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Update: Dominican combines music, Scripture for parish mission experience

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Jacob Comello

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Upon hearing the word "mission," most Catholics visualize hospitals or schools run by nuns in poor areas of the world, or small, tightknit parish communities in areas where Catholicism is still an alien or marginalized religion.

But Dominican Father Bill Garrott knows all too well that American Catholics have their own spiritual problems that deserve the healing power of a mission.

"Perhaps most Catholics are deprived of the word of God," Father Bill declared.

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service in April, the priest described the distinctive mission style that he brings across the country in his van. He blends lucid scriptural analysis, heart-stirring music performed on his keyboard and guitar, and the grace of the sacrament of confession to bring Catholics from all walks of life face to face with a God who loves them. Since beginning this project in 1995, he has performed over 175 parish missions.

In his travels to countless parishes across the country from his home base of Washington, he has encountered a number of different spiritual ailments, the biggest of which he finds is Catholic ignorance of Scripture.

"They're distracted by technology," Father Bill said. "The primary focus of my mission is to get people to read Scripture. ... If you're depriving yourself of the word of God, then you're (leaving) yourself open to attack."

On top of spotty interaction with the Bible, Father Bill often finds that Catholics bear tremendous amounts of worry in their hearts over a friend or family member who has fallen away from the church -- and sometimes those who have lapsed are present at his mission.

"When people are asked if they're religious" in today's society, Father Bill remarked, "more and more people are checking the box 'none,' (but) their parents are still going to church."

According to him, people feel trapped in a sense that they can't turn the tide for someone they've worked their whole lives to lead down the right path: "One of the biggest burdens they experience is, 'What can I do to help my children and grandchildren find their way back?'"

But with his captivating preaching style, he hopes to wash away the doubt and despair left by disengagement for churchgoers or their loved ones and replace it with a bright message of hope.

He claims that music is often the catalyst for getting even the most skeptical to open themselves up to the message.

Said Father Bill: "I think music functions as a backdoor to the soul. ... During my Sunday homily, I always play a song, usually with my keyboard."

"If I haven't reached the people up to that point, song does ... and I know because people (have) told me, 'I wasn't open to your mission until you played that song,'" he continued.

He even remembers meeting lapsed Catholics who decided to go to church the one Sunday his mission rolled into their town.

They find that God has miraculously caught them off their guard: "Some people aren't going to Mass ... and they go to Mass this one time. And it's me, a visiting singing preacher. And they're hooked! God gets them!" he exclaimed.

Confession plays a huge role in the healing process for those who attend Father Bill's missions, and he is uniquely qualified to grant absolution to penitents.

"I'm one of Pope Francis' missionaries of mercy," he revealed, "During the jubilee Year of Mercy (2016) ... he delegated priests to absolve certain sins that are only reserved for the pope."

After preaching for around an hour, Father Bill said that he will hear confessions for often twice that period of time. Since he began this ministry, he has heard over 13,000 confessions.

When the time has come for Father Bill and parishioners to part, he gives them a useful acronym to keep spiritually "fit" after the mission is over: "FITT."

"'F' means fasting from technology, cutting it back a little bit. 'I' means intercede with someone; I encourage them to find a prayer partner. 'T' and 'T' together mean to trust in God's time, because we don't always (immediately) see the evidence of change in ourselves or in other people" Father Bill explained.

The life for Father Bill's kind of mission is not easy: He often does the parish missions with little to no help from other friars, and he is constantly on the road driving his own vehicle because of the instruments and sound equipment he must haul from site to site.

"I'm my own agent and my own roadie," Father Bill remarked with a chuckle. "Every now and then I do have another friar who joins me. That's always refreshing."

But the overwhelming hope he both experiences and delivers along his path makes everything worth it.

"You might call my ministry a ministry of encouragement," Father Bill explained. "I'm preaching the theological version of hope. ... God has a plan (and) God provides always."

"There's just a tremendous joy for people who have somehow mustered the courage through the Holy Spirit" to drop their lives for a moment and attend his mission, Father Bill said, noting that some of the people he's ministered to have been away from church for 40 or 50 years.

"(To see) the grace of the parish mission is active in their hearts and they are overjoyed to have that burden lifted. ... It really is one of the finest moments for a preacher to know that he is involved in setting people free" proclaimed Father Bill.

Kathryn Town, a woman who recently attended one of Father Bill's missions, claimed that she definitely felt lighter after being confessed by him.

"I'm just going to lose it all at the cross" is what she told Father Bill she would do after her sins were forgiven, referring to the anger and doubt she had been harboring towards family members and others going in.

And she recognized her failings were nothing that could distance her from the love of God: "It was a very nice mission" Town related, "(He told us), 'God loves me not because I'm good but because God is good.'"

Father Bill's mnemonic devices came in handy for Bix Goodwin, another mission participant. One in particular that Goodwin found helpful broke down the flawed way humans often react to stressful situations -- APES.

Goodwin said the letters stood for "anger, pouting or feeling sorry for oneself, escape through something unwholesome, and shame."

And Father Bill's strength in speaking only made his message more attractive to Goodwin.

"He was a very articulate speaker," Goodwin said, "and for that matter entertaining. ... He would always start the session off with a levity, a joke."

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As migrants continue streaming into Mexico, donor fatigue sets in

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters

By David Agren

TAPACHULA, Mexico (CNS) -- Sister Bertha Lopez was buying 55-pound sacks of rice, when the cashier asked: "Where do they want the rice? For Guatemala or for whom?"

Sister Bertha informed the cashier, "We're buying it to feed our migrant brothers" who are stranded in this city near the Guatemala border. The cashier responded: "Why are you doing that? What you're doing isn't right."

Last fall, locals in southern Chiapas state welcomed the caravans of migrants crossing into Mexico from Guatemala and carrying on northward to the U.S. border. They offered everything from food and drink to clothing and shoes to the caravan travelers, who often included children.

Parishes throughout the Diocese of Tapachula mobilized to meet the needs of thousands of mostly Central American migrants -- many fleeing violence, poverty and drought. Sister Bertha's congregation, the Guadalajara-based Missionaries of the Resurrected Christ, tended to the wounds of weary migrants in a mobile medical clinic.

But many locals no longer welcome migrants in Chiapas. Municipal governments, meanwhile, have shunned them by blocking access to town squares, where members of caravans often slept and sought basic services. Local government officials complain of being forced to shoulder security, sanitation and cleanup costs.

Donor fatigue has set in here in Mexico's poorest state, where priests say people initially responded to images of impoverished migrants fleeing their countries, but became jaded as the caravans keep coming.

"People no longer respond to the immigration issue," said Father Cesar Canaveral Perez, diocesan director of migrant ministries in Tapachula. "(They) no longer help out. It's to the point that in parishes we no longer ask for assistance for migrants."

Sister Bertha described a "climate of apathy" and said of the situation: "If (people) see some migrants, they close their stores. This sadly started growing with the media providing negative news."

The apathy comes as Mexico cracks down on migrants moving through the country and President Donald Trump complains Mexico is "doing nothing" to stop migration -- even though it has detained and deported more Central Americans in recent years than the United States.

Mexico started issuing humanitarian visas, which allowed one-year stays in the country, but quickly backtracked as migrant flows surged.

"I had heard the president was going to give us visas. And with a visa, we thought we would cross all of Mexico without any problems," said David Solorzano, 23, a farmhand who fled El Salvador after receiving gang threats. He had hoped to travel north with his aunt.

But Solorzano opted for voluntary repatriation to El Salvador. He expressed weariness with the endless walking. He said immigration checkpoints dotted the highway through Chiapas. A caravan with which he was traveling was raided by the police -- forcing him to flee into the hills -- and he says he was punched in the mouth during a robbery attempt while riding atop the train.

"I'm scared of returning to my country," he said from a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, some 250 miles from the Guatemala border. "But there's nothing here for me."

Caravans are can no longer travel openly through Mexico, prompting some migrants like Solorzano to return to a risk ride north: the "Bestia" train -- so named for the way it maims the migrants falling under its wheels.

Migrants -- including many from Cuba, Haiti and African countries -- continue arriving, but cannot obtain safe passage documents, which previously were routinely issued.

Haitian migrant Pierre Saint Paul, 45, traveled north from Chile, where he had lived for two years, but he found it impossible to obtain the proper papers. He was hoping to make it to Mexico City or Tijuana, where he had relatives who had arrived earlier in the decade.

"I'd just like a better life for my life and son," said Saint Paul from a shanty in which he slept.

Tensions in Tapachula have simmered, with migrants storming immigration offices. At least six mass outbreaks have occurred at the local immigration detention center.

"There are people spending months there," Sister Bertha said. She warned of health problems such infections and diarrhea in children due to a lack of sanitation.

The Missionaries of the Resurrected Christ provide one meal a day of rice with eggs or potatoes or a vegetable and a pastry to 2,500 migrants outside the migrant detention center, though supplies some days have run short, and calls for help have gone unanswered.

Stories circulate in the media and on social media sites of migrants committing crimes and being gang members.

The April 2019 National Survey of Urban Public Security showed residents of Tapachula considering the city the least secure in the country, with perceptions worsening since the caravans started arriving in October.

Police in the town of Huixtla circulated the streets with a loudspeaker screeching, "a dangerous caravan" is about to arrive and warning people to stay inside.

Police later impeded migrants from entering the town center.

Migrants traveling in recent caravans say they sustained themselves on nothing more than mangos growing along the roadside and water offered by civil protection officials. State police ticketed truckers offering rides in empty trailers and on flatbeds.

Civil protection officials offered water as migrants walked under the scorching-hot sun, while the Federal Police provided an escort -- at least until April 23, when police officers and immigration officials stopped a caravan and detained nearly 400 migrants.

Locals in the towns heading north from Tapachula voice frustration with the steady arrival of caravans.

In the municipality of Mapastepec, Consuelo Santiago allowed caravan travelers to charge their phones for free at a small restaurant on the town square. But she expressed some displeasure with caravans occupying the space outside her business, and people donated so much food and clothing to the migrants that not all of it was consumed -- causing people to consider the travelers ingrates.

"People don't see the need to throw their money in the trash," she said. "The only ones helping are the church."

Signs of empathy still emerge in the region. In Mapastapec, parishioners at the St. Peter the Apostle church traditionally break bread on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. But this year, they provided meals for 2,000 migrants passing through town instead.


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Officials say Vatican must continue to monitor financial activity

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Any time money changes hands, there is a potential for financial misconduct, but the leaders of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority said the Holy See has made enormous strides in reducing its risks.

Rene Brulhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, respectively president and director of the office, released the FIA annual report May 21 at a Vatican news conference.

Vatican City State's unique status as an independent state and the headquarters of the Catholic Church -- with missions and religious orders around the world -- required the establishment of a "tailor-made system mainly to prevent illicit financial activities," Brulhart said.

The Holy See has "fewer worries" of financial misconduct than most nations, "but this doesn't mean we should not maintain preventive strategies, policies and measures," Di Ruzza said. "Given the peculiarity of the Holy See, there is a level of caution, especially on a moral scale, that must be maintained."

In 2018, the report said, the office received only 56 suspicious activity reports compared to 150 in 2017 and 207 in 2016. Eleven of the 56 reports were forwarded to the Vatican City court for further investigation and potential criminal charges.

The FIA now has a fully functioning "general risk assessment" tool for the prevention and countering of money laundering and financing terrorism. It deems the money-laundering risk as "low to medium," particularly because of the number of procurement and building contracts with entities outside the Vatican.

The financing of terrorism risk is defined as "low," and Brulhart and Di Ruzza said that in the eight years since FIA's establishment, no suspicious activity report and no inquiry from a foreign government's FIA office have involved suspected terrorism financing.

International agencies have complimented the Vatican for its new rules and structures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing but have complained about the slow pace of follow up by the Vatican police and courts.

But in December 2018, for the first time, the Vatican court convicted someone of money laundering following an investigation based on an FIA report.

Angelo Proietti, an Italian contractor who is appealing his conviction, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail for using a Vatican bank account for money laundering.

FIA also is increasingly cooperating with the similar agencies of dozens of countries in investigating financial impropriety, the report said.

Without mentioning specifics, the report spoke about a case in which the owners of an "alleged nonprofit organization" presented themselves as local affiliates of a Vatican-related institution and collected donations in its name. Thanks to information shared with the country, several people were arrested "on charges of criminal conspiracy and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized."

The case mentioned in the report corresponds to the arrest in Spain in February 2018 of three Spaniards and a Colombian, who were allegedly operating a fake branch of the Vatican bank.


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El Salvador lays to rest another priest presumably assassinated by gangs

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of Father Edwin Banos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands attended the May 20 funeral of a Salvadoran priest found by his parishioners in what some presume is a gang killing.

Parishioners found Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, a 35-year-old priest and pastor of San Jose La Majada parish in Juayua, shot dead in his residence May 18 with a note nearby that said he had not paid "rent," a euphemism for extortion money, according to preliminary reports from Salvadoran police.

"He was a well-loved son of the Virgin (Mary) ... a humble priest, simple, devoted to his people," said Father Edwin Banos of the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, in a video posted May 18 on Facebook.

"These have been difficult and sad moments since I found out," said Father Banos, who told Catholic News Service May 20 that he had studied with Father Perez and that they had been friends for 10 years.

"It hurts. It's a whole human life truncated," he told CNS via WhatsApp. "He is a brother and a priest-friend. From the first moment I found out, it's been tears and pain over his death."

Father Banos, communications director for Catholic radio and newspaper Radio Fe y Vida y Periodico Digital Nuestra Iglesia in Santa Ana, attended the funeral in Sonzacate, where the slain priest's parents live. Several bishops from throughout the country and Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez also attended.

"Today, we are suffering, and we ask the Lord and the Virgin Mary to give us peace, tranquility and serenity," Father Banos said in his video message. "For Cecilio, I offer my care, my appreciation, my love and my hope that he is rejoicing in the eternal life and that you intercede for us ... but I also want to manifest my message of conversion to these people who committed this abominable crime."

In a statement, Bishop Constantino Barrera Morales of Sonsonate, the diocese to which the priest belonged, called on the national police and the justice department to find those guilty of "such an abominable crime" and demanded that they be brought to justice.  

In recent months, Catholic organizations and leaders in El Salvador, to no avail, have denounced the lack of justice in the country, including the "impunity" in the death of another Salvadoran priest killed in 2018 during Holy Week.

Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez was traveling with parishioners March 29, 2018, to officiate a Holy Thursday Mass in San Miguel when their car was stopped by an armed group wearing masks. The masked men dragged the priest out of the car and his lifeless body was found later.

Authorities also blamed gangs in the killing but have not arrested anyone in the crime.

"In this moment of profound pain and indignation because of this tragic happening, I want to let all priests, faithful and the people in general know that I energetically condemn this sacrilegious killing of Father Cecilio, and I want us to remain united in prayer and redoubling our measures of security before the great insecurity that reigns in our bloodstained country," Bishop Barrera said in his statement. "The blood of our selfless pastor is now together with that of the thousands of Salvadorans that each year become victims of this terrible violence that remains for so many years out of control."

In a news conference May 19, the Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador once again called on national authorities to seek out criminals and asked the court system to carry out justice.

"We stand in solidarity with all the victims of violence, of any type of violence, and we ask the authorities to administer justice in all cases," he said. "It's not that we seek revenge, but justice is necessary for the good of the victims and for the good of the whole society, because violence will only be overcome if impunity is not allowed. It is truly worrisome the degree of violence that our country suffers. We must work and pray intensely for peace."

Father Banos said justice was one of the reasons Father Perez was killed, though he suggested that police look at various motives the killing, including the priest's denunciation of environmental problems in the area.

"He was a priest seeking justice, he was very fraternal and denounced injustice," he said in correspondence with CNS. "We believe that is the cause of his murder. He strongly denounced the cutting of trees in his area, and that touches the interests of high-ranking businesspeople."

In an audio Father Banos provided to CNS, Concepcion Perez, the slain priest's brother, said Father Perez was "a good person, a holy person until the last day." Concepcion Perez said although family members were in pain, they found comfort in knowing that "the Catholic Church is the one that provides saints," because of people who seek the light like his brother.


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Pope asks Italian bishops finally to implement tribunal reforms

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told the bishops of Italy that he was disappointed that so many of their dioceses had yet to implement the reforms he ordered to make the marriage annulment process quicker, more pastoral and less expensive.

"I am saddened to note that the reform, after more than four years, remains far from being applied in most Italian dioceses," Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome, told other members of the Italian bishops' conference.

The bishops were holding their annual spring meeting May 20-23 at the Vatican, and Pope Francis opened the gathering. He gave a short speech focused on "synodality" and collegiality, marriage tribunals and the relationship of bishops to their priests.

He spent about 20 minutes reading his prepared text, then reporters were asked to leave and the livestream of the meeting was cut so that the pope and bishops could converse in private.

In September 2015, Pope Francis issued two documents -- "Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge") for the Latin-rite church and "Mitis et misericors Iesus," ("The Meek and Merciful Jesus") for the Eastern Catholic churches -- reforming sections of canon law dealing with requests for the declaration of the nullity of a marriage.

The reforms -- which do away with an automatic appeal of all decisions, charge diocesan bishops with responsibility for handling some cases and institute an abbreviated process for cases where the evidence is especially clear and uncontested -- were meant to streamline the process and help couples in need of healing, the pope said.

Pope Francis also insisted in the documents that the annulment process be free of charge or as close to free as possible.

"This procedural reform is based on proximity and gratuity," the pope told the bishops. "Proximity to wounded families means that the judgment, as far as possible, takes place within the diocesan church without delay and unnecessary extensions. And gratuity refers back to the Gospel mandate which says, 'Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.'"

Pope Francis said he hoped the reforms ordered in 2015 would find "their full and immediate application in all the dioceses" of the country.

The reforms, he said, aim to help dioceses demonstrate that "the church is mother and has at heart the good of her children, who in this case are wounded by a love that has been shattered."

On the matter on relations between bishops and priests, Pope Francis said that relationship is the "backbone" that supports all relationships within a diocese.

"Unfortunately, some bishops have difficulty establishing a relationship with their priests, thereby running the risk of ruining their mission and weakening the mission of the church," the pope said.

Pope Francis urged bishops to make sure that if one of their priests calls, he returns the call immediately or by the next day at the latest. "This way the priest will know he has a bishop who is a father."

A bishop has an obligation to be close to his priests "without discrimination and without preferences or favoritism," the pope said. "A true shepherd lives among his flock and knows how to listen to and welcome all without prejudice. We must not fall into the temptation of welcoming only priests who are nice or are flatterers."

A bishop also must take care not to give assignments only to the eager and the "climbers," ignoring those who are "introverts, meek, shy or problematic," he said.

Many times today, the pope said, priests are disrespected, made fun of or "even condemned because of the errors or crimes of some of their colleagues," so they need to be able to find support, encouragement and consolation from their bishop.

On the issue of "synodality and collegiality," Pope Francis insisted that the idea of everyone in the church walking together and working together to share the Gospel is the lifestyle God wants from people in the church.

Saying he had heard rumors of possible plans for a synod for Italy, Pope Francis said the first step would be to review the "medical records" of the Italian church to ensure that laypeople, priests and bishops all recognize they have a shared responsibility for the life of the church.


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Update: Washington's archbishop plans to get 'out in field' to meet people, listen

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Julie Asher

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will have a lot of things on his plate when he becomes the newest leader of the influential archdiocese situated in the nation's capital: the sexual abuse roiling the Catholic Church, the tense political climate on the Hill and the challenges that come with learning about a new archdiocese.

The newest archbishop of Washington knows what his first priority will be however.

The "first and most important thing" is "getting out in the field and meeting the people," Archbishop Gregory told Catholic News Service in a May 17 interview.

He has six listening sessions scheduled with priests of the Washington Archdiocese, and "I'm trying to fill up my calendar right now with moments when I can be in the parishes with the people," he said. Like "a Sunday supply priest," he wants to visit local parishes to say Mass and afterward stand at the back of church and greet people.

Archbishop Gregory has "no fancy requirements" for such visits, nor would he expect any "fancy preparation." He just has "the real desire to be there as a listener," he said, adding that "it is that casual encounter with people that often proves to be the most fruitful."

"I've discovered the best approach to learning about a diocese is to listen to the diocese so you don't go in with all kinds of preprogrammed intentions that may or may not fit the experience of the people or their needs," said the 71-year-old prelate, who will be installed as Washington's seventh archbishop May 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

When Pope Francis appointed him to Washington April 5, he had been Atlanta's archbishop for 14 years. Before that, the Chicago native was bishop of Belleville, Illinois; he was a Chicago auxiliary bishop when he was named to head that diocese.

In Washington, he succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who had headed the archdiocese for 12 years until his retirement last October.

In an interview with CNS at the Archdiocese Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, just outside the District of Columbia, Archbishop Gregory covered a wide range of topics.

He talked about bringing hope and healing to Catholics coping with the clergy abuse scandal; how his new duties include speaking for the church "to the powers that be" in the nation's capital when the times call for it; the significance of his appointment as the first African American archbishop to head an archdiocese with "a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood"; what he'll miss most about his former archdiocese; and a few of his side interests, like cooking and golfing.

Archbishop Gregory said the abuse scandal erupting again in the church over the last year is "chapter two" of what the church went through in 2002. He was bishop of Belleville at the time and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was involved in the drafting and the implementation of the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"The dynamic then was the scandal that people were experiencing and voicing, that clergymen, priests, deacons, church officials had harmed their children," he said.

"Chapter two is the revelation that those in leadership too frequently did not address those issues appropriately and in a very few cases, some of the leaders themselves were engaged in that behavior," Archbishop Gregory said.

There is "anger at the failure of leadership," he said, "and from my perspective that's more problematic, because now you're looking at the very authorities that have been asked to guide and govern and teach and sanctify the church, and they themselves either did not handle those case well or even worse were a part of that."

"The two moments are related, but they are distinct," Archbishop Gregory said. "It seems to me that the task that lies before me is to both listen to the people -- to hear them, to hear the hurt, acknowledge it, recognize it, but then also to invite them to reach into their own spiritual treasuries and to say now we can't allow our history to determine our future and to invite them with me to chart a new direction and engage them."

Archbishop Gregory said he is hopeful the U.S. bishops, when they meet in June in Baltimore, will build on Pope Francis' "motu proprio" issued May 9 giving clear direction to the global Catholic Church about reporting abuse and holding church leaders accountable.

Last November, during the fail general assembly, the Vatican had asked the U.S. bishops to postpone a vote on to implementing new protocols to boost the accountability of bishops to laypeople and survivors of clergy sex abuse.

In June, the bishops can go forward with those protocols, he believes, putting "into place structures and procedures that will be a resolve and a direction for the future. Those procedures also have to include lay involvement, lay engagement in a similar way to what the charter did in establishing lay review boards."

"These steps will go a long way to bringing some healing" from the abuse crisis, Archbishop Gregory remarked. "But also I have to stand in the presence of these people of the archdiocese before God and ask their pardon."

He added, "There's a family I am still very close to from Belleville, and the wife, who knows me well, once said, 'You know Wilton, when a married man has made a terrible mistake he can never say, "I'm sorry enough,"' and I think that analogy is also appropriate to this moment."

The abuse crisis has "broken the hearts of many of our priests," Archbishop Gregory said, "because here they are in the trenches working hard and doing the best they can, trying to make 'bricks with no straw' and this is then dropped in their laps and that's hurt them."

In Washington, he said his listening sessions with the priests of the archdiocese will "lay the foundation of a relationship that I want to build" with them.

There will be times "when we're together to do business" but also "times when we're together to pray together, to relax together, to joke together. A friendship can't simply be established on doing business. It has to be established on opening hearts and engaging one another."

With regard to him being Washington's first African American archbishop, he said he knows that for many African American Catholics, his appointment "is a great source of pride, and I am honored those feelings are there."

"I look forward to encountering the African American Catholic community as one of their sons who has now become their shepherd," he added.

"I'm very much aware the Archdiocese of Washington has a storied history of African American Catholics going back to pre-nationhood. There's a sacred heritage that I hope to both recognize and to honor," he commented.

Archbishop Gregory also observed that our nation is at a moment "where the ugly presence of racism has come to the fore again -- and I say 'come to the fore' because some of the problems and some of the attitudes that have now gotten media attention obviously have been there latently and but now they have come to the surface again."

"I hope that in my ministry as an African American archbishop, I can invite people of all races and cultures and traditions (to) be church together," he said, adding that "we are best ... when we are together."

What he will miss most of all about the Archdiocese of Atlanta are the people -- priests, deacons, religious sisters and the laity. "Every church enjoys its greatest treasure in its people," he said.

The people there have been "so generous and gracious and loving to me -- they became family," he added.

As he makes the transition to the Archdiocese of Washington -- at least one thing will be different: He will not be able to drive himself anywhere. He must have a driver, he explained, because the archdiocese "is a corporation sole for legal protection."

This "is going to be a real challenge for me because I am an independent soul. ... That's limiting (but) we will get through."

He is a sports fan. In whatever spare time he may have, sports is one of the three things he watches on television, along with news and nature shows. And speaking of sports, he feels that as the bishop of the local church, "I've got to root for the local team," so when it comes to baseball, now he'll be rooting for the Washington Nationals.

He likes to play golf -- or "tries" to play golf, but spending time in the kitchen and making a meal, "that's relaxing for me."

"Part of the job" of a bishop is attending a lot of formal dinners and banquets, Archbishop Gregory said, "but when I'm home I like to put on casual clothes and go into the kitchen and bang the pots" and make a meal.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Throwing away food is like throwing away people, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned food waste, saying throwing away food is like throwing away people.

"Waste reveals an indifference toward things and toward those who go without," he said May 18.

"To throw food away means to throw people away," he told members and volunteers of the European Federation of Food Banks, including the Food Bank of Italy, which was marking its 30th anniversary.

He thanked the organizations for all they do in providing food to those who are hungry while fighting against food waste.

"You take what is thrown into the vicious cycle of waste and insert it into the 'virtuous circle' of good use," he said, saying their work is like what trees do -- taking in pollution to give back oxygen to those in need.

"It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is" and how much of it ends up wasted, he said.

"Wasting what is good is a nasty habit" that can creep in anywhere, even in charitable works, for example, when good intentions are blocked by bureaucracy or excessive administrative costs or when they "become forms of welfare that do not lead to authentic development."

Charity today "requires intelligence, the capacity for planning and continuity," and for people to care about each other, seeking to restore human dignity, the pope said.

He told those involved in food banks that their work shows -- with action and not words -- that progress "advances each time we walk with those who are left behind."

"The economy has a profound need of this," he said, lamenting how "the frenetic scramble for money is accompanied by an interior frailty," disorientation and a loss of meaning.

"What I care about is an economy that is more humane, that has a soul, and not a reckless machine that crushes human beings," Pope Francis said.

Too many people are left without work, dignity or hope "and still others are oppressed by inhuman demands of production" that have a negative impact on the family and personal relationships.

The pope said it pains him when he hears parents say they have little time in the day to play with their children because they go to work when the children are still asleep and get home when they are already in bed.

"This is inhuman: this vertigo of inhuman work."

"Instead of serving humanity," he said, the economy "enslaves us, subjugates us to monetary mechanisms" that are increasingly difficult to control.

"We need to encourage models of growth based on social equality, on the dignity of human persons, on families, on the future of young people, on respect for the environment," he said.

"Even if evil is at large in the world, with God's help and the good will of so many like yourselves, the world can be a better place," he said. 

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Immigration advocates express concerns about Trump immigration plan

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic immigration advocates raised concerns about a proposal from President Donald Trump that would reshape U.S. immigration policy to incorporate a "merit-based" system that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country.

Advocates' concerns about the Trump plan, announced May 16 at the White House, focused on family unification, strengthening the asylum system and the importance of welcoming people of diverse economic backgrounds and skills.

Saying they appreciate Trump's willingness to address "problems in our immigration system," two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leaders said they opposed any plans that "seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely 'merit-based' immigration system."

"Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history and our immigration system," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishop's Committee on Migration, said in a May 17 statement.

The leaders said they were troubled that the president's proposal failed to address young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as "Dreamers," as well as Temporary Protected Status holders from several troubled countries.

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said they recognized the importance of ensuring secure borders and safety, but they cautioned the neither will be achieved "by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children."

They also called for the U.S. to address the causes of migration and to improve operation of immigration courts that hear asylum cases, expanding alternatives to detention and eliminating criminal networks.

Kevin Appleby, a longtime immigration advocate who formerly worked at the USCCB, told Catholic News Service that there was little in the president's plan "from a Catholic perspective to support."

"Substantively, it cuts against Catholic teaching. It weakens immigrant families by reducing family visas, and it removes asylum protection for unaccompanied children and families at the border," Appleby said.

"The administration could increase merit-based visas without sacrificing other parts of the legal immigration system," he said. "This is really also an attack on families. They want to remove the ability of family members moving forward."

Appleby suggested there may be a place for merit-based immigration, but "it has to be part of a broader system that includes other skill categories and keeps families together."

On social media, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network offered a brief comment, posting that "family reunification has historically been the principle goal -- and strength -- of U.S. immigration law and policy. It should continue to be the basis of any revision of immigration law."

Trump's plan would require broad changes in current law. Congressional observers expect it to see some revisions as it is discussed in Congress.

Details of the plan were circulating on Capitol Hill prior to Trump's announcement, leading Congress members of both parties to express skepticism about some provisions. The proposal is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Calling current immigration law "senseless," Trump said the plan would not change the number of annually allocated green cards, which allow people to work permanently in the country -- about 1.1 million -- but calls instead for them to be issued to high-skilled workers. Applicants would be considered based on age, English-speaking ability, education and job offers, he said.

"Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker," Trump said. "It's just common sense."

The president also said his plan would reform the current asylum system to focus on immigrants who file "legitimate" claims rather than those who are seeking to enter the U.S. for "frivolous" reasons.

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum would face immediate deportation to their home countries and the number of families seeking asylum would be cut, he said.

Trump told supporters during his 30-minute speech that the plan would keep U.S. communities safe and would ensure that the border with Mexico "will be finally fully and totally secure."

"If adopted, our plan will transform America's immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world," he said.

Notably, the plan does not address the situation of Dreamers, the young people who qualify to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters May 16 that young immigrants were omitted from the plan because the issue was considered too divisive.


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Conservationists at Vatican conference call for protecting biodiversity


By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People's attitudes toward nature as well as their economic systems and consumption habits need to radically change in order to protect biodiversity on the planet and promote a more sustainable and caring world, said participants at a Vatican-sponsored conference.

"We can learn how to take care of the world. And we must use all our strength to find ways of making the world more human, giving people the possibility to live their lives so that we may share the richness and the resources given to us in a way that could never be possessed or owned by us," the participants said in their final statement May 15.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences brought together heads of natural history museums, botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums along with experts in biodiversity and ecology for a conference May 13-14 on species protection.

The conference came after the independent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published results of a three-year study which found that 1 million -- that is, one in four -- animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction within decades. Land use, pollution, overfishing, deforestation and climate change are among the factors driving the unprecedented decline in biodiversity, said the May 6 report.

The concluding statement issued by the pontifical academy launched a call for action for conservationist leaders, experts, policy advisers and faith communities to help humanity build a new sustainable relationship with the natural world.

"We need to change our mindset, our mentality of exploitation that has driven us to the point where we are now. We seem to live in an immense and fantastic world, forgetting about what has been given to us," it said.

"The worldwide communities of natural history museums, zoological and botanic gardens are catalytic and significant allies in the global drive toward species protection and nature preservation," especially because of their expertise and ability to educate and impact so many people around the world, particularly young people, it said.

Creating "islands of protection," such as national parks, seed banks and so on, are not enough when it comes to preventing the threats of a global loss of species, the statement said.

"Fundamental societal change is needed," which includes people reducing their "ecological footprint" and changing patterns of consumption, particularly with fossil fuels, food waste and land use, it said.

"These patterns of social behavior need a course correction," it said, and "our economic systems need to be redesigned toward circular bio-based economic systems, in which humankind and nature are less in conflict.

"Science and innovation, sound governance, and incentives for industry and agriculture need to come together to achieve such a sustainable bioeconomy, adjusted to local circumstances."

Because all major world religions, in principle, "are committed to respecting and preserving nature," they, too, should agree on joint action for change.

"These communities are called upon to explore new synergies for enhanced impact on people's world views and new joint collective actions to address extinction problems," it said.


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Pope chooses theme for World Meeting of Families 2021

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy John McElroy, World Meeting of Families


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian family life is a vocation and, when lived with fidelity, it is a path to holiness, said the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

The office May 17 announced the theme Pope Francis has chosen for the next World Meeting of Families, which will be in Rome June 23-27, 2021: "Family love: A vocation and a path to holiness."

The dicastery asked that in preparation for the meeting, families and pastoral workers read both Pope Francis' 2016 exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," and his 2018 exhortation on the universal call to holiness, "Gaudete et Exsultate."

"The aim is to emphasize family love as a vocation and a way to holiness and to understand and share the profound and redeeming significance of family relationships in daily life," the dicastery said.

The love of a husband and wife and the love found within families, it said, show "the precious gift of a life together where communion is nourished and a culture of individualism, consumption and waste is averted."

Married couples and families, the dicastery said, "demonstrate the great significance of human relationships in which joys and struggles are shared in the unfolding of daily life as people are led toward an encounter with God."

"When lived with fidelity and perseverance," marriage and family life "strengthens love and enables the vocation to holiness that is possessed by each individual person and expressed in conjugal and family relationships. In this sense, Christian family life is a vocation and a way to holiness, an expression of the 'most attractive face of the church.'"


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