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Updated: 21 hours 47 min ago

USCCB committee chairmen applaud decision on transgender directive

February 24, 2017 - 4:41pm

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of two U.S. bishops' committees Feb. 24 praised President Donald Trump's repeal of the Obama administration's directive on transgender access to bathrooms.

The guidance, issued last May by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, "indicated that public pre-K through 12 schools, as well as all colleges and universities, should treat 'a student's gender identity as the student's sex,'" said the bishops' joint statement.

The document "sought to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with sensitive issues involving individual students," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education.

"Such issues are best handled with care and compassion at the local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students," they said.

In rescinding the directive, the Trump administration said that addressing of transgender access to bathrooms is best left to the states and local school districts, not the federal government.

The Obama administration said it applied to all public schools as well as colleges and universities that received federal funding. The directive "summarizes a school's Title IX obligations regarding transgender students," administration officials said, and that it also explained how the Education and Justice departments will "evaluate a school's compliance with these obligations."

The federal Title IX statute prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, like sports. Some months before issuing the directive, Obama administration had warned schools that denying transgender students access to the facilities and activities of their choice was illegal under its interpretation of federal sex discrimination laws.

Officials at the Justice and Education departments in the Trump administration rejected the previous administration's position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

That directive, they said, was arbitrary and devised "without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy."

"Pope Francis has taught that 'biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated," said Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Murry, quoting from "Amoris Laetitia," the papal document on marriage and family.

"The Catholic Church consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the well-being of all people, particularly the most vulnerable," the two prelates said. "Children, youth and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion sensitivity, and respect. All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of all young students and parents."

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Pope, top Curia officials launch new style of 'ad limina' visit

February 24, 2017 - 1:15pm

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For decades, the visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican were known for their formality and routine style, but Pope Francis launched "a whole new style of 'ad limina' visits," a Chilean bishop said.

The bishops were expecting "to have a long meeting with a speech and then individual meetings," as in the past, Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos of Santiago, secretary of the Chilean bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service Feb. 24.

Instead, the Vatican informed the prelates before their departure from Chile that they were going to have a group meeting with the pope and the prefects of several Vatican congregations and offices.

"We were told that this was going to be a new way of doing things that was beginning with us, that looks for a more fruitful, more incisive dialogue between the representatives of the local churches and the pope with his main collaborators," Bishop Ramos said.

After spending three hours with the pope Feb. 20, the Chilean bishops met again with Pope Francis Feb. 23. At the second meeting, the pope and Chilean bishops were joined by several top officials, including: Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Also present at the meeting were: Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect for the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; and Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Bishop Ramos told CNS that Cardinal Ouellet began the discussions, which focused on four principal themes: communion and collegiality within the church; the mission of the church in Chile; how to help clergy, religious men and women as well as the laity "in their Christian lives and in their pastoral service"; and pastoral guidelines for the future.

"It wasn't about speaking about little things or a little problem over here," he said. "This was more of a way of looking at everything together, for them to listen to our opinions and (we to listen to theirs) on these principal themes."

"It was something completely different," Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo, member of the permanent committee of the Chilean bishops' conference, told CNS.

"It was truly something wonderful from the perspective of collegiality, of synodality, of the church walking together. This doesn't just respond to the realities in Chile, it's a whole new (approach) that begins now."

Bishop Ramos told CNS that although the bishops knew about the meeting with the pope and Vatican officials before they left Chile, they found out only when they arrived in Rome that Pope Francis wanted to meet with them privately as well.

After celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Peter Feb. 20, the bishops were welcomed to the library in the Apostolic Palace by the pope.

"As we were seated around him," Bishop Gonzalez said, "the pope -- in his Argentine manner of speaking -- told us: 'Well, the soccer ball is in the center. Whoever wants to and is brave enough, give it a kick." (The Argentine phrase is: "El que quiera y que tiene la cara mas dura, que le pegue una patada.")

Bishop Ramos added that several bishops would speak and the pope would respond. "It was like talking after dinner while drinking some Bacardi, in a manner of speaking," he said.

Bishop Gonzalez said at a certain point, a bishop said, "'Holy Father, it's a little bit hot in here, can we open a window?' The pope said, 'Yes, of course' and stood up. The bishop said, 'No, no don't worry, Holy Father, I'll open it."

Bishop Ramos and Bishop Gonzalez said that the sincere discussion was "a turning point" that led to a more open dialogue at their second meeting with the pope and Vatican officials.

"It's like that Scripture reading. Paul, after preaching, went to Jerusalem to speak with Peter and tell him what he had done. This is the same. We come to Jerusalem to tell Peter this is what happened and he guides us to see what else we can do," Bishop Gonzalez said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Discovery of Earth-sized planets boosts hope of finding alien life

February 24, 2017 - 11:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/NASA handout via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The quest to find life on other planets got a boost when astronomers confirmed the existence of at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star just 40 light years away.

Three of the planets are located in the so-called "habitable" zone, a kind of "Goldilocks" sweet spot in that their distance from the sun makes them not too hot, not too cold, but just right for having liquid water -- an essential ingredient for life.

The pope's own astronomers applauded the new discovery around the dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, named after one of the many telescopes that detected the planets. The study's results were published in Nature magazine Feb. 22.

"The discovery is important because, to date, it has revealed the highest number of Earth-sized planets revolving around a single parent star," U.S. Jesuit Father David Brown told Catholic News Service.

"Depending on different factors, all of the planets could potentially harbor conditions for the possible existence of life on them," he said in an email response to questions Feb. 24.

"It is also significant because it shows the existence of such exoplanets -- planets outside of our solar system -- around low-mass -- smaller than the Sun -- cool, red, dim stars, which are the most common types of stars in galaxies and which have long lifetimes," said the astrophysicist, who studies stellar evolution at the Vatican Observatory.

He said scientists and astronomers will now want to use newer and more powerful telescopes to learn more about the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, such as the planets' atmospheres.

"The aim is to look for signs of the presence of chemicals like water, methane, oxygen and others by looking at the spectra of the light observed from those atmospheres, and as well to try to examine other atmospheric properties," Father Brown said.

The name TRAPPIST is an acronym for the "Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope," which is located in Chile, but the name also reflects the exploration project's Belgian roots by honoring Belgium's famous Trappist beers, made by Trappist monks.

"The use of religious names in space discoveries is not rare," the astrophysicist priest said, because religious men have been among the many scientists contributing to human knowledge of the world and universe throughout history.

For example, he said, several craters on the moon are named after Jesuit priests and brothers and the SECCHI (Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation) instruments being used for solar research are named after Jesuit Father Angelo Secchi, one of the founding fathers of modern astrophysics.

Father Brown said the human fascination with the possibility of life on other planets "speaks to one of the most basic questions that confronts humanity as it contemplates its place in this cosmos: 'Are we alone, or are there others in the universe?'"

"An answer to that question would have a profound impact on humanity in this world as well as confronting us with the question of how we would interact with our cosmic neighbors," said the Louisiana native.

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, said the question of life beyond Earth is "a question of faith."

While there is no definitive proof yet that extraterrestrial life exists, "our faith in the fact that life exists is strong enough to make us willing to make an effort in looking for it," he said in an article in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Feb. 24.

Brother Consolmagno, a planetary scientist, told the Italian bishops' news agency, SIR, that when it comes to discoveries about the universe, he always expects them to be surprising.

"God speaks to us through what he has created," he said, and creation has been created "by a God of love, joy and surprises."

God made the universe, and "it is up to us scientists and faithful to learn more about what he has created and how he created it."

"Every new surprise is a tiny burst of joy before his creative greatness," he said.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz.

 

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Promote life by protecting, sharing clean water, pope says

February 24, 2017 - 10:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right and a key component in protecting human life, Pope Francis said.

"The right to water is essential for the survival of persons and decisive for the future of humanity," the pope said Feb. 24 during a meeting with 90 international experts participating in a "Dialogue on Water" at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Looking at all the conflicts around the globe, Pope Francis said, "I ask myself if we are not moving toward a great world war over water."

Access to water is a basic and urgent matter, he said. "Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance. Urgent, because our common home needs to be protected."

Citing "troubling" statistics from the United Nations, the pope said, "each day -- each day! -- a thousand children die from water-related illnesses and millions of persons consume polluted water."

While the situation is urgent, it is not insurmountable, he said. "Our commitment to giving water its proper place calls for developing a culture of care -- that may sound poetic, but that is fine because creation is a poem."

Scientists, business leaders, religious believers and politicians must work together to educate people on the need to protect water resources and to find more ways to ensure greater access to clean water "so that others can live," he said.

A lack of clean and safe drinking water "is a source of great suffering in our common home," the pope said. "It also cries out for practical solutions capable of surmounting the selfish concerns that prevent everyone from exercising this fundamental right."

"We need to unite our voices in a single cause; then it will no longer be a case of hearing individual or isolated voices, but rather the plea of our brothers and sisters echoed in our own, and the cry of the earth for respect and responsible sharing in a treasure belonging to all," he said.

If each person contributes, he said, "we will be helping to make our common home a more livable and fraternal place, where none are rejected or excluded, but all enjoy the goods needed to live and to grow in dignity."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

South Sudan bishops condemn atrocities, appeal for help to prevent famine

February 24, 2017 - 10:28am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Siegfried Modola, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- South Sudan's Catholic bishops asked for the world's help to prevent mass starvation that threatens the lives of more than 5 million people.

In a separate statement, they also said the looming famine was a man-made catastrophe. They denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating "scorched-earth" policies in defiance of international law.

In a Feb. 23 appeal for humanitarian assistance, the bishops said farmers have fled lands without planting crops as civilians are targeted by both sides in the country's increasingly bloody three-year civil war. Food shortages have been compounded by problems of unemployment, soaring inflation and poor rains, meaning that the country had now entered a critical time, the bishops said.

Citing government predictions, they estimated that about 4.9 million people would be facing famine by April and about 5.5 million people by July.

Among the most vulnerable are more than 3 million refugees and people internally displaced by fighting between the supporters of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.

"We anticipate difficult times ahead in 2017 as our people are likely to witness mass starvation by virtue of their multiple displacements, especially (because) the states that traditionally produced cereals in surplus will be missing the planting season, and that will, in turn, lead to further food insecurity in 2017," the bishops said.

They called for "immediate and unconditional concrete intervention and action ... before it is too late."

In a message sent to churches around the world, the bishops asked Caritas Internationalis and the international community to press for "an immediate stop to the violence and (for) free movement of population."

They also demanded safe access for aid agencies to reach people in remote areas and secure delivery of humanitarian aid to places where it was needed most urgently.

The bishops also collectively directly addressed the Catholics of the predominantly Christian country in a pastoral letter Feb. 23, telling them that any soldiers who killed, tortured and raped civilians were guilty of war crimes.

"There seems to be a perception that people in certain locations or from certain ethnic groups are with the other side, and thus they are targeted by armed forces," the bishops said. "They are killed, raped, tortured, burned, beaten, looted, harassed, detained, displaced from their homes and prevented from harvesting their crops."

"Some towns have become 'ghost towns,' empty except for security forces and perhaps members of one faction or tribe," they added. "Even when they have fled to our churches or to U.N. camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces. Many have been forced to flee to neighboring countries for protection."

The bishops said hatred had become so intense that the victims of such violence were being mutilated and burned even after they were killed.

"People have been herded into their houses, which were then set on fire to burn the occupants. Bodies have been dumped in sewage-filled septic tanks. There is a general lack of respect for human life," the bishops said.

The church, they said, was increasingly being accused of taking sides in the conflict, but they stressed its neutrality.

"We are for all good things -- peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance -- and we are against evil -- violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression -- regardless of where they are and who is practicing them," the bishops said.

They concluded their letter by expressing their joy at the prospect of a visit by Pope Francis to South Sudan in 2017, saying he was "deeply concerned" by the suffering in the country.

"It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here," the bishops said.

On Feb. 22, Pope Francis used his general audience to appeal for food aid to Sudan, warning the international community that starvation might condemn to death "millions of people, including children."

In a Feb. 23 statement emailed to Catholic News Service, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, said that "the world must wake up to this man-made humanitarian disaster."

"The violence must stop and the international community must intervene," said Bishop Kenney, a former president of Caritas Europa who has visited South Sudan on several occasions.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Literacy center teaches reading, writing, helps students' self-esteem too

February 23, 2017 - 3:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Tyler Orsburn

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Mario Gamboa is on the move. There are too many words to read, and too few Latinos who can read them.

His first stop, the Guatemala consulate in Silver Spring, Maryland. His second visit, a Spanish AM radio station across town in Wheaton, Maryland. Last stop, another consulate, but this time in Washington with El Salvador's diplomat.

The conversation of the day: A Spanish literacy center colloquially known in Spanish as CENAES, or El Centro de Alfabetizacion en Espanol.

"I first got the idea to help migrants read and write Spanish in 2003," the Peruvian said from his office at Our Lady Queen of the Americas Catholic Church in Washington.

"I own a small lawn and house painting business. One day I left written instructions in the morning for two men to complete, and when I returned later that evening, nothing had been done. They told me they were very sorry but that they couldn't read or write."

From there it was full-steam ahead -- letters, syllables, words and basic math. Gamboa offered to teach the men, and their friends, basic Spanish literacy from his basement apartment.

"I started with eight students, but after I made a class announcement during Mass at Our Lady Queen of the Americas, enrollment jumped to 35 in 2004," the self-taught language instructor told Catholic News Service. "In 2005, I had 70 students. And in 2006, I had around 80."

Today, the nonprofit Spanish literacy program has 130 students, 20 volunteer teachers and instruction six days a week in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Instruction is free.

Since 2003, Gamboa said, more than 600 adults have graduated from the three-year curriculum and many have moved on to learn English and computers and even obtained their GED. "They can help their children with homework now," he said.

Flor Umanzor, a volunteer teacher for more than 10 years at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, said she can see the satisfaction on her students' faces when they read and understand a passage from the Bible.

"The (literacy program) helps them to develop their self-esteem," the Salvadoran native said. "And cultivates their relationship with their children, and helps them with their livelihood."

Gamboa reports 70 percent of his students come from El Salvador. The 12-year civil war devoured the 1980s, and left many children hiding from school, he said.

"We must try and forget a little bit of the past and grab the present," Gamboa said. "(Today) life isn't just about work, but education."

For Maria Carpio, a civil war might have been easier.

The Salvadoran native and Washington resident told CNS that her mother died when she was a baby, and that her father dropped her off at her godparents' house when she was just 4 years old, never to be seen or heard of again.

"My godmother beat me with whatever she could find, and by the grace of God, I ran away (within the year)," she said as a tear rolled down her left cheek.

For a year and a half, the 4-year-old orphan lived in and off the streets, hopping buses and eating out of garbage cans, making her way from the Honduran border to San Salvador, her country's capital.

Four years later, Carpio said she made it to San Bernardino, California, as an 8-year-old, by herself and with only $50 in her pocket.

By the grace of God and survival of the fittest, the now-retired office cleaner and legal U.S. resident since 1987, lives to see and share another day.

"When one doesn't know how to read, one feels scared of everything," Carpio said from her basement apartment near Howard University. "That (the police) might send you back to your country, or many other things. Now I try to help people. When I meet people at the bus stop, I ask them if they know of anyone who can't read. It's the least I can do to contribute and give thanks to God."

"I love the literacy program (at our church)," said Capuchin Franciscan Father Moises Villalta, pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington. "I'm 100 percent with it. We must clothe the naked; feed the hungry, visit the sick and welcome the stranger. Matthew 25:42 -- there's no way to get lost or confused."

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Editor's Note: More information about the Washington metropolitan Spanish-learning center can be found at http://spanishliteracycenter.org.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Australian archbishops: Leadership on abuse was 'catastrophic failure'

February 23, 2017 - 3:11pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/David Moir, EPA

By

SYDNEY (CNS) -- Five Australian archbishops testified before a government commission on child sexual abuse, reiterating apologies and taking responsibility for actions that occurred before they were church leaders.

They also said they believed the culture of church and society had changed enough that it would help such abuse from occurring in the future.

The abuse of children in the church was "a catastrophic failure in many respects, but primarily in leadership," Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Feb. 23, near the end of three weeks of public hearings.

Gail Furness, the counsel assisting the commission, asked four other archbishops if they concurred with the assessment, and all agreed.

The commission is wrapping up more than three years of investigation into the Australian Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse. During the initial hearings Feb. 6, the commission reported on summary data showing that between January 1980 and February 2015, 4,444 people made allegations of child sexual abuse that related to more than 1,000 institutions. The statistics did not differentiate between allegations and proven cases.

"Precisely because we have failed so badly, our society has a right to expect us to do what we can to contribute to a solution, if we can," Archbishop Costelloe said. "I mean, there may be many people who would think that our record and our reputation is so damaged that we have nothing to offer, and I would understand that, but I think that, tragically and unfortunately, we have learned an awful lot about this terrible scourge."

Archbishop Costelloe -- along with Archbishops Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Denis Hart of Melbourne, Anthony Fisher of Sydney and Philip Wilson of Adelaide -- told the commission about times they had apologized for the church's actions and what steps had been taken in their archdiocese to ensure such abuse did not occur.

But they also spoke of times they had spent listening to victims, often under the protocols set up in the bishops' 1996 document, "Towards Healing."

One of the recurring questions in three weeks of public hearing has been how the abuse could have happened on such a massive scale without people being aware of it.

"Part of the difficulty that we've had in responding to this crisis about sexual abuse was simply based on the fact that people just didn't know and understand what they were dealing with," said Archbishop Wilson. "I don't think they really understood the nature of sexual abuse of children and the effect that it had on the children."

"I think there were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights," said Archbishop Fisher. "They just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling."

Archbishop Costelloe reiterated earlier testimony that, in the past, the church "was a law unto itself, that it was somehow or other so special and so unique and, in a sense, so important that it stood aside from the normal things" that would exist in society. That kind of culture often trickled down to priests in parishes, he said.

Archbishop Hart said bishops operated differently in past decades.

"They just sort of floated above it, and it just didn't -- you know, the awful reality of these crimes didn't make contact with them," he said. "I don't understand why, but I do know that the way we act now is very, very different, the way we consult, the way we consult with people in various areas and relate to the people ... very little comes up to me that hasn't been reflected on by a group, the people in social welfare or in evangelization or whatever."

"Your Honor, I've given evidence before about people in my situation who just couldn't believe that a priest would do these terrible crimes," he added. "I'm not one of them. And I think that illustrates the mindset. It doesn't excuse it, but it illustrates what the mindset was, that it was just out there and it was left out there. That's a serious failure of responsibility."

Archbishop Fisher spoke of a trilogy of sex, power and theology, and said "our understandings of all three have changed quite dramatically."

He said many people believe more change is needed and spoke of the Second Vatican Council idea of "authority as service, leadership as service, not as an elitist class who are above accountability, transparency."

Archbishop Coleridge said church structure "is changing, albeit slowly."

"For instance, if you take Pope Francis, one of the things that he is dismantling, I think, is the papal court and the monarchical model of the papal ministry," he said. "I think this was a hugely powerful thing in the past, and it did confer upon the bishops, even in this country, certainly in Europe, a rather princely style, which could become autocratic.

"Power in itself can be creative; it can be destructive," the archbishop added. "The call to serve is the call to use power creatively. Clericalism isn't just power; it's power used destructively."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Trump administration announces wide-ranging immigration guidelines

February 23, 2017 - 10:25am

IMAGE: Nancy Wiechec

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into the U.S.

In a Feb. 21 news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the guidelines include hiring more border agents, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hiring more personnel to "repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly."

The memos by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly also called for state and local agencies to "assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law" and for hiring "additional border patrol agents, as well as "500 Air and Marine Agents/Officers." The cost of implementing such programs, whether there's enough funding and how Congress will be involved, was not discussed.

While there have been two arrests under the new administration involving recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the policy was not mentioned in the new guidelines. The program grants a reprieve from deportation and allows a work permit for those who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission.

In the news briefing, Spicer said the guidelines were meant to prioritize for deportation anyone who was a criminal or posed a threat in some form, but he also said "laws are laws" and that anyone in the country who is here without permission is subject to removal at any time.

In a Feb. 23 statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, said that while public safety is important, the memos detailing the new guidelines "contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it." Bishop Vasquez added that it will break down "the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities," if local enforcement is used to enforce federal immigration laws.

The memos also addressed the issue of unaccompanied minors who cross the border, fleeing violence in their home countries or seeking reunification with family in the U.S. They said that "regardless of the desire of family reunification," smuggling or trafficking is "intolerable" and said "exploitation of that policy led to abuses by many of the parents and legal guardians."

Bishop Vasquez said the policies in the memos "will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us" and urged the Trump administration to "reconsider the approach" expressed in the Feb. 20 memos but also "reconsider the approach it has taken in a number of executive orders and actions issued over the last month. Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability."

Department of Homeland Security workers, the memo also said, should prioritize for deportation "removable aliens" who "have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits."

Reports from major outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post said the administration in a conference call said it was seeking to calm fears among immigrant communities by saying only those who "pose a threat or have committed a crime" need to worry about being priorities. But during the news briefing, when asked about a woman who was deported despite having no major criminal convictions, Spicer said he wouldn't comment on specific cases.

After drafts of memos leaked out in mid-February proposing use of the National Guard in immigration operations, The Associated Press reported that the New Mexico's Catholic bishops called the ideas in the memos "a declaration of some form of war." AP provided documents to back up the claim but the White House denied it and the final guidelines made no mention of the National Guard.

Catholic leaders have been urging dignity and respect for migrants and have acknowledged the rampant fear among communities.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men Feb. 21 issued a statement denouncing the recent arrest by immigration officials of six men exiting a hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria, Virginia, saying it violated Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy "not to conduct enforcement actions at or near 'sensitive locations' like houses of worship."

The conference said it invited "others to join us in denouncing these deportation efforts that harm the 'least of our brothers and sisters.' We especially denounce the irreverence, disrespect and violation of sensitive locations, such as houses of worship and ministry which belong to God and the erosion of our Constitutional right to be free from religious oppression by our government."

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Vatican offers support to local farmers in Italian earthquake zone

February 23, 2017 - 9:42am

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Press Office

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an effort to help support the economy of the central Italian region devastated by several earthquakes in 2016, the Vatican has purchased food from local farmers and producers to feed the homeless.

Pope Francis instructed his almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, to purchase large quantities of food from central Italy, known for its delectable selection of meats, cheeses and wine.

Working with bishops from the devastated areas, Archbishop Krajewski purchased products from "several groups of farmers and producers whose businesses were at risk of closing due to the damage caused by the earthquake," the Vatican said in a statement released Feb. 23.

"The papal almoner proceeded to purchase a large quantity of their products with the intention, expressed by the Holy Father, of helping them and encouraging them to continue their activities," the Vatican said.

All of the products purchased by the papal almoner's office will be distributed to soup kitchens in Rome that prepare meals for the city's needy and homeless people.

The Vatican City State supermarket, which is open to Vatican employees and pensioners, also has made central Italian food products available for purchase. Both projects are gestures of support for the local economy, which is struggling after major earthquakes in August and October.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken of the difficulties faced by the unemployed and those unable to support themselves or their families.

"There is no worse material poverty -- I am keen to stress -- than the poverty that prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work," the pope said in May 2013.

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#Ashtags: When posting Ash Wednesday photos, use your head

February 23, 2017 - 9:08am

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes -- and walking around with them -- is pretty public.

This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years.

The online posting of one's ashes, often marked in the form of a cross on the forehead, thrills some people and disappoints others. Some say it diminishes the significance and penitent symbol of the ashes with their somber reminder that humans are made from dust and one day will return to dust.

Others say that sharing the Ash Wednesday experience with the broader, virtual public makes it more communal and also is a way to evangelize. Those who aren't on either side of the argument say it all comes down to why it's done, if the ashes selfies are posted for personal attention or to highlight the day's message.

A few years ago when this trend was just getting started, Jesuit Father James Martin, now editor-at-large at the Catholic weekly magazine America, said only the person posting knows if it is being done for the right reasons. "As with most things in life, you need a sense of moderation and only a person's conscience can tell them why they're posting these things," he told The Wall Street Journal.

Julianne Stanz, director of new evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, similarly said people should pause and pray before posting ashes selfies, but then go ahead and do it.

She noted that this goes against the notion that Catholics should practice their faith quietly and in private.

"But make no mistake about it: Faith, while personal, is not solely meant to be a private affair," she wrote in a column for The Compass, Green Bay's diocesan newspaper, last Lent. "Ash Wednesday is a day when we literally wear our faith on our forehead."

"We become, on this day, a visual extension of the love of Christ -- a love which transcends time and distance, whether in the real world or the virtual world," she added.

Stanz also pointed out that for millennials -- the group most likely to observe Lenten practices, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University -- "the digital space is an extension of their world and so posting an image after receiving ashes seems natural."

"Life doesn't stop after we receive ashes. We go about our daily lives -- we wear our ashes at the grocery store, when picking up our children from school and at home gathered around the family table. Wearing ashes in the real and virtual world is about harmonizing who we are as people of faith. If we wear them in the 'real' world, then we should also wear them in cyberspace," she said.

Stanz told Catholic News Service in a Feb. 22 email that her column "To ashtag or not to ashtag" was one of the most popular ones she has written, and it generated a lot of dialogue on social media and with people who got in touch with her to share their story.

A number of Catholic groups has urged people to post their Ash Wednesday photos online. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had been doing this until two years ago.

A leader at Life Teen, a ministry to Catholic teenagers, which also has highlighted the #ashtag trend, said receiving ashes and posting pictures of them is a way to recognize and share our need for God.

"By receiving ashes, we're claiming our own sinfulness, brokenness, and need for God, with an outward sign," said Leah Murphy, coordinator of digital evangelization and outreach at Life Teen in Mesa, Arizona. 

In an email to CNS, she said posting Ash Wednesday photos on social media, where so many people connect, is a way to "invite the secular culture to see the church as she is -- a broken community in need of a God that can heal and save."

"Making use of the digital medium simply makes it possible to broaden the reach of the Gospel message," she said.

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If the shoe fits: Papal remarks on immigration apply to U.S., too

February 23, 2017 - 9:02am

IMAGE: CNS/Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis affirms basic Christian principles, he is not singling out one person or nation, but he definitely is not excluding them either.

The ongoing global migration and refugee crisis is a case in point.

The United States is not the only country engaged in a heated political debate over immigration policy with often opposing voices focusing on: ensuring the country's security; regulating numbers based on the resources available to resettle them; or living up to an ethical obligation -- and often a legal one, according to international treaties -- to shelter people fleeing violence and persecution and to welcome those seeking a more dignified life for themselves and their families.

While the pope's remarks on welcoming migrants and refugees cannot be read as focused on the U.S. debate, one also cannot pretend they have nothing to do with it.

The new Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development "regularly informs the Holy Father about events that touch on the issue of migration, including the current debate underway in the United States of America," Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio, undersecretary of the office, told Catholic News Service Feb. 22.

Pope Francis, he said, supports the position expressed by the U.S. bishops, which emphasizes openness to newcomers and a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy.

The bishops, like Pope Francis, have never denied the right and duty of governments to regulate immigration. But, in many cases, Pope Francis sees something much less noble -- selfishness -- behind much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric.

"Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist rhetoric, what is needed is a change of attitude, to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors," the pope said Feb. 21 in a speech.

Days before making that speech to participants in the International Forum on Migration and Peace, Pope Francis already had hit a nerve on the migration issue with his Twitter account.

"How often in the Bible the Lord asks us to welcome migrants and foreigners, reminding us that we too are foreigners!" he tweeted Feb. 18.

For the first time in at least a year, more than 3,000 people commented on the pope's tweet in English, six times the normal comment rate. By Feb. 22, the tweet also had racked up more than 64,000 retweets and some 160,000 likes.

Many of the comments on his reminder of the Biblical obligation to welcome the stranger were not favorable, running the gamut from instructing the pope to "back off" and stay out of politics to asking him how many migrants and refugees the Vatican has welcomed.

The @Pontifex Twitter account does not reply to comments. But Pope Francis has responded to similar comments in the past, pointing out that living the Gospel in the real world often will have political or social consequences. And he has, in fact, taken in refugees.

While Pope Francis and the Vatican are providing food, shelter and support to some 30 refugees -- mostly Syrians, but also a family from Eritrea -- "you cannot calculate the Catholic Church's welcoming of migrants simply by counting how many asylum seekers are hosted by the Vatican, a state with 572 citizens, of whom only 444 are residents," Father Baggio said. "The pope leads a church that goes beyond every national boundary and works on behalf of millions of migrants and refugees around the world, in many cases filling the gaps left by the institutions charged with caring for them."

While the pope's comments and actions have a political impact, he is not trying to dictate a country's immigration regulations.

"The pope gives a broad baseline of what should guide and animate immigration policy, then as he has said, every country must mold and articulate these indications for its own situation," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told reporters Feb. 21. "But, certainly, the basic dimension must be that of welcoming. Welcoming is the only Christian attitude, an attitude that also is fundamentally the humane one."

Nations, he said, must do everything possible to save human lives and protect human dignity, which means accepting asylum seekers and creating channels for legal immigration.

When talking about migration, Father Baggio said, Pope Francis knows countries must "evaluate, on the basis of real data, the impact welcoming migrants will have on the common good they must seek for their constituents."

But, he pointed out, "historically when faced with serious human tragedies, great countries never turned their backs (on people fleeing), and their commitment to solidarity always abundantly repaid their small sacrifices."

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Sanctuary advocated by grass-roots leaders to blunt deportation crackdown

February 22, 2017 - 2:25pm

IMAGE: CNS/Dennis Sadowski

By Dennis Sadowski

MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- The push for sanctuary was on a lot of minds at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements.

Concerns about President Donald Trump's intention to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants rose throughout the Feb. 16-19 gathering of more than 600 grass-roots and church leaders in California's Central Valley.

Declaring sanctuary for people fearing forced removal and the breakup of family life was one way to resist government actions, activists and Catholic clergy said.

Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Deliman of Philadelphia, who also is pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in suburban Bensalem, received a standing ovation when he told the gathering Feb. 18 that "what would be disruptive would be if we would declare our parish a sanctuary church."

"If that would spread and every parish in the diocese would do the same, we certainly could do what Jesus would want us to do," said Bishop Deliman, who has ministered alongside Latinos in the archdiocese for most of the 44 years of his priesthood.

Afterward, the bishop told Catholic News Service that offering sanctuary at the parish is being considered and that he planned to discuss the idea with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

Representatives of community and church organizations working with unauthorized immigrants reported throughout the meeting that they have seen a rising level of fear and uncertainty among Latinos since Trump took office Jan. 20 and started to make good on campaign pledges to crack down on people in the country illegally.

In the government's most recent action, the Department of Homeland Security Feb. 21 outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent additional unauthorized immigration.

Meeting participants blamed the institutionalization of racism and the widening acceptance of demonizing "the other," people who are not part of the dominant American culture, for the backlash at brown and black-skinned people including Muslims.

Ingrid Vaca, of Dreamers Moms USA International, implored participants throughout the meeting to step up to protect all people being targeted for deportation and who may be on the receiving end of unwanted racial epithets.

"Now more than ever we need to work in unity and scream and shout in unity," Vaca said during one discussion.

Arthur McFarland, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Charleston, South Carolina, and a leader with Charleston Area Justice Ministry, said prayer was helpful, but action also was necessary.

"If you want change, you have to get off your knees," he said.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the assembly Feb. 17 that fear has spread since Trump's election in November even though it was President Barack Obama who presided over the deportation of a record 2.5 million people in his eight-year presidency. Children at archdiocesan schools are "terrified" that they will return home to find their parents deported, he said.

He noted that he did not appreciate "the sense of indifference and cruelty that seems to be coming from this new administration in Washington."

"It is not right that people are being forced to live this way," Archbishop Gomez said. "No matter if they have broken our immigration laws. They are still human beings. They have dignity and human rights."

The archbishop reiterated the USCCB's stance on the need for comprehensive immigration reform as an issue of social justice. Neither the new Congress nor the current administration has proposed legislation addressing the country's immigration concerns, however.

Such comments were welcomed, but grass-roots activists implored clergy, particularly Catholic bishops, to speak more often from the pulpit about such concerns and to step up to lead demonstrations protesting racism, discrimination and deportations.

Addressing another perspective of world migration, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told the gathering that while millions of people today are on the move globally, the situation is not a crisis because the migration of people has occurred throughout human history.

Father Czerny recalled how he and his brother as children fled communist Czechoslovakia to Canada in 1948 with his family because his parents wanted a better life for their sons. The same situation characterizes migrants today, he said.

The Jesuit called for people to respond to the needs of migrants because families do not make a decision to flee their homelands without deep thought and reflection.

"Migration should be a step toward life and hope," he said, "and not falling to fear and repression."

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Editor's Note: All sessions from the World Meeting of Popular Movements can be viewed online at http://popularmovements.org/live-stream.

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Help stop war in Ukraine, aid children in need, says church leader

February 22, 2017 - 9:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko,

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church called on the international community to "stop the aggressor" in Ukraine's "forgotten conflict" and help the 1 million children in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

"I am appealing to the international community to defend Ukrainian children, victims of war, keeping in mind that in our country we are experiencing a humanitarian emergency in Europe that has not been experienced since the Second World War," said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Despite efforts the past three years, a "stable cease-fire" has never been achieved, "therefore, we ask international organizations to continue diplomatic approaches to stop the aggressor and end the war so that true peace can be reached," he said in a written statement received by Catholic News Service Feb. 22.

The archbishop made the appeal after UNICEF released report Feb. 17 saying that 1 million children in Ukraine were in urgent need of humanitarian aid -- nearly double the number of kids in need the same time last year.

The increased numbers were due to the ongoing fighting and deteriorating economic situation of families, loss of housing and reduced access to health care and education, the report said. One in five schools in eastern Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed.

"Hundreds of daily cease-fire violations put children's physical safety and psychological well-being at risk," the UNICEF report said. Thousands of children face the danger of landmines and unexploded ordinance as well as active shelling in their neighborhoods, it said.

"Teachers, psychologists and parents report signs of severe psychosocial distress among children including nightmares, aggression, social withdrawal and panic triggered by loud noises," it said.

In his appeal, Archbishop Shevchuk said the Catholic Church has a moral obligation to speak up for the voiceless, particularly the children.

"The increasingly tragic situation of the nation -- there are 1.7 million people displaced -- remains invisible in the eyes of the general public," he said. Such tragedy, he said, "cannot and must not remain invisible."

Meanwhile, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council during an open debate Feb. 21 that "all necessary steps should be taken to enforce the cease-fire and to implement the measures agreed upon" for Ukraine while respecting basic human rights and international laws.

All efforts must be made to end "this unresolved conflict and to find a political solution through dialogue and negotiation," he said. It is also "the obligation of states to refrain from actions that destabilize neighboring countries and work together to create the necessary conditions for peace and reconciliation."

In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine, and about a month later, fighting began along Ukraine's eastern border. Russian-speaking separatists with support from the Russian government and its troops have been battling Ukrainian forces.

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Pope appeals for aid as famine grips South Sudan

February 22, 2017 - 9:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nicolas Peissel, handout via EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis appealed for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan where famine threatens the lives of millions of people already suffering due to a three-year civil war.

In the "martyred South Sudan," he said, "a fratricidal conflict is compounded by a serious food crisis, which has struck the Horn of Africa and condemns millions of people to starve to death, among them many children," the pope said.

At the end of his weekly general audience at the Vatican Feb. 22, the pope said that a solid commitment from the international community to assist South Sudan is crucial "now more than ever."

The United Nations Feb. 21 declared a famine in two counties of South Sudan, adding that the catastrophic food shortages will continue to spread, threatening millions of lives.

Civil war has destabilized the world's youngest country for more than three years due to a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar.

"This famine is man-made," said Joyce Luma, director of the U.N. World Food Program.

Despite efforts to hold off the famine, she added, "there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve."

Pope Francis urged governments and international organizations to "not stop at just making statements," but take concrete steps so that necessary food aid "can reach the suffering population."

"May the Lord sustain these, our brothers and sisters, and those who work to help them," Pope Francis said.

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Greed, selfishness corrupt beauty of God's creation, pope says

February 22, 2017 - 9:03am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Humanity's greed and selfishness can turn creation into a sad and desolate world instead of the sign of God's love that it was meant to be, Pope Francis said.

Human beings are often tempted to view creation as "a possession we can exploit as we please and for which we do not have to answer to anyone," the pope said Feb. 22 at his weekly general audience.

"When carried away by selfishness, human beings end up ruining even the most beautiful things that have been entrusted to them," the pope said.

As an early sign of spring, the audience was held in St. Peter's Square for the first time since November. Despite the chilly morning temperatures, the pope made the rounds in his popemobile, greeting pilgrims and kissing bundled-up infants.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope reflected on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, which expresses the hope "that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption."

St. Paul, the pope said, reminds Christians that creation is a "marvelous gift that God has placed in our hands."

Through this gift, he said, "we can enter into a relationship with him and recognize the imprint of his loving plan, which we are all called to achieve together."

Sin, however, breaks communion not only with God but with his creation, "thus making it a slave, submissive to our frailty," the pope said.  

"Think about water. Water is a beautiful thing; it is so important. Water gives us life and it helps us in everything. But when minerals are exploited, water is contaminated and creation is destroyed and dirtied. This is just one example; there are many," he said, departing from his prepared remarks.

When people break their relationship with creation, they not only lose their original beauty, he said, but they also "disfigure everything surrounding them," causing a reminder of God's love to become a bleak sign of pride and greed.

St. Paul tells believers that hope comes from knowing that God in his mercy wants to heal the "wounded and humbled hearts" of all men and women and, through them, "regenerate a new world and a new humanity, reconciled in his love," Pope Francis said.

"The Holy Spirit sees beyond the negative appearances for us and reveals to us the new heavens and the new earth that the Lord is preparing for humanity," the pope said.

"This is the content of our hope. A Christian does not live outside of the world; he knows how to recognize the signs of evil, selfishness and sin in his own life and in what surrounds him," he said. "But at the same time, a Christian has learned to read all of this with the eyes of Easter, with the eyes of the risen Christ."

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Grass-roots leaders join call for 'disrupting' oppression that hurts many

February 21, 2017 - 3:32pm

IMAGE: CNS/Dennis Sadowski

By Dennis Sadowski

MODESTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Affirming that all human life is sacred and all people are "protagonists of their future," more than 600 grass-roots leaders echoed the call of a U.S. bishop to disrupt practices that cause oppression and violate human dignity.

The leaders attending the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements concluded the four-day meeting Feb. 19 saying in a final message that a "small elite is growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families."

"Racism and white supremacy are America's original sins. They (the elites) continue to justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation over human needs," said the "Message from Modesto."

The message broadly echoed Pope Francis' regular critiques of the world economy in which he has said the accumulation of wealth by a few people has harmed the dignity of millions of people in the human family.

The representatives from dozens of faith-based and secular community organizations, labor unions and Catholic dioceses representing an estimated 1 million people called for eight actions to be undertaken. The actions included inviting faith communities, including every Catholic parish, to declare their sites a sanctuary for people facing deportation by the U.S. government; developing local leadership to hold elected officials accountable and, when possible to recruit grass-roots leaders to seek elected office; and a global week of action May 1-7 in which people "stand together against hatred and attacks on families."

"There's too many leaders in this room not to mobilize," Takia Yates-Binford of East St. Louis, Illinois, who represented the Service Employees International Union, said as the meeting ended.

The delegates called for "bold prophetic leadership" from faith communities to speak and act in solidarity with citizens on the margins of society. Participants in plenary sessions and small-group discussions challenged clergy, including the Catholic hierarchy, to be in the forefront of movements to seek justice on social issues for people outside of mainstream society.

In their message, delegates said they wanted to see the seeds planted in Modesto blossom across the country in statewide and regional gatherings to bring the vision of the four meetings of popular movements held to date and the pope's message of hope and courage to every U.S. community.

The final message reflected the words of Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, whose stirring presentation a day earlier invited people to follow the example of President Donald Trump, who campaigned as the candidate of "disruption."

"Well now, we must all become disruptors," Bishop McElroy told the delegates Feb. 18 to sustained applause. "We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need.

"We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men and women as a source of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children."

At the same time, Bishop McElroy said, people of faith must rebuild society based on justice for everyone.

"We have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service of the dignity of the human person and assert what that flag behind us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal," he said.

Bishop McElroy's words in a plenary session on labor and housing followed a video greeting from Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, in which he said the concentration of wealth and political power in the country "threatens to undermine the health of our democracy."

As families cope with economic stress and feel no elected official at any level of government cares about their plight, people tend to withdraw from civic participation and effectively disenfranchise themselves, leaving special interest groups, lobbyists and "even demagogues" to fill the void, Cardinal Tobin said.

Such a situation has given rise to populist and nationalist sentiments in the U.S. under which the blame for the economic struggles of some are placed on today's "scapegoats" including immigrants, Muslims and young people of color, he said, rather than toward the architects of what the pope has called the economy of exclusion. The rising fear and anxiety among people in the dominant culture has given rise to "the sins of racism and xenophobia," he said.

Cardinal Tobin used Pope Francis' calls for encounter and dialogue as necessary steps to overcome fear, alienation and indifference. "Encounter and dialogue create the capacity for solidarity and accompaniment," he said.

"It is our responsibility to respond to the pain and anxiety of our brothers and sisters. As popular movements, your role is to knit together strong communal networks that can gather up the experiences and suffering and aspiration of the people and push for structural changes that affirm the dignity and value of every child of God," Cardinal Tobin said.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told the gathering as the final message was adopted that the church was "here to accompany you and support you all."

"The Catholic Church believes that the joys and the hope, the grief and the anguish of people of our time, especially those who are poor or who are isolated, these also are the joys and the hope and the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ," Cardinal Turkson said.

Meeting organizers, which included the PICO National Network of congregation-based organizations and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development, planned to send the message and a comprehensive report on the proceedings to the pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development co-sponsored the gathering.

The U.S. gathering was the first regional meeting in a series encouraged by Pope Francis to bring people working to improve poor and struggling communities around the world through organizing initiatives, prayer and social action. Three previous meetings since 2014 -- two in Rome and one in Bolivia -- have focused on land, labor and housing. The U.S. meeting added immigration and racism to the topics being discussed.

Along with the grass-roots volunteer leaders and professional organizers, 25 prelates attended the California meeting and several addressed the plenary sessions including Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, on immigration, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, on racism, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, on the environment.

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Editor's Note: The full Message from Modesto can be read online at http://popularmovements.org/news/message-from-modesto.

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Be ashamed when tempted to use church for power struggles, pope says

February 21, 2017 - 10:40am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Whenever one is tempted to use the church for pursuing personal ambitions or to be arrogant, pray to feel ashamed, Pope Francis said.

When the competitive bug strikes, reflect whether one can "see my Lord on the cross" and still be capable of wanting "to use the Lord for moving up" the ladder of success, he said Feb. 21 during his early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"May the Lord give us the grace of shame, that holy embarrassment -- when we find ourselves in that situation, with that temptation," he said.

In his homily, the pope looked at the day's Gospel reading (Mk 9:30-37) in which the disciples were arguing among themselves on the way to Capernaum about "who was the greatest." When Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, "they remained silent."

"They became silent because they were embarrassed about their discussion," the pope said.

The disciples "were good people, they wanted to follow the Lord, to serve the Lord. But they didn't know that the path of service to the Lord wasn't so easy. It wasn't like joining a group, a charitable organization, to do good. No. It's something else and they were afraid of this," he said.

Laypeople, priests, bishops -- everyone is tempted, the pope said. It's part of being Christian, so whoever wants to serve the Lord had better be prepared to be tempted, he added.

Some of the many ways people may be tempted is to use the church to pursue their personal ambitions, like maneuvering, wrangling, pulling strings or backbiting to lead a church group or a particular parish or diocese, he said.

The desire to be a big shot pushes people along a path of wordiness, which is why people must ask God for "the grace of feeling ashamed when we find ourselves in these situations."

In the same Gospel account, Jesus is aware of what the disciples argued about and confronts them saying, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."

May the Lord protect everyone from "ambition, the worldliness of feeling greater than others," the pope said, and may he "give us the grace of a child's simplicity" and see only the path of service.

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Populism fueling self-centered rejection of migrants, pope says

February 21, 2017 - 9:20am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Indifference, fueled by populist rhetoric in today's world, fans the flames of rejection that threaten the rights and dignity of migrants, Pope Francis said.

Refugees escaping persecution, violence and poverty are often shunned and deemed as "unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will," the pope told participants of the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace.

"Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist demagoguery, what is needed is a change of attitude to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors," he said Feb. 21.

The Feb. 21-22 conference, "Integration and Development: From Reaction to Action," was organized by the Scalabrini International Migration Network and sponsored by the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

According to the forum's website, the conference focused on refugee crisis management while aiming to "influence migration policies and practices in Europe."

In his speech, the pope said millions of people are being forced to flee their homelands due to "conflict, natural disasters, persecution, climate change, violence, extreme poverty and inhumane living conditions."

To confront this challenge, he said, the church and civil society must have a "shared response" of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.

Providing access to "secure humanitarian channels" -- legal paths to safety -- is crucial in helping people who are "fleeing conflicts and terrible persecutions," but are often met with rejection and indifference.

"A responsible and dignified welcome of our brothers and sisters begins by offering them decent and appropriate shelter," the pope said.

Citing Pope Benedict XVI, the pope said the need to defend the "inalienable rights" of exiled and exploited men and women is a duty "from which no one can be exempted."

"Protecting these brothers and sisters is a moral imperative which translates into adopting juridical instruments, both international and national, that must be clear and relevant," the pope said.

Protection, he added, can only be guaranteed by ensuring "necessary conditions," such as fair access to fundamental goods, that offer "the possibility of choice and growth."

Pope Francis also highlighted the need for integration, which is a "two-way process rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other's cultural richness."

Integration is different from assimilation, he said, warning that superimposing one culture over another has the "insidious and dangerous risk of creating ghettos."

At the same time, he said, migrants are "duty bound not to close themselves off from the culture and traditions of the receiving country" while "respecting above all its laws."

Helping migrants, exiles and refugees "is today a responsibility, a duty we have toward our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, civility and solidarity," the pope said.

Responding to the migration crisis also involves addressing the root causes of the situations that force people to flee, he said, pointing particularly to "unacceptable economic inequality," which violates "the principle of the universal destination of the earth's goods."

"One group of individuals cannot control half of the world's resources," Pope Francis said. "We cannot allow for persons and entire peoples to have a right only to gather the remaining crumbs."

Recognizing each person as a member of the same human family, brother or sister created in God's image, is key to ensuring a proper response to the crisis, the pope insisted. "Fraternity is the most civil way of relating to the reality of another person, which does not threaten us but engages, reaffirms and enriches our individual identity."

Pope Francis called for "a change of attitude" in understanding the needs of migrants and refugees, a change that moves away from fear and indifference to a "culture of encounter" that builds "a better, more just and fraternal world."

"The duty of solidarity is to the counter the throwaway culture and give greater attention to those who are weakest, poorest and most vulnerable," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope's tip for becoming a saint: Pray for someone who doesn't like you

February 19, 2017 - 1:22pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- A practical first step toward holiness -- as well as for assuring peace in one's family and in the world -- is to pray for a person who has caused offense or harm, Pope Francis said.

"Are you merciful toward the people who have harmed you or don't like you? If God is merciful, if he is holy, if he is perfect, then we must be merciful, holy and perfect as he is. This is holiness. A man or woman who does this deserves to be canonized," the pope said Feb. 19 during an evening parish Mass.

"I suggest you start small," Pope Francis told members of the parish of St. Mary Josefa on the extreme eastern edge of the Diocese of Rome. "We all have enemies. We all know that so-and-so speaks ill of us. We all know. And we all know that this person or that person hates us."

When that happens, the pope said, "I suggest you take a minute, look at God (and say), 'This person is your son or your daughter, change his or her heart, bless him or her.' This is praying for those who don't like us, for our enemies. Perhaps the rancor will remain in us, but we are making an effort to follow the path of this God who is so good, merciful, holy, perfect, who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good."

The day's first reading included the line, "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy," and in the Gospel reading, Jesus said, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

"You might ask me, 'But, father, what is the path to holiness?' 'What is the journey needed to become holy?' Jesus explains it well in the Gospel. He explains it with concrete examples," the pope said.

The first example, he said, is "not taking revenge. If I have some rancor in my heart for something someone has done, I want vengeance, but this moves me off the path of holiness. No revenge. 'But he did this and he will pay.' Is this Christian? No. 'He will pay' is not in the Christian's vocabulary. No revenge."

In people's everyday lives, he said, their squabbles with their relatives or neighbors may seem a little thing, but they are not. "These big wars we read about in the papers and see on the news, these massacres of people, of children, how much hatred! It's the same hatred you have in your heart for this person, that person, that relative, your mother-in-law. It's bigger, but it's the same hatred."

Forgiveness, the pope said, is the path toward holiness and toward peace. "If everyone in the world learned this, there would be no wars."

Wars begin "with bitterness, rancor, the desire for vengeance, to make them pay," he said. It's an attitude that destroys families and neighborhoods and peaceful relations between nations.

"I'm not telling you what to do, Jesus is: Love your enemies. 'You mean I have to love that person?' Yes."

"'I have to pray for someone who has harmed me?' Yes, that he will change his life, that the Lord will forgive him," the pope said. "This is the magnanimity of God, of God who has a big heart, who forgives all."

"Prayer is an antidote for hatred, for wars, these wars that begin at home, in families," he said. "Think of how many wars there have been in families because of an inheritance."

"Prayer is powerful. Prayer defeats evil. Prayer brings peace," the pope said.

As is his custom for parish visits, Pope Francis began this three-hour visit to St. Mary Josefa by meeting different parish groups, including children, who were invited to ask him questions.

One asked how he became pope and Pope Francis said when a pope is elected "maybe he is not the most intelligent, perhaps not the most astute or the quickest at doing what must be done, but he is the one who God wants for the church at that moment."

Pope Francis explained that when a pope dies or resigns, like Pope Benedict XVI did, the cardinals gather for a conclave. "They speak among themselves, discuss what profile would be best, who has this advantage and who has that one. But, above all, they pray."

They use their reason to try to figure out what the church needs and who could provide it, he said, but mostly they rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire them in their choice.

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Unusual detentions, raids raise questions as Trump announces 'crackdown'

February 17, 2017 - 4:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- People had been on edge for a while. You could feel the tension rise in immigrant neighborhoods in the U.S. as news of the first immigration raids under the Trump administration began in early February.

Then news of unusual detentions, some involving battered women and students who had been protected under previous policies, set off panic.

A variety of communities, from the Irish to Latinos, worry that the roundups mark the beginning of what President Donald Trump promised in his campaign for the presidency: to deport the country's estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

Responding to the fears, Spanish-language television network Telemundo hosted a prime-time show Feb. 12: "Immigration, Trump and Hispanics." The show featured activists, lawyers, children of deported parents and relatives, along with advice about what to do if government officials come knocking.

The publication IrishCentral almost daily has been posting stories about raids in Latino communities sprinkled with some assurances, but also a few worries about the immigration status of some 50,000 unauthorized Irish immigrants in the U.S.

In a recent post on its website, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns said that of the more than 4 million Filipinos in the U.S., "1 million are undocumented and Philippine officials in Washington D.C. recently reported that more than 300,000 could be facing deportation due to Trump's anti-immigrant policies."

Whether the recent raids and detentions are routine or whether they're part of a new effort is unknown. Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, said the February raids that resulted in more than 680 arrests are "routine." 

But later, Trump said they were part of a new effort. About 75 percent of those arrested in the raids near Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City, the agency said, had been convicted of crimes, but it did not say who made up the other 25 percent.

Some worry that it included students and women who had previously been protected from deportation through programs such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, and the Violence Against Women Act, which protects victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

In a wide-ranging Feb. 16 news conference after announcing his pick for labor secretary, Trump talked about a "crackdown on sanctuary cities," said a "nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens" had begun, and that he had ordered an end to the "catch and release policy" that allowed unauthorized immigrants caught by officials to go free while they await a hearing.

He also announced the creation of "a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, of which there are many," he said.

In attempting to answer a question about the future of some 750,000 DACA beneficiaries who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission, he said, "DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me," and "you have these incredible kids in many cases, not in all cases, in some cases they have DACA and they're gang members and they're drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids." He said, "I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and the law is rough," but he didn't say how he would address the situation other than it would be with "heart."

The announcement came just a day after Catholic bishops whose dioceses are on the U.S.-Mexico border met Feb. 13-15 in Texas in the Diocese of Brownsville. They visited an immigration detention center as well as a church-run facility that helps migrants.

In a statement, the border bishops said they could sense the "pain, the fear and the anguish" migrants are undergoing and asked that they be treated with respect and dignity "regardless of their migration condition."

All of this came in a week of incidents carrying the narrative that no one is safe from deportation. In Alexandria, Virginia, the pastor of a church denounced actions of ICE agents who arrested in mid-February a group of homeless men leaving a hypothermia shelter his church operates. In Seattle, a 23-year-old with no criminal record and protected by the DACA program was detained Feb. 10.

In early February in Texas, ICE agents showed up to a protection order hearing and arrested a woman who was about to testify against her alleged abuser. Univision Las Vegas reported that immigrants, fearing raids, are afraid to go to church.

The Associated Press reported Feb. 17 that the administration is considering using the National Guard to detain unauthorized immigrants, a charge the White House denied. AP provided documents to back up its claim and at least one governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas, said such activities "would be too much of a strain on the state's guard."

ICE reportedly canceled a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as the lawmakers were trying to find answers to the incidents. While all of them involve Latinos, other immigrant groups are expressing on social media anxiety in their communities. Some of it was manifested as Trump spoke of them by those who took to the streets in "A Day Without Immigrants" protests against the immigration measures he has proposed and his promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Restaurants and businesses closed across the country and schoolchildren boycotted classes, but Trump said he was pressing ahead and was in the process of "beginning to build the promised wall on the southern border." He said it would be a "great wall," not one "like they have now which is either nonexistent or a joke."

The Catholic bishops who met along the border, without mentioning Trump or his proposals, said they wanted to build "bridges, rather than the walls of exclusion and exploitation."

Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese, said during a Feb. 15 town hall that those who work along the border had started seeing that something was different. One of the centers that helps migrants had been seeing about 300 to 350 people a day seeking shelter and food after being released by immigration officials. Now they see between 50 and 75 a day, she said.

"It's unfortunate that this is happening because these families come so eager to find a place that's safe, where they feel protected, and unfortunately they find themselves in detention facilities where they feel hopeless, not knowing what's going to happen to them."

Sister Pimentel, along with Jesuit Father James Martin, participated in the town hall as part of the "Build Bridges, not Walls" campaign sponsored by the Washington-based Faith in Public Life. The campaign is taking place Feb. 17-24 and asks those wishing to support immigrants and refugees to organize prayer events, call their local politicians, attend town halls and educate others about the plight of migrants during the campaign.

Father Martin, who is a book author and editor at large for the Jesuits' America magazine, spoke of the Holy Family, how they once were refugees, too, and how the Bible throughout calls on Christians to help "the stranger."

"Jesus says that how we care for the stranger is a kind of a litmus test for whether we get into heaven and he says 'whatever you did for the least of these, you did to me,'" he said. "That includes the stranger."

It's also part of a consistent pro-life ethic, Father Martin said. "If you're for an unborn child, who's in the womb of a migrant woman, are you (in support) of that child's safety and health after that child is born?"

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Copyright © 2017 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.