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  • French priest's martyrdom a life-changing event, archbishop says

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The martyrdom of a French priest killed a year ago while celebrating Mass was an event that "has transformed me as a bishop," Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen said.

    Father Jacques Hamel's life -- "simple and exemplary -- questions me as a pastor and shepherd on how to consider the life of priests, on what I expect from them in terms of efficiency. I must tirelessly convert, to pass from this request for efficiency to admiration for their fruitfulness," the archbishop said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

    Father Hamel was murdered July 26, 2016, when two men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed his parish church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen.

    After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Father Hamel's throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Witnesses say that in his final moments, the beloved 85-year-old parish priest tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying "go away, Satan."

    Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation.

    Despite the violent nature of Father Hamel's death at the hands of terrorists claiming to be Muslims, his martyrdom instead has drawn the Catholic and Muslim communities in the diocese closer together, Archbishop Lebrun said.

    "This tragic event shared by others has brought me closer to the local society in its diverse components: naturally to the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and then to the other municipalities in the area," the archbishop said. "And from now on, I am bound to the Muslim community and to the other communities of believers in the territory of my diocese."

    Father Hamel's martyrdom drew the attention of Pope Francis who celebrated a memorial Mass for him Sept. 14, 2016, with Archbishop Lebrun, Roselyne Hamel, Father Hamel's sister, and 80 pilgrims from the diocese.

    When Archbishop Lebrun presented the pope with a photo of Father Hamel, the pope asked him to place it on the altar and after the Mass told the archbishop, "You can put this photo in the church because he is 'blessed' now, and if anyone says you aren't allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission."

    Archbishop Lebrun told L'Osservatore Romano that he then spoke with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, regarding the opening of Father Hamel's sainthood cause and the possibility of accelerating "the process to take advantage of the elements of proof which are the testimonies of the other victims of the attack, who are mainly elderly."

    The first meeting in the process for Father Hamel's sainthood cause took place May 20, and the results of the local investigation into his life should be completed and ready for Vatican review from one to three years from now, the archbishop said.

    Meanwhile, Father Hamel's life and martyrdom remains "an extremely powerful event" that has united the diocese, priests, the church in France, people within the territory and the Muslim community, Archbishop Lebrun said.

    "Father Hamel has sown peace," he said.

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CNS News Briefs

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  • Canada's Jesuits, indigenous hope canoe trip can foster reconciliation

    TORONTO (CNS) -- The path to reconciliation between Canada and its First Nations' people will ultimately be a long journey, but the road to healing a schism developed over 400 years needs to start somewhere. The Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage is a small starting point that organizers hope can advance the process. A project of the Jesuits in English Canada in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the pilgrimage set off from Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons in Midland, Ontario, July 21 on a monthlong, more than 500-mile canoe journey expected to end Aug. 15 at the Kahnawake First Nation near Montreal. The project, two years in the making, has brought together different cultures in an example of how to foster respect, trust, dialogue and friendship. The goal is to have the diverse core group of 30 indigenous and Jesuit paddlers -- with others joining at stops along the way -- become immersed in each others' customs and traditions for an entire month. "We're working together, both sides in a sense, coming through this," said Kevin Kelly, a Jesuit scholastic who is among the pilgrimage's organizers. The journey will take paddlers along a historic route traveled by Samuel de Champlain, St. Jean de Brebeuf and other pioneers alongside their First Nations' guides. From Midland, the group will follow the shores of Georgian Bay to the French River and move inland toward Lake Nipissing. Crossing the lake, the pilgrimage will paddle along the Mattawa River to the Ottawa River, then down to the St. Lawrence before finishing in the Montreal area at Kahnawake.

    French priest's martyrdom a life-changing event, archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The martyrdom of a French priest killed a year ago while celebrating Mass was an event that "has transformed me as a bishop," Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen said. Father Jacques Hamel's life -- "simple and exemplary -- questions me as a pastor and shepherd on how to consider the life of priests, on what I expect from them in terms of efficiency. I must tirelessly convert, to pass from this request for efficiency to admiration for their fruitfulness," the archbishop said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Father Hamel was murdered July 26, 2016, when two men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed his parish church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Father Hamel's throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Witnesses say that in his final moments, the beloved 85-year-old parish priest tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying "go away, Satan." Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation.

    Mexican bishops don't see explosion as attack on church

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Mexican bishops' conference does not believe an explosive device detonated outside its offices -- adjacent to the country's most visited religious site, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- is an attack on the Catholic Church. The motive for the July 25 explosion remains a mystery, though some in the conference said it reflected the violence suffered by society at large in a country with soaring homicide rates and a decade-long drug cartel crackdown. "This act invites us to reflect emphatically, to reconstruct our social fabric to provide better security for all citizens," Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, conference secretary-general, told media the day of the explosion. Humberto Roque Villanueva, Mexico's undersecretary for population, migration and religious matters, called the explosion "a message of hate," during an interview with the newspaper El Universal. "I believe it is the regrettable need for priests to be very close to those in conflict ...," Roque said, "but I do not see that it is an orchestrated action, nor is it in itself a deliberate action or joining other actions against the Catholic Church."

    Christians need time to rebuild trust before return to Mosul region

    AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- As some Iraqi Christians make a slow return to the region around Mosul following the defeat of the Islamic State group, many say it will take time to rebuild their lives and even longer to rebuild their trust of those who betrayed them. "The war isn't finished yet and neither is the Islamic State. There is no stability and there is still fighting in Mosul," said Patriarch Louis Sako, head of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church, who visited Mosul July 20, touring churches left badly damaged during the city's three-year occupation by the extremists. "How can Christians return when there are homes destroyed and there are no services? But most important is safety. The return of Christians needs time," Patriarch Sako warned, in remarks carried by Radio Free Europe. Although Iraqi forces declared victory over Islamic State fighters in Mosul early in July, the patriarch said the region remains unstable, leaving Christians uncertain about their future in their historic homeland. "Trust must be rebuilt because the Christians of this region have endured such abuse and violence, leaving deep wounds," Patriarch Sako said. Father Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, also warned that although Islamic State may be defeated militarily, "it doesn't mean that its mentality, ideology or culture will be ended."

    Theologians in Italy studying development of 'Humanae Vitae'

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Four theologians specializing in marriage and family life are studying Vatican archival material with a view of telling the whole story of how and why Blessed Paul VI wrote his encyclical "Humanae Vitae" on married love. Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, leader of the group and a professor of theological anthropology at Rome's Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, spoke to Vatican Radio about the study July 25, the 49th anniversary of the encyclical's publication. Some bloggers, writing in the spring about the study group, alarmingly presented it as an initiative of Pope Francis to change the encyclical's teaching against the use of artificial contraception. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, chancellor of the John Paul II Institute, categorically denied the bloggers' reports. In reply to an email, Msgr. Marengo told Catholic News Service July 26 that the study "is a work of historical-critical investigation without any aim other than reconstructing as well as possible the whole process of composing the encyclical."

    Pope, others pray as parents of Charlie Gard end legal struggle for help

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Pope Francis is praying for the parents of Charlie Gard after a U.S. doctor told them nothing could be done to help their son. Chris Gard and Connie Yates announced in London's High Court July 24 that they had ended their legal struggle to take their baby overseas for treatment after a U.S. neurologist, Dr. Michio Hirano, said he was no longer willing to offer Charlie experimental nucleoside therapy after he examined the results of a new MRI scan. Their decision means that the child, who suffers from encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, will receive only palliative care and most likely will die before his first birthday Aug. 4. Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said in a July 24 statement that Pope Francis, who had taken a personal interest in the case, "is praying for Charlie and his parents and feels especially close to them at this time of immense suffering." He said: "The Holy Father asks that we join in prayer that they may find God's consolation and love." The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales also issued a statement July 24 in which they expressed their "deepest sympathy and compassion" for Charlie and his parents. "It is for Charlie, his parents and family that we all pray, hoping that they are able, as a family, to be given the support and the space to find peace in the days ahead," the statement said.

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  • U.S. bishop urges Senate to remedy health care after vote to proceed

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the Senate voted July 25 to proceed with the health care debate, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, urged senators of both parties to "work together to advance changes that serve the common good." The statement from Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the health care reform proposals currently under consideration would "harm millions of struggling Americans by leaving too many at risk of losing adequate health coverage and continue to exclude too many people, including immigrants. We are grateful for the efforts to include protections for the unborn, however, any final bill must include full Hyde Amendment provisions and add much-needed conscience protections. The current proposals are simply unacceptable as written, and any attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) without a concurrent replacement is also unacceptable," he said in a July 25 statement. During the procedural vote on the Senate floor, 50 Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators -- Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- voted no, along with the Senate's 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate.

    Court says church has right to hire employees who 'advance faith'

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- A court ruling that the New York Archdiocese did not discriminate against a school principal when it did not renew her contract affirms "the freedom of a church to decide who will serve as its religious leaders," said the Alliance Defending Freedom. The nonprofit legal group, which supports religious freedom and other issues, made the comments about a unanimous decision July 14 by a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York. Joanne Fratello was principal of St. Anthony School in Nanuet from 2007 until 2011, when her contract was not renewed. She sued the New York Archdiocese for gender discrimination. "When the school believed she was no longer effective at advancing the school's Catholic values, St. Anthony's simply did not renew her contract, rightfully exercising its right to choose the leaders who advance their faith," said the Becket Fund, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represented St. Anthony and the archdiocese. "The court saw right through this blatantly anti-Catholic lawsuit, agreeing with the Supreme Court that the church, not the state, should pick religious leaders," said Eric Rassbach, Becket deputy general counsel, who argued the case for the school and the Archdiocese.

    Young Indian Catholics look forward to Asian Youth Day in Indonesia

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Young Indian Catholics set to participate in the upcoming seventh Asian Youth Day in Indonesia are expecting the event to change their perspectives on faith, reported Father Deepak K.J. Thomas, executive secretary of the Council for Youth of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said 84 young people are part of the Indian delegation going to the seventh Asian Youth Day in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 2-6. They will join about 3,000 young people from 26 Asian countries in the Indonesian city for the summit, with the theme "Joyful Asian Youth: Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia." The Indian participants are mostly youth leaders and aware of "what is happening in the church, its structure, way of functioning," said Father Thomas. "Interacting with other youths about their role in the church and ways of working and their exchanging about these experiences will be helpful for their lives," he said. Delegation members come from different regions of India and were chosen by their dioceses. All will cover their own costs, Father Thomas said.

    Man's 'Ministry of the Walking Stick' shares insight into God's love

    AKRON, Ohio (CNS) -- An old stick in the woods might not conjure much emotion for someone on a woodland hike, but for Les Johnson a stick is the start of a prayerful journey. Johnson turns Mother Nature's castaways into beautiful walking sticks. Before he finds a stick and after its discovery, he is in the midst of prayer, discerning just who he should gift with a piece created through what he believes is divine inspiration. He's at 828 walking sticks. The 78-year-old stout retired sheet metal worker who looks like Santa Claus is not finished yet finding people who could use one of his sticks. "I'm not supposed to sell them. The Lord told me not to sell them. You give them away," Johnson told Catholic News Service July 20. The secular Franciscan's story is one built on the rock of faith and encompasses a 50-year journey that began when he was a Boy Scout chaplain. Along the way he met a pope -- St. John Paul II -- and traveled to Lourdes in France and Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina to learn about and from Mary, who he says has taught him about Jesus. He has been so inspired by Mary and her message of peace for the world that he and his son, Daniel, 45, have constructed a mission on his son's 1890s-era property in Akron's North Hill neighborhood. Called the Mission of San Damiano, it is named for the church St. Francis rebuilt in 13th-century Italy.

    CRS worker: Churches attacked, crisis worsens in Central African Republic

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- A Catholic aid worker warned of a worsening crisis in the Central African Republic, as church centers are attacked and more armed groups fight over territory and resources. "Perhaps the situation is better in Bangui, the capital, but elsewhere conditions are deteriorating dramatically as conflicts multiply," said Christophe Droeven, country representative for the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services. "At least 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting since April, and the number here and abroad now totals close to a million. Nongovernmental organizations are being increasingly targeted, and it's becoming harder to help those in need," he told Catholic News Service July 24. He said aid organizations had evacuated their representatives from Bangassou to escape "looting and harassment" by a mainly Christian militia, Anti-Balaka. He said troops with the U.N. peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, had been unable to protect aid convoys. "Although the peacekeepers are doing what they can, there aren't enough of them," said Droeven, who has headed CRS projects in Africa for 18 years. "They're overstretched and under-resourced, and there are too many obstacles and difficulties now for aid to reach the most deprived."

    Women religious urge Senate to reject bill repealing Affordable Care Act

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization, personally delivered a letter to U.S. senators July 24 urging them to reject the Better Care Reconciliation Act and any proposals that would repeal the Affordable Care Act or cut Medicaid. The letter, signed by 7,150 U.S. women religious, said Catholic sisters stand by their "belief that health is a universal right." It also described the Better Care Reconciliation Act as "the most harmful legislation for American families in our lifetimes" and something that goes against Catholic faith teaching. "As Catholic women religious, we have witnessed firsthand the moral crisis of lack of quality, affordable health care in this country. We have seen early and avoidable deaths because of lack of insurance, prohibitive costs and lack of access to quality care," said the letter, written by Sister Campbell. The letter focused on the Senate's original proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but it also included a section criticizing the Senate's last-minute attempts to pass a bill that didn't secure enough votes July 17 to move to debate. The afternoon of July 25, the Senate was poised to cast a procedural vote to try again to allow debate on a health care bill.

    Religious sisters seek to promote consecrated life in new project

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Sister Carolyn Puccio, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, said it's unfortunate there's not a line of women wrapping around the block waiting to enter religious life. "It's meaningful to be part of a group of women who are bright, articulate, engaged, educated, dedicated (and) generous," said Sister Carolyn, the delegate for religious for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "To be a part of that is a tremendous gift for me, personally, and an honor. And it humbles me." She considers religious life a "best kept secret," but hopes that will change with the recent launch of the National Catholic Sisters Project. In addition to National Catholic Sisters Week, held March 8-14 each year, the new initiative will include developing curriculum for Catholic schools, parish religious education programs and campus ministry; promoting religious vocations in Spanish-speaking Catholic communities; and a diocesan outreach program. Eight diocesan partners signed on to the project earlier this year. In addition to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the partners are the archdioceses of Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and San Antonio; and the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa.

    Vatican shuts down fountains as Rome deals with drought

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While Rome reels from one of its worst droughts in decades, the Vatican is doing its part to conserve water by shutting down the city-state's 100 fountains. The office governing Vatican City State announced July 25 that the drought has "led the Holy See to take measures aimed at saving water" by shutting down fountains in St. Peter's Square, throughout the Vatican Gardens and in the territory of the state. "The decision is in line with the teachings of Pope Francis, who reminds us in his encyclical 'Laudato Si'' how 'the habit of wasting and discarding' has reached 'unprecedented levels' while 'fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,'" the office said. The prolonged drought has forced officials from the Lazio region of Italy to halt pumping water from Lake Bracciano, located roughly 19 miles north of Rome. Less than usual rainfalls in the past two years have steadily depleted the lake, which provides 8 percent of the city's water supply. In an interview with Italian news outlet Tgcom24, Nicola Zingaretti, the region's president, said the lake's water level has "fallen too much and we risk an environmental disaster."

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  • Welcoming new auxiliary a 'wonderfully happy day,' says archbishop

    ATLANTA (CNS) -- Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called the ordination of Bernard E. "Ned" Shlesinger III to the episcopate a "wonderfully happy day in the life of the Archdiocese of Atlanta." Archbishop Gregory ordained the priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, as auxiliary bishop during an afternoon Mass July 19 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. The 56-year-old new bishop, most recently the director of spiritual formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, will soon be Atlanta's only auxiliary. Bishop Luis R. Zarama was named bishop of Raleigh July 5 and will be installed Aug. 29. More than 150 priests, 45 deacons and 50 seminarians from both Atlanta and Philadelphia attended the ordination Mass with Bishop Shlesinger's family and friends. Bishop Zarama and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, formerly the bishop of Raleigh, were co-consecrators with Archbishop Gregory in the laying on of hands and invoking the Holy Spirit. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and five other visiting bishops also attended the Mass. In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said Pope Francis has called bishops to remember they are mere men who must always seek out the lost and forgotten. "He challenges us to remember that the neglected, the unloved, and the unimportant ones are those whom Jesus sought out first in his ministry," said the archbishop.

    Suit aims to block law making pregnancy centers 'advertise' abortion

    HONOLULU (CNS) -- An Oahu pro-life pregnancy resource center and a national network of pregnancy resource centers have filed a federal lawsuit to halt the enforcement of a new Hawaii law that requires such centers to "advertise" contraception and abortion "services." Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal group that supports religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and other issues, filed the suit July 12 on behalf of a Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor center called A Place for Women, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which represents most of Hawaii's five other pregnancy counseling centers. The Hawaii Legislature passed S.B. 501 May 4, and Gov. David Ige signed it into law July 11. It compels Hawaii's six pregnancy care centers to post or distribute information referring clients to state-provided prenatal services that would include contraception and abortion. Failure to provide this information would incur a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. The lawsuit, Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor v. Chin, asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii to declare S.B. 501 unconstitutional. It lists Hawaii Attorney General Douglas S. Chin and Ige as defendants. Alliance Defending Freedom also filed a motion July 12 for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law while the case is being considered.

    California seminary names new faculty, boosts recruiting

    MENLO PARK, Calif. (CNS) -- St. Patrick's Seminary and University is welcoming five professors and expects to admit as many as 15 new seminarians this fall as the institution's new president-rector reaches out to bishops in several Western states to encourage them to consider the Menlo Park seminary for priestly formation. In an interview with Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, Jesuit Father George Schultze, the new president-rector, discussed the details of the seminary's transition under new leadership mix following the May departure of the Society of St. Sulpice, whose priests had served the seminary since it opened in 1891. Sam Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone named Father Schultze to lead the archdiocese-owned institution in February. His appointment was effective June 1. The seminary chose the new professors from among 79 applicants including priests, religious and lay academics, Father Schultze said. "It's a nonstop-and-go situation," he said. "We are just moving forward. The Sulpicians who were leaving participated in interviewing some of the new faculty as well. They want the seminary to be a success."

    Catholic leaders mourn for victims killed, injured in trafficking tragedy

    SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- The "completely senseless deaths" of 10 people who died of heat exhaustion and suffocation they suffered from being held in a tractor-trailer "is an incomprehensible tragedy," said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio. "There are no words to convey the sadness, despair and, yes, even anger we feel today," he said in a statement released late July 23. Earlier in the day, San Antonio law enforcement officials found eight bodies inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler sitting in the parking lot of a Walmart. The eight people who died were among 39 people packed in the trailer and suffering from extreme dehydration and heatstroke. At least 20 others rescued from the truck were in critical condition and transported to the hospital. Two later died, and by July 24 the death toll was at least 10. In a July 24 statement, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration said the nation's Catholic bishops joined their voices in mourning the loss of life and condemning the treatment of migrants, many of whom were from Mexico and Guatemala, in a suspected human trafficking operation. "The loss of lives is tragic and avoidable. We condemn this terrible human exploitation that occurred and continues to happen in our country," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin.

    Access to Medicaid to get health care called 'vital' for West Virginians

    WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In the shadow of the national health care debate is West Virginia, a state where a large portion of the population is living in poverty, where Medicaid is the focus and concern. Catholic Charities West Virginia reports that Medicaid serves more than 546,000 people in the state, a third of the population. Last year alone, 170,000 West Virginians enrolled in the program. Cuts to Medicaid in any overhaul of the federal health care law would be detrimental to West Virginia, said Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston and officials at Catholic-run Wheeling Hospital. "It would be a monumental health care crisis in this state if this was to take place," said Heidi Porter, vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at Wheeling Hospital. "We are in a state that's poor, highly co-morbid. People have a lot of health disparities; they have chronic conditions. They are the people who have multiple diseases who ... could be restricted in terms of health coverage," Porter told The Catholic Spirit, diocesan newspaper of Wheeling-Charleston.

    Middle East church leaders plan for more marriage prep, counseling

    MARJ AL HAMAM, Jordan (CNS) -- Mideast church leaders meeting in Jordan developed a two-pronged action plan to help Catholic families. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Catholic News Service the first step was to "change completely the preparation for the religious Catholic marriage." Archbishop Pizzaballa explained that a revised teaching would entail "not just the immediate preparation to marriage that currently exists, but to start earlier the instruction with Catholic youth about what exactly marriage means." Secondly, he said the church sought to "create counseling offices in order to avoid couples immediately going to the courts" to deal with family problems that might arise. In many Arab countries, where Islam and Islamic law predominate, there are no civil laws regarding marriage and divorce. That means that the state relies on religious bodies such as Catholic family law courts to certify marriages. Often, civil divorce is impossible for Catholics in the Middle East, with many resorting to leaving the faith -- becoming Orthodox or even Muslim -- in order to find a tribunal that will allow them to escape their marriage.

    Health bill must protect poor, unborn and conscience rights, bishop says

    WASHINGTON (CNS) - U.S. senators must reject any bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act unless such a measure "protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn and supports conscience rights," said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on the Senate to fix problems with the ACA in a more narrow way, rather than repeal it without an adequate replacement. "Both the American Health Care Act legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Better Care Reconciliation Act from the Senate were seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways," Bishop Dewane said. The House passed its bill to repeal and replace the ACA health care law May 4 with a close vote of 217 to 213. The Senate's version collapsed July 17 after four Republican senators said they couldn't support it, leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, short of the 50 votes needed to bring the bill to the floor for a debate.

    Bishops disappointed in Texas official seeking to end immigration policy

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After a Texas attorney general gave the Trump administration an ultimatum to end a policy protecting young migrants or face a lawsuit in September, the Catholic bishops of Texas expressed disappointment in a letter to the state official and blamed Congress for the uncertain future the migrants are facing. In a letter made public July 20 and addressed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas bishops say they are "disappointed" by his demand that the administration terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a 2012 policy under then-President Barack Obama. While not providing legal status, it gives youth who were brought to the U.S. as minors and without documentation a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization in the United States as long as they meet certain criteria. The bishops also blame "Congress' failure," for the uncertain future being faced by young DACA recipients, who, "along with countless other migrants who truly believe in the American dream, are victims of a broken system." In late June, officials from nine states, mostly attorneys general and one governor, joined Paxton in urging the Trump administration end DACA, threatening the government with a lawsuit Sept. 5 if the program continues.

    Churches provide refuge to Kenyans fleeing al-Shabab attacks

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- About 2,000 Kenyans along the coast near Somalia have taken refuge in two churches and a school, fleeing increased attacks from suspected al-Shabab militants. Father Peter Kariuki, a priest at the Catholic parish in Hindi, in Kenya's Lamu County, said many of those seeking shelter are Christians. "The militants have been asking the people to say their faith. Those found to be Christians are being killed," Father Kariuki told Catholic News Service in late July. Church sources said the villagers are camped at the Catholic church in Witu, an evangelical African Inland Church and a local school compound. The moving populations had been living near the dense Boni Forest, which the militants have allegedly been using as a cover to terrorize villages and attack security forces and travelers. Reports indicate that the militants have quietly crossed into Kenya and established bases in the forest, where they now launch attacks. On July 20, suspected militants killed two people in Marerani town, near the border with Somalia. In mid-July, a senior government official was rescued after being abducted by the militants as she traveled to meet the displaced people. Four people who were traveling with her died during the ordeal.

    Pope prays for dialogue, reconciliation in Jerusalem

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land to "moderation and dialogue" as tensions continued around a key site in Jerusalem that is sacred to members of both faiths. After reciting the Angelus July 23, the pope asked people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the midday prayer to join him in asking the Lord to inspire reconciliation and peace in the region. Tensions in Jerusalem have been high since July 14 when three Israeli Arabs armed with knives and guns killed two Israeli police officers at an entrance to the site the Jews call Temple Mount and the Muslims call Haram al-Sharif. The site includes the Western Wall and Al Aqsa mosque. In his main Angelus talk, Pope Francis spoke about the parable of the weeds among the wheat from the Sunday Gospel reading. The farmer in the parable from the Gospel of Matthew tells his workers not to pull up all the weeds because they might uproot the wheat, but to wait until the harvest when the wheat and weeds can be separated.

    Reverence of the past is not fidelity, Italian biblicist tells priests

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An education that doesn't promote a love of learning or in-depth biblical studies and an antiquated notion of the priest as a "solitary" ruler over his community are among the problems preventing the kind of conversion of hearts that Pope Francis has been calling for, said an Italian biblicist. "A good part of the clergy, at the top and the bottom," are sometimes guilty of an attitude of "closure, if not hostility" that is hindering "the conversion that Pope Francis wants to bring to the church," wrote Father Giulio Cirignano in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, July 23. His article, subtitled, "Habit is not fidelity," examines the possible reasons behind what he sees as a "disconcerting fact" -- that a large part of the Catholic lay faithful have recognized the "kairos" or favorable occasion God is offering the church today while other Catholics, who are "closer to poorly enlightened pastors, are kept within an old horizon." That old horizon is marked by: practices driven by habit; outdated language; and repetitive thinking that lacks vitality, wrote the priest, who is a retired professor of sacred Scripture and former member of Italy's national association of Catholic teachers.

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  • After protests over Satanic memorial, city nixes all religious symbols

    BELLE PLAINE, Minn. (CNS) -- Two days after hundreds of people -- many of them Catholic -- from around the country descended on Belle Plaine to protest the installation of a Satanic memorial in the city's veterans park, the City Council voted unanimously July 17 to nix all religious symbols there. The council rescinded a designation that made a portion of the park available for monument commissions from any religious group. The decision blocked the arrival of the monument commissioned by the Satanic Temple, but it also sealed the departure of the "Joe" monument, a small iron-cast silhouette of a soldier kneeling on one knee in front of a cross grave marker. Joseph Gregory, a local veteran who died in October 2016, made the memorial. "It's an outcome I can live with," said Father Brian Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine, "but it's far from a perfect outcome" because the "Joe" statute also had to go. The statue and proposed Satanic memorial became the center of a controversy that made national headlines. It began in August 2016, when the Belle Plaine Vets Club placed the "Joe" statue in the park. A Belle Plaine resident and Freedom From Religion Foundation member complained about "Joe" looking too religious for public property. The City Council had the monument's cross removed at the request of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

    Auza: Religion's role in development is to keep human dignity at center

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon in 2015 are "not ends in themselves," but a means to bring about "the true good" of the peoples of the world through care for one another and for "our common home," Archbishop Bernardito Auza said. Essential to implementing these goals by 2030, as the agenda calls for, is to put the human person at the center, the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations said in a July 17 address. Religious leaders must partner with one another, as well as the international community, to make sure the good of humanity is integral to these goals, Archbishop Auza said. "We are living at a time in which many, especially in developed nations and here at the United Nations, like to bracket the most important questions, like those about who we are, where we come from, where we're going, how we should treat each other, and what is good, true, and genuinely beautiful," he said in an intervention delivered at a side event hosted by Religions for Peace during the a U.N. high level political forum. "While different religious traditions may answer these questions in slightly different ways, these foundational questions -- and our answers to them -- help the world not to forget about them and how important they are," he said.

    Thanks 'bee' to God: Iowa beekeeper honored for service as catechist

    ELGIN, Iowa (CNS) -- On a recent sunny Saturday morning, Bob Fassbinder and his wife, Kathy, were surrounded by a chorus of buzzing bees as he held up a hive full of honey. Running his fingers over the perfect hexagonal shapes made by the small insects to catch a drop of this year's crop for a taste test, he couldn't contain his enthusiasm. "This is part of God's creation right here, and this is one of the most beautiful things he ever did was to make the honey bee, and we just stumbled onto it, right dear?" said the professional beekeeper as he glanced at this wife. "One honeybee for our garden in Des Moines and from there (to this)." The Fassbinders, members of St. Peter Parish in Clermont, are owners of Fassbinder Apiaries, a beekeeping business with its headquarters near Elgin. The couple also are active members of their church, where Kathy sings in the choir and Bob has been a volunteer catechist to middle and high school students for 40 years and counting. Bob was recently honored for his service teaching the faith at a special Mass concelebrated by Father Dale Rausch and Archbishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque. His four children and seven grandchildren attended, along with a large contingent of the local Catholic community. At a reception afterward, the parish presented him with a statue of St. Francis, two custom engraved stones and about 50 letters from former students thanking him.

    Loyola University Maryland grapples with grisly murder of top student

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Brian F. Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, tried to make sense of the grisly murder of one of the college's rising sophomores by using Scripture and the sentiments of the grandparents who raised him. Jimi Taro Patrick, a 19-year-old who made the dean's list, was killed in what Bucks County, Pennsylvania, authorities described as a drug deal gone bad. Three other young men also were murdered. Patrick was last seen July 5. The other three -- Dean Finocchiaro, 19, Tom Meo, 21, and Mark Sturgis, 22 -- had disappeared around the same time. Father Linnane led a vigil for Patrick July 12, when "we wanted to hold on to hope," before Patrick's body -- along with the bodies of the other three -- were unearthed on a farm in Solebury, approximately 45 miles north of Philadelphia. The priest offered a memorial Mass July 19 in Loyola's Alumni Memorial Chapel for Patrick, a member of the class of 2020. During an otherwise quiet summer week on the Baltimore campus, approximately 100 faculty and staff members were in attendance, including, despite the cafeteria being closed, a food services worker. Patrick's funeral Mass was celebrated July 21 at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Newtown, Pennsylvania, his hometown. The university had a presence there and will hold another memorial Mass for Patrick after students return for the fall semester.

    Chinese official indicates Beijing to retain tight grip on church

    HONG KONG (CNS) -- The Chinese Communist Party's top leader in charge of religion has made it clear that Beijing intends to retain a tight grip on the Catholic Church. Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the elite seven-man Politburo Standing Committee and chair of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told members of the open church community "to ensure that the leadership of the Chinese Catholic Church is held firmly in the hands of those who love the nation and the religion," reported Yu spoke to about 100 bishops, priests, nuns and lay leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing July 19 at an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. He made his comments amid continuing talks between Beijing and the Vatican about the normalization of the appointment of bishops, the first step in a path that could lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations. But negotiations appear to have slowed in recent months due to an impasse over the fate of a handful of Beijing-appointed bishops. During his speech, Yu also encouraged church leaders to "implement with self-awareness the basic direction of religious works," and "always to insist on the direction of Sinicization of religion."

    Learning from natural family planning instructor said better than app

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Natural Cycles recently gained international attention as the first cellphone app to be recognized as a contraceptive by the European Union. The app's algorithm uses readings from a two-decimal basal thermometer to determine days of fertility or infertility. But with nearly 100 fertility tracking apps available on the market, how do women know which are reliable and effective? "Not all apps are created equal. Many are useless (they make use of calendar rhythm info) and don't help a woman to understand her signs of fertility," said Theresa Notare, assistant director of natural family planning in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Women ought to be careful and do some research on any app claiming to help track the biomarkers for use in natural family planning," advised Notare. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine evaluated the accuracy of 40 fertility tracking apps to predict potential days of fertility using real cycle data. Thirty apps predicted days of fertility, while 10 did not. Natural Cycles ranked 15 out of the 30. The first six apps -- Ovulation Mentor,, iCycleBeads, LilyPro, Lady Cycle and -- were the only apps to either score perfectly on accuracy or have no false negatives, meaning days of fertility incorrectly classified as infertile.

    In Jericho, new Franciscan youth center offers chance to meet 'the other'

    JERICHO, West Bank (CNS) -- Ahmed Za'atreh's love affair with photography began last year, when a relative came back from a trip abroad and gave him a camera. The 15-year-old focused his lens on the brown-hued desert mountains and valleys surrounding Jericho and began taking pictures. This summer, with the inauguration of the Franciscan youth center adjacent to the Terra Santa School, Za'atreh has been able to take his hobby up a notch as he and his friends get professional training, not only in photography but in digital media in general, including videography and radio production. "I want to be a professional photographer," said Za'atreh, who has been spending most of his summer days at the center. "I can improve my skills in this class." His friend Ashraf Barahema, 17, had his face hidden behind a camera, hopping between Za'atreh's interview and a group of boys being photographed in the radio studio next door as he snapped photographs of his own. "Photographers should take pictures of everything," he said between photographs. Rona Hmaid, 22, a digital media student at Al-Quds Open University in Jerusalem, told Catholic News Service, "This class is giving students the opportunity to enhance their individual creativity and see things in new ways." Hmaid travels two hours each way from her village near Ramallah to reach the center every day.

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  • Advocates urge more awareness about natural family planning options

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There are plenty of myths that surround natural family planning, but advocates say the Catholic Church can help dispel those myths and raise an awareness of which fertility-awareness options exist for married couples that embrace church teaching. "It amazes me how many people are not aware of the multitude of fertility awareness-based methods out there," said Dr. Marguerite Duane, adjunct professor at Georgetown University and executive director of Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science. Despite the variety of natural family planning methods -- the Billings Ovulation Method, Creighton Model, Two Day Method, Marquette Model, Sympto-Thermal, Standard Days Method, among others -- and the science involved in their medical application, certain myths continue to circulate regarding the effectiveness and benefits of natural family planning. The first myth, said Duane, "is that there is 'only one NFP method,'" i.e., the "rhythm method." The "rhythm method," popularized in Dr. Leo J. Latz's 1932 book "The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women," uses none of the biological indicators and symptoms, such as cervical mucus observations and basal body temperature, that modern natural family planning methods -- also called fertility awareness-based methods -- use today.

    U.S. bishops call for permanent protection for young migrants

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chair of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the Trump administration to "ensure permanent protection" for youth who were brought to the U.S. as minors without legal documentation. Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the Committee on Migration Committee, reiterated the bishops' support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a 2012 policy under then-President Barack Obama that, while not providing legal status, gives recipients a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization in the United States as long as they meet certain criteria. During his campaign for president, Donald Trump said he would get rid of the program but later backtracked and it's unclear what will happen to the estimated 750,000 youth who signed up for the program. "DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes," said Bishop Vasquez in a July 18 statement. "These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected." He urged the administration "to continue administering the DACA program and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation."

    U.S. Supreme Court says travel ban exemption can include grandparents

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court said grandparents can be included among those who have a "bona fide" relationship with refugees seeking to enter the United States from six majority-Muslim countries under the Trump administration's temporary travel ban. Although the high court is officially on summer recess, it handed down a decision July 19 in an appeal by the Trump administration of a Hawaii federal judge's order that the government expand its list of family members of refugees and visitors to the United States to allow them entry. The Supreme Court announced June 26 that it would temporarily allow the Trump administration's plan to ban of refugees from six majority-Muslim countries, unless those refugees had "bona fide" relationships with parties in the United States, meaning certain family members, employees or universities. The government's list of family members included parents, spouses, children, adult sons or daughters, sons- and daughters-in-law, siblings, fiances, fiancees and in-law parents. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson July 13 ordered the Trump administration to expand that list to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and brothers- and sisters-in-law.

    Jerusalem Christian leaders concerned with increased tension in Old City

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The heads of Jerusalem's Christian churches expressed "serious concern" over an escalation in tensions in Jerusalem's Old City as hostilities remained high following the mid-July shooting deaths of two Israeli policemen and three gunmen on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The church leaders said they were worried that any change to the status quo of the site could "easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequences." Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, were among the signatories of the July 19 statement. Police believe the gunmen -- three cousins, Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israel police -- stashed their weapons inside the compound of the holy site for use in the July 14 attack. "We express ... our grief for the loss of human life and strongly condemn any act of violence," the Christian leaders said. "We are worried about any change to the historical situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem. ... We value the continued custody of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which guarantees the right for all Muslims to free access and worship to Al-Aqsa according to the prevailing status quo."

    Investigation into Regensburg choir finds more than 500 boys were abused

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than 500 boys suffered abuse at the hands of dozens of teachers and priests at the school that trains the prestigious boys choir of the Regensburg Cathedral in Germany, said an independent investigator. Former students of the Domspatzen choir reported that the physical, emotional and even sexual abuse at the school made life there like "a prison, hell and a concentration camp," said Ulrich Weber, the lawyer leading the investigation of claims of abuse at the choir and two associated boarding schools. A "culture of silence" among church leaders and members allowed such abuse to continue for decades, Weber said as he presented the final report on his findings during a news conference in Regensburg July 18. The investigation, commissioned by the Diocese of Regensburg, found that at least 547 former members of the Regensburg Domspatzen boys choir in Germany were subjected to some form of abuse, according to Vatican Radio. Of those victims, 67 students were victims of sexual violence, the radio said. But Weber told the Regensburg news conference that many former victims had declined to come forward during his two-year inquiries into the Domspatzen, adding that he believed the real number could be closer to 700.

    Dewane: Budget 'moral document'; House bill puts poor in 'real jeopardy'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. House budget resolution "will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy" because it reduces deficits "through cuts for human needs" and by trying to slash taxes at the same time, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee. "A nation's budget is a moral document," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country." Bishop Dewane's July 20 statement was issued in response to the budget resolution that was voted out of the House Budget Committee along party lines July 19. The nonbinding Republican measure is a 10-year budget blueprint that calls for $621.5 billion in national defense spending, provides for $511 billion in nondefense spending and ties cuts to a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code. It makes at least $203 billion in cuts over a decade in Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits for the working poor and other programs that help low-income Americans. The bill also would change Medicare into a type of voucher program for future retirees.

    Church in Colombia a 'prophetic voice' for peace, priest says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church in Colombia not only has taken an active role in peace negotiations between the government and guerrilla groups, but also has remained close with countless innocents caught in the crossfire, said the Colombian bishops' representative to the National Council for Peace. Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao, who also accompanied war victims to testify during the peace process in Havana, said that throughout the 52-year armed conflict, the Colombian bishops' conference sought to accompany and care for victims through its social ministry "in the territories where these conflicts developed. Here (in Colombia), we have a church that is very alive, with an enormous ability to give witness to others, and that made a decision at a certain point to maintain a prophetic, clear voice of proclaiming that transformations and structural changes were necessary, but without abandoning the people in the territories," he said. The civil war is responsible for the deaths of more than 220,000 between 1958-2013 and left countless missing or displaced, according to Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory. Msgr. Henao, who also directs the church's charitable agency in Colombia, Caritas, told CNS that, during the peace process, the bishops' conference made consistent calls for a peaceful and political solution to the conflict and facilitating negotiations with several guerrilla groups.

    Pope's visit to Cartagena to highlight inequality in Latin America

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- When Pope Francis visits Colombia in September, he will take his message of mercy and reconciliation to Cartagena, a city that still bears scars of its painful history as a slave port. And he will walk the streets where another Jesuit, St. Peter Claver, put that message into practice four centuries ago. Canonized in 1888, St. Peter Claver is now considered the patron saint of human rights in Colombia. But although the country abolished slavery in 1851 and passed a law prohibiting discrimination in 1993, racism persists. Many Afro-Colombians in Cartagena, the "children of children of children of slaves ... often remain marginalized, abandoned by the government," said Father Jorge Hernandez, who works with Afro-Colombian communities in and around the city. "In some neighborhoods, people don't have running water. Inhumanity has become natural." The same is true in other Latin American countries. Although about half the population of Brazil is of African descent, Afro-Brazilians make up a disproportionate share of the poor population, according to the 2010 census. Their salaries averaged one-half to one-third those of white Brazilians. On his last day in Colombia, Sept. 10, Pope Francis will pray the Angelus outside of the sanctuary of St. Peter Claver. The building where the missionary welcomed slaves, and which now houses the saint's relics, has also served as a school and a hospital.

    Erie bishop hops aboard a Harley adorned with Vatican flag for parade

    ERIE, Pa. (CNS) -- American flags flew from the back of many of the more than 1,000 motorcycles participating in Erie's Roar on the Shore Bike Parade July 13. But the Harley-Davidson carrying Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie was the only one that also featured a Vatican flag. Bishop Persico agreed to take part in the ride late last winter, when two parishioners extended the invitation. "All for a good cause," he said, before hopping on board the Tri Glide piloted by Lori Follett of St. John the Baptist Parish in Erie. Some of the proceeds from the 11th annual bike rally, a summertime staple in Erie, will benefit the Mercy Center for Women, an outreach of the Sisters of Mercy that provides safe and supportive transitional housing, education and counseling for homeless women in the region. Bishop Persico, who had never been on a motorcycle before, said the event was a good way to show off the city and its hospitality. "It's a great boost for the community," he said.

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  • Migrant advocates show support for border bishop's call for solidarity

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Following a conversation involving a border bishop and Catholic leaders, migrant advocates from around the U.S. got behind a July 18 pastoral letter issued by the bishop of the Diocese of El Paso calling for a stop to militarization along the border with Mexico and showing compassion for migrants. El Paso's Bishop Mark J. Seitz held the conversation, hosted by the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, shortly after the release of his letter on migration titled "Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away." Though the letter was addressed to his diocese, it also is addressed "in a special way to our migrant community who are living in a great deal of fear right now, who need to hear that they are not alone, that God is with them, that he can change those dry sands into springs and pools of water and that God can also invite us into union with each other," said the bishop in a July 18 video conference from Texas. "Bishop Seitz's pledge to the people of the Diocese of El Paso to stand with those experiencing anxiety and fear as a result of our country's broken immigration system may seem simple, but it speaks volumes about where the church stands at this key time for our nation -- squarely with the marginalized," said Christopher Kerr, executive director at the Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network, one of the participating organizations. During the conversation, Bishop Seitz made a passionate plea for others to understand the real danger that prompts migrants to leave their native lands. He spoke of a parishioner in his diocese in his 30s, a husband and father of two, who had been a successful businessman in his native Mexico until narcotraffickers began extorting money from him.

    Facebook restores Catholic pages after their accidental removal

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic Facebook pages whose sponsors reported had been suddenly removed late July 17 were restored just over 24 hours later. Twenty-one Brazilian-based Catholic Facebook pages, such as a Papa Francisco Brazil page, as well as four English sites, could not publish content July 18 due to Facebook silently taking down their sites. Millions of followers were affected, according to ChurchPOP, a Christian Culture brand website. "All pages have now been restored. This incident was triggered accidentally by a spam detection tool. We sincerely apologize for the issue this has caused." a Facebook spokesperson told Catholic News Service in an email sent late afternoon July 19. Among those with pages who were affected was the executive director of Relevant Radio, Father Francis J. Hoffman, affectionately known as "Father Rocky," who has 3.95 million likes from Facebook fans around the world. Relevant Radio reported that on July 17, all the page administrators of the Relevant Radio "Father Rocky" Facebook page found themselves unable to log onto Facebook. Once passing through a security measure, they found the Father Rocky page left "unpublished, with no other details or explanation."

    Mayan Catholics meet to celebrate 'our uniqueness,' says ministry leader

    COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- They come from different countries and speak a range of indigenous languages and dialects. They are descendants of native peoples who developed one of the most sophisticated cultures in the Western Hemisphere. They are proud members of the Mayan Catholic diaspora now living all across the United States, and they came together at a conference in Cookeville to celebrate their native culture and Catholic spirituality. "It was wonderful, spiritually uplifting," said Juanatano Cano, national consultant on Mayan Catholic ministry for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The Maya community rarely comes together and meets and celebrates our uniqueness," he said. Cano and hundreds of other participants met July 7-8 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, a town about 80 miles east of Nashville, and home to a sizable Mayan Catholic population, as well as a large Hispanic population. The Pastoral Maya Ministry, part of the USCCB's Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, has hosted the annual conferences since 1999 to help energize Mayan Catholics and encourage them to serve as bridges between Mayan communities and their local churches. The annual Maya conferences bring together Mayan Catholic leaders from across the country to share ideas and strategies to take home to their communities.

    Opioid addiction, overdoses an epidemic, say public health officials

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Over the past 18 years, the use of opioid drugs -- both legal and illicit -- has surged throughout the United States. Thousands of overdoses, disorders and deaths have accompanied this increase, which public health and law enforcement officials have called an epidemic. Philadelphia has been particularly hard hit, with the rate of opioid overdose deaths in 2015 -- 48 per 100,000 -- being three to four times higher than that in Chicago, which was 15 per 100,000, and in New York, 11 per 100,000. In 2016 alone, Philadelphia saw 907 drug overdose deaths, with roughly 725 due to opioids, according to a report issued in May by Mayor James F. Kenney's task force on the epidemic. Designed to alleviate pain, opioids are not new, nor is the public health crisis they present unprecedented. The poppy flower, from which opium, morphine and heroin are derived, has been known since ancient times for its painkilling effects. In the United States, heroin was legally used until 1924 when it was outlawed because of its highly addictive effects. Researchers worked to develop alternate opioids, such as oxycodone (under the popular brand name OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), methadone and fentanyl.

    Catholic cartoonist draws inspiration from fantasy classics, family life

    FRONT ROYAL, Va. (CNS) -- As many parents know, all kids come into the world ready to draw, but as the years pass, each child reaches a point where they make a choice -- to draw or not to draw. It was never a question for comic artist and arrow enthusiast Ben Hatke, who doodled his way through many a grade school and high school class, filling the margins with grand adventures. His dad was an architect at Purdue University in Indiana and his mom took him and his two sisters to the library regularly. When the young boy discovered newspaper comics such as Calvin and Hobbes, it was love at first sight. Now, many pounds of pencil lead and paper later, the Christendom College grad and father of five has made a career out of "drawing in class." For nearly two decades, he has illustrated comics, Seton Home Study School textbooks, children's books and graphic novels. The rights to his first graphic novel, "Zita the Spacegirl," was picked up recently by Fox for a movie and there is hope that one day Hatke's brave characters will make it to the big screen.

    Minnesota writer helps incarcerated women pen stories of hurt, hope

    NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. (CNS) -- Five years ago, Joannie Moses was in her late 60s and widowed. Her husband, Terry, had died of pancreatic cancer. She thought that after a long stint as a caregiver, and nearly 30 years as the religious education director at St. Maron Maronite Catholic Parish in northeast Minneapolis, it was time to reinvent her life. "After he passed away, I met with a psychologist every single week," Moses recalled. "(St. Maron pastor) Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun refused to accept my retirement, saying, 'I will not accept this until you tell me what you're going to do with your life.' "I thought that was the smartest thing ever, because that gave me something to focus on," said Moses, 72, who has four daughters and nine grandchildren. In 2005, Moses and a friend visited a women's prison three times to lead a writing group. It was the activity that kept climbing to the top of her list. A year after graduating from the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in 2014, Moses decided to look into the Residential Re-entry Center of Roseville, a facility operated by Volunteers of America. She asked center officials if she could start a writing group for women.

    Sierra Leone bishops say citizen action for peace key to 2018 elections

    FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (CNS) -- Catholic bishops in Sierra Leone called on citizens to refrain from actions to destabilize the West African nation and to come together before next year's elections in the same spirit that helped end the country's civil war and overcome its Ebola epidemic. The elections, set for March 7, are seen as key to maintaining the fragile peace that has existed since the 11-year civil war ended in 2002. "We appeal to all Sierra Leoneans to work for the common good. We have to assume responsibility for our own development and not wait for others to do it," the bishops' conference said in a pastoral letter published in mid-July. "We call on all Sierra Leoneans, especially those of voting age, to strongly reject all acts of violence, unnecessary provocations, various forms of fraud that distort results, and anything leading to destabilization and disorder," said the letter. It also called on people to remain united and dedicated to address poverty, illiteracy, food insecurity and corruption.

    Cameroon bishops take legal action over prelate's suspicious death

    YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS) -- The bishops' conference of Cameroon launched a private lawsuit over the alleged murder of Bishop Jean-Marie Benoit Bala of Bafia, whose body was found floating in a river in June. Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, conference president, said the bishops were "not satisfied" with investigators' findings that Bishop Bala drowned after he disappeared overnight May 31, three days before his body was found miles downstream from his abandoned vehicle. The lawsuit was filed to "ensure truth is established," Archbishop Kleda told Radio France Internationale July 18. "If he'd died from drowning, there would have been water in his body, but there was nothing. Instead, it was clear there were many marks of violence," the archbishop said as preparations were underway in Bafia for the Aug. 2 funeral for the 58-year-old bishop, whose remains were returned to the church July 17. He said the bishops' conference also would file a complaint against unspecified officials for mishandling the case and would hand its file of evidence to lawyers acting on its behalf. Bishop Bala's body was discovered by fishermen June 2 in the Sanaga River, four miles from a bridge where an apparent suicide note was found in his abandoned SUV.

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  • Gingrich, nominee for U.S. ambassador to Vatican, testifies at hearing

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Callista Gingrich testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations July 18 for her confirmation hearing as President Donald Trump's nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Gingrich, 51, affirmed the administration's commitment to protecting human rights and religious freedom and responded to questions about refugees and the environment. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, presided, introducing Gingrich and referencing her involvement with the Catholic Church. He noted that Gingrich was the organist for her local parish, St. John's Catholic Church, in her hometown of Whitehall, Wisconsin, and has been a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. "Callista is a lifelong Catholic and has been active in her faith for many years," Johnson said. He marked her almost three decades of experience as a congressional staffer and subsequent work as president of Gingrich Productions, a company that produces documentaries, books, newsletters, and other materials related to history and public policy. Johnson cited Gingrich's experience gained in producing a documentary film about Pope John Paul II's historic trip to Poland as evidence of her connections with and understanding of the Catholic community and the Vatican, calling her "an ideal choice."

    Health care prescription? Regroup, cooperate, Catholic health leaders say

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act collapsed late July 17 in the U.S. Senate, Catholic health care leaders said they hope Congress will work together, in small steps, to fix flaws in the current legislation. Four days earlier Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, had said the measure, a revision of an earlier draft, still did not have "enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable." "The Catholic Health Association is pleased that the bill in the Senate will not go forward," said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the association, adding: "It would have had incredibly negative consequences for so many Americans." Dr. Steven White, a pulmonary specialist in Ormond Beach, Florida, and chairman of the Catholic Medical Association Health Care Policy Committee, said that because of the complexity of the heath care legislation, he would hope people would see what happened -- when the Senate failed to secure the necessary votes for the health care repeal -- as a setback not a failure.

    Epicenter for opioid addiction a mission field for Catholic outreach

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Philadelphia's ongoing struggle with opioid addiction has found an epicenter in the Kensington section of the city, where open-air heroin sales, drug usage and overdoses have become commonplace. In response to public outcry, city officials and law enforcement have intensified patrols of "heroin hotspots" in the area. As a result, many of those who are addicted and homeless have sought shelter in other parts of the neighborhood. According to Father Liam Murphy of Mother of Mercy House in Kensington, several people recently took refuge in the former Ascension of Our Lord Church building. After the parish closed in 2012 due to low membership, the church was relegated to nonreligious use by canonical decree and put up for sale. The property was sold to a real estate investor in 2014 for $800,000 even though it had a market value of $3.5 million -- yet it needed at least $3 million in repairs, according to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The sale was one indicator of how far the church, which at one time was one of the largest in the city, had declined. The same could be said of its working-class neighborhood that today is one of the city's most troubled.

    Pro-life group welcomes court ruling to let U.S. doctor examine baby

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- The national director of Priests for Life in New York welcomed a London court's decision allowing a U.S. doctor to go to England to examine a 10-month-old terminally ill British infant at the center of a medical and ethical debate. The baby, Charlie Gard, was born with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness, brain damage and respiratory or liver failure; it is typically fatal. The baby's parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, lost their legal battle to keep Charlie on life support and to then take him home to die. They also were denied permission to take the baby to the United States for evaluation and possible treatment. The couple had raised $1.8 million through crowdfunding to cover the cost. Doctors at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital said transferring the baby to a U.S. hospital would prolong his suffering. On July 14, England's High Court ruled he could be examined by Dr. Michio Hirano of Columbia University. "News that an American doctor with experience in treating Charlie's disease will travel to the U.K. to examine him is certainly welcome," Father Frank Pavone said.

    Ohio artist restores religious statues, stirs memories of closed parishes

    LAKEWOOD, Ohio (CNS) -- St. Elizabeth of Hungary stands tall, the bread in her right hand, a gift to the poor, looks like it may have just come from the oven. The roses at her waist, visible from an opening in her cloak, are a symbol of God's protection. The saint as depicted by a 19th-century sculptor has plenty of other companions. There is St. Christopher carrying the child Jesus, St. Stanislaus, the martyred bishop of Poland, and St. Sebastian with arrows piercing his body, seemingly just recently. The statues are among dozens that have been carefully restored by Lou McClung, a professional artist, who has made it his vocation -- and avocation -- to preserve artifacts from closed churches in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere. He displays them in what is now a 7-year-old venture called the Museum of Divine Statues. The museum is housed in the former St. Hedwig Church, which served Poles in this west side, inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. McClung opened the museum six years ago with a small number of statues and artifacts. It has burgeoned to a thoughtfully designed exhibition space with more than 200 artifacts that include reliquaries, crucifixes, a monstrance from Germany and stained-glass windows. McClung told Catholic News Service he is driven by the desire to keep some of the artifacts from closed parishes from being forgotten or sold to far-off churches. Along the way he hopes visitors can enjoy and learn from them. And perhaps even be inspired. "I don't care what brings them here as long as visitors get something out of it when they visit, that means something to them when they leave" said McClung, a graduate of the diocesan school system. "At the very least they can have a respect for people who live a Catholic life and have their beliefs."

    Giving Voice network connects women religious for community, activism

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Giving Voice, a network for women religious under 50, encourages participants to form a community and share their gifts with the whole network and society at large. Geared toward peer interaction and leadership development, their programming includes a national conference, a vigil at the border between the United States and Mexico and an annual retreat. "We're rare in religious life, and we're different from many of our peers," Benedictine Sister Belinda Monahan told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. Their conference, the 2017 Giving Voice National Gathering, took place July 6 to 9 at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. With participants from about 22 countries and simultaneous translation into Spanish available, the conference delved into the themes of building bridges, healing divisions and leading effectively in contemporary culture. Sister Belinda attended the conference and enjoyed the open discussion about what it is like to be a young woman religious. "It gave me an opportunity to kind of dream big about the future of religious life," Sister Belinda said. "I was able to bring those dreams home and share them with my own community."

    Border bishop denounces hateful words, militarization of border

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Denouncing the "demonization of migrants," hateful rhetoric, the militarization of the border and a system that divides families, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, called on Catholics to heed the church's teachings to welcome the migrant. In a July 18 pastoral letter "Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away," on migration and addressed to the "People of God in the Diocese of El Paso," Bishop Seitz, who serves a border community near Mexico, said the country's security cannot be used as a "pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees. God did not create a world lacking room for all at the banquet of life," he wrote. He said that while some might question his reflections, "I am not substituting politics for the teaching of the church," but as a pastor, his "duty is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he wrote. And the Gospel in the Old Testament is clear, he said: "You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you." Bishop Seitz also criticized a system that "permits some to detain human beings for profit," while eroding the country's "historic commitment to the refugee and asylum seeker." In the letter, he shared personal anecdotes. One involves a teenager named Aura he met at a sister parish in Honduras who later decided to make the trip north to escape extreme poverty and violence. She was caught by immigration authorities and ended up in a detention center in El Paso but not before experiencing "serious physical and psychological wounds."

    Indian church leaders protest vigilante killings to protect sacred cows

    COCHIN, India (CNS) -- The Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection. "The vast majority of the people of India of all communities (have) been shocked at the lynching in various states on the pretext of protecting cows," said a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India after a July 16 meeting in New Delhi. About 40 religious leaders -- Christians along with Baha'i, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh -- attended the meeting. The statement asked the government "to end (the) impunity ... at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today." Some Hindus worship the cow as a goddess and oppose slaughter of cows, with some states even running care centers for cows. The bishops' statement said lynchings over cows threatened "the constitution and the democratic fabric of the country."

    Two priests kidnapped in Congo's troubled North Kivu province

    ARU, Congo (CNS) -- Armed men kidnapped two Catholic priests in the troubled North Kivu province. Congo's bishops have asked security agencies to try to rescue the priests, who served at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church in Bunyuka. Sgt. Philip Longwa, a police officer in Beni, said gunmen attacked the parish compound about 10 p.m. July 16. Longwa told Catholic News Service the kidnapped priests were Fathers Jean-Pierre Akilimali and Charles Kipasa. He said the gunmen also attacked a nearby convent and looted property. John Muke, a parishioner who lives near the church, told CNS he heard the attack. "I heard them shouting and abusing the priests. They asked for money and other valuables. They shot a few bullets in air to scare people from going to help the priests," said Muke. The attackers also stole two Toyota sport utility vehicles and two motorcycles. The vehicles were abandoned in the village of Kavasewe, not far from Virunga National Park.

    Trial begins for ex-Vatican officials accused of stealing hospital funds

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Two former top Vatican hospital officials appeared before a Vatican court for a pretrial hearing on allegations of embezzlement. Giuseppe Profiti, who was president of Bambino Gesu hospital from 2008 to 2015, and Massimo Spina, the former treasurer, appeared with their lawyers before Vatican magistrates July 18 in a nearly two-hour preliminary hearing, led by the presiding Vatican judge, Paolo Papanti-Pelletier. A court clerk read the charges, which the Vatican had made public July 13: Profiti, 55, and Spina, 57, were accused of an illicit appropriation and use of funds belonging to the Bambino Gesu Foundation to pay Gianantonio Bandera, an Italian contractor, to refurbish an apartment belonging to Vatican City State. The apartment was used as the residence of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican secretary of state. The indictment said Profiti and Spina extracted more than 420,000 euros for "completely non-institutional ends" by using the money to refurbish Vatican property in order "to benefit Gianantonio Bandera's company." It said the alleged crime was committed in Vatican City State and spanned from November 2013 to May 28, 2014 -- the time period that the contractor's seven invoices were dated and paid for, according to news reports.

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  • Holy Land Festival unites Muslims, Christians in hope for restored peace

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Along the western banks of the Jordan River, the place of Christ's baptism and today known as Qasr al-Yahud, numerous churches and monasteries of different religions sit vacant and silenced due to the dangerous landmines that lie beneath them. For almost 50 years, Qasr al-Yahud has been empty due to the landmines installed during the 1967 Six Day war between the Arabs and the Israeli people. Halo Trust, a nonprofit organization, has worked to remove the landmines in the Qasr al-Yahud area since 2012. The group is dedicated to providing save environments for those living in areas surrounded by landmines through landmine removal, as well as assisting in local community rebuilding in the aftermath of war. Their work has brought together various religious denominations in efforts to preserve the sacred churches, such as the Coptic church, the Franciscan church and the Syrian church, that all sit on the site of Qasr al-Yahud. "We've got agreements with the eight churches, we've got agreements with the Israeli government, and we've got agreements with the Palestinian authorities," said Adam Jasinski, executive director of Halo Trust, in an interview with Catholic News Service July 15.

    USCCB: Retain open internet 'by strongest legal authority available'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In comments delivered July 17 to the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the FCC to use "the strongest legal authority available" to "retain open internet regulations." The current regulations, adopted in 2015 by a Democratic-majority FCC, treat the internet as a utility. A prior FCC effort to regulate the internet as a communication service did not stand up to judicial scrutiny. The regulations are now under review by a Republican-led FCC. The concept of an open internet has long been called "net neutrality," in which internet service providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites. The USCCB is "concerned that the FCC is contemplating eliminating current regulations limiting the manner by which the companies controlling the infrastructure connect people to the internet," said USCCB assistant general counsel Katherine Grincewich. "Without the current strong open internet regulations, including prohibitions on paid prioritization, the public has no effective recourse against internet service providers' interference with accessibility to content," Grincewich said.

    Korean bishops' head backs South Korean leader's peace goal with North

    SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) -- The president of the Korean bishops' conference has welcomed President Moon Jae-in's peace initiative, saying it matches the church's views on how peace can be achieved on the peninsula. "I deeply agree with President Moon's direction for the future relations of the two Koreas," said Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, conference president. His remarks were reported by Since taking office, Moon has said South Korea will take the lead in the peaceful coexistence with the North and presented principles aimed toward such a goal. Moon said his administration is planning for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through guaranteeing North Korea's safety and the construction of a permanent peace system. There also will be economic and expanded civil exchanges, he said. Such measures have been given full support by the Korean bishops, reported.

    Religious order welcomes gas pipeline opponents to pray at new 'chapel'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As chapels go, the simple structure on property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ congregation in Columbia, Pennsylvania, is not much. It's more of an arbor, really: four posts and several cross boards built near a cornfield on farmland the sisters lease. Several pewlike benches are arranged around it. Still, said the sisters, it stands as a symbol of resistance by people of faith to a planned natural gas pipeline called Atlantic Sunrise that developers want to build through miles of farmland and small towns of picturesque Lancaster County. The pipeline's path takes it through a strip of land the congregation owns in the Harrisburg Diocese that includes farmland and the sisters contend that construction poses a danger to God's creation. They have declined repeated offers of compensation from Transco, the project's developer, to allow an easement for it to be built. "This is something that we felt as a matter of conscience," said Sister Sara Dwyer, coordinator of the congregation's justice, peace and integrity of creation ministry. "We had to look at it more deeply and take a stronger stand."

    Laziness, vices prevent seeds of Gospel from taking root, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God proposes -- not imposes -- his Gospel and offer of salvation, putting the responsibility of being open to and moved by his message on the listener, Pope Francis said. Jesus doesn't draw people to him by conquering them, but by giving himself, like a sower, spreading "with patience and generosity his word, which isn't a cage or a trap, but a seed that can bear fruit" if people welcome it, the pope said before praying the Angelus July 16. Speaking to people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope reflected on the Sunday reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which Jesus speaks to the crowds about the parable of the sower. The parable, the pope said, speaks more about the soil than the sower because the quality of the terrain is critical for whether a seed will eventually bear fruit. In Jesus' parable, the seed that falls on rich soil produces fruit, while seed that falls on hard or rocky ground or among the thorns does not.

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