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  • Cardinal Dolan slams DNC pledge to support only pro-abortion candidates


    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan described the recent pledge from the Democratic National Committee's chair to support only pro-abortion candidates "disturbing" and "intolerant."

    The cardinal, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged members of the Democratic party to "challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position."

    The cardinal's April 26 statement was in reaction to recent comments by DNC chair Tom Perez who said: "Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state."

    Perez went on to say in an April 21 statement: "At a time when women's rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country, we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice."

    Perez's statement came after a DNC "unity tour" rally in Nebraska, where another DNC leader and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, appeared April 20 with a former state senator, Heath Mello, the Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha. The DNC tour was sharply criticized by pro-abortion groups for joining forces with Mello, who sponsored a 2009 state Senate bill requiring that women be informed of their right to request a fetal ultrasound before having an abortion.

    "The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women -- one of the most critical constituencies for the party -- of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in an April 20 statement.

    Sanders responded to the criticism by saying different views on abortion within the party were natural. Perez took this a step further saying he fundamentally disagreed with "Mello's personal beliefs about women's reproductive health."

    On NBC's "Meet the Press," April 23, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, was asked if a Democratic politician could be pro-life.

    "Of course," she said, adding that she has "served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive -- my family would say aggressive -- position on promoting a woman's right to choose."

    Dolan, who offered prayers at the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2012, had strong words for the Democratic party in his April 26 statement saying the party's "platform already endorses abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even forcing taxpayers to fund it; and now the DNC says that to be a Democrat -- indeed to be an American -- requires supporting that extreme agenda."

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CNS News Briefs

Brief versions on news stories from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  • CRS unveils book about Muslim-Christian cooperation in peacebuilding

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Religion matters but relationships among people of different beliefs matter most when it comes to peacebuilding efforts, said a group of panelists at the introduction of a new Catholic Relief Services publication about Muslim-Christian cooperation around the world. "People who identity as Muslim or Christian have had a history of 14 centuries and they have been marked by periods of great turbulence but also by periods and places where there has been considerable mutual thriving," Tom Bamat, an independent consultant and former CRS senior adviser for justice and peacebuilding, who was moderating the April 26 discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Aid agencies as well as development organizations have realized the importance of religion and the role it plays in development and peacebuilding efforts, and in its "Interreligious Action for Peace: Studies in Muslim-Christian Cooperation" publication, CRS seeks to share what it has learned through its work in various parts of the world. The book showcases lessons learned in bringing about cooperation between Christians and Muslims in some places where CRS has projects, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central African Republic, Kenya and Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. The publication emerged from a 2015 workshop in which CRS project teams and expert advisers gathered to reflect on lessons learned out of those projects and to talk about the future direction for interreligious action and social cohesion, says the book.

    Catholic leaders warn against changes to health care bill

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Catholic leaders are warning that proposed changes to the American Health Care Act will harm poor people. "It is deeply disappointing to many Americans that, in modifying the American Health Care Act to again attempt a vote, proponents of the bill left in place its serious flaws, including unacceptable modifications to Medicaid that will endanger coverage and affordability for millions of people," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, similarly said an amendment to the legislation was "a giant step backward that should be resisted," noting that it would "take significant funding allocated by Congress for health care for very low-income people and use that money for tax cuts for some of our wealthiest citizens." The proposed amendment to the health care legislation was approved by the House Freedom Caucus April 26, a group of conservative representatives who rejected the House plan to repeal President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in March when it was withdrawn by House Republicans because it fell short of the necessary votes for passage. Changes to the bill were introduced by Rep. Tom MacArthur, R- New Jersey, who co-chairs the Republican caucus known as the Tuesday Group, along with Rep. Mark Meadows, R- North Carolina, Freedom Caucus chairman.

    Cardinal Dolan slams DNC pledge to support only pro-abortion candidates

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan described the recent pledge from the Democratic National Committee's chair to support only pro-abortion candidates "disturbing" and "intolerant." The cardinal, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged members of the Democratic party to "challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position." The cardinal's April 26 statement was in reaction to recent comments by DNC chair Tom Perez who said: "Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state." Perez went on to say in an April 21 statement: "At a time when women's rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country, we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice." Perez's statement came after a DNC "unity tour" rally in Nebraska, where another DNC leader and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, appeared April 20 with a former state senator, Heath Mello, the Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha. The DNC tour was sharply criticized by pro-abortion groups for joining forces with Mello, who sponsored a 2009 state Senate bill requiring that women be informed of their right to request a fetal ultrasound before having an abortion.

    Church needs missionaries, not 'clericalized' laity, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church needs laypeople with a missionary spirit, which means Catholics do not have to try to force members into a vocation that is the Holy Spirit's to give, Pope Francis said. The temptation to impose a vocation on laypeople as some kind of validation of their service in the church "worries me," the pope said April 27 during a meeting with members of Catholic Action. "What has happened many times in dioceses?" the pope asked. "A priest comes and says, 'I have a phenomenal layman who does this, this and that; he is a good organizer. What if we make him a deacon?' Stop! Don't give him a vocation that is up to the Holy Spirit to give him. Do not clericalize!" Catholic Action's meeting with Pope Francis kicked off a three-day forum designed to reflect on the theme "Catholic Action in mission with all and for all." Warmly greeted by some 300 participants from around the world, Pope Francis was presented with several meaningful gifts. Two members from Lampedusa, Italy, where thousands of refugees arrive each year, gave the pope an English copy of the Psalms and the New Testament found in one of the fishing boats used by migrants.

    Virginia Catholics join the zero waste movement to promote green living

    SPRINGFIELD, Va. (CNS) -- The trash Jane Crosby generated during the month of March fits into the palms of her hands. Minus the green cup she drank from at a friend's St. Patrick's Day party, the receipts, bandages and other nonrecyclable scraps of plastic and paper easily fill a liter glass jar, her version of a trash can. Crosby is a member of the growing zero waste movement, an effort to live a more practical and environmentally friendly life. To be virtually trash free, the parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield composts her food waste and recycles a little. But mostly she relies day to day on reusable products such as Mason jars, cloth napkins and canvas shopping bags. At the heart of the undertaking is a desire for a more just economy. "Products are created basically to break or be thrown away," Crosby said. "Nothing's really designed the way it used to because we have such cheap production (costs). "The whole goal of the zero waste movement is to move from a linear economy back to a circular economy. Products are created to last, they're built with sustainable materials but also material that can be reused or repurposed or recycled when the life of the product is over," she explained.

    Between election rounds, French cardinal deplores 'democracy gone mad'

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- France's Catholic primate has condemned the current presidential campaign as his country's "worst ever" and urged Christians to help prevent democracy from "losing its sense. Left and right rivaled each other and had their radical wings, but there was also a center. Now, left and right have stepped back, and the main candidates are divided by other unclear criteria. I have the impression our voters are totally lost," said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon. In an interview with Poland's Catholic Information Agency (KAI), published April 26, Cardinal Barbarin said France was witnessing "the twilight of its existing political system" as citizens sought out "leaders closer to the people in their economic and social realities. Democracy seems to be losing its sense and being cast adrift by media shabbiness," Cardinal Barbarin added. "This has been our worst-ever election campaign, characterized by the unforgivable accusations, total critiques, violence, chaos and the misleading of voters."

    Prayer is important part of helping the poor, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Prayer is a central part of Catholics' work to support the mission of the pope and of the Catholic Church around the world, Pope Francis told members of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation. "I ask you, as a vital part of your commitment to the work of the Papal Foundation, to pray for the needs of the poor, the conversion of hearts, the spread of the Gospel and the church's growth in holiness and missionary zeal," he told foundation members April 27. Each spring, members of the foundation make a pilgrimage to Rome and present to the pope the projects they have funded for the year. This year's grants total $10 million. With an endowment of more than $200 million, the foundation provides grants to build or repair churches, schools, convents and seminaries and to fund projects ranging from evangelization and communications training to helping a parish in Africa install a solar-energy plant. "Today's world, so often torn by violence, greed and indifference, greatly needs our witness to the Gospel message of hope in the redemptive and reconciling power of God's love," the pope told members of the foundation, who were led by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, chairman of the foundation's board of trustees.

    Philippine bishop backs case against Duterte in international court

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- The case filed against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte before the International Criminal Court in The Hague is a "very good step" toward stopping drug-related killings, a Catholic bishop said. "It is our hope that this move will inject fear into the hearts and minds of the accused officials so that they will eventually and sincerely put a stop to these merciless killings," said Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon. reported that the bishop said the International Criminal Court should "take serious action against the continuous and seemingly condoned violation of human rights in the Philippines." Bishop Bastes said: "Filing a complaint at the ICC is a good move for the whole world to know that crimes against humanity, seemingly sanctioned by the government, are being committed in this Christian country." reported that a complaint of "mass murder" was filed against Duterte and 11 other Philippine officials for alleged crimes against humanity brought about by the drug-related killings.

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  • Justice Department holds on to Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Groups that legally challenged the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement for employers still do not have clear direction on how to move forward because nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court sent their cases back to the lower courts, the Justice Department still is appealing some of them. On April 24, the Justice Department asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for 60 more days to essentially pause the ruling in favor of East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups that had objected on moral grounds to providing contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans. In its petition to the Fifth Circuit, the Justice Department said it was asking for more time because the issues "presented by the Supreme Court's remand are complex" and a several department positions remain unfilled. But the request is a particularly surprising move for religious groups who were confident the mandate would be done away with under the Trump administration, especially because he promised that during his campaign. "The government should dismiss its appeals right away. If they are against the mandate, there's no reason to continue pushing these appeals," said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

    Catholic chaplain accompanies anguished circus workers on final tour

    WORCESTER, Mass. (CNS) -- The congregation, numbering about 50, gathered for their last Easter Mass together on the DCU Center's arena floor. The chaplain, Father George "Jerry" Hogan, borrowed one of their colorful boxes to use as an altar. The altar cloths and his chasuble sported circus images. Costume designers had sewn pieces of old elephant blankets together to make his stole. The backdrop suggested the reason for such an unusual liturgical environment: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had come to town to offer shows on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. But it isn't all "fun and games" for performers and other circus workers, some of whom attended the Mass before the Easter shows. While "they've always performed during Holy Week," they are now going through the paschal mystery themselves, Father Hogan told The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester. The Ringling circus was nearing the end of its 145-year run and the workers, including frontline performers, were in a quandary about their future. They learned Jan. 14 that the circus was closing.

    Report adds 'entities' deserving greater scrutiny on religious freedom

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The 2017 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom added three "entities" to its list of 28 "countries of particular concern," thanks to a law passed in December. Islamic State, the Taliban and the Somali group al-Shabaab made the list in the report, released April 26. Islamic State was faulted for its genocidal campaign in Iraq and Syria, while the Taliban got onto the list for its activities in Afghanistan, according to the report. The Somali group has undertaken random acts of violence against non-Muslims in eastern Africa. The law allows for entities to be included if they "exercise political power, territorial control, and employ violence in pursuit of their political objectives," said Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, commission chairman, during an April 26 conference call with reporters. Islamic State, he added, is "one of the most egregious violators of religious freedom." Sixteen nations were designated as "Tier 1" countries of particular concern based on their level of religious repression: Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. All but Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam had been designated last October by the State Department as countries of particular concern.

    St. Padre Pio relics to tour U.S. marking 130th anniversary of his birth

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Relics of St. Padre Pio, a Capuchin priest who bore the stigmata of Jesus, will be on public display in several U.S. dioceses and archdioceses in May and again in the fall. The Saint Pio Foundation announced that the tour corresponds with the 130th anniversary of the Italian-born saint's birth. The tour will include 12 locations nationwide starting May 6-8 at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Hours that each site will be open for veneration and other events related to the tour were to be announced by each diocese.

    Michigan head coach says meeting pope was 'emotional'

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As someone accustomed to the stress of the gridiron, University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh said he was touched by Pope Francis' peaceful presence. "The way he talks is peaceful, it's calm. It felt like this is what it would be like to meet Jesus Christ. That's what it felt like to me. It was very emotional," the coach told journalists April 26. Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, briefly greeted the pope following his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square earlier that day. "I said, 'Buenos dias, Santo Padre' ('Good morning, Holy Father'), and then my wife came in and told him that she loved him. He held her hand and prayed and asked that we pray for him," Harbaugh recalled. The coach and his wife presented the pope with a Michigan football helmet along with a pair of size-10 Air Jordan sneakers in the football team's maize and blue colors. Harbaugh said the pope smiled and graciously accepted the gifts, despite their unusual nature.

    Oregon anti-Catholic preacher said to feel helpless in modern world

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Eight men who in January hurled a fiery message outside of a Spanish Mass in Portland do not represent a new phenomenon of the Trump era. Instead, they are part of a long tradition of Christian splinter groups that react virulently to change and see themselves as prophets. The group known as Bible Believers is led by Grant Chisolm. The trendy-dressing vintage shop owner said he does not have an anti-immigrant agenda. He claims instead that he preaches against a culture that has veered from biblical truth. "Most churches are not teaching a repentant gospel," Chisolm told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland. "They are speaking a loosey-goosey, sloppy-jalopy gospel where everybody gets to heaven," added Chisolm, who often wears a fedora. "I do have a vendetta against Catholics."

    Knights of Malta asked to elect temporary leader

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Members of the Knights of Malta about to elect a new permanent leader were asked instead to consider electing a lieutenant who would temporarily take the reins of the order. The request was sent by the order's leadership in an email reported by the National Catholic Reporter April 26 and confirmed by the order's press office in Rome. Electors representing members of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta were to meet as the Council Complete of State beginning April 29 in Rome. According to the order's Constitutional Charter, a lieutenant is elected if the Council Complete of State fails to elect a grand master after the fifth ballot. The election of a grand master, who is elected for life, requires a two-thirds majority. However, the email recommended that members forgo the election of a grand master and instead elect a lieutenant who would take charge of the order for a one-year period. The knights press office, while confirming the email's content, added that it was meant to be "an internal letter" and not a public statement.

    Why be afraid when God is always showing the way, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians always have hope, no matter how bleak, bad or uncertain the journey, because they know God is always by their side, Pope Francis said. In fact, "even crossing parts of the world (that are) wounded, where things are not going well, we are among those who, even there, continue to hope," he said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square April 26. Just a few days before his visit to Cairo April 28-29, the pope continued his series of talks on the nature of Christian hope, saying it is rooted in knowing God will always be present, even to the end of time. The Gospel of St. Matthew, he said, begins with the birth of Jesus as Emmanuel -- "God with us" -- and ends with the risen Christ telling his doubtful disciples to go forth and teach all nations, assuring them that "I am with you always, until the end of the age." The apostle shows how "ours is not an absent God, sequestered in a faraway heaven. Instead he is a God 'impassioned' with mankind," so tenderly in love that he is unable to stay away, the pope said.

    In TED talk, pope urges people to make real connections

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While searching for a connection today often means looking for Wi-Fi, Pope Francis said real connections between people are the only hope for the future. "How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion," he said in a video talk played April 25 for 1,800 people attending TED 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and posted online with subtitles in 20 languages. "How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us," the pope said in the talk that TED organizers had been advertising as that of a "surprise guest." Pope Francis spoke to the international conference about combating the current "culture of waste" and "techno-economic systems" that prioritize products, money and things over people. "Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough," he said. "Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face."

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  • Pakistani archbishop: Increased security leads students to feel unsafe

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Children attending Catholic schools in Pakistan must walk through a gate with two armed guards and into a compound surrounded by 8-foot walls. "It looks like schools are becoming a prison," Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan, told Catholic News Service. The Pakistani government provided security for all churches in Pakistan on Easter, he said. But after a series of attacks on churches in the past several years, the government also gave churches an ultimatum to provide their own security, he said. Most churches and schools already had 4- or 5-foot walls around them, he said, but the government said the "walls must be 8 feet high, plus razor wires -- not barbed wires -- on top." The buildings had to have closed-circuit TV cameras and armed security guards, he said. "It's a big, big financial burden," the archbishop said. He told CNS the church turned to international aid agencies, including Aid to the Church in Need and German Catholic agencies, for funding for the project, which is almost complete.

    Court's death penalty vote will impact current stayed executions

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- How the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a case examining whether a mentally ill criminal defendant is entitled to defense by an independent mental health expert will have an immediate impact. When the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the executions of two of the eight men slated for April executions, Don Davis and Bruce Ward, it said it was awaiting guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in McWilliams v. Dunn, the case it heard April 24. The U.S. Supreme Court is re-examining the 1986 death sentence of James McWilliams, who was convicted of raping and killing an Alabama convenience store clerk in 1984. Just days before his sentencing, a court-appointed psychologist prepared a report on his mental state. During oral arguments, the court seemed evenly divided as it examined whether an Alabama death-row inmate should get a new sentencing hearing because he did not have a mental health expert during his sentencing trial more than 30 years ago. The practice of having a mental health expert on hand during sentencing has become more common in recent years.

    Bishop Campbell ordained as auxiliary bishop in Washington Archdiocese

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The new auxiliary bishop of the Washington Archdiocese pledged to seek to love and serve God and God's people during his ordination Mass. "I'd like to thank God for allowing me to answer his call and serve him and his church as a deacon, priest and now a bishop," Auxiliary Bishop Roy Edward Campbell Jr. told the congregation attending the ceremony April 21 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in downtown Washington. Bishop Campbell also expressed gratitude to his family and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington. He prayed for Mary's intercession, that God will guide him and the people of the archdiocese to do God's will, help the church grow, and be fruitful in their service. Cardinal Wuerl, who presided at the ordination, said the new bishop "received the faith and was formed in that faith right here (in the archdiocese) and who already brings a sense of continuity with the pastoral life of this church."

    Kentucky farm rooted in mission of Dominican Sisters of Peace

    ST. CATHARINE, Ky. (CNS) -- The land surrounding the Dominican Sisters of Peace motherhouse has been farmed since 1822. In the beginning, the sisters farmed the verdant hills to feed the community and the students they taught. Today, the farm is tended by a farm manager and a part-time farmhand who primarily raise beef cattle. The heart of the farm's mission is to promote sustainable farming practices and provide quality beef for the sisters and consumers alike, said Danny Spalding, farm manager. "We've done a whole lot to humanely raise cattle, in how we feed them, how they are handled and the general welfare of the cattle," he said. "People want to know where their food comes from." The farm is situated on 650 acres of picturesque countryside of gently rolling hills a short walk downhill from the Dominican motherhouse. Hay and corn raised on the farm feed the cattle. Two lakes, wetlands and a forest with a creek running through it also are on the property.

    After Easter, Chileans on horseback take sacraments to homebound

    COLINA, Chile (CNS) -- The priests and helpers came on horses and bicycles carrying red, white and blue Chilean flags and metal crosses. Their mission: to pray and give Communion to the old and infirm, parishioners who could not get to church on Easter Sunday. In Chile, it is known as "La Fiesta de Cuasimodo" (Quasimodo's Festival), and it takes place every year on the Sunday after Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. This year on April 23, Santiago Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati and 4,000 other helpers went to the foothills of the Andes, to the city of Colina, about 20 miles north of Santiago, to help the elderly and sick. They visited about 100 households. The volunteers are known as Quasimodists, and they come from different parts of the community. Contrary to popular belief, Quasimodo has nothing to do with the character in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," nor is it the name of a saint or holy person. Instead, it is thought to date back to the Latin used in Catholic ceremonies. The first words used in the service that starts the celebrations are "quasi modo geniti," which means "like children who are newborn." Whatever the origin, the time-honored festival brings joy and peace to many parishioners.

    Ontario bishops share concerns with pope, especially on euthanasia

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like the two groups of Canadian bishops that preceded them, the bishops of Ontario said their meeting with Pope Francis was time spent with a brother bishop with similar joys and challenges in his pastoral work. The 21 Ontario bishops making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican spent almost two hours talking with Pope Francis April 25. The visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- are a combination of a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul and meetings with the main Vatican offices to exchange information, insights and ideas. The meeting with Pope Francis was an informal exchange of concerns and signs of hope -- and at least one joke told by Pope Francis that Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London and Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton declined to share with Catholic News Service. But it was funny, they said. The serious matters discussed during the meeting ranged from Canadian Catholic Church relations with the country's indigenous communities to immigration and from the persecution of Christians around the world to the introduction of medically assisted suicide in Canada.

    Nuncio tells seminarians that ministry extends beyond 'office hours'

    COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- A priest's "office hours" are unlimited and the priesthood is not solely focused on administrative work, the apostolic nuncio to the United States told students at the nation's only Vatican-affiliated seminary. "It's important to say this to young seminarians: Don't prepare yourselves to be administrative people, to say 'I work from 8 to 6 and after that, it's finished and I take my rest.' No, you are full time," Archbishop Christophe Pierre said during a question-and-answer session April 23 at the Pontifical College Josephinum. "Your enthusiasm is so important," he continued. "This country needs the church announcing the beauty of the presence of God in Jesus Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the power of transformation found in the Gospel, in which whenever a person met Jesus, he became different." The nuncio's remarks came after he delivered the college's annual lecture honoring the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, who served from 1980 to 1990 as the Vatican's apostolic delegate to the United States and, after the title was changed, as nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador. As nuncio Archbishop Pierre also is chancellor of the college, the only seminary outside of Italy with pontifical status, an honor Pope Leo XIII granted to the institution in 1882.

    Zambian bishops say people live in fear as police brutality increases

    LUSAKA, Zambia (CNS) -- Zambians are living in fear as police brutality increases and the southern African country approaches dictatorship, Zambia's Catholic bishops said. The bishops "are deeply saddened" by police officers' "unprofessional and brutal conduct," arbitrary arrests, "horrific torture of suspects," and the "careless, inflammatory and divisive statements of our political leaders," Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu of Lusaka, president of the bishops' conference, said in an April 23 statement. "Anyone who criticizes the government for wrongdoing is sure to have the police unleashed on him or her," the statement said. Zambia's main opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, was arrested and charged with treason for failing to move off the road for President Edgar Lungu's motorcade in early April. The charge allows no bail and can carry the death penalty. While the bishops "do not in any way condone illegality," they "deplore the massive, disproportionate and entirely unnecessary force with which the police acted in apprehending" Hichilema, Archbishop Mpundu said.

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praying that God would protect Egypt from all evil, Pope Francis told the nation's people that a world torn apart by indiscriminate violence needs courageous builders of peace, dialogue and justice. "I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world," the pope said in a video message broadcast April 25, ahead of his April 28-29 trip to Cairo. "I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church," he said. The pope thanked all those who invited him to Egypt, those who were working to make the trip possible and those "who make space for me in your hearts." He said he was "truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the country that gave, more than 2,000 years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod."

    Pope makes donation to handicapped-accessible beach project

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An Italian association that runs and maintains a Roman beach for disabled people received an unexpected donation from Pope Francis. In an April 25 statement, the "Work of Love," a charitable association dedicated to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, expressed their "enthusiasm and astonishment" upon receiving a contribution made in the pope's name by Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner. The association runs "La Madonnina" beach near Fiumicino, located 17 miles southwest of Rome, that is specially designed for disabled people and equipped with walkways for easy access in and around the area. According to the association's website, volunteers and medical personnel from the Italian Paralympic Swimming Federation are on hand to ensure a "safe and enjoyable" experience for visitors. The "Work of Love" association said the donation was accompanied by a message from the pope who "imparted his blessing to the volunteers and in a special way to the disabled people and their families" who visit the beach.

    Humility needed to avoid preaching watered-down Gospel, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The only way to give an authentic witness of Christ's death and resurrection is by sharing the Gospel with humility, Pope Francis said. Christians who preach must resist the temptation of power, pride and worldliness, which can lead to "preaching a watered-down Gospel without strength, a Gospel without Christ crucified and risen," the pope said April 25 during morning Mass in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae. "Why is this humility necessary?" he asked. "Precisely because we bring forward a proclamation of humiliation, of glory but through humiliation." The pope reflected on the day's reading from the First Letter of Peter (5:5-14) in which the apostle calls on the early Christian communities to be vigilant and resist the devil who "is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite the ongoing risk of terrorism, Pope Francis planned to travel to Egypt as a sign of being close to the people there, said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman. Heightened security is part of the "new normal" in many countries, but even in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt, it is the pope's desire "to go ahead, to also be a sign of his closeness" to those affected by violence and all the people of Egypt, Burke told journalists April 24. At a Vatican briefing outlining some details of the pope's trip to Cairo April 28-29, a reporter asked if there were any worries or concerns about the pope's security. Burke, speaking in Italian, said he wouldn't use the word "worries" or concerns, but would say that "we live in a world where it is now something that is part of life." He added, "However, we move ahead with serenity." The pope has requested that a "normal car" -- not an armored vehicle -- be used when he is driven from one venue to another, Burke said. It will not be an open-topped vehicle, he added.

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

    OAKLAND, Calif. (CNS) -- A new shiny truck is bringing food to senior citizens in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood and nearby communities. A year in the making, the Mercy Brown Bag Program has expanded, with the truck visiting several locales and offering assistance to seniors faced with the high cost of rent and medication. Krista Lucchesi, director of the program that is part of the services of the Mercy Retirement and Care Center, couldn't stop smiling as she looked at the vehicle parked behind the residential care facility. Having the truck "now is kind of amazing for all of us," she told The Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Oakland Diocese. Staff and volunteers cheered the truck as it arrived April 2 after a cross-country trip from St. Louis, where it was built. Nicole St. Lawrence, Mercy Brown Bag's assistant director, brought the truck west on a mission to help stem the tide of senior hunger in Alameda County.

    Court rules Saskatchewan cannot fund non-Catholics in Catholic schools

    REGINA, Saskatchewan (CNS) -- A judgment in a 12-year-old court case has sent shock waves through Saskatchewan's Catholic education community and left Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen "disheartened." Queen's Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled April 21 that the government of Saskatchewan is violating a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by funding non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools. Recognizing his ruling will have repercussions, Layh gave the province until June 30, 2018, to end the practice. The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association said it was "obviously disappointed" with the decision and would consider an appeal. "We'll take some time to go over the 230-page decision, consult with our lawyers and process what this means for the division, for Catholic education in Saskatchewan, and for all of the families who choose Catholic education," said an association statement.

    Florida clergy coalition creates interfaith bonds to counter hate crimes

    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (CNS) -- While two culprits behind a yearlong wave of anonymous phone threats to Jewish community centers in Florida and elsewhere have been apprehended, members of an interfaith clergy group are concerned that ongoing political and social tension warrants ongoing vigilance. Members of the Clergy Coalition of Coral Springs and Parkland have been meeting in an effort to strengthen clergy bonds and better respond to hate crimes and ease anxieties affecting faith communities. Msgr. Michael Souckar, pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Coral Springs, which hosted a recent gathering, said clergy are concerned that society is becoming increasingly divisive. "We believe as religious leaders our job is to identify that and work at promoting the opposite -- which is unity and the commonality of who we are as human beings and God's children," Msgr. Souckar told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami Archdiocese. The clergy coalition is an informal professional federation of the spiritual leaders of local houses of worship. With the motto "supporting each other in fellowship as we serve our maker and our community," the coalition enables local religious professionals to learn from each other and work together to strengthen their ministries and to enhance the quality of life in the community.

    French bishops offer divided voters guidelines on presidential runoff

    PARIS (CNS) -- A few hours after the announcement of the winners of the first round of the French presidential election, the French bishops' conference published a reflection on voting in the final round. On April 23, Emmanuel Macron, founder of En Marche!, a center-left political movement, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, won the first round. They will face off May 7, when voters will choose who will be president for the next five years. As they have throughout the election campaign, the bishops did not endorse a candidate by name, but gave Catholics "elements for discernment." Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, conference general secretary and the bishops' spokesman, signed the statement, which said society must rely on "the search for common good" and "efficient solidarities. The state must integrate solidarity in ... society and concretely apply its preoccupation for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed. To neglect the most fragile is to divide society," the statement said. It stressed the need to manage the tension between a "no-control liberalism" and the preservation of "social protection mechanisms."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mercy is a true form of knowledge that allows men and women to understand the mystery of God's love for humanity, Pope Francis said. Having experienced forgiveness, Christians have a duty to forgive others, giving a "visible sign" of God's mercy, which "carries within it the peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord," the pope said April 23 before praying the "Regina Coeli" with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square. "Mercy helps us understand that violence, resentment and revenge do not have any meaning and that the first victim is the one who lives with these feelings, because he is deprived of his own dignity," he said. Commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis said St. John Paul II's establishment of the feast in 2000 was a "beautiful intuition" inspired by the Holy Spirit. God's mercy, he said, not only "opens the door of the mind," it also opens the door of the heart and paves the way for compassion toward those who are "alone or marginalized because it makes them feel they are brothers and sisters and children of one father."

    Faith leads to freedom, not compromise, pope says at morning Mass

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian faith is belief in the concrete work of God and leads to concrete witness and action by believers, Pope Francis said. The Christian creed details concrete events because "the Word was made flesh, it was not made an idea," the pope said April 24 during his morning Mass in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae. "The creed does not say, 'I believe I must do this, that I must do that' or that 'things are made for this reason.' No! They are concrete things," such as belief in God who made heaven and earth or believe in Jesus who was born of Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, the pope noted. The concreteness of faith "leads to frankness, to giving witness to the point of martyrdom; it is against compromises or the idealization of faith," he said. Pope Francis reflected on the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recalled Peter and John's release after they were imprisoned by the Sanhedrin following the miraculous healing of a cripple.

    Cardinal Nicora, expert in law and finance, dies at 80

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Italian Cardinal Attilio Nicora, who died April 22 at the age of 80, served the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italy with his "unique expertise," attention to detail and farsighted vision, Pope Francis said. The cardinal, who earned a civil law degree before entering the seminary and a doctorate in canon law afterward, was the former president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and former president of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority. In a message sent April 23 to the cardinal's family, Pope Francis said he would be remembered with "esteem and recognition for the precious service he offered with unique expertise to the church and Italian civil society." Cardinal Nicora had a long history of service to the church, particularly in delicate affairs involving provisions of the church-state concordat in Italy. In 1987, he headed the Italian bishops' conference committee for ecclesial goods, helping to design a highly successful tax check-off system of financing for Italian church operations.

    Buddhists, Christians must help promote nonviolence, cardinal says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics and Buddhists must strengthen efforts to reject violence in all of its forms as well as to urge and educate people in a life of nonviolence, said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. "Jesus Christ and the Buddha were promotors of nonviolence as well as peacemakers," the cardinal said in a message marking the Buddhist celebration of Vesakh. "May we actively dedicate ourselves to promoting within our families and social, political, civil and religious institutions a new style of living where violence is rejected and the human person is respected," he said. Each spring, the pontifical council sends its best wishes to Buddhists around the world for Vesakh, a feast commemorating key events in the life of the Buddha. The message for 2017 was released by the Vatican April 22. "While many religious believers are committed to promoting peace, there are those who exploit religion to justify their acts of violence and hatred," Cardinal Tauran said.

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

    ROME (CNS) -- The Christian church today needs believers who witness each day to the power of God's love, but it also needs the heroic witness of those who stand up to hatred even when it means giving up their lives, Pope Francis said. At Rome's Basilica of St. Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs, Pope Francis presided over an evening prayer service April 22, honoring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism. "These teach us that with the force of love and with meekness one can fight arrogance, violence and war, and that with patience peace is possible," the pope said in his homily in the small basilica on Rome's Tiber Island. Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he wanted to add to the martyrs remembered at St. Bartholomew by including "a woman -- I don't know her name -- but she watches from heaven." The pope said he'd met the woman's husband, a Muslim, in Lesbos, Greece, when he visited a refugee camp there in 2016. The man told the pope that one day, terrorists came to their home. They saw his wife's crucifix and ordered her to throw it on the ground. She refused and they slit her throat.

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  • Catholic educators get new ideas at annual NCEA convention

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- More than 8,000 Catholic educators attended the April 18-20 National Catholic Educational Association Convention in St. Louis this year and many of them picked up ideas during the gathering to use in their own schools. Sister Judith Abique, a Sister of St. Paul of Chartres, plans to integrate Theology of the Body concepts in religion classes at St. Joseph School in Waipahu, Hawaii, where she is vice principal and religion coordinator. She attended a workshop that she said gave "really good insights" on St. John Paul II's encyclical on an integrated vision of the human person. Shelly Jensen, a learning consultant at Immaculate Conception School in Union, said she appreciated the many sessions for special education teachers and said she was pleased to see so many people with the "same mission, goals and identity for Catholic education." Cecil Bongato, a teacher at Mercy Heights Nursery and Kindergarten in Guam, said the convention provided her with new resources and ways to improve teaching.

    Virginia Catholic bishops praise governor for commuting death sentence

    RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- The Virginia bishops said they "welcome with gratitude" the April 20 decision by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to commute the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz. "We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life," said Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond and Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington in an April 20 statement released by the Virginia Catholic Conference. The bishops said they have a "profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death" and they "continue to express deep sorrow and pray for all victims of violence and their loved ones." They also said they would continue to "pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence." Teleguz, found guilty in a 2001 murder for hire of his former girlfriend, was set to be executed April 25. He petitioned the governor with a request for a pardon, which was not given; he will now serve life in prison without a chance of parole.

    Pedaling priests to bike across Peoria Diocese seeking vocation prayers

    PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Being a priest has made Father Michael Pica, Father Adam Cesarek and Father Tom Otto so happy that they are preparing to share their joy with people from Rock Island to Danville -- literally. From April 24 to 28, the three priests will ride their bikes 350 miles across the Diocese of Peoria -- the width of Illinois -- to raise awareness for vocations and show people that priesthood is a wonderful life. Along the way, they plan to stop at schools and parishes to encourage prayers for vocations and tell the story of their own call to priestly service. A passage from Matthew's Gospel provides the theme for the journey and will grace the cycling jerseys they wear and the T-shirts they hand out: "Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest!" "We love being priests. This is the absolute best thing that has happened to us in our lives and cycling is just sort of the vehicle that's going to get us to these schools and these parishes to share that with people," said Father Otto, who was ordained in 2013 and serves as parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception in Monmouth and St. Patrick in Raritan. The idea came from Father Pica, who was ordained last May and assigned to St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington and St. Mary in Downs. The three priests like to ride and as they were cycling during an event for young clergy last summer, he asked Father Otto and Father Cesarek if they would be willing to use their hobby to benefit vocations.

    Italian bishop granted early retirement to return to missionary work

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the early retirement request of Italian Bishop Gianfranco Todisco, who begged to be allowed to return to missionary work or to be sent "to the farthest, most disadvantaged" diocese. The Vatican announced Bishop Todisco's resignation April 21 as bishop of Melfi-Rapolla-Venosa in southern Italy. The bishop is 71, and the normal retirement age is 75. In a letter to the people of his diocese, Bishop Todisco said he had made his request in early November and received a letter from the pope saying he would think and pray about it. A few weeks later, Pope Francis phoned and "asked me if I was still ready to leave. My answer was yes," the bishop said. After meetings with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and with the Vatican nuncio to Italy, a date was chosen to announce the bishop's resignation. In his letter to the diocese, the bishop said he was ordained to the priesthood as an Ardorini Missionary and that was the life to which he felt called. He accepted the call to become bishop of the Italian diocese in 2002 "because I always saw the will of God in the decisions of my superiors."

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

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With religious persecution against Christians on the rise worldwide, it is important for other Christians to stand in solidarity with them, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington. Christians in the United States and elsewhere must raise their voices on behalf of "the millions who are suffering," he said April 20 during a symposium held in connection with the release of "In Response to Persecution, Findings of the Under Caesar's Sword Project on Global Christian Communities," a report detailing the nature of persecution against Christians in different nations across the globe. "Make it difficult for others to ignore," the cardinal said. Doing so, Cardinal Wuerl noted, may require Christians "to be aware" of the persecution their fellow believers face on different continents. He suggested one response should be to "continue to support the flow of material assistance" to persecuted Christians through aid agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international aid agency; Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican umbrella agency for different nations' Catholic relief organizations; or their counterparts run by other Christian denominations and organizations. "And we must, of course, continue to pray," said Cardinal Wuerl, who has just had a new book published, "To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness."

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  • Chicago cardinal praises governor for pledging to veto abortion bill

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has taken a "principled stand" by promising to veto a bill to allow taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions for Medicaid recipients and state employees. Under the bill pending in the state General Assembly, the public money will come from Illinois' Medicaid and employee health insurance programs to pay for the abortions at any stage or pregnancy. "Abortion is a controversial issue in this country, but using public money to provide abortions should not be," Cardinal Cupich said in an April 19 statement. "The federal government prohibits the practice, and polls show a substantial segment of the American public reject it. I pray that this divisive issue will be put behind us and our government officials will now concentrate on the many difficult challenges facing Illinois," he said. "Most importantly, our political leaders must find a way to cooperate and craft a budget that serves all our people. It is essential that we unite in this effort, and I stand ready to help in any way." The state of Illinois has been without a budget for about 22 months. It has a budget deficit of $9.6 billion.

    Judge John Noonan remembered for recognizing common humanity of all people

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Senior Judge John T. Noonan Jr., a member of the U.S Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for 31 years who died April 17 at age 90, grew up in a world of privilege but always took into account the common humanity that binds people together when he decided cases, said a Boston College professor who worked as a law clerk for him. "He recognized the law for what it was. He always looked at the person and tried to consider their situation," said Cathleen Kaveny, Darald and Juliet Libby professor of theology and law at the Jesuit-run school, who worked with Noonan at the court's San Francisco offices from 1991 to 1992. "That was his Catholic faith, that we're all made in the image of God," she said. Kaveny dedicated her 2016 book, "Prophecy without Contempt: Religious Rhetoric in the Public Square," to Noonan, saying he was "a model of practical reasoning and prophetic insight." Jesuit Father David Hollenbach, Pedro Arrupe distinguished research professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, joined Kaveny in describing the jurist as a brilliant scholar who understood history and the historic development of Catholic thought on a number of moral and ethical issues. Noonan was a prolific writer, authoring books on topics of concern to the church such as contraception, abortion and religious freedom, as well as legal subjects.

    After shooting, Fresno Catholics urged to be a light to community

    FRESNO, Calif. (CNS) -- After three men were killed April 18 in a shooting rampage in Fresno by a gunman who was captured and admitted to the shootings, the Diocese of Fresno urged the local Catholic community to "seize this moment as an opportunity to live as people of light not darkness by rejecting the temptation to hate the hater. Once again, our community is touched by darkness," said the diocesan statement posted on the diocese's website. "Family, friends, neighbors and the vast multitude of good and caring people in our community must now decide, once again, how we will respond to this senseless tragedy." One of the three victims was shot at a bus stop near a Catholic Charities office and another was shot in the agency's parking lot. Kelly Lilles, executive director of Catholic Charities in Fresno, said: "Our hearts are heavy as we reflect on the wrong done to our community yesterday and the horrific events that took place as a result of one angry individual." The gunman, Kori Ali Muhammad, also was wanted in the slaying of a security guard in Fresno the previous week. All four victims were white. The Associated Press reported that Muhammad, who is black, fired 16 rounds in less than two minutes at four places within a block April 18.

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

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- American Catholics will have an opportunity to become modern-day missionaries during the weekend of April 29-30 by simply dropping money in a collection plate. That is the weekend the Catholic Home Missions Appeal is being conducted as a second collection in many parishes throughout the U.S. The money raised from it will help bring the religion to people throughout the country. Contributing to that collection really is a way for Catholics to do missionary work without ever leaving their home or parish, said Richard Coll, director of Catholic Home Missions in the U.S. bishops' Office of National Collections. The annual Catholic Home Missions Appeal helps support more than 40 percent of the dioceses and eparchies in the United States and its territories in the Caribbean and Pacific. These dioceses tend to be rural with enormous territories within their borders. Without the subsidies that come from the annual appeal established by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1998, it would be difficult or impossible to support many of the religious programs in these regions or even some basic pastoral functions. It's why they are called mission dioceses, because they depend on missionary efforts to help bring Catholicism to these populations in a meaningful way. The theme of the appeal this year is "Strengthening the Church at Home," Coll told Catholic News Service during an April interview.

    Newly named Iowa bishop says he's 'a little anxious, but a lot excited'

    DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) -- Msgr. Thomas R. Zinkula wondered whether a phone message from the apostolic nuncio April 8 might be a prank. The rector of St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque was on retreat with seminarians and knows that they can be pranksters. It wasn't a prank, he learned after returning the call. The nuncio asked Msgr. Zinkula if he would serve as ninth bishop of the Diocese of Davenport. "Could I think about it, pray about it?" he asked the nuncio. "Are you leaning toward saying yes?" the nuncio asked hopefully. Bishop-designate Zinkula repeated that story for chancery staff, diocesan priests and the news media April 19, his 60th birthday and the date for the official announcement of his response to the nuncio: "Yes. I'm not one who likes to be the center of attention," Bishop-designate Zinkula confessed during a chancery staff meeting that preceded the news conference at St. Vincent Center, headquarters for the Davenport Diocese. "I'm a little anxious, but a lot excited."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' visit to Egypt, a land increasingly marked by terrorist-led bloodshed, stands as part of his mission to inspire and encourage today's actors in theaters of violence to change the script and set a new stage. Just as the pope did when he raised the curtain of the Year of Mercy in war-torn Central African Republic, he goes to strengthen and "confirm his brothers of the Coptic Catholic Church and other churches present in Egypt," said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. He will be able to show, in person, his support and solidarity for the beleaguered Christian minorities who continue to be targeted by terrorist fanatics and increasingly feel vulnerable and unsafe in their own land, said Maryknoll Father Douglas May, who worked in Egypt for two decades. Even though Christianity there traces its roots to the times of the apostles, being a Christian in Egypt today "is like being black in the United States before civil rights or being a Jew in Germany before Hitler. You're tolerated. But people don't want to be tolerated, they want to be accepted as citizens with equal rights and equal possibilities," said the 67-year-old priest, who grew up near Buffalo, New York. To make things even more difficult, there is "still a very low level of ecumenical spirit" among many priests and bishops of the different Christian communities, even though laypeople already have a sense "that everybody is one: Protestants, Catholic and Orthodox."

    Persecuted Christians often choose strategy of survival, says study

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A new study categorizes what kinds of responses emerge when Christians around the world are persecuted, noting that, most often, Christians choose a strategy of survival. However, the findings also show Christians might choose a strategy of association -- seeking to secure their religious freedom by developing ties with other Christian communities, non-Christian religions, and secular figures -- and, on occasion, they use strategies of confrontation. The report, "In Response to Persecution, Findings of the Under Caesar's Sword Project on Global Christian Communities," also offers recommendations for businesses, nongovernmental organizations, governments and scholars to help keep situations from getting worse. The study was conducted by 17 scholars under the auspices of Under Caesar's Sword, a partnership of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, the Religious Freedom Institute, and Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Research Project, with the support of the Templeton Religion Trust. Its findings were released April 20 in a forum at the National Press Club. In establishing the three main categories of response, the scholars found that they were not mutually exclusive and that, sometimes, Christians of differing denominations within the same country responded in different ways. For example, in Vietnam and Laos, while Catholic bishops developed "a pattern of engaging the government, evangelical churches remained underground and separated," the report said.

    Pope names auxiliary bishop from Ukraine to head Chicago-based eparchy

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Ukrainian-born Bishop Venedykt "Valery" Aleksiychuk as bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago. Bishop Aleksiychuk, 49, has been auxiliary bishop of the Archeparchy of Lviv, Ukraine, since 2010. The appointment was announced April 20 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. He succeeds Bishop Richard S. Seminack, who died Aug. 16, 2016, after a long battle with a heart ailment. Bishop Aleksiychuk will be the fifth head of the eparchy. The Eparchy of St. Nicholas of Chicago has 46 parishes and missions in 16 states. About 70 priests and deacons serve the eparchy, which has a Catholic population of about 11,000.

    Steelers chairman Rooney recalled for quiet strength based on his faith

    PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- One reason there is such affection for Dan Rooney, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, is that he was clearly a man of the people, a person of western Pennsylvania and a quintessential Pittsburgher. "Whether he was Ambassador Daniel Rooney, Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers president or just Dan, he reflected so well the qualities of this part of the world," the cardinal said. "He worked hard, he was a loyal friend, a good neighbor, he took seriously his duties to his family, his obligations to the community, his commitment to the Steelers, his love of the game, the need to be straightforward, honest and caring. He was a Pittsburgher. He was the best of us." Cardinal Wuerl reflected on the beloved chairman of the Steelers in celebrating his funeral Mass April 17 at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh. The congregation of more than 1,500 included former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey and numerous local officials. Dozens of current and former Steelers were in attendance, as well as former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Concelebrating with Cardinal Wuerl were Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik; Benedictine Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe; Father Kris Stubna, rector of St. Paul Cathedral; Benedictine Father Vincent Zidek, pastor of St. Peter Parish on Pittsburgh's North Side; and Benedictine Father Paul Taylor.

    Retiring CUA prof plans to continue engaging in public policy debates

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For all his love of politics and the "frothy media excitement" that surrounds it, Stephen F. Schneck is hardly a political animal. He's more the thoughtful type, bringing a calm demeanor and insights formed by his Catholic faith to the high-volume and often contentious debates on important public policy issues since becoming director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in 2005. Schneck, 63, was set to retire April 28, but he doesn't expect to go silent. While he won't have quite the stage the institute offered in exploring various aspects of the ever-changing political scene through symposia, lectures and guest columns, he is expecting to draw from a network of contacts nationwide to seek new opportunities to accentuate that politics must be a moral endeavor working for the common good. Schneck admitted that such a basic standard in the country's current polarized political environment may be difficult to achieve right now. But he's not giving up and he will continue to share what he considers to be the key guiding principle for politics in any form. It's a principle that he also hopes will reach the hearts and minds of those who have chosen politics as a career. "At some point I came to realize that politics is the doing of civilization. It really is," he told Catholic News Service in mid-April. "It's not really about who's ahead in the polls or who wins or loses. Politics in the broadest sense is about building civilization."

    Portuguese businessman sends free Fatima statues throughout world

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Every time Jose Camara thinks his ministry is completed, somebody else needs a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to spread the devotion. Camara, a retired Portuguese businessman, has donated more than 1,000 of the statues, handmade in Fatima, to parishes around the world since January 2013. He even covers the cost of transport, including to South Africa, Madagascar, Australia and the United States. "I started out just over four years ago with the idea of offering 12 handmade statues of Our Lady of Fatima -- one for each apostle -- to parishes in South Africa, where I lived for many years," Camara said. In the first week after his offer was publicized in South Africa's Catholic weekly, The Southern Cross, he received 63 applications. "Now I have sent more than a thousand statues to parishes, schools, convents, Catholic movements, prisons and so on -- and even to some individuals -- all over the world," said Camara, who now lives in Cascais, about 20 miles west of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. He has sent statues to more than 30 countries: throughout Africa and to the Holy Land, India, the Philippines, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Guatemala, the United States -- even to parishes in Portugal. Some of the destinations are remote, such as Reunion Island and Mauritius.

    Congolese priest: Demand for cellphone metals thwarts efforts to end war

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Global demand for metallic ores used in cellphones is thwarting efforts to end war and violence in Congo, said an African priest. Any person who possesses a cellphone or other electronic device with components derived from such "conflict minerals" is benefiting from bloodshed, said Father Richard Muembo, rector of a Congolese seminary firebombed earlier this year. "Anyone who uses modern technology nowadays is in some way using the blood of the Congolese people," he said in an interview with the United Kingdom branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation helping persecuted Christians. "Looters from all over the world come here to exploit the country," the priest said in an April 19 statement by the charity. Fighting in Congo is being perpetuated by a struggle over access to such ores as coltan, from which niobium and tantalum are extracted, he suggested. The ore is used in the production of batteries for smartphones, computers and GPS devices. Catholic leaders have worked to end the violence between the government and the criminal gangs and armed groups, which sell the ores to buy arms, only to find themselves the target of attacks.

    Gratitude, discernment, hope needed for renewal, pope tells Marists

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Heartfelt gratitude for the past, discernment of the present and hope for the future are the three key ingredients for renewal in religious life, Pope Francis said. In an April 10 letter commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Marist Brothers' founding, the pope encouraged the brothers to continue their work with young people, helping them to become "good citizens and, above all, good Christians." "These good works are the expression of the goodness and mercy of God, who, despite our limitations and ineptitude, never forgets his children," the pope wrote to Marist Brother Emili Turu Rofes, the superior general, in the letter released by the Vatican April 20. Founded in France by St. Marcellin Champagnat in 1817, the Marist Brothers dedicate themselves to educating and ministering to young people. The congregation, which now ministers to youths and young adults on five continents, will mark its bicentennial celebration with three events centered on the theme: "A new beginning."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will declare the sainthood of Blessed Jacinta Marto and Blessed Francisco Marto, two of the shepherd children who saw Mary in Fatima, Portugal, during his visit to the site of the apparitions May 13. The date was announced April 20 during an "ordinary public consistory," a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, addressing the assembly noted that of the future saints considered at the consistory, five were children or young teenagers. "In our time, where young people often become objects of exploitation and commerce, these young people excel as witnesses of truth and freedom, messengers of peace (and) of a new humanity reconciled in love," the cardinal said. At the same consistory, the pope set Oct. 15 as the date for the canonizations of two priests and two groups of martyrs, including Blessed Cristobal, Blessed Antonio and Blessed Juan -- also known as the "Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala" -- who were among the first native converts in Mexico. They were killed between 1527 and 1529 for refusing to renounce the faith and return to their people's ancient traditions.

    Vatican says it would welcome visit by Trump

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If U.S. President Donald Trump requests a meeting with Pope Francis in May, the Vatican will try to make it work, a top Vatican official said. "Pope Francis always is willing to welcome heads of state who ask," Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, told the Italian news agency ANSA April 19. Trump is scheduled to be in Taormina, in southern Italy, May 26-27 for a summit of G-7 leaders and representatives of the European Union. Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, told reporters April 19, "We will be reaching out to the Vatican to see if a meeting, an audience with the pope can be accommodated. We'll have further details on that. Obviously, we would be honored to have an audience with his holiness." Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has visited the Vatican to meet the pope. Eisenhower met St. John XXIII at the Vatican in December 1959.

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  • Supreme Court seems to lean toward church in Lutheran playground case

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Supreme Court justices seemed to side with the church in a separation of church and state case argued April 19 about a Missouri Lutheran preschool barred from receiving state funds for playground resurfacing using recycled tires because it is a church property. In his first minutes before the court, David Cortman, arguing for the church in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, said: "The question is why would someone's religious status matter in the first place to receiving a government benefit?" The justices seemed to settle on that point, questioning the state's decision to exclude the church from a grant program when there are federal programs in place that provide funding that could benefit religious institutions including a Department of Homeland Security program to improve security near synagogues or mosques and a program to repair buildings damaged by the bombing at the federal building in Oklahoma City. James Layton, arguing for the state, said Missouri also would be against such programs because they similarly grant funds to religious institutions. Layton, former solicitor general of Missouri, said the state would not block police and fire protection to churches because public safety is different since it is a service.

    Conference to look at Luther's impact 500 years after Reformation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The issue of papal authority was the one point that led Martin Luther to break from the Catholic Church, according to a Catholic University of America professor who will speak at a symposium on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation co-sponsored by the university. Cajetan, a Dominican scholar who served as an aide to Pope Leo X in 1517 and had written the commentary on Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae," had read the writing of Luther -- then an Augustinian monk -- to see what was heretical in it, said Nelson Minnich, who will address the issue of ecclesiology during the May 30-June 1 conference. "If he could get Luther to back down on two issues," the problem could have been resolved, Minnich told Catholic News Service in an April 18 telephone interview. And Cajetan was willing to give ground to Luther on the nature of salvation. But Cajetan would not back down on papal authority. The issue played itself out over the granting of indulgences, which Luther saw the church as abusing through commercialization. "When the pope grants an indulgence, what does he absolve you of?" Cajetan asked. Luther replied, "The penalty the church attaches to the sin, and that's all." But Cajetan responded with a quote from Verse 19, Chapter 16 of St. Matthew's Gospel: "What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." "It's not just the penalty on earth, but it has an effect on heaven, too. We cannot back down on this one," Cajetan held. Luther retorted that Cajetan's position wasn't church teaching but only Dominican teaching.

    Catholic church touts solar panels, says it's powered by the Son and sun

    TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- The sign outside Our Mother of Sorrows Parish office reads: "OMOS gets its Power from the sun/Son." And it means exactly what it says, said pastor Msgr. Thomas F. Cahalane. "The reality is that God in creation is all around us. Creation is God's gift, and it is given in great abundance," he told Catholic Outlook, the newspaper of the Tucson Diocese. "The Gospel calls us to share it with the community and to be a conveyor of God's love." In 2008, the parish began a long foray into solar power, spurred by its Care for Creation committee, which included architect Hank Krzysik. Krzysik had just returned from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a meeting on the use of alternative energy. He was sitting around a table at Joe's Pancake House with Msgr. Cahalane and others. He was excited about making the parish more energy efficient. That led, a year later, to the installation of several solar panels and replacement of a water heater, making the parish hall more energy efficient. The parish hall project was a success and in 2011, Krzysik and other members of the Care for Creation committee were making their case that the parish could significantly reduce its carbon footprint -- and ensure long-term savings -- by adding 250 more panels to the parish plant.

    Fatima at 100: Story of apparitions continues to attract attention

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While conversion and prayer are at the heart of Mary's messages at Fatima, Portugal, the miracles and unexplained phenomenon that accompanied the events 100 years ago continue to intrigue believers and nonbelievers alike. The apparitions of Mary at Fatima in 1917 were not the first supernatural events reported there. Two years before Mary appeared to the three shepherd children -- Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto -- they saw a strange sight while praying the rosary in the field, according to the memoirs of Sister Lucia, who had become a Carmelite nun. "We had hardly begun when, there before our eyes, we saw a figure poised in the air above the trees; it looked like a statue made of snow, rendered almost transparent by the rays of the sun," she wrote, describing what they saw in 1915. The next year, Francisco and Jacinta received permission to tend their family's flocks and Lucia decided to join her cousins in a field owned by their families. It was 1916 when the mysterious figure appeared again, this time approaching close enough "to distinguish its features."

    Nevada bishop, other panelists discuss prospect of women deacons

    FREMONT, Calif. (CNS) -- Almost a year ago, Pope Francis was asked if he would establish an official commission to study the question of whether women could be admitted to the diaconate. "I accept. It would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree," he answered. The question was one of several asked of him by the International Union of Religious Superiors. The pope's "I agree" and his subsequent appointment of seven men and six women to study the issue laid the foundation for an April 8 presentation on "Women Deacons? A Dialogue" at the Fremont motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. Bishop Randolph R. Calvo of Reno, Nevada, and Dominican Sisters Mary Peter Traviss and Gloria Marie Jones, made their presentations to a group of 80 religious and laywomen -- and a few men -- for a lively panel, followed by thoughtful questions. Bishop Calvo's talk centered on "Women Deacons: What the Past Can Mean for Today." His experience on the topic spans more than 20 years, he told the gathering. While serving as president of the Canon Law Society of America in November 1995, he sent a copy of an ad hoc committee's report on "canonical implications of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate" to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    Georgetown University, Jesuits apologize for roles in sale of slaves

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Georgetown University and the Society of Jesus' Maryland province apologized April 18 for their roles in the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals for the university's benefit. More than 100 descendants attended a morning "Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope" that the university created in partnership with descendants, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the United States. "Today the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned," said Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, during the liturgy. "We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry." The event took place the day after the District of Columbia marked Emancipation Day, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in Washington April 16, 1862. This year, the local holiday was moved to April 17 because the actual day fell on Easter Sunday. In early April, Georgetown announced plans for the liturgy and a renaming ceremony for two buildings on campus previously named for priests who sold women, children and men into slavery for financial gain in 1838.

    Pope appoints bishop for Iowa diocese, names San Diego auxiliary

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Martin J. Amos of Davenport, Iowa, and named as his successor Msgr. Thomas R. Zinkula, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, who is currently rector of St. Pius X Seminary at Loras College in Dubuque. The pope also named Father John P. Dolan as an auxiliary bishop of San Diego. He is episcopal vicar for clergy in the diocese and a parish pastor. The appointments were announced April 19 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop Amos is 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. He has headed the Davenport Diocese since 2006. He said that since last December when he turned 75 and offered his resignation to Pope Francis, "we have prayed a diocesan prayer awaiting a new bishop. In part, it prayed for 'a pastor who will please you by his holiness and will show us your watchful care.'"

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was scheduled to attend a peace conference in Cairo with Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University. While Patriarch Bartholomew's office did not release a detailed schedule of events he would be attending during the pope's April 28-29 visit to Cairo, the Vatican confirmed reports April 19 that Patriarch Bartholomew was invited to take part in the conference and was planning to attend. Pope Francis also was scheduled to meet Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, soon after the conference April 28, making it a day the heirs of the Apostles Peter, Mark and Andrew all would be present in the ancient land of Egypt. While Pope Francis is the successor of St. Peter, the Orthodox ecumenical patriarchate traces its lineage to St. Andrew and the Coptic Orthodox Church has St. Mark as its patron. The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches are not in full communion with each other, although they have been working closely together and have been engaged in theology dialogue aimed at unity.

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian faith is a grace and can be perceived only in the hearts of those willing to be surprised by the joy of the Resurrection, Pope Francis said. "A closed heart, a rationalistic heart" is incapable of understanding the Christian message which has God's love -- manifested in Christ's victory over death -- at its center, the pope said at his weekly general audience April 19. "How beautiful it is to think that Christianity is essentially this: It is not so much our search for God -- a search that is, truthfully, somewhat shaky -- but rather God's search for us," the pope said. The pope, bundled up in a white overcoat due to the unusually chilly and windy weather, entered a packed St. Peter's Square in his popemobile. Immediately, he invited two girls and a boy, dressed in their altar server robes, to board the vehicle and ride with him around the square. Pope Francis also took a moment to greet an elderly woman who, overcome with emotion, cried and stretched out her arms to embrace the pope. He stooped over, warmly embracing the woman and gently caressing her face before making the sign of the cross over her forehead.

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  • Film students travel to 'Endor' to shoot 'Star Wars' fan film

    SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- During the first day of production on his most recent film, Preston Yarger was concerned for the well-being of his cast and crew. "It was 40 degrees and raining all day long, and everyone was soaked to the bone and just completely shivering," the 21-year-old recalled. But as it turned out, he needn't have worried. "As I looked around," he said, "everyone just had the biggest smiles on their faces and they were all so excited." The reason for that excitement was that they were working on a fan film inspired by a beloved science-fiction franchise that had captured their childhood imaginations. "Scout: A Star Wars Story" is a short film co-written and co-directed by Yarger and Nicolas Alayo, both film students at John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido. It has been uploaded to YouTube and will be entered in an annual "Star Wars" fan film competition. Information about it also is posted on Facebook,

    Vatican releases itinerary for papal trip to Egypt

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will meet with the leader of one of the world's leading Sunni Muslim institutions, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church and representatives of the Catholic Church on a two-day trip to Cairo. The pope is scheduled to arrive in Cairo April 28 for courtesy visits with political and religious leaders and deliver a speech, along with the grand imam of al-Azhar University, to an international conference on peace. He will celebrate Mass for the small Catholic community in Cairo the next day and meet with bishops, clergy, religious and seminarians before returning to Rome April 29. In mid-March, the Vatican confirmed the pope would make the trip following an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar. It will be the pope's 18th trip abroad in his four years as pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second pope to visit Egypt, after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000.

    Catholic leaders praise rulings granting stays to Arkansas death-row inmates

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders initially praised the federal and state rulings that granted stays of executions for a group of Arkansas death-row inmates, but then a series of court actions seemed to clear the way for some of the executions. "After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light," Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network against the Death Penalty, said in an April 16 statement. She said the plan to execute these men in such a short period of time brought about "an extraordinary response from so many people calling for a culture of life and an end to this practice of retribution." A federal judge's April 15 ruling stopped the state from executing six of the inmates with a preliminary injunction handed down in response to a lawsuit filed by the inmates, who claimed the executions were unconstitutional because of their rapid pace and the ineffectiveness of the lethal injection drug midazolam. They claimed the sedative drug doesn't always work and causes those who are being executed to feel pain from the use of other two lethal injection drugs. The previous day, an Arkansas judge, responding to a lawsuit from two pharmaceutical companies, issued a temporary restraining order on the state's executions based on evidence the state may not have obtained midazolam properly. The state and federal judges' rulings are both under appeal by the state. A significant delay in these arguments could halt these executions indefinitely since the state's supply of midazolam will run out at the end of the month and state officials have said they have no source to obtain a further supply of the sedative.

    Arsonists attempt to set fire to cathedral in Nepal's capital

    KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNS) -- Arsonists attempted to set fire to Assumption Cathedral, the first public Catholic worship place in Hindu-majority Nepal. reported that Father Ignatius Rai, pastor of the cathedral parish, said the incident occurred around 3 a.m. April 18 when "unknown persons" broke into the church premises. They started a fire that partially damaged the priest's residence and the western part of the church. A car and two motorbikes also were burned. No casualties were reported. "This is shocking. The local Christian community is now living under threat," Father Rai told This is a second time the church has been targeted. A bomb exploded there in 2009, killing three people, including a schoolgirl, and injuring 15. In 2010, Ram Prasad Mainali, chief of the Nepal Defense Army, a little-known Hindu extremist group, was arrested in connection with the incident. Father Silas Bogati, former parish priest at Assumption Cathedral, told "We are panicking. Nobody left anything in the church premise this time, so we don't know whether it was a personal attack or by some disgruntled organization." Police are currently investigating the case.

    Congolese bishop spends Easter with prisoners

    KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- Bishop Dieudonne Uringi Uuci of Bunia, Congo, spent Easter visiting Bunia's Central Prison, reported Radio Okapi. He met with the inmates, led prayers and celebrated Easter Mass. He also condemned the deplorable living conditions in the prison. Bishop Uringi criticized the lack of hygiene -- which exposes prisoners to diseases; promiscuity; and the building's decay. He also expressed concern about food shortages in the prison. "There is need to improve on the conditions in the prison," Radio Okapi quoted him as saying. "Some prisoners sleep on the floor or on cardboard boxes that serve as mattresses. When it rains, they are obliged to stand upright because of the rain water that runs through the roof, which has holes. The condition of hygiene is also unbearable." The administrator of the prison, Camille Nzuzi, said the facility is not provided with sufficient funds by the government. "We do not have enough food to feed the prisoners adequately,'' Radio Okapi quoted Nzuzi as saying.

    How the church determines a true Marian apparition

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When it comes to Marian apparitions, the Catholic Church takes a prudent approach that focuses more on the message than the miracle. Supernatural phenomena, like the alleged miracle of the sun in Fatima, Portugal, nearly 100 years ago, are not the primary factors in determining an apparition is worthy of belief. In that particular case, the bishop of Leiria -- where Fatima is located -- deemed the apparitions, but not the miracle of the sun, were worthy of belief. His ruling came in 1930, more than a dozen years after Mary's final apparition to Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. More than 1,500 visions of Mary have been reported around the world, but in the past century, fewer than 20 cases have received church approval as worthy of belief. The Vatican's "Norms regarding the manner of proceedings in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations" were approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978. An official English translation was released in 2011. Like with Fatima, responsibility for determining an apparition's veracity lies with the local bishop, according to the norms established by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Pope Benedict celebrates birthday with Bavarian guests, beer, pretzels

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A bit of Bavaria, including German beer and pretzels, came to the Vatican to help celebrate retired Pope Benedict XVI's 90th birthday. "Thank you for bringing Bavaria here," he told his guests, commenting on the beauty of gathering together under a blue Roman sky with white clouds -- colors that "recall the white and blue flag of Bavaria" and how "it's always the same sky" no matter where one finds oneself in the world. The Bavarian-born pope's birthday fell on Easter Sunday, April 16, so a small informal party was held April 17 outside his residence, the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican gardens. Pope Francis visited his predecessor April 12, before the start of the Easter Triduum, to offer him birthday greetings. Special guests at the Bavarian party included: Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the retired pope's 93-year-old brother; Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the retired pope's personal secretary; Birgit Wansing, a longtime administrative assistant; and the consecrated laywomen from Memores Domini, who assist him. A German delegation was present, led by the minister president of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, and including a group of men dressed in the traditional uniforms of the "Schutzen" with their dark green wool hats decorated with feathers, pins and sprigs of greenery.

    Philippine archbishop rebukes faithful: 'I am a Catholic but ...'

    DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines (CNS) -- The head of the Philippine bishops' conference expressed concern over what he perceived to be a growing trend "of rebuffing church morals and doctrine" in his country. Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan opened his Easter message with a searing rebuke of the faithful in the Philippines, questioning their behavior. "How many of our Catholics openly and blatantly declare, 'I am a Catholic, but I agree that drug addicts must be killed; they are useless. I am a Catholic but I am pro-death penalty. ... I am a Catholic but I do not always obey my bishop, he is too old-fashioned. ... I am a priest but my bishop's circulars are optional for obedience. ... I am a Catholic but ... I am a Catholic but ...,'" Archbishop Villegas trailed off in the published message. Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016 on a promise to eradicate crime and kill drug dealers and addicts, the archbishop has been a vocal critic. Months later, more than 7,000 people, most of them impoverished, have died in either police anti-drug operations or in unexplained killings. And in early March, Duterte's allies in the Philippine House helped pass a measure reinstating the death penalty, with the primary goal of executing drug offenders.Archbishop Villegas' criticism has grown more strident with the body count increasing and the latest steps toward restoring execution. The prelate has led prayer marches and authored letters and official conference documents decrying the "war on drugs" and the death penalty. Other church officials have also expressed dismay through various statements.

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  • Atop Mount Nebo, Christians pray for those in Mideast facing violence

    MOUNT NEBO, Jordan (CNS) -- Christians of many denominations gathered for an Easter sunrise service atop Mount Nebo and prayed for peace and for Christians in Egypt, who were not celebrating as festively. Many were thinking of the Palm Sunday twin suicide bombings targeting Christians at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt. Jordanian authorities stepped up security around churches and other sensitive areas in the aftermath of the assaults. Many Christians still consider Jordan a relatively safe haven compared to other Mideast countries because of the religious tolerance fostered by its moderate Muslim ruler, King Abdullah II. The international English-language Easter service drew scores of Jordanians and others from around the world to the Franciscan-run basilica -- built in 597 on a fourth-century church foundation -- and its famed Byzantine mosaic pavements. It was the first such service after a decade of restoration prevented use of the church. "It's an honor and a blessing to worship here on Easter, particularly when there is so much difficulty and pain in neighboring countries," American teacher Jennifer LaChonce told Catholic News Service.

    Immigrants aren't getting health care, so parish brings it to them

    NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CNS) -- For immigrants in the country without legal permission, a routine doctor's visit can be an occasion for panic. Without papers, immigrants fear deportation when they enter the waiting room. Unwilling to take such a risk, they avoid seeking medical attention even in life-threatening cases. Language barriers that make it difficult to describe their ailments or to understand medical advice, lack of transportation to health care facilities and working long hours at jobs that don't provide paid time off all add up to many immigrants missing out on vital health care. St. Patrick Parish in Norristown is working to change this situation with help from local clinicians, volunteers -- and Our Lady of Guadalupe. After the noon Mass on the first Sunday of each month, the parish hosts a walk-in health fair for area residents, many of whom are Mexican immigrants, in the church's basement hall. Participants receive free screenings for diabetes, tuberculosis, hypertension, eye and dental conditions. Pregnant women can also obtain prenatal vitamins and baby boxes - sturdy, cardboard cribs designed to prevent SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome. The monthly health fair is vital to the local community's underserved members. "The people who come here have total and complete trust in the priests," said Father Gus Puleo, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and an adjunct professor of Spanish at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. "They always come to me with concerns about immigration and medical matters. I think this trust is due to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is a major force in the Mexican community. We work with her."

    At Easter, Mideast church leaders affirm Christian presence

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- In Easter messages, Catholic patriarchs in the Middle East deplored the widespread carnage and suffering, yet affirmed the presence of Christians in the region by calling upon their faithful to carry on with hope. From Bkerke, the patriarchal seat of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai condemned "all kinds of wars, persecutions and attacks." Cardinal Rai, Maronite patriarch, urged the international community "to find political and diplomatic solutions to conflicts and to lay the foundations for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace" in the region. He implored the international community to stop countries from providing cover, aid and weapons to terrorist organizations. "It is shameful for the rulers of states -- with financial and military influence -- who have made our eastern land a land of war, killing and destruction, a haven for terrorist organizations and fundamentalist movements," Cardinal Rai said. "They have ignited a fire they think burns in its place, but it has spread." He also condemned the "blatant and repeated persecution of Christians" in Egypt. He called upon "Muslims and Islamic countries to take active positions and initiatives to deter this persecution and to preserve the positive image of Islam."

    Vermont bishop to convene first synod for Burlington Diocese since 1962

    BURLINGTON, Vt. (CNS) -- Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne has announced plans to convene the first diocesan synod since 1962. Its purpose is to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont and to establish particular laws and policies to do so. This will be at least a yearlong project and is "a serious undertaking by the church," he said at the chrism Mass April 11. "It is not a simple convening of meetings." The bishop will be convener and presider, and the membership of the synod will contain both ex-officio members of the clergy and laity as well as representatives of religious communities, lay fraternities and at-large representation such as young people, parents and minority communities. Before the sessions of the synod are convened -- the bishop hopes that will be next spring -- all of the members of the Catholic community will be invited to participate in a preparation process in which they will be asked to pray, to listen, to learn and to discern what the future pastoral plan for spreading the "good news" of the Church in Vermont should be. This will take place on the parish level, the deanery level and the diocesan level. It will include personal meetings but could also make use of new digital and social media means of communication.

    At Easter, Catholics urged to welcome God's love, share with others

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The faithful may feel unworthy of Christ's love because he "paid so high a price for our salvation," but "let us not be afraid," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Let's allow ourselves to be taken -- even seized -- with Easter joy. As we proclaim on Easter Sunday, 'Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining,'" the cardinal said in his Easter message April 16. "Welcome the love of God into your life," Cardinal DiNardo said. "Share it with those around you, especially the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. In this way, we proclaim with Mary, 'I have seen the Lord.' Sing joyfully, 'the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.' Happy Easter!"

    Proclaim value of life with solidarity, welcome, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Simple gestures of welcome and solidarity, when supported by faith in Jesus' resurrection, proclaim the value of life, Pope Francis said. Being "men and women of the resurrection, men and women of life" involves making "gestures of solidarity, gestures of welcome, increasing the universal desire for peace and the aspiration for an environment free of degradation," the pope said April 17 before reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer. On the Easter Monday public holiday, thousands of Italians and tourists gathered in St. Peter's Square at noon to join the pope for the Easter-season Marian prayer, which begins, "Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia." Pope Francis told the crowd that the message of the angel to the women at the tomb, "Go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead,'" is directed to believers today as well. Christians, he said, are called "to proclaim to the men and women of our time this message of joy and hope." Jesus' resurrection means "the last word isn't the tomb, it is not death, it is life," the pope said. "This is why we repeat so often, 'Christ is risen.' In him the tomb was vanquished. Life was born."

    New Assisi shrine is reminder to shed attachment to money, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like St. Francis of Assisi did, the Catholic Church and individual Christians must follow Christ by imitating his willingness to give up everything for the sake of others, Pope Francis said. "Unfortunately, 2,000 years after the proclamation of the Gospel and eight centuries after the witness of Francis, we face a phenomenon of global inequity and an economy that kills," the pope said in an April 16 letter to the archbishop of Assisi, Italy. The pope's letter offered his blessings and support for the decision of the Diocese of Assisi to establish a shrine in memory of the "divestiture" of St. Francis. The shrine, which will be inaugurated May 20, will be housed in the town's Church of St. Mary Major, but also will include public access to the "Sala della Spogliazione," literally the Room of the Divesting. The room in the bishop's residence is where a young St. Francis -- in the presence of his father and of the bishop -- stripped naked and renounced all wealth. "Renouncing all earthly goods, he unchained himself from the enchantment with the god money, which had seduced his family," the pope wrote in his letter to Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi.

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