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Nuncio tells seminarians that ministry extends beyond 'office hours'

April 25, 2017 - 12:40pm

By Tim Puet

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- A priest's "office hours" are unlimited and the priesthood is not solely focused on administrative work, the apostolic nuncio to the United States told students at the nation's only Vatican-affiliated seminary.

"It's important to say this to young seminarians: Don't prepare yourselves to be administrative people, to say 'I work from 8 to 6 and after that, it's finished and I take my rest.' No, you are full time," Archbishop Christophe Pierre said during a question-and-answer session April 23 at the Pontifical College Josephinum.

"Your enthusiasm is so important," he continued. "This country needs the church announcing the beauty of the presence of God in Jesus Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the power of transformation found in the Gospel, in which whenever a person met Jesus, he became different."

The nuncio's remarks came after he delivered the college's annual lecture honoring the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, who served from 1980 to 1990 as the Vatican's apostolic delegate to the United States and, after the title was changed, as nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador.

As nuncio, Archbishop Pierre also is chancellor of the college, the only seminary outside of Italy with pontifical status, an honor Pope Leo XIII granted to the institution in 1882.

The archbishop frequently referred in his talk on "The Priests We Need Today" to a Vatican document on priestly formation, "Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis," ("The Gift of the Priestly Vocation"), which the Congregation for Clergy revised Dec. 8.

The document echoes a phrase made familiar by Pope Francis: "Seminaries should form missionary disciples who are 'in love' with the master, shepherds 'with the smell of the sheep,' who live in their midst to bring the mercy of God to them. Hence, every priest should always feel that he is a disciple on a journey, constantly needing an integrated formation, understood as a continuous configuration to Christ."

The archbishop referred to Pope Francis' description of priests in formation as "uncut diamonds, to be formed both patiently and carefully, respecting the conscience of the individual, so that they may shine among the people of God."

"Formation for the priesthood is best understood within the concept of the journey of discipleship," Archbishop Pierre said.

"Christ himself calls each person by name," first through baptism, followed by the other sacraments of initiation, the archbishop said. "The journey begins with his family and parish. It is there ... that his vocation is nurtured, culminating in entrance into the seminary. The gift of the vocation comes from God to the church and to the world. A vocation should never be conceived as something private, to be followed in an individualistic or self-referential manner."

The model of formation proposed in the document "prepares the seminarian and priest to make a gift of himself to the church, to go out of himself, to not be self-referential, but to look to the essential needs of the flock," Archbishop Pierre said.

He said six characteristics are particularly needed by the 21st-century priest: missionary spirit, humility, communion and unity, prayerfulness, discernment, and closeness to the flock.

The nuncio returned to the document's phrase describing priests as missionary disciples, saying such a person is "one who follows the Lord, but who also goes out with joy," who, in the words of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel") "obey(s) his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel."

"This call to be a disciple and this raising up to be a priest is a gift," the archbishop added. "The church needs priests today who are willing to receive this gift as men of communion." He also quoted from a talk earlier this month in which the pope told seminarians at the Pontifical Spanish College, "It is an ongoing challenge to overcome individualism, to live diversity as a gift, striving for unity of the presbyterate, which is a sign of the presence of God in the life of a community."

Archbishop Pierre also was at the Josephinum for the rededication April 24 of the college's chapel of St. Turibius of Mogrovejo, archbishop of Lima, Peru, from 1580 to 1606, who is patron of the Latin American episcopate and founder of the first seminary in the Americas.

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Puet is a reporter at the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus.

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Pope to Egyptians: Let papal visit be sign of friendship, peace

April 25, 2017 - 10:17am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praying that God would protect Egypt from all evil, Pope Francis told the nation's people that a world torn apart by indiscriminate violence needs courageous builders of peace, dialogue and justice.

"I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world," the pope said in a video message broadcast April 25, ahead of his April 28-29 trip to Cairo.

"I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church," he said.

The pope thanked all those who invited him to Egypt, those who were working to make the trip possible and those "who make space for me in your hearts."

He said he was "truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the country that gave, more than 2,000 years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod."

"Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land, needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices; it needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity," he said.

Honored to visit the land visited by the Holy Family, the pope asked everyone for their prayers as he assured every one of his.

"Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and elderly, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor ... I embrace you warmly and ask God almighty to bless you and protect your country from every evil."

He said it was "with a joyful and grateful heart" that he was heading to Egypt -- the "cradle of civilization, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality, where patriarchs and prophets lived" and where God -- benevolent, merciful, and the one and almighty -- made his voice heard.

The day the video was released, April 25, was also the feast day of St. Mark, who evangelized the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, Egypt, before being martyred there.

Pope Francis dedicated his morning Mass to "my brother Tawadros II, patriarch of Alexandria" of the Coptic Orthodox church, asking that God abundantly "bless our two churches."

In Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Egypt would welcome the pope and "looks forward to this significant visit to strengthen peace, tolerance and interfaith dialogue as well as to reject the abhorrent acts of terrorism and extremism."

Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq struggle with mounting pressures from extremists challenging their religious identity and the right to practice their faith and continue to exist in their ancestral homelands.

Pope Francis has urged an end to what he called a "genocide" against Christians in the Middle East, but he also has said it was wrong to equate Islam with violence.

Christians are among the oldest religious communities in the Middle East, but their numbers are dwindling in the face of conflict and persecution. Egypt's Christian community makes up about 10 percent of the country's 92 million people.

A high point in the pope's schedule is an international peace conference at Cairo's al-Azhar University, the world's highest authority on Sunni Islam, hosted by Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of the educational institution.

Pope Tawadros and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, are also expected to participate.

The pope will also meet separately with el-Sissi and other officials. Observers will be watching whether the pope will take on thorny issues with his hosts, such as the detention of thousands of Egyptians, without due process, simply held on suspicion of opposing el-Sissi.

Others will watch to see if Pope Francis prods the Sunni Muslim religious establishment to take a more forceful stand on religious extremism perpetrated in the name of God.

Many hope the al-Azhar meeting will sound a moral wake-up call to leaders worldwide to combat religious intolerance while seeking greater cooperation to fight growing threats by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

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Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.


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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.

Spokesman: Tight security is 'new normal' as pope heads to Egypt

April 25, 2017 - 9:20am

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite the ongoing risk of terrorism, Pope Francis planned to travel to Egypt as a sign of being close to the people there, said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman.

Heightened security is part of the "new normal" in many countries, but even in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt, it is the pope's desire "to go ahead, to also be a sign of his closeness" to those affected by violence and all the people of Egypt, Burke told journalists April 24.

At a Vatican briefing outlining some details of the pope's trip to Cairo April 28-29, a reporter asked if there were any worries or concerns about the pope's security.

Burke, speaking in Italian, said he wouldn't use the word "worries" or concerns, but would say that "we live in a world where it is now something that is part of life." He added, "However, we move ahead with serenity."

The pope has requested that a "normal car" -- not an armored vehicle -- be used when he is driven from one venue to another, Burke said. It will not be an open-topped vehicle, he added.

The pope will use a "golf cart," however, rather than the open-air popemobile when he makes the rounds through the crowds at the air defense stadium, where Mass will be celebrated April 29.

He also will use the golf cart for circulating among the more than 1,000 seminarians, religious and clergy expected to attend an outdoor prayer service at the Coptic Catholic Church's St. Leo's Patriarchal Seminary in the Cairo suburb of Maadi April 29.

Burke said that after Pope Francis' private meeting with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, at the patriarch's residence April 28, the two leaders will go together to the nearby church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which had been bombed during a Sunday Mass in December 2016, killing 24 people and injuring at least 45 others.

They will pray "for all the victims from these past years and months, pray for Christians killed," Burke said.

The two will leave flowers outside the church, light a candle and then have a moment of prayer for the victims from the December attack, the Vatican spokesman said.

Soon afterward, the pope will go to the apostolic nunciature, where he will be staying, and will greet a group of children who attend a Comboni-run school in Cairo and later will greet more than 300 young people who made a pilgrimage to Cairo to see the pope, he added.

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New food truck to help stem senior hunger in Diocese of Oakland

April 24, 2017 - 4:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carrie McClish, Catholic Voice

By Carrie McClish

OAKLAND, Calif. (CNS) -- A new shiny truck is bringing food to senior citizens in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood and nearby communities.

A year in the making, the Mercy Brown Bag Program has expanded, with the truck visiting several locales and offering assistance to seniors faced with the high cost of rent and medication.

Krista Lucchesi, director of the program that is part of the services of the Mercy Retirement and Care Center, couldn't stop smiling as she looked at the vehicle parked behind the residential care facility.

Having the truck "now is kind of amazing for all of us," she told The Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Oakland Diocese.

Staff and volunteers cheered the truck as it arrived April 2 after a cross-country trip from St. Louis, where it was built. Nicole St. Lawrence, Mercy Brown Bag's assistant director, brought the truck west on a mission to help stem the tide of senior hunger in Alameda County.

Most recipients enrolled in the Mercy Brown Bag Program have an average yearly income of less than $12,000 in a county where the annual median income is $82,000. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is about $1,663 a month, Lucchesi said. In such a costly environment, many seniors must make difficult choices about buying food, medication or shelter in order to survive.

"Healthy food is usually the first thing they will give up," Lucchesi said.

That's where the Mercy Brown Bag Program comes in. The program delivers food to 5,000 seniors at 17 sites and through 45 social service providers. Most of the food that the program distributes comes from the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

Each registered person can take home up to 20 pounds of groceries. Much of the food from a variety of food groups can be considered senior-appropriate: low in sodium and easy to chew.

Contacts at the distribution sites indicate which foods are more desired or more popular.

"Some sites say to bring rice every single time and say, 'we are always going to want rice' or 'we love sweet potatoes,'" Lucchesi said. "Whenever we can find them we try to make sure we have certain foods available for that site."

Fresh produce makes up the majority of the food delivered. The new truck is equipped with a system that will lower baskets of produce to street level, making food selection easier. The truck has a refrigerated area, allowing for the transport of milk and other products that must be chilled.

The food truck, which cost about $200,000, was paid for with donations from the Thomas J. Long Foundation and the Carl Gellert and Celia Berta Gellert Foundation.

The truck is allowing the program to reach up to 3,000 more seniors in need, Lucchesi said. "We are currently building our route to see which areas are not as well served," she said.

The truck also will help address new challenges facing seniors.

"We kept getting calls from low-income seniors who are homebound and with little or no social support," Lucchesi said. "We used to be able to ask them, 'Do you have a child or a friend or a neighbor who can come and get your bags for you?' People had some social connections. But now the isolation is so much deeper and we are hearing more and more from people who say they have no one who can come out to pick up their bag, which makes us sad. So we have been trying to figure out how to get closer to those folks."

The truck may also help address public transportation concerns.

"We have been getting calls where people are saying, 'I don't have any money to get on public transportation to get to one of your sites.' They are really, really living on the edge. This (truck) is a way to get food to them so that they don't have to go on public transportation," Lucchesi said.

A formal dedication of the truck took place April 19 and deliveries were to begin as soon as drivers were hired and trained.

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McClish is a staff writer for The Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Diocese of Oakland.

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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.

Mercy opens the door to understanding the mystery of God, pope says

April 24, 2017 - 10:29am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mercy is a true form of knowledge that allows men and women to understand the mystery of God's love for humanity, Pope Francis said.

Having experienced forgiveness, Christians have a duty to forgive others, giving a "visible sign" of God's mercy, which "carries within it the peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord," the pope said April 23 before praying the "Regina Coeli" with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"Mercy helps us understand that violence, resentment and revenge do not have any meaning and that the first victim is the one who lives with these feelings, because he is deprived of his own dignity," he said.

Commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis said St. John Paul II's establishment of the feast in 2000 was a "beautiful intuition" inspired by the Holy Spirit.

God's mercy, he said, not only "opens the door of the mind," it also opens the door of the heart and paves the way for compassion toward those who are "alone or marginalized because it makes them feel they are brothers and sisters and children of one father."

"Mercy, in short, commits us all to being instruments of justice, of reconciliation and peace. Let us never forget that mercy is the keystone in the life of faith, and the concrete form by which we give visibility to Jesus' resurrection," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope pays tribute to modern martyrs, calls for witnesses of God's love

April 22, 2017 - 2:08pm

IMAGE: CNS/Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The Christian church today needs believers who witness each day to the power of God's love, but it also needs the heroic witness of those who stand up to hatred even when it means giving up their lives, Pope Francis said.

At Rome's Basilica of St. Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs, Pope Francis presided over an evening prayer service April 22, honoring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism.

"These teach us that with the force of love and with meekness one can fight arrogance, violence and war, and that with patience peace is possible," the pope said in his homily in the small basilica on Rome's Tiber Island.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he wanted to add to the martyrs remembered at St. Bartholomew by including "a woman -- I don't know her name -- but she watches from heaven."

The pope said he'd met the woman's husband, a Muslim, in Lesbos, Greece, when he visited a refugee camp there in 2016. The man told the pope that one day, terrorists came to their home. They saw his wife's crucifix and ordered her to throw it on the ground. She refused and they slit her throat.

"I don't know if that man is still at Lesbos or if he has been able to leave that 'concentration camp,'" the pope said, explaining that despite the good will of local communities many refugee camps are overcrowded and are little more than prisons "because it seems international agreements are more important than human rights."

But, getting back to the story of the Muslim man who watched his wife be murdered, the pope said, "Now it's that man, a Muslim, who carries this cross of pain."

"So many Christian communities are the object of persecution today! Why? Because of the hatred of the spirit of this world," the pope said. Jesus has "rescued us from the power of this world, from the power of the devil," who hates Jesus' saving power and "creates the persecution, which from the time of Jesus and the early church continues up to our day."

"What does the church need today?" the pope asked. "Martyrs and witnesses, those everyday saints, those saints of an ordinary life lived with coherence. But it also needs those who have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, to the point of death. All of those are the living blood of the church," those who "witness that Jesus is risen, that Jesus lives."

Under a large icon depicting modern martyrs of the gulag and concentration camp, Pope Francis prayed: "O Lord, make us worthy witnesses of your Gospel and your love; pour out your mercy on humanity; renew your church; protect persecuted Christians; and quickly grant the whole world peace."

During the prayer service, Pope Francis wore a stole that had belonged to Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, who was murdered in Mosul, Iraq, in 2007.

Father Ganni's stole along with dozens of other items that belonged to men and women martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries are on display on the side altars at the basilica, which is cared for by the lay Sant'Egidio Community.

During the prayer service, at which Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox clergy were involved, people who had been close to those honored as martyrs at the shrine spoke.

Karl A. Schneider's father, the Rev. Paul Schneider, was the first Protestant pastor martyred by the Nazis for opposing their hate-filled doctrine. He was married and the father of six children.

"My father was assassinated in 1939 in the Buchenwald concentration camp because he believed the objectives of National Socialism were irreconcilable with the words of the Bible," Schneider told the congregation. "All of us, still today, make too many compromises, but my father remained faithful only to the Lord and to the faith."

The next to speak was Roselyne Hamel, the sister of French Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26, 2016. The Archdiocese of Rouen has begun his sainthood cause with Pope Francis' approval. Father Hamel's breviary is preserved at St. Bartholomew's.

"Jacques was 85 years old when two young men, radicalized by hate speech, thought they could become heroes by engaging in homicidal violence," his sister told the pope. "At his age, Jacques was fragile, but he also was strong -- strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people."

His witness to Gospel values continues, she said, in the reaction of Christians who did not call for revenge after his death, but for love and forgiveness. And, she said, the family and local church have experienced "the solidarity of Muslims who wanted to visit our Sunday assemblies after his death."

"For his family, there certainly is pain and a void, but it is a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity and love were generated by Jacques' witness," she said.

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Make persecution 'difficult for others to ignore,' cardinal says

April 21, 2017 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With religious persecution against Christians on the rise worldwide, it is important for other Christians to stand in solidarity with them, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

Christians in the United States and elsewhere must raise their voices on behalf of "the millions who are suffering," he said April 20 during a symposium held in connection with the release of "In Response to Persecution, Findings of the Under Caesar's Sword Project on Global Christian Communities," a report detailing the nature of persecution against Christians in different nations across the globe. 

"Make it difficult for others to ignore," the cardinal said.

Doing so, Cardinal Wuerl noted, may require Christians "to be aware" of the persecution their fellow believers face on different continents.

He suggested one response should be to "continue to support the flow of material assistance" to persecuted Christians through aid agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international aid agency; Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican umbrella agency for different nations' Catholic relief organizations; or their counterparts run by other Christian denominations and organizations.

"And we must, of course, continue to pray," said Cardinal Wuerl, who has just had a new book published, "To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness."

He lamented the rise of intolerance in the Middle East. In Egypt, the cardinal said, "all found a way, until recently, to live together. Under the rise of ISIS ... things have just continued to get worse." He added he believes that, despite last year's declaration by then-Secretary of State John Kerry that the Islamic State group had been responsible for genocide in the regions it controlled in Iraq and Syria, most Americans are not aware of it.

"This is not a Christian crisis of concern only to Christians," Cardinal Wuerl said. "This is a human crisis."

Daniel Philpott, a professor of political science and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame and the principal author of the report, expressed surprise that few persecuted Christians resort to violence. He said there were limited instances of Christian groups forming militias to protect their people and property and, given the situations they face, that reaction may be "understandable and justifiable."

Philpott outlined five contexts in which persecution exists: Islamic persecution, such as applying Shariah law to Christians; communist persecution such as that found in China, Vietnam and North Korea; state-supported persecution, such as in Turkey; religious hostility such as that seen in India; and the West's reaction to a secularizing influence. Philpott quoted Pope Francis, who called the secularization "polite persecution."

Beyond these, there are nongovernmental actors like Islamic State; Philpott called them "Little Caesars" who persecute Christians.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan, a country where 3 percent of the country's 120 million people are Christians, said working together with the Muslim majority is the best course of action.

While Pakistan's blasphemy law has resulted in the deaths of many Christians, Archbishop Shaw said he does not want to have the law repealed, but he wants it modified so mob justice is eliminated.

He told the story of a poor Christian couple working in indentured servitude at a brick kiln in the country. Somehow, a rumor spread that the couple had blasphemed Allah. Word got to the local imam, and "within 20 minutes there were 4,000 people" ready to exact their own justice against the couple, who had two children. Soon, both were thrown into the kiln furnace and "within five, seven minutes, they were both burned to death," the archbishop said.

Later, officials discovered that the Christian woman was pregnant, and that both husband and wife were illiterate and could not have committed the blasphemy of which they were accused. "They did not have a Quran in their home," Archbishop Shaw said. "They didn't even have a Bible in their home."

The archbishop said he gives the "two-F" instruction to his Catholics: "Don't fear. Jesus said, 'Do not be afraid,'" he told his audience. "The second F is do not fight, do not fight. No fear, no fight." He said he encourages Catholics to "know your purpose. You were born in Pakistan" for a reason, Archbishop Shaw added. "Know your religion and your religious values, and express them in your life."

The symposium also featured a 27-minute documentary, "Under Caesar's Sword," which explored religious restrictions and violence in Turkey and in India, along with glimpses of situations in Myanmar, Pakistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Syria.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

 

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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.

Special collection translates into missionary work for U.S. regions

April 20, 2017 - 4:18pm

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- American Catholics will have an opportunity to become modern-day missionaries during the weekend of April 29-30 by simply dropping money in a collection plate.

That is the weekend the Catholic Home Missions Appeal is being conducted as a second collection in many parishes throughout the U.S. The money raised from it will help bring the religion to people throughout the country.

Contributing to that collection really is a way for Catholics to do missionary work without ever leaving their home or parish, said Richard Coll, director of Catholic Home Missions in the U.S. bishops' Office of National Collections.

The annual Catholic Home Missions Appeal helps support more than 40 percent of the dioceses and eparchies in the United States and its territories in the Caribbean and Pacific.

These dioceses tend to be rural with enormous territories within their borders.

Without the subsidies that come from the annual appeal established by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1998, it would be difficult or impossible to support many of the religious programs in these regions or even some basic pastoral functions.

It's why they are called mission dioceses, because they depend on missionary efforts to help bring Catholicism to these populations in a meaningful way.

The theme of the appeal this year is "Strengthening the Church at Home," Coll told Catholic News Service during an April interview.

The U.S. Catholic Church has a long history of sending missionaries to serve people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania, said Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Boise, Idaho, which is a mission diocese.

Home mission dioceses in the U.S. need the same kind of care, which is why the grants that come from the annual appeal are so vital to Catholics in the mission dioceses, which also include Gallup, New Mexico, and Little Rock, Arkansas, Bishop Christensen said.

"For many dioceses, it is challenging to support ministries because of fragile financial situations or isolated communities," said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions. "It is through the Catholic Home Missions Appeal that we can make a difference here at home and help our mission dioceses offer places for people to encounter the loving and merciful Christ." 

The Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions in 2016 allocated more than $9 million to 84 dioceses for programs of evangelization, Hispanic ministry, seminary education, lay ministry formation and other essential pastoral ministries.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defines a home mission as a "diocese or parish that can't provide the basic pastoral services to Catholics without outside help."

Those basic pastoral services include Mass, the sacraments, religious education, and ministry training for lay ministers, deacons, religious sisters and priests.

So, Catholics who support this collection end up contributing to the pastoral outreach in the mission dioceses in places such as Alaska, New Mexico, Idaho, the Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico and parts of Texas.

Here's an example to put the struggles of a mission diocese into context.

Salt Lake City, one of the U.S. mission dioceses, consists of 85,000 square miles, which is the entire state of Utah, and some of the Eastern Catholic eparchies, which also are considered Catholic home missions, cover the entire U.S. and consist of millions of square miles.

Bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters and dedicated lay ministers can put 50,000 miles a year on their cars just to reach the Catholics they are charged with providing pastoral care to, Bishop Christensen said.

The ministry of Father Adrian Vazquez, a priest in his diocese, illustrates the situation. He is charged with the pastoral care of four Catholic communities in eastern Idaho, a parish in St. Anthony and three mission stations located in Rexburg, Driggs and Island Park.

He divides his time between all those locations, driving hundreds of miles a week.

Sometimes the priest relies on the kindness of his parishioners in Driggs and Island Park to put him up for the night, since his residence is at the rectory in far off St. Anthony.

"The travel can be a real challenge, especially in the winter when there is a lot of snow," said Father Vazquez, a native of Mexico. "My parishioners have to be patient with me sometimes if I'm running behind and we just start when I arrive."

The Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, has a total of 10 priests who serve a geographic region that is about the size of the state of Florida, said Bishop Edward J. Burns, then head of the Diocese of Juneau and now the bishop of Dallas.

"The communities are small," Bishop Burns told CNS during an interview in Juneau. "We can have just a handful of people who gather for Mass at the kitchen table, because we don't have a chapel or church in some of our villages."

The priests, deacons, religious sisters and lay ministers say it's important to get into the small communities in the far reaches of these mission dioceses, not only to bring them the sacraments, but to help them prepare for marriage, strengthen their relationships, sometimes cope with poverty, mourn the dead and become positive models for their children, he said.

The U.S. mission church of the 21st century faces some of the same challenges 18th-century missionaries encountered in that the faith remains poorly established in several parts of the country, including the Rocky Mountain states, the South, areas along the Mexican border and in the Pacific islands, Bishop Christensen said.

Along with evangelization efforts, mission dioceses receive money for programs involving faith formation, cultural diversity, strengthening marriage, repairs to churches, prison outreach, as well as priestly and religious vocations.

In recent years, the mission dioceses have seen an increase in religious vocations, which is desperately needed, but that too brings its own set of challenges for financially strapped institutions in those areas.

"To educate a seminarian today costs an average of $37,000," Bishop Christensen said. "That's not small change for a diocese that can't support that.

"There's a (mission) diocese in Texas that has 23 seminarians," he said. "Multiply that out by $37,000 and that gets into some pretty amazing figures."

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Pope in Egypt: Strengthening weary Christians, reaching out to all

April 20, 2017 - 3:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Olivier Douliery, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' visit to Egypt, a land increasingly marked by terrorist-led bloodshed, stands as part of his mission to inspire and encourage today's actors in theaters of violence to change the script and set a new stage.

Just as the pope did when he raised the curtain of the Year of Mercy in war-torn Central African Republic, he goes to strengthen and "confirm his brothers of the Coptic Catholic Church and other churches present in Egypt," said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

He will be able to show, in person, his support and solidarity for the beleaguered Christian minorities who continue to be targeted by terrorist fanatics and increasingly feel vulnerable and unsafe in their own land, said Maryknoll Father Douglas May, who worked in Egypt for two decades.

Even though Christianity there traces its roots to the times of the apostles, being a Christian in Egypt today "is like being black in the United States before civil rights or being a Jew in Germany before Hitler. You're tolerated. But people don't want to be tolerated, they want to be accepted as citizens with equal rights and equal possibilities," said the 67-year-old priest, who grew up near Buffalo, New York.

To make things even more difficult, there is "still a very low level of ecumenical spirit" among many priests and bishops of the different Christian communities, even though laypeople already have a sense "that everybody is one: Protestants, Catholic and Orthodox."

Church leadership "worries about who's what" Christian denomination, he said. But when Pope Francis goes to Cairo April 28-29 to embrace Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, Christians will see "that we are all one family, even though we might have different last names," he told Catholic News Service April 20 by phone from a small village in Upper Egypt.

"I think the biggest thing" that will come from the trip, he said, is Pope Francis "will affirm that there is a certain solidarity among Christians" and that "we are all related together by Jesus."

An official visit by the Roman pontiff -- the second in history -- will bolster lay Catholics, he said, just like St. John Paul II's landmark trip in 2000 did.

Many Catholics feel mistreated or maligned, he said; they often are seen as "heretics" by biased Orthodox and "referred to as infidels or idol worshippers" by prejudiced Muslims.

But "when John Paul came, it was the first time a Catholic could be proud and excited to be a Catholic and a Christian at the same time," said the priest, who was in Egypt at the time. That joyful pride should be "the biggest impact" Pope Francis will make.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, former nuncio to Egypt and past president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said the Catholic presence "is both enriched and weakened by the fact of being made up of seven distinct churches: Coptic Catholic, Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean and Latin."

While that shows Catholicism's rich diversity, it comes "at the price of a lack of cohesion," he told CNS in an email response to questions.

Egypt has the largest Christian population in the Middle East, but the Roman Catholic Church is the country's smallest, with about 250,000 members compared to the 9 million-10 million Coptic Orthodox, he wrote.

However, the presence of so many men's and women's religious congregations working in the fields of education, medical care and social work and the important and much respected work of Caritas Egypt mean the Catholic Church "punches over its weight," said Archbishop Fitzgerald.

Father May spent many years doing priestly formation for the Coptic Catholic Church, and, in fact, he taught and was the spiritual director of Msgr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, one of the pope's personal secretaries in Rome and the man who will be translating for the pope in Egypt.

Father May said he sought to teach the seminarians to leave the church walls, actively work in the risky world of social justice and be open to the help and goodwill of all people.

The impact on the Coptic Catholic priests he taught has been huge, he said. One of his many former students who are now paving new paths of interreligious and ecumenical initiatives powered by the participation of lay men and women, he said, is Father Boulos Nassif, whose work is featured in a Prison Fellowship International documentary titled "A Story of Friendship," which can be found on YouTube.

Father Nassif founded the Hand in Hand prison ministry when Muslim families wanted the same kind of services and care he was offering Catholic and other Christian prisoners and their families. But fears of being accused of proselytizing led him to ask for help from the local sheik, Father May said, and now the two communities work together, not separately, which is highly unusual.

Father May said the problems facing Egypt's Christians come from "several sources," including al-Alzhar University, which is considered the world's highest authority on Sunni Islam.

Many Christians feel "the voice from al-Alzhar is not strong enough against all this fanaticism, and it may even be affirming it," he said.

The country's huge economic difficulties and high unemployment also make minorities an easy target as "someone to blame," he added.

"My hope is that Francis, with that smile of his, when he shakes hands" with the many dignitaries and religious leaders, all the negative baggage and attitudes "can maybe erode a little bit" and the whole nation can see what respect, dialogue and friendship look like.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz.

 

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Retiring CUA prof plans to continue engaging in public policy debates

April 20, 2017 - 12:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For all his love of politics and the "frothy media excitement" that surrounds it, Stephen F. Schneck is hardly a political animal.

He's more the thoughtful type, bringing a calm demeanor and insights formed by his Catholic faith to the high-volume and often contentious debates on important public policy issues since becoming director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in 2005.

Schneck, 63, was set to retire April 28, but he doesn't expect to go silent.

While he won't have quite the stage the institute offered in exploring various aspects of the ever-changing political scene through symposia, lectures and guest columns, he is expecting to draw from a network of contacts nationwide to seek new opportunities to accentuate that politics must be a moral endeavor working for the common good.

Schneck admitted that such a basic standard in the country's current polarized political environment may be difficult to achieve right now. But he's not giving up and he will continue to share what he considers to be the key guiding principle for politics in any form. It's a principle that he also hopes will reach the hearts and minds of those who have chosen politics as a career.

"At some point I came to realize that politics is the doing of civilization. It really is," he told Catholic News Service in mid-April. "It's not really about who's ahead in the polls or who wins or loses. Politics in the broadest sense is about building civilization."

It's a concept that students, public officials, bishops and the broader public have heard from Schneck since he joined the university faculty in 1984 after completing work on a doctorate degree from the University of Notre Dame. Schneck, who describes himself as a political philosopher, said he also has worked to build the institute around that essential understanding with a healthy dose of Catholic social teaching mixed in.

"I see what we're trying to do here (through politics) isn't just about who gets what when and how," he explained. "It's not just about divvying up resources, but it's really about building civilization. Politics, when it's working, achieves that. When it does happen, it's really magical."

Schneck originally became director of the institute's forerunner, the Life Cycle Institute, 12 years ago. The institute's name changed in 2009 to more accurately reflect its mission as Schneck began transforming the program into the highly regarded think tank that it is today. Schneck also expanded the institute's list of fellows to include experts from a wider array of disciplines and from other organizations and schools.

As the reputation of the institute grew, Schneck gained wider notice in the political realm as well. He was invited to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at times. Several institute fellows have testified on key issues on Capitol Hill.

Of course, CUA's institute was not the only program to bring Catholic social teaching to public policy discussions. But coming from the U.S. Catholic Church's official national university, the messages shared through the institute's programs seemed to carry a bit more weight, sending a message to Capitol Hill and the White House that Catholic social thought was relevant to the key issues facing the country.

Schneck said such emphasis on church teaching had been the goal of CUA's president at the time, now Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey. The bishop credited Schneck for wanting to "grapple with some of the substantive issues that were being faced by the church within the broader marketplace."

"Steve articulated that purpose very well, to engage society and the political world and the movers and shakers in contemporary political life," Bishop O'Connell told CNS. "Steve has a very good insight for that. He brought it forward at the right time."

Schneck's work in the classroom has been recognized as well. He has received several teacher of the year awards from the university.

University President John Garvey said Schneck gained respect across campus because of his selfless commitment to service.

"He's been such a great university citizen," Garvey said, citing a period in 2012 and 2013 when Schneck agreed to serve as acting dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service despite numerous other responsibilties. "He was someone who had immediate credibility with the faculty and did such a fabulous job."

Schneck leaves his position with a couple of unattained goals. He said he would have liked the institute to develop its own capacity to conduct polling to measure public perception on key issues affecting the country. He also thinks history is important to understanding modern-day politics and having more historians in the ranks of institute fellows who could connect the dots from years past to today's realities to create better understanding of the political process, he said.

For now, though, Schneck is ready to move on to the next phase of his career.

"I can't imagine that I'm ready to abandon my effort to bring Catholic insights into American public life," he said. "I have some offers to write columns for some Catholic magazines. I have a book that remains unfinished ... that I'll be turning back to."

Schneck has been traveling around the country as he prepares for retirement, visiting friends at universities and meeting bishops with whom he has worked on institute programs to gain a better sense of how important the Catholic voice can be in influencing public policy choices. He thinks he may work to help bridge the polarizing gaps that exist across political party lines and within the church as well.

"If we can't figure out a way to achieve solidarity or find a way of healing this rift, then I worry profoundly about both American political life and our church," Schneck said. "This I think is the biggest task, the biggest challenge facing us. There are lots of challenges, but none of those challenges can be addressed until we address this and find a way to work together with one another."

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Pope to canonize Fatima seers May 13; October date for other saints

April 20, 2017 - 10:51am

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will declare the sainthood of Blessed Jacinta Marto and Blessed Francisco Marto, two of the shepherd children who saw Mary in Fatima, Portugal, during his visit to the site of the apparitions May 13.

The date was announced April 20 during an "ordinary public consistory," a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, addressing the assembly noted that of the future saints considered at the consistory, five were children or young teenagers.

"In our time, where young people often become objects of exploitation and commerce, these young people excel as witnesses of truth and freedom, messengers of peace (and) of a new humanity reconciled in love," the cardinal said.

At the same consistory, the pope set Oct. 15 as the date for the canonizations of two priests and two groups of martyrs, including Blessed Cristobal, Blessed Antonio and Blessed Juan -- also known as the "Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala" -- who were among the first native converts in Mexico. They were killed between 1527 and 1529 for refusing to renounce the faith and return to their people's ancient traditions.

Pope Francis will preside over the canonization ceremony of the Fatima visionaries during his visit to Fatima May 12-13.

The pilgrimage will mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

A year after the apparitions, both of the Marto children became ill during an influenza epidemic that plagued Europe. Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9.

Francisco and Jacinta's cause for canonization was stalled for decades due to a debate on whether non-martyred children have the capacity to understand heroic virtues at a young age. However, in 1979, St. John Paul II allowed their cause to proceed; he declared them venerable in 1989 and beatified them in 2000.

The children's cousin entered the Carmelites. Sister Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97. The diocesan phase of her sainthood cause concluded in February and now is under study at the Vatican.

The other canonizations set to take place Oct. 15 include:

-- The "Martyrs of Natal," Brazil, including: Blessed Andre de Soveral, a Jesuit priest; Blessed Ambrosio Francisco Ferro, a diocesan priest; Blessed Mateus Moreira, a layman; and 27 others. They were killed in 1645 in a wave of anti-Catholic persecution carried out by Dutch Calvinists.

-- Blessed Faustino Miguez, a Spanish priest and a member of the Piarist Fathers born in 1831. He started an advanced school for girls at a time when such education was limited almost exclusively to boys.

While he taught a variety of subjects and wrote numerous textbooks, he also honed an interest in botany, which led him to find a cure for a professor so ill that he was thought to be beyond hope. People then came to him from all parts of the country seeking relief from their sicknesses.

-- Blessed Angelo da Acri, an Italian Capuchin priest who was born Luca Antonio Falcone. A famed preacher, he was known for his defense of the poor. He died in 1739 and was beatified by Pope Leo XII in 1825.

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All hands on deck: Franciscan idea can expand church leadership pool

April 20, 2017 - 10:26am

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For St. Francis of Assisi, following Christ meant imitating his humility and forsaking riches, power and status; the men who call themselves Franciscans today believe they are called to embrace the same attitudes, including in their governance.

In early April, the ministers general of four men's branches of the Franciscan family -- the Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventual Franciscans and the Third Order Regulars -- asked Pope Francis to give the Franciscans the "privilege" of allowing religious brothers to be elected to leadership positions, including those with authority over ordained priests.

The word "privilege" means special permission for something not generally envisioned by church law. In canon law, governance in the church usually is tied to ordination.

The Franciscans' request is about recovering the notion of fraternity and service St. Francis gave his first companions, said Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Friars Minor. But it also has implications for leadership, authority and governance in the wider church.

At its root, it raises the question: "Is leadership about organizing things in such a way that one has absolute control over everything? Or is leadership about empowering people so that there's a synergy, a bringing together of all the strengths within a community?" Father Perry told Catholic News Service.

The core identity of ordained ministry is involved as well.

Because of its unique connection to the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood has a special and irreplaceable role within the Catholic Church and within a Catholic religious community, Father Perry said. The Franciscans' request "is not a question of challenging spiritual authority or the role of the shepherd; it's actually about liberating the shepherd so that he can be focused on the sheep and not have to be worried about the gates and the fences."

The Franciscan ideal for leadership is that it should invite and challenge the friars -- brothers among themselves, whether ordained or not -- "to 'minority,' to not going up, but going down," Father Perry said. Minority is the opposite of clericalism, which is "a drive upwards as if upward mobility offered something, some security and guarantee of fidelity, a way of controlling people so they remain faithful to the truth. Franciscans, we don't see it this way."

From 1208 to 1209 when Pope Innocent III approved St. Francis' initial rule for his order and up until 1239, Father Perry said, the Franciscans were allowed to elect brothers to leadership roles, including as minister general, and they did so.

Massimo Faggioli, a church historian and professor of theology at Villanova University, said that if Pope Francis grants the friars' request, "it would signal to the whole church a shift in the sense of a de-clericalization of the religious orders and the return to the original inspiration of the founders: Francis was not a priest but a lay person, and the clericalization of the Franciscans came later."

Some people have argued that St. Francis was a deacon, but Father Perry said even that is hotly debated among Franciscan scholars. What is certain is that he received the "tonsure," a ritual cutting of hair that often signified preparation for ordination. But Father Perry is convinced that in St. Francis' case, it was simply the official sign that he had been granted permission by the bishop to preach in churches.

Loosening the link between ordination and governance increases the possibilities for recognizing the dignity, gifts, skills and call to service of all the baptized, Father Perry said.

Reserving most leadership roles to the ordained, he said, "has not permitted space for women and also, at times, squelched competence. It has not promoted competence and, in fact, has awarded incompetence."

A model of church leadership in which the ordained are spiritual shepherds, who also have oversight to ensure administrative and financial matters are handled appropriately, is "a different model than one in which leadership controls, that has to make sure 'I'm in charge.' That comes from personal insecurity and a lack of faith, not from the presence of faith," Father Perry said.

In his view, he said, "clericalism is a sign of a lack of faith, a lack of trust -- a lack of trust in God, a lack of trust in others and, ultimately, a lack of trust in oneself."

Faggioli, the church historian, told CNS that "the clergy-centered church was part of the tight relationship between church and state in the Western world of established Christendom. It was more a social and political necessity than a theological one: the state or the political authority needed to count on a reliable professional class of clergy faithful to the political authority."

But the world has changed, he said, and "the church's mission in this secularized world needs all the hands, not only the clerical ones."

While "governance is still canonically tied to ordination," the professor said, "in the real life of the Catholic Church worldwide today many key decisions are made by laypeople: Catholic education, health care, media, social work, etc. are largely in the hands of laypeople."

"We have to come to terms with what is the nature of church and what is the nature of ministries in the church?" Father Perry said. "Francis of Assisi called for a new model, a model that would not challenge at all the nature of the church and the distinct roles within the church, but would remind the church that these are all in service to something higher, something greater."

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Vatican says it would welcome visit by Trump

April 20, 2017 - 10:07am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If U.S. President Donald Trump requests a meeting with Pope Francis in May, the Vatican will try to make it work, a top Vatican official said.

"Pope Francis always is willing to welcome heads of state who ask," Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, told the Italian news agency ANSA April 19.

Trump is scheduled to be in Taormina, in southern Italy, May 26-27 for a summit of G-7 leaders and representatives of the European Union.

Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, told reporters April 19, "We will be reaching out to the Vatican to see if a meeting, an audience with the pope can be accommodated. We'll have further details on that. Obviously, we would be honored to have an audience with his holiness."

Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has visited the Vatican to meet the pope. Eisenhower met St. John XXIII at the Vatican in December 1959.

But Woodrow Wilson was the first sitting U.S. president to meet a pope at the Vatican. He met with Pope Benedict XV in 1919 while on a European tour after World War I.

The visits are a mix of policy discussions and protocol, very civil and even warm affairs where, however, serious policy differences are raised. Depending on the president, his party and policies, the divergences run from issues related to the sacredness of the unborn to the obligation to care for creation and to welcome refugees.

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Supreme Court seems to lean toward church in Lutheran playground case

April 19, 2017 - 5:45pm

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Supreme Court justices seemed to side with the church in a separation of church and state case argued April 19 about a Missouri Lutheran preschool barred from receiving state funds for playground resurfacing using recycled tires because it is a church property.

In his first minutes before the court, David Cortman, arguing for the church in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, said: "The question is why would someone's religious status matter in the first place to receiving a government benefit?"

The justices seemed to settle on that point, questioning the state's decision to exclude the church from a grant program when there are federal programs in place that provide funding that could benefit religious institutions including a Department of Homeland Security program to improve security near synagogues or mosques and a program to repair buildings damaged by the bombing at the federal building in Oklahoma City.

James Layton, arguing for the state, said Missouri also would be against such programs because they similarly grant funds to religious institutions.

Layton, former solicitor general of Missouri, said the state would not block police and fire protection to churches because public safety is different since it is a service.

He said the state bars funding from religious institutions to avoid the appearance that it chooses among different churches or makes physical improvements to them.

The justices acknowledged the playground resurfacing issue was more than meets the eye.

"This church-state divide, it's a fraught issue. It's a hard issue," Justice Elena Kagan said, also calling the case a "clear burden on a constitutional right."

A crowd, including handfuls of children, gathered outside the court and those favoring the church position held aloft balloons that spelled out "play fair."

During the 70 minutes of arguments, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor didn't seem to buy the church argument.

Sotomayor said: "This church is not going to close its religious practices or its doors because its playground doesn't have these tires. So I'm not sure how this is a free exercise question, because there is no effect on the religious beliefs. No one is asking the church to change its beliefs."

One reason cited for preventing the church from getting the grant funding is the Blaine Amendment in the Missouri Constitution, and in 36 other states, which bars public money from going to churches:

The amendments date back to the 19th century and are named for Rep. James Blaine of Maine, who tried unsuccessfully in 1875 to have the U.S. Constitution prohibit the use of public funds for "sectarian" schools.

When Justice Samuel Alito brought up the state amendments, he asked if they were based on "anti-Catholic bigotry?"

Cortman, an attorney with Christian religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom, said history shows "anti-Catholic bigotry that's behind this specific provision," but the establishment clause was really what was being argued here.

The Lutheran church said its exclusion from the program violated the Constitution because it discriminates against religious institutions, but the state has argued that Constitution's free exercise clause does not require the government to subsidize churches or provide equal funding opportunities for religious and nonreligious groups.

In 2015, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state's decision to deny the preschool's grant application.

The case has been a longtime coming to the Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case more than a year ago, a month before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The court, which has been divided on separation of church and state questions, is now back to a full bench, with the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch just days before the oral arguments in this case.

Gorsuch, in his first week on the court, was viewed as a key supporter for the church in this case since he ruled in favor of religious freedom in 2013 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, siding with Hobby Lobby stores that fought against the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

The new justice did not ask any questions until near the end when he asked Layton how the "discrimination on the basis of religious exercise is better in selective government programs than general programs."

On religious discrimination, he said: "There's no -- no line-drawing problem there. We know that's happened in this case, right?" He also pointed out later that "the line is moving."

The playground case almost didn't make it to court, because just days before the oral argument the state's new Republican governor, Eric Greitens, reversed the state policy and said churches would be eligible for the type of grant the Lutheran school sought in the future.

The court asked both sides April 14 to submit their views on whether the case should move forward and they both agreed it should. With the new twist, the Missouri attorney general's office recused itself and asked the former state solicitor general to defend the state's position.

The case began five years ago when the school applied for a grant reimbursing nonprofit groups for the cost of purchasing and installing playground surfaces using recycled tires. The program is funded from a fee on the sales of new tires meant to reduce the number of tires in the state's landfills and provide safe playground surfaces.

Missouri's Department of Natural Resources, which administers the playground resurfacing program, ranked Trinity Lutheran's grant application fifth out of the 44 it received. The department, which funds 14 grants, denied Trinity Lutheran's application because the state constitution prohibits state funds from going "directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief supporting the preschool, joined by the Missouri Catholic Conference, the National Catholic Educational Association, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Salvation Army.

University of Notre Dame Law professor Richard Garnett said separation of church and state "is supposed to advance religious freedom, by keeping the government from interfering in religious affairs; it is not supposed to be a warrant for crude discrimination."

"The Missouri provision, and many others like it, reflect a deep and pervasive, but regrettable and misplaced, hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholic schools. This hostility was prevalent in 19th-century America, but there is no reason its influence should continue to block initiatives that serve the common good," he added.

A decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer is expected by late June.

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Fatima at 100: Story of apparitions continues to attract attention

April 19, 2017 - 4:17pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paulo Cunha, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While conversion and prayer are at the heart of Mary's messages at Fatima, Portugal, the miracles and unexplained phenomenon that accompanied the events 100 years ago continue to intrigue believers and nonbelievers alike.

The apparitions of Mary at Fatima in 1917 were not the first supernatural events reported there.

Two years before Mary appeared to the three shepherd children -- Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto -- they saw a strange sight while praying the rosary in the field, according to the memoirs of Sister Lucia, who had become a Carmelite nun.

"We had hardly begun when, there before our eyes, we saw a figure poised in the air above the trees; it looked like a statue made of snow, rendered almost transparent by the rays of the sun," she wrote, describing what they saw in 1915.

The next year, Francisco and Jacinta received permission to tend their family's flocks and Lucia decided to join her cousins in a field owned by their families.

It was 1916 when the mysterious figure appeared again, this time approaching close enough "to distinguish its features."

"Do not be afraid! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me," Sister Lucia recalled the angel saying.

The three told no one about the angel's visit and received no more heavenly visits until May 13, 1917. While the children tended their sheep and played, they were startled by two flashes of lightning.

As they made their way down a slope, the children saw a "lady all dressed in white" standing on a small tree. It was the first of six apparitions of Mary, who gave a particular message or revelation each time:

-- May 13, 1917. When asked by the children who she was and where she came from, the lady said she was "from heaven" and that she would reveal her identity later. She asked the children to come back to the Cova da Iria on the 13th day of the month for the next six months, and she asked them to pray the rosary every day "in order to obtain peace for the world" and the end of World War I.

-- June 13, 1917. The lady said she would take Francisco and Jacinta to heaven soon while Lucia would remain on earth for "some time longer" to establish devotion to the Immaculate Heart.

-- July 13, 1917. The lady said she would reveal her identity in October and "perform a miracle for all to see and believe." After telling the children to make sacrifices for sinners, she revealed three secrets; two of the secrets were not shared publicly until 1941 and the third secret, written down by Sister Lucia and sent to the Vatican, was not released until 2000.

The first secret involved a vision of hell in which the children saw "a sea of fire" with demons and human souls shrieking "in pain and despair." In her memoir, Sister Lucia said people nearby, who had begun gathering around the children on the 13th of the month, heard her "cry out" during the frightening revelation.

The second secret was that while World War I would come to end, a "worse one will break out" if people continued offending God.

The children were told that calamity would be prevented if Russia was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart. Although Sister Lucia confirmed that the consecration was done properly by Pope Pius XII in 1942 and by St. John Paul II in 1984, some Fatima devotees continue to argue that it was not.

The third and final secret, published 83 years after the Fatima apparitions, was a vision of a "bishop dressed in white" shot down amid the rubble of a ruined city. The official Vatican interpretation, discussed with Sister Lucia before its publication, was that it referred to the persecution of Christians in the 20th century and, specifically, to the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of St. John Paul II.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the time of the third secret's publication in 2000. Presenting the secret and the interpretation to the press, he said the vision's purpose was not to show an "irrevocably fixed future" but to "mobilize the forces of change in the right direction."

-- Aug. 19, 1917. The lady again said she would perform a miracle in October and asked that the money given by pilgrims be used to build a chapel on the site of the apparitions.

-- Sept. 13, 1917. The lady asked them to continue to pray the rosary "to obtain the end of the war," and she said that Jesus, St. Joseph, Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Carmel would appear during the miracle in October.

-- Oct. 13, 1917. Despite the pouring rain, tens of thousands of people went to the Cova da Iria to witness the long-awaited miracle.

The lady identified herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary" and said the war would end and the soldiers would return home. After asking that people cease to offend God, she opened her hands, which reflected a light toward the sun.

Sister Lucia recalled crying out, "Look at the sun!" As the crowds looked on, the sun appeared to "dance," spinning and changing colors. The children also saw the promised figures of Jesus, St. Joseph and Mary.

Amazement at the "dancing sun" turned to panic when the sun seemed to hurl toward earth. Fearing the end of the world, some people screamed and ran, some tried to hide and others remained on their knees, praying for mercy. Then the sun returned to its place.

Thirteen years after Mary's final apparition at Fatima, the bishop of Leiria declared the visions of the three shepherd children "worthy of belief" and allowed the veneration of Our Lady of Fatima. However, the bishop did not recognize the "dancing sun" as miraculous.

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Georgetown University, Jesuits apologize for roles in sale of slaves

April 19, 2017 - 1:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Georgetown University and the Society of Jesus' Maryland province apologized April 18 for their roles in the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals for the university's benefit.

More than 100 descendants attended a morning "Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope" that the university created in partnership with descendants, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the United States.

"Today the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned," said Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, during the liturgy. "We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry."

The event took place the day after the District of Columbia marked Emancipation Day, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in Washington April 16, 1862. This year, the local holiday was moved to April 17 because the actual day fell on Easter Sunday.

In early April, Georgetown announced plans for the liturgy and a renaming ceremony for two buildings on campus previously named for priests who sold women, children and men into slavery for financial gain in 1838.

Jesuit Father Thomas Mulledy, as Georgetown president, authorized the transaction, and Jesuit Father William McSherry also was involved in the 1838 sale and in other slave sales.

Mulledy Hall was renamed after Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed in the sale documents. McSherry Hall is now named after Anne Marie Becraft, a teacher and free woman of color who established one of the first schools for black girls in the District of Columbia. She later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Sandra Green Thomas, a descendant of the slaves and president of the GU272 Descendants Association, spoke at length at the liturgy about the 272 enslaved people, her ancestors and her Catholic faith.

"The ability to transcend the realities of this life in this country has been a necessary tool in the survival kit of my people," she said. "For the 272, I believe that their Catholic faith enabled them to transcend. No matter how incongruous their existence was with the gospel of God's love and protection, they clung to their faith."

President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown also spoke during the liturgy, saying that "slavery remains the original evil of our republic."

The university "was complicit in" that evil, "a sin that tore apart families," he said. "Through great violence, (it) denied and rejected the dignity and humanity of our fellow sisters and brothers. We lay this truth bare -- in sorrowful apology and communal reckoning."

Jesuit Father Robert Hussey, provincial of his order's Maryland province, and DeGioia met with descendants in the afternoon.

Karran Harper Royal, another descendant, thanked Georgetown for its steps toward acknowledging its ties with slavery, particularly the students who took their concerns about the university's history to the administration in 2015.

"The actions of Georgetown students have placed all of us on a journey together toward honoring our enslaved ancestors by working toward healing and reconciliation," she said. "Our history has shown us that the vestiges of slavery are a continuum that began with the kidnapping of our people from our motherland to keeping them in bondage with the brutality of American chattel slavery, Jim Crow, segregation ' the school-to-prison pipeline and the over-incarceration of people of color."

Other events included opportunities for members of the descendant community to connect with one another and with Jesuits through a private vigil the evening of April 17, a descendant-only dinner April 18 and tours of the Maryland plantation where their ancestors were enslaved.

DeGioia and other university officials have met with some descendants of the slaves on various occasions and they have had access to historical materials regarding the sale of their relatives.

Some of the families sold included adults and children the Jesuits had baptized. On March 12, The New York Times published a photo, the only known image, that an archivist in Thibodaux, Louisiana, found of one of the slaves sold by the Jesuits. His name was Frank Campbell and the story accompanying the photo said the slave was sold out of St. Inigoes plantation in Maryland, named after St. Ignatius. He had kept ties to the Catholic Church after gaining his freedom, the story said.

The liturgy and building rededications were recommendations of Georgetown's Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation in September 2016. The group, which included faculty, students, alumni and descendants of slaves, had suggested the university offer some form of reparative outreach as well as a meaningful financial commitment.

"Our work as a group was to help tear down the walls, the walls of mystery and silence and (the) unknown surrounding Georgetown's historical ties to the institution of slavery," said working group member Connor Maytnier at the dedication.

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Al-Azhar peace conference invites Christian leaders of East, West

April 19, 2017 - 10:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Menahem Kahana, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was scheduled to attend a peace conference in Cairo with Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University.

While Patriarch Bartholomew's office did not release a detailed schedule of events he would be attending during the pope's April 28-29 visit to Cairo, the Vatican confirmed reports April 19 that Patriarch Bartholomew was invited to take part in the conference and was planning to attend.

Pope Francis also was scheduled to meet Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, soon after the conference April 28, making it a day the heirs of the Apostles Peter, Mark and Andrew all would be present in the ancient land of Egypt.

While Pope Francis is the successor of St. Peter, the Orthodox ecumenical patriarchate traces its lineage to St. Andrew and the Coptic Orthodox Church has St. Mark as its patron. The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches are not in full communion with each other, although they have been working closely together and have been engaged in theology dialogue aimed at unity.

The Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople is called the ecumenical patriarch and is considered "first among equals" for the Eastern Orthodox churches, even though his primacy does not entail direct or ultimate jurisdiction over them.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of six Oriental Orthodox churches that trace their roots to apostolic times, but distanced themselves from the rest of Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Like the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox accept seven sacraments and allow ordination of married men to the priesthood but choose their bishops only from among celibate priests. They are in communion with one another but not with the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox churches that split with Rome beginning in the 11th century.

Egypt's indigenous Christian community traces its faith all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, sought refuge in Egypt from the wrath of Herod the Great 2,000 years ago.

Coptic Orthodox tradition holds that Christ stayed in Egypt for three years and that later, around the year 42, St. Mark the Evangelist arrived to evangelize in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred there.

Christianity continued to spread and by the third century, Christianity was the country's dominant religion. By the time the newer religion of Islam arrived in Egypt in the middle of the seventh century, Egyptian Christianity had already provided the church with some of the world's major Christian saints and had introduced new forms of monastic life.

The Coptic Orthodox Church, led by Pope Tawadros, represents 95 percent of all Christians in Egypt. The other local Christian groups include Protestants and Catholics from different rites, including Coptic, Melkite, Maronite, Syrian, Armenian, Chaldean and Latin.

Egypt's Coptic Catholic Church is the largest of the Catholic rites in the country and accounts for as many as 300,000 faithful. Both Coptic Catholics and Coptic Orthodox refer to their respective leaders as "patriarch of Alexandria" and see themselves as the "original" Egyptians because of their ancient ties to the land.

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Closed hearts unable to be surprised by the Resurrection, pope says

April 19, 2017 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian faith is a grace and can be perceived only in the hearts of those willing to be surprised by the joy of the Resurrection, Pope Francis said.

"A closed heart, a rationalistic heart" is incapable of understanding the Christian message which has God's love -- manifested in Christ's victory over death -- at its center, the pope said at his weekly general audience April 19.

"How beautiful it is to think that Christianity is essentially this: It is not so much our search for God -- a search that is, truthfully, somewhat shaky -- but rather God's search for us," the pope said.

The pope, bundled up in a white overcoat due to the unusually chilly and windy weather, entered a packed St. Peter's Square in his popemobile. Immediately, he invited two girls and a boy, dressed in their altar server robes, to board the vehicle and ride with him around the square.

Pope Francis also took a moment to greet an elderly woman who, overcome with emotion, cried and stretched out her arms to embrace the pope. He stooped over, warmly embracing the woman and gently caressing her face before making the sign of the cross over her forehead.

Continuing his series of talks on hope, the pope reflected on St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians in which the apostle emphasizes the Resurrection as "the heart of the Christian message."

"Christianity is born from here. It is not an ideology nor a philosophic system but a path of faith that begins from an event, witnessed by Jesus' first disciples," the pope said.

St. Paul's summary of those who witnessed the risen Christ, he noted, ends by describing himself as the "least worthy of all" given his dramatic history as a one-time adversary of the early Christians.

St. Paul "wasn't a 'choirboy.' He was a persecutor of the church, proud of his own convictions," the pope said, departing from his prepared remarks. But "one day something completely unpredictable happens: the encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus."

It is the surprise of this encounter, the pope continued, that all Christians are called to experience "even if we are sinners."

Like the first disciples who saw the stone overturned at Jesus' tomb, all men and women can find "happiness, joy and life where everyone thought there was only sadness, defeat and darkness," the pope said.

God, Pope Francis said, is greater than "nothingness and just one lit candle is able to overcome the darkest night."

"If we are asked the reason for our smile and our patient sharing, we can respond that Jesus is still here, he continues to be alive in our midst," the pope said. "Jesus is here, in this square with us, alive and risen."

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Vatican releases itinerary for papal trip to Egypt

April 18, 2017 - 4:40pm

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will meet with the leader of one of the world's leading Sunni Muslim institutions, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church and representatives of the Catholic Church on a two-day trip to Cairo.

The pope is scheduled to arrive in Cairo April 28 for courtesy visits with political and religious leaders and deliver a speech, along with the grand imam of al-Azhar University, to an international conference on peace. He will celebrate Mass for the small Catholic community in Cairo the next day and meet with bishops, clergy, religious and seminarians before returning to Rome April 29.

In mid-March, the Vatican confirmed the pope would make the trip following an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar.

It will be the pope's 18th trip abroad in his four years as pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second pope to visit Egypt, after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000.

The Catholic community in Egypt numbers about 272,000, less than 0.5 percent of the population, which is 90 percent Sunni Muslim.

In 1998, Catholic-Muslim dialogue was initiated between Vatican experts and Muslim scholars of Cairo's al-Azhar University, the main center for Islamic learning for the more than 1 billion Sunni Muslims worldwide. The trip will come amid increasingly closer relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar, which is considered the most authoritative theological-academic institution of Sunni Islam. The pope has also said he sees the importance of strengthening cooperation between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox Christians in the face of so many threats to human life and creation.

Here is the pope's schedule as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses.

Friday, April 28 (Rome, Cairo)

-- 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.), Departure from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for Cairo.

-- 2 p.m. (8 a.m.), Arrival at Cairo airport. Official welcoming ceremony at the Heliopolis presidential palace. Courtesy visits with el-Sissi and Sheik el-Tayeb. Speeches by the grand imam and the pope to participants in an international conference on peace.

-- 4:40 p.m. (10:40 a.m.), Meeting with local authorities. Speeches by el-Sissi and Pope Francis. Courtesy visit to Pope Tawadros. Speeches by Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis.

Saturday, April 29 (Cairo, Rome)

-- 10:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m.), Mass in Cairo. Homily by pope.

-- 12:15 p.m. (6:15 a.m.), Lunch with Egypt's bishops and the papal entourage.

-- 3:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.), Prayer gathering with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians. Speech by pope. Farewell ceremony.

-- 5 p.m. (11 a.m.), Departure from Cairo airport for Rome.

-- 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.), Arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport.

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Not just another 'trade meeting,' convocation seeks to unify U.S. church

April 18, 2017 - 12:15pm

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- This summer's Convocation of Catholic Leaders comes at a time when the U.S. Catholic Church is seeking how best to respond to a changing social landscape while bringing Pope Francis' vision for a church that offers mercy and joy to the world.

Called by the bishops, the historic convocation will find more than 3,000 Catholic leaders -- bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople -- meeting July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, to focus on how the pope's 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), applies in the United States.

The pope's document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization -- missionary discipleship -- in a positive way, with a focus on society's poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner, sees the gathering as a way for Catholics across the diverse spectrum of the church to unify in Christ.

"The beauty of it for us as Catholics is it's not just another trade meeting," Reyes told Catholic News Service. "This is centered, as Pope Francis said again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. That's what holds us together. Even Catholics need a moment of unity these days. Not just our country, but we as Catholics need a moment of unity around Christ."

The idea of missionary discipleship expressed by the pope has taken root in the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It's the pre-eminent theme in the 2017-2020 strategic plan the bishops adopted during their annual fall general assembly in November.

Planning for the gathering, titled "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America," has been underway for a few years. It is being called to examine today's concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in light of the church's evangelization mission, Reyes explained.

"So we're going to encounter Christ together, converse together, pray together, encounter one another and talk very practically about what are the challenges, what's it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out and do it," Reyes said.

Planners want people to mix and mingle and learn from each other during the invitation-only event.

"This group of people would never be in the same strategic conversations together if it weren't for the bishops calling them together. They are in all kinds of ministries throughout the church. They are professionals in all the different fields, education, business, teachers. We have people from all socioeconomic groups," Reyes said.

"So we're going to have a conversation that could only be had by the bishops. That's needed in this moment. I think everybody agrees we need this conversation. It's not about the things that divide us. And the beauty is we have this document from Pope Francis, 'Evangelii Gaudium.' There was unity around that document when it came out, a document that opens with 'I invited all of you to a personal encounter with Christ,' which is right where we want to start," he said.

Such a gathering of bishops and key church leaders has occurred just once before within the U.S. church.

In 1917, in response to the country's entry into World War I, the bishops met with a select group of leaders to determine how to respond to social needs emerging from the war. That meeting at The Catholic University of America in Washington led to the formation of the National Catholic War Council "to study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities incidental to the war." After the war, the bishops met to make the council permanent and established the National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today's USCCB.

"They were responding to a very different crisis, World War I. But there was a sense of the importance of the moment that the church of the United States had to come together under the bishops to find a way of going forward, a vision of hope for the country and to serve," Reyes said.

Today, like the wider society, the U.S. church is grappling with how best to respond to rapid sociological changes: demographics including a rising Latino population and people leaving organized religion, an economy that has led to a smaller middle class, a broadening of the legal definition of marriage, polarization along ideological lines and technological advances that have changed how people relate with each other.

How to respond under the guidance of Pope Francis will begin to be discussed during the convocation. Each day has its own theme for participants to consider in light of changing church and social structures:

-- July 1: National Unity

-- July 2: Landscape and Renewal

-- July 3: Work and Witness

-- July 4: A Spirit of Mission

On days 2 and 3, plenary sessions will feature panel discussions pertaining to an aspect of the respective themes with nearly two dozen breakout sessions afterward exploring wide-ranging topics influencing the church's work.

Mass will be part of each day as well. The July 3 Mass will incorporate religious liberty as part of the bishops' annual Fortnight for Freedom observance.

Reyes and planners, including the bishops envision the convocation as a starting point with Pope Francis providing the inspiration through his call to bring the Gospel to others.

"The Gospel is a pretty good thing to rally around," Reyes told CNS. "You can build a lot unity out of it."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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