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Update: Appeals court upholds Cardinal Pell conviction on abuse charges

IMAGE: CNS photo/AAP Images, Erik Anderson via Reuters

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MELBOURNE, Australia (CNS) -- An Australian appeals court upheld the conviction of Cardinal George Pell on five counts of sexually assaulting two choirboys more than two decades ago.

A three-judge panel of the Appeals Division of the Supreme Court of Victoria announced its decision Aug. 21 in Melbourne with the cardinal in attendance.

"Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today," said his spokesperson, Katrina Lee. "Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence," and his legal team will study the panel's judgment before deciding whether to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said an investigation of the cardinal by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not begin until after the entire civil process concludes.

"As in other cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case," he said.

Nevertheless, Bruni said, as the Vatican affirmed in February when the cardinal's conviction was announced, "the Holy Father had already confirmed the precautionary measures imposed on Cardinal Pell upon his return to Australia, that is, as is the norm, the prohibition from exercising public ministry and from any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors."

Possible church penalties, including removing a cleric from the priesthood, are imposed only after the doctrinal congregation completes its process.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson had read the appeals panel decision during a 30-minute hearing. She said the court was split 2-1 on the cardinal's argument that the conviction was "unreasonable" given the evidence presented at trial to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Justice (Chris) Maxwell and I accepted the prosecutor's submission that the complainant was a compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth," Ferguson said.

The third judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, agreed with Cardinal Pell's attorneys.

The chief justice also told the court that the three judges unanimously agreed to throw out the two other grounds for appeal: that the cardinal should have presented his not guilty plea in person to the trial jury in December rather than by video and that the cardinal's lawyers were not permitted to play a 19-minute animation to the jury in their closing statement.

Ferguson said the court decided that Cardinal Pell must continue to serve at least three years and six months of the six-and-a-half-year sentence he received following his conviction in December.

"Whether he will be released on parole will be a decision of the adult parole board, not the court," she said.

"While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system," the Vatican "recalls that the cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court," said Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

"At this time, together with the church in Australia, the Holy See confirms its closeness to the victims of sexual abuse and its commitment to pursue, through the competent ecclesiastical authorities, those members of the clergy who commit such abuse," Bruni said.

The surviving victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said that he never wished to damage the church and he had never sought compensation.

"After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choir boy, I felt a responsibility to come forward," he said. "Some commentators have suggested that I reported to the police somehow for my own personal gain. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said through his lawyer, Vivian Waller.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops' conference, said the bishops "believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today's judgment accordingly."

The archbishop also acknowledged the pain of survivors of abuse and the deep differences of opinion among Catholics about whether Cardinal Pell was treated fairly.

Survivor support groups applauded the judges' decision. "For many survivors, a conviction being upheld against a high-profile, once-powerful perpetrator underlines faith in the justice process and the possibility of speaking out," said Pam Stavropoulos, spokesperson for the Blue Knot Foundation.

The decision from the three-judge panel followed a two-day hearing June 5-6 in which Cardinal Pell, 78, and his attorneys argued that his December 2018 conviction on five counts of sexually assaulting two choirboys was "unreasonable" given the evidence presented.

The conviction occurred during the second trial for Cardinal Pell. The first trial in September 2018 resulted in a hung jury.

The guilty verdict regarded one count of "sexual penetration," in this case oral sex, and four counts of indecent acts with or in the presence of a minor under 16 years of age.

The jury accepted the victim's testimony that the incidents occurred in the sacristy of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996 when the cardinal was an archbishop.

Following the conviction, the former key adviser to Pope Francis was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. He began serving the sentence in March and is being held in solitary confinement in Melbourne Assessment Prison because of the nature of the offenses and his high profile in Australia.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli, the cardinal's successor, said in a statement Aug. 21 that the two trials and appeal demonstrate how "the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so."

The archbishop said his "thoughts and prayers are with the man who brought this matter before the courts," and said that if the survivor should want pastoral and spiritual support, he was ready to offer it.

Archbishop Comensoli also said, "In Christian charity, I will ensure that Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence, according to the teaching and example of Jesus to visit those in prison."

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, where Cardinal Pell served as archbishop from 2001 to 2014, said the appeal panel's "split decision" is "consistent with the differing views of the juries in the first and second trials, as well as the divided opinion amongst legal commentators and the general public. Reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence and I urge everyone to maintain calm and civility."

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New Orleans' women religious donate 25 acres for flood control project

IMAGE: CNS photo/

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- In topographically challenged New Orleans, where "running water" can be a pejorative depending on whether it is flowing inside or outside the house, a long-promised, 25-acre stormwater management and flood control project called the Mirabeau Water Garden will be a welcome sight.

After eight years of design discussion and government delays, the ambitious project made possible through the vision and generosity of the Sisters of St. Joseph appears ready to start.

The garden will be able to store 9.5 million gallons of water in a park-like setting and then slowly release it back into the city's overtaxed drainage system.

David Waggonner, the project's lead urban and environmental architect, is eager to see how the water retention area on the Mirabeau Avenue site where the Sisters of St. Joseph's motherhouse stood before Hurricane Katrina, will transform both the hydraulics of the surrounding area and, more importantly, the deeply held view that the only solution to keeping the city safe from flooding is to pump water out of the New Orleans bowl.

"The sisters were way ahead -- maybe because their faith lets them move forward," said Waggonner, the founding principal of Waggonner & Ball. He first approached the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2011 when he heard they might be thinking of making their land available for the project.

When the motherhouse took on 7 feet of flooding from Katrina in 2005 and then was struck by lightning and gutted by fire in 2006, the sisters prayed about what to do with the large and mostly undeveloped site they no longer needed. As New Orleanians began returning home from the Katrina diaspora, the sisters easily could have sold the undeveloped parcel for millions as homesites, using the money to provide for the retirement needs of their aging members.

Instead, after meeting for months with Waggonner and latching on to his vision about working with the environment to manage water, the sisters decided to jump-start the project by leasing their land to the city for $1 a year, a monumental step on the way to securing funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government entities to construct the garden.

"We could have sold the property 15 times to this day," said Ed Sutoris, who oversees the congregation's properties from his office in Chicago. "Every two weeks someone is calling me. It probably was worth about $2 million-$4 million. But the sisters' definition of 'best use' was this project.

"This caught the heart of the sisters because if they could show that this 25-acre parcel could protect thousands of surrounding acres, then that would be big enough proof to encourage other landowners in New Orleans to do something similar."

"Actually, we kept vigil with that land, praying that some idea would come to us that would help the land serve the people of New Orleans, just as our sisters had done all those years," said Sister Pat Bergen, the former congregational leader, who lives in St. Louis. "When David approached us with this idea, we initially knew this is what we were praying for," she told the Clarion Herald, archdiocesan newspaper of New Orleans.

Waggonner said construction is expected to begin by the end of the year.

The major phase of the $20 million project -- the gross water storage features -- will cost about $13.2 million and is expected to take 14 months to complete. The second phase calls for the construction of educational buildings by 2022. The buildings will be used to teach students and others about the science of water management and how the site's newly planted cypress trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses will help create an ecosystem that can mitigate flooding.

The site will have stormwater features to store and filter water and allow it to "infiltrate" the ground. Excess water will be released back into the drainage system. The site also has a planned reflection area commemorating the Sisters of St. Joseph for their commitment to the project and to the people of New Orleans.

A. Baldwin Wood's "world-class" invention in the early 1900s -- the screw pump that could lift large quantities of water -- drained large parts of previously uninhabitable New Orleans, Waggonner said, but that engineering breakthrough came with "a tradeoff."

"The part that was not factored in was the subsidence," Waggonner said, referring to a gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land.

"The pumping of shallow groundwater was not understood as the cause of subsidence," he explained. "Because of the way we've constructed our drainage pumps -- with open joints -- and because we put these big suction pumps on them, you're constantly dragging down the groundwater, which is dragging down the land. So, we're actually sinking the city by pumping it. This system has a radical cost, an unsustainable cost."

For now, Waggonner is buoyed by his collaboration with Dutch groundwater expert Roelof Stuurman, who has stressed the need for innovative water management areas in New Orleans, and with the Sisters of St. Joseph.

"It's always been a matter of trust with the sisters," Waggonner said. "And, in this case, perseverance, because it's been years."

Sister Pat agreed.

"The need is visible and apparent," she said. "All of us sisters are praying that movement will happen on this adventure quite quickly because we see its potential -- and its hopes for the people of New Orleans."

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Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

 

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Chaldean Catholics celebrate Mary, culture, family at Ohio national shrine

IMAGE: CNS photo/Katie Rutter

By Katie Rutter

CAREY, Ohio (CNS) -- With its one stoplight and surrounding cornfields, the small Ohio village of Carey seems an unlikely travel destination. Yet, once a year, an estimated 5,000 visitors swell the town population to more than double.

For nine days, climaxing on the evening of Aug. 14, scores of charter buses drop off pilgrims, most of whom are Iraqi Christians. Hundreds of families fill a five-acre plot with tents, recreational vehicles, Middle Eastern food and music.

"We feel that we're like in our old village back home. Like when I walk around I know a lot of people," said Khalid Markos, who is now a resident of Sterling Heights, Michigan, but was born in Alanish, Iraq.

His family, like most of the pilgrims, fled from war and persecution in their home country. Now exiled refugees, they have found consolation by celebrating their faith and traditions at the aptly named Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey.

"We love our faith a lot and as you may know, we left our country because we didn't want to deny our faith," Conventual Franciscan Friar Raad Eshoo told Catholic News Service, "and it's sad that we see a lot of people here and in Iraq there are few Christians, Chaldean Christians."

The Chaldean Catholic Church, based in Iraq, is one of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with Rome. Chaldean Catholics trace their faith back to the second century and still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

In recent decades, however, war and terrorism has caused hundreds of thousands of these Christians to flee their homeland.

The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce estimates that 160,000 Chaldeans now reside in the Detroit metropolitan area.

"My mother says, 'Even if someone paid me a million dollars, I wouldn't go back,'" said Martha Yousif, niece of Markos, whose parents fled Iraq in 1997.

"You can't guarantee (you will) come back safe," she related.

"Many things I faced -- bombing. In front of my clinic, even," said Syrian Orthodox Christian Nawar Awbawyvalsheikh, a physician and native of Mosul, Iraq.

"Terrorists. They came to our building to kill us and American soldiers saved us," she recalled.

These exiled Christians began traveling two hours from Detroit to the Carey shrine about two decades ago. Many were drawn by stories of miraculous healings, others by a devotion to Mary. All are reliving an Iraqi tradition of visiting shrines and holy sites for pious practices and celebration.

"We have a lot of feasts we call them 'shera,' (with) a lot of people camping, music, dancing, food, and we end it with Mass and procession," said Friar Eshoo, who was born in Mosul.

"When I'm here, I feel like home," he said.

The nine days of celebration in Carey are marked by a constant line for confessions, regular blessings by clergy and several Masses daily, often in Aramaic.

At dusk Aug. 14, the pilgrims carried candles and processed with a statue of Our Lady of Consolation from the basilica to an open field, called Shrine Park. There Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo presided over an outdoor Mass for the vigil of the feast of the Assumption.

"It breathes a lot of new life into me and I think the friars that come here love to do this," said Conventual Franciscan Father Thomas Merrill, the shrine's rector. He was joined by dozens of fellow Conventual Franciscans to help care for the spiritual needs of the pilgrims.

"The people are so hungry for anything that is faith-based and so hungry to practice their Catholic faith and receive the sacraments," Father Merrill said.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation was established in 1875 by a priest from Luxembourg and has welcomed regular waves of pilgrims, often immigrants.

The lower church contains three display cases full of crutches and mementos left by those healed or those who want to thank Our Lady of Consolation for a favor received.

"(The Chaldean people have) suffered a lot. They go through a lot of problems. God and the Virgin Mary saved them to come over here and live peacefully," Markos told CNS.

"Anytime you're in need of something, you ask for it, she always (provides), especially here," said Rafa Kattoula, whose family has made a pilgrimage to the shrine for over 40 years.

Expressing gratitude for Mary's intercession, Kattoula concluded: "We've asked and we come and we receive from her."

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

Investigation underway into cause for sainthood for martyrs of Burundi

IMAGE: CNS photos/courtesy Xaverian Missionaries

By Francis Njuguna

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- The grisly murders of missionary priests and a local priest, a lay volunteer and 40 seminarians in Burundi are the focus of a recently opened investigation into their sainthood cause.

Catholic bishops in this central African nation June 21 welcomed the step petitioned to the Vatican by the Xaverian Missionaries, founded in 1898 by St. Guido Conforti as the Pious Society of St. Francis Xavier for Foreign Missions.

"The church that is in Burundi through us bishops wants to celebrate a group of people who, in the name of Jesus, offered their lives to show that our fraternity in Christ is more important than belonging to an ethnic group," the bishops said in a statement. "It is a great testimony, a message that we believe is truly necessary for all Christians."

The step, which was approved by the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes, is the first involving the Burundian church, according to the Fides News Agency of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

The killings occurred at different times and localities in the country. Those who died include two Italian Xaverian Missionary priests, Father Ottorino Maule, 53, and Father Aldo Marchiol, 65; lay volunteer Catina Gubert, 74; local priest, Father Michael Kayoya, 38; and the seminarians.

The Italian missionaries and Gubert were killed Sept. 30, 1995, at Buyengero parish.

An account of their deaths revealed that women religious who lived near the parish heard shots from the mission area but dismissed them because gunshots occurred regularly in the area.

"On Sunday morning, since they had not seen the fathers for Mass, they decided to go to the mission, where they found the three bodies in the living room. It was a real execution: The missionaries had been killed with a blow to the head. Only Catina had been killed with a blow to the chest. Nothing in the house had been touched or stolen," the account said.

Father Kayoya was executed in Gitega May 17, 1972, with 50 others imprisoned by the government during a dispute between majority Tutsi and minority Hutu people. Those imprisoned were Hutu.

"He was a priest, poet and philosopher," the Burundi Catholic Church recounted. "Through his publications, he always emphasized those ethnic differences more than being a threat are a wealth, and a mutual gift. He was charismatic figure, lover of truth, preached love without ever separating it from justice."

The killing of the 40 seminarians, according to a church account, occurred in the pre-dawn hours of April 30, 1997, when rebels attacked the minor seminary of Buta in the Diocese of Bururi.

Faced with the refusal of the seminarians to separate according to ethnicity, the bandits opened fire, killing 40 young people, who hailed from the dioceses of Bururi, Bujumbura, Ruyigi and Gitega.

The rebels fled after ransacking the seminary and adjacent pastoral center. Today, an onsite chapel memorializes the seminarians.

Father Maule was born in Gambellara in northern Italy on April 7, 1942, and was ordained in 1967.

He left for Burundi on Sept. 3, 1970, returned to Italy in 1979. He was then a teacher and superior of the Xaverian Seminary of Zelarino near Venice and from 1984 to 1990, he served as regional superior of the Xavierians of Italy.

After a brief period in Paris to prepare again for missionary life, he left for Burundi in September 1991. He served as a priest in Buyengero parish, where he was killed with the others.

Father Marchiol was born in Udine in northeastern Italy on March 9, 1930, and was ordained a priest in 1958. After a long period dedicated to the formation of young missionaries in Italy, he went to Burundi in 1978. Other than a short period in 1987-88 when he returned to Italy, he was in Burundi until his death.

Gubert was born in Fiera di Primiero, Italy, and was in Burundi as a lay volunteer. She had been in Burundi between 1976 and 1979 until the first expulsions of missionaries.

She moved to Tanzania to continue her ministry, remaining linked to the Xaverian Missionaries in Burundi. Later returning to Buyengero, she ministered to women until her murder.

The Burundian bishops in their message stressed that "these brothers and this sister in Christ are the heroes that we, the bishops of Burundi, present to you as a single model that inspires love for fraternity."

"They represent the first group of probable martyrs that we present to the universal church, to be officially declared martyrs and are for us all models of fraternity in Christian life and also in our whole Burundian society."

 

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LCWR award recipient embraces 'holy chaos' of her ministry to migrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Global Sisters Report, courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley

By Soli Salgado and Dan Stockman

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CNS) -- "Holy chaos" is how Sister Norma Pimentel describes her ministry.

As the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley on the U.S.-Mexico border, Sister Pimentel sees up to 800 migrants every day pouring into her center in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. The center is often their first stop after being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Here, the Missionaries of Jesus sister and her staff help them organize the rest of their journey to their final destinations, and provide them with new clothes, a hot meal and shower.

More than 150,000 migrants have passed through her ministry's doors.

That work has led to her being praised by, and later meeting, Pope Francis, being featured on "60 Minutes," "20/20," CNN and in newspapers around the world. On Aug. 16, she received the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Outstanding Leadership Award during the organization's annual assembly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"There are times we must decide who we are, what we stand for," Sister Pimentel told the nearly 700 Catholic sisters attending the assembly. "We must ask ourselves, dear sisters, 'What else must I do in the world today?'"

The need is urgent, she said.

"If it is not now, then when? If it is not you, then who?" Sister Pimentel asked. "For it is in times of extreme pain and suffering, extreme measures of love are needed."

In 1980, the bishop of Brownsville asked the Missionaries of Jesus if they could oversee a shelter for refugees called Casa Oscar Romero. There Sister Pimentel became "100 percent absorbed in really advocating and defending immigrant families and children. Since then, that was very much a part of who I am."

Sister Pimentel worked and lived at Casa Oscar Romero for 10 years until 1992, when she went back to school to "better prepare myself to respond to families and the people who needed help."

She became the executive director in 2004. Back then, she said, seeing 200 migrants would have been considered a busy day, as new detention facilities had been built in McAllen, Texas, which meant fewer families would be released to them.

But 10 years later, in June 2014, the border experienced one of the most memorable waves of migrants, particularly of unaccompanied children.

Sister Pimentel said she took the lead in organizing the humanitarian response to migrants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol dropped off at a McAllen, Texas, bus station, visiting the detention facilities where they were apprehended and processed, and teaming up with local parishes to utilize their parish halls for additional space during the 2014 surge.

"To visit the detention facility where they were apprehended and processed and seeing the children in those cells was very heartbreaking for me," she said. "(It was) like I had a dagger in my heart when I saw the suffering children with faces full of tears asking me to help them and not being able to remove them from there."

"That experience has marked me forever," she said. "That triggered in me a profound sense of commitment and dedication to make sure that I become that voice for them, that I can be that force that can defend and protect life, especially the immigrants."

"What connects me to what I'm doing is the face of a child," she said. "Bringing a smile to their face always gives me focus as far as the importance of what I do. No matter how tired I am, if my presence and efforts bring a sense of relief to a family or child in distress, my sense of self is energized, and I go to sleep knowing I've done something good."

Though the number of incoming migrants may vary over the years, their reasons for leaving their home countries remain consistent, Sister Pimentel said.

"It's the gangs and instability and how easily they're abused," she said. "They're afraid for their children, afraid of how easily someone can break into their house and kill their children or themselves if they don't cooperate, if they don't hand over their children to join the gang."

Such instability also makes finding work more difficult, she said, and families are often extorted for more money than they have, and having to work for gangs to pay off whatever is asked.

"That's the constant message we hear over and over again on why they come," she said.

Traffickers and the cartel are "part of the cause and effect of all this," taking advantage of the deterrence policies the U.S. puts forward by exploiting those who forgo the journey, Sister Pimentel said. "President (Barack) Obama was strong in deterrence and deportation, and this new administration under President (Donald) Trump has just followed up on that and amplified it more, with greater emphasis on this negative narrative toward immigrants."

There's an "unwillingness to see immigrants as people," she added, and instead view them "as just intruders or as people who are here to hurt us. ... I feel that I must protect the immigrants and keep them from being exposed too much to the community so the community doesn't feel threatened."

"The fact that they're immigrants is not a reason to be afraid," she said. "Learning to help people make that distinction is important to me, and I find it more challenging to do because sometimes they're so close-minded in their beliefs," which she said she attributes to the influence of the current political climate.

Sister Pimentel said in a video shown before the leadership award was presented that through her work, something inside her had changed. She no longer feels boundaries between people, no matter their station in life. "It is as if we all have become one," she said.

There were murmurs and gasps in the audience at the assembly as Sister Pimentel described the fear on children's faces as they appear at her door, the tears of relief on mothers' faces when they see volunteers welcoming them, fathers kneeling in prayer, thanking God for a place they are finally respected, and the shame on a child's face as they pull her close and ask in a whisper for clean pants because theirs are soiled.

The sisters rose in one accord in a standing ovation for Sister Pimentel, who wiped away tears as the award was presented.

In an interview with the Global Sisters Report, she elaborated, saying, "that connectedness to each other as human beings -- that is key in every relationship and every ministry we do. If we put that as secondary, then we've lost why we're doing what we're doing."

"As consecrated people dedicated to our ministries, we must never lose sight of why we're doing this," she said. "I can be comfortable with chaos, and sometimes the Humanitarian Respite Center can be chaotic (in) how it looks, but there's a sense of order within that chaos, and that's why I call it 'holy chaos.'"

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Salgado and Stockman are staff writer and national correspondent, respectively, for Global Sisters Report.

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

Voracious goats keep Wisconsin cemetery looking beautiful the natural way

IMAGE: CNS photo/Brad Birkholz, for The Compass

By Patricia Kasten

APPLETON, Wis. (CNS) -- Goats tend to get a bad rap in church traditions -- with the devil often portrayed with goat horns and hoofs, and Jesus speaking of separating goats from sheep, as told in Matthew 25, verses 32 and 33.

But at St. Mary Cemetery in Appleton, goats are getting positive reviews.

In early July, five goats arrived in the cemetery from a farm in nearby Black Creek. They're helping tackle the cemetery's problem with buckthorn, an aggressive, invasive species of shrub that had overtaken the cemetery's riverbank.

"We had been working the last couple of years to clean up the riverbank, to give a little better view of the river," explained Brian Dresang, cemetery director. "We ran into an issue of buckthorn. Buckthorn will tear you apart if you get into it. We had a couple of trees down, or with branches down, and we wanted to get that cleaned up. And right under those trees is buckthorn. Obviously, that was trouble."

The cemetery considered using herbicides to kill the shrub.

"Herbicide is quicker, but we thought it was better to do it naturally," Dresang told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. "We were afraid of killing off other things we didn't want to kill off: lots of deer, turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks. We figured it would harm them too. This is a definitely longer process but, in the long run, it's a lot better."

Cemetery officials also worried that the rain would carry the chemicals into the nearby river.

The solution came from landscaper Ron Wolff, who owns Lakeshore Cleaners in Appleton. Wolff was working with a property owner near the cemetery and suggested using goats to clear the pesky plants there.

It turns out goats don't hate buckthorn like humans do. In fact it's the opposite. Dresang quoted what Wolff told him: "Buckthorn is like hot apple pie to goats, it's like their favorite thing."

Using goats for weed control is becoming popular around the country. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has used goats in state parks. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Department of Transportation and various fire departments in California also have turned to goats to clear weeds and brush. They've been used at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, since 2011.

The Sierra Club's website notes that, "thanks to their voracious appetites -- goats can eat up to 10 pounds of vegetation per day -- and (with an) ability to navigate difficult terrain -- the ravenous ruminants are on the front lines of fire prevention."

St. Mary Cemetery got clearance from the town of Grand Chute, purchased and placed electric fencing to keep the goats from the cemetery's hedges, roads and gravesites, and turned them loose. Seven goats were added Aug. 2.

"It's amazing the amount they eat," said Dresang. "They are about 3 feet high, but do they eat a lot of stuff. ... Ron said they would make a big dent. ... I didn't believe him, but I have to admit, they eat a ton."

The goats have been welcomed by visitors, who come to see the voracious weed-eaters. Many people take photos and children love to watch them. One father brings his four small sons almost daily.

Since the goats find their own food, the cemetery only needs to supply a source of fresh water daily. The goats will remain onsite until fall.

Funding to rent the goats came through an anonymous grant from a family fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. For several years, the same family's fund has helped the cemetery with upkeep, replanting large trees after a storm several years ago and repairs to their dump truck.

"Not a lot of cemeteries have a family foundation that wants to keep the cemetery beautiful," Dresang noted. "A small cemetery like us loses money every year. The cemetery business is a hard business anyway. There is no way we would be able to do this without them.

"When we pitched the idea (of goats)," Dresang added, "(the family) loved it because of the more natural way of doing it and because they like creative, out-of-the-box thinking."

Dresang estimated the nine-acre cemetery has at least two acres of ravines and riverbank. So, if the goats don't finish their work this year, they'll return in spring.

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Kasten is associate editor of The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

 

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Update: Sustainable land use urged to ease growing threats to food, water

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Franciscan Friars Conventual

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Leading five friars in formation on an eight-week summer service program largely through Appalachia and South America, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lasky saw a new awareness rising in the young men's minds.

It started by talking with visitors to the Shepherd's Table meal program at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, outside of the eastern town of Shamokin, and learning about people's sense of place in the once-burgeoning coal mining region.

From there, they moved on to planting trees in Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky in an effort to reclaim a mountaintop stripped bare by coal mining. They learned, too, that the forests were shrinking because of the mining, leaving fewer nesting areas for the migrating Cerulean warblers from Colombia.

The connection deepened during a hike in an old-growth forest in Colombia, one of the warbler's wintering homes. By the end, Father Lasky saw how the young friars began to better see their connection as part of God's creation.

The venture -- including time in El Salvador and New Mexico -- was designed to help the friars in formation become "lesser before God" and to listen the stories of the people, seeing connections across land and community.

"I want them as a minister when they're done with the seminary training to look beyond the collar and see themselves as a member of the community in a holistic sense ... that they are interwoven in all of this," said Father Lasky, director of Justice, Peace and Care for Creation Ministry for his order's Our Lady of Angels Province based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

It's that sense of interconnectedness that all people are called to understand and live that underlies the recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global land usage, in Father Lasky's view.

In its report, the IPCC -- the United Nations body assessing the science related to climate change -- examined the growing human impact on land and how climate change compounds the stresses placed on land around the world: degradation, soil depletion, flooding and water shortages.

The report determined that only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources -- including land use and food production -- can global warming be kept well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the target set in the 2015 Paris climate accord to avoid catastrophic effects on the environment.

Scientific studies have found that global temperatures are about 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than 100 years ago and suggest that the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture and other human activities are the primary sources of global warming.

"There are some huge challenges here. The report says we have to undertake fairly quickly a massive rethinking about how we use our land globally," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.

Father Lasky and others told Catholic News Service the need for sustainable land use practices is crucial, especially in an era when land is viewed primarily as a commodity without regard to the needs of local communities or the future of the planet.

Agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, working with national governments and nongovernmental organizations, have helped small farmers implement sustainable practices that involve water management, conservation of natural resources, companion planting of crops and trees and reducing fertilizer usage, said Olaf Westermann, senior technical adviser on climate change at CRS.

"Our main approach is improving natural resource management because that is what poor people depend on mostly," he said.

Although thousands of small farmers have seen their crop yields increase through sustainable practices, problems persist because of the widespread desire to exploit land for economic gain, said Michael Schuck, associate professor of theology and co-director of the International Jesuit Ecology Project at Loyola University Chicago.

"The number one environmental crisis going on, now of all, where the most environmental activism is taking place worldwide, is not with respect to climate change, but the question of land grabbing," Schuck told Catholic News Service.

Among others, he cited areas of Honduras and Guatemala where forests are being bulldozed and replaced with tracts of palm trees to meet the growing worldwide demand for palm oil.

"We have a production system that doesn't respect land as a living breathing entity," he said. "It has commodified it."

Schuck and others said they do not outright oppose profit-making, but rather they echo the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," to recognize that the long-term future of Earth is at stake unless practices related to high consumption and natural resource exploitation change.

The IPCC report said much the same, projecting that food production will suffer if unsustainable land use persists.

Indigenous lands have become increasingly sought for development, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples.

"No one knows the conflicts between food, fuel and forests better than indigenous people and local communities. Indigenous and local people continue to face murder and criminalization when we face agro-industry, mining, logging and infrastructure projects that threaten our forests, our lives and the animals and plants we protect," she said during a news conference Aug. 8 at which the report was released.

Nowhere is such land conflict better exemplified than in the Amazon forest of Brazil. A recent announcement by President Jair Bolsonaro's administration declared that Brazil will open indigenous lands -- primarily in the Amazon region, where 60% of the country's indigenous people live -- to mineral exploration.

The number of recent requests for research and mining has generated concern among indigenous peoples, environmentalists and human rights advocates who defend the territories of indigenous peoples.

Sonia Guajajara of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Articulation, representing about 300 indigenous groups, has criticized the model of large-scale agricultural production.

"Our mission is to defend Mother Earth, to defend nature," she said. "When we do this, we not only benefit the indigenous people, but we benefit everyone. They want to make them believe that indigenous people no longer need land."

Further, German climatologist Hans-Otto Portner, vice chairman of an IPCC working group, said in early August that the new Brazilian policies represent the opposite of what the IPCC report recommends.

In Africa, Father Charles Odira, of the Kenyan bishops' conference, chairs the Kenya Interfaith Network of Action on the Environment. He told CNS climate change is disturbing the normal planting schedule for local farmers. Rains that once fell in February now have shifted by as much as a few weeks, he said.

In addition, the unpredictability of water access causes some herding communities to expand where their herds of cattle graze, leading to confrontations over the land, he said.

But there are successes. Father Odira recalled meeting one man during a pastoral visit in the territory covered by his parish in the Diocese of Homa Bay who managed to boost millet and corn yields significantly. Asking how, Father Odira learned that the man had implemented new practices on his arid land and he asked the farmer to share those practices with others.

"From the church's perspective, it's better," he explained. "You can reach more families. And with the church involved, people trust it more."

Schuck told CNS that kind of understanding and cooperation is needed on a broad scale and that it must begin immediately.

"There's a reason for hope, but the timing is so critical," he said. "Do we have the time needed to slow us down before the precipice?"

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Contributing to this story was Lise Alves in Sao Paulo.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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

Christ's love gives hope to forgotten ones, cardinal says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a world where many are often marginalized and discriminated against, the message of Jesus' love must continue to be proclaimed, a Vatican official wrote on behalf of Pope Francis.

In a message sent Aug. 16 to the 40th Meeting in Rimini, an annual event sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said that countless men, women and children, especially those fleeing war and poverty, "are often treated as statistics and numbers" rather than as human beings with faces, names and stories.

The theme of the Aug. 18-24 meeting -- "Your name was born from what you gazed upon" -- was inspired by a poem written by St. John Paul II which referred to St. Veronica who, according to legend, wiped the face of Christ on his way toward Calvary.

"In an age where people are often faceless, anonymous figures because they have no one to look at, the poetry of St. John Paul II reminds us that we exist because we are connected," Cardinal Parolin wrote.

Reflecting on the event's theme, the Vatican secretary of state said that only by "fixing one's gaze upon Jesus' face and attaining familiarity with him" can Christians be purified and prepared "to look at everything with new eyes."

"By meeting Jesus, by looking at the son of man, the poor and the simple found themselves, they felt profoundly loved by an immeasurable love," the cardinal wrote.

This experience, he added, is what makes Christians "a presence in the world that is different from all others" because of their calling to be mirror images of Christ in the world.

"This is the origin of the profound joy that nothing and no one can take away from us: our name is written in the heavens, and not for our merits, but rather because of a gift that each of us has received through baptism. It is a gift that we are called to share with everyone, without exception. This means being missionary disciples," he wrote.

Conveying Pope Francis' best wishes for the annual event, Cardinal Parolin expressed the pope's desire that in celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Rimini meeting "will always be a hospitable place where people can talk face to face."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Vatican official: Church must be prudent judging Medjugorje apparitions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sarah Mac Donald

By Sarah Mac Donald

KNOCK, Ireland (CNS) -- Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a place of prayer, conversion and pilgrimage for millions of people, but the church must be prudent and not rush to any judgment on the alleged Marian apparitions there, said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Speaking to Catholic News Service at Knock Shrine in County Mayo Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, Archbishop Fisichella spoke of attending the first officially approved church festival at Medjugorje in early August.

"I confess the experience was very beautiful, seeing about 70,000 young people praying and living together and listening to catechesis," he told CNS, describing it as a mini-World Youth Day.

The presence of so many young people there was, he suggested, "one of the fruits" of the pastoral efforts of Medjugorje.

Visionaries claim to have seen than 40,000 Marian apparitions since June 1981, when six teenagers first claimed they first saw an apparition of Our Lady while herding sheep.

As always, when confronted with an apparition, the church "is always prudent," Archbishop Fisichella said.

In May 2018, Pope Francis named Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser as apostolic visitor to the shrine, after a papal commission recommended that Medjugorje, which attracts up to 3 million visitors annually, be designated a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight. A ban on pilgrimages organized by dioceses and parishes was then lifted by papal decree.

Some of the six visionaries say Mary still appears to them daily and gives them messages. However, in 2017, when asked about this, Pope Francis appeared to doubt the ongoing nature of these apparitions.

Differentiating between the Vatican's pastoral care of Medjugorje and the doctrinal study of the apparitions, Archbishop Fisichella said that, following the papal commission's conclusions, "we are now in another step (phase) in order to understand what happened in Medjugorje."

"I think that for the moment it is necessary to evaluate the richness of the work in Medjugorje. We need to understand all of this together: why there is such a huge number of pilgrims, of prayers and to understand also how the possible apparitions in Medjugorje (relate) to the life of the church. For that we should wait the judgment the Holy Father will give. To rush this delicate matter is a mistake."

Archbishop Fisichella was in Knock as the keynote speaker for the feast of the Assumption as part of the annual novena at the Irish church's national shrine, which draws up to 100,000 pilgrims over the nine days of the novena.

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the apparition in Irish village. On Aug. 21, 1879, 15 people, ages 6-75, witnessed the silent vision of Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist as well as the Lamb of God standing on the altar in driving rain.

Speaking to CNS about the message of Knock, Archbishop Fisichella said he was "touched by the vision of St. John," who was seen in the apparition giving the sign of silence. "Probably not many people know that this was the request for silence made by the master among the disciples" in medieval times.

He suggested that the message of Knock and its "request of silence" was "extremely important" for today's contemporary "era of chat."

"We need to help people today, especially people who don't know the profound value of silence, to understand better the value of silence," he said.

At a seminar the same day on the theme, "Mary in the life of the church," the archbishop also expressed concern over the number of millennials who feel isolated and have no friends.

Discussing the concept of koinonia -- communion and community -- Archbishop Fisichella told the Knock seminar that "in a culture like ours, where there is such a strong individualism, we need to discover the necessity of community and relationship."

He said he had been shocked to learn of a recent finding in the United States that showed as many as 30 percent of millennials identified solitude and a lack of friends of one of their main problems.

"It is unbelievable but true. Normally we think of solitude as a problem for people in their 70s or 80s due to their condition of life. Millennials are people born in 2000, and today they are 19 years old. This solitude stems from a culture in which people close in on themselves. Without relationships you cannot trust; if you don't trust you can't communicate; if you don't communicate there is no possibility of friendship; and if there is no friendship there is no possibility to learn to express yourself."

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Update: In Colombia, bishops, religious listen to Amazonians before synod

IMAGE: CNS photo/Manuel Rueda

By Manuel Rueda

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNS) -- Bishops, nuns, priests and residents of the Amazon basin met in Colombia's capital city in mid-August to prepare for a special Synod of Bishops for the Amazon this fall at the Vatican.

The meeting gave bishops who will be attending the synod a chance to develop proposals and listen to residents of the Amazon region, before they head to the Vatican in October for the gathering. Similar pre-synod meetings have been held recently in Peru and Brazil.

Pope Francis "wants to give visibility to the people of the Amazon and listen to their concerns, their teachings, their spirituality," said Bishop Joaquin Pinzon Guiza of Puerto Leguizamo-Solano, a vicariate deep in the world's largest rainforest. "As bishops we don't just want to take our thoughts to the synod, but also what lies within our peoples' hearts."

The synod, announced by Pope Francis in October 2017, will focus on how to improve the church's work in the vast but sparsely populated Amazon biome, which sprawls across nine South American countries and is largely inhabited by indigenous groups.

Approximately 110 bishops that lead church jurisdictions in the Amazon will attend as well as representatives of continental episcopal conferences and 32 observers, including indigenous leaders.

One of the topics that will be discussed is the ordination of married men as priests in far-flung villages where Catholics are currently struggling to get sacraments, and even celebrate Sunday Mass, due to the scarcity of qualified church personnel.

Some church leaders have criticized the idea of ordaining married men, saying it presents a "breach" with apostolic tradition. But many at the Colombia session seemed to favor the move.

In an early August interview in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Pope Francis was asked whether the possibility of ordaining older, married men to minister in remote areas would be one of the main topics of discussion at the synod. The pope replied, "Absolutely not. It is simply one number" in the working document, a discussion guide that contains 146 items, outlining various topics.

Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, told participants in the Colombia meeting: "The Eucharist is at the center of our faith, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both said that, without it, you cannot build the church. ... We need to reflect on how to help our brothers in these poor and abandoned communities to be full members of the Catholic Church."

Cardinal Barreto, vice president of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, or REPAM, added that the synod "does not work as a congress" and explained that, ultimately, it is up to Pope Francis to decide if married men with a record of community service and good standing in their villages can be ordained.

He said the synod also will look at ways in which the Catholic Church can address social problems facing the Amazon region, like deforestation, destructive mining practices and threats against indigenous leaders.

"Our current economic system seeks profit, but forgets about caring" for the environment, Cardinal Barreto said. "It is a system that is killing people ... and indigenous people are especially vulnerable."

The presynod meeting was attended by dozens of indigenous leaders, government workers and members of civil society groups, who chimed in with their own ideas on how the church can help with environmental preservation.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, who attended the meeting's inaugural session, called on bishops to address drug trafficking and its impact on Amazonian communities. Duque said large tracts of the rainforest have been cleared by drug traffickers to plant coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine.

Cesar Melendez, director of CDA, a Colombian environmental agency, said bishops and priests can help by including environmental messages in sermons and in Catholic education.

"As a government agency, we can affect behavior change through sanctions and campaigns" Melendez said. "But the church has the ability to reach communities in a different way, by touching upon their spiritual side. I think people respect what is said at church."

Some members of the Catholic hierarchy have criticized the upcoming synod for trying to get involved in areas that have been traditionally beyond the church's reach.

German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller recently published an essay in which he accused the synod's working document of being heretical because it refers to the rainforest as a place of divine revelation. In the essay, published in June, Cardinal Brandmuller also criticized the synod for its plans to get involved in social and environmental affairs.

In Colombia, in contrast, indigenous groups have largely welcomed the synod process.

"The fact that the pope has included indigenous people in his agenda is already a victory for us," said Fanny Cuiro, an indigenous leader from Colombia's Huitoto tribe, who attended the presynod meeting.

"The heads of state in many of our countries often don't have time for indigenous people, so having the pope's attention fills us with hope."

Cuiro grew up in La Chorrera, a remote community in the Colombian Amazon where indigenous people were exploited for decades by rubber tappers, who forced indigenous people to work in that industry. When the rubber boom subsided, Capuchin missionaries arrived and set up a school, where they also took care of children whose parents were killed by rubber tappers.

But Cuiro said the missionaries frowned upon indigenous customs and beat children when they spoke their native language at school. She said that over the past three decades, the situation has improved, and members of the church have become much more supportive of indigenous ways.

"At first we had a difficult relationship with the church," she said. "But now the priests and nuns are friends. We trust them and we can speak with them about our plans for the future."

 

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