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In op-ed, border bishop pleads for TPS leniency for sake of children

IMAGE: CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Days before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decides whether to extend or terminate a special immigration status for some 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S., a border bishop pleaded with the Trump administration to think about the well-being of the immigrants' children who are U.S. citizens.

In a Jan. 2 opinion piece for the Washington-based political website The Hill, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said he worries for families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others have a less permanent immigration status.

He asked what will happen to the children of Salvadorans who have Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, if the program ends and people are forced to return to their homeland. TPS grants a work permit and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations so they can remain temporarily in the United States.

"A question that burns in my heart is what will happen to these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will become of their futures?" Bishop Seitz asked in the opinion piece.

DHS was expected to decide by Jan. 8 what to do in the case of Salvadorans with TPS, but various groups in the country, including a national coalition of cities and counties, are clamoring to allow them to stay.

"The Salvadoran TPS recipients we represent have deep roots in our communities. Allowing their TPS status to expire will divide families and harm our cities. Salvadoran TPS recipients have lived in the United States for an average of 21 years and have 192,700 U.S.-born children," said a letter issued Jan. 3 by Cities for Action, which includes signatures from 19 bipartisan mayors of major U.S. cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington.

Salvadoran TPS recipients arrived in the U.S. because of war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as increasing gang violence plaguing the Central American nation.

"These individuals took refuge in our city and have since become deeply embedded in our economy, houses of worship, schools and neighborhoods," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Cities for Action letter.

In his op-ed, Bishop Seitz cites the economic contributions of the recipients and said their absence, should TPS end for them, will be felt financially and directly in certain industries, such as home health care and construction, not to mention the loss of taxes they pay to the local and federal government. But there's a more noble and Christian reason to help TPS recipients, he said.

"How we treat the most vulnerable in our society is reflective of who we are and whether we have learned anything in the 2,000 years since the birth of another immigrant child, born in a stable because his parents could find no room for him at the inn -- an event we have just celebrated," he wrote.

"In my role as a bishop of the Catholic Church, I have served and stood by countless Central American families. I have been a guest in their homes and at their first Communions, graduations, confirmations, weddings. I have seen these families flourish despite incredible obstacles," he continued.

Ending TPS for Salvadorans would mean putting the lives of the parents as well as their children at risk, and permitting the "possibility of being hunted by gangs and identified for extortion, gang recruitment and worse in a country that they don't call home," he added.

In 2017, Bishop Seitz and other bishops traveled to El Salvador and Honduras "to examine conditions on the ground in both countries and to assess whether those conditions merit an end to TPS," he said.

Their delegation determined "large-scale protection issues if TPS holders are forced to return to their home countries, particularly El Salvador," he said in the op-ed.

"Will these families face separation and breakdown, so that their U.S.-citizen child can access the benefits of an American education? Or will families stay together and leave to their parents' home countries, facing a decided lack of opportunity and, worse, extreme violence and possible exploitation? The end of TPS for El Salvador would force such a heartbreaking decision upon thousands of families," he wrote.

He said he met with youth "who tearfully explained to me why they attempted to migrate north, forced out of their homes, extorted by gangs. I have heard from young girls who faced sexual assault and domestic abuse; teenage boys have spoken with me about being afraid to go to school because of the fear of encountering gangs on the way and having to pay daily to enter and leave their neighborhood."

If TPS for Salvadorans is not extended, those forced to leave and their U.S.-born children will face those conditions, too, he said.

"Worse, they may be targeted precisely because of their U.S. citizenship status, their American habits and their English-language skills," he wrote. "I steadfastly pray that our national leaders do not turn their backs on these children by closing the door to their parents."

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Update: Jesuits denounce threats against outspoken Honduran priest, activists

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Society of Jesus has denounced threats made against an outspoken Honduran Jesuit who has highlighted accusations of widespread irregularities in the Central American country's recent presidential election.

The Conference of Provincials in Latin America and the Caribbean said in Dec. 30 statement that the social media hostilities against Father Ismael Moreno Coto -- better known as "Padre Melo" -- were "reminiscent of the death threats which circulated in El Salvador before the murder of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande," a Salvadoran Jesuit murdered in 1977. The Jesuits also defended eight other regional activists being threatened.

"All of the accusations are lies aimed at counteracting the grass-roots organizing and the peaceful and democratic resistance which the accused, along with the people of Honduras, are carrying out at a moment when the popular vote has been disrespected by John Orlando Hernandez and his allies," said the statement, referring to the incumbent president and official electoral victor.

"This is an attempt to create terror in the people as a strategy to demobilize them," said the statement, signed by Father Roberto Jaramillo, conference president. "We hold Juan Orlando Hernandez and his allies responsible for the safety and physical and moral well-being of the nine people falsely accused."

The Nov. 26 Honduran elections returned Hernandez to power, but only after a lengthy vote-counting process marred by unexplained delays and improbable technical difficulties. The incumbent also overcame a large lead held by opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, who was ahead with a majority of votes counted before a long suspension of the count by the country's electoral tribunal.

The U.S. government, which has worked closely with Hernandez's administration on immigration and security issues, recognized the victory Dec. 22, despite irregularities noted by election observers and calls for new elections.

Hernandez has called for dialogue but has been rebuffed by the opposition, including Father Moreno, founder of Radio Progreso. At least 30 people have been killed in protests since the election, according to observers, who allege police repression. A Radio Progreso transmission tower was toppled in December in an act Father Moreno called "sabotage."

"I'm receiving accusations that put my life at risk," he tweeted Dec. 31. "This is the open dialogue that the president speaks about and is backed by the U.S. Embassy."

Father Moreno has long been outspoken in his criticism of Hernandez and the country's business class, both accused of corruption, improperly capitalizing on concessions and privatizations and failing to stop the slayings of social and environmental activists.

The Honduran bishops' conference said in a Dec. 20 statement that the country's electoral tribunal "has not overcome the lack of certainty regarding the election results," but called for calm and for Hondurans to strive for "a grand social pact through dialogue."

Calls for dialogue have fallen on deaf ears previously, including after the 2009 coup, when the opposition accused the newly installed president of using the prospect of talk as a means of buying time.

The 2009 coup occurred after opponents accused then-President Manuel Zelaya of illegally preparing an attempted re-election; Honduras had allowed only one four-year term.

However, Hernandez, who supported the coup, convinced the Supreme Court to allow his own attempted re-election -- something observers say has poisoned the prospects of dialogue.

"You can't say the government has been terrible in everything," said Father German Calix, director of Caritas Honduras. "What people did not tolerate is that the law was violated so (Hernandez) could run as a candidate again. (They) feel like the law has been mocked and could continue being mocked."

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Don't confess other's faults, own up to sins, pope says at audience

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Fear and the shame of admitting one's own sins leads to pointing fingers and accusing others rather than recognizing one's own faults, Pope Francis said.

"It's difficult to admit being guilty, but it does so much good to confess with sincerity. But you must confess your own sins," the pope said Jan. 3 at his first general audience of the new year.

"I remember a story an old missionary would tell about a woman who went to confession and she began by telling her husband's faults, then went on to her mother-in-law's faults and then the sins of her neighbors. At a certain point, the confessor told her, 'But ma'am, tell me, are you done?' 'No... Yes.' 'Great, you have finished with other people's sins, now start to tell me yours,'" he said.

The pope was continuing his series of audience talks on the Mass, reflecting on the penitential rite.

Recognizing one's own sins prepares a person to make room in his or her heart for Christ, the pope said. But a person who has a heart "full of himself, of his own success" receives nothing because he is already satiated by his "presumed justice."

"Listening to the voice of conscience in silence allows us to realize that our thoughts are far from divine thoughts, that our words and our actions are often worldly, guided by choices that are contrary to the Gospel," the pope said.

Confessing one's sins to God and the church helps people understand that sin not only "separates us from God but also from our brothers and sisters," he added.

"Sin cuts, it cuts our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters, in our family, in society, in the community," the pope said. "Sin always cuts, separates, divides."

The penitential rite at Mass also includes asking the intercession of Mary and all the angels and saints, which, he said, is an acknowledgement that Christians seek help from "friends and models of life" who will support them on their journey toward full communion with God.

Christians also can find the courage to "take off their masks" and seek pardon for their sins by following the example of biblical figures such as King David, Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman and St. Peter.

"To take measure of the fragility of the clay with which we have been formed is an experience that strengthens us," Pope Francis said. "While making us realize our weakness, it opens our heart to call upon the divine mercy that transforms and converts. And this is what we do in the penitential act at the beginning of Mass."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Bishop Bambera urges prayers for peace after attack on Coptic Christians

IMAGE: CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the wake of a gunman's attack on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo Dec. 29, killing at least nine people, a U.S. bishop urged Catholics to "pray for peace in Egypt and the Middle East and for all victims of religious and political hatred."

"I especially ask Catholics to renew their support, love and prayers for our Coptic brethren who are enduring martyrdom for the sake of Christ," said Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

In his Dec. 29 statement, the bishop also prayed for those who had been injured and killed.

A Dec. 31 Associated Press report said witnesses at the scene of the attack credited local residents and worshippers for keeping the death toll down. The men and women closed an iron gate, preventing the assailant from going inside the church. Others pelted him with rocks as he fled the area by foot because someone hid his motorcycle. One resident is said to have pounced on the gunman while he was reloading his automatic weapon.

The attack began just as Mass ended at the Mar Mina church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan. Some people took shelter in an adjacent stationery store.

Initial reports said there was more than one gunman, but updated reports confirmed it was one assailant who was shot and wounded by a police officer.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, which has specifically targeted Egypt's Coptic Christian minority since December 2016 with a series of church bombings that have killed more than 100 people and wounded many more.

Bishop Bambera's statement noted there have been more than 2,000 attacks on Coptic Christians by extremists in the past three years.

He recounted recent attacks this year, including the Dec. 22 attack on a church south of Cairo that wounded three people and destroyed the church's interior. In May, masked militants opened fired on a bus packed with Coptic Christians, including children on their way to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Maghagha, killing 28 and wounding 22.

The bishop also noted the Palm Sunday attack when suicide bombers struck churches in Alexandria and Tanta, killing 43 people and injuring dozens.

"These attacks represent only some of the many attacks that have occurred over the past several years, targeting faithful of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who account for almost 10 percent of Egypt's population," the bishop said.

"In the course of such rampant attacks, Muslims have also been targeted, as well as police, military and members of the news media," he noted, adding that recent attacks "represent countless numbers of ongoing acts of violence that continue to burden the Egyptian nation."

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Gospel message of hope often is taught by the poor, cardinal says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his ministry as archbishop of Manila and in his travels for Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said he is reminded of the true meaning of hope by people living in situations the world would see as hopeless.

"The poor know the frustration of dreaming and working hard with not much result," Cardinal Tagle said. "They are betrayed by persons and institutions. But in their raw poverty, what is left for them is their humanity. They remind all of us that being human is our true and only wealth."

While anyone can be tempted to see the fulfillment of hope in accomplishments, improved numbers and bigger bank balances, the poor celebrate the gift of life and praise the giver of life, the cardinal said in a written interview in early January.

"This is the secret of their enduring and persistent hope, which those who enjoy comfortable living, yet complain unceasingly, should discover," he said.

Cardinal Tagle, 60, will talk and preach about hope with parish, school and diocesan leaders at the opening session and Mass of the Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore Feb. 15-17.

Pride and self-sufficiency lie on the opposite end from the hope the poor witness to, he said. "Of the many challenges to hope, I consider pride the most dangerous. Pride weakens faith that gives assurance to hope. Pride makes me think I can do better than God. Pride makes me place my hope in myself. Pride makes me a pseudo-savior."

"Whether personal or institutional, pride depletes hope," the cardinal said.

In addition to serving as archbishop of Manila and president of Caritas Internationals, Cardinal Tagle also is president of the Catholic Biblical Federation.

Of course, the Bible is the book of hope, and "there are many Scripture verses or prayers that rekindle hope in me," he said.

"But one that I 'run to' regularly is John 21:1-14," which tells the story of the disciples' miraculous catch of fish.

The cardinal said he often turns to the story, and "when I have labored hard and long but still end up not catching anything, I know the risen Lord is close by, watching compassionately and calling my attention so that he could direct my action."

The story also brings consolation, he said, because it is a reminder that mission and ministry are Jesus' work, and "my role is to work hard under his direction. The catch will be his, but I must be there with other collaborators to see the miracle, to haul the net to shore and to declare, 'It is the Lord!'"

In that way, he said, "a seemingly hopeless situation becomes a space to return to my humble role and to witness to the true Lord."

Cardinal Tagle's Bible probably falls open to that Gospel story on its own. His episcopal motto, "Dominus Est" -- "It is the Lord" -- is taken from that passage. The Gospel account was the focus of a retreat he facilitated as a priest. And it was the subject of his homily in 2011 when he was installed as the archbishop of Manila.

Moving to Manila after 10 years as bishop of his home diocese, Imus, he said in the installation homily that the lesson of the passage -- that the Lord directs the catch -- is a message of hope for the church community as well as for individuals.

"The Lord guards his church. He keeps watch with us on those long nights of confusion and helplessness in mission," the new archbishop said in 2011. "When, in spite of our good intentions and efforts, there are still the multitude of hungry people we cannot feed, homeless people we cannot shelter, battered women and children we cannot protect, cases of corruption and injustice that we cannot remedy, the long night of the disciples in the middle of the sea continues in us."

The experience of the long night should make Christians "grow in compassion toward our neighbors whose lives seem to be a never ending dark night," he said, and it should remind Christians that even when things are not working out as planned, the Lord is near.

The Gospel passage also is a call "to follow the Lord in our mission not individually, but together as the disciples did," he said. "Mission is an event of the church. We will be together in failure, but we will also be together in listening to the Spirit, in beholding God's miracles and in hauling the nets to shore."

The bishops, priests, religious and laity share one mission, he said at his installation. "When we take different boats and even compete against each other to get the better portion of the catch for our own teams, we are not engaging in mission. Divisiveness and destructive competition will only help sink the boat."

Now, after six years as archbishop and five years as a cardinal, he told Catholic News Service that "the faith that God is with us, especially in Jesus and in the animating power of the Holy Spirit, gives me hope."

"The faith that assures me that creation and history are in God's hands and these hands transform death into life, hatred into forgiveness and darkness into life -- this gives me hope," he said. "The faith that makes me see how people truly cooperate with God's action in the world through sincere love gives me hope."

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