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  • Amid joy as Bethlehem reopens, Christians have uncertainty about future

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

    By Judith Sudilovsky

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Bethlehem residents returned to the Church of the Nativity as the holy site opened to visitors May 26 after being closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But amid the joy was a feeling of uncertainty about their economic future, as pilgrims and tourists are not yet able to return.

    In the creche where Christians venerate as the traditional site of Jesus' birth, local Syriac Catholic tour guide Rizek Nazi was filming a video on his cellphone with his two sons, George, 10, and Aram, 9, to give pilgrims a virtual tour of the place as it opened, and to entice them to plan a visit once international travel reopens.

    The sole breadwinner for his family, Nazi has not worked since March 7.

    "I want people to keep the idea of coming on pilgrimage to Bethlehem in the back of their minds for when they can travel," he said.

    In his videos, he emphasized the safety and health precautions being taken in Bethlehem.

    "As Palestinians, we know to always try to keep some savings for the dark days, but now all that is gone," he added.

    Samir Hazboun, chairman of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, noted that unemployment was 95% in the tourism sector of what he called the "Christian triangle" of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

    "The Christian triangle ... depends on tourism and handicrafts related to tourism. Whenever we look at tourism (now) around the world, we can see how difficult it is," he said. Though the spring and summer months are generally low season for the area, residents are still unsure when and how many visitors will return in the ensuing season, he added.

    "All the hotels and restaurants are closed, bus drivers are out of work, people working in the handicraft industry producing religious articles have been heavily affected. We are trying to develop a plan," he said.

    At the moment, even mail orders for the various cooperatives and fair trade workshops are not an option, because international shipping is not yet possible, he said.

    "The social impact of the economic crisis on the Christian Palestinian community (will be serious.) The Christians will be heavily affected, as their income is mainly related to the tourism and service sector," said Hazboun.

    Unemployment in all the Palestinian areas has doubled from the 22% pre-pandemic level, he said.

    Saliba Bandak, who is Greek Orthodox, sat idly chatting with two friends, currently unemployed as tour guides. His souvenir shop normally supports his family of seven, which includes his parents and siblings.

    "Without tourists, we have nothing," Bandak said. "Since the beginning of March, we have not had any income. But we are Palestinian and we keep God as our hope."

    Father Rami Asakrieh of St. Catherine Parish said almost 450 families from his parish depend solely on the tourism sector for their income, and the parish council has been trying to organize special help for them.

    He said Israel, which is also slowly opening up its economy, has not yet given entry permission to all the Palestinians who worked in the construction industry to return to work in Israel.

    "People who had money have gone through their savings and now need to pay their outstanding checks and loans," he said.

    While the Israeli government has been able to provide grants to its residents, the Palestinian government has not been able to do so, he added.

    Through the Pontifical Mission, the St. Catherine parish council has been able to provide 150 families with vouchers for groceries, but now many more families than before need help to meet their basic needs, Father Asakrieh said. The usual partner organizations that help them are also feeling the crunch because their own donors are unable to contribute more, he said, so they are hoping individuals who visit the Bethlehem parish website will consider donating.

    In Jerusalem May 25, sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were opened to visitors who are required to wear masks and use hand sanitizer before they enter. Though the Israeli government allowed businesses and stores to reopen, souvenir shop owners in the Old City who depend on tourism have been left with no form of income. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre launched a support fund for needy Christian families and Latin Patriarchate schools in Palestine and Jordan who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

    In Bethlehem, Father Emad Kamal of St. Catherine Parish welcomed parishioners filling the pews May 26 to recite the rosary and then celebrate the first communal Mass since March.

    "I feel so happy today. When the church was closed we prayed on the phone, but it is a different feeling to pray together," said Eliana Alaly, who came to church with her three children, carrying a packet of disposable masks and wearing latex gloves. She was one of the few people who wore a mask. "We are still a bit afraid."

    Before going to Mass at St. Catherine's, Naheeda Thaljieh lit a candle in the adjacent Church of the Nativity.

    "When I entered the church, I just cried and cried and cried," she said. Her family depends on the income from a small grocery store but there have been few customers, she said. "After 80-plus days, I entered the church and I lit candles for all the people and that all the people who are sick in the world will get well."

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  • NFL dream now a reality for 2017 grad of Philadelphia Jesuit high school

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The NFL announced May 7 it is planning a return to its regular season in the fall, and among the players on the roster for the Detroit Lions will be Philadelphia native and St. Joseph's Prep star D'Andre Swift. Swift, a University of Georgia standout, reached a personal milestone and fulfilled his dream of becoming a pro football player when he was selected by the Lions with the 35th pick in the 2020 NFL draft April 24. His trademark moves that will serve him well as a pro were obvious to most when he was a star high school athlete at Jesuit-run St. Joseph's Prep. Countless times he corralled a football and used his uncanny vision, instincts and legs to do something so athletically crazy on the field that it defied description. "You're gonna do that in the NFL someday," said a non-team official. Swift smiled that textbook grin of his. "That's part of the plan," he said. So in April, sitting in quarantine that afternoon with family and friends because of the coronavirus, Swift's career objective came to fruition. "With the 35th pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select ... D'Andre Swift, running back, Georgia." Swift hopes to be able to work out soon with his new teammates, coaches and staff once the global COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and continue to hone his God-given gifts at the ultimate level for football competitors.

    Faith, prayers help husband in ICU, sick wife at home survive COVID-19

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- John and Megan Dugan were looking forward to March 25, John's 50th birthday. They and their 13-year-old son, Charlie, would be on a cruise with several other families to celebrate. Then the coronavirus hit -- not just the country, but the Dugans. Just 24 hours after the day marking his birth, John began a five-day fight for his life on a ventilator in an Indianapolis hospital. "I felt like I was drowning," he recalled. "I couldn't breathe. It was the worst feeling in the world." Meanwhile, Megan suffered at home with the coronavirus' telltale fever, body aches and exhaustion. The days blurred as she slept for as much as 20 hours at a time. But the Dugans were not alone. Family, friends and even strangers stormed heaven with prayers. So did the members of their parish, St. Barnabas in Indianapolis. John was released from the hospital April 2. Megan powered through and recuperated at home. Recovered now, the couple is thankful that they survived and that Charlie remained healthy. They're thankful for all the support they received and for the gift of faith -- theirs and of all those who prayed for them. He said the couple sees "God's presence, how he works his grace through others, through what they say, what they do. You see life through the eyes of faith."

    Iowa bishop says pandemic should prompt release of Guatemalan detainees

    DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) -- Davenport Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula has asked the chief of Homeland Security in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to release three Guatemalan immigrant detainees because the COVID-19 pandemic "places immigrants being detained in a very vulnerable situation." The bishop said he chose to take action after reading about the immigrants' situation in secular media and through emails from the Iowa City Catholic Worker, advocating on behalf of the men and their families. He has not yet received a reply to his letter. The wives of two of the men described the traumatic experience of their husbands' separate arrests during a May 6 news conference in Cedar Rapids. All three men were arrested March 4 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE and other law officers. Jose Cerillo and Jacinto Cuyuch-Brito are being held in the Linn County, Iowa, Jail and Juan Daniel Cuyuch-Brito was moved to Freeborn Adult Detention Center in Minnesota, said David Goodner of the Iowa City Catholic Worker. Rosa, the wife of Jacinto Cuyuch-Brito, is living at the Catholic Worker House with her infant son, Pedro, because without the family's breadwinner she can't pay rent. Her husband and Juan Cuyuch-Brito are brothers. Jose Cerillo is her brother-in-law. All three men were charged with using false work visas and Social Security numbers. Jose also was charged with reentry into the U.S. after fewer than 10 years since a prior removal, Goodner said.

    Amid joy as Bethlehem reopens, Christians have uncertainty about future

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Bethlehem residents returned to the Church of the Nativity as the holy site opened to visitors May 26 after being closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But amid the joy was a feeling of uncertainty about their economic future, as pilgrims and tourists are not yet able to return. In the creche where Christians venerate as the traditional site of Jesus' birth, local Syriac Catholic tour guide Rizek Nazi was filming a video on his cellphone with his two sons, George, 10, and Aram, 9, to give pilgrims a virtual tour of the place as it opened, and to entice them to plan a visit once international travel reopens. The sole breadwinner for his family, Nazi has not worked since March 7. "I want people to keep the idea of coming on pilgrimage to Bethlehem in the back of their minds for when they can travel," he said. In his videos, he emphasized the safety and health precautions being taken in Bethlehem. "As Palestinians, we know to always try to keep some savings for the dark days, but now all that is gone," he added.

    Congress urged to make poor, vulnerable a priority for next stimulus bill

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Congress needs to remember the needs of "the poor, the vulnerable and people on the margins" when considering additional pandemic economic relief packages, said the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "The focus should be on those most in need" in federal stimulus packages "to offer them some hope and assistance in desperate circumstances," said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City. "Since early April, some of my brother bishops and I have sent five letters to express this touchstone principle to Congress and its various committees," he said in a May 22 statement. The U.S. bishops have highlighted several issues they have urged lawmakers to address, such as: food security and housing; protections for the unborn; access to affordable health care and racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes; assistance for the poor and unemployed; care for migrants and refugees; safety for detainees and the incarcerated; education; international assistance and debt relief; and help for charities serving vulnerable populations. Archbishop Coakley and the chairmen of several other USCCB committees, including education, migration, pro-life activities, religious liberty, communications and international justice and peace signed letters April 9 and May 7 that went to various House and Senate committee chairman calling attention to these issues.

    In midst of pandemic, CRS helps East African nations hit by floods

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Flooding in East Africa has added another challenge to five nations already fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. "Across East Africa this year, floods have left thousands homeless, destroyed planting fields and washed away topsoil, and taken a heavy toll on infrastructure. Some bridges have been washed away and we have found a number of roads that are impassable," said Niek de Goeij, country representative in Uganda for Catholic Relief Services. The region's bishops have been calling for help as agencies estimate that at least 1.3 million people in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda and Ethiopia are affected. In Kenya, CRS is supporting construction of flood-resistant houses in Kisumu County. It is also distributing mattresses, bed sheets, blankets, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets targeting nearly 500 families. A similar number will receive a monthly basic food basket. Agency staffers plan to distribute protective masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in overcrowded shelters. Lane Bunkers, CRS representative in Kenya, said 80 vulnerable households will receive $50 cash transfers to aid a return to their homes.

    Priest's treasured chalice resurfaces after going missing for five years

    ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNS) -- Like many people, the Rev. Shawn Brandon, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, has had more time on his hands while sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, but little did he know he would solve a five-year mystery while cleaning out a closet in his Arnold, Maryland, church. About three miles down the road at St. Andrew by the Bay Church in Annapolis, Father Jeffrey Dauses, pastor, had been searching for years for his chalice and paten, which had been lost in a delivery mishap. He occasionally would scroll through eBay or visit local pawn shops. "I just kept looking, thinking it would turn up somewhere. It never did. And after a couple of years, I just gave up hope and didn't even think about it anymore," Father Dauses said. For a priest, a chalice and paten can have the same symbolic value as a wedding ring to a married person, said Father James Proffitt, director of the division of clergy personnel for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. They are typically given as a gift before a priest's ordination and some have some very personal touches. "I'd say it's symbolic and it becomes very significant," Father Dauses said of the chalices, which are used throughout a priest's ministry. "There's a level of emotional attachment." Father Proffitt said priests have had their parents' wedding rings or other family heirlooms embedded in the base of chalices. Father Dauses added a nod to his Franciscan education. "I designed it so that above the node of the chalice it looks like a silver cord, like the cord that the Franciscans wear around their waist," Father Dauses told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan media outlet.

    U.S. Jesuit college leaders mourn death of former Jesuit superior general

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Leaders of Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States say the impact of Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, former Jesuit superior general, will be felt in their universities for years to come. "Father Nicolas will be remembered as a leader who spoke and inspired out of a deep well of religious hope, which led him to optimism about the fruits of change in the church and in the Society of Jesus," said Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. He said the priest, who died in Tokyo May 20 at age 84 "exemplified Christian love -- especially for those on the margins of society -- which he called Jesuit schools to promote across the world." Father Nicolas, who was born and raised in Spain, entered the Society of Jesus in 1953 and was ordained a priest in 1967. As a Jesuit scholastic, he was sent to Japan, where he taught theology, served as rector of scholastics and worked with immigrants in Tokyo. He served as Jesuit superior general from 2008 to 2016. His funeral Mass was celebrated May 23 at St. Ignatius Church in Tokyo. A memorial Mass will be celebrated in Rome at the Jesuit Church of the Gesu at a later date. Memorial Masses also were celebrated at the chapels of U.S. Jesuit universities.

    In two Mexican states, lawmakers vote down bills to legalize abortion

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Lawmakers in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato have shelved a pair of initiatives to legalize abortion, an issue being introduced for debate in legislatures around the country. In a virtual session May 25, a joint health and justice committee in Guanajuato voted against the initiatives, including one that would have legalized abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Four days earlier, lawmakers in the neighboring state of San Luis Potosi overwhelmingly opted against legalizing abortion. Catholic leaders in both states expressed opposition to the initiatives. People on both sides of the abortion issue rallied supporters online, with the hashtags "It will be law" and "Guanajuato is prolife" trending nationally. The Archdiocese of Leon, which serves parts of Guanajuato, said May 26 it would file a criminal complaint after graffiti in support of legalization appeared on stone walls of the Our Lady of the Light Cathedral, a church visited by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. "As the Catholic Church, we express respect toward people and, what I ask of them, from those of us in favor of freedom of expression, (is) to be open and that we have a dialogue," Father Marcos Cortes Muniz, archdiocesan spokesman, said May 26 in a video statement. "Let us stay in our homes and remember that in the face of these attacks we have to respond with an attitude of peace."

    Group's filters help Navajo Nation have safe drinking water amid pandemic

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- As the coronavirus digs deeper into Navajo Nation, infecting Native Americans at a higher rate than anywhere in the country, 1,500 miles away a nonprofit in the Archdiocese of Louisville is working to ease the suffering. Water With Blessings -- which provides donated Sawyer PointOne water filtration systems to communities around the world that lack safe drinking water -- is sending water filters to the Navajo people. Ursuline Sister Larraine Lauter, co-founder of the nonprofit, said a lack of safe drinking water is making the Navajo people especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of May 26, 4,153 people had become infected with the coronavirus on the vast reservation that spans 27,000 square miles across Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Of those, 144 people have died, according to the Navajo Department of Health. A third of households in the Navajo Nation do not have access to safe drinking water, said Sister Lauter. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2011 found that 30% of households didn't have running water. As a result, individuals get water from unregulated and untreated sources. "Clean water is the very basis of health. It's the most fundamental part of access to health. If you are drinking contaminated water or you don't have enough water, the body is that much more vulnerable and it's harder to fight off any kind of illness," Sister Lauter told The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville. "I think that's why they have a very high rate of death."

    Vatican orders Italian founder of ecumenical community to leave

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has ordered Enzo Bianchi, the 77-year-old founder and former prior of the ecumenical Monastery of Bose, to leave the community following an apostolic visitation to clarify leadership within the group. Bianchi, who founded the monastery in 1968, stepped down as prior of the community in January 2017. The community, living a monastic life of common prayer, work, study and hospitality, is made up of 80 men and women from a variety of Christian traditions. They are particularly known for ecumenical conferences and liturgical studies. In December, the community announced that Pope Francis had appointed a three-person team to conduct an apostolic visitation. The statement said it was prompted by a moment in the monastery's life "that could not be anything but delicate and, in some ways, problematic as regards the exercise of authority, the handling of governance and the fraternal climate" among the members. The monthlong visitation began Dec. 6, 2019, and a report, "based on the contribution of testimony freely given by each member of the community," was given to the Vatican, the community said.

    Pope clears way to sainthood for three, advances causes of others

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood causes of two women and 11 men, including a miracle attributed to Blessed Charles de Foucauld. In a meeting May 27 with Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope also authorized decrees recognizing miracles attributed to Blessed Cesar de Bus, founder of the Fathers of Christian Doctrine, and Blessed Maria Domenica Mantovani, co-founder and superior general of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. The pope's recognition of the miracles ascribed to Blesseds de Foucauld, de Bus and Mantovani clear the way for their canonization. Born in Strasbourg, France, in 1858, Blessed de Foucauld lost his faith during his adolescence. However, during a trip to Morocco, he saw how Muslims expressed their faith, so he returned to the church. His rediscovery of his Christian faith prompted him to join Trappist monasteries for seven years in France and Syria, before choosing to live a life of prayer and adoration alone. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1901, he chose to live among the poor and finally settled in Tamanrasset, Algeria, until 1916, when he was killed by a band of marauders. Although he lived several centuries before Blessed de Foucauld, Blessed de Bus was born in France and, like his compatriot, also lived his early adulthood away from his faith. From the age of 15, Blessed Mantovani, born in 1862 in Castelletto di Brenzone, Italy, played an active role in her parish. Her spiritual director, Father Giuseppe Nascimbeni, encouraged her to teach catechism and visit the sick.

    L.A. Archdiocese to begin opening churches under detailed safety measures

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- After being closed for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can begin to open to the public the first week of June if they implement certain safety guidelines, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez told priests and parish staff late May 26. He made the announcement in an email and included guidelines for a phased plan that allows for parishes to open for personal prayer once their individual, written safety plans are approved by the regional auxiliary bishop. As part of the second phase, parishes with approved safety plans will be allowed to offer daily Mass to the public as soon as June 3, provided they adhere to strict sanitary and social-distancing measures. The earliest date churches could have Sunday Mass while adhering to those measures would be June 7, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. The announcement came on the same day that Los Angeles County announced that "faith-based organizations" could resume services, "with the number of congregants limited to less than 25% of the building's capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower."

    Prayer is powerful, life-giving, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Prayer is powerful not because it changes God or God's plans, but because it changes individuals and communities, one heart at a time, Pope Francis said. "Prayer is powerful because it attracts the power of God, and God's power always gives life, always," the pope said May 27 during his weekly general audience, which was livestreamed from the library of the Apostolic Palace. Continuing his series of audience talks about prayer, Pope Francis looked at the Bible's accounts of how sin entered the world and seemed to spread like "an oil stain," sowing violence and death in the world. "God's plan for humanity is good, but in our daily lives we experience the presence of evil," he said. "It's an everyday experience." With the sin of Adam and Eve, Cain murdering Abel and countless other biblical accounts of murder and mayhem, the pope said, "one has the impression that prayer is the bulwark, the refuge for human beings against overwhelming waves of evil that are growing in the world."

    Update: Pope clears way for beatification of Knights of Columbus founder

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, clearing the way for his beatification. While the Vatican announced May 27 that Pope Francis had signed the decree, it did not announce a date for the beatification ceremony. During the COVID-19 pandemic, previously scheduled beatification Masses have been postponed. For beatification, the Vatican requires proof of a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession, unless the candidate was martyred for his or her faith. A statement from the Knights of Columbus said, "The miracle recognized as coming through Father McGivney's intercession involved an unborn child in the United States who in 2015 was healed in utero of a life-threatening condition after prayers by his family to Father McGivney. A date will soon be set for the beatification Mass, which will take place in Connecticut."

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  • Update: Planned Parenthood urged to return $80 million in PPP funds

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The head of National Right to Life and other pro-life leaders criticized Planned Parenthood affiliates for applying for and receiving funds under the Paycheck Protection Program, created by Congress to provide relief for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, designed PPP "to protect small businesses not behemoth organizations with over 16,000 employees," Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said in a May 20 statement. A Fox News report May 19 said that 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates applied for and received $80 million, which Tobias said the organization "should return." PPP, which is administered by the Small Business Administration, is a nearly $700 billion business loan program to help certain businesses, self-employed workers, sole proprietors, certain nonprofit organizations, and tribal businesses continue paying their workers. Critics of the monies going to Planned Parenthood affiliates include Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. "We must remain focused on defeating this virus and saving lives," Moore told the Baptist Press. "Planned Parenthood's actions show it is not interested in the former because it has never cared about the latter."

    Ohio bishop resumes treatment for leukemia, sends resignation to pope

    YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (CNS) -- The Diocese of Youngstown announced May 26 that Bishop George V. Murry has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis for reasons of ill health. Diagnosed with a form of acute leukemia, in April 2018, Bishop Murry underwent intensive chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic. In July 2019, he reentered the Cleveland Clinic for a reoccurrence of leukemia. At that time tests confirmed that he was in remission and that doctors were not recommending a bone marrow transplant. "This past April, his leukemia returned and he resumed treatment," the diocesan statement said. "With this third bout of leukemia, his present state of health leaves him less able to fulfill the tasks entrusted to him as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown." Bishop Murray, 71, has headed the Diocese of Youngstown since 2007. Born in Camden, New Jersey, Dec. 28, 1948, he was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He became a Catholic as a child while attending a parochial school in Baltimore.

    Encyclical calls all Catholics to work toward Christian unity, says bishop

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II's encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" should remind Catholics "the way of ecumenism is the way of the church" and they are "called to espouse a strong commitment to building Christian unity," Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said May 25. "Pope St. John Paul II, who worked tirelessly to build ecumenical relationships, described the impulse of working for unity between Christians as 'a duty of Christian conscience enlightened by faith and guided by love,'" said the bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In the encyclical, issued May 25, 1995, St. John Paul reaffirmed the Catholic Church's "irrevocable" commitment to working and praying for Christian unity and highlighted how Christians of all denominations already are united in the experience of martyrdom. He also called for efforts to promote a "healing of historical memories" and mutual forgiveness; asked other Christians to join a dialogue on the ministry of the bishop of Rome -- the pope -- in a united Christianity; and insisted that dialogue is not a negotiation, but a sharing of the gifts God has given each community. "Ut Unum Sint" is Latin for "that they may be one."

    California school lunch service shifts focus to stay afloat, help others

    NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When the COVID-19 pandemic led schools to close, the day-to-day operations at Choicelunch, a healthy school lunch delivery service, paused. Choicelunch, established in 2003 by three University of Notre Dame alums, provided lunches for 25,000 children at 300 schools statewide before schools closed. "Instead of 25,000 lunches a day, we were making zero lunches a day," said Keith Cosbey, chief operating officer. The company's five kitchens and the majority of its 200 employees were impacted. "I was distraught," said Justin Gagnon, Choicelunch co-founder and CEO. "We ended up having to lay off all of our hourly employees, our kitchen staff and our drivers." Out of the 300 schools that Choicelunch serves, 120 are Catholic schools, according to Cosbey. He said the Archdiocese of San Francisco was the first client to announce that it would be closing schools for three weeks. "Of our 300 schools, that was 22 immediately that closed," Cosbey told Catholic News Service.

    Chef Andres' World Central Kitchen donates meals for parish to distribute

    ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- The World Central Kitchen truck left its workspace at Nationals Park in Washington with 3,300 containers of veggies and lasagna and headed to Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington. In the parish hall-turned-food pantry, volunteers spent the morning of May 21 loading the food into brown paper bags. By lunchtime, the church perimeter was lined with masked individuals biding their time on socially distanced stickers. By the end of the afternoon, every reheatable meal had found a hungry home. Our Lady, Queen of Peace has given food to the needy every week for years, but it used to look a lot different, said Sally Diaz-Wells, parish social justice and outreach minister. "We would do it with a lot of hospitality," she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper. "They would walk into our hall, all 200 plus families, and hang out, have breakfast. We always had coffee, tea and water available to them. We always had some kind of sweet breads. We had a nursery; (pregnancy assistance ministry) Project Gabriel," she said. Then, the pandemic hit. The recipients could no longer linger in the parish hall but had to wait apart from one another outside. The number of families needing food began to climb. At the most recent Wednesday distribution, they gave away 667 bags. Only 10 volunteers could work together indoors wearing masks and gloves.

    Peacemakers sign 'Pledge to Protect' during pandemic as economy reopens

    CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Pax Christi USA has invited people to sign a new "Pledge to Protect" in which the signees promise to take personal responsibility for protecting others during the coronavirus pandemic as the U.S. economy reopens. Those who sign the pledge promise "to follow the advice of health care workers and scientists about what I can do to help limit the suffering due to the virus." The pledge was introduced May 17 as governors continued easing the lockdowns and allowed businesses and other entities to begin opening in an effort to help restart the economy and reverse rising unemployment. Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA executive director, said the pledge emerged from the organization's members "who were just stunned by the lack of leadership that we're getting, especially from the White House, that there's a real absence of calls to the common good. If our cities and states are going to reopen, and the federal government is not going to take responsibility, we're going to take responsibility ourselves," Zokovitch told Catholic News Service.

    Update: Trump says houses of worship 'essential,' must be able to reopen

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Saying America needs "more prayer, not less," President Donald Trump May 22 declared house of worship "essential" and directed the country's governors "to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend." "The people are demanding to go to church and their synagogue, to go to their mosque. Many, many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life," he said in a midday announcement. "The ministers, pastors, imams and other faith leaders will make sure their congregations are safe as they gather and pray. They love their congregations, they love their people," Trump said. "If they don't do it, I will override the governors. America, we need more prayer, not less," he said, though many questioned whether the U.S. president could constitutionally "override" governors' authority on this matter in their own states. Senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News Channel's "The Daily Briefing," the president could not override any governor, even in this case, when they issued such "ill-advised" orders to keep places of faith closed. But he said Trump could direct the Justice Department to file lawsuits against governors because the right to worship is "absolutely protected by the First Amendment."

    Faith leaders: Protecting human life is priority in reopening churches

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The bishops of the state of Washington said suspension of the public celebration of Mass because of the coronavirus pandemic was undertaken "not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health." "As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be instruments of God's protection for the vulnerable and the common good," the five bishops said in a May 22 statement released by the Washington State Catholic Conference. "Our love of God and neighbor is always personal and not partisan. "While we share the desire to bring people back to Mass as quickly as possible, we will wait to schedule our public worship when it is safe and we are prepared to do so," the statement said. Washington state was the site of the first widespread outbreak of the COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and public health officials quickly enacted a massive shutdown of the state, including churches, to stem the outbreak. He directed the country's governors "to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend." The bishops' statement came in response to President Donald Trump's May 22 declaration that houses of worship are "essential."

    Bioethics center: U.K. elderly death rate greatest failure of pandemic

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The "extremely high death rate" in U.K. care homes for the elderly will go down as the greatest national failure of the coronavirus crisis, a Catholic bioethics institute said. The Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre said an "ageist bias" in the attitudes of policymakers toward the needs of care home residents and staff had led them to prioritize the care of younger and healthier patients over the elderly. This has contributed to the U.K. death rate rising to become the highest in Europe, said Xavier Symons, a bioethicist of the University of Notre Dame, Australia. "The extremely high death rate in aged care homes will likely be viewed as one of the great failures of health authorities' responses to the COVID-19 crisis," he said in the document published May 23 on the website of the center, which serves the Catholic Church in the U.K. and Ireland. The U.K. government has so far announced about 37,000 deaths, compared to some 32,000 in Italy, the second-worst affected European country. But the U.K. Office for National Statistics said that by May 15, the actual figure was already in excess of 47,000, with nearly 12,000 people dying from the virus in care homes.

    Minn. bishops modify reopening plan after governor increases crowd limit

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- A new executive order from Gov. Tim Walz permits faith-based gatherings at 25% church capacity, with a total limit of 250 people, beginning May 27. The Minnesota governor announced the new order May 23. The new order follows two days of meetings with Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and other faith leaders, after Minnesota Catholic bishops announced May 20 that they planned to move forward with Masses at 30% capacity, despite the governor's limitations at that time of public worship to 10 people indoors or outdoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bishops said they find the new guidance reasonable and have modified their plans to align with the 25% of capacity now allowed. In addition to slightly lowering capacity limits, they also were waiting to resume public worship May 27 instead of May 26, as they initially planned. "Out of the discussion, we certainly always recognize legitimate authority and reasonable regulation, and while recognizing that it's our responsibility to determine how it is that we regulate the liturgy, we think that's a very reasonable regulation given the state of COVID-19 in our state," Archbishop Hebda told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

    Pope to lead world shrines in rosary prayer for pandemic May 30

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will lead the major shrines around the world in praying the rosary to implore Mary's intercession and protection amid the coronavirus pandemic. The pope will pray at the replica of the Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens May 30, the eve of Pentecost, and will also be joined by several "men and women representing various categories of people particularly affected by the virus," the Vatican said May 26. The service will be at 5:30 p.m. in Rome (11:30 a.m. EDT). "At the feet of Mary, the Holy Father will place the many troubles and sorrows of humanity, further worsened by the spread of COVID-19," said a statement released by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. According to the statement, the prayer, which coincides with the end of the Marian month of May, "is another sign of closeness and consolation for those who, in different ways, have been struck by the coronavirus, in the certainty that the Heavenly Mother will not disregard the requests for protection."

    Pope blesses visitors on feast of Ascension

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. Peter's Square was open to the public May 24, the feast of the Ascension, and scores of visitors turned up for Pope Francis' noonday prayer and blessing. Since Italy announced a nationwide lockdown March 9, the pope has been offering his Sunday remarks livestreamed from his library in the Apostolic Palace and had been giving his blessing from the window to an empty square. With the progressive easing of restrictions, St. Peter's Basilica was open to the public May 18 and the square reopened May 20. So, the feast of the Ascension was the first opportunity for scores of visitors, many wearing masks and keeping their distance from others, to watch the pope's remarks being shown on large screens in the square. The pope briefly emerged at his window, waved to the small crowd, which cheered and clapped, and silently imparted his blessing. The day also marked World Communications Day, celebrated at the Vatican and in most dioceses May 24. The pope's message, released Jan. 24, focused on the importance of sharing "knowledge of the Lord" and meaningful memories, stories and experiences, so that they may transform people's lives.

    Pope marks anniversary of 'Laudato Si'' with call to prayer, action

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Commemorating the fifth anniversary of his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis called on Christians to join in prayer and acts of care for the Earth and for the poor. After reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer May 24, the pope encouraged Catholics to participate in the celebration of the "Special Laudato Si' Anniversary Year," a yearlong series of initiatives dedicated to putting the encyclical's teaching into action. "I invite all people of goodwill to join, to take care of our common home and of our most fragile brothers and sisters," he said. According to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the yearlong celebration from May 24, 2020, to May 24, 2021, will emphasize "ecological conversion in action" through a series of events dedicated to environmental care, education and the economy. The pope also said that "it would be beautiful" for Catholics to recite the prayer dedicated to the anniversary celebration of the encyclical.

    Pope renews prayers for Catholics in China

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis assured Catholics in China that the universal church shared their hopes and supported them during hardship. He also asked all Catholics to pray for their brothers and sisters in China, as the church celebrated the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians May 24. Because Chinese Catholics have a particularly strong devotion of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 established the May 24 feast as a world day of prayer for the church in China. After praying the "Regina Coeli" May 24, Pope Francis asked that people pray to Our Lady so that Catholics in China would be "strong in the faith and steadfast in fraternal union, joyous witnesses, promoters of charity and brotherly hope, and good citizens." Expressing his "great and sincere affection," Pope Francis said he wanted to assure all Catholics in China "that the universal church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in your trials of life."

    Search for Christian unity is making progress, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II's encyclical on Christian unity, Pope Francis said he shares "the healthy impatience" of those who think more can and should be done, but he also insisted that Christians must be grateful for the progress made. "Many steps have been taken in these decades to heal the wounds of centuries and millennia," Pope Francis said in a letter to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The letter was released by the Vatican May 25, the anniversary of St. John Paul's 1995 encyclical, "Ut Unum Sint," Latin for "that they may be one." In the encyclical, St. John Paul: reaffirmed the Catholic Church's "irrevocable" commitment to working and praying for Christian unity; highlighted how Christians of all denominations already are united in the experience of martyrdom; called for efforts to promote a "healing of historical memories" and mutual forgiveness; asked other Christians to join a dialogue on the ministry of the bishop of Rome -- the pope -- in a united Christianity; and insisted that dialogue is not a negotiation, but a sharing of the gifts God has given each community.

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  • Colorado initiative to end late-term abortion close to goal for signatures

    DENVER (CNS) -- Organizers of a ballot initiative to prohibit abortion in Colorado after 22 weeks, with an exception to save the life of the mother, said because support has been building in recent weeks they expected to get the 20,000 signatures needed by May 29 to get the measure on the November ballot. Colorado is one of only seven states that allow abortion for any reason up until birth with no restrictions. Initiative 120, or Due Date Too Late, would end that in the state. According to Denver Catholic, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Denver, 124,632 signatures are required to put an initiative on the ballot. Supporters delivered over 137,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state's office by a March 4 deadline. "However, due to invalid and repeat signatures," 10,000 valid signatures were still needed "for the measure to qualify for the ballot," Denver Catholic reported. A two-week "cure period" began May 15 to allow the Due Date Too Late campaign to get the additional signatures it needs. Organizers said turning in 20,000 or more signatures by May 29 "should assure that the ballot initiative will meet the statutory threshold." On May 15 Colorado Gov. Jared Polis May 15 signed an executive order to allow signatures for ballot initiatives to be gathered by email because of current stay-at-home restrictions in place because of COVID-19. But his order has been challenged in court.

    Bishop reminds seafarers they are 'not forgotten' even amid pandemic

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Some of the victims of the coronavirus are an already unseen group that now has a big role to play in the pandemic. During a May 22 online prayer service via Zoom, those who work with mariners and other maritime workers via the Apostleship of the Sea ministry praised them, their work and their sacrifice as they keep essential goods moving during the pandemic, even as they or their families have been affected. "As you all know, during this difficult time, seafarers are essential to the movement of goods, including food and medical supplies," said Sister Joanna Okereke, national director of the Apostleship of the Sea ministry, reminding those gathered of the importance of those they minister. Along with Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of Victoria, Texas, the ministry's bishop promoter, Sister Okereke said she believed it was important to continue this year, even in the midst of a pandemic, the tradition of dedicating the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea -- this time via Zoom. With a virtual background that featured water, Sister Okereke, of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, urged the continued accompaniment of maritime workers.

    Hebda: Pastoral need, not politics, and religious liberty prompt opening

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Representing the bishops of Minnesota, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis met with Gov. Tim Walz May 21 and they met again May 22 following the bishops' decision to resume public Masses at one-third capacity despite the governor's executive order capping faith-based gatherings at 10 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the May 21 meeting, Archbishop Hebda and President Lucas Woodford, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Minnesota South District, were able to explain why they see expanding the allowance as "an urgent need," Archbishop Hebda said. "It was a very good discussion, a frank discussion where the governor explained his rationale for delaying the opening of churches for in-person worship," he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, afterward. He's grateful they had a chance to have that discussion, he said, and hopes Walz changes his executive order. If the governor doesn't, the Catholic bishops still plan to begin holding Masses at one-third church capacity May 26 ahead of Pentecost Sunday, May 31, Archbishop Hebda said. "The actions that the bishops took are in response to our perception of our faithful's hunger and their needs," he said. "It's not a political decision. It's purely a pastoral decision that we have the responsibility, a weighty responsibility as pastors, of feeding our flocks. And so we have to decide how best to do that. And as we look at the situation now, we think the best way to do that is by allowing people to choose to come back to the Eucharist."

    Catholic psychologist calls domestic violence 'pandemic within a pandemic'

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Amid global coronavirus lockdowns, domestic violence has emerged as "a pandemic within a pandemic," said Catholic clinical psychologist Christauria Welland. "Our rates in the U.S. for physical and sexual violence against women were already at one in three," she said. Based in California, Welland has counseled both those who are abused and their abusers for decades. During periods of economic crisis and natural disasters, such rates tend to rise, said Welland, adding that the coronavirus has aggravated conditions for domestic abuse, also known as "intimate partner violence. We're seeing huge increases in anxiety, uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness," she said. "When those who abuse manage their relationships using a template of power that says, 'I'm in control of you," this kind of insecurity makes them feel vulnerable and puts them at risk of becoming violent." Unemployment, food and financial instability, confinement and substance abuse have increased the risk of abuse. In early April, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "peace in homes around the world" in response to a "horrifying surge in domestic violence" due to stay-at-home orders.

    New York Archdiocese issues five-phase plan to gradually reopen churches

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and other church officials announced a multistep plan to reopen the 288 parish churches of the archdiocese as the coronavirus pandemic eases. Called Faith Forward, the plan introduced May 21 offers a five-step phasing that will seek to move gradually and safely toward a return to the availability of the sacraments and, ultimately Sunday Mass attendance, with a limited capacity. The guidelines were outlined during a morning new conference at Our Saviour Church in Manhattan. Msgr. Joseph LaMorte, archdiocesan vicar general, described his work leading a task force comprised of priests and senior staff members of archdiocesan offices that created the guidelines during the past six weeks. He said two driving forces guided task force members in their discussions: a return to the Mass and the sacraments because "everybody misses them very, very much," and safety. Task force members recognized, he added, that the return to the celebration of Mass and the sacraments be accomplished "in a safe, gradual way, following the advice of health officials and observing the guidelines of the elected officials." Because the exposure to the novel coronavirus experienced by Catholics in New York City and nearby suburbs was much greater than in the upper counties of the sprawling archdiocese, "we recognize that not every parish will open at the same time," Msgr. LaMorte said.

    Catholic leaders decry prisoners' exposure to COVID-19 during pandemic

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A May 19 statement by 14 Catholic leaders, including five bishops, decried the danger people in prison are exposed to during the coronavirus pandemic. "Reports of lack of testing suggest measurements of the impact of the virus are incomplete. We are deeply concerned that experiencing COVID-19 from behind bars could, for some, mean a de facto death sentence," the "Statement of Solidarity: A Catholic Response to COVID-19 Behind Bars" said. "The impacts of the coronavirus in jails, prisons, and detention centers are severe. Thousands of incarcerated individuals and facility staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and over 100 people have died," the statement said. According to the Catholic Mobilizing Network, more than 25,000 incarcerated or detained individuals and facility staff had tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 13, and at least 370 have died. "The risk of infection in prisons, jails and detention centers outpaces that of the general population, in part due to under-resourced medical facilities and limited capacity for isolation inside," the organization said in a separate May 19 statement. "Overall, we have seen that jail systems have been quicker to pursue decarceration than prison systems. Recent reports show many jails have reduced their population by over 30%; most prison systems, by contrast, only saw a reduction of around 5%," said a May 21 email to Catholic News Service from Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the Catholic Mobilization Network's executive director.

    New coalition seeks to pull together church's prison ministry efforts

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There are more than 30 Catholic organizations providing some kind of prison ministry in the United States. One reason is because the need is so great, with a prison population estimated at about 2.3 million by the Prison Policy Initiative. But U.S. incarceration rates grew so fast over the past generation, they far outstripped the ability of any one organization to keep up. What's more, few of the organizations had any contact with others to coordinate ministry efforts. That issue is now being addressed by the new Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition, which has slowly come into being over the past two years. Karen Clifton, the coalition's executive coordinator, had been executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the anti-death-penalty organization. Despite its focus on capital punishment and restorative justice, the network would be approached with requests for resources on issues regarding prisons and prisoners from people who knew of nowhere else to turn. In early 2018, the Vatican sent a questionnaire to the papal nunciature in Washington asking about the state of prison ministry in the United States, according to Harry Dudley, then staff to the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service. Dudley, who has since retired, got the ministry organizations "to really tell them from their perspective what was going on. And all of those reports were sent to my desk, and I was asked to compile them and follow up," he said.

    Catechist has special message for children waiting for first Communion

    METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) -- May is the month many eagerly await because it is the time many children receive first holy Communion. Sadly, this year the coronavirus has made pastors postpone this momentous milestone in the spiritual lives of waiting first communicants. Not wanting her young students to think they have been forgotten, Coleen D'Amato, who has been preparing her 78 boys and girls to receive Jesus into their hearts sacramentally, decided to talk to them via social media. In a heartwarming message to the children, D'Amato, who has served for the past three years as parish catechetical leader at Immaculate Conception Parish in Annandale, New Jersey, told her class: "I know that you have waited and longed to receive our Lord's Most Precious Body and Most Precious Blood in the holy Eucharist and you will." She acknowledged they had done a lot of preparation for the sacrament and many parents had planned parties and family get-togethers for their special day, but now everything was put on hold because of the coronavirus. Continuing, D'Amato said, "Sometimes it's hard to wait for something we really want, but you are going to have to be patient." She then posed a question, "Being patient can be hard, can't it? I struggle with that, too," she added.

    Pandemic has changed parish outreach methods 'forever,' says evangelist

    NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- During two months of social isolation, the work of American business has migrated, ready or not, into the home. If pajamas have become the new workplace attire and the sofa has been transformed into the new desktop, where does that leave a U.S. Catholic Church yearning to stay connected with its parishioners through Zoom liturgies and Facebook Live spiritual pep talks pumped into living rooms by social media? For Scot Landry, the Boston-based Catholic evangelist whose vocation as co-leader of Dynamic Catholic requires him to think in broad strokes, the church has a unique opportunity to step up to the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. "I think the Catholic Church and every parish is going to be different because of the virus and how we've responded," said Landry, qualifying his answer because of the unknowns about how long it will take to find a vaccine or a therapeutic medicine to combat the virus. But, "the parishes that have invested in technology and robust communication with their parishioners have done much better throughout the last eight weeks." One of the major advances, Landry said, will be in the number of parishes who move forward with plans to offer online giving so that people can more easily "support the mission." "Some of the parishes who have immensely struggled over the last eight weeks are the ones that relied almost exclusively on the weekly Sunday offertory," Landry told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans' archdiocesan newspaper. "Liturgically, it's a very important part of our Mass to bring up the gifts, but it's far from 'best' if our parishes are going to have consistent support from their parishioners." Livestreamed Masses are here "forever," Landry said.

    Catholic volunteers in India mobilize in response to Cyclone Amphan

    BHOPAL, India (CNS) -- Catholic volunteers provided food and shelter to hundreds of people in coastal eastern India after Cyclone Amphan devastated the region May 20, killing 80 people and destroying thousands of homes. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to travel to West Bengal and Odisha states to review the situation. The most powerful cyclone to hit eastern India and Bangladesh in more than 20 years tore down homes, carried cars down flooded streets and inundated farmland. Reports said it was the first such cyclone that Kolkata had experienced in about three centuries. Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, asked parishes to open their facilities to people left homeless by the storm, feed them, and assist anyone in need. Although Odisha state frequently witnesses cyclones and the last superstorm hit it in 1999, West Bengal usually have escaped powerful cyclones. Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, was once India's capital under British colonial rule. "It was the worst and most terrifying experience I ever had in my life," said Father Franklin Menezes, social work director of the Archdiocese of Kolkata.

    Italy: Study shows increase in prayer, religious fervor amid pandemic

    ROME (CNS) -- The uncertainty and restrictive measures in place due to the coronavirus pandemic caused an increase in prayers and religious fervor in Italy, a recent study said. The study, which was released May 22, was conducted by the State University of Milan, to "daily monitor public opinion during the COVID-19 emergency" and the impact it "has had on the religiosity of Italians." After lockdown restrictions forced churches to close their doors, "the frequency of prayer and participation in religious services increased, although these could be attended only virtually," the report stated. The study was based on interviews with 4,600 people across Italy from April 20 to May 15. It showed the highest percentage increase in prayer during the pandemic was among Catholics who did not attend church at least once a week; 16% more of those who reported going to Mass at least once a month, but not every week, said they prayed each day during the pandemic.

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  • Pandemic may lead to changes in the way schools operate, say educators

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- It's been a strange year for Catholic schools. "In all my years of teaching, I've never experienced anything like this," said Marsha Wharton, principal of St. Edward School in Nashville. "But you try to make the best of it." Schools in the Diocese of Nashville were forced to send their students home in mid-March and finish the year with distance learning, due to precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "The hardest thing about all this is every week it's changed," said Michael Deely, headmaster of Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tennessee. "It's the constant anxiety of the unknown." Schools have had to adjust not only how they deliver an education to students confined to their homes, but also a host of traditional end-of-the-year events, including graduation. "We're monitoring state guidelines" for when and how large groups will be permitted to gather, said Rebecca Hammel, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Nashville. "Everyone hoped to have face-to-face graduations, but in Davidson County that's not possible to do that for a while," she said. "We're looking at different options and opportunities," she said, including rescheduling graduation ceremonies to June or July. "We really hope conditions allow us to do something face-to-face."

    Smith says China's threats over House action on pandemic won't deter him

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When China threatened May 14 to retaliate against U.S. politicians for their support of federal lawsuits over the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the proposals involved stopping all trade involving certain states, including Missouri. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who sponsored his own bill to strip China of its sovereign immunity and allow Americans to sue the Chinese government, thinks that for him, the Chinese will revert to a familiar tactic. "Chinese hackers got to my office computers in 2005 and 2007," Smith told Catholic News Service May 19. He called it "a major, major attack" to find personally identifiable information on both his staff members and at least two Chinese dissidents, Chen Guangcheng and Wei Jinshang, he was helping at the time. Also hit were office computers of now-retired Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia. Smith, a Catholic, who has served in Congress since 1981, has chaired over 60 hearings on Chinese human rights abuses. He also was the House sponsor of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which requires the U.S. government to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong King officials who commit human rights abuses, including forced abortions and coerced sterilization. So he's accustomed to receiving threats, and was not surprised to read, in official Chinese media, the call for "countermeasures that will make them feel the pain. That's how they operate. They could easily cross that corner and come after individuals."

    Food for those in need includes cookies baked by award-winning Capuchin

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington provided 800 prepared meals and 800 boxes of groceries to needy families May 19 during a massive distribution at the parking lot of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Unlike previous food distributions conducted by Catholic Charities since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, the May 19 food giveaway included cookies baked by an award-winning pastry chef who also happens to be a religious brother preparing for the priesthood. Capuchin Franciscan Brother Andrew Corriente baked about 1,600 peanut butter, chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies to be distributed with the meals and groceries. "I wanted to make all-American favorites," he explained of his choice of cookies. "And, as much as I wanted to be adventurous, I never made this many cookies before, so I wanted to stay with something simple." Brother Andrew, a fourth-year master of divinity student at The Catholic University of America and resident of Capuchin College, was crowned last January as the champion on ABC's "The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition." He beat out nine other bakers for the title during the nationally televised challenge. He was a popular contestant who trended on social media as "Brother Baker." "Catholic Charities came to me and said they were going to feed 800 families, and as crazy as I am, I just jumped on it," Brother Andrew told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

    Panelists admit sacramental life is hard without the dimension of touch

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a "touchless" environment spawned by the coronavirus pandemic, living out the church's sacramental life is tough without the element of touch: the reception of the Eucharist, the baptism with water, the laying on of hands, the anointing with oil. Even so, good works have continued to flourish despite this missing dimension, remarked panelists during a May 19 forum on COVID-19 and the sacramental life of the church. "We've stopped baptisms in Chicago. We've stopped all the weddings and funerals. All those ordinations we were going to do? All those ordinations have been stopped," said Father Richard Fragomeni, a professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, during the forum, part of the National Conference on Catechetical Leadership's online "Witness" conference. "There are some constants about liturgy, some constants about our sacramental world, some constants about our sacramentality. But all of those constants like participation, the laying on of hands, eating and drinking, bread, wine, oil, fire, water, all of those constants can only be shaped and celebrated and realized in specific contexts. And since the Second Vatican Council, we have been appreciating them more," Father Fragomeni said. "You see someone else reach out with love and give someone a helping hand. That's just a whole different ballgame and we're seeing that very much today in this COVID crisis," said Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a social scientist and a columnist for Religion News Service. "The first responders and the nurses and the doctors who take care of people who are sick and put their lives at risk. Any sensible person would run. If that's not the power of the Spirit," he added, he doesn't know what is. "I think we should be surprised by love and not take it for granted."

    There's a place for film in catechesis, Catholic filmmakers declare

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There is a time and a place for everything, but in catechesis, there should be time and a place for film, argued three top executives of the Catholic film production company ODB Films. "It's one thing for a man or a woman to film themselves giving a letter, giving a teaching," said Doug Tooke, vice president of ministry development at ODB, an acronym for "Outside Da Box." "The power of story as a means of invitation to relationships and conversation is much more difficult. " Tooke added, "Shooting narratives for use with catechesis is harder," but worth the effort. He was joined by ODB president Eric Groth and lead producer Katie Reidy, who is co-producer of a 30-minute documentary in ODB's "Restored" series that was shown during their May 14 presentation as part of the National Conference on Catechetical Leadership's online "Witness" conference. ODB made the feature films "Full of Grace" and "Paul, Apostle of Christ." "We're all called to that -- to live our life of holiness, to strive for sainthood," Groth said. But "those saints feel so far off in the distance, and unattainable."

    Pandemic's turmoil an opening to boost protection of creation, bishops say

    CLEVELAND (CNS) -- The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world into turmoil, but Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical on care for creation can guide individuals to reassess life's priorities in response, a trio of prelates agreed during an online roundtable discussion. Such reflection can lead to a fundamental personal conversion away from materialism and consumerism and toward new values rooted in the protection of the fragile environment, they said. The encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," was the focus of an hourlong conversation May 20 hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops among Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego and Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles as part of a week of programs, activities and prayer observing the document's fifth anniversary worldwide. "What strikes me most is the whole notion of ecological conversion," Archbishop Coakley said of the pope's encyclical. "That's a very fruitful path, I think, for a way into the document and the teaching of the Holy Father." The idea of conversion permeated comments from all three prelates. They encouraged Catholics and non-Catholics alike as they reflect on the fundamental questions of what matters most in daily life: family, a home and food. "So the conversion is a biblical conversion, a conversion to a different worldview," Bishop Barron said, explaining that God has not just redeemed people but creation as well. "That's a deep level of conversion of consciousness," he said.

    The quiet pandemic victims: Those grieving death

    TORONTO (CNS) -- The quiet victims during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic have been those grieving the death of a loved one. A different aspect of grieving has been introduced to a lot of people due to public health restrictions keeping people from properly sharing their grief when a loved one dies, as social distancing measures mean large-scale celebrations like funerals are forbidden, and the accompanying visitations and other processes surrounding death are just not possible. For many, there is no closure. These are integral parts of the grieving process and largely hidden as the world focuses on getting through the current crisis. "The ritualized grief experience ... for the most part has been taken away," said Deacon Curtis Boone. As a grief counselor, Deacon Boone sees this on a daily basis. He sees the heartbreak, where even visiting the gravesite of a loved one is forbidden as cemeteries are locked. He shares the pain he has encountered when dealing with the bereaved.

    SIGNIS: Catholic media vital for accurate news, stories of faith, hope

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of SIGNIS urged the world's bishops as the "chief storyteller" in their diocese to use all media at their disposal to "make known" stories "of faith and hope" and of local Catholic heroes who exemplify Christ's love to give people courage in "difficult times," like this current pandemic. Catholic media outlets also can provide "basic tools" to the faithful "to spot" false stories, such the narratives about the "Chinese" virus causing the pandemic and rumors of "dangerous fake cures," said Helen Osman, who heads SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, based in Brussels. She made the comments in a statement issued ahead of World Communications Day, which is May 24. A former diocesan editor and former communications secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Osman is currently a communications consultant for the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops in Austin. Pope Francis' message for this year's World Communications Day is: "That you may tell your children and grandchildren" (Ex 10:2): Life becomes history." The pope "reminds us of the importance of the stories we tell, especially in the midst of the din of media that leave us feeling dislocated," Osman said. "The narratives that we live by must reflect the vision of the interconnectedness of all human life."

    Homeland Security decision doesn't surprise Catholics working at border

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The recent decision by the Department of Homeland Security to extend restrictions on nonessential crossings of the southern border due to the COVID-19 pandemic did not surprise Catholics who work with migrants in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. They said the decision, which includes a freeze on asylum claims and the immediate expulsion of migrants, only deepened the difficulties migrants confront as they wait in dangerous Mexican border towns, where criminal groups often try to kidnap them. "It's taking advantage of the virus as a means to continue deterring (migrants) from coming," Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said of U.S. border policy implemented with a March 20 emergency order. "The more the rules are extended, the harder and longer it will be for migrants," said Dominican Brother Obed Cuellar, director of the diocesan Dignified Border shelter in Piedras Negras, Mexico, which borders Eagle Pass, Texas, and has been closed for two months. "We were expecting this." The May 19 extension involves a provision known as Title 42, first invoked by the U.S. with the March 20 coronavirus emergency. It allows for the exclusion of people and property "by reason of the existence of any communicable disease in a foreign country," according to the Federal Register.

    Minnesota bishops not waiting for governor, resuming larger Masses May 26

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Minnesota's bishops are moving ahead with plans to resume Masses at one-third church capacity May 26, a plan that defies current state directives limiting faith-based gatherings to 10 or fewer people. The bishops announced the plan in a May 20 letter to the faithful following a news conference where Gov. Tim Walz and other members of his administration outlined a plan for the reopening of restaurants, bars and salons. With no definite timeline from the state for a wider reopening of places of worship, despite repeated requests from the bishops and several meetings with members of the Walz administration, the bishops said they are giving parishes statewide permission to begin celebrating public Mass. "Our decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass was painful," the bishops stated in a May 20 letter to the faithful. "We made that decision not because we were compelled to do so, but because we judged that the circumstances required it. We believe that those circumstances have changed, as confirmed by the governor's decision to end the stay-at-home order and allow more commerce." Their plan, they said, would allow parishes to begin celebrating Mass at one-third capacity ahead of and in preparation for Pentecost, May 31. The bishops emphasized that they have demonstrated willingness to collaborate with the Walz administration, and that they have sought guidance of state health officials to strengthen safety protocols.

    Sporting event shows values needed in pandemic aftermath, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sports can offer a unique witness of unity that can build a "bridge of peace" between men and women of different religions and cultures and promote solidarity, Pope Francis said. In his first audience after restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were eased, the pope met with a group of Olympians, Paralympians and Special Olympians who were to take part in an international meeting of athletes sponsored by the Vatican sports association. Unable to take part in the race due to the pandemic, the athletes met with the pope May 20 in the library of the Apostolic Palace shortly after his weekly general audience. According to a statement by Vatican Athletic, the event will now take the form of a charity auction to benefit two Italian medical facilities that "have distinguished themselves in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic: the Pope John XXIII Hospital in Bergamo and the Poliambulanza Foundation in Brescia." In his off-the-cuff remarks to the athletes, the pope thanked them for offering their joy and happiness through "the beauty of sport. This is an important thing: to understand how to give beauty," he said. "This helps because what you are doing is not an exercise, let's say, in speed or sports. That is true, but there's more. It means giving to others."

    Pope: Church's preferential option for the poor is nonnegotiable

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A missionary or church reality that is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit "manifests predilection for the poor and vulnerable as a sign and reflection of the Lord's own preference for them," Pope Francis told the pontifical mission societies. In a message May 21, the pope said that those involved with the church's missionary activity "should never justify their lack of concern for the poor with the excuse, widely used in particular ecclesiastical circles, of having to concentrate their energies on certain priorities for the mission. For the church, a preference for the poor is not optional," he said. The mission societies, which are under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. The societies help poor churches and communities around the world and support more than 9,000 health clinics, 10,000 orphanages, 1,200 schools, 80,000 seminarians and 9,000 religious sisters and brothers in more than 1,150 mission dioceses -- mostly in Africa and Asia. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the societies' annual general assembly was canceled, prompting the pope to send them the message "in order to share what I had intended to say to you personally."

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  • Templeton winner's 'every waking moment' focused on efforts to cure COVID

    WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (CNS) -- Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist and physician who is director of the National Institutes of Health outside Washington in Bethesda, Maryland, is the 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project to its successful completion in 2003, has advocated for the integration of faith and reason throughout his career. He is a member of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, aims to recognize someone "who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works." The announcement was made online at May 20 the John Templeton Foundation in West Conshohocken and by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Templeton Religion Trust in Nassau, Bahamas. In a statement, Collins, who has headed NIH since Aug. 17, 2009, said that "almost my every waking moment is consumed by the effort to find treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19. ... I grieve at the suffering and death I see all around, and at times I confess I am assailed by doubts about how a loving God would permit such tragedies. But then I remember that the God who hung on the cross is intimately familiar with suffering ... (and is) 'our refuge and strength' (Psalm 46)."

    Death penalty opponents decry first execution carried out amid pandemic

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic advocates against the death penalty spoke out against Missouri's May 19 execution of a death-row inmate, Walter Barton, whose death by lethal injection was the first execution to happen during the pandemic. So far, amid the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, eight executions have been rescheduled citing concerns over COVD-19 infections. "Our nation has gone to great lengths to save lives and prevent unnecessary loss of life during the COVID-19 crisis," said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice. "It's tragically contradictory that Missouri put a man to death amidst the herculean efforts we see daily to protect life," she said in a statement, adding that his execution was "wrong-headed and unconscionable." Capital punishment opponents also pointed out that Barton's execution went forward despite his strong claims of innocence.

    Minnesota allows Masses to resume, but for most, 10-person limit too small

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Limiting the congregation to 10 people per Mass, sanitizing hands and encouraging face masks were steps a parish in North St. Paul made to start public Masses the week of May 18. "I think it was a real yearning for our priests here. Our parishioners were yearning for it as well," said Jeff Peterson, chief of staff at St. Peter Parish, which is served by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo. Initially anticipating that at least a third of the church could be used -- allowing more people per Mass -- St. Peter and many other parishes across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis geared up for the first public Masses since mid-March. But Gov. Tim Walz's much-anticipated May 18 loosening of some COVID-19 safety directives continued to limit religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people. That prompted some parishes, such as Pax Christi in Eden Prairie, to start planning for 10-person public Masses beginning May 26, while other parishes wait in hopes of a more promising start after Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the state's other Catholic bishops discussed that directive with Walz's administration May 18 and 19. On May 15, the archbishop expressed disappointment with the 10-person limit Walz announced May 13 when unveiling the next phase of the state's COVID-19 response, Stay Safe Minnesota. The governor's stay-at-home order expired May 18. In anticipation of that order's expiration, Minnesota's Catholic bishops asked parishes May 1 to prepare to resume public Masses by May 18 at one-third church capacity. The governor's most recent executive order has prompted the bishops to reconsider the date for opening. Archbishop Hebda said in a May 15 statement that the bishops would announce their next steps toward public Masses following their meetings with Walz's administration.

    Team effort helped convince Indians, Bangladeshis to evacuate for cyclone

    DELHI, India (CNS) -- Sheltering people from one of the strongest storms in more than a decade required convincing affected Indians and Bangladeshi that evacuation centers would have masks and other coronavirus protections in place, a Catholic Relief Services representative said. Cyclone Amphan slammed into low-lying areas of India and Bangladesh May 20, bringing winds of up to 115 miles an hour and surging waters as high as 16 feet. Nearly 3 million people have evacuated their homes and moved to emergency shelters in the two countries. In a coronavirus lockdown, this "natural disaster is doubly traumatic, and people will want to go back to their homes as soon as possible," Senthil Kumar, Catholic Relief Services' representative for India, said May 20 from Delhi. With COVID-19, "people were wary of going to shelters," he said, noting that with widespread understanding "of the need for social distancing and hygiene" measures, "people weren't sure how this would work in the evacuation centers."

    'Not even a murderer' loses dignity, right to life, Florida bishop says

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CNS) -- In his fifth pastoral letter since becoming head of the Diocese of St. Augustine nine years ago, Bishop Felipe J. Estevez said Catholics "are called to stand for the inviolability and dignity of all human life." This holds true "even when a person whose life is in the balance has made great mistakes, such as taking another's life. Not even a murderer loses his dignity," he said in his 20-page pastoral on the death penalty in Florida. "Protecting human rights and the inviolable dignity of each human made in the image of God motivates me to publish this pastoral letter on this controversial social issue," Bishop Estevez said. "Our system of incarceration needs to change from inhumane punishment to hopeful rehabilitation. Everyone must be concerned that not a single innocent human is condemned to deadly execution." The 20-page document, released in mid-May, is titled "Standing Up for the Dignity of all Human Life: A Pastoral Letter on Capital Punishment in Florida." It addresses the teachings of the church about the intrinsic value and God-given dignity of every human life from conception until natural death. "We believe that God -- and only God -- is the author of every human being, and only God should determine the end of that life," the bishop wrote. To download a copy of Bishop Estevez's pastoral letter, visit

    Justice Dept. says California's pandemic plan should open churches sooner

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The U.S. Department of Justice is challenging the "unequal treatment of faith communities" in California's coronavirus reopening plan, warning that continued restrictions on worship services threaten believers' civil rights to practice their religion. "Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband in a three-page letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom May 19. Under Newsom's May 4 "road map" for opening the state back up, "in-person religious services" will not be allowed until the third phase of his four-phase plan. The plan lists houses of worship among "higher risk environments," such as movie theaters and sporting events. The state is currently in the initial stages of "Phase 2," meaning that many retail facilities and other businesses are allowed to begin operations with social distancing. The Justice Department said this "differential treatment" of religious worshippers is an unfair imposition on "constitutionally protected religious worship."

    Jehovah's Witnesses case spotlights religious freedom issue in Russia

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. official praised Belarus for releasing a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses that Russia wanted extradited. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, praised the government of President Alexander Lukashenko for releasing Nikolai Makhalichev. Wicker described the Witnesses as a "peaceful faith community" and welcomed the release of Makhalichev, who faced 10 years of jail in Russia for being a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. In a statement May 19, Wicker cautioned that Russia and other "autocratic governments" were using Interpol warrants to "engage in transnational repression," as well as foreign "surveillance, abduction and assassination." A senior Russian Catholic priest voiced concern at the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, adding that it had damaged the reputation of Russia and its predominant Orthodox Church. "Jehovah's Witnesses have been stripped of Russian citizenship and are being deliberately persecuted. This is scandalous and deeply worrying," said the priest, who asked that his name not be used. He added, "There may be various reasons for extradition, such as the committing of a crime unconnected with faith -- so each case must be considered separately."

    PPP loans to parishes not as large, or as many, as some believe

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Paycheck Protection Program loans to parishes did not meet the number of parishes, or the size of the loans, listed in some news reports, according to Patrick Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference. A Washington Post report said 13,000 U.S. parishes had received PPP loans. In truth, Markey said, "round one was (that) 9,000-10,000 applied, and about 6,000 had received funds. In the second round, about 5,000 applied, and of those, 3,000 said they had their applications received." He added, "Since it looks like about 3,000 in the first round didn't make it -- and 3,000 had their applications accepted immediately (in the second round) -- I assume they were already in the pipeline." The numbers were gleaned from a DFMC questionnaire sent to parishes. Markey said there will be no second questionnaire to parishes, as "they all sound like they got beaten up by the press." The amount of money given to parishes has also been inflated in some media accounts.

    During Laudato Si' Week, 24 Catholic entities divest from fossil fuels

    CLEVELAND (CNS) -- The justice and peace commission of the Bangladeshi bishops' conference as well as dioceses in Brazil, Indonesia and Ireland are among the latest institutions announcing their intent to divest from fossil fuel companies. The entities are among 24 Catholic and 18 other faith institutions in 14 countries that have decided to divest or to avoid investments in oil, coal, natural gas and other carbon-based energy sources, the Global Catholic Climate Movement said. The May 18 announcement came as Catholics worldwide were observing Laudato Si' Week to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis signing his encyclical on the environment and the common good May 24, 2015. Daniela Finamore, divestment campaign coordinator with the Global Catholic Climate Movement, said it was important to continue the four-year-old divestment campaign in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. "During this moment of lockdown, there was an important need from other communities to communicate more, to stay close even if remotely," Finamore told Catholic News Service from Italy. "We realized it was important to tie the week to the divestment announcement, to show that there is a strong message of hope at this moment of crisis." The faith community, she said, wanted to share the message that "we need to change the curve (on using fossil fuels) and not go back to the way things were before the lockdown, that this is the right moment to invest in the right things, in the resilience of our communities."

    Update: Dozens gather virtually to sing psalms, hymns and inspired songs

    PONTIAC, Mich. (CNS) -- Notre Dame Preparatory High School's choir and alumni are bringing the world a little closer together, even when it remains far apart. On April 19, the school released a video that featured 92 singers -- 67 current students and 25 alumni and teachers -- singing a rendition of "He Never Failed Me Yet" by Robert Ray, best known for his 1979 "Gospel Mass." The five-minute video features shots of all 92 singers performing in unison, conducted by David Fazzini, director of choirs at Notre Dame Prep. In Italy, Coro Navicella got its 28 members to sing "Regina Coeli" a cappella in four-part harmony. A few new faces pop up from time to time, but each singer had to record separately, and then be mixed into the final version. Also, a similar video was created and produced by Salt and Light Media, in collaboration with Oregon Catholic Press. Salt and Light Media gathered dozens of Catholic liturgical musicians, dubbing them "Catholic Artists From Home," to sing "Be Not Afraid," the popular hymn written by Jesuit Father Bob Dufford of St. Louis Jesuits fame. The video contains a fourth verse to the hymn not found in many hymnals. All three videos -- "He Never Failed Me Yet," "Regina Coeli" and "Be Not Afraid" -- can be found on YouTube.

    Father Adolfo Nicolas, former Jesuit superior, dies in Tokyo

    TOKYO (CNS) -- The Jesuit General Curia in Rome announced that its former superior general, Father Adolfo Nicolas, died May 20 in Tokyo. He was 84. He was a member of the Jesuit community of Loyola House in Kamishakujii and had been ill for several years, reported A statement said he is deeply mourned by the Jesuits of Japan and Asia-Pacific, his family and compatriots in Spain, and his many friends around the world. "I offer my sincere condolences to the Jesuit province of Japan, to Father Nicolas' family, to the Jesuits in Spain and the Philippines and to his many friends all around the world," said Father Arturo Sosa, current superior general. "Father Nicolas gave of himself throughout his life. It was a life marked by intense service, calm availability and a deep ability to inculturate in Japan, where he went as a young Jesuit. It was a culture he loved dearly and to which he committed himself.

    Update: Pope merges Anchorage Archdiocese, Juneau Diocese; names archbishop

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has merged the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, and the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, and erected the new ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau. He also has appointed Juneau Bishop Andrew E. Bellisario to head the newly configured archdiocese. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States, announced the merger and the new appointment May 19 in Washington. The new archbishop has been serving as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Anchorage since Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Paul D. Etienne as coadjutor of the Seattle Archdiocese in April 2019. On Sept. 3, 2019, Archbishop Etienne automatically became the head of the archdiocese when Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain retired. Archbishop Bellisario, 63, was named the sixth bishop of Juneau July 11, 2017. His episcopal ordination and installation was Oct. 10, 2017. The prelate was ordained a Vincentian priest. He entered the Congregation of the Mission in 1975 and was ordained June 16, 1984. The Archdiocese of Anchorage was established Feb. 9, 1966, by St. Paul VI. The archdiocese's territories came from the Juneau Diocese. It currently covers 138,985 square miles in south-central Alaska. The estimated Catholic population is 24,115 out of a total population of about 481,000 -- which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the population of the entire state of Alaska.

    Vatican cautions Israel over West Bank annexation plan

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Holy See is concerned about an Israeli plan to unilaterally annex a large portion of land in the West Bank, said a Vatican statement. "The Holy See is following the situation closely and expresses concern about any future actions that could further compromise dialogue," said the statement released May 20. The Vatican press office said the statement came after Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, was contacted by telephone by Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator and secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Erekat, it said, wanted "to inform the Holy See about recent developments in the Palestinian territories and of the possibility of Israeli applying its sovereignty unilaterally to part of those territories, further jeopardizing the peace process."

    Vatican distributes notes on cleaning, protecting church objects

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To help prevent damaging artistic and historically significant objects, the Pontifical Council for Culture released suggestions for cleaning and disinfecting church buildings, furnishings and sacred objects. And under no circumstances, it said, should a painting or historical document be disinfected. In a statement published on its website May 20, the council said it distributed the guidelines after some reports that "the necessary disinfection of areas, vestments and sacred vessels for worship has been carried out in some cases using detergents that are not suitable for objects of art and cultural heritage." The document, it said, was "drawn up not by the Pontifical Council for Culture, but shared by it. It offers simple indications to avoid causing irreversible damage to the most precious and delicate objects present in our churches." The pontifical council also recommended "that priests or those in charge of the churches make contact with the cultural heritage specialists in their diocese or competent civil authorities, especially in the most delicate cases."

    Wonder at gift of creation opens human hearts to prayer, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The mystery and wonder of God's creation can open the hearts of men and women to express their gratitude through prayer, Pope Francis said. During a live broadcast of his weekly general audience from the library of the Apostolic Palace May 20, the pope said that human beings are "the only creature aware of such a profusion of beauty" and cannot help but "wonder what design of love must be behind such a powerful work. The prayer of man and woman is closely linked to the feeling of wonder," he said. "Human greatness is miniscule when compared to the dimensions of the universe. The greatest human achievements seem to be few and far between" when compared to God's creations. The pope's reflection coincided with the observance of "Laudato Si' Week" May 16-24. The weeklong event was promoted as an occasion for Catholics to look at steps they have taken to protect the environment and assist the world's poor people. Before concluding his talk, the pope said that in contemplating God's creation, Christians can be inspired to give thanks to God through prayer. "We are children of the great King, the Creator, capable of reading his signature in all of creation, that creation which we don't care for today. But in that creation, there is the signature of God who made it out of love," he said.

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  • Jesuit presents book on how religion, ethics can shape refugee response

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the global number of refugees is at an all-time high of more than 70 million, the world has become a less welcoming place for many of them, said Jesuit Father David Hollenbach during a May 19 launch of his book "Humanity in Crisis: How Ethics and Religion Shape Policy Responses to Refugees" via Zoom video. But faith-based communities, including many Catholic organizations, have set an example in how to respond, with compassion and justice, to the crisis, said Father Hollenbach, a professor at Georgetown University. Faith-based organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, and Islamic Relief, have helped with resettlement efforts, offering refugees hope in situations that could lead to despair, offering nourishment, recognizing refugees' human dignity and reaching across religious as well as nonreligious boundaries to help. However, referencing the "Humanity in Crisis" title of his book, he said society globally is facing "a kind of shattering" of the common humanity that binds us together and the human family has become one that is "building walls," even against the vulnerable. "To keep people out ... that fractures our common or shared humanity and that's also a very severe crisis we face in the world," he said. The event, livestreamed by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown, addressed how caring for refugees is central to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That's because each faith tradition "has roots in migration and displacement."

    Nun leads young Kenyans to make 'little contributions' to Laudato Si'

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- A Catholic nun is working with young Kenyans to put Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si'" into action. They have had discussions about the environment and have even planted trees outside their meeting places, said Franciscan Sister Mary Frances Wangari, director of Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation for the Franciscans in Africa. "This way, we believe we are making our 'little' contributions toward the pastoral wishes of the Holy Father," she told Catholic News Service. "I am carrying out my mission through the young people -- Catholics and non-Catholics," she told CNS as the church began marking Laudato Si' Week, May 16-24. Each year, she said, she has gathered about 1,000 young Africans to discuss issues addressed in the papal letter. She said she draws primarily from Kenyan Catholic universities. She said she feels strongly that the church has "room for increasing our commitment on this issue" of the interconnectedness of "our common home," as the pope said in his encyclical. "Our bishops must make every effort to see to it that this is intensified," she added.

    In Arkansas family, all hands put to work to design children's missalette

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Grace Dickinson is blunt in her 12-year-old wisdom -- the Catholic missalette is boring. But not because of the Scriptures, which are filled with exciting stories of our faith, but the presentation itself. "It doesn't appeal to kids," she said. "It only has color on the front page." And in a family of eight -- parents Kevin and Tiffany Dickinson, both 37, and six children 14 and younger -- staying focused at Mass can be a challenge. "It's trial and error," Tiffany said, with Kevin adding, "Bribes," of doughnuts after either 9 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, or the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Raphael in Springdale, Arkansas. To make the Scriptures come alive, the family is creating "Diary of a God Man," a comic-book-style missalette to not only keep children engaged in the liturgy, but to give them an understanding of the Bible on their level. Their team includes mom Tiffany as the spiritual director and dad Kevin as supervisor. Tiffany is a graduate student, working on her doctorate as a nurse practitioner, and her husband is a small-business owner of Preferred Office Technologies in Fayetteville.

    Catholic colleges, universities face pandemic's financial punch

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The coronavirus pandemic that has impacted the health and economy of the nation particularly dealt a blow to Catholic higher education, from the large universities with hefty endowments to smaller liberal arts schools. Two articles posted online May 13 in The Washington Post illustrate the scope of the financial situation for two very different Catholic universities located just five miles away from each other. One focused on Georgetown University's budget cuts as it faced a $50 million shortfall while another article examined the impact of federal aid, and lack of it, for students without legal documentation, affecting Trinity Washington University, a women's university which serves predominantly African American and Latina students. At Trinity, DACA students make up 10% of the enrollment. These students are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that allows qualified adults who arrived in the U.S. as children without legal documentation to attend college without the threat of deportation. Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, college students were eligible for student aid, which Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, said she immediately applied for only to later find out the requirements for it had changed to exclude students without legal documentation. "I have never been in a situation where you get the money and you're still getting the rules after the fact," McGuire told the Post.

    African church leaders work to curb domestic abuse during lockdown

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- On the night of May 9, Edward Okello, an aeronautical engineer, died when a kitchen knife was plunged into his chest. Vigilance Shighi later said she did not know how the weapon hit her boyfriend, who had beaten her. Such incidents are removing the veil of domestic violence, which church officials and experts say is rising during government-enforced measures to fight COVID-19. Now, African Catholic leaders want the crimes tackled. "We need to address the matter urgently. I think fear, panic and anxiety related to COVID-19 measures are to blame," Father Josiah Muthee Mugera, executive secretary of the Kenyan bishops' commission for the lay apostolate, told Catholic News Service. Most African governments announced lockdowns and curfews in March, barred visits to public places and shut places of worship, including churches and mosques. They also confined children at home with their parents after shutting down schools. Church officials said the measures caught many in the continent by surprise. The confinement has triggered stress among the people while increasing tensions in homes, creating a fertile ground for domestic and sexual violence. At the same time, fears around loss of jobs and financial stress are increasing the likelihood of violent conflicts at home, officials said.

    Catholic doctors say churches essential, offer 'road map' to safely reopen

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- A blue-ribbon panel of Catholic doctors from some of the nation's top research hospitals and universities said churches should be able to reopen "as safely as other essential services," after being shut down for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a document published on the Catholic Medical Association website,, and sent out to the nation's bishops the week of May 11, the seven-member panel offered a "road map" for the nation's churches, including guidance on how to hear confessions and resume public celebrations of the Eucharist. "I believe that churches can be just as safe, if not at times safer than so-called 'essential businesses,' provided they take the precautions that are recommended in this document," said Dr. Anushree Shirali, a nephrologist at the Yale University School of Medicine who has been treating coronavirus dialysis patients since the pandemic broke out in March. The doctors said the Catholic Church should be guided by "faith and reason, especially in times of crisis," and they urge the church to "comply with state and local regulations." Among other guidelines, they urged Communion be distributed in the hand. They emphasized churches should be regarded as essential partners in rebuilding society in the wake of the pandemic.

    Extreme caution tops checklists for Catholic colleges to reopen in fall

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Long before graduation ceremonies are over, college administrators usually have an eye on the upcoming fall semester. And this year, even with virtual commencement ceremonies, the look to the next academic year is inevitable. Except this year is completely different. Because this fall, unlike any other new college year, a big unknown is the extent the country could still be in the midst of the pandemic that has already upended the nation's health and economy, and going back to business as usual just isn't on any back-to-school checklist. Colleges nationwide started pulling their students out of study-abroad programs in Europe in late February and early March as the coronavirus hit Italy. By mid-March as the virus spread in the United States, most colleges sent their students home with an indefinite date to resume in-person classes, and then they extended the transition to online education through the end of the spring semester. And while most summer in-person programs have been canceled, many schools hope to be ready to welcome students back in the fall. To this end, colleges and universities have put pandemic task force teams in place evaluating every possible measure necessary to ensure the safety of entire school communities.

    Learn from St. John Paul, pope tells young people

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young men and women today can learn from the example of St. John Paul II, who proved that life's difficulties are not an obstacle to holiness and happiness. Despite losing his mother, father and brother at a young age and experiencing the atrocities of Nazism and atheistic communism, St. John Paul passed the "test of maturity and faith" and chose to rely "on the power of Christ, who died and rose again," the pope said in a May 18 video message to young people in Poland. The message, which was sent to mark the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul's birth, was addressed to young people of the Archdiocese of Krakow, where then-Cardinal Wojtyla served as archbishop from 1964 until his election to the papacy in 1978. The centennial celebration, the pope said, was a "beautiful opportunity" to address young people whom St. John Paul "loved very much. St. John Paul II was an extraordinary gift of God to the church and to Poland, your homeland," he said. "His earthly pilgrimage, which began on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice and ended 15 years ago in Rome, was marked by a passion for life and a fascination for the mystery of God, the world and man."

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  • Bring holiness to the world by loving God, creation, others, says bishop

    SALINA, Kan. (CNS) -- While only a dozen people attended at the annual St. Isidore Day May 15 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina, the audience -- and hopefully awareness -- of the event reached beyond those in attendance. "We've been planning on working around the pandemic since March," said Art Befort, president of the Salina Diocese Rural Life Commission. Instead of hosting the annual event in the western portion of the diocese, it was held at the cathedral, with a livestream of the Mass available online. "There's another level we have access to when we have streaming and other people can watch it," he said. In addition to the livestream of the Mass and also the "blessing of the flock," the commission invited priests from around the diocese to bless flocks and fields, and uploaded videos and photos to share on May 15, the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer. "The benefit is we had more clergy involved this year," Befort told The Register, Salina's diocesan newspaper. "I think there were some additional things we were able to do this year that we haven't done before, and odds are we wouldn't have done them otherwise."

    Archbishop refers dioceses to resources on public Mass, sacraments

    CLEVELAND (CNS) -- The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Worship has sent a memo to fellow bishops offering links to resources for parishes to review as they prepare to offer the public celebration of Mass and the sacraments. The May 14 memo from Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, references resources from the Thomistic Institute, the Catholic Medical Association and the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. The archbishop's latest correspondence follows an April 30 memo in which he suggested bishops consider guidelines developed by a working group at the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington. He told the bishops the purpose of sharing the first two resources "is primarily medical in nature. As we proceed in a manner that respects the matter and form of the sacraments and liturgical norms, these guidelines specify the medical considerations that need to be taken into account, even as there is disagreement on some points of a prudential nature," he wrote in the memo.

    Retired English bishop dies of COVID-19

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- A retired English bishop has died from COVID-19 a week after he tested positive for the virus at his nursing home. He was 88. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Malone of Liverpool died May 18 in Royal Liverpool Hospital, said a May 18 statement by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of Liverpool, said he recalled the bishop "as a lovely man to be with" because of his "endless patience" and "unfailing courtesy. He offered warm hospitality, without ever being ostentatious, and a quiet witty conversation," he said in a May 18 statement. "He served the archdiocese unfailingly and the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, especially in our ministry in universities, in which he had considerable experience," he said. "We will miss him."

    Catholic leaders warn of humanitarian, environmental tragedy in Amazon

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Catholic leaders warn that as the coronavirus pandemic spreads into the Amazon basin, the region may face a "humanitarian and environmental tragedy." Indigenous people who suffer violence for their efforts to defend their land against miners, loggers and land-grabbers are also at great risk from COVID-19, according to a statement from the Pan-Amazonian Church Network. The statement was signed by Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno and Mauricio Lopez, executive secretary of REPAM, as the church network is known. "The pain and lament of the people and the earth join in a single cry," they wrote in the statement, dated May 18. Throughout the Amazon, more than 30 indigenous groups have reported more than 500 COVID-19 cases and more than 100 deaths, according to REPAM. The figures could be much higher because of unreported cases and deaths in Amazonian cities like Manaus, Brazil, and Iquitos, Peru, where health care systems are overwhelmed. In Bolivia, indigenous people decry "the government's lack of coordination and consultation" in addressing the pandemic, especially in ensuring that information is available in people's native languages, the REPAM statement said.

    Film accuses Polish church of continued abuse cover-up

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The centenary of the birth of St. John Paul II coincided with a new film, "Hide and Seek," screened on YouTube May 16. It accused the Polish church of continuing to cover up sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The same day, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, primate of Poland and the bishops' delegate for child protection, said he would ask the Vatican to initiate proceedings against Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz for failing to discipline a priest incriminated by the film. Archbishop Polak said the film showed required child protection standards were still not being observed in the Polish church. "I thank the victims who talked about the harm they suffered, and I urge everyone with knowledge about the sexual abuse of a minor to remember they are obliged in conscience and by law" to notify authorities, Archbishop Polak said. "I am also asking priests, nuns, parents and educators not to follow the false logic of concern for the church in concealing the perpetrators of sexual offenses."

    Justice Department urged to aggressively prosecute pornography vendors

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A former colleague of Attorney General William Barr is backing a letter from three Catholic bishops asking Barr to aggressively pursue anti-obscenity prosecutions in the wake of increased traffic to online pornography sites with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. "With five a year, you'd put the porn industry out of business," said Patrick Trueman, president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, in a May 15 interview with Catholic News Service. Trueman is a former Justice Department obscenity prosecutor. On April 30, Archbishops Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, wrote Barr to request stepped-up prosecutions. "The department rightly pursues human traffickers; however, virtually unchecked proliferation of pornography fuels the demand that frequently results in commercial sexual exploitation. Unprecedented, unlimited, and anonymous access to pornography via modern technology has led users to seek more and more extreme videos," their letter states. "Thus, nonenforcement or lax enforcement of obscenity laws against producers and distributors may provide a gateway for this demand to metastasize, increasing the incidents of trafficking, child pornography, other abuse, and broader unjust conditions."

    Poland marks centenary of St. John Paul's birth

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Poland's Catholic bishops urged citizens to learn from St. John Paul II in coming to terms with COVID-19, as the 100th anniversary of his birth was celebrated with Masses and other events across his homeland. In a pastoral letter read nationwide May 17, the day before the anniversary, the bishops said it was worth asking what message St. John Paul would have for Poles in May 2020. "St. John Paul II bore his own sufferings and uncertainties, believing God ultimately guides human history, that death is not the Creator's desire. If the Polish pope lived today, he would certainly well understand people experiencing isolation and quarantine," the bishops said. Noting the Polish saint's contributions "to the history of our country, Europe and the world, and to the history of universal church," the bishops encouraged prayers for his intercession to "help in stopping this pandemic, for the sick, the dead and their families, for the doctors, medical services and all those risking their lives for our safety. May this centenary invoke brotherhood and unity among us." Masses to mark the centenary were celebrated May 18 with limited congregations or online, to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

    USCCB's Catholic Communication Campaign collection set for May 23-24

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The annual collection for the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign is scheduled to take place the weekend of May 23-24, coinciding with World Communications Day, which is May 24 this year. The annual national appeal supports efforts in the United States and around the world to use the media, internet and print publications to help people connect with Christ and "spread the good news." "In these times, the support of the Catholic Communication Campaign is vital to help keep the faithful connected to our faith and for dioceses to communicate the Gospel through all available means," said Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Atlanta, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on the Catholic Communication Campaign. "The CCC has long recognized the need to reach people and help them connect with Christ," he said in a May 18 statement. Recent projects supported by CCC grants include a USCCB resource page for Catholics about COVID-19 at and two major documentaries, "Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story" and "Walking the Good Red Road: Nicholas Black Elk's Journey to Sainthood." More information about the campaign can be found at

    Keep environment central during pandemic recovery, says young African

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- The head of an African network for young Catholics warned against prioritizing economic interests over social and environmental concerns as nations work to recover from the COVD-19 pandemic. Allen Ottaro, executive director Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, spoke to Catholic News Service during Laudato Si' Week, May 16-24 celebrations to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' encyclical on "our common home." "As countries look to the post (COVID-19) recovery phase and restarting economies, there is a huge risk that economic considerations will be placed ahead ... ultimately, this could lead to much higher level of pollution and carbon emissions (than) before the pandemic," Ottaro told CNS. "However, there is also an opportunity to take a different trajectory and ensure our economies in a green way, an eco-friendly way." Ottaro said the pandemic has not stopped the global climate crisis, and its effects were making it difficult to respond to the disease. "Hundreds of people have been killed by floods and landslides in parts of East and Central Africa. In Kenya, 200 people have died as a result of floods and landslides in the last month alone, six times more than the number of people who have died of the pandemic," he said, adding that the risk of contracting malaria and other water-borne diseases in the area is quite high.

    Veteran learns to use sewing machines he rebuilt so he can make face masks

    KEARNEY, Neb. (CNS) -- Kearney resident John Beach, a Catholic military veteran, enjoys rebuilding things. So when he found an opportunity to use some of his rebuilt sewing machines for a good cause, he didn't hesitate, despite not knowing how to use any of them. "I've never sewn a stitch before I made these masks," he said. "I taught myself how to thread the bobbins and thread the machine." Initially, he said he got the machines to make blankets for guitar cases and guitars he has rebuilt. But when he heard about the need for masks to help protect people from the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, he changed gears. As a disabled veteran on a limited budget, he received the fabric, pattern and thread as a donation. Material Girl, a fabric and quilt store in Grand Island, Nebraska, has the mask pattern and is offering the fabric at a discount for others interested in sewing the masks. Beach said he found each of the machines in a state of disrepair, the first he said, was a commercial Singer sewing machine from the 1920s. The machine had been thrown away with all the wires cut off. He rewired the machine and the foot pedal and then found a cabinet for it. He found the second machine, a 2004 Brother, at a garage sale for $5, that "was hardly ever used," he said.

    Vatican announces Laudato Si' anniversary year

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced that it will commemorate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment with a yearlong series of initiatives dedicated to the safeguarding and care for the Earth. In a statement released by the Vatican press office May 16, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced a "Special Laudato Si' Anniversary Year" from May 24, 2020, to May 24, 2021, which will emphasize "ecological conversion in action." As the world continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the dicastery said, the encyclical's message is "just as prophetic today as it was in 2015. Truly, COVID-19 has made clear how deeply we are all interconnected and interdependent. As we begin to envision a post-COVID world, we need above all an integral approach as everything is closely interrelated and today's problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis," the statement said. Among the events set to take place throughout the year are prayer services and webinars dedicated to environmental care, education and the economy. The dicastery also detailed the rollout of a "seven-year journey toward integral ecology" for families, dioceses, schools, universities, hospitals, businesses, farms and religious orders.

    At Sunday Mass, pope offers prayers for sanitation workers

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis offered prayers and thanks to men and women who work each day to ensure that hospitals and neighborhoods are clean during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Today, our prayer is for the many people who clean hospitals, streets, who empty the garbage cans, who go around to houses to collect the garbage," the pope said May 17 at the start of his Sunday Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. It is "a job that no one sees but that is necessary to survive," he said. "May the Lord bless them and help them." After reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer at midday, Pope Francis noted that in Italy and other countries, lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease, and he asked Catholics to continue respecting safety guidelines. Italian authorities and the country's bishops reached an agreement allowing public Masses to resume May 18 under several restrictions, including wearing face masks inside the church and observing social distancing. "Please," the pope said, "let us go forward with the norms and procedures given to us to safeguard the health of each one of us and the people."

    St. Peter's Basilica reopens to the public

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Almost 10 weeks after St. Peter's Basilica was closed to the public in cooperation with Italy's COVID-19 lockdown measures, the faithful and tourists were allowed back in May 18. Pope Francis celebrated Mass at 7 a.m. at the tomb of St. John Paul II to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth. Then, at 8 a.m., the general public was admitted. The basilica was sanitized May 15 in preparation for the reopening. It had been closed to the public since March 10. On the edge of St. Peter's Square, a sign advises visitors they must wear a mask and stay 2 meters (6.5 feet) away from others in order to enter the basilica. The Vatican sanitation service placed hand-sanitizer dispensers at the end of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square. From there, the public finds "keep your distance" labels and tape on the cobblestone path leading to the health and security checks before entering the basilica.

    Angelicum University honors John Paul II with new institute of culture

    ROME (CNS) -- The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of its most famous alumnus by launching an interdisciplinary institute bearing his name. The St. John Paul II Institute of Culture was to have its formal launch -- livestreamed -- May 18, the anniversary of the birth of the Polish pope who earned his doctorate in philosophy in 1948 from the university, which commonly is called the Angelicum. Dominican Father Michal Paluch, university rector, said the new institute is not designed simply to promote the study of St. John Paul's philosophy, theology and life, but rather to explore ways his vision of what it means to be human and part of a community can respond to modern challenges in social life, the arts, law, economics and politics. "The strength of his pontificate," Father Paluch told Catholic News Service, was his firm conviction about Christians acting as witnesses for Christ in the world while also "being willing to learn from others, all those who do not share our understanding of the world and our values."

    Vatican listens to 'cry of poor, cry of the Earth' during pandemic

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' vision of "integral human development" and "integral ecology" involves identifying the connections between the condition of human beings and the condition of the environment, said Cardinal Peter Turkson. While Christians are right to be increasingly focused on "the cry of the Earth" and how environmental destruction impacts human life, with the COVID-19 pandemic "we must listen to the cry of the poor," especially those risking starvation, the unemployed and migrants and refugees, said Cardinal Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Cardinal Turkson is coordinating the work of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and led an online news conference May 15 to discuss the commission's progress. "In one of the last meetings we had with Pope Francis, he asked us to 'prepare the future,' not 'prepare for the future,' but prepare it, anticipate it," the cardinal said. "Hardly any aspect of human life and culture is left unscathed" by the virus and efforts to stop its spread, the cardinal said. "Covid-19 started as a health care issue, but it has affected drastically the economy, jobs and employment, lifestyles, food security, the primary role of Artificial Intelligence and internet security, politics and even governance."

    Update: New emergency aid bill would cut most benefits to Catholic schools

    CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Catholic leaders expressed deep reservations about a new $3 trillion tax cut and spending bill in response to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic that would restrict support for Catholic school students. Unveiled May 12 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, includes a provision that would rescind funding of equitable services to nonpublic schools, including Catholic schools, that had been established in the CARES Act, an earlier $2.2 trillion emergency aid package. Other provisions in the Democrats' bill that has rocked the country's private education sector include the lack of direct assistance to families for tuition expenses or tax incentives that can be used for tuition; a measure that cuts out nonpublic schools, except in limited cases for children with disabilities, from $90 billion in school aid; and it rescinds a discretionary fund utilized by the secretary of education established under the bipartisan CARES Act. Disallowing emergency aid to one part of an affected community and allowing it for another runs contrary to long-held social policy, Catholic education advocates said. Within days of learning of the bill's content related to nonpublic schools, Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey, urged Catholics in the diocese in a post on the website of The Monitor, the diocesan newspaper, to contact members of Congress to express their concern about the legislation. Saying the bill has "a lot of good things," he cautioned that "some real problematic areas" exist.

    St. John Paul was a good shepherd, pope says on saint's birthday

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. John Paul II was a man of deep prayer, who loved being close to people and loved God's justice and mercy, Pope Francis said. "Let us pray to him today that he may give all of us -- especially shepherds of the church -- but all of us, the grace of prayer, the grace of closeness and the grace of justice-mercy, mercy-justice," the pope said May 18, the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth. Before releasing a written decree later that day, Pope Francis also announced during the Mass that the Oct. 5 liturgical memorial of St. Faustina Kowalska would no longer be optional but would be an obligatory feast day for the whole church. St. John Paul canonized St. Faustina and promoted her devotion to Divine Mercy. Pope Francis marked his predecessor's birthday by celebrating morning Mass at the saint's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica. With just a few dozen people -- most of whom were wearing face masks -- spread out in the pews, it was the first day after almost two months that Masses were open to the public throughout Italy as part of an easing of restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus. The pope, concelebrants and lectors did not wear face protection, but they did abide by social distancing rules.

    Update: St. John Paul II shrine's events mark pope's 100th birthday

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- St. John Paul II, the longest reigning pope in modern history, was born May 18, 1920, and the national shrine in Washington dedicated to the pontiff will celebrate the centennial of his birth with a series of virtual events May 16-22. The St. John Paul II National Shrine had originally planned several in-person events, including an academic-style symposium, but adjusted its celebration to an exclusively virtual format because of the COVID-19 impact. One of the highlights for May 18 is the pontiff's biographer George Weigel will lead an installment of the "Shrine Webinar Series" titled "Centennial Celebration of St. John Paul II's Birth" at 6 p.m. (Eastern time). The webinar will be available at this Zoom link: It also will be available on YouTube: A centennial Mass will be celebrated May 18 at noon (Eastern time) with a homily focused on St. John Paul. The same day there will be a Divine Mercy chaplet and reflection at 3 p.m., with the praying of the rosary at 8 p.m., which is co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Supreme Office. More about the St. John Paul II National Shrine can be found on its website,

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