Church’s role to “build bridges” adding that the Church is ready “to do everything that is necessary to have a just and peaceful transition.”

He likewise noted that the Church promotes “not just actions but awareness of the need to improve the situation and the promotion of social leaders who aim at the integral development of the country.”

Moronta also said that the Church has carried out “concrete actions in each diocese in the interest of the people being able to attain a better quality of life,” and highlighted “the communion that has existed between the various Churches in Latin America, especially Cúcuta in Colombia with the Church in Venezuela.”

Finally, he said that with the help of the Church in Colombia and in other countries, aid centers have been created throughout the Diocese of San Cristóbal, which borders the Diocese of Cúcuta in Colombia.

“There are soup kitchens, centers for food, medicine, and pastoral care. We sustain ourselves here with the solidarity of those same people, from Cúcuta, of many church agencies which to allow us to receive food from the community soup kitchens,” he added.

Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term as president Jan. 10, after winning a contested election in which oppositon candidates were barred from running, or imprisoned. Venezuela's bishops have called his new term illegitimate, and Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president Jan. 23.
Guaidó has been recognized as Venezuelan president by the US, Canada, much of the European Union, and several Latin American nations.

Since Jan. 21, at least 40 people have died and hundreds have been arrested amid protests against Maduro.

Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and millions have emigrated.

Texas locality orders popular Catholic center for migrants to vacate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of city commissioners in the border city of McAllen, Texas, voted in mid-February to remove from a building a popular Catholic-administered center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, who has been praised by Pope Francis for her work with migrants.

McAllen city commissioners voted Feb. 11 to vacate within 90 days the building that Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley uses to provide temporary shelter for immigrants who cross from Mexico into the United States but who have been released by federal authorities.

Sister Pimentel, who has won national and international praise for the type of work that takes place at the center, is the executive director for the charitable agency that runs the temporary shelter, which provides food, clothes, a shower and other necessities for migrant children and adults passing through the city in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.  

Residents were complaining to city commissioners about activity in their neighborhood that they said was coming from what's known as the "respite center," which began occupying the space in December, said a Feb. 11 story by the local newspaper, The Monitor. But Sister Pimentel, according to the report, said during a meeting to discuss the issue that the families the shelter helps are receiving services inside the building.

"They don't go wandering around," she said, according to the newspaper story.

Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said Feb. 13 via Twitter that "the decision of the McAllen City Commission was disheartening for many, yet, I continue to have hope in our collaborative relation with the city."

He said the diocese, as well as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, were committed to finding "a welcoming location to continue the work of the respite center."

"How we treat the poor is how we treat Christ. And to give him even a cup of water invites a blessing from God," he continued.

In a statement released by Catholic Charities Feb. 13, Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said she was disappointed but would continue to work with the city of McAllen "in efforts to treat immigrant families in a just and humane way and ensure that they are in compliance with existing immigration laws."

Last summer, a group from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which included the organization's president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and its vice president, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, visited a respite center, but in a different location, that Catholic Charities runs in McAllen.

The work of "welcoming the stranger" that takes place at the center has been the focus of fundraisers at the Vatican, featured on news shows, and has caught the attention of those such as Kerry Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's daughter, and TV celebrity Gayle King.

When President Donald Trump visited McAllen Jan. 10, Sister Pimentel invited him to visit the respite center, but he did not make a stop there.

The original respite center in the area began in 2014, when Sister Pimentel saw an influx of immigrants arriving in Rio Grande Valley region and with local volunteers, she began a makeshift operation to help the migrants obtain clothes and food. Out of a property that belonged to the local Sacred Heart Church, they began clothing and feeding the newcomers.

Since then, respite centers at various temporary locations have helped thousands of migrants, many seeking asylum and passing through the border city, have access to a shower after a harrowing trip, a clean change of clothes, a quick medical exam, if they need it, a warm meal and sometimes a snack for the road. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is raising funds to build a permanent facility.

"Our mission remains unchanged -- to restore and recognize the human dignity of all vulnerable people -- throughout our community including those seeking asylum," Sister Pimentel said in the statement issued following the decision.

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Contributing to this story was Rose Ybarra in San Juan, Texas.

 

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Update: Catholics, Muslims bond over weekly lunch at Indianapolis deli

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The openness to people of other faiths that Pope Francis modeled during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates has been embraced for more than 20 years at a weekly lunch shared by Muslims, Catholics and other Christians at Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis.

John Welch, a longtime member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, helped start the lunch meetings in 1997.

"It's the presence of Jesus in our midst," Welch told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Over the years, Welch and those sharing lunch and their lives together at Shapiro's have included members of the Italy-based Catholic lay movement Focolare, members of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, as well as Protestant clergy in the city.

Welch, 84, was honored at a recent lunch by those in attendance as he prepared to move with his wife, Mary, to Chicago to live closer to family.

He was inspired to reach out to Muslims in the Indianapolis community through his involvement in Focolare, which emphasizes building unity among people based on sharing the love of God with them.

Welch said that the members of Focolare, who are known as "Focolarini," are called to embody in their daily lives Jesus' teaching to love others as he loved them.

"Our vocation is that, when Jesus said, 'Whenever two or more are united in my name' -- which means his commandment to love one another -- 'there am I present in their midst,'" Welch said. "So whether we're a father (of a family), or a Protestant pastor, an imam, the vocation is to live such mutual love ... that Jesus dwells in our midst.

"If people are touched by their exposure to us, it's not us. It's the presence of God in our midst that attracts them," he added.

Michael Saahir, who is leader, or imam, of Nur-Allah, has been attracted to the principles of Focolare for decades, having met with Chiara Lubich, its founder, on various occasions before her death in 2008. He also has visited the Vatican eight times to participate in interreligious dialogue events.

After the recent gathering at the deli, Saahir spoke to The Criterion about the influence of Focolare and the lunches he has shared with Welch and others in his Muslim faith.

"I have to love the one nearest to me in the present moment, even if I don't like them, even if I don't want to be there," he said. "It exposed in me a shortcoming and, at the same time, forced me to develop a discipline to at least try to love the other person in that present moment."

Many in the United States didn't like Muslims after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Nur-Allah received bomb threats in the days following. But Welch and other Focolarini in Indianapolis wanted to show solidarity with the Muslims of Nur-Allah by attending their Friday prayer service, known in Arabic as Jumu'ah, a few days later.

"On Sept. 14, 2001, they put into practice what they'd been preaching," Saahir said. "It was real. It wasn't a conversation. It was a demonstration. You saw people put themselves where they didn't have to be. They came. It was awesome."

John Mundell, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and Focolare, was there that day and afterward saw the effects of this witness by him and his fellow Focolarini.

"We had some answers that people were perhaps looking for and got a lot of requests after that to share our understanding of how you can have a dialogue with people that are so different," Mundell said. "So that's what we did. We had an obligation to share it."

The kind of interreligious events that Saahir has attended at the Vatican often involve experts and high-level religious leaders.

The weekly lunches at Shapiro's, though, are shared by ordinary believers sharing with each other the joys and trials of their everyday lives and how they understand them in light of their faith.

One of the attendees at the lunch when Welch was honored was Nur Allah member David Shaheed, a retired Marion County judge. He was one of the original people who shared lunch with Welch starting in 1997.

He was thankful for the deep bond that the lunches at Shapiro's created among people of differing faiths over the years.

"Once you can sense that, even though a person may have Mass and you have Jumu'ah, when they tell you some of their experiences, it lets you know that God is not just speaking to your faith," Shaheed said. "There's a clear demonstration through the lives of others that God is working in the lives of other people."

Although he won't be attending the lunches any longer, Welch said that this bond will continue as he moves away.

"Keep on keeping on," he said. "We'll be hearing about you all of the time."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Update: Territory is life, life is territory: what indigenous want church to know

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Fraser

By Barbara J. Fraser

LETICIA, Colombia (CNS) -- Rafael Noteno Capinoa, a Kichwa Indian, worries about what could happen to the forest around his village on Peru's Napo River if an oil company begins drilling in the area.

"The forest is where we are born, we grow up, we live, we die and are buried," he said. "During our lifetime, we use what we find there."

For the Kichwa and other Amazonian peoples, every plant and animal has a spirit, and humans live in harmony with them, he said. "But if people behave badly, nature may abandon them."

A year ago, during a visit to Peru, Pope Francis asked an audience of native people of the Amazon basin to help bishops and religious to understand their relationship with the natural world. Since then, church leaders have held more than 40 meetings in the nine Amazonian countries to listen to local people, in preparation for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to be held at the Vatican in October. The meetings have been coordinated by the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, or REPAM.

Noteno was among about 70 indigenous people who gathered at a Ticuna and Huitoto village outside this Amazonian town Feb. 2-4 to talk about what they would like the church to understand.

"The Catholic Church is increasingly aware of the many ways in which the Amazon is being destroyed," said Columban Father Peter Hughes, an adviser to the synod planning committee.

There are "constant threats (against) original peoples whose lands are being taken away, whose cultures are being disregarded, and whose land and rivers, the place where they live, are being destroyed," Father Hughes said. "The synod is a chance to give voice to the Amazon. The church has to listen."

The danger is real for Antonio Verisimo da Conceicao, an Apinaje Indian from Tocantins, a state in east-central Brazil. Although the Brazilian government has recognized the boundaries of his community of Pemxa, a dam threatens his people's water sources, he said, and industrial farms are encroaching on an area that his community has requested for expansion.

He and his son have both received death threats for standing up for their rights.

Parts of the Brazilian Amazon have long been dangerous for people who defend land rights. Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born member of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was murdered Feb. 12, 2005, near the town of Anapu in the Amazonian state of Para, where she helped small landholders defend their farms and forests.

In 2017, Brazil was the deadliest county for environmentalists, indigenous leaders and other defenders of land rights, with 57 killed that year, according to the nonprofit organization Global Witness.

For da Conceicao and other Amazonian people, "territory is life and life is territory," Father Hughes said.

The Amazon basin contains the largest remaining expanse of tropical forest in the world. In his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for our Common Home," Pope Francis highlighted its importance for the global climate, as well as its significance as a home to the region's original peoples.

Deforestation has been increasing in recent decades, however, as roads, industrial farms and cattle ranches continue to expand. Indigenous territories have significantly lower deforestation rates than surrounding areas and are sometimes even better protected than government-established parks or reserves, studies have found.

Maintaining a traditional way of life in the forest is increasingly difficult, however, as young people often leave their villages in search of jobs or a college education. Facing discrimination in cities, they may conceal their indigenous roots.

When young people move away from their communities, they lose the chance to learn traditional songs, stories and myths from their parents and grandparents. Some never learn their native language, because their parents were forbidden to speak it in school -- sometimes even in Catholic mission schools, said Washington Salvador Tiwi Asamat, 45, a Shuar man from southern Ecuador.

Those are values that the church wants to help people recover, said Father Hughes.

Mariela Rivera Diaz, a Yagua woman from the community of San Jose de Piri, in Peru's northeastern Loreto region, has watched her oldest children move away to get an education in distant cities. Worried that her native tongue might disappear, she began to teach the Yagua language to younger children in her community.

Santiago Yahuarcani, a Huitoto artist from Pebas, a town on the bank of the Amazon River in Peru, began to rediscover his people's history when he found that tourists were more captivated by his paintings of village life or mythical beings than scenes of forests and rivers.

He encourages young people in Pebas not only to speak their native language, but also to learn traditional music and dances.

As church leaders prepare for the synod for the Amazon, they have much to learn from native peoples whose lives are so closely intertwined with the forests and rivers of the region, Father Hughes said.

"The word of God exists in the air, the water, the plants, the animals," he said. "It is the Bible of life, the Bible of creation."

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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.