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Shutdown won't deter crowds from marching for life in nation's capital

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Neither snow nor sleet -- nor partial government shutdown -- will keep pro-lifers away from the nation's capital for the March for Life Jan. 18.

If it continues, the shutdown will be almost a month old by then. Daily news reports show the closures of monuments, memorials and the Smithsonian museums in Washington and trash cans overflowing on some federal property -- images that might lead some folks around the country to think it is affecting big events planned for the nation's capital.  

But not so.

"PLEASE NOTE: We plan to march even if the government shutdown is not yet resolved," declares the March for Life website, marchforlife.org. "We have marched for 45 years and will march again this year to end the human rights abuse of abortion."

Come to think of it, the start of what was a two-day historic blizzard that hit Washington in January 2016 had some impact on numbers, but marchers by the thousands still turned out that Jan. 22 to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion virtually on demand.

"The shutdown really did not factor into our planning at all," said Patrick Ford of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. Director of campus ministry and the Hintemeyer Catholic Leadership Program at the college, Ford is the point person for the school's pro-life contingent heading to the march.

"This year, especially, we have tried to make this trip more of a pilgrimage and less of a site-seeing event," he told Catholic News Service in an email Jan. 10. "The venues we will visit -- the (St.) John Paul II National Shrine and the Basilica of the National Shrine (of the Immaculate Conception) -- are not affected by local politics, so our trip should be entirely unaffected by the goings-on in Washington."

Ford added, "We look forward to another great March for Life with our hundreds of thousands of friends!"

The same goes for the 500-plus students coming in from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. They'll be carrying a giant green banner and wearing winter hats especially designed for this year's march, said Dominique Cognetti, a junior majoring in social work.

The entire effort -- from promoting the march in late September with fliers on campus to designing their gear for the march -- is led by the students, Cognetti told CNS in a telephone interview Jan. 9.

"I don't think at this time it's going to affect anything," she said of the shutdown, recalling that Franciscan students came to Washington "when the whole storm" took place in 2016.

They're coming in eight buses. This year, like always, they will begin their trip on the eve of the march with a late night Holy Hour. They depart at midnight to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception about 6 a.m., in time for the 7:30 a.m. Mass that sends participants forth for the March for Life rally, with a lineup of speakers, on the National Mall.

After the rally, the march itself goes up Constitution Avenue and ends at the Supreme Court.

This year's theme, "Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science" focuses on how scientific advancements reveal "the humanity of the unborn child from the moment of conception."

Speakers will include three members of Congress -- Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois and Chris Smith, R-New Jersey -- and a Democratic member of the Louisiana Legislature, Rep. Katrina Jackson.

"We are delighted to have these four pro-life champions speak at the March for Life rally," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. "The right to life is a nonpartisan issue and, regardless of politics, we should all unite for life and stand against abortion, the greatest human rights abuse of our time."

Others who will address the rally include Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus; Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None; Alveda King, Priests for Life's director of civil rights for the unborn; Dr. Kathi Aultman, fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and Ally Cavazos, president of Princeton Pro-Life.

Attending the March for Life is something Cognetti has been doing since she was a freshman in high school, she told CNS.

When she was younger, she would accompany her parents to the march, and later got involved on her own. To see the "amount of people" gathered for life, "especially those in my generation, really touched me. ... We have thousands of people coming to D.C. to defend what they believe in and not just older people," she said.

The March for Life is a great way for her and everyone from Franciscan University "to stand together, to stand firm in what we believe in. We know life starts at conception."

The march is "very eye-opening," she added, and provides a chance for people who say they are pro-life to do something about it.

Cognetti added that she feels her generation is making "a name for ourselves and not sitting down any more and saying we're pro-life -- we're taking action!"

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Follow asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Despite high turnover, number of Catholics little changed in Congress

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In most election cycles, there may be 30 to 50 new members of Congress. For 2019, there are 89 -- and a 90th may yet be headed for Capitol Hill based on how a disputed House election in North Carolina plays out.

Yet, despite the broad turnover, the number of Catholics in the current Congress is little changed from that in the past Congress.

Two years ago, there were 168 Catholics in the House and Senate combined, a high-water mark. This year, for the 116th Congress, the number is down five, to 163.

Even so, their representation in House, at 32.5 percent, is more than half again their representation in the U.S. population, which the Pew Research Center pegs at 21 percent.

Pew's biennial "Faith on the Hill" report, which breaks down the religious composition of Congress, notes that Catholics are the single largest denomination in Congress. The next highest, at 80: "unspecified/other" Christians who are members of denominations smaller than the 16 listed in the Pew report, or did not specify their religious affiliation.

Greg Smith, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said the percentage of those in Congress who did not specify their branch of Christianity is triple that of the general population, which registers at about 5 percent.

But one thing Pew can do in its surveys is follow up to ask respondents if there is a specific denominational affiliation. For its numbers, the "Faith on the Hill" survey depends on results from a questionnaire developed by CQ Roll Call and sent to each member.

Among those who did specify, Baptists come in at 72 members in both the House and Senate, followed by Methodists at 42 and Jews at 34. Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians/Anglicans are each tied at 26 members apiece.

The only other entries in double digits are Mormons and members of nondenominational churches, both with 10. Pew noted that the number of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Congress is the lowest in at least a decade.

Some argue "you can't be a Catholic and a Democrat," because of the party's support for legal abortion. But the Pew numbers show more Catholic Democrats in the House -- 87 -- than Catholic Republicans, who number 54. In fact, the number of Catholic Democrats is not far from the number of Protestant Democrats in the House -- there are 97 of them.

In the Senate, though, the margin is closer, but more Catholics in the upper chamber are Democrats than Republicans, 12-10. Protestant Senate Republicans, though, double the number of Protestant Democrats, 40-20.

Among new members, despite the high turnover rate, Catholics were the only religious group in double digits, with 29 new members.

The "Faith on the Hill" report said, "Catholics have held steady at 31 percent over the last four Congresses, although there are now many more Catholics in Congress than there were in the first Congress for which Pew Research Center has data." That was when there were an even 100 Catholics in both chambers, good for 19 percent of the total. It was the 87th Congress, which began in 1961 -- the year the nation's first Catholic president, John Kennedy, was sworn in.

While Catholics may be down five to 163 members in this Congress, they also had 163 in 2013-14, and 164 members in 2015-16.

The number of Protestants has dwindled over the past two generations from 398 in 1961. In four of the past six Congresses, they have totaled fewer than 300.

While much has been made of two Muslim women now serving in the House this term, there are just three Muslims overall in Congress. There are five Orthodox Christians, three Hindus, two Buddhists and two Unitarian Universalists.

Perhaps the most underrepresented group in Congress are those who claim no religious affiliation. While Pew puts their number at 23 percent of the U.S. population, there is just one who professes such: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

There may be others, as 18 members of Congress -- up 10 from two years ago -- either didn't or wouldn't answer the question from CQ Roll Call. "It's hard to know what to infer from that," Smith told Catholic News Service.

It is apparent, though, that candidates for office still see a need to check the "religion" box on their resume when presenting themselves to voters -- and that CQ Roll Call believes it to be important enough to continue to ask the question nearly a half-century after it started asking about religious affiliation.

"It is true -- it's definitely true -- when we look at our survey data, that being an atheist is, and long has been, a political liability," Smith said. That percentage has dropped, though, from 63 percent of Americans saying in 2007 they would be less likely to vote for an atheist, to a bare majority of 51 percent in 2016.

On the other hand, the religiosity of a candidate may not necessarily seal the deal with voters.

In early 2016, Pew asked survey respondents about the religiosity of a fistful of presidential aspirants. The percentage of those agreeing that the following candidates were at least somewhat religious were: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, 68 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 65 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, 61 percent, Hillary Clinton, 48 percent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, 40 percent; and, checking in at 30 percent, eventual President Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump was not widely seen as a particularly religious candidate and that did not hinder his candidacy for the Republican nomination," Smith said.

Religion in public life is, and can be, a good thing, according to Douglas A. Hicks, dean of -- and a religion professor at -- the Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta.

"Welcoming more faith perspectives into public debate risks even more cacophony and conflict than we already experience. Like most other matters of import today, citizens hold divergent religious beliefs and practices and will disagree," Hicks said in a Jan. 10 essay.

"Yet religious differences are part and parcel of our wider debate about what it means to be a flourishing democracy," he wrote. "To have those diverse perspectives present in our politics, including among our national leaders, is a positive step -- not only toward ensuring that many voices engage the democratic process, but also for reaching constructive solutions to the social, political, and economic issues that we face together."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Sister Pimentel disappointed about not being able to address president

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Johnston, courtesy University of Notre Dame

By Rose Ybarra

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- Sister Norma Pimentel was "truly disappointed" after not being given an opportunity to speak during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump during his Jan. 10 visit to McAllen.

The president traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to make his case for a southern border wall and other security measures amid a partial government shutdown that began over funding for the wall.

Calling the president's visit "quite an important moment," Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, lamented that representatives of local agencies working with migrant people and local elected officials were not invited to speak during the discussion.

"I was looking forward to this roundtable discussion, but there was no discussion unfortunately," Sister Pimentel told The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Brownsville Diocese. "There were certain people selected to speak, people who support the president's agenda," she added.

"We would like for President Trump to know who we are and what the reality is here on our border," said Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus

Trump arrived about 12:45 p.m. local time, along with Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House staff.

Supporters of Trump as well as protesters gathered on opposite sides of a street near the airport awaiting the president's arrival.

Trump was taken to a nearby U.S. Border Patrol Station for what was billed as a roundtable discussion with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, local officials and key players of the immigration story such as Sister Pimentel, who has spearheaded efforts to assist about more than 100,000 immigrants since June 2014.

A Jan. 10 Catholic News Service story incorrectly reported that Trump would visit the Catholic Charities-run Humanitarian Respite Center that Sister Pimentel oversees and that serves migrant people.

When asked what she would have said to the president if she had been recognized, Sister Pimentel said, "I would definitely say that I appreciate and understand the importance of border security and keeping our border safe -- that's so important. We must support our Border Patrol and their job to defend and protect our borders. We must know who enters our country."

Sister Pimentel noted she has a good working relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol and other government agencies.

"When I walked into the meeting room, all the Border Patrol agents present, even the ones from D.C. were happy to meet me and talk to me," she said. "It really demonstrates the importance of how we on the ground work together as a community -- city officials, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the volunteers -- to the realities we face at the border.

"We recognize, yes, it's important to keep our border safe to support our Border Patrol but we also recognize there are lots of families, innocent victims of violence that are suffering," she said. "We as a community are responding to help them. It's a part of who we are as Americans: compassionate, caring."

Sister Pimentel continued, "That's a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listen to. I would have loved to have the opportunity to personally invite him to the respite center, to meet the families, to meet the children. As Catholics, as people of faith, we feel God has asked us to support, defend and protect all human life and that's what we're doing here at the respite center."

In an op-ed posted to The Washington Post website Jan. 9, Sister Pimentel invited Trump to visit the center, which opened in 2014 to provide assistance in response to the influx of immigrants arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries.

Sister Pimentel said the center offers shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed in the U.S.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

In her column, she invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

The center is staffed with volunteers who offer food, clothing, toiletries, baby supplies and travel packets, which include supplies for their journey.

These immigrants, mostly women and children, already have been detained and released by immigration authorities. They have been granted permission to continue to their destinations outside of the Rio Grande Valley and given a date for a court appearance.

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Ybarra is assistant editor of The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Migrant advocate welcomes president to Rio Grande Valley

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- President Donald Trump joined a roundtable discussion to hear about how agencies in South Texas are responding to the influx of refugees on the southern border.

The discussion Jan. 10 came a day after Sister Norma Pimentel welcomed the president to the Rio Grande Valley and invited him to see the work of staff and volunteers assisting people from throughout Central America seeking asylum in the United States.

The invitation from Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, appeared in an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post.

The president also joined a roundtable presentation on the situation facing migrants and those who serve them during his visit to the center.

The column explained the work of the center since 2014, when tens of thousands of people mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras made their way northward to flee violence and poverty in their homeland.

Sister Pimentel said the center -- offering shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed into the U.S. -- has welcomed more than 100,000 people since opening.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

She invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

"We work closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Rio Grande Valley Sector, and our team has cultivated a culture of mutual respect and dialogue," wrote Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus. "Our center staff, in communication with the Border Patrol, prepares to receive groups of immigrants who have been released. We try to meet the need.

"It is vital that we keep our country safe, and I appreciate the work of the men and women in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection who are vigilant as to who enters our country. I pray for them daily."

She detailed daily life at the center, from early morning until bedtime in the evening, explaining the tasks staff and volunteers undertake to ensure the dignity of the immigrants.

"I am energized each day by the families I meet, especially the children," Sister Pimentel wrote. "I am energized as well by the volunteers. They come from our local communities but also from across the United States. We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.

"As the Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, bishop of our diocese, says, 'We must put human dignity first,'" the op-ed concluded.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Catholic groups, others criticize Trump for speech about border

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- No sooner had President Donald Trump finished his Jan. 8 nine-minute speech, his first such event televised in prime time from the Oval Office, about what he termed a crisis at the border, than Catholic groups and others began criticizing his arguments.

In email statements, via Twitter, in Facebook posts that cascaded overnight, they denounced his words as incendiary and untruthful and called on him and Congress to find different solutions to the country's immigration woes, particularly ones that do not involve building a wall and include instead more compassion.  

Trump said the wall, whose lack of funding triggered the ongoing partial government shutdown that began at midnight Dec. 22, was necessary to stop drugs and violent immigrants from coming into the country, which he called a "humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border."

"Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now," he said.

On drugs, he said: "Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border."

Fact checkers from various news organizations quickly pointed out research, including a study from the journal Criminology, that showed "undocumented immigration does not increase violence," that most drugs come to the U.S. at already existing border crossings, so more wall- or barrier-building wouldn't stop their transport.

The Center for Migration Studies, a think tank in New York connected to the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, known popularly as the Scalabrinians, disseminated information from one of its studies in 2016 that showed the number of "undocumented in the nation had dropped to 10.8 million, a new low."

In a Jan. 10 statement, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration said the country can both secure borders and humanely treat migrants fleeing persecution and seeking a better life. These "are not mutually exclusive," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

"The United States can ensure both and must do so without instilling fear or sowing hatred," he said, urging the president and congressional leaders to work together to come up with just such a solution.

On Twitter Jan. 8, the Sisters of Mercy quickly responded to Trump's speech, calling it "another, in a long list of speeches, rooted in untruths, fear and division."

They noted that the speech came as the U.S. Catholic Church marked National Migration Week, Jan. 6-12, to support and pray for immigrants, refugees, victims and survivors of human trafficking.

"It is particularly troubling that a speech of this nature comes while the church recognizes #NationalMigrationWeek, a moment to reflect upon the desperate and harrowing circumstances confronting migrants, immigrants, and refugees," the Mercy Sisters tweeted after the speech.

"Neither the continued government shutdown nor a declaration of national emergency aimed at funding a wall will correct years of failed U.S. immigration policy or ameliorate the U.S.'s role in the root causes of migration," the Mercy Sisters wrote in a response published quickly following the speech.

"Make no mistake, there is a humanitarian crisis on the border, but it is one of the Trump administration's own making," they said. "One where asylum-seekers are forced to wait in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for weeks while their asylum claims are assessed and decided."

The following morning, without referencing Trump's speech, a Texas border bishop, Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores -- who is facing a dispute with government officials seeking to survey church property on which to build a wall -- tweeted that "mothers and children are fleeing the very criminal elements that we ourselves recognize represent a mortal danger. Are we not capable of sustaining a response that both protects the vulnerable and restrains the menace?"

In a Jan. 9 statement, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said he listened to the president's speech "with deep disappointment to the dehumanizing words used to describe our immigrant sisters and brothers."

"These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories," he said. "Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees.

On Jan. 10, the president visited McAllen, Texas, and another prelate on the border, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, said he would pray that "while he is at the border, President Trump will look into the eyes of those who are fleeing violence and poverty with compassion."

He continued: "If you take time to look beyond walls, you will see in the faces of these children, mothers and fathers the same human dignity you recognize in your own family. Our nation is great enough to provide security for our citizens and also the refuge they so desperately need."

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, urged the president and lawmakers to look at the conditions of persecution and violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That, he said, is where this administration and Congress should focus, and instead fix the causes that drive the displacement of people.

"A series of measures designed to deter these vulnerable populations from fleeing their countries, including family separation, mandatory detention, zero tolerance and denial of entry at the border are undermining their legal and human rights, guaranteed under both domestic and international law," Kerwin said.

"They are handing themselves over to Border Patrol agents in search of protection, not trying to enter the country illegally," he said. "The administration and Congress should act to end these inhumane policies and provide protection to vulnerable women and children."

Instead of shutting down the government over a wall, Kerwin continued, Trump and Congress should enact a legislative package providing permanent status to those benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival and Temporary Protected Status programs, "immigrant populations who have built equities in our nation."

But neither the wall nor any other proposals to curb immigration set forth by immigration supporters seemed to gain traction after the speech. As the president and lawmakers met Jan. 9 to try to find common ground, reports trickled out about what was a failed effort.

Democrats said Trump slammed his hands on a table and walked out during the talks. Late in the afternoon of Jan. 9, the president tweeted his account of his meeting with top Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time," Trump tweeted. "I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!"

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, countered the Democrats' account and said cameras should be allowed in such meetings so there's no dispute about what happened. Trump was courteous, he said, and even offered them candy.  

"I just listened to Senator Schumer," McCarthy said. "I know he complained the time that you had cameras in the meeting. I think we need to bring them back. Because what he described the meeting to be is totally different than what took place."

Over the past several years, a number of Democrats, including Schumer and Hillary Clinton, during her years as a U.S. senator, expressed support for a barrier at the border and said the country needed to control the flow of people coming into the country illegally.

Trump referred to this in his speech, and called them hypocritical for opposing such border security now that he is president.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope makes day trip to cloistered Poor Clares in Umbria

IMAGE: CNS photo/Holy See Press Office

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis left the Vatican Jan. 11 to visit a community of cloistered Poor Clare nuns in Umbria, the Vatican said.

The pope made the "private visit" to encourage the sisters and to share the Eucharist, prayer and a meal with them, said Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office.

In some ways, Pope Francis was repaying a visit. Members of the Poor Clares of Santa Maria di Vallegloria in Spello, about 100 miles north of Rome, had visited Pope Francis in August 2016 at his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

During the 2016 meeting, the pope personally gave the Poor Clares -- and symbolically all contemplative women religious -- in his document "Vultum Dei Quaerere" (Seeking the Face of God), which updated rules governing contemplative communities of women.

The Spello monastery traces its roots back to 560 when it was founded by several followers of St. Benedict; the community was re-formed in 1230 by two disciples of St. Clare of Assisi.

After a major earthquake in 1997, which heavily damaged the Church of Santa Maria di Vallegloria and the monastery, the sisters maintained their cloister by living in the garden first in tents then in portable homes. The church and monastery were reopened in 2011.

 

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Pope will go to Romania calling for unity, focus on the common good

IMAGE: CNS image/courtesy Holy See Press Office

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will make a three-day apostolic visit to Romania in late May, the Vatican announced.

Accepting invitations from President Klaus Iohannis and from Catholic leaders, the pope will visit the capital of Bucharest, the cities of Iasi and Blaj, and the Marian sanctuary in Sumuleu Ciuc in the Transylvanian region.

A detailed schedule for the trip May 31-June 2 will be released later, the Vatican said in a statement Jan. 11.

The theme of the visit is "Let's walk together," and the trip logo shows a group of faithful gathered together with an image of Mary behind them, representing her protection over "the people of God in Romania," the Vatican said.

"Romania is often called the 'garden of the Mother of God,'" a term also used by St. John Paul II during his visit there in 1999, it said.

It said Pope Francis' visit also will have this Marian aspect as an invitation to Christians to unite their efforts "under Our Lady's mantle of protection."

"The Holy Father has always called for the uniting of various forces, refusing selfishness and giving central importance to the common good. The Successor of Peter is going to Romania to invite everyone to unity and to confirm them in the faith."

The overwhelming majority -- almost 82 percent -- of Romania's 20 million inhabitants say they belong to the Romanian Orthodox Church. About 6 percent of the population identifies itself as Protestant and over 4 percent identify as Catholic, belonging either to the Romanian Catholic Church -- an Eastern rite -- or the Latin rite.

The trip will be Pope Francis' fifth in the first six months of 2019. He is scheduled to be in Panama Jan. 23-27 for World Youth Day; and he will go to Abu Dhabi Feb. 3-5, to Morocco March 30-31 and to Bulgaria and Macedonia May 5-7.

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Update: Bishops describe their retreat as inspiring, Spirit-filled

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although the weeklong retreat for U.S. Catholic bishops emphasized quiet reflection, several bishops spoke out on social media during the retreat and after it wrapped up Jan. 8 with positive reaction about it and to give shoutouts to the retreat leader, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has preached to popes and top officials of the Roman Curia for nearly 40 years.

One bishop said listening to Father Cantalamessa was akin to being in the presence of the early Christian theologians. "Clear, intensely filled with the Holy Spirit, and all for the Kingdom of God," Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Boulette of San Antonio said in a tweet. "Let us continue to pray for one another, our church and our world. A blessing to be here!"

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, tweeted that the retreat leader was a "true instrument of the Lord" and that the Holy Spirit was at work during the retreat.

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, described Father Cantalamessa's talks and homilies as "powerful and engaging."

He tweeted that he was glad they had time to reflect and pray about their role as shepherds, stressing: "We must start there to be able to offer healing. I am taking this very seriously but feeling positive."

Boston Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O'Connell said it was a "truly blessed experience" to be on retreat with Father Cantalamessa and fellow U.S. bishops.

"The Holy Spirit was powerfully present, and I was quite moved," he tweeted. He also thanked the pope for giving the bishops this gift.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980. The time of prayer Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago was planned largely in response to last summer's revelations of allegations of sex abuse that reached the highest levels of the U.S. church.

In a Jan. 8 column for Angelus News, the archdiocesan news outlet of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bishops' retreat leader focused "our attention on the vocation and responsibility of bishops in this moment in the church."

"We are praying together as a visible sign of our unity as bishops and our communion with the Holy Father. There is a collegial spirit here and a firm commitment to address the causes of the abuse crisis we face and continue the work of renewing the church," he added.

The archbishop said Father Cantalamessa asked them to "trust more in the Holy Spirit. We need to have confidence that we are always living in God's loving presence."

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, wrote a few blog posts about the retreat with some reflection about the retreat leader's message.

He said they heard about the need to emphasize in their preaching the fundamental belief in Jesus before delving into his message and teachings.

He also said Father Cantalamessa emphasized the need to root out "love of money" and all that it implies, including material possessions, honor or power.

"If this pursuit for 'money' needs to be rooted out from our Christian lives, then we need to embrace a true spirit of detachment," the bishop wrote, adding that he would add more to that topic in the days ahead.

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat was "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" drawing from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Reflections from the retreat do not seem to be about the crisis in particular, maybe for a reason.

In an email to Catholic News Service weeks before the retreat, Father Cantalamessa said he would "not talk about pedophilia and will not give advice about eventual solutions; that is not my task and I would not have the competence to do so."

"The Holy Father asked for my availability to lead a series of spiritual exercises for the episcopal conference so that the bishops, far from their daily commitments, in a climate of prayer and silence and in a personal encounter with the Lord, can receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solutions for the problems that afflict the U.S. church today," he added.

In a Jan. 9 column for the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the pope's intention for the retreat went beyond "this particular moment or challenge facing us bishops."

"We are not leaving this retreat with all the answers to the important questions facing the church in these days," he wrote, but he said the bishops now have a renewed sense of the importance of taking their cues from "Christ's spirit rather than our own efforts."

Another blessing from the week, he said, was being drawn closer to each other and to the pope.

"I have no doubt that just as the early church relied on Peter's unique ministry to meet the challenges of the day, so we will draw strength and insight from our unity with his successor," he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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A global response to abuse: Work already underway, Jesuit says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By summoning leaders of the world's bishops' conferences and top representatives of religious orders to the Vatican in February to address the abuse crisis and the protection of minors, Pope Francis is sending the message that the need for safeguarding is a global issue.

Even though media attention and public fallout for the church's failings have focused on a small group of nations, abuse experts and victims know that does not mean the rest of the world is immune from the scandal of abuse or can delay taking action to ensure the safety of all its members.

While Catholic leaders in some countries might not recognize it as a global issue, Vatican offices that receive abuse allegations have a "clear idea about what is the situation now because allegations come from all parts of the world," said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the organizing committee for the February meeting.  

Because the Catholic Church mandates that all credible allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy must be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, "we have one office that has to deal with all of this so, for the time being, we know what are the allegations that come from different parts of the world," he said.

Allegations coming in from the English- and German-speaking countries that have been the center of the abuse scandal for decades "have diminished considerably" because of the safeguarding measures that have been put in place, he told Catholic News Service in early January.

But in those countries where abuse has not been talked about in society and in the church until recently, he said, allegations are just beginning to surface.

The doctrinal congregation has never released statistics on the geographical distribution of the clerical sexual abuse cases reported to it; in the past, the congregation has published the total number of cases reported and the total number of priests expelled from the priesthood because of abuse.

The last figures published by the congregation were for cases submitted to it in 2015. It said 518 cases involving "graviora delicta" ("more grave crimes") were submitted in 2015; the majority of those cases dealt with the sexual abuse of minors, including the possession of child pornography, but the category of "graviora delicta" also includes serious offenses against the sacraments.

What is not known, however, is the actual extent of abuse throughout society, Father Zollner said.

"There are no clear and no scientifically verified statistics for the prevalence of sexual abuse in societies worldwide. There are only estimates that range from 7 percent to 25 percent of all young people in a given society and, in some countries, it may be even much worse," he said.

However, because abuse is a global phenomenon, he said, the church -- as a global network with people and institutions in every corner of the world -- is perfectly positioned to be part of the solution.

In fact, while the February summit is being designed to bring church leadership together in solidarity, humility and dialogue and to strengthen their commitment to serving the most wounded and vulnerable, a very wide and global grassroots effort in safeguarding has been underway for years.

The Pontifical Gregorian University, the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and others established the Center for Child Protection in 2012.

"At the very beginning of the CCP, when we had only the e-learning program, the idea was to spread" its online studies in multiple languages and make them accessible "to the whole world," he said.

The center also reached out to other educational and academic institutions so that coursework in safeguarding would become part of the "normal curricula" for those studying psychology, social sciences, teaching or theology, said Father Zollner, who is also academic vice rector of the Gregorian University and dean of its Institute of Psychology.

The center has since developed a global alliance of organizations -- starting with some pontifical and Catholic universities -- who are committed to working with local experts and exchanging concrete information.

The center also offers a multidisciplinary diploma course and master's program in safeguarding for priests, religious and laypeople from all over the world. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples offers bishops' conferences in Africa and Asia full scholarships for either program for six people each year.

"This is very forward-looking because in those countries there are almost no resources either in society or in the church that have any kind of special training in this field," he said.

Graduates go back to their home countries, dioceses, orders or institutions, mostly to work in child protection, setting up programs, offering workshops and giving talks for church personnel and anyone who requests their help. In very poor or remote areas, sometimes they are the only experts available even for the government.

The feedback and reception safeguarding graduates have been getting back home, Father Zollner, "is very mixed because there is certainly a certain kind of reluctance and hesitancy and sometimes passive resistance" in some places.

One of the big challenges now, he said, is to give graduates "ongoing support so that they can push through and they can also exchange strategies that will help them and the church to really come to grips of the situation in their countries."

Father Zollner travels the world doing workshops and talks on child protection at the invitation of bishops' conferences and religious orders.

Just in the past year, he said, "I have been invited by the bishops' conferences of Papua New Guinea and Malaysia -- countries where just two or three years ago one would never have thought that there was any possibility to talk about (abuse) either in society or in church, and the church has started to face that now."

The international members of the papal commission on safeguarding also are invited to speak at seminars, conferences and workshops on every continent and provide education and insight, including survivors' testimonies to new bishops and staff at the Vatican.
 
Father Zollner said having skilled and motivated people on the ground to implement and share safeguarding measures will be very important for church leaders attending February's summit.

"Because once you have some good people, trained well and very committed, and all of them are really committed, you will find links to others, other church institutions and organizations and possible government structures, (then) you can really make a difference," he said.

It is a "very unfortunate" misconception that in most places nothing has been done in the area of safeguarding and prevention, Father Zollner said. "In many places in the world, safeguarding procedures are put in place, people are trained, schools, orphanages and so forth now have to have safeguarding training and screening of personnel."

"Again, this is not 100 percent present in all countries and in all institutions. Far from it," he said. "But there are very good examples of best practices even in areas where a few years ago no one would have had any clue about what to do and why to do what is necessary to protect minors."

Not all the world's roughly 200 countries are "doomed to repeat the same mistakes as the 20 countries or so that we know and talk about normally," he said. "I am positive especially about countries I visited in Central America or some parts of Africa and Asia where the bishops are really on board, the religious are on board; they have at least the potential to do it differently, to act before they are forced to act."

"The only choice they have is either we deal with it today, which needs courage and energy, or you will be forced or your successors will be forced to deal with it tomorrow," he said. "But there is no choice to avoid it or not to avoid it. You have to face it sooner or later."

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

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Vatican leaps into the world of sports

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced its plans to take a leap of faith into the wide world of sports with the creation of its first ever sports association.

The Vatican Athletic sports association, which will fall under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture and its "Culture and Sport" section, was presented during a briefing at the Vatican press office Jan. 10.

According to a press release by the association, the idea to establish a Vatican sports team began with Vatican employees who met for their daily morning runs along the Tiber River.  

"The Secretariat of State allowed this 'community' of friends to be given a suitable and completely innovative legal form of Christian witness in the streets, literally 'going out' as Pope Francis asks, among the women and men who live the passion of sport," the statement said.

Vatican Athletic, it continued, is not just concerned with competing with other athletes but also committed to giving a "concrete Christian witness with spiritual initiatives" in the world of sports.

The association currently is made up of 60 athletes, ranging from 19 to 62 years old, who work in various Vatican offices or serve with the Swiss Guard. It has also welcomed "honorary members," including two young Muslim migrants and "several young people with disabilities."

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council, told journalists the Vatican Athletic group represents a much-needed message of peace and unity in sports, which can sometimes be divisive.

The establishment of an official Vatican sports association also could open the possibility of athletes from the world's smallest state competing in future Olympic Games.

During the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a Vatican delegation, led by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the president of Vatican Athletic, was invited to take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and attend its general meeting as an official observer.

While a Vatican delegation attended the opening of the Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the South Korea games marked the first time the Vatican was invited to attend an annual session of the Olympic committee.

Msgr. Sanchez, who is also a former modern pentathlete, said the Vatican would not field an Olympic team anytime soon, but there may be a glimmer of hope that the gold and white colors of the Holy See may be seen one day at the global sporting event.

"A Vatican team at the Olympics? Seeing the Vatican flag fly at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a short or medium-term goal, but we aren't closing any doors," Msgr. Sanchez said. First, though, "I would like to participate in sporting events of symbolic value such as the Games of the Small States of Europe and the Mediterranean Games."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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