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Bishops 'cannot, in good faith, endorse' new GOP immigration bill

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops "cannot, in good faith, endorse" an immigration bill submitted by the House's Republican leadership, said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration.

Bishop Vasquez said the bill would bring about "large structural changes to the immigration system that detrimentally impact families and the vulnerable." He said the new bill, still without a name or number, "contains several provisions that run contrary to our Catholic social teaching."

He made the comments in a letter dated June 18 and sent to each member of the House. It was posted June 19 on the U.S. bishops' website justiceforimmigrants.org.

Bishop Vasquez said this unnamed bill would "undermine asylum protections by significantly raising the hurdle applicants face during the 'credible fear' review, lead to increases in child and family detention ' eliminate protection for unaccompanied minors through the proposed changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, includes part of the DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals)-eligible population but does not include same population eligible in the USA Act and the DREAM Act, make sweeping cuts to family-based immigration and unilaterally implement a safe third country agreement without a bilateral or multilateral treaty or agreement."

Nor would the bill "end the practice of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, he added. "Instead, this bill would increase the number of children and families in detention, which is not acceptable." Bishop Vasquez reminded House members the Trump administration can end its family separation policy, without the need for legislation, at its own discretion.

Bishop Vasquez added, "We believe that any such legislation must be bipartisan, provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, be pro-family, protect the vulnerable and be respectful of human dignity with regard to border security and enforcement."

The Uniting and Securing America Act (USA) Act, which he referenced in the letter, would protect Dreamers and strengthens border security. The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which he also mentioned, primarily would offer a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other Dreamers.

In the letter, Bishop Vasquez reminded House members the Trump administration can end its family separation policy without the need for legislation through its own discretion, and that an immigration bill could secure the U.S. border and ensure humane treatment to immigrant families through alternative policies.

Given the newness of the bill, "we ask for timely consideration of our concerns," Bishop Vasquez said, "particularly the cuts to family-based immigration, as well as the harmful changes to the asylum system and existing protections for unaccompanied children. Without such changes to these measures, we would be compelled to oppose it."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has pledged to bring both the new bill and H.R. 4760, the Securing America's Future Act, to the House floor for votes. Bishop Vasquez, in January, wrote to the House opposing H.R. 4760. In the June 18 letter, he said, "we respectfully urge you to reject" it.

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Editor's Note: The full text of the letter can be found at https://bit.ly/2I3gDFf.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Steubenville project seeks to revitalize town, connect residents and students

Steubenville, Ohio, Jun 19, 2018 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new monthly event in Steubenville, Ohio, is hoping to revitalize businesses and build community between residents and Franciscan University students.

It is the “first time anyone in Steubenville has really seen the connection of locals who have nothing to do with Franciscans [students], and Franciscans who have nothing to do with locals,” said Therese Nelson, a special projects manager for the events.

It is “trying to bring everyone together and realizing that you can have a community, and a thriving community at that, without everybody having the same mindset or the same interests.”

The premise is simple: on the first Friday of every month, a majority of Steubenville’s businesses on Fourth Street will stay open later than normal in the evening, while activities are offered for all ages, including face painting, games, craft breweries, vendors, art, and music.

Called “First Friday on the Fourth,” the event is an opportunity to drum up more business for the community and to give locals and students something to do in a town that has long faced financial struggles.

Since the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the 1980s, the town of Steubenville has been suffering economically. According to Data USA, nearly 27 percent of Steubenville’s population is in poverty.

Two First Friday events have already taken place: the initial one saw an estimated 800 and people, and the second saw well over 1,000.

“We usually have a big focus on art as much as possible. For the first, we just had local artists bring in their paintings and we set up our coffee shop as an art gallery,” said Nelson. “We always have live music for four hours out of the evening.”

The residents of Steubenville have already seen the project’s effects. Montana Skinner, a Steubenville resident and one of the vendors at First Fridays, told CNA that the gatherings have raised awareness of local business inside the town.

“It shows things you didn’t know were down there,” she said. “I don’t think people really realize what [businesses are] still left here and what we can build upon to bring the town back up.”

Each month’s event will have a different theme. In May, the theme was art, and temporary galleries were set up to give local artists a place to show their work. In June, vendors and shopkeepers dressed up in colonial wear for a frontier theme.

Nelson hopes to eventually connect the town events with the Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart. The devotion consists of receiving Holy Communion on the first Fridays of nine consecutive months, in reparation to Christ’s Sacred Heart.

“We actually want to start having a Mass said at one of our downtown churches with the novena on the First Fridays right before the event starts,” she said.

The program is a combined effort of the alumni-run Harmonium Project and the Catholic family-run Nelson Enterprises, both of which are dedicated to revitalizing Steubenville’s community.

The Nelson family has introduced new businesses and community projects in the town. Several years ago, Nelson Enterprises bought large portions of Steubenville property, opening a popcorn company, coffee shop, Christmas store, seasonal market, and other buildings for future projects.  

One of its projects, which began with a student making San Damiano crosses at Franciscan University, has grown to become the biggest Catholic manufacturing company in America, “Catholic to the Max.”

The Harmonium Project began about 6 years ago. Maura Barnes, a social media manager for the organization, told CNA that it focuses on connecting Franciscan University’s Catholic social teaching with the social issues of the town.

“It was really born out of the realization that many of the Franciscan students were spending a lot of time studying Catholic social teaching…but not a lot of them were really taking the time or care to get involved with the community where the university finds itself.”
 

 

Update: Bishops across U.S. condemn separation, detention of children

IMAGE: CNS photo/Callaghan O'Hare, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- From Denver to New York City, the country's Catholic bishops have joined a chorus of organizations, institutions and high-profile individuals urging the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents as they seek respite in the U.S. from dire conditions in their home countries, largely in Central America.

None have been more outspoken, however, than the bishops with dioceses on or near the border between the U.S. and Mexico, where many migrants, adults as well as children, are being held in detention centers in geographic areas where many of the prelates come into contact with families affected.

"Refugee children belong to their parents, not to the government or other institution. To steal children from their parents is a grave sin, immoral (and) evil," said San Antonio's Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller June 14 via Twitter, the social media platform he has used to daily call attention to the situation.

"Their lives have already been extremely difficult. Why do we (the U.S.) torture them even more, treating them as criminals?" he continued.

In a June 5 interview with CBS News, U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions said: "If people don't want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them," meaning they shouldn't bring them along when trying to cross the border, which many do as they seek asylum. The furor over the separation of children from a parent or parents had already started in late May, before Sessions used a Bible passage to justify the actions.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, said via Twitter May 31 that "separating immigrant parents and children as a supposed deterrent to immigration is a cruel and reprehensible policy. Children are not instruments of deterrence, they are children. A government that thinks any means is suitable to achieve an end cannot secure justice for anyone."

But the outrage began in earnest after the June 14 speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when Sessions said the practice of separating families is consistent with the teachings of the Bible because "persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order."

The following day, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said during CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time with Chris Cuomo" that while he appreciated Sessions quoting the Bible, the quote he used was not the best.

"For one, St. Paul always says we should obey the law of the government if that law is in conformity with the Lord's law, all right? No pun intended but God's law trumps man's law, all right?" he said.

"And St. Paul himself who gave the quote that the attorney general used, he wouldn't obey Roman law when it said it was mandatory to worship the emperor," the cardinal continued. "He wouldn't obey that law. I don't think we should obey a law that goes against what God intends that you would take a baby, a child, from their mom. I mean, that's just unjust. That's unbiblical. That's un-American. There could be no Bible passage that would justify that."

After Sessions' Bible quote, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, also used the Bible to make a point and compared Christ's time as a refugee in the Holy Land to the migrants.

In a June 15 statement, he compared the distance from his diocese to other localities in Guatemala and Mexico, saying that "if Jesus of Nazareth returned, as at that time, from Galilee to Judea, ... we dare say he would not get as far as Sacred Heart Church downtown (in El Paso) before being detained."

He urged Christians to think about the families fleeing and seeking asylum in the U.S., what they're going through and said that what's at stake "is the fundamental question of being Christian today, of being a person of faith today in our country and on the continent that is suffering an hour of Christ's passion."

Bishop Seitz announced a public prayerful procession "in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who continue to migrate to our border" planned for the evening of July 20 in El Paso but did not release other details. The U.S. bishops also are talking about the possibility of a delegation of prelates going to the detention centers where many children are being held.

In mid-June, The Associated Press said this year "nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S. border over a six-week period during a crackdown on illegal entries," according to documents from the Department of Homeland Security, which operates Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Family separation policies "tear at our core values as a nation," Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City said. "We are, and must continue to be, a beacon of hope for families unable to find basic protections and pathways out of poverty within their home countries."

The U.S. "has a right to protect its borders," but also has "a moral obligation to do so through means that preserve families and the dignity and sanctity of all life," he added. For decades, he noted, "the U.S. bishops have advocated for sensible reforms to our long-broken immigration system."

"Refusing asylum to women escaping from domestic violence and separating children from their parents is an unnecessary and aggressive act against human life, and unfathomable from a country with a heart as strong as ours," Bishop Solis said in a June 18 statement.

Said Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon: "Whatever one thinks about the most prudent way to resolve our mounting immigration problems, mercy and charity dictate that we do not potentially cause irreparable harm and trauma when there is another way."

The government has discretion to keep families together in "its implementation of federal immigration law," he said.

"We need to see the real human faces of those affected," Archbishop Sample said. "These are families not unlike our own. In the ongoing debate over immigration issues, the U.S. bishops have always maintained, as a fundamental principle, that families must be kept together."

"St. Thomas Aquinas said that when a human law does not reflect God's law then it becomes an unjust law and even an act of violence," Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez wrote in a June 19 column in Angelus, the archdiocesan news website.

"We need to insist that those who make and enforce our laws guard against this," he said, adding, "That means stop the family separations right now -- and give those 2,000 children back to their moms and dads."

He, too, said the nation's leaders "have a solemn duty to secure our national borders and enforce our immigration laws. No one questions this. But we must find a better way."

Two prelates from Colorado, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez, repeated what other bishops have said in June 18 statement, saying that while borders must be protected, the policy of separating families is "immoral" and urged that it be terminated immediately, saying those being detained are in need of protection.

"These children and their parents are often fleeing violence and our country should not add to the inhumanity of their situation," they said.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Iraqi iconographer honors his Syriac roots

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of Mothana Butres

By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) -- When Islamic State fighters overran Qaraqosh, Iraq, in the summer of 2014, Mothana Butres was able to grab only a single volume from his father's collection of thousands of Syriac books and manuscripts.

The handwritten, 600-year-old book of Syriac hymns now inspires much of Butres' work as an iconographer.

From a modest walk-up apartment in Zahle, Lebanon, a city not far from the Syrian border, the Syriac Catholic iconographer and refugee creates his sacred art in a sparsely furnished living room. As he works, he sings the hymns he has committed to memory from the sole book he managed to save.

Butres is the creator of the Our Lady of Aradin icon, a centerpiece of the first Catholic shrine dedicated to persecuted Christians. The shrine is housed in St. Michael's Church in New York City and was dedicated June 12.

"The inspiration when I was working on Our Lady of Aradin was that it was the Virgin Mary who was protecting the Christians," Butres told Catholic News Service.

He chose to present Mary in the traditional wedding dress of the Aradin area of Iraq "to represent that the Virgin Mary will always be a part of the Christians in Iraq and that she is the protector of Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East," Butres said.

He said that when faced with an ultimatum by Islamic State fighters, Iraq's Christians gave up their land but refused to give up their faith.

"The people who were persecuted, their blood is a stronger message than anything I could ever convey," he said. But the recent persecution and the oppression suffered by his ancestors led him "to the way I think and the way I do my work."

Butres said he believes his icons can be an instrument for intercessory prayer. The prayers of the people who visit the shrine in New York and pray before the icon of Our Lady of Aradin are joined with those of the persecuted Christians. 

"Based on what Jesus told us, that 'if two people are gathered in my name, I will be among them,'" he said.

The Syriac book Butres treasures from his father's library collection also awakened him to the lost practice of writing books by hand, especially in the Syriac language, which is spoken by Christians in certain areas of Syria and Iraq, including Qaraqosh. Syriac also is used in the liturgy of some Eastern churches, including the Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Maronite Catholic churches. The language is related to Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

"I'm trying to revive the value of the handwritten texts. Books used to be handwritten," Butres said.

As part of an ongoing personal project, Butres intends to write out the entire Bible in Syriac on a long scroll of leather just over a foot wide. In three months of work, the tiny, intricate text he has etched extends 16 feet in length and comprises the first five chapters of the Old Testament.

"I believe that in writing out the Bible, we can discover it in a new, deeper perspective, more than just reading it," he said.

In his icons, Butres often incorporates streams of handwritten text related to the image, which contributes to preserving the Syriac language, heritage and spirituality. The icon of Our Lady of Aradin, for example, includes the Hail Mary in Syriac.

Butres' introduction to iconography began at age 12; a deacon at his church in Qaraqosh taught him the ancient art as well as formulas for producing colors and varnishes from natural products, for example, using eggs and wine for shades of red, using beeswax for varnish and using deer musk to give the icon a scent.

Prayer and religious formation were part of Butres' daily life growing up in a Syriac Catholic family as one of 16 children. 

"We were very close to the church," said. "Every day at dusk, we went to the church to pray," he recalled, adding that for "anyone who didn't participate, there was no dinner." The same went for missing Sunday Mass: no lunch and dinner.

That pious upbringing fostered vocations, he said. One of Butres' sisters became a Dominican nun. His brother, Nimatullah, is a priest serving the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance, which is based in Bayonne, New Jersey. Father Butres attended the dedication ceremony for the Our Lady of Aradin shrine in New York.

The artistic Butres became a deacon at age 20 and studied theology at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, earning a bachelor's degree.

Butres intended to complete his master's degree in theology, carrying out his research in Qaraqosh, but had to abandon all he had accomplished there when Islamic State attacked his childhood home.

That home, overtaken, gutted and ruined by Islamic State, is under repair now. From Lebanon, Butres created the Our Lady of Qaraqosh icon as a gift for his family, intending it as "a protector of the house where she was always present."

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Synod working document: Young Catholics need church that listens to them

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young Catholics are looking for a church that listens to their concerns, accompanies them in discerning their vocations and helps them confront the challenges they face, said a working document for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.

The synod's "instrumentum laboris" (working document), published by the Vatican June 19, stated that young people "want to see a church that shares their situations of life in the light of Gospel rather than by preaching."

Quoting a presynod gathering of young people who met at the Vatican March 19-25, the working document said young Catholics "want an authentic church. With this, we would like to express, particularly to the church hierarchy, our request for a transparent, welcoming, honest, attractive, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community."

The working document is based mainly on comments solicited in a questionnaire last June from national bishops' conferences around the world as well as the final document of the presynod gathering.

An estimated 305 young adults participated in the weeklong presynod meeting, which allowed practicing Catholics and others to provide input for Pope Francis and the world's bishops, who will meet at the synod in October to discuss "young people, faith and vocational discernment." Some 15,000 young people also participated in the presynod process through Facebook groups online.

The meeting, the working document said, "highlighted the potential that younger generations represent" as well as their "hopes and desires."

"Young people are great seekers of meaning, and everything that is in harmony with their search to give value to their lives arouses their attention and motivates their commitment," it said.

Presenting the "instrumentum laboris" to journalists at a press briefing June 19, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the synod, said the synod's goal is that young Catholics may find "the beauty of life, beginning from the happy relationship with the God of the covenant and of love" in a world that often robs them of their "affections, bonds and prospective of life."

"The synod dedicated to young people gives us the opportunity to rediscover the hope of a good life, the dream of a pastoral renewal, the desire for community and passion for education," he said.

Divided into three parts, the working document outlines the church's need to listen to young people, to help guide them in the faith and in discerning their vocational calling, and to identify pastoral and missionary paths to be able to accompany them.

The responses collected by bishops' conferences around the world cited a need for ways to help young men and women confront the challenges of cultural changes that sometimes disregard traditions and spirituality.

The working document also states that while the church highlights the importance of the body, affection and sexuality, many young Catholic men and women "do not follow the directions of the sexual morality of the church."

"Although no bishops' conferences offer solutions or indications, many (conferences) believe the issue of sexuality should be discussed more openly and without judgment," it said.

Young people attending the presynod meeting said issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation and marriage are often debated both by young Catholics and non-Catholics.

The working document also highlighted the need to reaffirm church teaching on the body and sexuality at a time when biomedical advancements have pushed a more "technocratic approach to the body," citing examples such as egg donation and surrogacy.

"Moreover, precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, digital pornography, the exhibition of one's own body online and sexual tourism risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life," the "instrumentum laboris" said.

Church leaders, it said, must "speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, which young people are already freely discussing without taboo."

Also, "LGBT youths, through various contributions received by the secretariat of the synod, want to benefit from a greater closeness and experience greater care from the church," while some bishops' conferences are asking what they can recommend to young people who enter into a homosexual relationship, but want to be closer to the church, the document said.

Regarding the use of the initials "LGBT" in a major church document, Cardinal Baldisseri told journalists that it was a term used in one of the documents given by the bishops' conferences "and we quoted them."

"We are open. We don't want the synod to be closed in itself," Cardinal Baldisseri said. "And in the church, there are many areas, there is freedom for people to express themselves -- on the right, left, center, north and south -- this is all possible. That is why we are willing to listen to people with different opinions."

The working document also said young Catholics would like more initiatives that allow further dialogue with nonbelievers and the secular world to help them integrate their faith in their dealings with others.

Young men and women from primarily secularized areas "ask nothing from the church" and "expressly asked to be left in peace, because they feel its presence as annoying and even irritating." These feelings, the document stated, do not come from contempt but rather due to "serious and respectable reasons."

Among the reasons are the church's sexual and economic scandals, priests who do not know how to engage with young people, and the way the church justifies its doctrinal and ethical positions to modern society.

Young men and women are also hoping the church can help them "find a simple and clear understanding of the meaning of vocation," which is often misinterpreted as referring only to priesthood and consecrated life.

While the church has confirmed that marriage is also a vocation, the document confirms the need for "a youth vocational ministry capable of being meaningful for all young people."

"Called to holiness and anointed by the spirit, the Christian learns to grasp all the choices in existence in a vocational perspective, especially the central one of the state of life as well as those of a professional nature," it said.

"For this reason, some bishops' conferences hope that the synod will find ways to help all Christians rediscover the link between profession and vocation in all its fruitfulness ... and in view of the professional orientation of young people with a vocational perspective," the document said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Questions on sexuality loom large ahead of youth synod

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2018 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- According to the official working document for the upcoming synod of bishops on youth, the major questions for young people ahead of the October discussion surround issues of sexuality and gender, the role of women and the desire for a Church that knows how to listen.

The “instrumentum laboris” for the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” was published June 19, and includes contributions from both young people themselves, and bishops conferences.

Key issues highlighted in the document are not only increasing cultural instability and violent conflicts, but that many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, and the need to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community.

The document pointed to a “metamorphosis of the human condition” some analysts say the world is undergoing due to the rapid pace at which cultural and anthropological changes are happening.

In this regard, challenges for the Church the document cited are topics related to the human body and human sexuality. The body, the text read, has always been at an “intersection between nature and culture,” yet new biomedical technologies have given rise to different concepts of the body.

On one hand, the document pointed to the trend of technological experimentation, saying there is an increasing push for the integration of “body and machine, between neuronal and electronic circuits, which find their icon in the cyborg, favoring a technocratic approach to the body.”

But on the other hand, the trend of manipulating one's body goes beyond the technical realm, and also touches on issues related to biology, the text said, pointing to surrogacy and egg donation as examples.

Things such as precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, displaying one's body online and sexual tourism, the text said, “risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life.”

Bishops, the document continued, recognize the importance of the body and of sexuality, particularly the differences and complimentary of men and women, but are often not able to communicate the Church's teachings well.

Church teaching on issues such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, cohabitation and marriage for many youth are up for debate, both in the Church, and in society at large.

While there are young Catholics who find Church teaching to be “a source of joy” and who wish to follow this teaching despite how unpopular it is in the public eye, others want more clarification on these and other major issues, and have asked Church authorities not to be afraid to talk to them about “taboo,” topics such as gender and women.

“No bishops' conference offers solutions or recipes” to these issues, the document said, but they are convinced that “the question of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.”

On the issue of homosexuality, the document emphasized the need to be open and welcoming to everyone, including non-believers, those of other faiths, and also the LGBT community.

Some LGBT youth who participated in the online questionnaire or offered contributions through social media, the document read, said they want to experience “greater closeness and greater care on the part of the Church.”

In their responses, bishops conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.”

In comments to journalists at the June 19 presentation of the synod's working document, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said the reason the Church is engaging with members of the LGBT community is because “we are open. We don't want to be closed in on ourselves.”

In the Church, “there are many areas, there is freedom for people to express themselves – on the right, left, center, north and south – this is all possible,” he said, adding that “this is why we are willing to listen to people with different opinions.”

Young people, the document said, are also concerned that at times the Church can seem distant, and have voiced a desire to have a Church that is close, transparent and up-to-date, and which is not afraid to talk about the tough issues.

Divided into three parts plus framed by an introduction and conclusion, the document offers an overview of the state of young people throughout the world today and possible pastoral responses.

The document is a compilation of contributions from four primary sources: a questionnaire sent out to bishops conferences in June 2017; a website for the questionnaire and social media accounts where youth were able to leave testimonies and answer questions; a September 2017 seminar on youth that took place in Rome; and the final document of the pre-synod meeting which took place in Rome in March.

The structure of the working document follows a methodology frequently insisted upon by Francis in the process of discernment: recognizing, interpreting and then choosing.  

Recognize

The text noted that there are some 1.8 billion people throughout the world between the ages of 16-29; however, the demographic, economic and social conditions of each country are different. Whereas youth are the majority in some countries, in others youth are a minority. In some places, lifespan does not exceed 60 years of age, whereas in others it extends well over 80.

Added to this is the disparity between rich and poor nations, and the access young people therefore have to education, healthcare and a stable home. In some areas they also face pressures such as drugs, corruption, violence and the challenges brought on by an increasingly globalized world.

For what regards the role of the family, the document said that responses to the online questionnaire showed that mothers are a key reference point for youth, while the subject of fatherhood requires a deeper reflection due to the “ambiguities and voids” left as a result of the lack of father figures, particularly in the west.

According to the document, family will be a key topic of discussion, especially in light of the conclusions on the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Bishops also noted that religion no longer holds the same weight that it did in the past, and that for many young people, simply being “spiritual” is enough.

In terms of the Catholic Church itself, the document noted that many youth are committed to the Church through different activities, and bishops conferences have affirmed that youth outreach is a key priority in most parishes.

However, on the flip side, the text also noted that in the pre-synod meeting, youth had voiced concern about feeling as if they were being put into a corner, and felt that generally they were not taken seriously, especially when it comes to leadership.

The document also touched on both the risks and benefits of technology and social media, including the dangers of the “dark web,” and the role of music, art and sport as forms of expression.

Work, young migrants, and discrimination were all touched on in the document, along with racism, discrimination against women, and religious persecution, especially for Christians in areas where they are a minority.

Discrimination against women, even in ecclesial environments, was also addressed in the text, and was a key concern raised by youth themselves during the pre-synod meeting in March, during which they questioned how and where women can really, fully participate in the Church and in society.

The Church, according to the document, “can face these problems with a frank dialogue and a mind open to different ideas and experiences.”

The document also cited a growing paralysis on the part of young people when it comes to making a decision for their lives, whether it is due to a lack of opportunity, economic instability, or, at times, a the lack of a sense of meaning and purpose.

It also spoke of the need to listen to youth, who frequently lack good role models, and who want a Church which is “authentic” and which is capable of talking to them about the issues that matter.

Interpret

In the second section of the document, the text spoke of “the blessing of youth” from a biblical standpoint, emphasizing the importance of accompaniment in the discernment process.

To follow Christ, it said, “is a call to risk, to lose what has already been acquired, to trust. It is a provocation to break with the planning mentality which, if exasperated, leads to narcissism and the closing in on oneself.

The section placed a heavy emphasis on the need to accompany young people in determining what path is best for their lives, saying the task of accompaniment “is not an option with regard to the task of educating and evangelizing youth.”

Rather, “it is an ecclesial duty and the right of every young person,” the document said, adding that only the presence of a “prudent and wise” guide can help youth to correctly interpret God's will for their lives.

The text then offered a brief reflection on the different vocational paths, including the vocation to the family, to ordained ministry and to consecrated life. However, it also touched on the increasing number of people who opt to stay single, without making a move toward consecrated life or marriage.

No concrete answer to the question of “singles” was given, but due to the growing number of singles in the Church and in the world in general, the document said “it is important that the synod reflect on this question.”

In terms of discernment, the document noted that it goes “well beyond” simply deciding whether to get married or live a consecrated life. Rather, discernment is a broader concept, and also includes helping youth to determine their profession and what sort of social or political commitments to make.

But to discern well, accompaniment is needed, the document said, noting that youth themselves have voiced their desire for an accompaniment which is both free and authentic, while bishops said they wanted to provide a “broad” and varied accompaniment for young people equivalent to a sort of “Christian coaching” in life.  

The text emphasized the need to provide both spiritual and psychological accompaniment, and a formation which reaches the family, educational and social aspects of life.

Those who accompany youth ought to be able to respect each person and what God is already doing in their lives, and should be able to influence “with who they are, before what they can do or propose.”

For youth in particular, the document said it is important that those who accompany them are committed in the Church and on the path to sanctity, but it is also crucial that they are able to recognize their own limits and able to walk with young people, rather than being put “on a pedestal.”

The document also stressed that accompanying young people is not a task limited to priests and religious, but is also something laity can do.

Choosing

In terms of helping youth to make concrete choices that are right for their lives, the document stressed the need for an integral formation and education, and emphasized the role that Catholic schools and universities can play in helping to mold young people.

It also emphasized the importance of finding new models of development in terms of generating employment, fostering a better economy, and caring for creation. It also called for innovation in the technical sphere and for greater collaboration so that everyone has access to the resources and opportunities they need.

Faced with the challenge of modern society, bishops said it is increasingly important to form youth in politics and in how to be active citizens. Particular attention, the document said, ought to be paid to professional competence, opportunities for service, care for the environment and a better understanding of the Church's social doctrine.

Emphasis was also placed on the role of the internet and digital media outlets as a means of evangelization, and the need to accompany prisoners, and young people who live in war zones or areas of conflict, especially women and migrants. The document also called for a greater attention to and accompaniment of young people who are sick or dying.

In terms of pastoral care, the document stressed the role of family and the education and formation of children. In this regard, bishops also presented their “best practices,” underlining the need to set aside daily times of prayer and silence for personal devotion, as well as pray in one's community.

Catechesis and opportunities to practice charity are also important, the document said, especially through mission trips, retreats with movements and associations, all of which the document said help provide space for vocational discernment.

The document also stressed that those living a consecrated life live under the same cultural and societal conditions as other people their age, so a pastoral approach adapted to different local situations is needed.

It warned against the tendencies toward narcissism and self-sufficiency, particularly in consecrated vocations, which have a common root in “a potentially pathological concentration on oneself.”

It cautioned against the dangers of individualism, which is “centered on the autonomous subject, which excludes recognition, gratitude and the collaborating action of God,” and “emotionalism,” which the document said “closes the person in the virtual world an in a false interiority, where the need to deal with others and the community is excluded.”

The document closed emphasizing the universal call to holiness and inviting young people to become saints.

“Jesus invites each of his disciples to the total gift of life, without calculation or human self-interest,” the text said, and spoke of the need to highlight not only young Saints in the Church, but also the “youth of the Saints,” who all passed through the phase of being young.

Doing this, the document said, would make it possible “to intercept many youth situations which are neither simple not easy, but where God is present and mysteriously active.”

“To show his grace is at work through torturous paths of the patient construction of a holiness which matures in time through many unexpected ways,” the document said, “can help all young people, no one excluded, to cultivate hope in a holiness which is always possible.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this story said reported 1.8 million people in the world between 16-29. The story has been corrected to read 1.8 billion people.

Why the World Health Organization says Minecraft could ruin your mind

Denver, Colo., Jun 19, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- This week, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its list of International Classification of Diseases, drawing praise from one mental health expert who applauded the crucial first step in addressing a mounting epidemic.  

“The World Health Organization’s decision to acknowledge the video game addiction is a good first step in addressing a growing problem,” said Dr. Michael K. Horne, director of Clinical Services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and alumni of the Institute for Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University.

“At best, video games are a distraction that prevent genuine encounters occurring between friends, family, and loved ones. At worst, video game addiction can have severe negative ramifications on the health of the person,” Horne told CNA.

“Gaming disorder” will be known, according to W.H.O., as a clinical case of video gaming behavior which leads to distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, education or occupational functioning.

This same disorder was recognized in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association as a condition for further study, and on Monday was officially added as an International Classification of Disease, which will be officially adopted in 2019.

The W.H.O. noted that gaming disorder “affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital or video-gaming activities,” but those who play video games should be alerted to “the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities.”

The gaming industry was critical of the gaming disorder designation, saying there was not enough evidence to formalize a disorder, calling the W.H.O.’s classification “deeply flawed.” Instead, they argued that video games are “a useful tool,” to acquire “competencies, skills and attitudes required for a successful life in a digital society.”

The official W.H.O. designation was assigned in an effort to destigmatize the addiction, make video game addicts more willing to seek treatment, prompt therapists to provide help for the condition, and encourage insurance companies to cover treatment for it.

“I have patients who come in suffering from an addiction to Candy Crush Saga, and they’re substantially similar to people who come in with a cocaine disorder,” said Dr. Petros Levounis, chairman of the psychiatry department for Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, according to the New York Times.

“Their lives are ruined, their interpersonal relationships suffer, their physical condition suffers,” he continued.

Around 2.6 billion people around the world play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association – two-thirds of which reside in the U.S. The industry itself rakes in billions in revenue, projecting to reach $180.1 billion globally within the next three years.

While more and more mental health professionals are seeing a connection between poor functionality and gaming addiction, there is little insurance coverage for people seeking treatment.

The condition can also present with other symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, aggressive behavior and suicidal thoughts, making the disorder harder to diagnose – especially for health care professionals who have not been equipped to treat gaming disorder.

“We don’t know how to treat gaming disorder,” said Professor Nancy Petry of the University of Connecticut.

“It’s such a new condition and phenomenon,” she continued.

Currently, there are no formal organizations in existence to set treatment standards for gaming disorder. However, a few online groups have been formed to help addicts find community, such as StopGaming and the On-Line Gamers Anonymous forum. Some rehab centers in Asia have also been specifically designed to help gaming addicts.

The gaming disorder classification comes in the wake of other growing technology addictions. The New York Times reported that Apple recently released a new software to help consumers scale back on the amount of time they spend on their phones, while Facebook users have joined the #DeleteFacebook campaign in an effort to manage their privacy and social media addictions.

 

‘How many times can our hearts break?’ Bishop of Trenton asks after shooting

Trenton, N.J., Jun 18, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Trenton condemned gun violence and called for prayer in a statement following a shooting early Sunday that left one dead and 22 injured.

“The epidemic of gun violence has struck once again, this time close to home,” Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton said in a statement Sunday.

“The people of Trenton awoke this morning to the tragic news that twenty of our brothers and sisters - our families, neighbors and friends - were injured during a mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday morning…”  he said.

According to reports from authorities, the shooting happened around 2:45 a.m. on Sunday, June 17 at the Art All Night-Trenton festival, a 24-hour art exhibit that has been displayed annually for 12 years.

A 33 year-old man, Tahaij Wells, was reportedly identified as a suspect and shot and killed by police. Wells had just been released from prison on homicide-related charges, according to CNN. Another man, Amir Armstrong, 23, has also reportedly been charged in connection to the incident.

“We pray for the injured and their families, for comfort and healing. We pray in thanksgiving for the first responders and emergency workers. And we pray for our community here in Trenton that God’s peace and our love for one another might prevail,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell’s sentiments echo those of bishops throughout the country who have found themselves looking for words to comfort their grieving communities in the wake of mass shootings.

He joins numerous other bishops who have had to respond to similar tragedies in the months since the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which killed 58 people and left hundreds more injured, and has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

“Our hearts go out to everyone,” Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas said in his response to that shooting. He offered prayers for the victims and their families, as well as the first responders and all involved in the incident.

He added that he was “very heartened’ by the stories of the Good Samaritans amidst the tragedy, and prayed for an end to violence throughout the world.

The following month, at least two bishops responded to shootings in their dioceses, including  Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, who offered his prayers and condolences following the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which killed 26 people.

“We need prayers! The families affected in the shooting this morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs need prayers. The evil perpetrated on these who were gathered to worship God on the Lord’s Day – especially children and the elderly – makes no sense and will never be fully understood,” Garcia-Siller said at the time.

The following week, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento led the U.S. bishops' general assembly in prayer following a shooting in his diocese in which at least four people and several more were  injured at several sites in and around Ranch Tehema Reserve, a small community located about 130 miles northwest of Sacramento.

“I would ask if we could take a moment to ask God's mercy not only on those affected by this [incident], but on all affected by gun violence in these times. Let us ask for Mary's intercession for these people,” he said Nov. 14, before leading the bishops in the Hail Mary.

In January 2018, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and two other bishops responded to two school shootings that occurred within the same week, one in Texas and one in Kentucky.

On Jan. 22 at Italy High School in Italy, Texas, about 50 miles south of Dallas, a teenage girl was injured in a shooting.

On Jan. 23, a student opened fire at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., about 120 miles southwest of Owensboro, killing two students and injuring 20 others.

The shootings were “painful reminders of how gun violence can tragically alter the lives of those so precious to us – our school children,” DiNardo said in a statement at the time.

Bishop William Medley of Owensboro offered his prayers for the victims as well as for the shooter in the Marshall County shooting. “May the Lord bring comfort to the family who lost their loved one today, and to all of the students and their families who have to endure the aftermath of this school shooting. Let us all pray for peace across our nation,” he said in a Jan. 23 statement.

In response to the Benton shooting, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville offered his “deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and their friends, teachers and staff as well as the first responders and the whole community of Benton.”

“We know that God’s love overcomes all evil. May the souls of the departed rest in peace and may God’s merciful love sustain the victims and those who love and support them as they heal from the physical and emotional wounds of this senseless act of violence,” Kurtz added.

In February of this year, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami urged unity and strength in his diocese following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland which killed 17 students and injured dozens more.

“We pray for the deceased and wounded, for their families and loved ones, for our first responders and our entire South Florida community,” Wenski said at the time. He urged all Floridians to come together as a community, remain strong, and “resist evil in all its manifestations.”

Following the Parkland shooting, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., and Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio, also issued a joint statement calling for “common-sense gun measures” and dialogue about specific proposals that could reduce gun violence, improve school safety and improve access to mental health resources.

In May, DiNardo once again responded to a mass shooting, this time in his own diocese, when a shooter at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston killed 10 and injured 13 others.

“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”

Prayer as a response to shootings or other deadly incidents has in recent years been criticized by some commentators, called pointless or secondary in comparison to advocacy for gun control policies or mental health resources.

The day after a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. killed 14 on Dec. 2, 2015, the cover of the New York Daily News said “God isn’t fixing this” - a response to politicians and public figures who offered “thoughts and prayers” after the tragedy, but allegedly took insufficient action to prevent such shootings from occurring in the future.

However, Monsignor Robert Weiss, who was pastor in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 when a shooter killed 11 children at an elementary school, has said that turning to God is a necessary part of the response to tragedy.

“To whom do you go? Do you rely on yourself? Because there’s no way you can individually handle these kinds of experiences,” he told CNA in a 2017 interview following the Las Vegas shooting. He recalled professionals telling him in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that “we can only do so much for these people” to help them heal from the tragedy.

“There is only one place to turn, and it’s to turn to the Lord and find some sort of understanding of this,” he said.

Police in Trenton have said that Sunday’s shooting seems to be gang-related, and not an act of terrorism.

“There is no motive, however, that can justify these ongoing, seemingly relentless acts of gun violence plaguing our cities.  How many times can our hearts break?” O’Connell said. “Once again, we fall to our knees to beg the Almighty to help us end these senseless assaults on innocent life in our communities.”    
 
 

 

Ceasefire reached in Nicaragua crisis as Church-mediated talks resume

Managua, Nicaragua, Jun 18, 2018 / 05:02 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Nicaraguan government and opposition groups agreed Friday to a truce during talks mediated by the Nicaraguan bishops, after nearly two months of protests that have left 170 dead.

Nevertheless, at least eight people died in violent incidents across Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, the following day.

The bishops of Nicaragua reconvened a national dialogue June 15 to make known the response of president Daniel Ortega to the proposals he was given in order to end the crisis. The talks (which began May 16) had been suspended May 23 for lack of consensus.

A 24-hour general strike had closed many businesses June 14, though some violent clashes were reported. Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, said a 15-year-old altar boy had been shot and killed by security forces.

Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints. Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout the country, and clashes frequently turn lethal.

Participating in the talks June 15 were representatives of the government, private businesses, students, universities, civil society, workers, rural residents, evangelical ecclesial communities, indigenous communities, and people of African descent. They were overseen by Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua.

The ceasefire agreement calls for the establishment of a truth commission, the presence of international observers from several groups, and the removal of roadblocks.

The truth and security commission is to “verify if an atmosphere of peace and security exists for all Nicaraguans,” according to a communique from the National Dialogue, and to investigate all deaths and violence, and to identify those responsible.

The communique added that “process of the the democratization of the country, which includes the agenda items presented to the President of the Republic by the Bishops' Conference on June 7” will be among the conditions of continuing dialogue.

Their June 7 statement had said that dialogue could not resume while Nicaraguans continue to be denied the right to demonstrate freely and are “repressed and assassinated.”

Despite the signing of the ceasefire, a family of at least six died in an arson attack on their home and business in Managua June 16. Opposition groups have said a pro-government militia was responsible for the blaze, a charge the government has denied.

Two more people in Managua were killed the same day in incidents “attributed to masked pro-government groups backed up by armed police,” the BBC reported.

Bishops and priests across Nicaragua have worked to separate protestors and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has shown resistance to calls for elections to be held early. His term is scheduled to end in 2021.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Dictatorships begin with taking over media to spread lies, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kith Serey, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- All dictatorships begin the same way: media outlets are put in the hands of "unscrupulous" people who spread lies and weaken democracy, Pope Francis said.

Typical standards, norms and laws in regard to communications are first eliminated, the pope said in his homily June 18 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Then an entire media or communication outlet is handed over "to a firm, a business that slanders, tells lies, weakens democracy, and then the judges come to judge these weakened institutions, these destroyed, condemned people and a dictatorship makes progress this way," he said.

"All dictatorships, all of them, began like this, by adulterating communication, by putting communications in the hands of people without scruples, of governments without scruples," he added.

The pope's homily focused on the day's first reading in which Jezebel succeeds in her a plot to help her husband, King Ahab, take possession of their neighbor's land; the neighbor, Naboth, refused to sell what had belonged to his family for generations. Jezebel arranged for two men to accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king, for which Naboth was stoned to death.

Pope Francis said what happened to Naboth is similar to what happened to Jesus, St. Stephen and all martyrs who were condemned as a result of lies and falsehoods.

Today, many people, "many heads of state or government," forge the same scenario: start with a lie and "after you destroy both a person and a situation with that falsehood," there is a judgment and a conviction, he said.

Many countries, today, he added, "they use this method: destroy free communication."

But individuals, too, are also tempted to destroy others by talking behind their back, telling lies or spreading scandalous news, the pope said.

Talking about scandals is enormously seductive, he said, and "one is seduced by scandals. Good news isn't a seductress."

"The seduction of scandal in communication backs one into a corner," in that it destroys people like Naboth or St. Stephen, who was stoned to death by people who didn't want to hear the truth.

There have been "so many people, so many countries destroyed by evil and calumnious dictatorships," he said, including the ones that persecuted the Jews with "calumnious communication" so they ended up in Auschwitz.

"Oh, it was a horror, but it's a horror that happens today -- in small communities, to people, in many countries. The first step is to seize communications, and later destroy, judgment and death," he said.

 

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