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  • Pope says church was late fighting abuse, promises 'zero tolerance'

    IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

    By Carol Glatz

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has endorsed an approach of "zero tolerance" toward all members of the church guilty of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults.

    Having listened to abuse survivors and having made what he described as a mistake in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, the pope said he has decided whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon.

    "Why? Simply because the person who does this (sexually abuses minors) is sick. It is a sickness," he told his advisory commission on child protection during an audience at the Vatican Sept. 21. Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including its president -- Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston -- were meeting in Rome Sept. 21-23 for their plenary assembly.

    Setting aside his prepared text, the pope said he wanted to speak more informally to the members, who include lay and religious experts in the fields of psychology, sociology, theology and law in relation to abuse and protection.

    The Catholic Church has been "late" in facing and, therefore, properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members, the pope said, and the commission, which he established in 2014, has had to "swim against the tide" because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

    "When consciousness comes late, the means for resolving the problem come late," he said. "I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality: We have arrived late."

    "Perhaps," he said, "the old practice of moving people" from one place to another and not fully facing the problem "lulled consciences to sleep."

    But, he said, "prophets in the church," including Cardinal O'Malley, have, with the help of God, come forward to shine light on the problem of abuse and to urge the church to face it.

    Typically when the church has had to deal with new or newly emerging problems, it has turned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to address the issue, he said. And then, only when the problem has been dealt with adequately does the process for dealing with future cases get handed over to another dicastery, he added.

    Because the problem of cases and allegations of abuse are "grave" -- and because it also is grave that some have not adequately taken stock of the problem -- it is important the doctrinal congregation continue to handle the cases, rather than turning them over directly to Vatican tribunals, as some have suggested.

    However, he said, the doctrinal congregation will need more personnel to work on cases of abuse in order to expedite the "many cases that do not proceed" with the backlog.

    Pope Francis told commission members he wants to better balance the membership of the doctrinal team dealing with appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He said the majority of members are canon lawyers, and he would like to balance out their more legalistic approach with more members who are diocesan bishops and have had to deal with abuse in their diocese.

    He also said proof that an ordained minister has abused a minor "is sufficient (reason) to receive no recourse" for an appeal. "If there is proof. End of story," the pope said; the sentence "is definitive."

    And, he added, he has never and would never grant a papal pardon to a proven perpetrator.

    The reasoning has nothing to do with being mean-spirited, but because an abuser is sick and is suffering from "a sickness."

    The pope told the commission he has been learning "on the job" better ways to handle priests found guilty of abuse, and he recounted a decision he has now come to regret: that of agreeing in an appeals process to a more lenient sanction against an Italian priest, rather than laicizing him as the doctrinal team recommended.

    Pope Francis said he has since learned "it's a terrible sickness" that requires a different approach.

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    Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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  • Father Rother's distant cousins from Minnesota to attend beatification

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Father Stanley Rother's distant cousins from Minnesota planned to be in the crowd attending the Sept. 23 beatification ceremony of the martyred priest in Oklahoma City. "We're all very proud," Lee Rother said of his third cousin's upcoming beatification, adding that he feels special that his family has a saint who can intercede for them and now the whole world. Lee, 78, has made a point to learn as much as he can about this distant cousin from Okarche, Oklahoma, who was just a few years older than him. The cousin keeps a thick file of news clippings, including a lengthy feature on the priest from 2006, when the canonization cause started to pick up steam. It was 25 years after Father Rother was gunned down in 1981 in the Guatemalan village where he ministered. Lee also keeps a copy of a report written about another Okarche cousin, Sandra Rother McGougan, who credits an unlikely deathbed recovery to Father Rother's intercession. She was in a car crash in 1992. The 22-year-old was pronounced brain dead and was being kept alive only for organ donation, but her mother begged for a second opinion, and doctors discovered some brain activity. It was later determined she had suffered a rupture in her brain stem. Doctors weren't optimistic she would live, but the family prayed for Father Rother's intercession. Sandra fully recovered, much to her doctors' amazement.

    Bishop calls on U.S. to provide aid, act to resolve Rohingya crisis

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A prominent bishop has called on the U.S. government to provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar while under attack. Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged the administration Sept. 22 to aid Rohingya and the countries providing refuge to them, saying those fleeing the ethnic violence have "experienced so much suffering and pain over decades." His letter was the latest in Catholic leaders' appeals to help the Rohingya, who have fled a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state. The crackdown followed the Aug. 25 attacks by Rohingya insurgents on 30 security checkpoints. reports the number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh from persecution in Myanmar has slowed but could still be as high as half a million, even as reports suggest Muslim villages in northern Rakhine were burning as late as Sept. 21. Officially, about 430,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh since the military crackdown. Bishop Cantu's letter to Rear Adm. Garry E. Hall, special assistant for international organizations and alliances at the National Security Council, also appealed for "durable solutions and protections to address the growing Rohingya crisis" and the possible resettlement of some non-Rohingya refugees for whom relocation is "the most viable solution."

    Bishop Braxton calls action to end racism imperative for every American

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Every person "must do something," whether big or small, to address racism in the United States, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, told an audience at The Catholic University of America. From taking a public stance at a rally to reaching out to a neighbor, racism can be addressed and overturned, the bishop said during a presentation at a Sept. 21 "teach-in" on fighting racism sponsored by the university's National Catholic School of Social Service. "We must expand the horizon of possibilities to ourselves by listening, learning, thinking, praying, acting," he said. Recalling that Catholics in public life and leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church once supported slave ownership and widely denied the civil rights of enslaved African-Americans early in the country's history, Bishop Braxton said much remains to be accomplished to heal the sin of racism and the "flaw at the foundation" of past teaching. He pointed to a series of events, including the killing of black men by white police officers in places such as St. Louis, the rise in white supremacy and even the language of President Donald Trump, who did not specifically call out white supremacists after clashes during rallies and counterprotests Aug. 11 and 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    With prayer, Catholics in Puerto Rico deal with Hurricane Maria's wrath

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Authorities say it may take months for electricity to fully return to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island and its infrastructure as it made landfall Sept. 20. When the hurricane hit the island with winds of up to 155 miles per hour, it tore out cables, roofs from homes and buildings, uprooted palm trees and even bent a cross anchored to a cement post at the entrance of a Jesuit school. It has been difficult to communicate with the those on the island, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Urbano Vasquez, of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, who studied in Puerto Rico and has vast ties to the island. He has been trying to communicate, to no avail, with a community of Poor Clares in Cidra, Puerto Rico, and others he knows on the island, but phone service is hit or miss. Father Vasquez, however, was able to make contact with a group of seven Capuchin Franciscan friars after the hurricane passed. They took refuge from the storm in Trujillo Alto, about 10 minutes from Old San Juan. "They were scared because it was the first time they've been through something like that," said Father Vasquez. "They spent the time praying or near the Eucharist" as winds tore through part of the roof near a chapel in the building at Centro Capuchino. Some later sent him videos of the winds whistling through the streets, images taken from a cracked window in an arched entrance door.

    Pope makes surprise visit to Rome rehabilitation center

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis, continuing his occasional series of Friday afternoon visits to people who are suffering or in need of encouragement, visited a well-known Rome rehabilitation center for people with neurological disorders or nerve damage. The Vatican press office said the pope arrived at the Santa Lucia Foundation at 4 p.m. Sept. 22 and "was greeted with joy by the people who found themselves at that moment in the parking lot of the complex of hospital buildings." Top staff accompanied Pope Francis to the ward for the rehabilitation of children with neurological diseases. He "joked with them" and offered their parents words of encouragement. "With great attention," the Vatican said, the pope watched some of the children doing their exercises. The therapy often is difficult and painful, the press statement said. Pope Francis also visited a ward of young adults, ages 15 to 25, who are completely or almost completely paralyzed. The Vatican statement said some of the youths lost the use of their arms and legs after being in car accidents.

    Jesuits to continue working in Vatican communications

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican Secretariat for Communication and the Jesuits have signed a formal agreement ensuring a Jesuit presence in Vatican media, even after the Jesuit-run Vatican Radio no longer exists as a separate entity. Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the secretariat, and Jesuit Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, delegate of the Society of Jesus, signed the agreement Sept. 21. The Vatican said the agreement "renews the presence of the Jesuit fathers in the new communications reality of the Holy See." Msgr. Vigano said the Vatican and the Society of Jesus spent a year and a half on the "work of discernment and rethinking the presence of the Jesuits no longer within Vatican Radio, but in a much larger reality." "Times change," Father Guerrero said regarding the Jesuits no longer running the radio. "It is part of the vocation of the Society of Jesus to serve the church as the church requests. Our contribution in the sphere of communications makes us happy, because we can contribute to the reformed desired by the Holy Father."

    Church-based charities provide earthquake relief in Mexico

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the aftermath of two earthquakes in the span of two weeks in Mexico church-based relief agencies have been on the ground providing food, shelter and repairs. The magnitude 7.1 quake that hit near Mexico City Sept. 19 killed more than 230 people and injured more than 2,000 in the crumbling wreckage. The earthquake was just on the heels of the magnitude 8.1 earthquake Sept. 7 off the coast of south-eastern Mexico that killed at least 90 people and destroyed thousands of homes. Malteser International, a relief organization sponsored by the Order of Malta has sent a team of volunteers to Mexico City to provide rescue and first-aid help. "The people of Mexico will need help to rebuild their lives and infrastructure after this disaster," said Ingo Radtke, Malteser International's Secretary General. "The Mexican Association of the Order of Malta is well positioned and equipped for emergency intervention. We are in close contact with our colleagues in Mexico and are standing ready to offer any support they would need in their relief efforts." About 500 volunteers from the Mexican Order of Malta's aid service are already providing humanitarian assistance to communities affected by previous earthquake.

    Educate for hope, solidarity, common good, Vatican urges

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican is asking Catholic schools and universities to take the lead in pioneering education networks that value individual identity and talent, but also help students see how their gifts can contribute to the common good. The Congregation for Catholic Education presented broad guidelines in the document, "Educating to Fraternal Humanism," which was released at the Vatican Sept. 22. "The document underlines how urgent and necessary it is to humanize education, favoring a culture of encounter and dialogue," Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the congregation, told reporters. Firmly convinced Christ's offer of salvation is open to all people, Catholic schools should be agents for "globalizing hope," educating young people to promote solidarity, brotherhood and care for the environment. Currently, there are more than 216,000 Catholic schools "with a student population that exceeds 60 million pupils from every faith and ethnic group," the cardinal said. In addition, there are some 1,800 Catholic universities around the world.

    Pope says he's worried about growing anti-migrant sentiment

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he is worried that even Catholics are arguing against accepting more migrants and refugees into their communities, and they often cite an ill-defined "'moral obligation' to preserve the original cultural and religious identity" of their nations. The "temptation of exclusivism and cultural fortification" has arisen among Catholics at times in the past, "but the Holy Spirit always helped us to overcome it, guaranteeing a constant opening to the other," the pope said Sept. 22 during a meeting with the directors of migrant and refugee services from the bishops' conferences of Europe. "I will not hide my concern about the signs of intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia that are seen in different regions of Europe," the pope said. "These often are motivated by distrust and fear of the other, the different, the stranger. But I'm even more worried by the sad observation that these reactions are not absent from our Catholic communities," he said.

    'Pontifical secret' in abuse cases needs review, advisers tell pope

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors believe they have done important work over the past three years, but, because there is so much more to be done, they presented Pope Francis with a list of suggestions, including changing the way confidentiality is imposed during church investigations of child sexual abuse. Pope Francis had his first face-to-face discussion with commission members Sept. 21 and, during the meeting, members summarized the work they have accomplished and detailed a number of recommendations, including regarding the invocation of "pontifical secret" during abuse investigations and trials. Vatican norms maintain the imposition of "pontifical secret" on the church's judicial handling of clerical sex abuse and other grave crimes, which means they are dealt with in strict confidentiality. Vatican experts have said it was designed to protect the dignity of everyone involved, including the victim, the accused, their families and their communities. Confidentiality, however, is meant to have limits in the relationship with civil authorities as bishops are required to comply with civil law that requires reporting of abuse accusations.

    Pope says church was late fighting abuse, promises 'zero tolerance'

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has endorsed an approach of "zero tolerance" toward all members of the church guilty of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults. Having listened to abuse survivors and having made what he described as a mistake in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, the pope said he has decided whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon. "Why? Simply because the person who does this (sexually abuses minors) is sick. It is a sickness," he told his advisory commission on child protection during an audience at the Vatican Sept. 21. Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including its president -- Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston -- were meeting in Rome Sept. 21-23 for their plenary assembly. Setting aside his prepared text, the pope said he wanted to speak more informally to the members, who include lay and religious experts in the fields of psychology, sociology, theology and law in relation to abuse and protection.

    Bishops: Amend repeal bill to protect poor, keep ban on abortion coverage

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The latest version of a Republican measure in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act must be amended to protect poor and vulnerable Americans, said the chairmen of four U.S. bishops' committees. "As you consider the Graham-Cassidy legislation as a possible replacement for the Affordable Care Act, we urge you to think of the harm that will be caused to poor and vulnerable people and amend the legislation while retaining its positive features," the bishops said in a letter to all senators released Sept. 22. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have co-sponsored the legislation. "Without significant improvement, this bill does not meet the moral criteria for health care reform outlined in our previous letters, and must be changed," they said. That criteria includes respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; and a high-quality plan that is affordable and comprehensive. The bishops criticized the measure's Medicaid "per capita cap" because it puts an "insufferable burden" on poor and vulnerable Americans. They did praise the bill for correcting "a serious flaw" in the ACA by ensuring "no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it."

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  • 'They killed a man but created a saint,' prelate says of slain priest

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Retired Archbishop Harry J. Flynn was rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, when he got a call in 1979 from an old friend from the seminary, asking if he could visit for a week. That friend was Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and a missionary in a rural part of Guatemala. He picked up Father Rother from Dulles International Airport near Washington and was appalled by the horrific situation the priest described in Guatemala. Members of his congregation had disappeared and were presumed dead, victims of a civil war between the government and guerrilla groups. Father Rother described the situation "with a passion," Archbishop Flynn, who headed the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1995 to 2008. "It was haunting him. He said, 'If I speak, they'll kill me, but if keep silent, what kind of a shepherd would I be?'" He was gunned down in his rectory in 1981. Archbishop Flynn will be among others who knew the priest gathering in Oklahoma City's Cox Convention Center Sept. 23 for Father Rother's beatification. In December 2016, Pope Francis officially recognized Father Rother as a martyr, making him the first U.S.-born martyr recognized by the Catholic Church.

    Bishop, Caritas staffer say situation in Mexico serious, much aid needed

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Catholic bishop and a Caritas worker in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious after the Sept. 19 earthquake, and much aid would be needed. "The situation is complicated, because the first earthquake (Sept. 7) had already affected thousands of people in Chiapas and Oaxaca," Alberto Arciniega, head of communications for Caritas Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 20. "The church is continuing to assist those dioceses, but with what happened yesterday, the emergency situation is being re-evaluated to get a more exact assessment of the aid that is needed." The Vatican announced Sept. 21 that, through the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, Pope Francis is sending an initial $150,000 to aid Mexico. Money will be distributed by the nuncio to dioceses most affected. Arciniega said all the dioceses in Mexico were collecting food, water and other necessities for victims of the quakes. He said they were seeking economic support from inside and outside the country. "We know it is a serious situation, and international aid is being requested," Arciniega told Catholic News Service.

    Committee OKs bill on aid for persecuted religious groups in Iraq, Syria

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 19 passed a bill to provide emergency relief and aid to Christians and other religious minorities who have suffered persecution at the hands of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Called the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, or H.R. 390, it also would provide "accountability for perpetrators" of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the region. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, committee chairman, has told supporters he planned to "hotline" the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. If it passes, it would return to the House for a vote on the amended version and then go to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature. The House unanimously approved the bipartisan bill in a voice vote June 6. It was co-authored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California. Following the House action, the chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace urged swift passage by the Senate.

    Sistine Chapel Choir makes rare visit to United States

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Sistine Chapel Choir came to Washington Sept. 20 on a rare U.S. visit. Its stops included Detroit and New York as well as The Catholic University of America, where it gave a concert and presented a workshop. The choir resembles the choir of the Early Renaissance period of 500 years ago in that it features all males, including about 30 boys, to sing the soprano and alto parts that were written with their vocal timbre in mind. The choir is directed by an Italian Salesian priest, Msgr. Massimo Palombella, whose first name and clerical honorific are usually ignored in favor of the address "Maestro." Appointed in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, the priest's commission was renewed in 2015 by Pope Francis. In a Sept. 20 interview with Catholic News Service, Msgr. Palombella, ordained in 1997, said that as the choir conductor, he gets to "dig roots" into the earliest years of the choir.

    Mercy can scandalize those who don't see their own sin, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating the feast of St. Matthew, the anniversary of the day when as a 17-year-old he said he was overwhelmed by God's mercy, Pope Francis said it was interesting how many Catholics today seem to be scandalized when God shows mercy to someone. In his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Sept. 21, Pope Francis looked in depth at the day's short Gospel story of the calling of St. Matthew. The story, the pope said, has three parts: "the encounter, the celebration and the scandal." Jesus sees Matthew, a tax collector -- "one of those who made the people of Israel pay taxes to give to the Romans, a traitor to his country" -- and calls him to follow. Jesus looks at him "lovingly, mercifully" and "the resistance of that man who wanted money, who was a slave to money, falls. That man knew he was a sinner," the pope said. "He was liked by no one and even despised." But it was "precisely that awareness of being a sinner that opened the door to Jesus' mercy. He left everything and followed."

    Chinese Catholics fear new regulations will further suppress activities

    HONG KONG (CNS) -- Church officials fear that newly revised religious affairs regulations released by the Chinese government, supposedly aimed at protecting national security, will be used to further suppress religious activities. Earlier in September, Premier Li Keqiang announced that a state council order on the new regulations would take effect Feb. 1. Anthony Lam, executive secretary of the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, told that the new provisions showed authorities had not listened to opinions expressed by religious communities during public consultations. Total religious control was the goal, he said, whereas a 2005 version had been more balanced and moderate. The changes reflected differing governing styles of former president Hu Jintao and current President Xi Jinping, he added. Lam cited tighter restrictions in the revised regulations on "unauthorized religious" venues. He questioned whether a home display about Zen meditation exercises could, for example, be deemed illegal.

    Pope urges politicians to be models of service in fight against Mafia

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When politics becomes all about partisan interests and secret deals, it leaves behind its true vocation and becomes susceptible to the same influences of corruption that allow the Mafia to flourish, Pope Francis said. Authentic politics is "an eminent form of charity," which strives to ensure a future of peace and full dignity for every person, whereas "a deviated politics" no longer listens to the conscience, but "banalizes evil, confuses truth with lies and profits from the role of public responsibility it has been given," the pope said. Meeting Sept. 21 with members of Italy's anti-Mafia parliamentary commission, Pope Francis praised Italian laws that seek to involve the government and citizens, religious communities and volunteer associations in the fight against organized crime. In particular, he cited the wisdom of provisions whereby some of the convicted Mafia members' property, confiscated by the government, is turned over to nonprofit groups to provide training and jobs to students and the unemployed. Corruption, poverty and social injustice are the "fertile fields" upon which organized crime grows and thrives, he said.

    Vatican signs treaty to ban nuclear weapons

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Holy See ratified and signed the new U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the high-level Vatican diplomat who signed the treaty told a U.N. conference that the Catholic Church supports efforts "to move progressively toward a world free of nuclear weapons." Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican foreign minister, signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations Sept. 20. More than 40 other countries signed it as well. The treat would enter into force 90 days after at least 50 countries both sign and ratify it. Also at the United Nations, Archbishop Gallagher addressed the 10th Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, a treaty the Vatican adhered to in 1996. The text of his speech was released at the Vatican Sept. 21. The Vatican, he said, believes "a nuclear test ban, nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament are closely linked and must be achieved as quickly as possible under effective international control."

    War robs South Sudan youths of childhood, says bishops' leader

    KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNS) -- War in South Sudan has robbed young people of their childhood and given them challenges unknown to their peers in most other countries, said the head of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference. "My heart breaks at the thought that your childhoods are being taken away from you daily, but I know that you have not lost your vision or your hope for a better future," Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan, said in a Sept. 21 statement to mark International Day for Peace. The bishops' conference includes all dioceses in Sudan and South Sudan, which split in 2011, when South Sudan became the world's newest country. Barely three years after its independence from Sudan, a power struggle pitting President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, plunged South Sudan into civil war. The war has killed thousands, displaced nearly 1 million people, ignited a man-made famine and destroyed the country's economy. In South Sudan and Sudan, it is "necessary for us to stop awhile" and "invite peace into our hearts, because we have lost everything to wars," Bishop Kussala said.

    Renowned investigator of Marian apparitions dies at 99

    ROME (CNS) -- Msgr. Rene Laurentin, who spent a lifetime studying Marian apparitions, died Sept. 10 at the age of 99 in Evry, France. Msgr. Laurentin had published more than 160 books and 1,000 articles about Mariology, including the "Dictionary of the 'Apparitions' of the Virgin Mary." The 1,200-page volume lists more than 2,400 alleged apparitions of Mary all over the world and provides details about the church's investigations of them. To this day, only a handful of the claimed appearances of Mary are recognized by the Catholic Church. "The apparitions are not seen with the most benign eye by the church," he had said, emphasizing how seriously the church investigates the claims and citing the long approval process of even the most popular visions. "Apparitions are the least scientifically studied, the most hidden and most controversial of all theological subjects," the French priest said.

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  • Affirmation of peace is commitment to justice, says St. Louis archbishop

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and other faith leaders in St. Louis called for a commitment to peace and justice in St. Louis in what he described as a time of "deep hurt and disappointment." More than 500 people gathered at Kiener Plaza Park Sept. 19 for an Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace and Solidarity. Following the nearly one-hour service, almost 300 people marched from the plaza to City Hall, where they held a peaceful demonstration. "We gather together as one human family this afternoon to both pray and reflect," Archbishop Carlson said. "We remember that we are not a divided humanity but one human family. Here in St. Louis, we have walked together, we have rejoiced together and we have cried together. Today is no exception. "We must continue our walk committed to the higher vision that holds us accountable to our truest identity as children of God -- capable of bringing God's peace to every corner, where division and violence seek the upper hand." The prayer service took place four days after a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Jason Stockley. He was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2011 of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African-American. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued the ruling after Stockley, who is white, waived his right to a jury trial.

    For working priests, distance-learning evangelization degree is godsend

    DETROIT (CNS) -- Father Joseph Kim serves in a diocese divided. On one side of the valley, there are the billionaires: the Facebooks, the Googles, the Apples. On the other side, there are the poor. In the middle, there are priests such as him, striving to bring one Gospel to all of them. "Our diocese is very unique in that we have the highest concentration of billionaires in the world, and we also have the largest homeless encampment in the United States," said Father Kim, vocations director for the Diocese of San Jose, California. "They're polar opposites, but that's the world we live in -- a very secular, individualistic mindset right next to a population that is not individualistic at all and who needs our help." Confronting such drastically different realities is one of the reasons Father Kim decided to pursue an advanced degree in the new evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Father Kim soon will complete a licentiate in sacred theology, or STL, in the new evangelization from the Motor City seminary, a four-year, one-of-a-kind distance-learning program that offers priests a chance to learn from some of the top Catholic minds in the country -- such as professors Ralph Martin and Janet Smith -- while still serving "in the trenches" of their day-to-day ministries.

    Afghan family gets new start in West Virginia with Catholic agency's help

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (CNS) -- The Noorzei family of Charleston waited three years for their visas to emigrate from Afghanistan and with some help from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, they have settled into a new life. "It was very dangerous for me because I worked for a couple of years for the United States government, and some unknown group is targeting the people who work for the company which is supported by the United States," Omid Noorzei said. "I left my car, my house, everything, but at least I saved my life, and I'm very happy for that." Omid has a bachelor's degree in business and had taken English courses before and during college. From 2008 to 2011, he was a field monitor with the U.S. Agency for International Development, working on agricultural development in Afghanistan. He then became a team leader for another agency in Kabul, supported by the U.S. State Department, working on a project to establish a prisoner classification database for the Afghan corrections system. His wife, Wahida, is originally from Mazar-i-Sharif. Both are of the Baha'i faith, a monotheistic religion that emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. Being members of a religious minority in Afghanistan posed another challenge for the young couple.

    Church leaders offer prayers, Mexicans pitch in after earthquake

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Mexican church leaders offered prayers and urged generosity after an earthquake struck the national capital and its environs, claiming more than 240 lives -- including at least 20 children trapped in a collapsed school. The U.S. bishops joined them in prayer, asking for the protection of "Our Lady of Guadalupe, comforter of the afflicted and mother most merciful." The magnitude 7.1 earthquake Sept. 19 added to the misery of Mexicans who suffered a magnitude 8.1 earthquake 12 days earlier. That quake left nearly 100 dead in the country's southern states and left thousands more homeless. "We join the pain and grief of the victims of the earthquake, which occurred today ... in various parts of our country," the Mexican bishops' conference said in a Sept. 19 statement. "Today, more than ever, we invite the community of God to join in solidarity for our brothers who are suffering various calamities that have struck our country."

    Catholic agencies prepared to help in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands sought shelter in Puerto Rico, as Hurricane Maria, called a "monster storm" by many, hit the Caribbean island just short of a Category 5 storm Sept. 20, with winds of 155 miles per hour. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the hurricane had the potential of being the "most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century." Via Twitter, Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, said it had staff in Tortola, in the nearby British Virgin Islands, preparing to help. The Weather Channel said up to 1 million on the island of 3.4 million were without power early Sept. 20. Even after the storm has passed, some worry about the island's ability to recover since it already is facing billions in debt from years of financial mismanagement. A disaster modeler for Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia, told Bloomberg news that Maria could cause up to $30 billion in damage to Puerto Rico, a territory of the U. S., as well to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    Rothers still rooted to land where martyred priest and siblings grew up

    OKARCHE, Okla. (CNS) -- Tom Rother and his wife of 52 years, Marti, live on the farm where he grew up, less than an hour's drive from their five children and 15 grandchildren. Though the farm, located three miles from the center of Okarche, is now run by his oldest two sons, he still spends days in the gently sloping fields, cutting hay alongside them and raising calves. At first glance, his life seems exceptional mostly in its rootedness: He attends the same parish and farms the same land where he was raised. He also is a brother to the first U.S.-born martyr, Father Stanley Rother, who will be beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. He was gunned down in 1981 in the Guatemalan village where he ministered. Tom, like his older brother Stan and their other siblings, grew up surrounded by farming, family and faith. They began their day with farm chores and breakfast. Then, as Tom remembered, "We'd come in on the school bus, put our things up, and go over to church where they had Mass every morning," at Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School, still a thriving community in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, 30 miles northwest of the city. After school, "we came home and had cows to milk and chores to do," he said. After dinner, "especially during the month of Mary and in the winter time, we prayed the rosary," Tom Rother recollected in an interview for Catholic News Service.

    D.C. summit to highlight hardships facing Middle East Christians

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Instability, lack of basic needs, terror attacks on places of worship and genocide are among the hardships faced by Christians and other ancient minority groups in the Middle East, said a Washington-based advocacy organization seeking to help. The organization, In Defense of Christians, will highlight such hardships at an Oct. 24-26 summit in Washington in an effort to sway U.S. government and other public officials to do more to protect and preserve the region's Christian minority communities targeted by extremists, said Andrew Doran, IDC's senior policy adviser. Although the goal behind the creation of the organization three years ago had been to expose and mitigate the dangers that the Islamic State group posed to Middle Eastern Christians, it has become clear that eradicating the extremist Muslim group and other similar networks would not be sufficient, he told reporters at IDC's Washington headquarters Sept. 19. "The work for protecting Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is much more expansive than just ISIS, and it's an issue that, unfortunately, we believe is going to be with us for decades to come," he said.

    Caritas staffers in Germany juggle duties as they help refugees

    STUTTGART, Germany (CNS) -- A young African mother calls for help to the Caritas staffer at the refugee dormitory as her toddler quickly scurries down the hallway, giggling. Unaware, Syrian and Iraqi refugees huddle outside under an awning, busy texting, as the rain pours down. Caritas social worker Lisa Maisch said it's all in a day's work as she and others at the facility juggle many responsibilities, including providing care and support to refugees fleeing conflict and economic deprivation, who are often traumatized. At other times, Caritas workers find themselves having to give a motivational push to refugees to improve German language skills and pursue job prospects as a means of better integrating into a new life in the country. "We are on the one hand social workers who give advice. On the other, we are also responsible for managing the facility," explained Maisch, who began working with Caritas in September 2014, a year before hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa flooded into Europe, with about 1 million landing in Germany. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel seeks re-election for a fourth term of office Sept. 24, her policies on immigration have come under fresh scrutiny. Not all Germans are happy about the huge influx of foreigners from very different cultural and religious backgrounds; others are supportive of Merkel's actions. "People live in a tight, narrow place here," Maisch, 31, told Catholic News Service. She spoke at the facility of stark concrete dormitories on the outskirts of Stuttgart, the affluent home to Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Bosch.

    How to have hope: Pope Francis gives point-by-point guide

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people should love, believe and follow their dreams, never despairing because Jesus is always with them, Pope Francis said. When life hits hard, they should try to get up again, letting others help them, and if they are bored, they should concentrate on doing good things for others, the pope said Sept. 20 during his weekly general audience. Continuing his series of audience talks on Christian hope, the pope gave extensive advice on how to teach people, especially young people, to remain full of hope. No matter "where God has planted you, hope. Always hope," he said, explaining: Enemy No. 1 is not out there somewhere, but inside oneself. "Don't make room for bitter or dark thoughts."

    Pope prays for victims of Mexico quake

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As search and rescue operations continued in central Mexico, where more than 200 people died after a strong earthquake Sept. 19, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims. "May our mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe, with great tenderness be near the beloved Mexican nation," the pope said in Spanish Sept. 20 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. "Yesterday, a terrible earthquake struck Mexico -- I see there are many Mexicans among you today -- resulting in numerous victims and material damage," the pope told the crowd in the square. The quake, measuring 7.1, caused extensive damage in Mexico City and in neighboring states. "In this moment of suffering," he said, "I want to express my closeness and prayers to the entire Mexican population. Let us all raise our prayers together to God so that he may welcome into his bosom those who have lost their lives and comfort the wounded, their families and all those affected," Pope Francis said. "We also ask prayers for all the relief and rescue personnel who are lending their help to all the people affected."

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  • Catholics need 'profound renewal' of catechesis, archbishop tells sisters

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- The head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization said Catholics "need a profound renewal of our catechesis." Archbishop Rino Fisichella told dozens of religious sisters, mostly teachers of the faith, gathered in Northwest Chicago Sept. 17 that there is wrong thinking among the faithful that once they receive the sacraments, they no longer have to learn their catechism. He said, "By its nature, catechesis is to support believers to understand every day more the mystery of faith." Archbishop Fisichella said Catholics could learn this with the help of catechists who are "witnesses" and said that "witness is the sign of a genuine work of evangelization." Referring to Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization, "Evangelii Nuntiandi," the prelate emphasized what he called a "very important" section of the document that said people nowadays are more apt to listen to someone who lives out the faith and speaks of it than to teachers of it and that if they do listen to teachers, it's because the teachers are themselves witnesses of the faith. "The world of today needs witnesses," he said. "And we have got to be there. But don't misunderstand the word 'witness.' It is true that witness, it makes, first of all, our life. But to be a witness, it means also to be a preacher of the word of the Lord."

    Young Catholic entrepreneur takes lawn-mowing business to White House

    ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- When Francis "FX" Giaccio began his lawn-mowing business in May, the 11-year-old saw beyond the possibility of making enough money to buy a Lego set or a new phone. He saw an opportunity. "I always wanted to meet the president, but I also wanted to mow somewhere that's not a normal place," he said. So he wrote a letter to the White House, asking for a chance show the country what a kid his age could do. Francis mowed the lawn of the Rose Garden Sept. 15, maintaining his concentration even as cameras flashed and the president himself came to check on the young man's progress. "On behalf of Melania and myself, thank you for doing a great job this morning! National Parks Service gives you an A+!" President Donald Trump tweeted. Later that day, Francis and his father, Greg, toured the White House, visiting the Oval Office, the library and "scorch marks from the War of 1812," the youngster said. Francis is home-schooled and the oldest of four children. For the past three years, he has been an altar server at St. James Church in Falls Church.

    Teen who is mayor says his time at Boys Town has been life-changing

    BOYS TOWN, Neb. (CNS) -- Jason Landin came to Boys Town about five years ago with hopes of improving his life. He never envisioned himself, however, becoming mayor of Boys Town. But that's exactly what the native of Laredo, Texas, did this year after campaigning for the position. "I wanted to bring more recognition to some of the activities that I feel are important, such as (the sport of) cross-country," said Landin, 17. And now "I have the opportunity to help out and be part of something bigger than me," he told the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha. The mayoral election takes place every March, with each mayor serving a one-year term. The mayor serves as a "great representative" of Boys Town, but has little decision-making power, said Kara Neuverth, director of media relations, marketing and communications for Boys Town. Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, created the Boys Town mayor system to help run the village. Tony Villone was elected the first mayor of Boys Town, representing the "Build Boys Town" party, in January 1935. That same year the Boys Town student government program began. In May 1991, Sarah Williamson was elected the first female mayor of Boys Town.

    Boys Town celebrates a century of building families, changing lives

    OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- After living in several not-so-good environments, Lisa Morehouse Mabey arrived at Boys Town at the age of 15, looking for what she said she needed most: stability and love. And that's exactly what she found. Three years later, after graduating from high school there in 1989, she left with a stronger sense of self, greater confidence in her ability to make good choices, and love from a "real" family, said Mabey, now a wife, mother and successful hairstylist in Omaha. "Boys Town was the first place I ever loved that showed me what a real family should look like," said Mabey, a member of St. James Parish in Omaha. "I honestly loved knowing there would be food on the table and a clean roof over my head. I loved coming home from school and having 'parents' that were there to support us every day." A sense of security, opportunities for success and a support system are just some of the gifts young people have received from Boys Town, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Father Edward Flanagan founded the home for boys -- later for girls, too -- on Dec. 12, 1917, to keep them off the streets, provide guidance and love, and instill a sense of purpose in their lives. Originally, the farmland he purchased was located on the outskirts of Omaha, but today it is in the center of the city. Considered a village, Boys Town has its own mayor, post office, police and fire departments and school system. Services have grown to also include a research hospital, national hotline and residential treatment center.

    Encuentro process aimed at meeting needs, fostering sense of mission

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Most dioceses and archdioceses around the country are holding their diocesan encuentros throughout the fall, highlighting what contributions Hispanic Catholics bring to the Catholic Church and their faith communities. Anticipation of those gatherings comes as communities celebrate this year's annual National Hispanic Heritage Month, highlighting Hispanics' contributions to their communities and to society. The observance began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. U.S. census estimates show that about 29.7 million Hispanics/Latinos in the United States identify as Catholics, which represents nearly 59 percent of the total Hispanic population in the country. Among millennials, Hispanic Catholics represent 54 percent of U.S. Catholics born in 1982 or later. U.S. Catholic officials say the church's encuentro process is an essential opportunity for many parishes and dioceses to promote and grow unity, leadership and cross-collaboration. Diocesan encuentros are the current phase of what is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action. First came parish-level encuentros, next will be regional encuentros. The process will culminate in the Fifth National Encuentro, known as "V Encuentro," next September in Grapevine, Texas. Previous national encuentros were held in 1972, 1977, 1985 and 2000.

    In receiving pallium, cardinal says he will 'spend my life for the flock'

    NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the U.S. papal nuncio, imposed the pallium on Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the sixth archbishop of Newark, at a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. "I confess that, among all the 'stuff' episcopal ministry requires that I wear, the item I appreciate most is what I received today," Cardinal Tobin said. "Made of pure lamb's wool and draped over the shoulders, the symbolism of the pallium is even more concrete: The lamb's wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep, which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life." The liturgy took place 10 months into a tenure already marked by outreach and inclusiveness with advocacy for immigrants, the gay community and dozens of visits to deaneries, parishes, schools and archdiocesan institutions. Although Newark's other archbishops received the pallium, those ceremonies were in Rome, a practice Pope Francis changed in 2015 when he asked that they be held in home dioceses. This was the first such liturgy in Newark's cathedral since Oct. 19, 1954, when Newark's second archbishop, Archbishop Thomas A. Boland, received his pallium on the day the Gothic cathedral officially opened after a half-century of construction. Worn around the neck, the pallium encircles the shoulders while two bands hang from the front and back. It is embroidered with six black crosses commemorating the wounds of the crucified Christ, while three jewel-tipped pins symbolize the nails that affixed Jesus to the cross. The liturgy was held on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

    Archbishop calls for peace after verdict, asks community to come together

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis called for peace following a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley. Stockley, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2011 of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African-American. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued the ruling after Stockley waived his right to a jury trial. "If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness," Archbishop Carlson stated. "While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us." Protesters began gathering in downtown St. Louis soon after the ruling was made public on the morning of Sept. 15. Media reports had warned of threatened disruptions if Stockley was found not guilty. Protests turned violent, and more than 120 people were arrested Sept. 17 as protesters attacked police and broke windows, according to CNN, which also reported that a peaceful protest took place Sept. 18, not too far from the site of the previous night's violence.

    Myanmar leader condemns human rights violations in speech on Rohingya

    NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (CNS) -- Faced with a powerful military keen to have martial law declared in Rakhine state, which nearly half a million people fled in three weeks, Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, avoided any mention of ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya while broadly condemning human rights violations in her first major address on the issue. "We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence," said Suu Kyi, state counselor and foreign affairs minister. "We are committed to the restoration of peace, stability and rule of law throughout the state." reported more than 410,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the military retaliated after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base. Calling out the group as terrorists was the only time Suu Kyi used the word Rohingya, reported. The half-hour address was greeted with either muted praise or dismissal by Western governments, Muslim nations and aid groups. "While it was positive to hear Aung San Suu Kyi condemn human rights violations in Rakhine state, she is still silent about the role of the security forces," Amnesty International said.

    Pope expands scope of John Paul II institute on marriage, family

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To better prepare priests and pastoral workers to help meet the challenges families face today, Pope Francis is strengthening the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and changing its name to the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and Family. The new institution is to expand and deepen the types of courses offered as well as take "an analytical and diversified approach" that allows students to study all aspects and concerns of today's families while remaining "faithful to the teaching of Christ," the pope wrote. The re-foundation of the institute was issued "motu proprio," on the pope's own accord, in an apostolic letter, "Summa Familiae Cura" ("Great Care for the Family"). Dated Sept. 8, the feast of the nativity of Mary, the letter was released at the Vatican Sept. 19. The original institute for studies on marriage and the family was established by St. John Paul II in 1982, after the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family called for the creation of centers devoted to the study of the church's teaching on marriage and the family. While the central institute is based in Rome, there are branches around the world, including in the United States, Australia, Mexico and India.

    Church leaders condemn possible massacre of indigenous in Amazon

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Catholic leaders condemned reports of a possible massacre of isolated indigenous people by illegal gold miners in a remote area of the Brazilian Amazon. The Brazilian government is investigating reports that illegal miners killed as many as 20 indigenous people in early August. Little is known about the indigenous group, which lives in the Vale do Javari indigenous territory and avoids contact with wider Brazilian society. Church leaders expressed "pain, indignation and strong condemnation" at the reports. In a statement from the Pan-Amazonian Church Network (REPAM), which includes church leaders and pastoral workers from throughout the Amazon, they called for authorities to "quickly clarify the circumstances in which this act of profound violence allegedly occurred and implement immediate measures to protect the life and territory of the indigenous peoples of Vale do Javari." Authorities have failed to respond to complaints about incursions by outsiders into the Vale do Javari and other indigenous territories, the statement said.

    German theologian: Reformation meant different things in different eras

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- How Protestants regarded Martin Luther has evolved as the Reformation he engendered has likewise evolved, according to German Catholic theologian Father Peter Neuner. "To us Luther is not only a historic person, but also a product of interested memory," Father Neuner said in a Sept. 15 address delivered on his behalf during Georgetown University's conference on "1517-2017: Lutherans and Catholics, Then and Now." "He has become a symbolic figure," he added. "But a symbol of what?" Father Neuner, a retired professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, who was unable to attend the conference, noted that in the first decades after Luther's death, "there arose a Lutheran orthodoxy, based on Luther's writings. The reformer was regarded as the timeless prophet of the Christian message. The reception of Luther was concentrated on his written works, which appeared almost as the infallible truth. Church historians even speak of a Protestant scholasticism." By the time of the Reformation's bicentennial in 1717, "Luther was praised as the religious genius who had concentrated Christian religion to an immediate experience of Jesus," Father Neuner said. "Even the exponents of an enthusiastic Reformation and the radical reformers received a new estimation and were regarded as examples for Christians, notwithstanding the fact that Luther had rejected them as heretics and had fought bitter controversies with them."

    Pope, Bolivian bishops discuss rise of 'parallel' churches

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis urged the bishops of Bolivia to faithfully guide their flocks as breakaway groups comprised of former priests and seminarians are gaining ground in the country. "They are schismatic groups that have arisen within the church and are not in communion with the pope or the bishops. Clearly, it is a challenge. The pope reiterated that it is a problem we must confront," Archbishop Oscar Aparicio Cespedes of Cochabamba told Catholic News Service. Archbishop Aparicio, vice president of the Bolivian bishops' conference, said the 31 bishops making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican spent more than two hours talking with Pope Francis Sept. 18. 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 problematic groups in Bolivia, also known as "parallel churches," are made of priests who have been suspended from their ministry and "seminarians who have claimed autonomy and distance from the church," the archbishop said.

    Pope cites St. Frances Cabrini as exemplar of ministry to immigrants

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although she died 100 years ago, St. Frances Cabrini is a shining example of "love and intelligence" in ministering to the needs of immigrants and helping them become integral members of their new homelands, Pope Francis said. Responding to "the great migrations underway today" the same way Mother Cabrini did "will enrich all and generate union and dialogue, not separation and hostility," Pope Francis said in a letter to Sister Barbara Louise Staley, superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the saint founded. Mother Cabrini arrived in New York in 1889 to work with Italian immigrants, setting up orphanages, schools and hospitals in nine U.S. cities. Naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1909, she died in Chicago Dec. 22, 1917. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were holding their general assembly Sept. 17-23 at the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Chicago. In her work, particularly among Italian immigrants to the United States, Mother Cabrini "focused attention on situations of greatest poverty and fragility, such as the needs of orphans and miners," the pope wrote in his letter, which was released at the Vatican Sept. 19.

    Don't look away; be moved by tragedy and help, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People need to have true compassion so they feel others' pain and are moved to help, Pope Francis said. "Compassion is an emotion that engages, it is a feeling from the heart, from the gut," affecting one's entire being, the pope said Sept. 19 during morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Compassion "is not the same as 'pity' or (saying), 'What a shame, poor people ...'" but leaving things as they are, he said. The word "compassion" comes from "compati," which means to "suffer with," he said, and this is compassion's true meaning. In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading from St. Luke, which recounted Jesus encountering a widow mourning the death of her only son -- her only hope of support and survival. Instead of worrying about the crowd that had accompanied him and using that as an excuse to move on, Jesus was more concerned about the tragic plight of the widow right in front of him, the pope said.

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  • Bishop defends Jesuit priest after seminary withdraws invitation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. bishop vigorously defended Jesuit Father James Martin when a prominent U.S. seminary canceled an invitation it had extended to the well-known author, who was to speak about Jesus at an October event, after fringe groups unhappy with the priest's recent book about the church and the gay community mounted a series of attacks. Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said the cancellation, first made public on Sept. 15, came after it "experienced increasing negative feedback from various social media sites regarding the seminary's invitation" to Father Martin. It did not name the groups associated with the attacks. "This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is -- not primarily for Father Martin's sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church," said San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy in a vigorous defense published by America magazine Sept. 18. "The concerted attack on Father Martin's work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church," wrote Bishop McElroy.

    Boston College says students doing well after acid attack in France

    BOSTON (CNS) -- Boston College said Sept. 18 that four of its university students studying abroad who were victims of an acid attack a day earlier in Marseille, France, were doing well. The female students, all juniors, plan to remain in Europe for their studies and offered forgiveness to the woman who sprayed them with an acid solution outside of the Saint-Charles train station in Marseille, according to a statement posted on the university's website. Following the incident, French police arrested a 41-year-old French woman who they described as "disturbed" and suffering from mental illness. Police said the incident was not related to terrorism. The woman was not identified. The students were treated at a hospital in Marseille after the attack and released the same day. Police told ABC News that two of the students were treated for facial burns and that the other two were not physically injured but were treated for shock. "We are very proud of our students and the gracious manner in which they have handled themselves throughout this ordeal," said Jack Dunn, university spokesman, adding that the Boston College "community is here to provide whatever support and assistance they need."

    Parishioners, Knights knock on doors, check on senior citizens after Irma

    PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. (CNS) -- The nation watched in sadness and outrage at the deaths of eight elderly people in Hollywood without air conditioning and electricity following the historic passing of Hurricane Irma. Members of nearby St. Edward Parish in Pembroke Pines and the local Knights of Columbus council, hearing the call to be good neighbors, prepared hot meals and set out to knock on doors and check in on senior citizen residents four days after the storm. The group was given permission to go door to door with their hot meals and water supplies at the expansive Century Village Pembroke Pines housing development in western Broward County Sept. 14. Residents there reportedly had been without electricity and air conditioning for days, although power was being restored even as the parish volunteers were making their rounds. According to news reports, police confirmed earlier in the week that about 60 percent of the 15,000-person community of mostly retirees still didn't have electricity and was under a "boil water" notice. Century Village is a community comprised of people 55 and over. Compounding the hardships, many elderly citizens at Century Village were unable to get around the four-story buildings because the elevators were not working and some residents couldn't climb three and four flights of stairs.

    Judicial group launches digital ads opposing 'religious litmus test'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Washington-based Judicial Crisis Network Sept. 15 launched a 10-day digital ad campaign objecting to a U.S. Democratic senator grilling a Catholic judicial nominee Sept. 6 about what impact her faith would have on her interpretation of the law. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, spurred outrage about possible religious tests for judicial appointees with the questions she put to Amy Coney Barrett, nominee for a seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Judicial Crisis Network, a group that describes itself as dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice in America, called Feinstein's grilling of the nominee "disgusting and repulsive." The ad, under the headline "Catholics Need Not Apply," is appearing on YouTube and Twitter and also can be viewed at "This is going to be known as 'Feinstein's Folly.' Her line of questioning reeked of 'No Catholics Need Apply,' while ignoring Professor Barrett's stellar qualifications, experience and fierce commitment to defending the Constitution," said Carrie Severino, the network's chief counsel and policy director. "Feinstein was fundamentally at odds with our constitutional commitment to religious freedom, not to mention politically tone-deaf," she said in a statement. "More than one out of every five Americans is Catholic, and that includes a growing Latino population. A nominee's faith should have nothing to do with his or her qualifications to be a federal judge. Period."

    North Miami parish serves up a post-hurricane luxury: A hot meal

    NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (CNS) -- Thanks to Father Fritz Bellonce, pastor of Holy Family Church in North Miami, many people in the area around the church had hot meals after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the community. "The stores and restaurants are closed," he said. "People are eating potato chips, peanut butter, crackers, canned food, snacks, whatever nonperishables that you don't have to cook. A hot meal, right now, is a welcome luxury." Father Bellonce learned from a previous hurricane-related experience. As a seminarian in 2005 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary near Boynton Beach, he saw long lines of hungry, tired people waiting outside the few open restaurants in Palm Beach County after Hurricane Wilma struck. Before Hurricane Irma arrived, he got ready: He bought 200 pounds of rice, lots of beans, pork, chicken, turkey and cooking ingredients -- dishes that are popular in Holy Family's predominantly Haitian-American community. "I knew the first place people in need come to is the church," he told the Florida Catholic newspaper. "We share what we have. We practice what we preach."

    Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical efforts have borne fruit in past 50 years

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical efforts have borne fruit over the past 50 years, noted two speakers in a joint address Sept. 15 during Georgetown University's "1517-2017: Lutherans and Catholics: Then and Now" conference. Kathryn Johnson, director of ecumenical and interreligious relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest U.S. Lutheran body, said she rejects the concept of "ecumenical winter" as if to describe a stall in ecumenism. "There are signs of change that we're seeing around us," she said, adding "autumn" may be a better description and noting that Christians will have to decide "what to do with the harvest." Johnson said there exists a "deep misunderstanding we have of each other still," but progress is undeniable, she said. Sister Susan Wood, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, who is a systematic theology professor and chair of the theology department at Marquette University and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, agreed that the outlook is positive. Ecumenical efforts are not always smooth, she noted, but said ecumenism is "not a hobby, it's not a sidebar, but it's front and center the work of the Gospel."

    Philippine priest, kidnapped in May, freed

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- A senior Philippine priest taken hostage by Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern city of Marawi has been freed after almost four months of captivity. Father Teresito Soganub, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, told a news conference in Manila that he was doing as well as could be expected following his ordeal, reported "I am physically strong and sound," Father Soganub said at Camp Aguinaldo, the national military headquarters. He asked Filipinos to pray for other remaining hostages before military doctors whisked him off for a medical checkup. A local Maute terror group linked to Islamic State captured Father Soganub and other church workers at Marawi cathedral May 23, the first day of fighting in the Islamic city. As well as taking around 30 people from the cathedral offices, they also tore down and desecrated icons and other sacred images and tried to set fire to the building.

    Key West Catholic school struggles to reopen after Hurricane Irma

    KEY WEST, Fla. (CNS) -- Robert Wright, principal of the Basilica School of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Key West, reluctantly left town before Hurricane Irma made its historic landfall, knowing it wouldn't be easy getting back to Florida's southernmost tip later on. Wright drove north toward the Florida mainland, braving 50-mph winds, to join his wife and five children who had evacuated to a relative's home in Lakeland in Central Florida. Wright's wife, Jessica, is a sixth-generation Conch, or Key West native. He wanted "to stay and ride it out, but my wife wasn't happy about that, and we have five children," said Wright, principal of the school since 2013. Wright's fears about returning were well-founded. County officials only began letting residents head back to the lower Keys and Key West early in the morning Sept. 17. Some days before that, Wright had to get back to Key West on a flight taking humanitarian supplies to the area. Once there and after doing a full damage assessment, he contracted with a local company to begin the cleanup process Sept. 18. He set Sept. 25 as the target for a full school reopening.

    In Bolivia, when the water dries up, so does the economy

    ANCORAIMES, Bolivia (CNS) -- Bolivia's Rio Desaguerdo stretches 200 miles south from scenic Lake Titicaca to the parched salt flat of Lake Poopo. Lake Poopo dried up three years ago, and 30 million fish died almost overnight. Along with the fish went the livelihood of the residents of a few dozen Aymara and Uru communities, whose people have fished the lake for centuries. Today, Lake Poopo remains almost completely dry, the result of declining rainfalls and increased upstream demands for irrigation and industrial uses. Especially in the Lake Poopo region, the water shortage has driven roughly half the inhabitants away to seek work elsewhere. Back at Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, the fishery remains active but, nearby, agricultural communities are crying for water. Lack of water in the high-altitude Altiplano -- average elevation: 12,750 feet -- is both chronic and increasing in intensity. Annual rainfall in the key Lake Titicaca region is declining, while some areas of the Altiplano rarely receive more than eight inches of rain a year. The 8-year-old Bolivian constitution made access to water a fundamental right, but local leaders say the right is more talk than action.

    Never forget early martyrs, pope tells Japanese bishops

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Many challenges in Japan make the church's evangelizing call to be the "salt and light" of hope and meaning even more urgent than ever, Pope Francis told the country's bishops. In fact, the nation's long history of courageous martyrs represents "the true evangelizing power of your church," he said, and they are a great treasure that should always be remembered, cherished and built upon. The pope's remarks came in a letter, addressed to all bishops in Japan, that was to be delivered by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who was visiting Japan Sept. 17-26. Some of the many worrying problems the country faces include high divorce rates, suicide, religious indifference and an "obsession for work and earnings," the pope said in the letter dated Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. A highly developed nation can produce material wealth, but also material, spiritual and moral poverty and exclusion, he wrote. That is why it is urgent the church in Japan constantly "be salt and light" in the world, he said.

    Pope praises Rome's first interreligious half-marathon

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After thousands of runners completed the first ever "multireligious" half-marathon in Rome, Pope Francis praised the initiative, which was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture. "I greet participants in the 'Via Pacis' athletic race, which passed places of worship of the different religious faiths present in Rome," the pope said Sept. 17. "I hope that this cultural and athletic initiative fosters dialogue, coexistence and peace," he told gathered for the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square, which was near the end of the 13-mile (21 km) course. Some 2,000 people took part in the half-marathon and almost 4,000 people signed up for the 5k "fun run," according to Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of pontifical council and head of the office's section on sport. Priests, nuns, the differently abled, refugees and parents pushing kids in strollers were just some of those who took part in the events. Some 200 members of Rome's grand mosque participated, as well as members of the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Bahai communities, Msgr. Sanchez told SIR, the Italian bishops' news agency. About 20 Vatican employees, dubbed "the pope's marathoners," also took part, with one member of the Swiss Guard completing the half-marathon with an impressive time of 1 hour, 20 minutes, he said.

    Governing requires prayer, wisdom, counsel, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Those who govern or are in positions of authority are called to be humble and serve the good of the people God entrusts to them rather than the interests of their party or themselves, Pope Francis said. Without prayer, a leader risks serving his own selfish desires or political party, closing himself or herself in a "circle from which there is no escape," the pope said Sept. 18 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "Who has more power than a ruler? The people, who have given him the power, and God, from whom power comes through the people," the pope said. "When he has this awareness of being subordinate, he prays." In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's reading from St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy in which he asks that "supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority." The pope also spoke about the day's Gospel reading from St. Luke, which recounted Jesus' healing of a slave at the behest of his master, a Roman centurion. "This man felt the need for prayer" not because it was a last resort but because he knew that "there was someone above him, there is another who is in charge," the pope said.

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  • Salesian priest recounts harrowing tale of his capture, liberation

    ROME (CNS) -- Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location -- one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment -- when he received some unexpected news. "Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), 'I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly!'" Father Uzhunnalil told reporters Sept. 16 at the Salesian headquarters in Rome. The Salesian priest from India was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. On that day, four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by uniformed gunmen. Seeing a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters seated at the news conference in Rome, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his condolences. However, the memory of the four sisters' martyrdom still proved too difficult to bear. Silence filled the room as the Salesian priest covered his eyes, tears streaming down his face while doing his utmost to hold back emotions that he thought he could contain. "I thank God Almighty for this day, for keeping me safe, healthy, clear minded; my emotions were in control until now," he said after regaining his composure.

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  • Trump begins talks with Democrats about congressional help for DACA

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After campaigning on a promise that he'd get rid of a program that helps a group of young migrants without documents remain in the country, President Donald Trump is working with Democrats to find a way to help the young migrants stay. Late Sept. 13, the two top Democrats in Congress, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader in the Senate, said they met with the president to hash out a deal to help the approximately 800,000 youth who have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program, which began under then-President Barack Obama in 2012, would end under the Trump administration. DACA provides a work permit and temporary reprieve from deportation for youth brought to the U.S. as children without legal permission, if they meet certain criteria. Sessions said the program was "unilateral executive amnesty," and said its beneficiaries had taken away jobs from "hundreds of thousands of Americans." The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, said on its website immediately after the announcement that current recipients can continue working until their permits, which last two years, expire. Those with DACA work permits that expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, are eligible to renew them, the website says, but they won't be able to renew after that two-year extension.

    Guatemalan bishops condemn congress' attempt at imposing impunity

    GUATEMALA CITY (CNS) -- The Guatemalan bishops' conference has condemned the country's congress for gutting campaign finance laws at a time when accusations of corruption and electoral irregularities are implicating the president and others in the political class. The bishops expressed "their condemnation of this unspeakable and arbitrary act, which promotes impunity and rewards corruption," along with "their condemnation of one of the most ignominious acts committed by congress." The document was published Sept. 14 and signed by conference president, Bishop Gonzalo de Villa Vasquez of Solola-Chimaltenango. On Sept. 13, lawmakers in Guatemala quickly approved a law that softened penalties for campaign finance violations and limited the kinds of contributions that could be investigated. Those convicted of crimes could pay nominal fines rather than serve prison sentences. Guatemala's constitutional court provisionally suspended the law Sept. 14, but protesters had taken to the street anyway -- something encouraged by the bishops' statement. Social media critics used the hashtag "Black Wednesday," to mark the day the law was approved.

    London cardinal calls Tube incident 'another cowardly attack'

    LONDON (CNS) -- Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster described the attempted bombing of a rush hour Tube train in London as "yet another cowardly attack" and said he was praying for the 22 people being treated for burns and other injuries. The device detonated Sept. 15 on a London Underground train but failed to explode as intended. It nevertheless shot a "wall of fire" through carriages, injuring passengers, including a 10-year-old boy. No one was killed. Cardinal Nichols later issued a statement to express his horror at the fifth terrorist attack in the U.K. this year. "I am dismayed at yet another cowardly attack on innocent people, including young children, as they were commuting to work and school this morning," said Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

    Cardinal says Irma collection can help meet material, pastoral needs

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington has asked his fellow bishops around the country to take up an emergency collection in their dioceses during weekend Masses Sept. 23-24 to help those recovering from devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and the southeastern region of the United States. "While emergency outreach was immediate, we know that the road to recovery and the rebuilding of communities will be long and additional support will be needed," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in a statement issued late Sept. 14. The funds collected "will be used in the affected areas to support humanitarian aid, assistance with long-term efforts to restore communities after widespread destruction, and for the pastoral and reconstruction needs of the church in U.S. and the Caribbean," he said. Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that his call "comes on the heels" of the emergency collection for victims of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana and held on for days before moving inland. Harvey, too, "caused catastrophic damage and compelled us to respond," he said. "Likewise, Hurricane Irma has been devastating and our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, especially the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and the southern U.S. need our help."

    Vatican diplomat recalled from U.S. during child-porn investigation

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A member of the Vatican diplomatic corps serving in Washington has been recalled to the Vatican where he is involved in a criminal investigation involving child pornography, the Vatican said. The Vatican press office said Sept. 15 that it was notified Aug. 21 by the U.S. State Department "of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington. The Holy See, following the practice of sovereign states, recalled the priest in question, who is currently in Vatican City," the press office said. The Associated Press reported that the State Department confirmed it had asked the Vatican to lift the official's diplomatic immunity. It said that request was denied. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, signed by most nations of the world, including the United States and the Holy See, stipulates that diplomatic personnel "shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention" in the host country. The host country may, however, ask the sending country to waive immunity or the sending country, in this case, the Vatican, may choose to recall the diplomat and proceed with a criminal investigation and possible prosecution of its own. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the allegations against the Vatican diplomat "a serious issue" and referred to the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. "We hope the Holy See will be forthcoming with more details," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, conference president. "While we don't know all the facts, consistent with our charter, we reaffirm that when such allegations occur, an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation should begin in cooperation with law enforcement, and immediate steps be taken to protect children. The protection of children and young people is our most sacred responsibility."

    Myanmar charges against aid groups leave displaced Rohingya without food

    SITTWE, Myanmar (CNS) -- The U.N.'s World Food Program, which provides regular food aid to 120,000 Rohingya Muslims displaced and living in camps in Myanmar, was working against the clock to deliver basic survival rations to up to 50,000 people. reported the rations were three weeks overdue because of disruption of aid activities following government accusations that aid agencies were supporting insurgents. Since Aug. 25, local contractors refused to carry food for aid in conflict-torn Rakhine state. Local contractors, who are ethnic Rakhine, are concerned about retaliation by Buddhist Rakhine hardliners following government accusations that World Food Program energy biscuits were found in Rohingya militant camps in northern Rakhine. This has also affected the provision of primary health care to internally displaced persons' camps near Sittwe and elsewhere in the state. Rohingya from 10 camps, cordoned off by police guards near Sittwe, say some camps received food rations in August, but most of the camps did not. The World Food Program has regularly provided rice, beans and oil every month, and local contractors carry food by trucks and send them to the camps.

    Mary was a 'courageous woman' up to the end, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mary was a courageous woman who stood by Jesus even when the crowds turned against him and even though she knew he would face a tragic death, Pope Francis said. "At the very end, she is there, standing, looking at her son" on the cross. "Maybe she heard comments: 'Look, there is the mother of one of the three delinquents.' But she remains. Silent. She is the mother, she does not deny her son," the pope said Sept. 15 in his homily during a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Commemorating the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading from St. John which recounted Jesus' final moments on the cross. Mary, the pope said, had heard Simeon's prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart and knew that her son would one day give his life for humanity. Yet she followed Jesus the whole time, which is why "we say that Mary is the first disciple," the pope said.

    Circus performers have a 'joyful' vocation, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting with an association of traveling circus and street performers, carnival workers, musicians and magicians, Pope Francis thanked the artists for their dedication in bringing joy to men, women and children. The "joyful vocation" of entertaining people of all ages is also a mission to provide "healthy and clean fun without the need to go low to look for material to entertain people," the pope said during a Sept. 15 audience with Italy's National Association of Traveling Performers. "It is true: Yours is a handcrafted beauty, different from that product of the great powers of entertainment, which is a bit sterile, less human," the pope said. "I confess that I prefer yours, which gives the air of awe, of enchantment and yet is the result of hours and hours of hard work." Commemorating the association's 70th anniversary, Pope Francis acknowledged that the life of a traveling performer "is not an easy life," often requiring them to go to places "that don't always appreciate the social value of this type of show."

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  • Fallen Houston police sergeant 'lived' beatitudes, Texas cardinal says

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- The Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was filled with thousands gathered Sept. 13 to honor the life and pray for the soul of Sgt. Steve A. Perez, a veteran Houston police officer. Perez, an active parishioner of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in northwest Houston, died after driving into high water during Hurricane Harvey. The 35-year veteran officer was trying to find his way to work as Harvey's record rainfall flooded hundreds of streets in the fourth largest city in the nation. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Perez lived with an open, human heart receptive to the Lord, a heart that he gave to the whole church. "In the recent weeks, the city of Houston and Texas have given an object lesson in the beatitudes to the whole world," Cardinal DiNardo said. "Part of the reason for that has to do with people like Sgt. Steve who always lived those beatitudes. "We are surrounded by beauty," he said. Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz of Galveston-Houston presided over the funeral Mass, joined by concelebrants Cardinal DiNardo and retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick attended, with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, to pay their respects to the fallen officer and his family.

    Church facilities in Miami Archdiocese spared major damage during Irma

    MIAMI (CNS) -- It could have been a lot worse. That was the initial assessment for Archdiocese of Miami parishes and schools after Hurricane Irma scoured South Florida. Even the initial reports from the hardest hit portion of the archdiocese -- the lower Keys, where the Category 4 storm made landfall Sept. 10 -- were cautiously optimistic. The archdiocese of Miami had been bracing for the full brunt of Irma's wrath. The storm broke records -- with wind speeds reaching 185 miles per hour and remaining at Category 5 for more than three days -- before barreling into the Leeward Islands of Barbuda and St. Martin, pummeling the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and then scraping northern Cuba. After making its long-anticipated turn northward, the eye made a second landfall at Marco Island on Florida's west coast, sparing Miami-Dade and Broward counties the feared worst-case scenario of catastrophic winds and disastrous storm surge. Most of the damage to church properties -- like the damage to homes and neighborhoods throughout South Florida -- involved falling trees and branches.

    Priest in constant recovery mode for parishioners who 'lost everything'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Three weeks after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas Gulf, where it first made landfall and flattened or tore apart homes and businesses in its path, residents were still picking up the pieces, literally, while dealing with no running water or electricity and limited cellphone service. Franciscan Father John Tran Nguyen, pastor of St. Peter's Church in Rockport, Texas, for just over a year, has been right there with them. His small church that serves the local Vietnamese community was ripped by Harvey's fierce winds, as was the adjacent mobile home that was the pastor's rectory. But what concerns the priest most is that his parishioners lost everything -- their homes and their livelihoods. "They are so disappointed," he said. Rockport, with a population of less than 10,000, was once a fishing village, but the shrimp industry has declined there in recent years. The town made headlines for being in the eye of the hurricane, but it was quickly buried in the news cycle after Houston's flooding and the East Coast destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.

    Wuerl: Pope sees 'journeying together' as essential to life of church

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The process of "journeying together" during the Catholic Church's synods of bishops examining contemporary challenges on marriage and family life offers a map for the church's outreach, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Sept. 12. This process reflects not only the pontiff's pastoral approach, but also offers a template for how priests and laypeople can accompany others to help them understand and live the faith, he said. Cardinal Wuerl made the remarks at Georgetown University in an address on "Pope Francis: Fresh Perspectives on Synodality" as part of the university's Dahlgren Chapel Sacred Lecture series. He explained that "synodality" refers to coming together or journeying together, which he said is how those gatherings of the world's bishops tackled issues facing married couples and families. The cardinal noted that Pope Francis emphasized the importance of dialogue as those discussions unfolded. "We can recall his advices to the bishops ... to speak with openness and clarity, to listen with humility and be open to the Holy Spirit."

    Holy Land trip helps U.S. military veterans overcome PTSD

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, U.S. Army veteran Rocio Villanueva fell onto the stone of the unction where tradition holds that Jesus was laid out after his crucifixion and touched her head to the smoothed surface. Injured during a tour of duty in Iraq and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the 31-year-old engineering specialist and mother of four was raised in a Catholic home but had slowly lost touch with her faith. After almost a week in the Holy Land as part of the second group of women veterans participating in the Heroes to Heroes program, Villanueva felt a spiritual renewal. "Since the third day I got here I felt a healing in my heart. At the Church of the Annunciation (in Nazareth), I felt so good and able to speak to God," said Villanueva, a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Escondido, California. "My family has been able help me physically, but with the part I have inside of me, it has been really hard to open up. I had so much anger in my heart and was so sad, I could cry about anything. Here I felt my heart open up. I went to confession and I felt that God was talking to me through the priest," she said.

    Helping, not fame from chainsaw video, brings true joy, says Carmelite

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- She inspired many when she rolled up the sleeves of her habit to clean up after Hurricane Irma with a chainsaw. After the local police department posted a video Sept. 12 on Twitter of Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin trimming branches off a fallen tree with a chainsaw, she became an instant hit and a symbol of sorts for the hurricane-ravaged Miami area. "People are making a big deal about the chainsaw, but I've already given my life to God and that's what brings true joy," not the fame that came after the airing of the video, said Sister Laechelin in a Sept. 14 phone interview with Catholic News Service. But the community at Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, where she is the principal, has been enjoying the fame and the attention it has brought to the suburban Miami Catholic school of 300 students in West Kendall, she said. "They say 'Sister, you're famous. Can I have your autograph?'" she said.

    Caravan of Louisiana parishioners takes supplies, hope to Harvey victims

    BEAUMONT, Texas (CNS) -- Hope. That's what 50-plus volunteers from a Louisiana Catholic parish offered to those devastated by Hurricane Harvey as part of a pre-dawn caravan of six 18-wheelers with donated supplies to Texas Sept. 9. "We are so glad to see you," a Beaumont resident told the group from St. Catherine of Siena Parish as they arrived at the first Texas stop. "God bless you." The stop was a warehouse run by Catholic Charities of Greater Beaumont that served as a storage and distribution site for food, water, hygiene and cleaning supplies, baby food, diapers and more for parishes and people in need. The caravan left St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie, Louisiana, at 4:30 a.m., and the bus of volunteers arrived back home at midnight. In Beaumont, the first stop, volunteers first unloaded 18-wheelers already on site before unloading three of their own that had been part of the six-hour convoy from Metairie. Catholic Charities staff and volunteers greeted the Metairie travelers with thanks and a prayer offered by Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, head of the Beaumont Diocese since 2000. A native of Mallet, Louisiana, he served in the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 1974 to 1988.

    Belgian brothers group to keep offering euthanasia at psych facilities

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Belgium's Brothers of Charity Group, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients, has rejected a Vatican order to stop offering euthanasia. In a Sept. 12 statement, the organization said it had not been given a chance to explain its "vision statement and argumentation." It added that it "always took into account shifts and evolutions within society," and "emphatically believed" its euthanasia program was consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. "In our facilities, we deal with patients' requests for euthanasia for mental suffering in a nonterminal situation with the utmost caution," said the organization, whose board members include Herman Van Rompuy, a former European Council president and former Belgian prime minister. "We take unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients' requests for euthanasia seriously. On the other hand, we want to protect life and ensure euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility of providing a reasonable treatment perspective to the patient," the statement said.

    Discussion focuses on civility, tolerance as key to religious freedom

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Religious freedom requires tolerance of differing viewpoints -- including the voices of nonreligious people -- in addition to the free practice of faith to assure civility in American society, speakers said during a Brookings Institution program. Furthermore, they said at the Sept. 13 event, intolerant comments by people of faith when it comes to key issues facing the country has fed an increasingly angry discourse that threatens to keep people divided at a time in American history when unity is more important than ever. It wasn't always this way, said John Dilulio, professor of politics, religion and civil society at the University of Pennsylvania and the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush. In his keynote address, Dilulio recalled that 24 years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a White House ceremony attended by Republican and Democratic members of Congress and numerous religious leaders in a sign of unity. But within a decade, such unity began to fragment as people coalesced around divergent views with little tolerance for opposing opinions on religion or politics, he said.

    Florida diocesan official says normal life at standstill after Irma

    IMMOKALEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Peter Routsis-Arroyo, the CEO of the Diocese of Venice's Catholic Charities, said Hurricane Irma has brought normal life to a standstill in the entire Southwest Florida region. While a large percentage of the population of towns from Marco Island to Naples to Sarasota and Venice had evacuated the state altogether, Routsis-Arroyo is putting a special focus on the fragile, year-round migrant worker communities throughout the area. Almost immediately after the hurricane made landfall as a Category 4 storm in the Florida Keys in the state's southernmost tip and exited the state's northern border with Georgia, leaving a statewide trail of damage and flooding, Routsis-Arroyo was in his car touring some of the interior agricultural towns of Immokalee and Arcadia, where Catholic Charities operates services for the extensive farm worker communities there. Standing water in many communities of Southwest Florida will need to recede before Knights of Columbus emergency deliveries and disaster response programming can get underway, said Routsis-Arroyo, who is himself a Knight of Columbus. He was anticipating a first truckload of emergency aid to come down from Gainesville.

    Logistical problems slow outreach, facilities assessment in Florida Keys

    MIAMI (CNS) -- Hurricane Irma's destructive winds blew wreckage and disruption throughout Florida. But Miami's Catholic Charities chief was particularly anxious to access the devastation in Monroe County and the Florida Keys. Speaking with the Florida Catholic newspaper Sept. 13, Deacon Richard Turcotte, the agency's CEO, said the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys was not yet fully open, making it impossible for to get a firsthand look at the devastation to Middle and Lower Keys. The area reportedly sustained severe damage from Irma. Those high priority places include Marathon Key, Cudjoe Key, Big Pine Key and Key West, among others. "It looks like (news reports show) there is absolutely nothing left in Marathon," Deacon Turcotte said, noting that poor cellphone communication and transportation logistics were slowing the flow of information several days after the hurricane. "I am trying to establish some communications: I plan to talk with some of the pastors there and do some distributions of water and food from parishes, and once we get the highway opened up we can talk about those distributions to the Keys."

    Indonesian church backs government anti-human-trafficking drive

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- Indonesian church officials welcomed a government move to tackle human trafficking by making it easier for migrant workers to obtain legal status and necessary documents. The Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration has launched a one-stop service to issue official documentation to migrant workers in Kupang, capital of the Catholic majority East Nusa Tenggara province, which has the highest number of human trafficking cases, reported. Obtaining permits formerly was a long process that could take months, said Samuel Adu, a Manpower and Transmigration official. "This was exploited by brokers who passed on workers illegally along a human trafficking chain," he said. With the new system, the process of obtaining permits takes less than a week. Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, welcomed the effort, but asked the government to make sure the new system stays free of corruption. "Corruption is commonly practiced in issuing permits," he said.

    Indian bishop asks prime minister to stop hatred against Christians

    THRISSUR, India (CNS) -- The secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi "to intervene to stop hatred" in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas charged in a letter to Modi that "spiraling hatred" was being perpetuated by Raghubar Das, chief minister of Jharkhand and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is known for pursuing a Hindu nationalist legislative agenda. Released Sept. 13, the letter said if such actions were "not controlled immediately," violence and hate would erupt. Modi also is a member of BJP. Bishop Mascarenhas wrote that he was prompted to act because of "a frightening, disquieting and scary photo" a Catholic youth sent him showing the burning of an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi and the head of the Catholic Church in Jharkhand. "Perhaps those leading this ideological hatred targeting the Christian community do not know what they are doing, where they are leading the people to: on the road of hatred and division," the letter said.

    Pope asks new bishops from Florida, Texas about hurricanes' aftermath

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis personally greeted new bishops from Florida and Texas Sept. 14, he "looked concerned" and asked how the dioceses and their people were after major hurricanes and rainstorms struck, one of the bishops said. Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, said that when he and Bishop Robert M. Coerver of Lubbock, Texas, went up to shake the pope's hand, as soon as he heard where they were from, the pope asked about the storms and the people. The two bishops, along with 19 others from the United States, and about 100 other bishops from around the world were in Rome for an intense course the Vatican runs each September for bishops ordained during the previous 12 months. This year's course began Sept. 6 as Hurricane Irma was gaining strength in the Caribbean, but before its course toward Florida was clear. "I almost canceled, even on my way to the airport," Bishop Wack said. He did not want to leave his new diocese if there was a chance the people would need him. "But the chancellor and others said, 'Go,'" and, in the end, "our diocese was almost completely spared."

    Pope: Cross is the mystery of Christ's love, not 'spiritual masochism'

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following the cross without Christ and his resurrection reduces God's love to a hopeless and masochistic form of spirituality, Pope Francis said. Christians must beware of separating Christ from his humble descent to death and viewing it as a "mystery of tragedy," the pope said at his first early morning Mass after the summer break. "A Christ without a cross is not the Lord: He is a teacher, nothing more," the pope said. "The other temptation is a cross without Christ, that is, the anguish of remaining down, depressed by the weight of sin and without hope. This is a type of spiritual masochism: only the cross, without hope and without Christ." Celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross Sept 14, the pope reflected on the day's first reading in which St. Paul says that Christ "humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." Because of Jesus' descent "to the lowest point, even to humiliation," the pope said, God "exalted him and raised him up."

    Bishops called to be humble shepherds, not lonely masters, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A bishop cannot truly discern God's will by lording over his flock; rather he must listen to and participate in the lives of those entrusted to his care, Pope Francis told some 120 new bishops. A bishop's discernment is a "community action" that cannot disregard "the richness of the opinion of his priests, deacons, the people of God and those who can offer a useful contribution," the pope said Sept. 14 at the end of the annual Vatican training for new bishops. "The bishop is not a self-sufficient 'father-ruler,' nor is he a frightened and isolated 'solitary shepherd,'" he said. Entering the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis was greeted with warm applause by the men he had named to lead dioceses around the world. Seeing so many bishops in one room, the pope jokingly asked them, "Is this the third Vatican Council?" In his speech, the pope reflected on the "pastoral and spiritual discernment" a bishop needs to guide men and women in "their search for life and happiness."

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  • Bishops urge extending renewal deadline for DACA youth in Texas, Florida

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A top U.S. bishops' committee urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to extend the renewal deadline for those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who live in Texas and Florida, where communities have been hit hard by massive hurricanes. Instituted by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA allows some 800,000 young people brought to the United States illegally as children to stay in the country and work or go to school. The Trump administration announced Sept. 5 the program would end in six months if Congress does not pass legislation to make the program permanent. In a Sept. 12 statement, the Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for an extension of the deadline for current DACA beneficiaries in Texas and Florida who must renew their status between Oct. 5 of this year and March 5, 2018. The committee, which includes the officers of the USCCB, also urged Congress to find "a durable and permanent solution on behalf of DACA youth" and in the same statement urged the Trump administration to allow 75,000 refugees into the United States in 2018, instead of admitting only 50,000 the government plans to accept.

    New tool to use Laudato Si' to measure, rank nations' development

    SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (CNS) -- A Catholic university, the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation and a Latin American foundation working on sustainable development have developed a tool to measure and rank countries' efforts in human and environmental development. The idea is to have an effective tool that measures using Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'" as the basis for the initiative. The "Laudato Si'" Observatory will be launched at the closing of the Ratzinger Foundation's international symposium, scheduled Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in San Jose, said Fernando Sanchez, head of the Catholic University of Costa Rica. Sanchez, a former Costa Rican ambassador to the Vatican, said the observatory hopes to prompt research and "to provide nations' governments an absolutely academic tool ... to promote positive change, which is what the pope is asking us to do, and it would be our major contribution with this symposium."

    Carmelite sister cleans up after Irma with a chainsaw, becomes sensation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin saw a motorist struggling to navigate a road obstructed by a fallen tree and worried for the safety of others. "The road was blocked and we couldn't get through, and I saw somebody spin in the mud and almost go into a wall and off the road, and so there was a need, I had the means, I wanted to help out," Sister Laechelin explained to CNN Sept. 12 as a video played in the background showing her, wearing the Carmelites' brown tunic, chopping apart a tree with chainsaw. Florida's Miami-Dade Police Department had tweeted the video earlier that day, thanking her -- and other Floridians -- for helping with cleanup efforts. During her CNN interview, Sister Laechelin said alumni from Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, where she is the principal, saw her efforts and arrived to help. Sister Laechelin, of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart, told CNN that the school had chainsaws stored in a closet and, given the circumstances of the destruction, she put them to use. "They needed to be used," she said, during her prime-time cable news interview. "We teach our students, 'Do what you can to help,' and so this was an opportunity where I could do something to help and, thanks be to God, I was able to do it."

    Power of faith, compassion evident to 'Good Catholic' writer, star

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For Paul Shoulberg, the writer and director of the movie "The Good Catholic," the power of faith never made itself more evident than in his father's death. For Zachary Spicer, who plays the lead role in the movie, it was the depth of compassion in the priests he studied to prepare for his own role as a priest in the film. Shoulberg's father had been a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood to marry a nun he had met, but he never left his faith, Shoulberg told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 5 interview to promote "The Good Catholic," which opened Sept. 8 in limited release in theaters, debuting the same date on video-on-demand. "As my father was dying, I was able to spend a week at his bedside. I learned, by going through that process, how faith really allowed him to pass with, really, a beauty and a grace that came from his faith," Shoulberg said. "I've developed a whole new respect for faith and his religion through that process. "And while I would not consider myself a religious person" -- while raised Catholic by his parents, he quit participating shortly before confirmation -- "it was seeing him do that that made me wonder how that affects a human."

    Parish pantry volunteers say getting ahead of Irma helped people cope

    KISSIMMEE, Fla. (CNS) -- The best way to cope with something like Hurricane Irma: Get ahead of it. That simple wisdom kept the turnout light at St. Rose of Lima Church Sept. 12, a day after the storm roared through Kissimmee, a town just east of Walt Disney World in the Orlando Diocese. Only 15 to 20 people showed up for bagged goods at the church, reported Robert Doktor, director of its food pantry. That's at least partly because of foresight: "About 160 people stocked up Sept. 5, because they knew the storm was coming" before Irma arrived, he said. "Normally, we get 130 people." Such readiness, of course, is possible only with a long-standing ministry like St. Rose of Lima's food pantry, which runs out of a 1,700-foot-square house. Each month, the pantry gives out four to six tons of food to more than 500 families, as well as anywhere from six to 40 homeless individuals. Serving them each Tuesday are 50-60 volunteers, including 18 who worked at the pantry the day after Hurricane Irma passed. Doktor himself showed up despite having right arm in a sling from rotator cuff surgery. Those who came said they found it rewarding. "Someone said 'God bless you' and hugged me," said Joe Rodriguez, one of two assistants at the pantry. "It's like a big family here."

    Supreme Court blocks lower court's ruling that lifted Trump travel ban

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Sept. 12 temporarily blocked part of a lower court ruling that would have allowed certain refugees into the country even though they had been banned by a presidential executive order. The full court ruled a day after Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a stay Sept. 11. The Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to overturn part of the ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said grandparents, grandchildren, cousins and other close relatives of people in the United States should not be prevented from entering the country. The government sought the immediate intervention of the Supreme Court, saying that action was needed to stop lower courts from unraveling the travel provisions that were approved earlier by the top court. The court's Sept. 12 ruling, issued without comment, stopped the refugee exemption that would have taken that day under the 9th Circuit's ruling issued five days earlier. A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based court unanimously ruled that the administration's revised travel ban affecting people from six primarily Muslim-majority countries was too strict.

    Freed Indian Salesian meets Pope Francis

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- One day after his release from captivity, Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil met with Pope Francis. According to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, the pope welcomed Father Uzhunnalil at his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Sept. 13. Arriving before Pope Francis, the Salesian knelt before him and kissed his feet. Visibly moved by the gesture, the pope helped him up and kissed his hands, the Vatican newspaper said. Before blessing Father Uzhunnalil, the pope embraced him and said he would continue to pray for him as he had done during his imprisonment. Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack. According to Oman's state-run news agency ONA, Father Uzhunnalil was "rescued" Sept. 12 by Oman authorities "in coordination with the Yemeni parties."

    Archbishop: Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor had 'wonderful combination of gifts'

    LONDON (CNS) -- Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was praised as a "priest to his fingertips" during a funeral Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London. Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, Wales, said in a homily Sept. 13 that the former archbishop of Westminster was a gifted man who put his talents at the "service of God and the church and society at large." He told mourners that in the weeks approaching the cardinal's death Sept. 1, the prelate had grown "impatient to be gone," knowing that his "life's work was done. What a life and what a work," said Archbishop Stack, who had previously served as an auxiliary bishop of Westminster under Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. "Cormac was a priest to his fingertips," he said. "He was comfortable in his own skin. He was aware of his failings, yet supremely confident in his calling. He was a gifted man who would have made a success of whatever career he chose," he said. "Medicine or music -- maybe even golf or perhaps rugby. ... Yet from an early age he was convinced he should be a priest. His gift for friendship and his capacity for putting people at their ease, together with his insightful mind and depth of faith, were a wonderful combination of gifts," the archbishop continued. "He generously put them at the service of God and the church and society at large."

    Vatican reform process 'nearly complete,' C9 member says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' international Council of Cardinals -- the so-called C9 -- is nearly done with its work of advising the pope on a major reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, the secretary of the council said. Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, secretary of Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals, told Vatican Radio Sept. 11 that "as far as the reform process of the Roman Curia is concerned, it is even more than three-quarters of the way there -- it is almost complete. It is nearly complete at the level of proposals made to the pope," he said. The Council of Cardinals met at the Vatican Sept. 11-13. Pope Francis, who returned from his visit to Colombia Sept. 11, did not attend the first day's meeting. Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told journalists Sept. 13 that "among the themes of the discussion (were) the curia as an instrument of evangelization and service for the pope and the local churches; decentralization; the role of apostolic nunciatures; the selection and competence of personnel, less clerical and more international, with an increase in young people and women."

    Don't be embarrassed to talk about sex, youths tell Vatican officials

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Several young people attending a Vatican-sponsored seminar on the upcoming Synod of Bishops urged the Vatican and the bishops themselves to be opening to listening to youths talk and ask questions about love, sex and sexuality. A "big gap" exists between the concerns young people want to talk about and the issues most bishops are comfortable discussing, said Therese Hargot, who describes herself as a philosopher and sexologist. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, said he wanted to hear from young adults and experts about the challenges young people are facing in the church and society. Twenty people under the age of 35, along with 70 theologians, priests and academics were meeting Sept. 11-15 as part of the preparatory process for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on "young people, faith and vocational discernment."

    Central American migrants pitch in with Mexican earthquake recovery

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Central American migrants traveling through Mexico routinely stay at a Catholic-run shelter in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. But guests at the Brothers of the Road Shelter have been pitching in with relief efforts ever since a magnitude 8.1 earthquake stuck the region Sept. 7. "As defenders of human rights, we ask people to understand and help our migrants," Crosier Brother Jose Filiberto Velasquez Florencio, the shelter coordinator, said in article published the Archdiocese of Mexico City publication Desde la Fe. "Now they are returning this support to the Mexican people, those of the isthmus, all the people that need their help." The earthquake struck just before midnight Sept. 7 with an epicenter of the coast of Chiapas state. It caused buildings to sway in faraway Mexico City, but did not do major damage there. It did, however, destroy homes and building across the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas and claimed the lives of 96 people. Caritas chapters organized collections across Mexico to help with the homeless in the country's southern states.

    Bishops pray for 'safety, care' of all hit hard by two massive hurricanes

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops' Executive Committee Sept. 12 prayed for "the safety and care of human life" after two catastrophic hurricanes and urged Catholics around the country to offer their prayers as well as financial support and volunteer help as they can. "The massive scale of the dual disasters and the effect it has on communities, families and individuals cannot be fully comprehended or adequately addressed in the immediate aftermath of the storms," the statement said, noting that "lives and livelihoods" were "still at risk in Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean." Beginning Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma left hardly any place in its path untouched. The strength and size of the massive storm, with 120-plus-mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba's north coast, devastated the Florida Keys, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami and targeted cities along Florida's Gulf Coast. Irma dwindled to a tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11 and was forecast to die out over southern states later in the week. Officials in Florida and across the Caribbean, meanwhile, started to dig out and evaluate the full scope of the disaster Irma left behind. As of Sept. 13, at least 37 people died in the Caribbean and there were at least 19 deaths in the United States.

    Spanish basilica evacuated during false-alarm bomb scare

    BARCELONA, Spain (CNS) -- Nearly one month after a devastating terrorist attack in Barcelona, police evacuated the city's most renowned church, La Sagrada Familia, fearing a possible bomb threat. The Catalan police force, known as the Mossos d'Esquadra, carried out an evening anti-terrorism operation Sept. 12 after receiving reports of a suspicious vehicle parked outside the unfinished basilica designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. An hour after the evacuation, police tweeted that "the situation has normalized in Sagrada Familia. It is a false alarm." The city has been on high alert after a van mowed down pedestrians Aug. 17 on Barcelona's famous Las Ramblas street, killing 13 people. Five suspects were killed by police and other members of what authorities described as a 12-man terrorist cell were being sought.

    Witness of Colombian people a wealth for the church, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Colombia's long and arduous path toward reconciliation and a lasting peace after nearly half a century of war is a sign of hope for all Christians, Pope Francis said. Speaking to pilgrims Sept. 13 at his weekly general audience, the pope said the motto of his visit Sept. 6-10 -- "Demos el primer paso" ("Let's take the first step") -- referred to the process of reconciliation that, while difficult, is "underway with the help of God. With my visit, I wanted to bless the efforts of that people, confirm them in faith and hope and receive their witness, which is a wealth for my ministry and for the whole church," the pope said. Although still sporting a black eye after a minor accident during his stay in Cartagena, the pope was in good spirits, greeting pilgrims and kissing babies around St. Peter's Square. Among those present at the audience was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who briefly greeted Pope Francis at the end of the general audience.

    Pope names new nuncio to Israel

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Italian Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli to be the new Vatican nuncio to Israel and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine. The 64-year-old Vatican diplomat succeeds Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, who retired in August at the age of 75. He had served in the Holy Land for five years. Archbishop Girelli moves to the Middle East from Singapore, where he served as apostolic nuncio and simultaneously held the post of nonresident papal representative to Vietnam. Born in Predore, Italy, March 13, 1953, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1978 for the Diocese of Bergamo. He entered the diplomat service of the Holy See in 1987, working at Vatican nunciatures in Cameroon and New Zealand before taking up a post in the Vatican Secretariat of State. He then moved to Washington to serve at the apostolic nunciature to the United States.

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  • California pastor of immigrant parish honored with Lumen Christi Award

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Today, Greenfield in California's Salinas Valley looks and feels different because Father Enrique Herrera believed that the Catholic Church could make life better for the city's residents, according to Chicago-based Catholic Extension. For his efforts in the Catholic community and the wider community, Catholic Extension has chosen Father Herrera to receive the 2017-2018 Lumen Christi Award, its highest honor. The priest, who is pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield in the Diocese of Monterrey, will be officially presented with the award during a Mass at his parish Dec. 10. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the award. When Father Herrera arrived at Holy Trinity Parish and saw that parishioners were struggling to feed their families and had few opportunities for a brighter future, he decided that his parish would become a beacon of hope. Together with his parishioners, he started new programs focused on strengthening faith, education and community. "Hearts were opened. Individuals started changing. Families started changing. Neighborhoods started changing. Classrooms started changing. The Police Department, Fire Department, school officials, City Council and mayor all got on board," Extension said in announcing the award.

    Speakers: Common humanity 'underpins' all U.N. work for peace, justice

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- People from all walks of life who share a global vision of peace, justice and universal respect for human dignity can draw inspiration from the lives and sacrifices of those who perished in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Speakers at a Sept. 11 prayer service on the eve of the opening of the 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly said the memory of the vibrant lives of the diverse workers at the World Trade Center towers that day 16 years ago and the selfless heroism of those who came to their aid are reflected in the daily challenges of those who strive for unity, tolerance and compassion. The interreligious service is an annual event sponsored since 1987 by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, the Archdiocese of New York and the Church of the Holy Family, the self-described "United Nations Parish" where it was held. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio to the United Nations, welcomed clergy, diplomats, parishioners and staff from the nearby U.N. headquarters. The late afternoon sun streamed in through stained-glass windows as multilingual prayer and song filled the church. "For Christians who believe in the communion of saints and for all those who believe in relationships that bridge the chasm of death, we draw inspiration from these souls and from the sacrifices we witnessed on 9/11," Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre said in his keynote meditation.

    Indian Salesian abducted in Yemen freed

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted by Islamic State militants in Yemen and held captive for more than a year, was freed. According to Oman's state-run news agency ONA, Father Uzhunnalil was "rescued" by Oman authorities "in coordination with the Yemeni parties." Upon his release, the Salesian priest "expressed thanks to God almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos (of Oman). He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release," ONA reported Sept. 12. Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack. "We express our deep gratitude to God for the happy conclusion of this incident," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian bishops' conference, told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Sept. 12.

    Seminarians, clergy reflect Omaha Archdiocese's growing Latino community

    OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- Seminarian Juan Jose Gonzalez Lara spent the summer observing what priests do in the hope of fulfilling a boyhood dream. "I follow the priest so I can learn from him," said Gonzalez, who is entering his fourth year at Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri, and spent the summer at Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler, Nebraska. "I go to meetings, I go to Mass, to the different sacraments to learn what a priest does." Born in Mexico, Gonzalez grew up in South Omaha and has wanted to be a priest since childhood. He is one of three seminarians of Latino heritage studying to be priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha. The other two are Mexico natives. Luis Contreras worked at Catholic Cemeteries during the summer and spent time at Assumption-Guadalupe Parish in Omaha. Mauricio Tovar served at St. Thomas More Parish, also in Omaha. Father Andrew Roza, director of vocations, said the archdiocese is reaching out to a growing Latino community, including having priests study Spanish in Mexico, where they can be immersed in the language for several months.

    N.Y. firefighters march, pray for peers as they recall events of 9/11

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- The ritual of remembrance continues. Just as in previous years, Fire Department of New York Battalion 57 marched 2.5 miles from the World Trade Center, across the Brooklyn Bridge, ending at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn to remember the fallen heroes of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Father Sean Suckiel, vocations director for the Diocese of Brooklyn, celebrated the memorial Mass at the church, praying for those who lost their lives and blessing the first responders still on the job. "That day we were shocked, we were wounded," Father Suckiel recalled. "Evil that day has its moment of triumph. That was a day of horrific events that we must never forget. "When truly challenged, we forget ourselves and we become men and women for others, men and women who are willing to give up their lives. In times of disaster, we are present for one another, we change, we become our best," he said.

    Kansas priest recalls friendship with martyr as beatification nears

    CAWKER CITY, Kan. (CNS) -- In the cozy rectory behind Sts. Peter and Paul Church sits Father Don McCarthy with myriad items relating to his friend, Father Stanley Rother. "It's kind of like a shrine in here," he said, looking around. At the window was a framed picture of Father Rother with Guatemalan children. Father McCarthy has a box dedicated entirely to correspondence from his seminary chum. "He and I were close friends," the retired priest told The Register, newspaper of the Salina Diocese. He will be among the throngs gathering Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City to witness the beatification of Father Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Father Rother was gunned down in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. He was considered a martyr by the church in Guatemala. Pope Francis formally recognized the missionary priest as a martyr Dec. 2, clearing the way for his beatification. Originally from Galveston, Texas, Father McCarthy attended the seminary in San Antonio during the 1950s. "Stan and I?were not in the same class in the seminary, but we got to be good friends, due to working together in the book bindery and visitations at each other's homes in vacation time," Father McCarthy said.

    Canadian priest who befriended Duke Ellington dies at age 92

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- Father Gerald Pocock, who died Sept. 4 in Ottawa at age 92, was a gregarious Roman Catholic chaplain at Montreal's St. Mary's Hospital in 1969 when he befriended American jazz legend Duke Ellington. Ellington was playing at the Esquire Show, a popular Montreal club. Father Pocock, whose record collection was legendary, was a huge jazz fan. After the show, two men were introduced and began what became a deep friendship For the next five years, until Ellington's death of lymphatic cancer, Father Pocock traveled with and counseled the Duke, and even wrote some of the lyrics to Ellington's Third Sacred Concert, which premiered at Westminster Abbey in London in 1973. Ellington was not a religious man but, according to Father Pocock, he was deeply spiritual. "He made friends easily, and among his friends were priests, ministers and rabbis. He often composed in the hours before dawn and called to ask questions about whatever was on his mind," Father Pocock once said.

    World cannot remain silent to indifference, hatred, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Politicians and religious leaders cannot remain indifferent to the suffering caused by violence and hatred in the world, Pope Francis said. Instead, those in places of authority and influence must "feel the pain of others, to make it our own, neither overlooking it or becoming inured to it," the pope said in a Sept. 10 message to participants of the International Meeting of Prayer for Peace in the German cities of Munster and Osnabruck. "We must never grow accustomed or indifferent to evil," he said. Among those addressing the Sept. 9-12 meeting, which was sponsored by the Sant'Egidio community, a Rome-based Catholic lay organization, were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University. In his message, Pope Francis noted that the conference's theme, "Paths for Peace," highlighted the need to bring reconciliation to areas of conflict that have left "entire peoples plunged into a dark night of violence, without hope for a dawn of peace."

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