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Pro-life Texas Democrat says racial slurs won't stop his pro-life advocacy

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 10:25

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 08:25 am (CNA).-  

A pro-life Texas state senator running for re-election says he won’t be deterred by racial slurs directed against him by pro-abortion groups.

State senator Eddie Lucio, representing Texas’ 27th district in the southern tip of the state, is a Catholic pro-life Democrat from a Mexican-American family. As one of ten children who grew up attending St. Joseph Catholic church in West Brownsville, he told CNA that his upbringing “taught us family values and also to respect the sanctity of life.”

“I don’t make any excuses for that, and I don’t apologize for that,” he said of his advocacy on life issues.

Senator Lucio has been a member of the state senate since 1991, having previously served two terms in the state house. His 2020 Democratic primary race extended into a runoff in May, when he received just under 50% of the vote in a three-way race to advance to the general election.

Lucio is vying with candidate Sara Stapleton Barrera for the party’s nomination for the November general election in the July 14 runoff election; Barrera has received the endorsement of pro-LGBT and pro-abortion groups.

Pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC and the Texas Freedom Network have repeatedly referred to Lucio as “Sucio Lucio” in direct mailing campaigns and online, calling him “dirty” in an apparent reference to his politics; the term, he and others have said, is offensive to Hispanics.

“It’s been used in the past to describe a ‘dirty Mexican,’” Lucio told CNA. “I take it hard for someone to use an adjective that speaks badly of my surname that I’m very proud of. My dad was a very decent, hard-working man who contributed so much to his fellow man.” Lucio said his father was a disabled American veteran who fought in World War II in North Africa and Italy.

The groups “appropriated this offensive term, without consideration of its racist undertones, and it’s wrong to use the term to describe any person of color,” Lucio said. The opposition, he said, is “wanting to defeat me because I am pro-life.”

In a press release, Lucio’s son—a state representative—condemned the “derogatory and racial slurs.”

On July 3, the Mexican American Legislative Council said that political campaigns should “steer clear of political name calling that plays on racial, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and every form of discrimination when our country is working for social justice.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville also spoke out against the use of the term in a July 3 statement.

“While not surprised that Planned Parenthood would attack State Senator Eddie Lucio’s pro-life record, I am deeply discouraged that Texas Freedom Network and others would join in this malicious kind of attack, using such derogatory language to disparage him and his family,” Bishop Flores said.

Lucio appreciated Bishop Flores’ statement, noting that he voted in lock-step with the policy prescriptions of the Texas Catholic Conference last term.

“I’m very grateful to him [Flores], and I hope that we can continue to echo the sentiments of the conference of bishops because I truly believe that they represent what’s right for our society,” he said.

Lucio says that growing up in Texas, he experienced racial discrimination first-hand.

When he arrived at a South Texas university in the 1960s, Lucio said he sat at the front of the classroom in his first-period class. The professor told him “very abruptly, and in kind of a loud voice” to stand to the side.

“What he said after that, I’ll never forget,” Lucio said. The professor instructed Mexican students to sit at the back of the classroom, while telling “black athletes” to sit in the middle, and white students to sit in the front of the classroom.

In another instance in southeast Texas, Lucio said he was told by a motel there was no vacancy despite an empty parking lot outside. “So I figured it out, that it was because of me that we weren’t going to get any rooms there,” he said.

This experience, he said, has prompted him to fight against discrimination of anyone. And this also entails learning to respect areas of genuine disagreement on policy, without resorting to name-calling as Planned Parenthood did.

“I don’t want anyone, regardless of color, regardless of religious preference, regardless of our differences—we’re human beings and we certainly deserve to be treated equally,” he said. “But,” he continued, “we also have to respect religious freedom, we have to respect things that sometimes, people don’t want to.”

Lucio says that the “biggest issue,” for him, is the issue of protecting human life— at all stages. “I support life from conception until natural death,” he said, which puts him at odds with both political parties.

“Democrats will support a woman’s right to an abortion,” he lamented, “but if the baby’s born, will throw themselves in the fire to see that they get education, health care, everything else that goes with it,” he said. “And then they’re against the death penalty, most of them,” Lucio said.

“Republicans,” he said, “are pro-life, which I’m very happy about, but sometimes there are some Republicans that we find are so hard, and so far to the right, that they don’t want to vote to expand Medicaid or to add more dollars to education or health care when it’s needed in our state.”

“And they’re for the death penalty,” the senator lamented.

Speaking of his efforts to put faith before party, Lucio said: “I try to be different, and I am different in a sense,” he said.

 

Catholics in US called to solidarity with Japan ahead of atomic bomb anniversary

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 21:19

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- For the upcoming anniversary of the detonation of two atomic bombs on Japan, the US bishops have encouraged Catholics to pray for peace alongside the Church in Japan.

Issued by the USCCB’s Committee for International Justice and Peace, a statement was released July 13, a few weeks ahead of the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“August 6 and 9 mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first, and one hopes the last, times that atomic weapons are employed in war,” the bishops said.

“The 21st century continues to witness geopolitical conflicts with state and non-state actors, increasingly sophisticated weapons, and the erosion of international arms control frameworks. The bishops of the United States steadfastly renew the urgent call to make progress on the disarmament of nuclear weapons.”

Since St. John Paul II visited Japan in 1981, the Catholic Church in Japan has observed Ten Days of Prayer for Peace beginning Aug. 6. For the 75th anniversary, the USCCB has encouraged Catholics in the United States to join Japan in prayer by offering intentions of peace at Mass Aug. 9.

“The Church in the U.S. proclaims her clarion call and humble prayer for peace in our world which is God’s gift through the salvific sacrifice of Christ Jesus,” they said.

The only wartime use of nuclear weapons took place in 1945's Aug. 6 attack on Hiroshima and Aug. 9 attack on Nagasaki by the United States.

The Hiroshima attack killed around 80,000 people instantly and may have caused about 130,000 deaths, mostly civilians. The attack on Nagasaki instantly killed about 40,000, and destroyed a third of the city.

Pope Francis visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima in November 2019. There, he spoke against nuclear arms and promoted international harmony, noting that peace will not be ensured by a threat of nuclear war.

“A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere,” he said. “Our response to the threat of nuclear weapons must be joint and concerted, inspired by the arduous yet constant effort to build mutual trust and thus surmount the current climate of distrust.”

In February, Pope Francis once again spoke against nuclear arms and the Committee of International Justice and Peace reemphasized the Pope’s position. They said fear is not a stable enough platform to sustain peace.

“Recently, we, the bishops of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace re-affirmed the Holy Father’s call to ‘renewed effort to bring about a world of peace and justice that is not based upon fear or the threat of nuclear annihilation but justice and human solidarity.’”

“Fear, distrust, and conflict must be supplanted by our joint commitment, by faith and in prayer, that peace and justice reign now and forever.”

 

Georgia abortion heartbeat law banned by federal court

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 19:07

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- A federal court on Monday said a Georgia state law that prohibits abortion anytime after the detection of a fetal heartbeat is unconstitutional.

The ruling came in a lawsuit against the 2019 law filed by state abortion providers and abortion advocacy group.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote that “The Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally held that under no circumstances whatsoever may a state prohibit or ban abortions at any point prior to viability.”

Of the Georgia law, “The Court is left with no other choice but to declare it unconstitutional,” Jones wrote.

The ruling is not surprising. Pro life advocates have expected that the Georgia law was passed in part with the intention of challenging the constitutionality of Supreme Court judgments that find or support a constitutional right to abortion, especially 1973’s Roe vs. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.

Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp said Monday the state would appeal the court’s ruling, which could lead to a Supreme Court hearing of the case.

“Georgia values life and we will keep fighting for the rights of the unborn,” Kemp said in a July 13 statement.

In May 2019, Kemp said upon signing the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act that it is “a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, that all life is worthy of protection.”

The law was blocked by a judge through a temporary order before it took effect. Abortion is currently legal in Georgia until the 20th week of a pregnancy.

The Catholic bishops of Georgia supported the legislation and thanked the governor for signing it into law.

Actress Alyssa Milano had called for a widespread entertainment industry boycott of the state of Georgia in response to the law’s passage. However, the boycott failed to materialize.

The court’s decision also touched upon a provision of the Georgia law that declared unborn babies at all stages of development the protections extended to “persons” in state law. Jones called the provision “unconstitutionally vague,”

“The State Defendants have been unable to articulate what this will mean for Plaintiffs and Georgians more generally,” Jones wrote.

Also in federal court on Monday, a DC judge suspended a requirement that women to must visit a physician in order to obtain abortion-causing drugs.  The judge said that during the pandemic, the requirement causes a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking abortions and must therefore be overturned.

"Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm," U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang wrote in his July 13 decision.

The decision does not allow mifepristone, an abortifacient, to be purchased over the counter. Rather, it allows medical providers to have the drug mailed or delivered to patients for as long as the federally declared public health emergency lasts, according to the Associated Press. FDA rules ordinarily require a patient to pick up a tablet of mifepristone at a medical office, and to be given information about risks associated with the medication.

Chuang’s decision came in a lawsuit filed in May by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, the Associated Press reported. The judge’s argument noted that other medications which must typically be taken in a doctor’s office can be taken at home during the pandemic.

 

 

Judge strikes down HHS rule on ‘abortion surcharge’ in health plan exchanges

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 19:02

Washington D.C., Jul 13, 2020 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- A federal judge has struck down a rule from the Trump administration requiring greater transparency for health insurance plans within the Affordable Care Act marketplaces that cover elective abortions.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled against a regulation introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services to require insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act to issue a separate bill and collect a separate payment for coverage of elective abortion.

Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account. The regulation was included as a compromise in the law to ensure it received the support necessary for its passage.

Critics, however, argued that Obama-era enforcement regulations were so permissive as to render the rules meaningless, allowing health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices or collecting it separately.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring Section 1303’s requirements.

Pro-life advocates have called for greater transparency in order to prevent a “hidden abortion surcharge” which many enrollees may be unaware of when choosing a plan.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would require insurance to issue a separate bill and collect a separate payment for the abortion coverage.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland sued over the new regulation, saying it caused confusion and could lead insurance companies to stop covering elective abortions in order to avoid increases in cost and complications.

Judge Blake said the Affordable Care Act did not specify how to ensure abortion coverage payments would be separate. She said the Department of Health and Human Services failed to explain why its process was a more fitting solution than the previous regulations.

HHS did not comment on the ruling, but said it is reviewing the decision, the Washington Post reported.

 

After a devastating fire, Mission San Gabriel community vows to rebuild

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 18:37

Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 13, 2020 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- Reprinted with permission from Angelus News.

The fire that ravaged Mission San Gabriel Arcángel church in the predawn hours of Saturday, July 11, left behind a haunting scene.

In a matter of minutes, the mission’s 230-year-old roof was nearly gone. The sunlight pouring down through the holes revealed the charred planks that had crashed down on the church’s pews. The altar, along with the mission’s bell tower and museum were spared, but the thick adobe walls were blackened.

As bad as the damage is, it could have been worse. Because the church had been undergoing renovations, much of the artwork in the sanctuary, including historic paintings and other devotional artifacts, had been removed prior to the fire.

But for Anthony Morales, tribal chief of the San Gabrielino Mission Indians and a parishioner of San Gabriel, the damage was more than material.

“These are my roots,” said Morales, holding back tears as he surveyed the scene just hours after the fire had been contained. “This is my church. All my ancestors are buried in the cemetery next door. Six thousand of my ancestors are buried on these grounds, and this is the church that they built. It’s just very devastating.”

The devastation was just the latest blow to be suffered this year by Los Angeles’ oldest Catholic outpost.

As 2020 started, preparations were underway to celebrate a “Jubilee Year” leading to the 250th anniversary of St. Junípero Serra’s founding of the mission Sept. 8, 1771.

But that was before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the shutdown of California churches and a lockdown of the economy. Just several weeks before the fire, mission officials had decided reluctantly to postpone the jubilee plans for a year, while continuing work on much-needed renovations and improvements to the church.

As the church reopened for public Masses, along with others in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, waves of anti-racism protests had broken out across the country, protests that included attacks on public monuments and statues to controversial figures in U.S. history, including statues of St. Junípero, like those found on the mission’s campus.

Last month, statues to the California missionary were toppled in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, and the weekend before the fire, a long-standing St. Junípero statue outside the state Capitol building in Sacramento was felled.

That same weekend before the fire, San Gabriel staff had quietly removed one of St. Junípero’s statues from public view to keep it safe from possible vandalism.

The July 11 blaze at San Gabriel was part of a weekend that saw churches vandalized in other parts of the country. Statues to the Virgin Mary were damaged in Queens, New York, and in Boston; in Ocala, Florida, a man drove a minivan into a Catholic church before pouring gasoline in the foyer and setting fire to the building.

While there was no immediate word on the cause of the fire, investigators from a regional task force and from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent Saturday afternoon in the front of the mission, where the fire is believed to have started, City News Service reported July 12.

Local Catholics who showed up at the mission the next day to pray were suspicious. The timing of the fire, and the broader attacks on St. Junípero statues and other church properties, was too much of a coincidence for them.

“We don’t know how it happened, but it seems like the Church is under attack. There’s a lot of resentment and a lot of anger,” said Miguel Sanchez, president of the local “Knights of Bikes” chapter.

Sanchez and his fellow motorcycle-riding Knights of Columbus members were among the dozens who gathered outside the damaged church Sunday morning despite nearly triple digit temperatures to pray the rosary. Some came from as far as Orange and San Diego counties after word about the gathering spread through social media.

One of those was Barbara Quigley, a teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Downey. She said the lessons of her fourth-grade California history class were worth keeping in mind.
 
“I’m not a stranger to teaching my students that a lot of the missions have gone through earthquakes and fires, and they’ve been able to rebuild,” said Quigley, who drove from Anaheim to join the prayer group on Sunday morning.

“So I have full faith and confidence that our church will be able to restore the mission. It won't be the same, but [the mission] will still stay and we’ll be resilient.”

Resilience was the theme that morning inside the mission’s Chapel of the Annunciation, where the mission’s pastor, Father John Molyneux, CMF, made a bold pledge to Archbishop José Gomez.

“You will be back to celebrate our 250th anniversary in a rebuilt church,” Father Molyneux promised the archbishop at the start of Mass.

Archbishop Gomez had visited the mission just after the fire was contained and came back the next day to celebrate the Sunday Mass and to show solidarity with grieving parishioners.

In his homily, he sounded a hopeful tone.

“This fire changes nothing,” the archbishop said. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”

Archbishop Gomez invoked the intercession and example of the mission’s founder, St. Junípero, a Spanish missionary who advocated for the rights of California’s native peoples, including the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, who built San Gabriel.

“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his word to this land,” he said. “Now it is our turn to make sure his word is proclaimed to the next generation.”

After the Mass, Kathleen and Elizabeth Chelling said they were encouraged by the archbishop’s message.

“I think that for a lot of years, there has been this kind of complacency in a lot of Catholic circles,” said Kathleen, who drove up from Orange County with her sister to participate in the rosary and stayed for Mass.

“I hope that these difficult times can serve as a wake-up call,” she added. “If you look at a lot of the saints’ lives, a lot of them came from time periods of difficulty. Instead of turning into despair or bitterness or walking away, they used it as motivation to go deeper.”

A tragedy like the fire, she added, “is a reminder of how deeply Jesus is needed.”

In a time of pandemic and economic recession, the task of rebuilding the historic church in time for the anniversary on Sept. 8 of next year will be daunting. But by the end of the Mass, the archbishop seemed ready to take Father Molyneux at his word.

“We are going to celebrate the 250th anniversary next year — for sure,”

Archbishop Gomez told parishioners, who responded with cheers. “And this is the beginning of the next 250 years.”

 

Congressmen want 'disturbing' death of Michael Hickson investigated

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 18:00

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Two members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the death of Michael Hickson, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a doctor informed his wife that he did not have a quality of life due to his brain injury and quadriplegia.

Mr. Hickson’s wife, Melissa, recorded a doctor at St. David’s South Austin Hospital in Austin, Texas, explaining that he would not be pursuing aggressive treatment of Hickson’s coronavirus due to his assessment of Hickson’s quality of life. Other patients who received the treatment, the doctor explained, were able to walk and talk, unlike Hickson. 

Hickson died on June 11, after being denied food, water, and medical treatments for five days. He died of complications related to coronavirus. He had contracted the coronavirus in the nursing home where he lived. 

On Saturday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), called for an investigation into Hickson’s death.

“My office is looking into this highly troubling story, where doctors appear to have denied potential life-saving treatment while saying aggressive treatment wouldn’t ‘help him improve’ & ‘right now, his quality of life . . . he doesn’t have much of one,’” Roy said on Twitter on July 11. 

On June 29, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) also tweeted that he found the audio recorded by Mrs. Hickson to be “very disturbing.”

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Hickson’s death at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center should be immediately investigated,” he added. 

CNA requested comment from both congressional offices on either Hickson’s case or the calls for an investigation into St. David’s South Austin Hospital, neither responded by time of press. Castro and Roy’s districts are located near Austin, where Mr. Hickson died. 

A statement from St. David’s South Austin posted on their website in June offered condolences to the Hickson family, and assigned responsibility for decisions about Mr. Hickson’s care with his court-appointed guardian, Family Eldercare. 

"The loss of life is tragic under any circumstances. In Mr. Hickson’s situation, his court-appointed guardian (who was granted decision-making authority in place of his spouse) made the decision in collaboration with the medical team to discontinue invasive care,” said the statement.  

“This is always a difficult decision for all involved. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Hickson’s family and loved ones and to all who are grieving his loss.”

As of July 13, the statement from the hospital was no longer on their website. 

An updated statement emailed to CNA on July 2 from DeVry Anderson, M.D., the chief medical officer of St. David’s South Austin, claimed that Mr. Hickson was not treated differently due to his disability. 

“This was not a matter of hospital capacity. It had nothing to do with Mr. Hickson’s abilities or the color of his skin. We treat ALL patients equally. This was a man who was very, very ill and in multi-system organ failure. His legal guardian and his doctors worked together, consulting pulmonary and critical care specialists, to determine a care plan that was best for him,” said Anderson. 

Anderson described Mr. Hickson as “very, very ill” upon his arrival at the hospital, and in addition to COVID-19, he also had pneumonia in both lungs, a urinary tract infection, and sepsis. 

“Despite aggressive treatment and one-to-one care, Mr. Hickson went into multi-system organ failure,” said Anderson. He also developed “a number of complications,” including aspiration of the contents of his feeding tube.

“Aspiration has the potential to be fatal, especially for a patient in a weakened physical state, like Mr. Hickson, and this was the reason his tube feedings were discontinued,” he added.

Court halts scheduled federal executions

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 16:35

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).-  

A federal court on Monday ordered a delay of the first scheduled federal execution in 17 years, along with other executions scheduled for this week, saying that the drug with which the federal court planned to commit the executions would likely cause extreme pain and suffering, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

On July 7, several U.S. bishops joined a statement of more than 1,000 faith leaders opposing the resumption of federal executions. And last week, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and several other bishops asked President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of one federal inmate, who was scheduled to be executed on July 17. Tobin told the president that he knew the condemned inmate personally.

On July 13, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction preventing the execution of Daniel Lee, 47, who was scheduled to die Monday afternoon at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The judge said that the federal government’s plan to execute Lee and other prisoners with pentobarbital was likely unconstitutional because “the scientific evidence before the court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

Chutkan wrote in her ruling that medical experts and witnesses of past executions testified that using pentobarbital for executions causes panic and the feeling of drowning, because of a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

“Eyewitness accounts of executions using pentobarbital describe inmates repeatedly gasping for breath or showing other signs of respiratory distress, and indicate that flash pulmonary edema is common and extremely painful,” Chuktan wrote.

The judge’s ruling is not final, it means that Lee can continue to challenge the proposed method of execution in court.

Lawyers for the federal Justice Department have appealed the ruling with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last summer, Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to resume execution of federal prisoners on death row for the first time since 2003.

The inmates scheduled for execution are Daniel Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Alfred Bourgeois, convicted of the murders of children and adults and, in some cases, torture.

On July 9, Cardinal Tobin sent a letter to Trump on Thursday asking for clemency for Dustin Honken, who was convicted of the murder of five people, including a single mother and her two daughters aged ten and six years old, in 2004.

“I have known Mr. Honken for seven years,” Cardinal Tobin said, noting that he visited Honken several times a year at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, while Archbishop of Indianapolis from 2012 to 2017.

“His present spiritual guide, Father Mark O’Keefe, OSB, confirms that the spiritual growth in faith and compassion, which I had witnessed in our meetings some years ago, continues to this day,” Tobin wrote.

On July 7, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates who is the apostolic administrator of Joliet, Illinois, all joined more than 1,000 faith leaders in calling for a stop to scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the statement read.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the faith leaders stated.

Bishop Pates issued his own statement in addition to the joint letter, saying that “[t]he Church believes that just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

Honken committed murders in Iowa; the state’s four Catholic bishops sent a letter on July 1 to Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Tobin said on Thursday that Honken’s crimes are “heinous,” but that his execution “will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes.”

“Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways,” Tobin wrote, noting that the use of the death penalty makes the United States an “outlier” in the world. 

“If his death sentence is commuted, Mr. Honken expects to spend his remaining days in prison,” Tobin wrote.

“By commuting this death sentence, you would help stem the tide of anger and revenge that threatens our country,” he told the president.

 

China sanctions U.S. religious freedom ambassador over Uyghurs

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 16:10

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- The Chinese government announced sanctions Monday against the U. S. ambassador for religious liberty as well as lawmakers who have repeatedly spoken out against the oppression of China’s Uyghur population. The country also issued sanctions against the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The sanctions against Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), were issued in retaliation for sanctions announced by the Trump administration last week against four Chinese officials as well as the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

Xinjiang is a province in northwestern China. It is home to most of the country’s Uyghurs.

The terms of the sanctions on the U.S. diplomat and legislators are not clear. On Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States of “interfering in China’s international affairs,” and defended the situation in Xinjiang as a domestic issue.

“I must point out the Xinjiang affairs are China’s internal affairs and the US has no right to interfere,” said Hua. 

Hua requested that the United States “immediately withdraw its wrong decision and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs or undermining China’s interests,” and that China “will make further reactions based on the development of the situation.” 

Reports by U.S. government agencies and human rights groups estimate anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs are now in a system of more than 1,300 detention camps set up by Chinese authorities, ostensibly for “re-education” purposes. Survivors have reported indoctrination, beatings, forced labor, and torture in the camps. China initially denied the camps existed, but was forced to officially admit their existence in 2018.

In a statement confirming the Chinese action July 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  said that “the United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.” 

The U.S. sanctions were announced July 9, citing  the individual’s “connections to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious abuses targeting Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

The sanctions forbid any US national from engaging in business with the four officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. Any assets the officials held in the United States have been frozen, and they cannot visit or move to the United States. 

Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, made light of the sanctions, tweeting “I guess they don’t like me?” with a link to an article about the sanctions. 

The Florida Senator has been an outspoken supporter of the Uyghur population. In March, along with fellow target of sanctions Cruz, Rubio co-sponsored the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and in May he co-sponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. 

Cruz, who in 2018 co-sponsored a resolution condemning China’s persecution of religious minorities, also made jokes about the sanctions. 

“Bummer. I was going to take my family to Beijing for summer vacation, right after visiting Tehran,” tweeted Cruz on Monday. 

In a more serious response, Cruz said the Chinese Communist Party was “terrified and lashing out” by issuing the sanctions.

“They forced over one million Uighurs into concentration camps and engaged in ethnic cleansing, including horrific forced abortions and sterilzations,” said Cruz. “These are egregious human rights atrocities that cannot be tolerated.” 

Cruz added that he had no plans “to travel to the authoritarian regime that covered up the coronavirus pandemic and endangered millions of lives worldwide.” 

In February, Brownback said that China was the “best in the world” at religious persecution, and has been engaged in a “war with faith.” 

A June 29 report by AP found numerous Uyghurs have been imprisoned for the offense of having too many children, and women reported that there were frequent pregnancy checks, forced abortions, and forced implantations of IUDs and other contraceptive methods by Communist authorities. 

One expert told the Associated Press that the forced birth control campaign is “genocide, full stop.” 

“It’s not an immediate, shocking, mass-killing-on-the-spot-type genocide, but it’s a slow, painful, creeping genocide,” Dr. Joanne Smith Finley, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

China has engaged in an extensive network of detention camps for religious and ethnic minorities. The Chinese government claims that the camps are purportedly to prevent the spread of terrorism in the region. Numerous leaked files have revealed that many are sent to the camps for the “crimes” of following traditional Islamic practices like fasting, or for conspicuously religious dress. 

A leaked manual for the operation of the camps showed that there is a heavy emphasis on assimilating the Uyghur population into the customs of the Han ethnic group. This includes forced intermarriage between Uyghur women and Han men.

US Catholic bishops lament end to federal limits on payday loans

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 14:01

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The revocation of restrictions on payday lenders by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau exposes poor and vulnerable persons to 'predatory and abusive lending practices', the US bishops' conference said last week.

On July 7 the CFPB removed requirements that lenders ensure borrowers can repay a loan before issuing it, and limited how many successive loans could be taken out by a borrower.

“The USCCB has long advocated for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule to prevent payday loan abuses to protect poor and vulnerable people. I am deeply disappointed by their final rule that strips away even the basic requirement that loans be made only when people can afford them, setting up workers and families to fail,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the US bishops' domestic justice committee said July 10.

He called payday lending “modern day usury,” saying the loans “are structured in a way that makes it nearly impossible for borrowers to repay in the short timeframe, often with triple-digit interest rates. The practice exploits the financial distress of vulnerable people and communities for the sake of profit, contributing to an economy of exclusion.”

Archbishop Coakley commented that the coronavirus crisis has heightened the importance of “economic protections and just lending practices.”

“We must work to ensure that those facing financial hardship are met with economic policies that promote the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We encourage the U.S. Congress to take up measures to protect consumers and restrain predatory lending,” he concluded.

The payday lending industry lobbied for the rules to be rescinded; the CFPB has found that the industry collects between $7.3 and $7.7 billion dollars annually from the practices that would have been barred.

The CFPB has said that the “legal and evidentiary bases” for the rules, which had been announced in 2017, were “insufficient.” According to the bureau, the rescission “will help to ensure the continued availability of small dollar lending products for consumers who demand them.”

Kathy Kraninger, director of the CFPB, said July 7 that “our actions today ensure that consumers have access to credit from a competitive marketplace, have the best information to make informed financial decisions, and retain key protections without hindering that access.”

According to Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), 12 million Americans take out payday loans per year, at an average interest rate of 391 percent.

Grothman is consponsor of the the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act of 2019, a bill that would limit the interest rate on payday and car title loans. The bill would expand the 2006 Military Lending Act rate cap - which only covers active military members and their families - to all consumers. It would cap all payday and car-title loans at a maximum of a 36% APR interest rate.

Several states have already capped the interest rate at 36% or lower.

The Church has consistently taught that usury is evil, including in numerous ecumenical councils.

In Vix pervenit, his 1745 encyclical on usury and other dishonest profit, Benedict XIV taught that a loan contract demands “that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious.”

In his General Audience address of Feb. 10, 2016, Pope Francis taught that “Scripture persistently exhorts a generous response to requests for loans, without making petty calculations and without demanding impossible interest rates,” citing Leviticus.

“This lesson is always timely,” he said. “How many families there are on the street, victims of profiteering … It is a grave sin, usury is a sin that cries out in the presence of God.”

Catholics hold pilgrimage to grave of Venerable Augustus Tolton, first African American priest

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 17:01

Denver Newsroom, Jul 12, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The fourth annual Quincy pilgrimage honoring Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest, took place Thursday with the intention of overcoming racism.

Fr. Daren Zehnle, the founder of the Quincy pilgrimage and pastor of St. Augustine parish in Ashland, Ill., said Tolton pastored beyond racial barriers.

“He saw the dignity of people made in the image and likeness of God. That was a turning point for what he did. That is one of our goals - to help people rediscover that basic approach to other people is to see in them Christ the Lord and to try to minister to Jesus in that other person as best as we can,” Zehnle told CNA.

July 9 marked the 123rd anniversary of Tolton’s death. The mile-long pilgrimage in Quincy, Ill., began outside of St. Peter Catholic school and ended with a series of prayers at Tolton’s grave at St. Peter Catholic Cemetery. The pilgrimage is meant to spread the knowledge of Venerable Tolton and to pray for the advancement of his cause for canonization.

Fr. Zehnle said the death of George Floyd had a profound impact on him. In response, he prayed at Tolton’s grave during the protests. He then decided for this year’s pilgrimage to place an emphasis on overcoming racism.

“I knew as soon as that happened that I need to go pray at Father Tolton’s grave… We need Father Tolton’s help with this one. [Then] maybe a week or so later, I wrote a prayer asking God to help us overcome racism through Father Tolton’s intercession,” he said.

Fr. Zehnle first began the pilgrimage four years ago after he returned from his studies in Rome and entered parish life in Quincy. His arrival coincided with the 130th anniversary of Tolton’s return from Rome to Quincy, and he decided to host a pilgrimage to celebrate the holy man’s life. As parishioners enjoyed the pilgrimage, Fr. Zehnle decided to continue the event on the anniversary of Tolton’s death.

“I think anyone who comes into contact with Tolton’s story, you don't have to read a lot about him before suddenly there's something about his life, but just sort of grabs you and brings you into it,” he said.

Around 30 people attended the event for the first two years, but in the third year, shortly after Tolton was declared Venerable, 150 people attended the event. This year, 145 people prayed at Tolton’s grave.

Fr. Zehnle said a majority of the pilgrimage attendees have a standing devotion to Tolton. He said the holy man had a profound impact on Quincy and is remembered as a person dedicated to human dignity. He said that when parishes were divided on ethnic lines, the priest welcomed all people to Mass regardless of their ethnicity.

“He never shied away from ministry to people, without any consideration for what this color of their skin was. He served people because he was Catholic because they came to him needing help and whatever form that was. It's an honest approach to life,” he said.

Fr. Tolton was born a slave in Missouri April 1, 1854 to Catholic parents, Peter Paul and Martha Jane.

Peter Paul escaped shortly after the beginning of the Civil War and joined the Union army, dying shortly thereafter. Martha Jane then escaped to Illinois in 1862 with Augustus and his siblings, Charley and Anne.

Augustus went to Rome in 1880 to attend a seminary of the Congregation for Propagation of the Faith. He was ordained a priest in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran on Holy Saturday 1886, and was sent back to serve in Illinois in the Diocese of Alton. He worked at a parish in Quincy, but met with opposition from a white priest, and in 1889 secured permission to transfer to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In Chicago he founded a black parish, Saint Monica's. He died July 9, 1897 from heat stroke and heart failure, at the age of 43.

The Chicago archdiocese opened Fr. Tolton’s cause for canonization in 2010. In June 2019 he was declared Venerable, an acknowledgement that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

‘Always forward!’: San Gabriel fire is a call to mission of hope, says Archbishop Gomez

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 15:01

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).-  

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez has called for Catholics to find hope and a renewed sense of mission amid a “season of sickness and death.” Gomez preached a Sunday morning homily at the Chapel of the Annunciation, on the grounds of the historic San Gabriel Mission Church which was severely damaged by a fire early Saturday morning.

“Yesterday’s fire was heartbreaking. Let’s thank God that nobody got hurt. I thank God this morning, too, for this opportunity to pray with you and to mourn with you,” Gomez said in his July 12 homily.

“In this long season of sickness and death since the coming of the coronavirus, this is one more trial, one more test. We ask the Lord to grant us comfort and consolation. We ask him to strengthen and increase our faith.”

The fire at St. Gabriel is being investigated by local and federal authorities, who have yet to determine the cause of a July 11 fire that destroyed the 249-year-old church’s roof and much of the historic church building. Because the mission church was under renovation, many of its historic and devotional objects had been removed, and were not inside when the building burned.

“The Lord is all mercy and love and tenderness toward us, and we know that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that he will turn our mourning into joy. We know this. We believe in his promises,” Gomez said.

“But right now, in this moment, we are sad for what we have lost.”

The San Gabriel fire is one of several fires and acts of vandalism at churches across the country this weekend. On Friday, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was vandalized in Queens, New York. Another statue of Mary was set on fire early Sunday morning outside a Boston parish. Police are investigating both incidents.

On Saturday, in Florida, a man drove a minivan into the front of Queen of Peace Catholic church in Ocala, poured gasoline in the foyer and set fire to the building while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. 

The fire also comes after numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down in California: at the state capitol in Sacramento, in Los Angeles, and in San Francisco, while protestors have called for similar statues to be moved or torn down in other cities. While Serra, a Franciscan missionary priest, is regarded as a founder of California and an evangelist to indigenous people, some critics say he was complicit in human rights abuses in the eighteenth century. His supporters say Serra defended the rights and dignity of native people.

Gomez said that the fire at San Gabriel was especially painful as “this destruction comes as we are getting ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this great mission.”

“But this fire changes nothing,” said the archbishop. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”

“You trace your roots all the way back to the beginnings of the Christian faith in California, before the founding of the United States. In fact, you are one of the few Catholic communities in this continent that can claim to be founded by a saint.”

As he prayed to St. Serra Saturday night, Gomez said, he recalled that the saint also “knew sufferings every day in his service to the Gospel.”

“I thought, 'what would St. Junípero tell us this morning?' And I remembered his beautiful little prayer: ‘Let us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children.’ Let’s make that our prayer this morning, my brothers and sisters.”

Noting the words of St. Paul in the readings of Mass, in which the apostle says “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us,” Gomez said the readings of the day were a call to faith, hope, and action.

“He made us for glory — not for pain, not for sorrow!” Gomez said.

“We can’t give in to this sadness. We need to make this a moment for purification and renewal of our mission — renewal of the Mission of San Gabriel and renewal of the mission that is each one of our lives.”

“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his Word to this land,” said Gomez. “Now it is our turn to make sure his Word is proclaimed to the next generation. We can’t harden our hearts or become distracted by the anxieties and temptations of the world.”

“St. Junípero would tell us today: “Siempre Adelante!” Always Forward, and don’t look back.”

Statues of Mary vandalized in weekend of church attacks

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 12:50

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2020 / 10:50 am (CNA).- Boston police are investigating an arson attack on a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary Saturday night, the second attack on a statue of the Virgin Mary in two days.

Police were called to reports of a fire on Bowdin Street in the Dorchester neighborhood Boston at around 10 p.m. on July 11.

Local police confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage. Local police and firefighters both responded to reports that an unknown individual had set fire to plastic flowers which were in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body of the statue.

The fire at St. Peter’s is the latest in a series of fires and acts of vandalism which have struck Catholic churches in the last two days.

On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens.

Security footage shows an individual approaching the 100-year-old statue shortly after 3 a.m. Friday morning and daubing the word “IDOL” down its length.

Fr. James Kuroly, rector and president of Cathedral Prep, called the incident “an act of hatred.”

“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” said Fr. Kuroly. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”

In addition to the attacks on the two statues of Mary, on Saturday morning sheriffs in Marion County, Florida, reported that deputies were called to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, which was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest, after reportedly admitting to crashing a minivan into the church and then setting it on fire.

According to a Saturday evening statement from the sheriff's office, Shields poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish's front door. Shields then drove away in the minivan, leading officers on a short chase before he was stopped. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. 

Also on Saturday, a fire ravaged the San Gabriel mission in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a 249-year-old mission founded by St. Junípero Serra.

Gomez called the mission the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”

Federal and local officials are still investigating the cause of the fire at the San Gabriel mission, with no determination yet made. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the possibility that the fire was an arson attack.

Also this weekend, San Diego police officials said that a fire at Calvary Baptist church at 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning was “suspicious” and was being investigated by the department’s Metro Arson Strike Team.

Calvary is an historically African American church, though its website says it has become a “multi-cultural faith community” in recent years.

Culture is about ‘creating, not destroying’ says sculptor

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 10:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 12, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Tired and heartbroken at seeing statues get pulled down and vandalized, Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz wracked his brain to come up with a compromise that would both preserve the artwork, and acknowledge the flawed nature of many historical figures. 

Schmalz has been a sculptor for 30 years and is perhaps best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the "Angels Unaware" statue dedicated to migrants in St. Peter’s square. He told CNA that he believes sculpture is a unique and powerful method of preaching. 

He said it made him upset “beyond belief” watching the news and seeing statues of figures such as Christopher Columbus and St. Junipero Serra be torn down. 

“I know the amount of time that is spent working on each sculpture and a lot of these sculptures were done a century ago and the skill level, the time that it's been put into that--just on a simple work ethic and good craftsmanship and time and love that is put into it,” he said. 

“To see that being pulled down and destroyed just really breaks my heart,” Schmalz added. 

Sculpture, he said, is different from other art forms, as unlike a play or a piece of music, it is intended to be permanent.

“Its basic presence is that of time enduring,” he said. He told CNA that seeing what he called “a random mob” destroy statue after statue felt like watching “wanton violence against our culture.” 

The statues, Schmalz said, are  works of art being used as scapegoats for the country’s perceived historical sins.

“They’re visual ambassadors of that history, and to destroy it--[its] absolute arrogance.” 

Instead of destruction, Schmalz is advocating for more creation.

“I'm a sculptor, I'm a creative, I create, I do not destroy, and I wish more people would follow the role model of creating rather than destroying,” he said. 

Creation, Schmalz explained, is far more difficult than destruction. Some of the statues that were destroyed took years to make, “and they’re toppled in 15 minutes.” 

“I want to be in a culture that is one of creating, not one of destroying. And, and what I say is that if you have a problem with that sculpture, let's create more sculptures, let's create more stuff.”

And creating “more stuff” is just what Schmalz is doing. 

He sculpted what he has dubbed the “Monument of Oppression”--a sculpture of two arms extending outward behind a barred window--which he says he hopes could be installed as a “supplementary sculpture” beside controversial works of art, offering it as a compromise that could save more works of art from destruction. 

The Monument of Oppression would be “a layer of art on top of a layer of art,” and would serve as a reminder that there is a complicated history behind many notable persons which should be marked. 

As a sculptor, and as one who concentrates on religious-inspired art, Schmalz rejected the idea that statues of a European-styled Jesus should be taken down, but did say that there should be a wider embrace of images of Christ as various ethnicities, saying he has himself made many African-styled images of Christ and the Holy Family, including an African-American crucifix for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. 

“Jesus does not have a color. Jesus doesn't necessarily care,” he said. “Artwork is a bridge for people. And so if I have the opportunity to make a Jesus for a European place, fine. And an African-American Corpus should be in Atlanta, Georgia, because there's so many people of African descent there.” 

The depiction of Jesus as various ethnicities “has nothing to do with anything, but making artwork that fits the audience and you have the painters doing the same,” he said, noting that Jesus was often depicted in the clothing of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, and that the actual Last Supper “probably wouldn’t have had a European table and chairs.” 

“It doesn't matter,” he said. 

“Artwork is a communication, and that has to be spoken in a language that people could understand.” 

News anchor-turned-Catholic vocations director embarks on 'Tour de Priest'

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 05:53

Jackson, Miss., Jul 12, 2020 / 03:53 am (CNA).- This Sunday, a Catholic priest will embark on a 320-mile, 5-day bike ride to recruit young men and women for the Church.

Father Nick Adam had to be creative when he was assigned to be the director of vocations for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, in the midst of a global pandemic.

“How do I reach people? How do I reach people?” Fr. Adam recalled repeatedly asking himself while the shelter-in-place order was in effect.

Since he had evenings free, he began riding his bike on the Natchez Trace Parkway. He soon realized that the parkway, which connects the entirety of his diocese, could be the perfect solution.

“It checks a lot of boxes. It allows me to connect with a wide variety of people (and) allows me to have a presence on Facebook and Instagram,” Adam told CNA. He is planning to document his trip on social media, allowing anyone to follow along with his journey.

As a former sports and news anchor, Adam has a gift for communication.

“Media and connecting with people in creative ways has always been part of my call,” he said. “I need to embrace those gifts for communication that [God] gave me.”

The priest admitted that bike riding does not come as naturally to him.

“People have looked at me like I’m crazy sometimes, especially because I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I have been training,” he said.

Still, Adam says that the fact that the ride will be a challenge is integral to his mission.

“Just completing something like this shows people that they can strive for something great,” he said. “That’s the Catholic idea, that’s the Catholic project, to bring about the kingdom of God. And it’s going to be hard and it's going to be challenging, and you’re going to want to quit, but with the Lord’s help, you are not going to quit.”

Adam said the trip is also an important remedy for misconceptions that many young people have about the priesthood.

“It shows people that priests are normal people that do normal things and that are capable of physical exertion,” he said.

Along his route, Adam will stop in parishes, meet with seminarians, and celebrate Mass, which will be live-streamed on his social media platforms. He wants to connect with young people, whether that be in-person or over his virtual interface.

Although Adam will stay in rectories of parishes overnight, between Jackson and Natchez there is “no ecclessial place to stay,” and he will instead spend the night at a campground. Young college students and others discerning a call to the priesthood and religious life will camp out with him.

Adam hopes that he can lay the groundwork for “a culture of vocations” in the diocese of Jackson among these young people.

Although it is the largest diocese East of the Mississippi, the Jackson diocese has always been served by mission priests. There were so many Irish priests in the diocese that when he was little, Adam thought being Irish was a requirement for the priesthood. Now most of the missionary priests come from Mexico, Latin America, and India.

“We have very few native Mississippians who are priests for our diocese,” he said. “My dream, and I think our call, is to create a presbyterate that again honors those who have evangelized our communities, but do that by filling our parishes with men who grew up in the state.”

He hopes that this trip, which he calls his “tour de priest,” will encourage young people to enter seminaries and convents in order to discern their calling.

The bike that will take him across the diocese is itself an artifact of several vocations.

“It’s been passed down, I think, from a baptist minister, to a Catholic monsignor, to a Catholic priest, finally to me as a seminarian. I mean, it’s got to be like 20 years old,” he said. “But it’s still rolling.”

 

Gomez asks for prayers after fire at 'spiritual heart of Los Angeles'

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 22:15

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 08:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has expressed his “terrible sadness” after a fire at a 249-year-old mission church founded by St. Junípero Serra, and asked for prayers for the local Catholic community.

Gomez said that the fire at “our beloved Mission San Gabriel Arcángel” early Saturday morning had caused severe damage to the California Historic Landmark.

“The damage is extensive — the roof is destroyed and much of the old church is ruined,” the archbishop reported in a letter released the evening of July 11. “It is terribly sad. Thanks be to God, nobody was hurt.”

The church had been scheduled to reopen on July 18, having been closed for some weeks following the coronavirus pandemic. Gomez called the mission, founded by St. Serra in 1771, the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”

“The family of God was born in this region when St. Junípero Serra and his brother Franciscans established the mission on September 8, 1771,” Gomez said.

“It was families from this mission, who in turn founded Los Angeles ten years later, on September 4, 1781, walking nine miles west from the mission, crossing the Los Angeles River, and establishing El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula, named for the little chapel where St. Francis of Assisi first heard the call of Jesus Christ.”

The archbishop said that “to this day,” the parish at the mission “continues to be a shining expression of the beautiful diversity that God intends for his human family.” A special appeal fund has been established by the archdiocese.

“So, join me please in praying in this sad moment for our brothers and sisters at Mission San Gabriel. May they know the comfort and consolation of our loving Father and the solidarity and care of the entire family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

Local firefighters said they responded to an initial alarm at 4:24 a.m. By the time they arrived, smoke and flames were visible from outside the church and more than 50 firefighters were needed to bring the flames under control.

Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that because of renovations underway at the church ahead of its 250th anniversary, historic paintings and artifacts had been removed and were not in the building at the time of the fire.

No cause has yet been determined for the four-alarm fire, and local firefighters have said that the structure of the mission will have to be secured before a forensic investigation can begin.

The San Gabriel mission was the fourth mission founded by St. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded a trail of missions across California, helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

An advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, Serra was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of native people, from whom there was an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States in 2015.

Despite Serra’s record defending indigenous peoples, images of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

Arrest made in Florida Catholic church burning

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 21:14

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 07:14 pm (CNA).-  

A Florida man has been arrested after he reportedly admitted to crashing a minivan into a Catholic Church and then setting it on fire.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida has been charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest, after he was apprehended by police July 11.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported Saturday morning that deputies were called at about 7:30 am to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, which was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

According to a Saturday evening statement from the sheriff's office, Shields poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish's front door. Shields then drove away in the minivan, leading officers on a short chase before he was stopped.

According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. He said that he awoke on Saturday morning with a “mission,” and that he purchased the gas at a nearby gas station, according to Ocala-News.

Shields also quoted scripture, especially the Book of Revelation, to officers, and telling them his objections to the Catholic Church, Ocala-News reported. He reportedly told officers that he understood the consequences of his action, nevertheless saying the arson was “awesome” and referring to himself as “king.”

In 2019, Shields was arrested after swinging a crowbar at a woman and saying he wanted to kill her. Shields said he wanted to kill the woman with his crowbar so he wouldn’t “dirty his blades,” according to Ocala-News.

In a July 11 statement, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said: “Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear. My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace. I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside of us during this investigation.”

Earlier today, the Diocese of Orlando told CNA that Masses would resume in a nearby parish hall as ordinarily scheduled.

“We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused this damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord,” the Orlando diocese told CNA Saturday afternoon.

In addition to its other liturgies, the parish is one of few in central Florida to offer the extraordinary form of the Mass, otherwise known as the Traditional Latin Mass, which is celebrated weekly by a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who drives to Ocala from a church in Sarasota.

The fire came at almost the same time that outside of Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Junipero Serra caught fire and was structurally destroyed.
 

Florida man lights Catholic Church on fire with parishioners inside

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 16:25

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 02:25 pm (CNA).-  

A Florida man lit a Catholic Church aflame on Saturday, while people inside prepared for morning Mass.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported July 11 that deputies were called at about 7:30 am to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.



A man crashed a minivan through the front door of the church, and then lit a fire with people inside, the sheriff’s department said. One local media outlet, Orlando News 6, reported that man set the building ablaze by throwing an incendiary device.

The sheriff’s office said the man led officers on a vehicle chase and was eventually apprehended. The arsonist’s name has not been released, and charges have not yet been filed, but local media report that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is assisting in the investigation.

“We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused this damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord,” the Orlando diocese told CNA Saturday afternoon.

“Masses will resume as normal in the parish hall beginning this evening,” the diocese added.

The church is one of few in central Florida to offer the extraordinary form of the Mass, otherwise known as the Traditional Latin Mass, which is celebrated weekly by a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who drives to Ocala from a church in Sarasota.

The fire came at almost the same time that outside of Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Junipero Serra caught fire and was structurally destroyed.

Mission founded by St. Junípero Serra burns in overnight fire

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 14:40

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- A massive fire devastated an 18th century mission church in San Gabriel, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, July 11. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called the fire at San Gabriel Mission church, founded by St. Junipero Serra, “devastating.”

The fire began early Saturday morning around 4 a.m. and destroyed the roof and interior of the 249-year-old structure. Local firefighters said they responded to an initial alarm at 4:24. By the time they arrived, smoke and flames were visible from outside the church – which is a California Historical Landmark.

Battling the four-alarm fire eventually involved 50 firefighters, according to the Los Angeles Times. Local fire department spokesman Captain Antonio Negrete called the damage “heartbreaking.”

“The roof of the mission is completely gone and the interior up to the altar is completely destroyed,” Negrete said, noting that it was not yet possible to establish the cause of the fire because of concerns over the building’s structural integrity.

“We’re going to have building engineers come in and see if we can shore up some walls to make it as safe as possible for the investigators to go in and start investigating this fire,” he said, according to the Times.

Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that because of renovations underway at the church ahead of its 250th anniversary, historic paintings and artifacts had been removed and were not in the building at the time of the fire.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez visited the church Saturday morning, saying on Facebook that “[he] woke up before dawn this morning to news that our beloved San Gabriel Mission, founded by St. Junípero Serra in 1771, was burning.”

“Thank God no one is hurt,” Gomez said. “I’m here to pray with the people. The roof is destroyed and there is much damage in the old church. St. Junípero, pray for this city, this state, and this country that you helped to found.”

The San Gabriel mission was the fourth mission founded by St. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded a trail of missions across California. Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

An advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, Serra was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of native people, from whom there was an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States in 2015.

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” the pope said in his homily at the Mass of canonization. 

Despite Serra’s record defending indigenous peoples, statues of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

Rioters pulled down a statue of St. Serra in the state capital of Sacramento on July 4, during which one man burned the face of the statue with an ignited spray can, before a crowd pulled the statue from its base and struck it with a sledgehammer and other objects, dancing and jumping upon it.

Another statue of the saint was torn down in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on June 19 by a crowd of about 100 people. The following week the San Juan Capistrano Mission and its neighboring church removed statues of Serra from their outside displays to preserve them from being targeted.

Pope Francis recognizes 'Padre Kino,' Arizona's missionary priest

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Saturday recognized the heroic virtue of the life of a 17th century Italian Jesuit missionary who evangelized – and mapped – much of what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.

On July 11, the pope formally recognized the life of Servant of God Eusebio Kino, S.J., as one of heroic virtue. Kino, an explorer and missionary, took part in numerous expeditions through the American Southwest and is widely considered an apostle to the native population of Arizona, and defender of their rights.

Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, welcomed the announcement on Saturday.

“Growing up in Arizona, I first learned of Padre Kino in elementary school,” Wall told CNA.

“The example of the life of the ‘Padre on Horseback’ has played a large part in strengthening my own Catholic faith – especially the love, care, and sensitivity he showed to the indigenous people of Arizona.”

Born in 1645 in the Tyrol region of northern Italy and ordained in 1677, Kino was sent to Mexico, arriving in 1681. While there, Kino made numerous journeys through what is now the Sonora region of Mexico, and the states of Arizona and California.

Participating in more than 50 expeditions through northern Mexico to the southwestern United States, he is credited with baptizing more than 4,000 people, and covering more than 50,000 square miles by horse while announcing the Gospel and mapping the Pimería Alta territory of modern Arizona.

A capable cartographer, Kino personally mapped an area 200 miles long by 250 miles wide, and paving the way for a network of missions and roads connecting previously inaccessible parts of the region.

One of the main thoroughfares in Tuscon is named the Kino Parkway in his honor and a statue of him overlooks the road.

A statue of Kino was placed in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., by Arizona in 1965.

Kino is also credited with teaching advanced agricultural and ranching techniques to the local people, delivering new crops and improving the quality of life. Kino founded 19 ranching villages to supply food for the region, and schools for the education of the local children.

The Jesuit was also a noted defender of the rights and dignity of the indigenous people, strongly opposing the Spanish conscription of the local Sonoran Indians to work in silver mines. He died in 1711, aged 65, having fallen ill during a Mass to dedicate the church of St. Francis Xavier in present day Magdalena de Kino, in Sonora, Mexico, where his shrine is a national monument.

“Kino was a true son of the Church, and model of the New Evangelization for our modern day,” Bishop Wall said. “I am grateful to the Holy Father for recognizing the heroic virtue of this great man.”

The Vatican’s recognition of Kino’s life as one of heroic virtue follows the recent vandalism and destruction of several statues of another missionary central to the history of the region. In recent weeks, demonstrators have attacked statues of St. Junipero Serra, who founded a string of missions across California and was known as a vigorous defender of rights of indigenous peoples.

The recognition of Kino’s heroic virtue was made Saturday morning in Rome, when Pope Francis advanced the causes of five possible candidates for sainthood.

Catholic bishops defend federal paycheck loan participation

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 00:35

CNA Staff, Jul 10, 2020 / 10:35 pm (CNA).-  

The U.S. bishops on Friday defended the use of the federal Paycheck Protection Program by Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools, dioceses, and social service agencies, after a report from the Associated Press said the government had given “special consideration” to faith groups in the loan program and characterized Catholic participation in the coronavirus relief program as an “aggressive pursuit of funds.”

“The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to protect the jobs of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of whether they work for for-profit or non-profit employers, faith-based or secular,” Archbishop Paul Coakley, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference committee on domestic justice and human development said in a July 10 statement.

“The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental supplier of social services in the United States. Each year, our parishes, schools and ministries serve millions of people in need, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. The novel coronavirus only intensified the needs of the people we serve and the demand for our ministries. The loans we applied for enabled our essential ministries to continue to function in a time of national emergency.”

“In addition, shutdown orders and economic fallout associated with the virus have affected everyone, including the thousands of Catholic ministries -- churches, schools, healthcare and social services -- that employ about 1 million people in the United States,” Coakley added.

“These loans have been an essential lifeline to keep hundreds of thousands of employees on payroll, ensure families maintain their health insurance, and enable lay workers to continue serving their brothers and sisters during this crisis.”

The federal loan program is a $669-billion initiative that allows entities to obtain low-interest loans that can be forgiven if the money goes mostly to cover payroll expenses, and to keep people employed who are in danger of losing their jobs. While more than 4.9 million loans have been approved to date, more than $130 billion remains available to potential borrowers.

Earlier this week, data was released by the government that revealed the identities of many, but not all loan participants. Loan recipients included Planned Parenthood affiliates, numerous firms owned by state and federal lawmakers, the publisher of the National Enquirer, the libertarian Ayn Rand Institute, and other organizations that have raised eyebrows or been subject to criticism.

Still, officials with the federal Small Business Association said that the program was designed to keep people employed, regardless of their industry or employer, and that the SBA will exercise oversight to ensure funds were not borrowed under false pretenses.

If borrowers can’t demonstrate that at least 60 percent of borrowed funds were used for payroll-related expenses, then the terms of the loans will require their repayment.

The July 9 Associated Press report said that Catholic organizations borrowed between $1.4 and $3.5 billion, and noted that at least 407,900 jobs were saved through those loans. At the high end of the Associated Press estimate, Catholic institutional borrowing would represent .5% of funds allocated to the loan program. And if $3.5 billion was in fact borrowed, the cost for each job saved through the loans would amount to $8580.

In May, CBS News reported that 12,000-13,000 of the 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. had applied for the loans, and 9,000 had already received them.

The July 9 Associated Press story said that the Catholic Church in the U.S. used an “exemption from federal rules” in order to “amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid” through its participation in the federal program.

The report said that Catholic entities gained this “exception” to the Small Business Association’s eligibility rules through lobbying efforts, citing an April report from Catholic News Service.

That Catholic News Service report said that Catholic lobbyists worked, in the week the legislation creating the program was actually passed, to ensure that as rules were devised by Department of Treasury officials, that Catholic entities civilly distinct from each other would not be regarded as one entity, which might place the consolidated entities above a 500-employee eligibility cap.

In the Church’s canon law, parishes are distinct legal entities from each other and from dioceses, and while diocesan bishops exercise legislative and judicial authority over parishes, parishes do not constitute subsidiaries of dioceses. Nor do affiliated entities like Catholic Charities, Catholic schools and universities, or Catholic hospitals, which are ordinarily overseen by lay boards on which bishops often have only ordinary voting membership, if that.

The Catholic Church is a web of organizations connected by faith, mission, sacraments, and oversight, but those organizations are not uniformly administered as subsidiaries or under the direct control of local bishops.

While parishes generally pay annual fees to dioceses, the funds of distinct canonical entities may not be permissibly commingled, and canon law requires that the civil structures of parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic entities reflect their canonical reality.

Nevertheless, the complex organizational structure of the Catholic Church made it possible that several Catholic entities in the same place might be regarded by the SBA as one entity. The effort of the USCCB lobbyists was to ensure that wouldn’t be the case, the Catholic News Service report explained.

That effort was successful.

An April 3 FAQ document from the SBA explained that the general loan rules provided that if faith-based organizations had an affiliation related to “religious beliefs about church authority or internal constitution, or because the legal, financial, or other structural relationships between your organization and other organizations reflect an expression of such beliefs,” they would qualify for an exemption to rules that would ordinarily count “affiliated” organizations as one entity for purposes eligibility determination.

However, faith-based organizations “affiliated with other organizations solely for non-religious reasons, such as administrative convenience...would be subject to the affiliation rules,” the SBA explained.

In the United States, both parishes and dioceses are facing serious financial shortfalls and in Rome, the Vatican has run sizeable budget deficits for years. While the Catholic Church has assets of artistic, cultural, and historic value, those are not easily liquidated, and with few exceptions, Catholic entities around the world have been facing a serious cash crunch for years.

In his statement, Coakley acknowledged that “more than 100 Catholic schools have announced that they plan to close, with hundreds more facing an uncertain future. Businesses, hospitals, schools, and churches all across the country are facing many of the exact same problems.“

“We will continue advocating for everyone negatively affected by this terrible pandemic, praying for all the sick, for all who have died and are in mourning, and especially the poor and vulnerable at this time of great need.”

 

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