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Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, bishops’ code of conduct

09/19/2018 - 9:04pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pledging to “heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us,” the U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee Sept. 19 outlined actions to address the abuse crisis, including approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.

It also instructed the U.S. bishops’ canonical affairs committee to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.

It initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct with a minor or adult” or “negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.”

The committee also said it supported “a full investigation into the situation” surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, “including his alleged assaults on minors, priests and seminarians, as well as “any responses made to those allegations.”

The statement, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, came out of the committee’s semiannual meeting Sept. 11-12 at USCCB headquarters in Washington.

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.

“This is only a beginning,” the committee said in its Sept. 19 statement, noting that the actions it outlined can be taken “within its authority.”

“Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice,” it said. “We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.”

The committee acknowledged its members had assembled for their meeting in Washington at a “time of shame and sorrow.”

“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the church as a whole,” the committee said. “They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others.

“They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers,” it continued. “For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better.”


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Irish singer Bono calls pope ‘extraordinary man for extraordinary times’

09/19/2018 - 6:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland “it looks as though the abusers are being more protected than the victims. And you could see the pain in his face.”

Bono met the pope Sept. 19 to sign an agreement between his charity, ONE, and the Scholas Occurentes educational charity supported by Pope Francis.

During the half-hour meeting, Bono said, he brought up Pope Francis’ recent trip to Ireland and the concerns there about the sexual abuse crisis.

The pope was “aghast,” Bono said. “I thought he was sincere.”

“I think he is an extraordinary man for extraordinary times,” the singer said.

ONE is a campaign and advocacy effort working to end extreme poverty, especially in Africa. One of its current focuses, Bono told reporters Sept. 19, is education for girls and young women. Some “130 million girls around the world do not go to school, because they are girls,” he said.

“Poverty is sexist” is the campaign slogan, he said.

Scholas began in Pope Francis’ Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, supporting education in poor neighborhoods by pairing their schools with private schools and institutions in wealthier neighborhoods. The organization has grown to other countries and supports a variety of exchange programs aimed at promoting education, encouraging creativity and teaching young people about respect, tolerance and peace.

“We haven’t figured out what we are going to do together,” Bono said, “but we sort of have a crush on each other.”

Describing the pope, Bono said that “honestly, he is quite a radical thinker and I felt quite old-fashioned sitting next to him.” Bono was talking about teaching children how to read and write and “get to advanced math and art later. And he was like, ‘Start with art. And start with the creative life and you’ll get a better result.'”

Bono said the conversation touched on many topics, including poverty, commerce and meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

They spoke, he said, “about how we have to rethink the wild beast that is capitalism and how, though it is not immoral, it is amoral and it requires our instruction. He’s very keen on that.”

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U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee Statement on Sex Abuse Scandals; Committee Releases Actions to be Taken Within Its Authority

09/19/2018 - 3:38pm

September 19, 2018 WASHINGTON–The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Administrative Committee has issued the following statement today in response to the recent sex abuse scandals. In the statement, the bishops say they pledge to “heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”

Turning to the Lord “When each of us was ordained as a bishop, we were told:

‘Keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you to shepherd the Church of God.’

We, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, assembled last week in Washington at this time of shame and sorrow. Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better.

The Administrative Committee took the following actions within its authority:

1. Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop and will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.

2. Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.

3. Initiated the process of developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.

4. Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations. Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services.

This is only a beginning. Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts, and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice. We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.

As these initiatives get underway, the Administrative Committee invites each of our brother bishops to join us in acts of prayer and penance. This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient. Scripture must be our guide forward, “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

In all of this, we do not want anyone – ourselves included – to lose sight of those who have suffered from those who have acted or failed to act as the Gospel demanded. For survivors of sexual abuse, these days may re-open deep wounds. Support is available from the Church and within the community. Victims Assistance Coordinators are available in every diocese to help you find resources. We are grateful to hundreds of dedicated people who, since the adoption of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, have been working with the Church to support survivors and prevent future abuse.

To anyone who has been abused, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement. If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services. With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.

Acting in communion with the Holy Father, with whom we once again renew our love, obedience, and loyalty, we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in his August 20 letter to the people of God, “May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.”

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

09/19/2018 - 2:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone’s parents, Pope Francis said.

“Among us there is also the habit of saying awful things, even profanity. Please, never, never, never insult other people’s parents. Never! Never insult a mother, never insult a father,” the pope said Sept. 19 during his weekly general audience.

“Make this decision: from today forward, ‘I will never insult someone’s mom or dad.’ They gave life! They should not be insulted,” he told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Gray clouds forming above the square did little to dampen the spirits of thousands of pilgrims who cheered as they waited for the pope to pass by in his popemobile.

As customary, the pope greeted them, blessed religious articles and kissed children who were brought up to him.

During the general audience, the pope continued his series of talks on the Ten Commandments and reflected on the obligation to “honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

To love and respect one’s father and mother, he said, means “recognizing their importance with concrete actions that express dedication, affection and care.”

“Honor your parents: they gave us life. If you have distanced yourself  from your parents, make an effort and return, go back to them, perhaps they are old. They gave you life,” the pope said.

Pope Francis explained that the promise of a long life that comes from honoring one’s parents associates happiness with one’s relationship with them.

“This centuries-old wisdom declares what human science has only been able to elaborate upon a little over a century ago: that the imprint of childhood marks a person’s life,” he said.

However, this commandment does not require mothers and fathers to be perfect and regardless of the merits of one’s parents, “all children can be happy because the achievement of a full and happy life depends on the proper gratitude to those who have brought us into the world.”

The pope recalled the example of saints who despite being orphaned or having lived through painful childhoods grew up to “live virtuous lives because, thanks to Jesus Christ, they reconciled with their life.”

Recalling the life of Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, who will be canonized alongside Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero Oct. 14, the pope said that although Blessed Sulprizio lost his mother and father when he was very young, he “reconciled with so much pain” and never betrayed his parents.

“We should also think of St. Camillus de Lellis, who, out of a dysfunctional childhood, built a life of love and service; St. Josephine Bakhita, who grew up in horrible slavery; or Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, orphaned and poor; and even St. John Paul II, who was impacted by the death of his mother at a tender age,” he added.

In the light of love, Pope Francis said, sad and painful experiences “can become for others a source of well-being.”

Thus, he said “we can begin to honor our parents with the freedom of adult children and with merciful acceptance of their limitations.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

09/19/2018 - 11:00am

Pope Leo XIII wrote the Saint Michael prayer in 1884, after supposedly seeing a frightening vision: evil spirits, trying to fulfill Satan’s boast to destroy our Lord’s Church within a century, were engaging in fierce attacks against it.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the Divine Power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Be ye perfect?

09/19/2018 - 8:36am

Are you having trouble being perfect?   Remember Martha Stewart referring to her cakes and flowers etc. as perfect? It would irritate me to use perfect that way. But I suspect that the real problem is that I know that I can never measure up to Martha’s standards. The idea of being perfect is a challenge for all of us. We are asked to work at the perfect marriage, the perfect resume, perfect manners. We are challenged to meet the standards of perfection every day.  

     If it isn’t bad enough that the world wants perfection, it looks like God wants it too! We read the English word “perfect” quite a few times in Scripture: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:40, “… do whatever is good, right and perfect” (Romans 12:2). 

     However, if you get back to the original language of the writers, the meaning was more like “complete” or “whole.” So all these years we have been trying to make sure we had perfect attendance, didn’t use the salad fork for the entrée, got straight As, and God could have cared less. We have struggled to do everything without a mistake, and now we find out that what God calls us to be is the very best, whole, complete version of our authentic self.: the authentic self that God created us to be.

     In some ways, it is easier to work at being perfect than it is to get totally honest with ourselves. Can we accept ourselves as unique, never-before-created, completely beautiful, and loved by God? It is scary to imagine that what God expects is to “be who you are and to be that very well” (in the words of St. Francis de Sales). So, you being perfect is nothing like me being perfect. There is no perfect list that everyone must check off. Everyone receives a particular list with one-of-a-kind requirements. We’ve got Marys and Marthas, baseball players and violin players, money counters and dancers, etc. All are striving to be their best selves and all very different. Isn’t this wonderful!

     We might presume that we have been left off the hook. There is no more pressure to be a saint. It is quite the contrary: Every authentic saint becomes God’s work of art.  One of my favorite moments at the Easter Vigil is when we sing “ You are God’s work of art, baptized in Christ Jesus.” What that means is that each of us rise out of the water of baptism with the grace to become transformed into our own expression of Jesus Christ and no two are alike, ever.

     A good friend of mine confided that he had spent his life trying to be perfect. There was constant stress to get everything as flawless as possible.  He was under the impression that if he wasn’t perfect, then he wasn’t worthy of being loved. This led to a never-ending attempt to prove himself worthy. It seemed that perfection was the only way to happiness…but in reality, that path led to misery. 

     Then one day, thoroughly exhausted and defeated, he begged God to help him. In the silence of that lonely night, he heard a voice in his heart, God’s voice, saying, “Pick up your guitar.” That was the beginning of his discovery of who he was meant to be. Playing guitar was something he naturally loved during childhood, but he had abandoned his guitar in his teenage years, thinking he wasn’t good enough.

     At the prodding of that inner voice, he picked up his old guitar and started playing again. He soon started writing songs and that led to many adventures that he could never have imagined. He gave up everything the world would say matters, and he has never been happier. He is a singer/songwriter with many CDs. He works as a pastoral associate caring for the sick, the poor, the marginalized. He is a beacon of peace and contentment. 

     So, to be really perfect, whole, and complete, we need to honor the authentic person God created us to be, and it is okay. God is giving us permission to love being who we are. 

     In fact, God tells us to love others as we love our self. This implies that we must first learn to love our self before we can ever hope to love someone else. Keep in mind that our unique combination of talents and gifts will never be the same as in any other person. Each of us is necessary, just as we are, for God’s Kingdom to come…even Martha!

First permanent deacons look back

09/19/2018 - 8:30am

By Walt Schaefer

Pope Paul VI took the first step in restoring the ancient order of permanent diaconate in the Catholic Church’s Latin Rite in 1967 as part of the Vatican II reforms. In the spring of 1968, the bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy Father to revive the diaconate in this country. For 50 years the permanent diaconate has grown and flourished, so that there are now more than 18,000 permanent deacons in the United States.

   Like the first halting steps of an infant, the pioneers of the revived ministry found the early going quite different than the vibrant ministry of the new millennium. 

     Bill Brunsman, Fred Haas Jr., and Charley Jenkins set sail in 1976 on their mission to minister to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the then-new role. They were among about 30 area men who embarked on a journey filled with ambiguity of purpose, contention, and even criticism. In 1976, the permanent diaconate was a nebulous calling, one that fostered concern among priests and lack of understanding among the laity. 

Deacon Bill Brunsman

Since his ordination, Deacon Bill Brunsman, 82, has served at St. Mary Parish, Oxford; Queen of Peace Parish, Millville, and St Aloysius Parish, Shandon, where he remains active.

    Deacon Brunsman, a retired General Electric engineer, said this of the early days of the diaconate: “Absolutely, we did not know what we were doing; the priests did not know what we were doing. 

     “There was a piece in ‘The Catholic Telegraph’ about this new program. My wife pointed it out to me. That afternoon, I rode my motorcycle to Mount St. Mary’s [then] in Norwood, and they had a two-hour exam including a stint with a psychologist. I remember a redheaded girl asking me what I thought of partial celibacy. I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about until she told me if my wife died I would not be able to marry again. I answered the questions off the top of my head. They told me: ‘Okay, you passed’ and I showed up in September to start it all.”

     “I remember the pastor [at St. Mary’s in Oxford] was a German and a cantankerous guy. When it came time for my ordination, he called me in and said: “I do not like the idea of a diaconate; but I do like you.’”

      The pastor told Deacon Brunsman: “‘I don’t know what to do with you, yet.’ So after ordination I did nothing from September until Thanksgiving – I sang in the choir; I ushered. Then, a friend of the pastor’s came in from out of town for Thanksgiving Mass and asked me to be deacon at the Mass. I said, ‘Sure.’”

     Deacon Brunsman developed a talent for homilies and ran the RCIA program at Queen of Peace and St. Aloysius parishes. He serves on pastoral council and the worship commission at St. Aloysius.

Deacon Fred Haas, Jr.

Deacon Haas has served at St. Catharine Sienna Parish, Westwood; St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, Monfort Heights; St. Leo the Great Parish, North Fairmount; St. Bonaventure Parish, South Fairmount; and St. Thomas More Parish, Withamsville, where he remains active.

     “There was confusion from the start about what we could and couldn’t do,” said Deacon Haas, who taught religion at Bishop Fenwick High School, Middletown, and at Mother of Mercy and McAuley High Schools in Cincinnati.

 “I remember a critical look from the priest like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’” 

     When his class was sent off to minister following ordination, “we had different reactions,” he said. “Some of my classmates found themselves in good situations where they were welcome. Other classmates, and
I belong to this group, met pastors who said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.’

     “Some people in the parish were very supportive,” he said. “But others were like a deer in the headlights: ‘What’s this all about?’ They simply did not understand what the diaconate was all about. At the time people were talking about married clergy and we were often asked, ‘Do we have married clergy now?’ We said, ‘Yes.’”

Deacon Charley Jenkins

Deacon Jenkins has served at our Lady of Victory Parish throughout his ministry and was master of ceremonies for former Cincinnati Auxiliary Bishop James Garland.

     Shortly after being introduced as one of Our Lady of Victory’s three new deacons, Deacon Jenkins was strolling through a shopping mall with his wife and three young daughters.

     “Some people from the parish saw us at one of the stores and began saying, “Hi, Father, how are you?’ My antenna went up,” he said. 

     Deacon Jenkins also recalled the time in the mid-1970s when Father John Rae, who oversaw the first deacon program, was asked “if we could bless throats on the feast of St. Blaise, and distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday. 

     “Several parishes solicited transitional deacons, and we started asking Father Rae if we were going to do that kind of stuff.  He said: ‘I don’t have the faintest idea.’ Nobody in this archdiocese knew exactly what the new deacons would be doing.” 

     Lay people at Our Lady of Victory soon became comfortable with the role of the permanent deacon, he said, but the priests were another story.

    “You have to realize the archbishop, himself, didn’t realize what the deacons were going to do, either. It was brand new,” said Deacon Jenkins. Parish priests “did not want us on their turf,” he said. 

New Orleans ‘Hope Monstrance’ to visit U.S. communities hit by disasters

09/18/2018 - 6:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy LÕOsservatore Roman

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — When the levees broke in 2005 and Lakeview became Lake Pontchartrain, Katrina launched its mad-scientist experiment.

What would three weeks of brackish and corrosive water, chemicals and mud do not only to St. Dominic Parish’s Aquinas Hall in Lakeview, which housed a small chapel across the street from the church, but also to the gold-plated, eucharistic monstrance now laid on its side and entombed in the muck at the foot of the altar?

As a precaution before the storm, parishioner Susie Veters had removed the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance and placed it in the tabernacle. She kept the empty monstrance on the chapel altar and locked the doors.

The monstrance was no match for the 8 feet of lake water, which lifted it off the altar and dropped it to the floor, burying it in mud.

When Veters pulled the sacred vessel from the mud three weeks later, she didn’t think it had a chance to be restored, but Michael McGee, a member of the parish’s contemporary choir, had an avocation for restoring church artifacts in his spare time and worked as quickly as he could to clean the metal, restore the gold plating and stabilize the long metal rod that held everything together.

On March 15, 2006 — six months after the buried monstrance was recovered — Veters and her husband, Pat, and Msgr. Christopher Nalty, a New Orleans pastor, were in St. Peter’s Square where Pope Benedict XVI personally blessed the vessel after his general audience. He also granted a plenary indulgence to those who prayed before it and fulfilled other necessary conditions.

The artifact, ultimately named the “Hope Monstrance,” traveled in 2006 and 2007 to 140 churches across Louisiana and Mississippi to promote the city’s Katrina recovery and the power of perpetual adoration. The monstrance even made a stop at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Now the monstrance has gone on the road again, offering the gift of hope to communities that, like New Orleans in 2005, need a large dose of healing.

Over the next month, the monstrance will travel to three U.S. communities still reeling from disasters in 2017: Houston (Hurricane Harvey); Las Vegas (the worst mass shooting in U.S. history); and Santa Rosa, California (wildfires that destroyed 5,000 homes in Sonoma County). The monstrance also will make an appearance at the V Encuentro national Hispanic conference outside Dallas.

John Smestad Jr., a St. Dominic parishioner and director of pastoral planning and ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, coordinated the stops largely with the help of Stephen Morris, a longtime friend who is in charge of youth ministry for the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

“Stephen called me at the chancery because he had stumbled across the old article about the monstrance, and he was seeing if they might be able to borrow it because their bishop wanted to do something to mark the anniversary of the fires in Sonoma County,” Smestad told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the new Orleans Archdiocese.

“Those fires burned down vast areas. The Catholic high school burned down. Entire neighborhoods burned down. It was unreal,” he said. “It would be like driving down (a street) and the left side is gone and the right side is normal and totally undamaged.”

Morris called Smestad to ask where he might be able to track down the monstrance.

“Stephen,” Smestad replied, laughing, “that’s my parish, and I’m sure I can facilitate this.”

After getting the approval from Dominican Father John Restrepo, the St. Dominic pastor, Smestad worked with Morris to start connecting more dots beyond Santa Rosa. Houston had sustained record flooding from Harvey, and officials there jumped at the chance to have five parishes and one chapel host the monstrance for prayer services last week.

“It’s just a great sign of hope and trust,” said Lazaro Contreras, director of Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “We still hope and trust in the Lord after all these catastrophic events that we have experienced.”

In the Diocese of Las Vegas, director of faith formation Connie Clough said she knew 25 people who attended the concert last Oct. 1 in which 58 people were killed and 851 injured by a lone gunman who sprayed bullets from the top of a hotel on the Vegas Strip.

St. Viator Parish, about 10 miles from the shooting location, will host an outdoor eucharistic procession, beginning at 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 and ending at 10:05 p.m. — the time the first shots were fired a year ago.

“We will process into the church with the Blessed Sacrament and have a liturgy of the word, a short homily and silence,” Clough said.

At a recent diocesan conference, Clough said, 1,100 people attended and focused on the idea of “hope.”

“It centered on remembering not only the victims but also the heroes — the first responders,” she said. “People understand that hope doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be OK. Something has changed. But, it’s about knowing that there is something better. I will always remember the long lines of people who were donating blood.”

When the Hope Monstrance completes its tour in Santa Rosa Oct. 7, Morris said, there will be an anniversary prayer service bringing together the largest number of Catholic and Protestant faith leaders in memory. Twenty Protestant pastors lost their homes in the fires. Eighty percent of Cardinal Newman High School was destroyed.

Morris said 60 percent of the residents who lost their homes “haven’t taken the first step in rebuilding,” largely because their insurance coverage had not keep pace with their homes’ escalating values.

Morris was studying for his master’s degree in organizational leadership at the University of San Francisco in 2005 when his professor, who had taught in New Orleans years earlier, predicted to his students that if Katrina breeched the levees, New Orleans’ very existence would be imperiled.

Morris saw a city on its knees that somehow, after a decade of recovery, rose again.

“We’re trying to share the story of hope with the faithful in the Santa Rosa area,” Morris said. “It’s not just the physical monstrance. It’s the idea of sharing our suffering, our death and our resurrection.”

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Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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Virgin Islands diocese still recovering from 2017 double hurricanes

09/18/2018 - 4:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of St

By Laura Ann Phillips

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (CNS) — One year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria smashed through the Virgin Islands, people remain jittery about the rest of the 2018 hurricane season.

“Everyone is extremely nervous and anxious about going through another hurricane without recovering from the previous two,” said Warren Bush, chief financial officer for the Diocese of St Thomas.

A combination of heavy bureaucracy, sometimes sluggish supply chains and a shortage of contractors have slowed recovery efforts, leaving repairs to many damaged homes and public buildings still incomplete.

Now, at the height of the current hurricane season, “We have to stabilize buildings to prevent additional water damage,” Bush said. “We’re very concerned about what could be.”

On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma mowed through the islands and, two weeks later, Hurricane Maria devastated whatever was left. Both hit as Category 5 storms.

“We’ve never experienced this level of destruction,” said Bush. “And on the three islands, all at once. There’s been a shortage of contractors, materials, so that the damage hasn’t been addressed as quickly. You could have all the resources in the world, but if you don’t have contractors …”

“Every contractor has between six to 10 jobs working on,” said Andrea Shillingford, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands. “We are not in normal times.”

Both Bush and Bishop Herbert Bevard of St. Thomas credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Catholic Charities and insurance companies with getting restoration of diocesan and other properties underway.

“Schools are still severely damaged in St. Thomas and St. Croix,” said Bush, adding that students and teachers are using the safer structures.

Recovery in the islands tends to be slow, he admitted, citing mitigating factors that do not exist on the U.S. mainland when communities there are affected by storms.

“It is difficult for someone from the States (to understand),” he said. On the mainland: “We have more resources, more ability to obtain help from a greater region. It’s easier for FEMA to get in, easier for us to get aid, to get through any situations.”

Bush, who has lived in the islands for almost 20 years, added: “It’s not necessarily a lack of concern, rather, it’s one of access. It’s 1,500 miles away from the nearest point of contact” from the U.S. mainland. “And, there are often storage and distribution issues that may go unnoticed, that don’t exist in the States.”

This also makes evacuation an impractical option. People literally have “less ability to reach a safe haven,” said Bush.

“It would be physically impossible to evacuate people from these islands in one day,” said Shillingford, originally from the island nation of Dominica. Flights are limited, she added.

To access the Virgin Islands in a time of disaster, mainland-based FEMA would “have to wait until the airports and ports are repaired,” said Shillingford, “and a place (cleared) for the helicopters to land.”

Bush said the government of the Virgin Islands has expended “a lot of effort in the recovery process,” noting that “about 90 percent of the utilities have been reconnected.”

Bishop Bevard said repairs to several government buildings, such as the post offices and hospitals, appear to be “a problem,” and “many houses still have blue tarpaulins on their roofs, but there used to be many more.”

He said the all-important tourism industry has been heavily affected.

“Tourism is the first and only industry here,” he explained. “Where there were six cruise ships a day, now we’re lucky to have six in a week. That impacts the stores, the taxi drivers.”

Shillingford recalls one taxi driver who “was taking care of her grandchildren. Her only form of income has been driving that taxi. We had to help her restore her business” and give additional help while things were slow.

“There are lots of stories like hers,” said Shillingford, who has lived in the Virgin Islands for 11 years. “Parents can’t afford to buy school uniforms for their children.”

Homelessness is also an issue, especially among “people whose houses were destroyed.”

“People are unemployed,” she said. “It’s left to agencies like us to find funding.”

Catholic Charities operates five soup kitchens on all three islands; two each on St. Croix and St. Thomas, one on St. John. The agency serves 300-400 meals every day, up from 6,000 meals a year, the average before Irma and Maria. A mobile service delivers meals to people who cannot travel, like the many elderly people were abandoned after last year’s hurricanes.

“After the storms, they had mercy ships,” said Shillingford. “A lot of young people moved to the mainland and left their elderly people here, and they have additional needs. (Our) case managers go out to them.”

Bishop Bevard said the diocese plans to build more soup kitchens and improve outreach centers and homeless shelters on all three islands.

Shillingford said people remain shaky when it comes to the weather.

“Any time there’s a little rain,” said Shillingford, “people get agitated — adults, really. Children recover quickly; they look to the adults. If the adults pretend, the children feel it’s OK. Especially now, this week, people are kind of nervous,” she said as the winds of Tropical Storm Isaac fanned the islands.

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Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

09/17/2018 - 5:12pm

IMAGE: CNS photo courtesy of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton


HOVE, England (CNS) — “The Moth has landed,” tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook page was meant to assure people that 60-year-old Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton had fulfilled his pledge to go skydiving and had completed the task successfully and unharmed.

Joined by Lucy Barnes, a local Catholic school teacher, Bishop Moth jumped from a plane at 15,000 feet to raise money to take ailing pilgrims to Lourdes.

“He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,” said another tweet, referring to Bishop Moth.

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales tweeted: “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? … Wait, it’s a bishop!” They made no reference to the insect that flies and shares the bishop’s name.

With a goal of 3,000 pounds (just under $4,000), the bishop raised more than 5,160 pounds on an online crowdfunding website.

In a press release from the diocese, Bishop Moth said: “It requires you to trust in the person you are in tandem with and in the equipment. The staff, however, are very professional and looked after us really well.” Both the bishop and Barnes jumped in tandem with — and harnessed to — an instructor.

Barnes said, “It was very cold at 15,000 feet and the one minute of freefall made my head spin, but then the gently drifting down with the parachute open was fantastic as you could see everything around you.”

When asked if they would do it again, Bishop Moth gave a hesitant “I might,” according to the diocese, but Barnes said, “I would not go up again and am glad to be back on earth, and feeling so much better after fish and chips, and gin and tonic!”

While Bishop Moth spent six years as the “bishops of the forces,” or military ordinary of Great Britain, it was not until he was far away from the professional paratroopers that he decided to wing it in an attempt to raise enough money to send two assisted pilgrims to Lourdes.

“Each year, the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton organizes a pilgrimage to Lourdes for one week in late July,” the diocese said. “Over 700 pilgrims travel with us, and 120 of those are sick, frail, elderly or disabled. Some pilgrims and their carers find it hard to fund their trip, and so from time to time we fund raise to subsidize their fare and accommodation in Lourdes.”

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Pope prays for young people, their diligence and courage

09/17/2018 - 2:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As he often does with a group made up of people of different faiths or no faith, Pope Francis gave young people in Palermo a special blessing, but not a ritual one.

After the pope’s meeting with teenagers and young adults Sept. 15, some Catholics on Twitter expressed outrage that there was no formal apostolic blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead, the pope asked God to look upon the thousands of young people gathered with him in Palermo’s Piazza Politeama.

After giving his formal speech, Pope Francis apologized to the young people for delivering it while seated when they were all standing. But, he said, “my ankles are really sore.”

“Now I would like to give you a blessing, but I know that among you there are young Catholics, Christians, members of other religions and a few agnostics,” he said. “For this reason, I will give everyone a blessing, and I will ask God to bless the seed of restlessness that is in your heart.”

The pope clasped his hands, bowed his head and prayed: “Lord, Lord God, look upon these young people. You know each one of them. You know what they think. You know that they want to go forward, to make a better world.

“Lord, make them seekers of goodness and happiness. Make them diligent in their journey and in their encounters with others. Make them bold in serving; make them humble in seeking their roots and nurturing them to bear fruit, to have an identity, to belong. May the Lord, the Lord God, accompany all these young people on their journey and bless each one. Amen.”

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Catholic Relief Services accepting donations for Hurricane Florence

09/16/2018 - 2:08pm

When disaster strikes throughout the world, Catholic Relief Services provides essentials to the affected communities. Hurricane Florence has had an impact on the Carolinas and assistance is needed. To help n their efforts, click here 

Pope, in Sicily, honors priest martyred by Mafia

09/15/2018 - 5:16pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring


PALERMO, Sicily (CNS) — Honoring a priest shot at point-blank range by the Mafia, Pope Francis insisted that true happiness and a real change in Sicilian society will come only when people love and care for one another rather than trying to grab as much money and power as they can.

“Having always leads to wanting. I have something and immediately want another and another without end. The more you have the more you want. It’s a horrible addiction,” Pope Francis said, celebrating Mass Sept. 15 in Palermo.

“On the other hand, one who loves finds himself and discovers how beautiful it is to help others has joy on the inside and a smile on the outside, just like Father Pino” Puglisi, the anti-Mafia priest gunned down Sept. 15, 1993, his 56th birthday.

Pope Francis made a day trip to Sicily to mark the 25th anniversary of the now-beatified priest’s martyrdom. His homily and speeches included denunciations of the Mafia and a call for the mafiosi to convert, but he focused especially on encouraging local Catholics to live their faith and to courageously stand up to all forms of injustice, which flow from and feed into the Mafia’s power.

And meeting Sicily’s bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in the afternoon, Pope Francis asked for special care in ensuring that the traditional religious festivals of the region’s cities and towns not be used, as they have been in the past, to give a pious varnish to members of the Mafia.

“I ask you to be attentive guardians so that popular religiosity is not instrumentalized by a Mafia presence,” he said. Stopping processions with a statue of Mary “and having her bow before the home of the Mafia chief,” as has been known to occur, “this will not do, absolutely not!”

Pope Francis began the day in Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, urging Catholics not to resign themselves to the problems in their lives, their families and their community, but not to ignore them either.

“Looking at the wounds of society and of the church is not defamatory or pessimistic,” he said. “If we want our faith to be concrete, we must learn to recognize in this human suffering the very wounds of the Lord. Look at them. Touch them. Touch the wounds of the Lord in our wounds, in our society, in our families.”

Strength for building a community that is solid and in solidarity with the poor will come from regularly celebrating Sunday Mass together, Pope Francis told the people.

“How many times have I heard, ‘Oh, father, I pray, but I don’t go to Mass,'” he said. “‘Why not?’ ‘Because the homily is boring; it lasts 40 minutes.'”

“No, the whole Mass should last 40 minutes,” the pope said, exaggerating. “But the homily must not go more than eight minutes.”

The pope’s homily later at his outdoor Mass in Palermo lasted 17 minutes, but that included several long interruptions for applause.

Money and power do not liberate people, they make them slaves, the pope said in the homily. Those who are most free and most happy are those who give their lives in service to others, like Blessed Puglisi did.

“Twenty-five years ago today when he died on his birthday, he crowned his victory with a smile, that smile that kept his killer from sleeping,” the pope said, noting how the man arrested for the priest’s death said, “There was a kind of light in that smile.”

“We so need priests who smile,” the pope said. “We need Christians who smile, not because they take things lightly, but because they are rich only in God’s love, because they believe in love and live to serve others.”

Pope Francis prayed that God would “free us from thinking that everything is well as long as it’s well with me, and the others can just get by somehow. May he free us from thinking we are just even if we do nothing to fight injustice. One who does nothing to fight injustice is not a just man or woman.”

“You cannot believe in God and exploit your brother or sister,” he said. “You cannot believe in God and be a mafioso. The mafiosi do not live as Christians because with their lives they blaspheme the name of God, who is love.”

The pope’s visit to Sicily ended with an outdoor meeting with tens of thousands of teenagers and young adults in a Palermo square.

He urged them to dream and to love one another and to fight every form of corruption that flows from or builds up the Mafia.

“No to the Mafia mentality, to illegality, to the logic of crime, which are corrosive poisons for human dignity,” the pope said. “No to every form of violence. Those who use violence are not human. And the youngest of you, remember and promise me none of you will be bullies.”

“Promise me: No violence. No bullying,” he said. “No to resignation. Everything can change” if people open their hearts and stand firm in hope.

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Event Alert: Veneration of the official relics of Saint Padre Pio coming to the Archdiocese

09/15/2018 - 9:07am

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral will have the official relics of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on October 3, 2018 on the occasion of the 50th commemoration anniversary of his passing.

The public veneration will take place from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

A Mass in honor of Saint Padre Pio will be celebrated at 7:00 p.m. by The Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati at 7:00 p.m. on October 3, 2018.

“Devotion to St. Padre Pio is an uncanny phenomenon,” said Father Jan Schmidt, rector of the cathedral. “When visiting his shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo you are struck by the sheer magnitude of the crowds who have come to pay homage and to seek his intercession for healing of both body and soul. Padre Pio was a mystic in the true sense of the word, and one’s interaction was an encounter with the holy … he could tell you things about yourself, never having known you, that had never been revealed … he could tell you your sins before you had a chance to tell him.  Having visited San Giovani Rotondo myself and been exposed to these relics I am hopeful those who attend the visit will find the same spiritual sense of peace and reconciliation that I did.”

Padre Pio: mystic and saint

St. Pio, called “Padre Pio” in life, was an Italian priest known for his charity and love for the people around him. He bore the wounds of Christ, which still cannot be explained.

Born Francesco Forgione in 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, he was the son of peasant farmers. At age 15, he entered a novitiate with the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in Morcone, where he took on the name “Friar Pio.”

Once he joined the Friary of St. Francis, he had several bouts of serious illness and religious ecstasy. Friars reported that strange noises would come from his cell. Padre Pio frequently spoke about
attacks from the devil, and it was there where these battles had taken place. Although he remained ill, he was ordained a priest in 1910 at the Cathedral of Benevento in southern Italy.

Drafted into the Italian Medical Corps in 1916, he was sent home because of chronic bronchitis, and moved to our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he taught seminary students and prayed with the townspeople.

After a brief retun to military service, he was given a medical discharge in 1918. He visited his hometown and then returned to the friary, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

In August of 1918, Pio began experiencing a painful stigmata that would come and go over a period of weeks. This would soon become permanent, and remain on his body for the next 50 years. It
only disappeared miraculously a few days before his death in September 1968. Countless experts and doctors looked at his wounds with no clear explanation. Some questioned the authenticity of the wounds, and others could not find a sure diagnosis. While he never had a fever or drops in blood pressure, the wounds bled day after day for 50 years.

In the beginning, Padre Pio felt great humiliation at the wounds on his body, but he welcomed the pain for all of mankind. He stated many times that his “greatest wish was to die.” He was visited by many pilgrims wishing to see some of the miraculous manifestations that his presence attracted.

Padre Pio died of a heart attack at Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo on Sept. 23, 1968. Many of the friars were eager and willing to begin the great process of canonization. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Mass on May 2, 1999, in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. On June 16, 2002, he was canonized by Pope John Paul II.

Packers fan with months to live sees game with aid from hospice, diocese

09/14/2018 - 7:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Sam Lucero

ALLOUEZ, Wis. (CNS) — When David Marosek, who had been battling stage 4 rectal cancer since July 2016, got the news in April his cancer had returned and spread into his lungs and spine, it was a depressing time.

“I was told that it was terminal and they gave me like six months to a year” to live, he told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, in a telephone interview from his Oshkosh apartment. Rather than begin new treatments, Marosek chose to enter hospice.

“I’ve been in hospice now for a few months,” he said. With the assistance of Aurora at Home Hospice, Marosek receives medical care and home visits from hospice staff, including Jayne Syrjamaki, Aurora at Home volunteer coordinator.

When hospice staff met Marosek in July, they asked him, “If you had one wish, what would it be?” It’s part of the hospice program’s “Drop in the Bucket” initiative to grant small wishes to patients. The wish was then turned over to Syrjamaki. “He said he had always wanted to go to a Packer game,” she said.

“I’ve been a Packer fan all my life,” Marosek, 52, told The Compass. “I can remember, back when I was 5 or 6, watching Packer games on TV with my father — or listening to the game on the car radio after church on Sunday, waiting for Mom to get groceries.”

The chance to watch a Green Bay Packers game live at Lambeau Field would be a dream come true, Marosek told Syrjamaki. She set out to make it happen, but got no replies after sending messages to Oshkosh-area businesses.

“I wasn’t about to give up because I had the exact same diagnosis,” Syrjamaki said. “I went through colon cancer treatment four years ago. I’m a survivor, but I knew David wasn’t going to have the tomorrows that I have. That’s why it was a little more important to me.”

Syrjamaki decided to contact the Diocese of Green Bay.

“I grew up at St. Joseph Parish in Kellnersville and I remember reading things in the bulletin about how the diocese helped people,” she said. Her email request was given to Ted Phernetton, executive director of Catholic Charities in Green Bay. “Within a day, I heard back from Ted and that he was going to put out a request. About two days later he had tickets.”

In her email to the diocese, Syrjamaki explained that she wanted to grant the final wish of a hospice patient. “I am hoping you can help this gentleman or lead me in the right direction,” she wrote.

For Phernetton, the request — like it had for Syrjamaki — struck a personal chord.

“For some reason this touched my heart immediately,” he told The Compass. “Maybe, in part, because I was lucky. I am a cancer survivor and he will not be.”

Phernetton explained that Catholic Charities receives many requests each day. “We work hard to bring the Gospel to life and to help where we can,” he said. “Life can get so very messy and folks typically turn to us when things are very dark in their lives.”

With terminal cancer, Marosek “has no real control over what comes next,” said Phernetton. “His wish is a way for him to pursue just a little bit of power and influence over what remains of his life.”

Phernetton’s first step was to email members of the diocesan staff, explaining the request and seeking help with tickets. “Within minutes, I began receiving responses from folks wanting to help or pointing me in specific directions,” he said.

Employees of the diocese contributed donations and procured two tickets for the Sept. 9 season opener between the Packers and the Chicago Bears. Their financial donations — along with a few cash donations from Syrjamaki’s friends — also provided funds for a Packers Pro Shop gift card and concessions.

In a surprise visit Aug. 30, Syrjamaki informed Marosek that he would be attending the game.

“I said I was there to do a volunteer supervisory visit,” she said. “We started talking about all the Packers posters on his walls and then he said, ‘l love the Packers.’ So I pulled out a fleece Packer blanket and said to David, ‘I would like you take this blanket and use it to cover up your legs when go to the Packers-Bears game.’ He cried, I cried. All tears of joy.”

“Health-wise, I know I’m dying. I understand that,” said Marosek. “I have some problems getting around. That’s why I got a wheelchair to go to the game. Otherwise, I’m in pretty good spirits, I guess, considering all of this,” noting he had been given the sacrament of anointing from a visiting priest in early September.

His spirits were raised as he entered Lambeau Field to witness the Packers roar back from a 20-0, third-quarter deficit to defeat the Bears, 24-23. After posing for a photo before the game, Marosek said another set of tickets was donated to him by the diocese for the Oct. 15 Packers-San Francisco 49ers game, but he declined.

“I told them my dream was just to go to one Packer game,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be greedy. I am hoping somebody else (in hospice) will enjoy them and get to have the same experience I am having tonight.”

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Lucero is news and information manager for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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Update: To Europe’s periphery: Pope to visit Baltic nations in late September

09/14/2018 - 3:06pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will travel to the eastern periphery of Europe to honor a faith that withstood a Nazi invasion and five decades of communist dictatorship and now is striving to help people live in freedom as authentic disciples of Christ.

The pope’s visit Sept. 22-25 to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia comes in the year the three Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. While declared Soviet republics in 1940, the countries were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then lived under Soviet rule from 1944 to 1990.

St. John Paul II visited the countries in 1993 as they were at the beginning stages of solidifying democracy and living with full religious liberty.

Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the apostolic administrator of Estonia’s tiny Catholic community, told Catholic News Service that the motto of the pope’s visit to Estonia “is a well-known Estonian song, ‘Mu suda arka ules,’ which means ‘Wake up my heart.’ It is more or less what we all — Catholics, non-Catholics or nonreligious people — are waiting for: that the pope helps us to find a new hope in our heart and in our society, as was the case in the years immediately after the end of the Soviet time.”

“Materialism and secularization are now very strong in Estonian society,” he said, “and we need a new start.”

On a special website for the visit, Bishop Jourdan wrote that when St. John Paul visited 25 years ago, his message was, “‘Do not be afraid!’ In those years, the Estonian state was like a sick person who had just woken up from a coma, treading with insecure steps, but with great expectations of peace, of unity with the rest of Europe, of great ideals, perhaps also of material things but with great hope.”

A quarter-century later, the independent governments are stable, and the three countries are full members of the European Union, he said. But “while Estonian society has reached a good level of material security, spiritual security is lacking today.”

Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania, said the 100th anniversary of independence commemorations are “a time of reflection on the gift of freedom, as well as the cost of freedom.”

“This gift requires us to work for the common good and for peace,” he wrote in the September issue of Europeinfos, the newsletter of the commission of bishops’ conferences in E.U. countries and the Jesuit European office. “The 50 years of Soviet occupation require a reflection on the cost of that freedom — the suffering, deportations, persecutions and sacrificed lives that must never be forgotten.”

Pope Francis is expected to repeat advice he often gives: Remember the past and honor it, but also face the present with courage and the future with hope.

In each of the nations, the pope will pay homage to those who died in the struggle for freedom and human dignity. And, in Vilnius Sept. 23, he will pause to pray at a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. The pope’s visit will take place on the 75th anniversary of the Nazi’s liquidating the ghetto where they had forced up to 40,000 Jews to live. Almost none of them survived.

The pope is scheduled to place flowers at the foot of the Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia, Sept. 24. The monument honors those who fought for Latvia’s independence from 1918 to 1920. Erected in 1935, Soviet authorities repeatedly announced plans to take it down but relented in the face of public pressure.

The monument “is a symbol of Latvian independence, which has been preserved through all the years of Soviet ideology. It reminds us that true freedom can be preserved even amid external persecution and oppression,” Archbishop Zbignevs Stankevics of Riga told CNS.

Relations with other Christians and with nonbelievers also are expected to play a big role in the pope’s trip. He has an ecumenical prayer service planned Sept. 24 in the Lutheran cathedral in Riga, Latvia, and an ecumenical meeting with young people the next day at a Lutheran church in Tallinn, Estonia.

Estonia is the Baltic nation with the smallest Catholic population and with the largest percentage of people claiming no faith at all, Bishop Jourdan said.

According to Vatican statistics, less than half of 1 percent of Estonia’s population is Catholic. Almost 21 percent of Latvians are Catholic and close to 80 percent of Lithuanians belong to the Catholic Church. In all three nations, the Catholic Church’s closest ecumenical partners are Lutherans and Orthodox.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the three nations also have faced the challenge of emigration, especially in the years following the global economic crisis that began in 2008.

Estonia’s population declined, Bishop Jourdan said, “but far less than Latvia’s and Lithuania’s, and for the past three years there has been a slight increase in the population, in part because of an incipient immigration. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the economic situation in Estonia is better than in Latvia or Lithuania.”

Archbishop Stankevics said Latvia has experienced “a significant population drop in recent years, and the impact of emigration is felt in our parishes.”

The only way to reverse the process is to create more jobs in an ethical and sustainable way, the archbishop said. In addition, “we need to develop work qualification courses to help people to be skilled in jobs really needed in the local economy.”

Archbishop Grusas told CNS Sept. 13 that many Lithuanian emigrants were “looking for change or trying to get away from past hurts,” but there is some evidence that people are starting to come back to the country.

Emigration is part of the “whole gamut of social problems” Pope Francis is expected to address, but always in the context of helping people find a hope-filled response, the archbishop said.

Lithuania’s Catholics were known for the heroic way they preserved the faith under communism despite harsh repression. The challenges to faith are different today, the archbishop said, not only because of the influence of secularization and materialism, but also because the communists made it so difficult to educate people in the faith.

“Independence changed that — there is a lot of information available now,” the archbishop said, “but the challenge is how to live in freedom and learning what true freedom is, not just doing what we want, but knowing we have obligations and responsibilities, too.”

In Latvia, Archbishop Stankevics said, “since the collapse of communism, faith has perhaps lost its traditional devotional forms and has developed more into commitment of personal relationships with God and service in the church.”

At the same time, he said, “threats to the faith arise from the present social, economic and cultural challenges.”

In a July interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Grusas said he saw “the finger of God” and Pope Francis’ own priorities reflected in his choice to visit the Baltics, “the periphery of the European Union.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

09/14/2018 - 1:45pm


By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, Algeria, the country’s bishops announced.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will preside over the Mass and beatification rite for the six women and 13 men who gave their lives “for the least, the sick and the men, women and young people of Algeria,” said a statement published by the bishops Sept. 13.

The martyrs “are given to us as intercessors and models of Christian life, friendship and fraternity, encounter and dialogue,” the bishops said. “May their example help us in our life today.”

“From Algeria, their beatification will be an impetus and a call for the church and for the world to build together a world of peace and fraternity,” the bishops said.

The 19 martyrs were killed between 1993 and 1996 while Algeria was locked in a 10-year-long armed conflict between government forces and extremist Islamic rebel groups; the conflict left tens of thousands of people dead.

Bishop Pierre Claverie and his driver were killed by a remote-controlled bomb left by the bishop’s residence, and the seven Trappist monks, who had been kidnapped from the monastery of Tibhirine, were beheaded by a group of Islamic terrorists trained by the al-Qaida network. The monks’ story was treated in the film “Of Gods and Men,” which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

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Vocation Events for October

09/14/2018 - 10:54am

Holy Cross Come & See Weekend. October 4-6, South Bend IN

The Congregation of Holy Cross welcomes high school seniors to a weekend at Old College, the undergraduate seminary on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, October 4 – 6, 2018. Contact the Office of Vocations at 574-631-6385 or email us at for more information.

Cincinnati Archdiocese Andrew Dinners; October 10, 16, & 25

Young men are invited to learn about seminary life and discernment of the priestly vocation. Andrew Dinners • October 10 at Holy Rosary Parish, St. Mary’s, OH. • October 16 at St. Margaret of York Parish, Loveland. • October 25 at St. Luke Parish, Beavercreek. Registrations with Fr. Schmitmeyer at

Discernment Retreat, Women 17-30, October 19-21, Alton IL

Single Catholic women ages 17-30 are welcome to come and pray with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George who will host a discernment retreat Octo-ber 19-21. Contact Sr. M. Karolyn at or 618-463-2757 or visit for more information or to register.

Glenmary Home Missioners

Come & See Retreat – October 19-21, 2018
Men ages 18-45 Visit with Glenmary priests and brothers
Travel to a Glenmary mission
Share in community prayer and reflection
Meet other men that are discerning their call

Holy Cross Undergraduate Discernment Retreat, October 26-28, South Bend IN

The Congregation of Holy Cross welcomes undergraduate men to a discernment re-treat at Moreau Seminary on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, October 26 – 28, 2018. Contact the Office of Vocations at 574-631-6385 or email us at for more information.

The Sisters of the Precious Blood Weekend Discernment October 26-28, Dayton OH

The Sisters of Precious Blood invite young, single women to a weekend discernment retreat, held Oct 26th-28th at their Salem Heights residence in Dayton, Ohio. Questions and Registration can be directed to Jenna at

Come and See with the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana

Come and See if God might be calling you to be a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (SMW)! Weekend retreat Oct. 26-28, 2018 at SMW, Indiana. Pray, meet and ask sisters questions, get to know Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. Free! For single, Catholic women, 18-42. Sister Editha Ben, 812-230-4771 or

Colombian coroner offers free burials to destitute Venezuelan migrants

09/13/2018 - 4:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Manuel Rueda

By Manuel Rueda

RIOHACHA, Colombia (CNS) — It’s midafternoon and the cemetery known as People Like Us is eerily quiet.

As the corpse of Eduardo Sanchez is removed from a white funeral car and placed in a coffin, his daughter starts to sob and gets close to the coffin to take one last picture of her father. The rest of Sanchez’s family watches from afar or turns away in sorrow. The stench and sight of the badly decomposed body are too much to take in.

“He was in a morgue for four weeks,” Sanchez’s niece, Gisangie Navarro, explains. “But we come from Venezuela, and we did not have enough money to take him anywhere. Now he can finally get a Christian burial.”

As hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans migrate across South America to escape hyperinflation and food shortages, some are dying in poverty far from home.

A small cemetery in Colombia’s northern La Guajira department has become a haven for the corpses of these dead migrants and is helping their bereaved families to find some peace and comfort as they struggle to get by. The cemetery also has helped a retired coroner find her calling, as she undertakes a task that few aid groups have contemplated.

“God has a purpose for all of us,” says Sonia Bermudez, the coroner and founder of People Like Us cemetery. “And my job is to take care of the dead, and make sure that everyone gets a decent burial.”

Bermudez says her interest in working with the dead started at age 13, when her father was the security guard in her hometown’s public cemetery. In those days, she recalls, bodies that were not claimed by anyone were buried in large pits without coffins and often with no clothes. Sometimes, officials put a bag over the corpses’ heads to give the burial a small sense of dignity.

“I thought it was very unfair how these people were buried, in comparison to folks who had families that paid for funerals,” Bermudez says. “So eventually I decided to get involved.”

At 15, Bermudez was assisting the local coroner in autopsies, and she started to bury unclaimed bodies. Then, after studying forensic sciences in Colombia’s capital, she returned home to practice her craft. Eventually, she started the cemetery that has become her life’s work.

“There were always bodies in the morgue that no one was claiming,” she explains. “So, I started to take them to a plot of land that the municipal government was not using, and I buried them there.”

Initially, Bermudez buried mostly homeless people who no one claimed. Then, as violence between guerilla groups and rightwing paramilitaries engulfed her province of La Guajira, she started to bury the corpses of war victims dumped in the desert outside her hometown of Riohacha.

Colombia eventually became less violent, and a 2016 peace deal between the government and the country’s main guerilla group helped to further diminish the country’s murder rate. But Bermudez’s cemetery is as busy as ever.

The forensic scientist, now 56, spends most of her time now burying Venezuelan migrants who have died in poverty in northern Colombia.

Bermudez says so far this year she has already buried 30 Venezuelans, free of charge. After putting the dead in simple coffins purchased by donors, she places them in rectangular cement crypts that bear their names and are decorated with synthetic flowers.

“When these (Venezuelan) families come to me, they are in a very precarious situation,” Bermudez says. “Some barely have enough money for their own food, and often they are traveling from other cities and they have nowhere to stay.”

Bermudez has had to spend her own money to help bury the large numbers of destitute migrants who have died in Colombia recently, but she says no one else in northern Colombia is providing a similar service.

A separate municipal cemetery, managed by the Catholic Church, charges fees of at least $100 for burial spaces, and coffins start at $200. Those amounts are unaffordable for migrants, who usually make about $5 a day.

“The priests and the funeral homes always need to charge something,” Bermudez says. She adds that most people at her modest cemetery are buried without a religious ceremony, “because priests charge for that, too.”

Bermudez says she is sure that God is helping her out in her “mission.” She recently got construction materials from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, so she built more crypts for her cemetery. The agency also helped her cover the costs of transporting the corpses of dead migrants to her graveyard.

“When I do this, I feel full of peace and tranquility,” she says. “I feel that I am helping to fulfill God’s will.”

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Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield; Archbishop Lori Instructed to Conduct Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment

09/13/2018 - 3:58pm

September 13: WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop William E. Lori as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He will remain Archbishop of Baltimore. The Holy Father has additionally instructed Archbishop Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield.

The resignation and appointment were publicized in Washington, September 13, 2018, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Bransfield was born September 8, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA. He graduated from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1971, where he earned a master’s in Divinity. He also earned his Master’s in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 15, 1971 by Cardinal John Krol for service in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Assignments after ordination included: teacher, chaplain, and Chairman of the Religion Department at Lansdale Catholic High School. In 1980, Bishop Bransfield went on to serve as Assistant Director and Director of Liturgy, Director of Finance, and then Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (1990).

On December 9, 2004, Pope Saint John Paul II appointed Bishop Bransfield the eighth Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. He was ordained a bishop on February 22, 2005.

Bishop Bransfield served as a member of the Communications Committee, the National Collections Committee, and Treasurer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is comprised of 24,282 square miles in the state of West Virginia and has a total population of 1,844,128 of which 77,874 or 4 percent, are Catholic.