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Be a Good Samaritan to Christians in Syria and Iraq, bishop pleads

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 20:01

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 16, 2017 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the U.S. bishops discussed immigration at their annual meeting this week, one Syriac Catholic bishop begged them not to forget Christian refugees in Syria and the Middle East.

“I need your presence, to feel you are with me,” Bishop Barnaba Yousif Benham Habash of the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark pleaded with the bishops on Wednesday.

“Our people, they do need the presence of the Catholic Church,” he continued. “This is the task of the Catholic Church today, to be the Good Samaritan.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met for their annual spring general assembly in Indianapolis June 14-15. Bishop Habash spoke to his fellow bishops during an open floor session after a speech on the spirituality of immigration by Fr. Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.  

The Syrian conflict between the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his international allies Russia and Iran, and various rebel groups supported by Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and others, began in 2011 and continues to rage.

More than 12 million have been displaced by the conflict, including over five million refugees. An estimated 500,000 people have died in the war.

A new report by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors claims that 50 to 80 percent of Christians in Iraq and Syria have fled those countries since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, including half of Syria’s Christian population.

Many refugees are residing in nearby countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. The sheer number of refugees has already threatened to strain Lebanon, where over one in four persons is a refugee. Bishop Habash implored his brother bishops to remember the “neglected and forgotten” Christian refugees in these countries who are without hope.

The bishop noted that 2,000 homes in his native city, Bakhdida, have been burnt out. Christians driven from their homes are languishing in the desert, he said, and need “a Good Samaritan” to be present to them and not just give them materials.

“It’s good to give me some food, to give me some tent in this winter, in this desert, but it’s not the solution,” he insisted. The Church must make itself present to them, “not just you pass by and ‘good bye,’ like nothing happened,” he said.

Over 100 Iraqi nationals with criminal histories were picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and detained, to be deported to Iraq. Although some have reportedly filed emergency appeals, the Iraqis, many of whom are Chaldean Christians, could be sent back to a country with an active war zone, where Christians have been targeted for genocide.

Religious and civic leaders are trying to intervene on behalf of the Chaldeans, whose criminal records have reportedly been clean for at least ten years, sending letters to the Secretary of Homeland Security and hosting prayer vigils for the detainees. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to halt the deportations.

Bishop Habash brought up the plight of these Iraqis in his plea to the bishops, and implored them to be the “conscience” of the country.

“They [ICE] took them from all over,” he said of the detainees, to deport them “to where? No houses, persecutions, only persecutions, fire is waiting for them, death is waiting for them. Why? Because we are Christian.”

“This nation should be Christian too!” he insisted. “If the Catholic Church wants to do and to protect, we have to be the conscience of this nation,” he said. “This nation is great, yes, it’s great, but it would be greater if we protected the innocent.”

Also at the assembly, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the international justice and peace committee, delivered a presentation on international religious persecution.

He emphasized that amid widespread discrimination against Christians in Asia and the Middle East, the bishops in the U.S. must listen to the local Churches.

“Like a physician, our first duty is to do no harm,” he said of the U.S. bishops’ response to international Christian persecution. “We adopt strategies that complement the work of the local Church.”

“Solidarity visits are helpful in learning how to approach various situations. But sometimes solidarity visits are not advisable,” he said, because “at times it is dangerous for the local Church to be publicly associated with Church leaders from the United States, due to U.S. actions or policy.”

“We always follow the example of the Holy See,” he stated.

US bishops urge caution as Senate considers health care bill

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:52

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 16, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US bishops’ annual meeting included on Thursday a discussion on health care, focusing on efforts in Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the domestic justice and human development committee, focused on the underlying principles by which the bishops approach health care.

No law should “compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life,” he said June 15, explaining respect for life, the first of the four “key principles.”

The other principles he enumerated were  true access for all, true affordability, comprehensive and high-quality coverage, and no repeal of the Affordable Care Act without an adequate replacement. He also mentioned the importance of conscience protections.

He said those seeking health care should be able to do so “in accord with their means” and noted that “immigrants continue to be left out of this equation in many ways.”

Speaking about true affordability, he noted the bishops’ concern regarding “structural changes in Medicaid that would leave large numbers of people at risk to losing access.”

The Senate is currently considering the American Health Care Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May as a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The US bishops have been cautious about the AHCA, saying in the past that it has “many serious flaws.”

Bishop Dewane enumerated four primary concerns of the bishops regarding the AHCA, staring with changes in Medicaid that would allow states to opt-out of important coverage.

He also discussed protection of the unborn, as the bill faces challenges in this respect in the Senate, and a lack of access to health care for migrants.

Finally, Bishop Dewane noted, “the House bill does not provide any conscience protections.”

The bishop stated that the committees related to health care would continue their collaboration, and to provide resources to bishops to help them “preach and teach” on the issue.

In closing his remarks, Bishop Dewane noted, “the teaching we bring to bear in the questions on health and health care do not fit neatly… into the single party platforms. Because of this, the Church has a unique voice.”

He emphasized that the bishops would continue work for those “most in need at all stages of life.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, said discussion of health care “impacts nearly everyone in our society, but we as bishops strive to engage in this debate as a voice for the voiceless, for the poor, the sick, the unborn. There is still much to be done as the Senate considers a repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act.”

Among other bishops who spoke on the topic were Bishop George Thomas of Helena, who said we live in a time of “great gravity” as budget votes draw near which will affect Medicaid and nutritional assistance programs, and called for the bishops to work “by raising up a new degree of public consciousness.” Quoting Robert Frost, he implored the bishops that they “’choose the road less traveled’ for the sake of the people we have been ordained to serve.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also took the floor, saying that “the state has a responsibility of creating solidarity in a country,” and noted that religious sisters working in health care should be consulted in further discussions. Bishop Dewane clarified that this has been the case already.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego observed a “debasement of language” in the national health care debate, citing that while Bishop Dewane spoke of a “robust access,” the access being offered is only “access in theory, access if you’ve got enough money.”

He also noted that “health care is a fundamental human right,” but said the AHCA has been designed as “a house of sand which will deliberately fall apart in the coming years.” He also said that bishops should automatically oppose any bill which is projected to lower the number of people with access to health care.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City explained that under the Affordable Care Act, his local Church lost all its Catholic hospitals, and said that the ACA’s “Medicaid provisions were not sustainable by the states.”

He noted also that while the Obama administration had promised there would always be an option for a plan that did not offer abortions, that promise turned out to be false.

US bishops ask forgiveness from survivors of clergy sex abuse

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 14:35

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 16, 2017 / 12:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Beatitudes call us to own our responsibility for suffering in the world, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta preached on Wednesday at a Mass for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Through the Beatitudes, Christ “calls us to see with new eyes how to live in a world so continually filled with sorrow, injustice, and violence,” Archbishop Gregory preached during a June 14 Mass of Prayer and Penance for Healing of Survivors of Clergy Sex Abuse in Indianapolis.

Christ also teaches “how important it is to acknowledge our own share in causing or compounding the sorrows, suffering, and violence that often seem to surround us,” he added.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said the Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis, on the first day of the bishops’ annual spring general assembly.

The Mass was celebrated in response to Pope Francis’ call that bishops' conferences around the world hold a day of prayer and penance for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors noted last year that a survivor of clerical child sexual abuse had proposed a universal day of prayer for all victims.

During the Mass, Cardinal DiNardo asked forgiveness from all the victims of sexual abuse in the Church.

“In solidarity with our brother bishops around the world, we acknowledge the sins that have occurred,” he said, “and ask forgiveness from, and healing of, those that have suffered abuse at the hands of those who should have been protecting and caring for them.”

At the end of the Mass, all the bishops present knelt and prayed a commemorative prayer for victims of clergy sex abuse.

Archbishop Gregory preached the homily on the Gospel for the day, Matthew 5: 17-19. The archbishop apologized on behalf of the conference for all the harm done to abuse survivors and for the scandal that resulted.

“At this Mass, we bishops humbly and sincerely ask for the forgiveness of those who have been harmed, scandalized, or disspirited by events that, even if they happened many years ago, remain ongoing sources of anguish for them, and for those who love them,” he said.

“We humbly seek forgiveness from the faith-filled people of our Church and from our society at large, and especially from those whose lives may have been devastated from our failure to care adequately for the little ones entrusted to us, and for any decision that we made or should have made that exacerbated the sorrow and the heartache that the entire Church has felt and continues to feel for what we have done, and for what we have failed to do,” he continued.

“We can never say that we are sorry enough for the share that we have had in this tragedy of broken fidelity and trust.”

Only in Christ can true healing be found, the archbishop insisted.

He said that “ultimately, it must be the Lord Himself Who heals and reconciles the hearts of those who live with the pain of God’s law unheeded.”

“For that grace, with sincere hearts, with contrite spirits, and with a renewed promise to protect, we simply pray this evening.”

Saving ancient Christian cultures…one story at a time

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 05:12

Washington D.C., Jun 16, 2017 / 03:12 am (CNA).- Ancient artifacts. Centuries-old legends. Prayers dating back to the time of Christ. An enemy seeking to destroy it all. And a team of dedicated scholars trying to save the memories before it’s too late.

It may sound like the start of the next Indiana Jones movie, but for the team behind the Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project, the reality of Christian communities disappearing from the Middle East is a pressing threat.

Faced with persecution at the hands of ISIS, more than a decade of war, and generations of economic struggle, these researchers are looking to record the memories and traditions of the Christian communities of Iraq before they are lost forever.

But instead of swinging through empty tombs or digging through rubble, these scholars are asking the community members themselves to engage in the rich Middle Eastern tradition of storytelling, sharing their memories and descriptions in their own native Arabic and Neo-Aramaic languages – some of them singing and speaking the same language Christ himself did.

Dr. Shawqi Talia, a lecturer on Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America explained that his colleagues’ quest to preserve the history and culture of Iraqi Catholics is essential for passing on their meaning, not only to the next generation, but for the world.  

Talia, himself an Iraqi Chaldean Catholic, told CNA that he wants young people “to know how life was and what life was all about for the Christians – not just up north but in Iraq as a whole – in the ’50s and the ’40s and the ’30s, and to know that our history goes back for 2,000 years.”

Yet as Christians from the Nineveh plain continue to leave their homeland due to threats of violence, Talia hopes Middle Eastern Christians in diaspora will see the stories, songs, histories and memories contained in the project not only as a record, but as a tool. He wants Middle Eastern youth to “work in order to keep this kind of heritage alive, not just for the Christians from that part of the world who are now living in diaspora, but because it’s the history of humanity – for all of us.”

This history is not just for the Christian communities of the Middle East, but for all Christians and the whole world to learn from and preserve – especially as the ancestral lands continue to be embroiled in conflict. “You can read something in a history text, but now you see it, and you hear it in person,” Talia said of the recorded interviews.

Preserving the past

The idea behind Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project – a joint partnership between the Institute of Christian Oriental Research and the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America – was born over the course of years of conversations between Dr. Talia and Dr. Robin Darling Young, an associate professor of spirituality in the university.

“The reason that we started this project was that we wanted to put together materials that would make available to other people and to communities themselves records of various kinds of the life of Christian communities in the Middle East,” Darling Young told CNA.

Attacks by ISIS against Christian and other minority religious communities in northern Iraq heightened the sense of urgency in preserving this culture’s heritage and history.

Since 2003, violence in Iraq and Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, including whole communities of Middle Eastern Christians. In the past 14 years, an estimated 1 million Christians have left their communities in Iraq, leaving less than 500,000 Christians in the lands inhabited by the faithful for 2,000 years.

To begin preserving their history before it completely vanishes, the group used Talia’s connections to the Chaldean Catholic community in the United States, particularly those in the Washington, D.C. area and in Southeast Michigan, where some 150,000 Chaldean Catholics have established new homes over the past century. Plans also exist to interview Iraqi Christian communities in Europe and elsewhere, as well as release a documentary funded by the Michigan Humanities Council.



After developing a detailed questionnaire, the team began to record interviews with members of the Chaldean communities in both English and Neo-Aramaic, a form of the language spoken by Christ. The researchers also collected photographs and documents to digitize and present online along with the recordings as part of a comprehensive online archive.

Ryann Craig, a doctoral student in the department of Semitics, explained that after consulting with oral history experts at the Library of Congress and elsewhere, the team sought to “draw out descriptions of communal life in their original languages” in the interview process.

“My challenge was to try to craft questions that would get people to answer in their native tongue.” One of the first questions, she said, was to ask community members to explain the meaning behind their family name and its importance in their home village. This same technique was also used in getting participants to sing special communal songs created for special occasions like marriages or births, as well as to describe childhood games, or record how family recipes were made and their importance.

Given the circumstances that have brought some Chaldean Christians to the United States, however, some interviews have captured a much different side of the Middle Eastern Christian experience: persecution and flight. Craig told CNA that some of the first interviews of the project were conducted with recent refugees, many of whom were still processing the traumatic circumstances leading up to their exodus.

“A lot of the questions we were asking just weren’t relevant for them,” she said of the questions about traditions and history on the group’s questionnaire. “At that point we just decided to let them tell whatever story they wanted to tell, and didn’t really prompt as much as we do with people who have been here for decades and feel more settled.”  

In collecting both these stories as well as those from Chaldean Christians who moved to the United States decades ago for economic reasons, the group has been able to document a cross-section of Iraqi Christian life. Among those who came over in the 1950s-70s, the researchers have recorded histories by people from smaller Christian villages who spoke Neo-Aramaic and were very much connected to the Chaldean identity and more ancient traditions and ways of life.

Meanwhile, the majority of Chaldean refugees coming over to the United States as a result of violence and persecution are more likely to speak Arabic than Neo-Aramaic, and are also more likely to come from larger, more cosmopolitan cities. Still, among those persecuted, “there’s a profound sense of them being Christian, because they’re being persecuted for that reason.”  

'More than just memories'

Though Talia is not involved directly in the interview process, he stressed to CNA the importance of gathering oral histories due to their unique ability to capture the essence of what it’s like to be a Middle Eastern Christian.

Just as his mother painted the experience of growing up in her hometown for Talia and his siblings, so too do these oral histories transmit the feeling of being in the communities of northern Iraq. “When you see these memories put on audio or on video, you can feel as if you were, or are present.”

While Talia was raised in Baghdad, his mother came from a Christian village of around 5,000 people in the northern Nineveh plain, without electricity, but maintaining many ancient traditions in their daily lives, including use of the Neo-Aramaic language.

“It’s more than simply nostalgia,” he explained of the stories. “It’s more than just memories. It’s a way of life which has disappeared or is disappearing.”

For Talia, the importance oral history plays in Middle Eastern culture has all the more weight due to the uncertainty faced by many communities. Even those that have been freed from the hands of ISIS are often in ruins, and much of the Middle Eastern Christian community is now in diaspora. Talia wants to help ensure “that the community isn’t gone simply because it isn’t in the villages or the towns.”

The next generation

The preservation of their home cultures and traditions is also a major concern for young Middle Eastern Christians who want to know more about their roots.

Yousif Kalian is a second-generation Iraqi immigrant and a member of the Syriac Catholic Church. As an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America, he was a young adult researcher on the Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project, and he has continued to work with the endeavor after graduation. He initially learned about the project while taking a class with Dr. Talia.

“I’ve always had an interest in the region from a professional point of view, on top of being Iraqi-American,” Kalian told CNA. He said that within both Catholic and secular culture in the United States, there is a lack of understanding about Middle Eastern Christians, as well as a culture gap between Middle Eastern parents or grandparents and their children or grandchildren. This, he said, has left a lot of questions about identity and culture among many of his Middle Eastern Christian peers.

Kalian sees this project’s blending of oral history and multimedia access as a way for young people to help change that knowledge gap.

“If you know anything about the Middle East, the oral tradition is the most prominent tradition there,” he said, pointing to the recitation traditions in Islam, Judaism and several Christian churches. Singing and storytelling are closely tied up with the identity of the people, he explained.

“I think not just preserving dates and numbers and facts, but really preserving the stories is the most important thing to preserve from Middle Eastern Christian culture,” Kalian stressed.  

“We all grew up with stories. The monastery that my grandfather is named after was destroyed by ISIS in 2015,” he said. “And my grandfather’s name was Behnam.”

Saint Behnam and Saint Sara monastery was established in the 4th Century in the Nineveh plain, about 20 miles from the city of Mosul. In late 2014, ISIS fighters took control of the monastery, expelling the monks under threat of death. On March 19, 2015, the terrorist group released images of the destruction of the tomb of Saint Behnam and the surrounding buildings.

Yet, Kalian keeps the memory of the monastery with him, as a part of who he is. “The story goes that my great grandma couldn’t have a son,” he told CNA. “Kept having daughters, and in Middle Eastern culture having a son is a point of pride: he carries the name and the wealth and protection. So she went to St. Behnam monastery and was praying, ‘Please give me a boy, St. Behnam. I’ll name him after you if you give me a boy’.”

“Sure enough, she gave birth to a boy, and he survived,” Kalian said, “He survived, and she named him Behnam.”

“You can find a book on Christianity in Iraq, or you can find a book on this monastery. But stories like this: they’ll die with our parents or grandparents.”

“That’s why I think this project is so important: to get the recipes of the food that they cook and the history behind the food they cook, and the names of our parents and grandparents and where they come from, and these saints and stories and traditions…once we move here, to an extent it stays and is alive, but in another sense it gets lost,” he lamented. “That’s why I think that this project really is important.”



And he is not the only one who is excited about the chance to pass on these stories: his siblings and other friends from his Syriac Catholic community have been interested in having a template to interview their parents and grandparents, and a way to digitize their memories. Kalian himself hopes to interview his family members and priests to collect their oral histories.

“I think every young person, if offered the opportunity, would love to speak with their grandparents or parents, if you gave them a structure to find out more about their own history,” he said.

“If you make it an active thing to learn about your culture and not just have it be reading or watching documentaries. Being able to engage – having it be an active thing and have an active culture – will engage them more and therefore persevere our communities, our history, our culture and our language.”

Once completed, the Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project will be accessible at www.ccmideast.org and in the archives of the Institute of Christian Oriental Research at The Catholic University of America. Documentary video will also be distributed in Michigan at a later date.

Photos courtesy of The Catholic University of America.

As Iraqi Christians await deportation, bishop points to suffering Body of Christ

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 19:06

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 / 05:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Advocates for Chaldean Christians detained by federal immigration enforcement are in a race against time to halt their deportation back to war-torn Iraq.

“Today is also the feast of the Body of Christ. And this is where the Body of Christ is in pain, and it turns to the Body of Christ for healing,” Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit told CNA on Thursday, the feast of Corpus Christi.

“Today we are carrying our crosses, and those crosses are real,” he continued June 15. “And with every cross we have our Good Friday, but trusting in God we will also have our Easter Sunday.”

Beginning last Sunday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested dozens of Chaldean Christians in the Detroit metropolitan area, and most were quickly sent to detention at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio. Some were taken from their homes in front of their families, and others were reportedly arrested in public places like restaurants.

An estimated 106 Iraqis have been arrested so far, Bishop Kalabat said, “the vast majority of them Chaldean Christian,” though there are reportedly Muslims among the detained.

ICE explained in a statement that the Chaldeans had previous criminal records including convictions for homicide, rape, and aggravated assault, had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, and were being deported to Iraq as part of an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.

They entered the U.S. legally, some of them decades ago, with an eventual path to citizenship, but since then those who committed felonies would not have a legal path to citizenship.

Many of the crimes were committed decades ago, in the 1980s and '90s, Bishop Kalabat said, with one case “literally 30 years ago.” That man “did his time [in prison], paid the price, has cleared his name,” and is now married with four children.

Some of the detainees may have recent criminal records and be a threat to public safety, the bishop noted, and if that is the case they should be detained.

He maintained, however, that many of those detained have long been responsible, law-abiding residents.

Chaldeans are native to Iraq and the population has been Christian almost since Christianity began. Detroit is one of the largest Chaldean diaspora communities in the U.S., where an apostolic exarchate was created in 1982. An estimated 30,000 Iraqi refugees have been settled in Michigan since 2003.

The church and the community have been working feverishly to halt the deportation of the Iraqis. Prayer vigils have been taking place this past week in the community, Bishop Kalabat said.

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, told CNA on Wednesday that advocacy for the plight of the detainees has reached the highest levels of government. The U.S. bishops have written a letter to the Vice President asking for a halt to the deportations, he added.

“Hardened criminals” make up a “very small percentage” of the detainees, he insisted.

The Knights of Columbus have written Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on the matter, and several members of Congress – Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), and John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) -- wrote Secretary Kelly as well.

The detainees “will be placed in great danger if deported to Iraq,” they insisted, noting that the State Department declared in 2016 that Christians in Iraq and Syria faced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State. They continue to be threatened by the Islamic State and other terror groups.

“Because of the horrors perpetrated against the Catholic Chaldean population in Iraq, these individuals could be stranded in a country in which they are subject to extreme jeopardy,” the letter said.

Furthermore, many of the detainees may have no families or connections in Iraq given how long they have lived in the U.S., the members wrote.

“Until we in Congress can review all aspects of the agreement reached with Iraq, and the referenced safety measures, we urge you to hold off removal of these individuals to Iraq,” the members stated.

Detainees must not be deported without due process, Manna insisted, saying that sending them back to a country with an active war zone like Iraq is inhumane.

“The law is really on their side,” he said of the detainees, who have had clean records for at least ten years. They served their time in prison and “paid their debt” to society, he said, and should not be deported without due process as federal judges had ruled long ago they could be removed.

Furthermore, sending these detainees back to Iraq while it is an active war zone could violate the International Convention Against Torture, he added.

“The U.S. also bears responsibility” to rectify the problem, he told CNA, as the American-led 2003 invasion of Iraq precipitated a massive exodus in Christians from the country, from a population of 1.5 million in 2003 to under 300,000 now.

“The administration has committed itself to helping Christians,” Bishop Kalabat said, but if Christians who committed crimes decades ago and have “turned the corner” are being deported, “it doesn’t make sense.”

Yet God suffers with his people, he continued.

“This, to me, is the greater tragedy, when we forget about giving of our lives to God and allowing God to be with us, and allowing God to speak to us, to be hurt with us.”

US bishops vote to make religious freedom committee permanent

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 15:57

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 / 01:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops voted on Thursday to make their Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty a permanent committee of the national bishops’ conference.

“The very idea of religious freedom and its root in human nature is challenged” today, said Archbishop Lori, chair of the ad hoc committee, at a meeting of the U.S. bishops Thursday.

He added, “how important it is that we remain in the public square through advocacy” for the freedom of religious institutions to fight poverty, provide health care and education, serve immigrants, and protect human life.

In 2011, the ad hoc committee was formed for a period of three years, as the “bishops were deeply concerned about a broad trend” of threats to religious freedom on the local and national level, Archbishop Lori noted, speaking at the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Indianapolis.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to U.S. bishops in January of 2012 during their “ad limina” visit, warned of “grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism” where there were “certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”

“Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices,” the Pope said. “Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

The U.S. bishops voted in 2014 to extend the committee for another three-year period. Then on Thursday, they voted to make the committee permanent by a vote of 132-53, with five bishops abstaining.

Most notably, the committee established the annual Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week campaign of prayer, penance, and advocacy for the Church’s continued freedom to serve in the public square, starting on June 21, the eve of the feasts of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, and ending on July 4, Independence Day.

One of the most notable threats the ad hoc committee warned of was the contraceptive mandate. The Department of Health and Human Services, interpreting the Affordable Care Act, had issued rules under the Obama administration that employer health plans had to cover sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions.

While churches and their immediate auxiliaries were exempt from the mandate, many religious institutions, including hospitals, universities, and charities, were not. Changes to the regulation offered by the Obama administration still violated the religious beliefs of the Catholic organizations, bishops and Church leaders contended.

In May, President Donald Trump promised regulatory relief from the mandate for religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“The struggle against the HHS mandate is not over,” Archbishop Lori warned on Thursday. “Victory is not assured.”

The promised relief could change with another presidential administration who could again enforce the mandate against religious groups, the archbishop said.

And other threats to religious freedom persist, he said, like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which could pose problems for religious institutions that uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage.

The archbishop cited then-Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who admitted during oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, that there could be an issue with the tax-exempt status of religious universities teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, if same-sex marriage were the law of the land.

Some bishops voiced their strong support for the committee on Thursday, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who chaired the USCCB when the committee was formed, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. The most recent president of the USCCB, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, also supported making the committee permanent.

The bishops of the world “look to us,” Cardinal Dolan told his fellow bishops, “to be the real quarterbacks” in “defense of religious freedom.”

A few bishops voiced objections to making the committee permanent in the discussions before the vote on Thursday.

Several were concerned about how it would appear to make the religious liberty committee permanent at the same time that the bishops’ working group on immigration, begun in November, finished its formal work.

However, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the conference, clarified later on Thursday at an afternoon press conference that the working group “will continue,” although Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the conference who had begun the working group last November, had not specified a timeline for how long it would continue.

Furthermore, Archbishop Lori stressed, the conference already has a standing Committee on Migration. “The important thing is that as the sun sets, there’s a permanent committee in place, because we understand the questions of migration are permanent,” he said.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt. also voiced concerns that funding for the religious freedom committee could eventually dry up, while Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said that domestic religious freedom concerns “can be handled by the domestic policy committee,” referring to the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“I am not convinced that there is a need at this time for it,” he said of the religious freedom committee.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Detroit strongly supported extending the committee, however.

There are “currently 60 million refugees in the world,” he said. “What percentage of them came as a result of a lack of religious freedom?”

“Who you back up, or who backs you up, is who gives you the strength” in the Middle East, he said, noting that if the U.S. shows strong support for religious freedom, it also shows support for persecuted Christians elsewhere.

Religious freedom, Archbishop Lori stressed, covers “a wide spectrum of ministries, a wide spectrum of advocacy,” and there is need for “some consistency for a clearing house and a clear voice.”

“Religious liberty is a concept that really relates to one’s fundamental stance towards God,” he said, “that first and primal relationship towards God.” As Dignitatis Humanae states, he noted, religious freedom is “rooted in human nature” and “granted by God as a fundamental human endowment.

On Thursday, the bishops also voted to approve new guidelines for the celebration of the sacraments of persons with disabilities.

The new guidelines were said to pay deeper attention to allergy problems, for example the gluten intolerance or alcohol intolerance of a communicant. They encouraged parishes to be more aware and accommodating of persons with disabilities in the distribution of the sacraments.

Archbishop Kurtz tweeted on Thursday that the National Catholic Partners on Disability were “excited” about the revised guidelines.

 

Pope's US representative reminds bishops to reach those on the margins

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 15:07

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 / 01:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ representative to the United States encouraged the nation’s bishops this week to promote solidarity and listen to those on the margins of society.

“Despite the various advances in technology and social communications, it seems that the mission of evangelization is stifled because often we only speak with those with whom we agree and do not listen enough to those at the margins of the Church and of society,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, told a gathering of the U.S. bishops on Wednesday.

True solidarity, he said, “demands recognizing the common, inherent human dignity of each person” like welcoming the migrant “fleeing persecution or ‘certain death,’ as is the case with so many migrants.”

The nuncio welcomed the bishops at their annual spring general assembly, held in Indianapolis on June 14-15.

At their meeting, the bishops discussed pressing issues like immigration, health care, and international religious persecution, as well as the upcoming synod on young people to be held in 2018.

Archbishop Pierre noted in his address that he has served as Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. for a year, and that he has been “impressed with the faith of the people” in the midst of “an increasingly secular culture that values efficiency and productivity over spiritual values.”

He referenced the 2007 general conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops which resulted in the concluding Aparecida document, where the bishops conceded that the culture was rapidly changing and secularizing and that they could not “passively and calmly wait in our church buildings.”

Likewise, Catholics in the U.S. cannot wait, but must be “missionaries” and go “to the margins of the Church and society” to listen to those at the peripheries, he said.

He commended the bishops for already doing this, giving examples of the Mass said at the U.S.-Mexico border, their presence at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and last November’s Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in West Baltimore, a historic African-American church near where the bishops gathered during their annual fall meeting.

That Mass “sent a powerful message in a time of racial tension that minorities will not be forgotten and that they enrich the whole Church,” he said.

Yet the bishops must continue reaching out to those on the “periphery” of society, including youth, who must be heard at the next synod on young people in 2018, the archbishop insisted. Yesterday, a survey was released on the Vatican website for the synod, reaching out specifically to youth between the ages of 16 and 29 to answer.

“I wish to encourage you to be proactive in ministering to our young people and in learning from them as you listen and evangelize,” the nuncio said.

He gave as an example of solidarity in action Latin American countries, which in recent years “have grown in fraternity” especially through “the collegial working of their bishops, giving rise to a true unity in diversity.”

“Why could the Church in the United States not generate positive results, in the Church and in the world, framing and influencing the direction of dialogue on the fundamental issues of our day?” Archbishop Pierre continued.

However, this solidarity between countries and persons is not “uniformity” that tramples on “the values and priorities of the people,” he insisted, as it rather opposes the “ideological colonization” that Pope Francis has warned of.

Rather, true solidarity can only be achieved “in the Truth, who is a person,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday morning, the bishops sent a greeting to Pope Francis where they mentioned his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in May.

“We pray the seeds sown on the common ground of life and religious freedom will bear much fruit,” they stated, while reaffirming their pledge to find “areas of good collaboration” with elected officials.

“Close to our hearts are the poor, families in need of health care and those immigrating to the United States in search of a safe and secure home,” they stated.

 

US bishops stress compassion, clarity in immigration panel

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 09:45

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 / 07:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In their discussion Wednesday on spiritual, pastoral and policy support for immigrants, the U.S. bishops highlighted the need for compassion, while also clearing up misconceptions about their views.

“There was a desire to express solidarity with and pastoral concern for those at risk, but also a desire to avoid encouraging exaggerated fears,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who has worked for several months to head the bishops’ working group on immigration.

Archbishop Gomez presented on the efforts of his working group at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general meeting this week in Indianapolis.

Kicking off the discussion was a talk by Fr. Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., Ph.D., of the University of Notre Dame.

In introducing Fr. Groody for the first segment of the panel, conference president Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo indicated that the talk would focus on the “spiritual rather than political perspective.” The event program referred to the talk as discussing the “Spirituality of Immigration.”

Fr. Groody began by speaking about the Mass Pope Francis celebrated at Lampedusa in July 2013, saying that he “would like to reflect a little bit on migration and the Eucharist,” and “to see how we can foster a Eucharistic imagination in our people.” He linked the Mass at Lampedusa, which was celebrated using an altar, lectern, and chalice crafted from the boats of refugees, to the border Mass at the United States-Mexico border.

From discussing this pair of Masses, he moved into his reflection on moving “from otherness to communion.”

Discussing the “Age of Migration,” he described the exploding statistics of displaced people, noting that the twenty-first century has seen more refugees than even World War II, and that migrants (even those within their own country) and refugees today comprise one-seventh of the global population.

“The first thing I want to say is that migration is an incredibly, incredibly complex issue,” Fr. Groody said, and “those who don’t understand its complexity either aren’t listening or they don’t understand.”

Moving into what he described as a “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody outlined various groups who interact with immigrants in the United States. These include “vigilantes” living and operating at the border, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), political leaders, corporations, Church leaders, and human rights activists. He then detailed how these groups interact in legal, economic, and humanitarian capacities.

Turning to the legal aspect of the discussion, he considered Thomas Aquinas’ four kinds of law: natural, civil, divine, and eternal. “The goal for us for a just society is to have some sort of connection and participation between these laws.”

From this “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody reflected further on the Eucharist at Lampedusa, telling the story of the carpenter who created the liturgical instruments out of the wood of refugee’s boats.

During a question-and-answer session with the bishops, Fr. Groody mentioned the “risk of deporting our souls” as rumors about the increase in deportations fly. He also summarized his “central theological point,” namely that “God in Jesus Christ so loved the world that he migrated into the far and distant territory of our sinful and broken existence, and there he laid down his life on a cross so that we could migrate back to our homeland… it is no longer the ‘other’ who is the migrant, but it’s all of us.”

After Fr. Groody spoke, the panel moved into its second session, a summary of the tasks completed by the bishop’s working group on immigration issues, commenced at the November 2016 General Assembly. Wednesday’s session marked the final presentation of the group, whose work will now be integrated into the conference’s existing committees on immigration.

The presentation was conducted by Archbishop Gomez along with Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops’ migration committee. After the presentation, which lasted about half an hour, the panel transitioned to a discussion session.

Archbishop Gomez gave a summary of the group’s work, noting that they had been formed in anticipation of the incoming presidential administration’s likely moves on the issue. As such, much of their work consisted of making public statements on behalf of the USCCB against measures such as the executive orders issued in the first days of the nascent administration.

He also summarized the resources the group had produced for dioceses, namely materials for prayer, pastoral accompaniment, action alerts, legal memoranda, and policy reports.

Bishop Vásquez then addressed where the conference intends to move from the group’s work. He expressed the desire to continue the collaboration strengthened over the course of their work, and highlighted the continuing good work of Justice for Migrants, an advocacy group of the USCCB.

He also spoke of the need to counter the false images presented of the bishop’s work on the topic, such as the misconception that they are advocating for “open borders,” and highlighted the five principles presented in their 2003 joint document with the bishops of Mexico, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”

 

Hartford archdiocese works to guide faithful through parish merger

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 08:13

Hartford, Conn., Jun 15, 2017 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Important decisions loom ahead as the Archdiocese of Hartford preps its reorganization plan, a reconstruction and consolidation of parishes throughout much of Connecticut.

Under the new plan, 144 parishes in the archdiocese will be merged into 59 new parishes. Each new church community will be made up of two to six old parishes.

The reorganization, which will officially begin on June 29, will cut the number of parishes nearly in half, from 212 to 127.

Only 68 parishes will go untouched in the reorganization.

Saint Margaret of Scotland in Waterbury is the only church scheduled to be deconsecrated thus far, with no announcement from the archdiocese as to what will happen with the building itself. Additionally, 26 church buildings will close, and will not hold regularly scheduled Mass times.

The archdiocese has developed a 200-page manual to help ease the process, which includes 26 sections offering suggestions on the transition of employment, cemeteries, parish records, and a check list for merging parishes.

Questions have been raised about what to do with some of the items donated to specific churches. The manual mentions that any sacred objects, like tabernacles, monstrances, and chalices, are not to be become an individual’s property.

The manual suggests establishing sub-committees, with representatives from each merging parish, to aid the transition, including the turnover of objects and parish archives. Developing a strategic plan is also encouraged to help create a guiding mission statement, and an assessment of the risks and goals surrounding the transition.

Not only do the archdiocese’s guidelines map out programs to facilitate the physical changes, but they also offer personal and community-led prayers to help with anxiety and stress over the move.

The pastor of Saint Rosa Lima in New Haven is one of the over 40 priests who are being reassigned in the new project, and he has established a transitional team, creating an opportunity for prayer and dialogue to help prepare his parishioners for the adjustment.

Saint Rosa of Lima will be joined by Saint Francis Parish in New Haven, adding more people to the nearly 1,300 families already attending the church.

Father James Manship served as Saint Rosa of Lima’s pastor for 12 years, and, although he sees his parish as strong, he understands the upheaval is upsetting and uneasy.

“The parish has been such a foundational part of their life and for that to have to be morphed and changed from the outside, by the restructuring, is tough,” he told the Hartford Courant.

Other parishioners are excited about the transition. Members of St. Bridget’s and St. Bartholomew’s are joining together in the new St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

“We agree that now we are moving forward as a stronger community, with Mother Teresa as a patron, is so beautiful, that we can go forward and proclaim the gospel of the Lord. This is what our point [is] here,” Father Marcin Pluciennik, who had been pastor of Saint Bridget Parish, told the Hartford Courant.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford has said that the reorganization is not just for financial reasons or due to declining membership, but is also for a rejuvenation of the community’s spiritual life.

 

US bishops: Next synod must address disillusioned, indifferent youth

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 17:13

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 14, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Next year’s synod, which will focus on young people, must address their most pressing problems, including indifference and disillusionment, U.S. bishops said at their annual meeting on Wednesday.

“The synod indeed comes at a critical time,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told fellow U.S. bishops of the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, to be held in 2018 at the Vatican.

Cardinal Tobin cited today’s pressing concerns, like the “rise of the Nones” – or young people with no religious affiliation. An “increased amount of disconnected Millennials is certainly a concern for us, as is the decline and delay of marriage among young people,” he added.

The U.S. bishops discussed the upcoming synod at their annual spring general assembly, held this year in Indianapolis from June 14-16.

Among the agenda items for the morning of June 14 was an address from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, to the bishops, where he called for “missionary discipleship” in the Church to “go to the peripheries” of society.

Afterward, Cardinal Tobin, along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, led a discussion about the upcoming synod, an international gathering of bishops which will focus on “young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.”

“Through every phase of this Synod, the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception,” a preparatory document for the 2018 synod released in January stated.

“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them,” the document added.

Both Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Tobin exhorted their brother bishops to promote a survey of youth available online at youth.synod2018.va. It is intended for those between the ages of 16 and 29, both active Catholics and “indifferent” Catholics. The feedback of those working with youth – like youth ministers – is also vital, they insisted.

“This is a time to learn from youth and young adults,” Cardinal Tobin said. “They must have as much at stake in this as we do.”

According to a 2015 Pew Research report, 35 percent of those in the Millennial generation (born 1981-1996) were religious “Nones.”

However, there are also positive trends among young people, which include a high interest in the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, he added, and positive results of parish outreach ministries.

Other bishops weighed in on issues pertinent to young people.

Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Fla. said that the youth have been drawn to Eucharistic Adoration and have a “renewed appreciation for silence and desire for silence which manifests a thirst for spiritual life, for growth in the knowledge of the Lord.”

“We need to develop more the theology of gift,” he added, in a culture of “pragmatism” and “functionality.”  Meditation on the gift in the Cross “needs to be internalized in the discernment of a vocation,” he said.

Many young people are struggling with racism prevalent in society and are “angry and disconnected from the political process,” Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento added.

The Church should think of “how to engage” these disaffected youth, who “feel in many cases disowned by the more traditional institutions and organizations that were important to their parents and grandparents,” he said.

Invitation needs to be a theme of evangelization at the synod, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA. He insisted that active Catholics need to invite their peers to prayer and to the Mass.

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire ministry, pointed to intellectual objections or challenges to the faith among many young baptized Catholics, like struggles with believing in God and perceived conflicts between religion and science.

The language of missionary discipleship and the sacraments is “opaque” to them, he said, insisting that “we have to clear the ground in a significant way” through a “new apologetics.”

The bishops must “think through this issue of addressing some of these real intellectual difficulties young people have before we can plant the seed of effective evangelization,” he said.

Dr. John Cavadini, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, started the discussion by addressing the bishops on the centrality of the sacrament of Baptism to vocational discernment.

In addition to being a theology professor at Notre Dame, Cavadini is also the director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the university, and previously served on the International Theological Commission from 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, until 2014.

“We hear lots of exhortations for young people to change the world,” he noted, but “this can actually verge on secularizing the baptismal vocation” in making it “a vocation of the world.”

Rather, he said, discussion must emphasize the “mystery of the Church.”

“Meditating on the mystery of the Church” is not thinking about it as a charter or a constitution of some club, he insisted. Rather, it is about meditating on the “wounds of Christ from which His most previous blood flowed” which is the real birth of the Church.

“Meditating on one’s dwelling near, and even in, the wounds of Christ,” he said, brings about an “intimacy of love,” to which “one’s only response can be ‘Thank you, Lord, for this love’.”

Catholics should also see Christ’s example of “self-emptying love” which is reflected in the Church, Cavadini said.

“The one who loves the Church loves the love who had no contempt for anything human, but did not spare Himself,” he said, noting that Jesus reached out to sinners.

“He didn’t back away from that solidarity” even when the penalty for it was death, Cavadini said. Rather, He “received the blow, and so transfigured the whole of human solidarity” from “solidarity in sin” to solidarity “in His love.”

“The Church is the sacrament of that solidarity in the world,” he added, “a solidarity which the world cannot give itself, which does not come from the world” but is “for the world.”

 

Bishops pray for Catholic Congressman shot at baseball practice

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 10:44

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2017 / 08:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, 51, was among multiple persons shot in an incident at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday morning.

Scalise, a Catholic, was shot at the hip and was transported to surgery. He is reportedly in stable condition.

“Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone,” Scalise’s office said in a statement. “He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues.”

After hearing about the shooting, House Democrats at a separate baseball practice started a spontaneous prayer for the victims.

.@HouseDemocrats praying for our @HouseGOP @SenateGOP baseball colleagues after hearing about the horrific shooting. https://t.co/y2HEUaSuzd pic.twitter.com/6HBrlnxtey

— Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen (@RepKihuen) June 14, 2017 A total of five people were “medically transported” from the scene, according to authorities.

Shots were fired around 7:15 a.m. Wednesday morning while Republican lawmakers were practicing for Thursday's Congressional Baseball Game.

U.S. Capitol Police shot and apprehended the gunman, who was taken to the hospital. Alexandria Police tweeted that the “suspect is in custody and not a threat.”

Congressman Scalise is a Republican who was elected to represent Louisiana in 2008. Before running for Congress, he had served in the Louisiana state senate for four months and in the Louisiana House of Representatives for 12 years.
 
He is married to the former Jennifer Letulle and they have an 8 year-old daughter, Madison Carol and an 8 year-old, Harrison Joseph.  

Scalise is a life-long Catholic. He and his wife are members of the St. Agnes Catholic Church. Two years ago he tweeted a photo of his daughter’s first communion.

Madison had her First Communion yesterday. Jennifer, Harrison and I are so proud of her. #Beaming pic.twitter.com/SJa53Le9yj

— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) April 20, 2015 The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which started its Spring General Assembly this morning in Indianapolis, opened their conference with a prayer for the victims of the shooting as well as the victims of a massive apartment fire in London last night. USCCB Vice President Archbishop Jose Gomez gave the prayer, which was also posted to Twitter.

The bishops begin their meeting with a prayer for those impacted by violence in Alexandria and London. #USCCB17 pic.twitter.com/jcsF1Byosu

— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) June 14, 2017 Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. also tweeted that he was praying for the congressman.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, head of the diocese of Arlington, Virginia released the following statement:

"I am profoundly saddened by the tragic shooting at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria earlier this morning. Today I call on the faithful in the Diocese of Arlington and all people of good will to join me in prayer for Rep. Steve Scalise and the others who were wounded in this senseless attack. May the Lord grant them swift healing and consolation. As we pray for God’s mercy, we also ask Mary, our Mother, to intercede for us, so that our world will know the peace of her Son."

"Today as the Church invites us to begin a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I ask Catholics of our diocese to pray the novena with a specific intention for peace," he concluded.

Roughly 15-25 people were at the practice, including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Paul told MSNBC that “it would have been a massacre” if Capitol Police weren't there.

Update 11:00 am Central: U.S. President Donald Trump has said the suspected gunman — identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson III, 66, from Illinois — was killed in a shootout with police, two of whom were wounded in the gun battle.

What can priests practically do to combat the porn epidemic?

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 04:59

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2017 / 02:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Online pornography is one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, on par with cocaine and gambling.

Once confined to the pages of a smuggled Playboy magazine, pornography can now be in the hands of anyone with a smartphone, and is more prolific and anonymous than ever.

PornHub, one of the world’s largest sites with porn video streaming, reports that it averages 75 million viewers per day, or about 2.4 million visitors per hour. In 2015 alone, the number of hours streamed from the site was double the amount of time human beings have populated the Earth, according to TIME Magazine.

And while pornography used to be a simpler problem for priests to address in the confessional – consecrate yourself to Mary, go to weekly adoration – the growing level of addiction makes it a much more complex problem for the Church to address.

That’s why Fr. Sean Kilcawley, the program directory and theological advisor for pornography ministry Integrity Restored, has started to put on intensive trainings for clergy, providing them resources and practical tips for how to address the growing crisis of pornography addiction.

How the trainings work

For an intensive training, Fr. Kilcawley takes a dozen or so priests for 3-4 days and immerses them in resources and training for the porn-addicted in their fold. He also facilitates shorter, one-day conferences.

“We try to equip the priest to get that person to come talk to them outside of confession, just to bring that into the light, so that the priest can then become the first responder in the field hospital of the church,” Fr. Kilcawley told CNA.

Smaller groups work best, he added, because it allows the priests space to process the information and to be more vulnerable with one another.

During these trainings, Fr. Kilcawley tackles the subject from an anthropological and theological standpoint, while Dr. Todd Bowman, a Christian psychologist and director of the SATP Institute, addresses the issue from a psychological viewpoint.

Modeling the relationship between a priest and a sex therapist during the trainings is key, Dr. Bowman said.

“I know that sounds like the start of a joke: a priest and a psychologist walk into a conference,” Dr. Bowman told CNA.

“But (it’s important) to demonstrate this relationship between soul care and care of the psyche or the mind, this process of healing often requires psychological care,” he said.

“So we’re trying to give priests the experience that not all psychologists are anti-church, or anti-Catholic. At the same time, not all Christian or Catholic therapists are equipped and qualified for this, so we’re trying to…(show them how to be) intentional in selecting therapists who will honor church teaching but who will also have the competence to do this work well with porn or sex addiction.”

Preventative action: Stopping porn addictions before they start

Practical things priests can do to address pornography addiction generally fall into two categories: preventative and interventional, Fr. Kilcawley noted.

One of the key things a priest can do to stop pornography addictions is to ensure that the parents of the parish are being provided with education and resources they need for pornography prevention in the home.

“We’ve always said that it’s the parent’s job to educate their children, but as a Church we haven’t done a great job teaching the parents how to educate their children,” Fr. Kilcawley said.

“And we now live in a world where it's no longer optional to have those conversations.”

No longer optional, because studies show the average age of first exposure to pornography is 8 years old – and any kid with access to a phone or a tablet could accidentally stumble upon pornography, he said.

One thing he recommends is that parishes hold mandatory meetings for parents of children who are either receiving the sacraments or religious education at the parish, where they can give parents an overview of Theology of the Body, as well as tips and resources for internet safety and how to address pornography.  

It can be especially difficult to know how to talk about such a mature topic with such a young age group. However, several books have been written in the past several years to help parents know where to begin, Fr. Kilcawley said, and some parishes hand them out during meetings with parents.

One of his recommendations is “Good Pictures Bad Pictures,” a read-aloud picture book that helps parents address the issue with very young children.

Starting at the 4th grade level, Fr. Kilcawley recommends the book “Wonderfully Made! Babies” which puts the content within the context of theology of the body and the sacrament of marriage.

For the junior high and high school level, he recommends “Plunging Pornography,” a book to leave in the bathroom for teens to find that can serve as a conversation starter.

Fr. Kilcawley said in some parishes, groups like the Knights of Columbus have paid for some of these books to be handed out to every parent.

He also recommends internet filters like Covenant Eyes, which sponsors a special service for parents, parishes and schools.

Interventional: What to do about those who are already addicted

Probably the most common place a priest will first find out about a pornography addiction is in the confessional.

When someone confesses viewing porn, Fr. Kilcawley said one of the best things a priest can do is to ask a few guiding questions to help them make a good confession.

“Ask questions like, ‘How frequently do you fall into porn and masturbation in general?’” Fr. Kilcawley said. The question is not meant to pry – it helps determine whether the person needs additional help.

It’s also helpful to ask when the problem started.

“If it started before puberty, which is most common now, almost everyone who started before puberty is going to need extra help stopping, they might need counseling or group support, and spiritual direction,” Father said.

A third question to ask would be if they’ve tried to remove porn from their life – are they already using filtering software? Are they seeing a therapist or going to a 12-step group?

And then finally, Fr. Kilcawley advised priests in the confessional, ask them if they want to stop.

“Just to help them make a good firm purpose of amendment,” he said, adding that when they answer yes, that’s a good opportunity to offer them more resources.

But it’s important that the help be personal. Simply handing the person a flyer and telling them to call a therapist or a group typically doesn’t work, Father noted. It should either be the priest, or someone involved in that specific ministry at the parish, who is the first point of contact for that person, and can help them get in touch with additional resources.

Another thing priests can do is start a porn or sex addict support group in their parish. Fr. Kilcawley said he started one in his office once a week, with a small group of men who were all struggling with porn addictions.

“Most people who are stuck in addiction, they need a support group, whether it’s a 12-step group like Sexaholics Anonymous or a spiritual support group, where they are open and vulnerable and accountable about their lives. They need that, plus a counselor, plus a spiritual director that they’re working with regularly,” he said.  

Thou shalt not: The don’ts of porn ministry  

A mistake often made by untrained clergy in pornography addiction ministry is that they may suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that a pornography addiction is the fault of the spouse.

“It’s not the spouse’s lack of sexual interest that’s to blame for her husband’s sexual addiction,” Dr. Bowman said. Addicted persons will often try “blame shifting,” he added, which creates “a spiritual crisis that compounds the betrayal trauma” of the spouse.

The next mistake clergy could make would be to minimize the impact of the addiction on the spouse. Most people who find out their spouse has a sex addiction will experience varying levels of feelings of betrayal, Dr. Bowman said.

“There’s significant trauma in that loss of identity – but the Church can speak about identity as sons and daughters of God into that space,” he added. It’s when identity is only being informed by brokenness that bigger problems arise.

Another mistake would be to abandon those in recovery. If a priest commits to setting up support groups in his parish, he needs to follow through, Dr. Bowman said.

“If you are setting yourself up as a support that means take the phone call, schedule the meeting, even if it's inconvenient, you’re going that measure and not abandoning folks in recovery,” he said.

Not a fringe ministry – this is evangelization 101

The biggest cardinal mistake that clergy can make in regards to pornography addiction ministry is never mentioning it, Dr. Bowman said.

It’s usually a more “omissive than commissive” problem, he commented. “It’s not like (clergy) are actively avoiding talking about this, but they may think, ‘My parishioners don’t want to hear about this, there are other things that are more relevant and important.’

But, according to Dr. Bowman, “There may be no more pressing topic for parishioners and priests alike...the only mistake would be not to bring it up.”

It may be helpful for priests to view this as part of evangelization, and not as a fringe ministry, Fr. Kilcawley said, because very likely, someone who is stuck in addiction is unable to have a good relationship with the Lord.

“Most people who are stuck in addiction believe they’re unlovable, and that if people really knew them they would reject them, and they don’t trust other people to meet their needs and so they have to meet their own needs, and their addiction is the best way to meet their need,” he said. “So if someone has those core beliefs, they can’t really know our Lord.”

“So anti-pornography work and anti-porn apostolates, they’re really the first stage of evangelization.”

Both Dr. Bowman and Fr. Kilcawley said they hope that increasingly, priests become aware of the urgent need to reach pornography addicts in their pews.

“We live in a culture where statistically, about half of Christians report looking at porn at least monthly,” Fr. Kilcawley said.

“So if that’s the case then, yeah we need a lot more (pornography ministry). It’s not a ministry for a few people, it’s more of a ministry for everyone.”
 

Kentucky native appointed Archbishop of Indianapolis

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 14:01

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 13, 2017 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican announced Tuesday Pope Francis' transfer of Bishop Charles Thompson from the Evansville diocese to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Archbishop Thompson fills a vacancy left since the November 2016 appointment of Cardinal Joseph Tobin to the Archdiocese of Newark,

“I cannot begin to fully express my deepest gratitude and affection for those whom I have served in the Diocese of Evansville,” Archbishop Thompson said in a press conference in Indianapolis June 13. “These past six years I have been very blessed, very blessed.”

“Drawing on my episcopal motto, ‘Christ the Cornerstone,’ it is first and foremost my prayer to remain Christ-centered in all aspects of our identity, mission and witness, proclaiming the joy of the Gospel.”

Msgr. William Stumpf, administrator of the Indianapolis archdiocese, introduced Archbishop Thompson at the press conference by saying: “When Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Tobin as the Archbishop of Newark last November, there was, understandably, among all of us here in the archdiocese, a great deal of sadness.”

“And ever since then, we have been fervently praying that God would send us a wonderful new shepherd. And certainly, he has.”

Archbishop Thompson, 56, was appointed in March 2017 to the USCCB Committee on the Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, and as a Region VII representative to the USCCB Administrative Committee and Committee of Priorities and Plans for three year terms.  

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 11, 1961, Archbishop Thompson received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Bellarmine College in 1983, and graduated from St. Meinrad School of Theology with a Master’s of Divinity in 1987.

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville on May 30, 1987.

Archbishop Thompson obtained his licentiate in canon law from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada in May 1992. He served as Promoter of Justice and Judge of the Tribunal in Louisville and as priest-chaplain of Sacred Heart Academy from 2004-2011. In 2002 he began serving as visiting professor of canon law at St. Meinrad School of Theology.

He served as vicar general of the Louisville archdiocese from 2008 unti l his appointment as a bishop.

He was appointed Bishop of Evansville on April 26, 2011.

Archbishop Thompson’s Mass of Installation in Indianapolis will be said July 28.

“Drawing on the inspiration of Pope Francis, may we strive to ever more diligently embrace the call to dialogue, encounter, mercy, accompaniment and missionary discipleship,” Archbishop Thompson said.

“All of you in southwest Indiana, have helped to form and educate me as a successor of the Apostles, as a shepherd of the local church. Thank you for your patience and understanding in breaking in a rookie bishop,” he continued. “The people of southwest Indiana will always have a special place in my heart.”

Former slave Julia Greeley first to be buried at Denver’s cathedral

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 19:01

Denver, Colo., Jun 12, 2017 / 05:01 pm (Denver Catholic).- In what was a historic first for the Archdiocese of Denver, the exhumed remains of a potential saint were laid to rest at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception June 7.

The canonization process for the Servant of God Julia Greeley was opened Dec. 18, and as part of the process, her remains were exhumed from Mt. Olivet Cemetery May 26-31. After careful examination by an anthropologist, her remains were transferred to the cathedral, where they will remain permanently.

A transfer ceremony, presided over by Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez, was held to honor the laywoman, who is the first person to be buried at the cathedral. The ceremony took place on the 99th anniversary of Greeley’s death.

“[Julia Greeley] will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral. Not a bishop, not a priest – a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?” Bishop Rodriguez said to an applauding congregation.

Greeley exemplified three qualities of holiness throughout her life, Bishop Rodriguez said: humility, perseverance and faith. She was known for walking the streets of Denver, handing out Sacred Heart pamphlets to firefighters and delivering goods to poor families. What wasn’t known, however, was that she suffered from arthritis – a fact revealed by the exhumation and examination of her bones.

“We know from the stories passed on to us that Julia Greeley was tireless in her charity and in spreading the faith,” Bishop Rodriguez explained. “What we didn’t know until the exhumation is that Julia suffered from arthritis in her hands, feet, back…almost every joint that could have hurt, probably did. Nevertheless, she never stopped practicing and doing and showing love.”

Dr. Christine Pink, the forensic anthropologist responsible for the exhumation of Greeley’s remains, confirmed that Greeley did indeed suffer from arthritis.

“The finding of arthritis was special just given what we know about her walking to all the fire stations and doing what she did. She likely was in pain, and joyful despite that,” Pink said.

The bishop spoke of the hope that the ceremony represented – hope that because of Christ’s conquering of the grace, the dead will one day, too, be resurrected.

“Our ceremony today is just a very small confession that we believe in resurrection of the body and in the communion of saints. This is why we are here in this place,” he said. “We are saying those bones will rise on the last day, and today, we are particularly united to Julia Greeley.”

The remains of Julia Greeley were placed in a custom made wooden funerary box, and the faithful were invited to view them. As people came up, they would bow in reverence, kiss the funerary box and even place cloths, rosaries and other items on the case that housed her remains. Those items could become third-class relics should Julia Greeley be canonized a saint.

After the viewing, the box was screwed shut by a carpenter, sealed with gold wax and placed underneath the Sacred Heart statue in the side chapel to the west of the main altar.

The day had come sooner than expected for some.

“This is a great day. We never thought it would come so soon when we started to move things, but God certainly had his own plan,” said Capuchin Friar Father Blaine Burkey, whose book In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart: The Life and Virtues of Julia Greeley is likely the most extensive volume compiled about Julia Greeley’s life.

Mary Leisring, president of the Julia Greeley guild, was overjoyed to see the cathedral full of so many devoted to Greeley.

“Whether she gets to be a saint in Rome or not does not matter to me, she’s already my saint,’ Leisring said.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Catholic June 9. Reprinted with permission.

Immigration arrests stun Detroit's Chaldean Catholics

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 17:29

Detroit, Mich., Jun 12, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Dozens of Chaldean Christians were arrested by federal immigration officials over the weekend in the Detroit metropolitan area, leaving the local Church community with sadness and frustration.

“Yesterday was a very strange and painful day for our community in America,” Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit stated Monday in a Facebook post.

“With the many Chaldeans that were awakened by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and consequently picked up for deportation, there is a lot of confusion and anger,” he added.

Fr. Anthony Kathawa of St. Thomas Chaldean Church in West Bloomfield, Mich., told CNA June 12 that “As a community, we’re all suffering seeing the loss of our loved ones.”

On Sunday, the Detroit Free Press reported that ICE made around 40 arrests of Chaldeans in the Detroit area, according to community leaders.

ICE explained in a statement that Iraq, in negotiations with the U.S., had “agreed to accept” the individuals, who had criminal records.

“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” ICE stated.

A federal judge had also “ordered them removed,” ICE said, noting that their previous criminal offenses included homicide, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, and “weapons violations.”

A “majority” of those detained are now at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio.

Many of those with criminal records have served their time in prison and have since become good citizens and members of the community, local Church leaders insisted.

“We understand that maybe there was a problem in the past, but there’ve been a lot of people moving forward,” Fr. Kathawa told CNA. “They’ve changed, become better, made families in this great country of opportunity and peace.”

“And now with them leaving, it’s causing chaos within our community, within our families, within our Church,” he added.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who is a Chaldean Catholic of Assyrian and Armenian heritage, called the reported arrests "deeply troubling."

"Chaldeans have been targeted by ISIS and subjected to genocide, as have other religious minorities.  Their deportation represents a death sentence should they be deported to Iraq or Syria," Eshoo said in an email statement to CNA.

"It has also been reported that the individuals have criminal records. If the offenses they committed have already been 'paid for' by serving an appropriate sentence, facing a death sentence via deportation is disproportionate and unjust," she added.

Bishop Kalabat wrote that “The Church does not oppose justice, all hardened criminals that are a danger to society should be picked up. Many who were picked up are not hardened criminals but for the last decades have been great citizens.”

Regarding Sunday’s arrests, the local Church has been in touch with the State Department, members of Congress, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the matter, the bishop added.

Chaldeans are an Iraqi indigenous community and speak Aramaic. The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church which uses the East Syrian rite.

The Chaldean Catholic community in Detroit dates back to the early 20th century, and an apostolic exarchate was established in 1982. There are around 150,000 Chaldeans in the Detroit area, which is the largest Chaldean diaspora community living outside the Middle East, according to the Chaldean Community Foundation.

Around 30,000 refugees were re-settled in Michigan since the Iraq War began in 2003, and more Syrian refugees are expected to be re-settled there in the coming years, the foundation noted.

Martin Manna, president of the locally-based Chaldean Community Foundation, told the Detroit Free Press that deporting the Chaldeans to Iraq “is like a death sentence.”

The U.S. State Department declared in March of 2016 that the Islamic State had committed genocide against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.

The fight to dislodge the Islamic State from Iraq is ongoing as parts of Mosul are still under the group's control. Although the villages of many Christians in northern Iraq have been liberated, many are still not yet able to return to their homes. Many families are still dependent on aid groups for their livelihood.

There have been efforts in Congress to designate groups targeted for genocide, like Christians in Iraq and Syria, as P-2 refugees, which would expedite their resettlement process in the U.S. as refugees.

Contrary to rumors, the local Church had not signed off on any of the deportations, Bishop Kalabat insisted in a Facebook post on Monday.

“It has been rumored that our Church signed documents regarding the deportation issue. To my capacity, as a permanent member of the church synod, I would like to formally state that this is NOT true, and that was no signed document or any type of agreement made with the Iraqi government or anyone else, that would allow the deportation of Chaldeans to Iraq,” he stated. “There was no such thing discussed, signed, or issued.”

The arrests follow a spike in ICE immigration arrests that began with President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration at the beginning of his presidential term.

In the first 100 days after that order was signed, ICE reported in May that immigration arrests were up 40 percent in comparison with that same time period in 2016.

The new celibacy? How porn may be destroying the impetus for sex

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 18:07

Denver, Colo., Jun 11, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- One of music artist John Mayer's most signature songs is “Daughters,” a sweet and simple tribute to the importance of parents' influence on their little girls. Here's the refrain:

“So fathers, be good to your daughters, Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”

But when John Mayer isn't crooning about your beautiful daughters, he's looking at naked pictures of them, sometimes hundreds at a time before he gets out of bed in the morning. In fact, he often prefers that to an actual human being, according to his wildly controversial 2010 interview with Playboy magazine.

“You wake up in the morning, open a thumbnail page, and it leads to a Pandora's box of visuals. There have probably been days when I saw 300 (naked women) before I got out of bed,” he told the magazine.

Unfortunately, Mayer's morning routine is not unique to him. Studies show that easy access to free internet pornography is having devastating effects on real-life relationships.

Preferring pixels to people

“For many individuals, the more porn they consume, the more likely it is that they can end up preferring the fantasy to reality, they can end up preferring the pixels to a person, and that's really messing up relationships, as you can imagine,” said Clay Olsen, co-founder of the internet movement “Fight the New Drug” (FTND).

The FTND movement, so named because of porn's addictive properties, aims to raise awareness of the harmful effects of pornography through creative mediums such as blogs, videos and infographics. The website includes personal stories as well as scientific studies to illustrate pornography's effects on the brain, the heart (relationships), and ultimately on the world.

“Our goal is to change the conversation from 'Dude, check this out,' to 'Dude, that's messed up,'” Olsen told CNA.

The longstanding, pervasive cultural narrative surrounding pornography is that it is a healthy sexual outlet and can improve sex lives. However, science begs to differ. Several studies cited in FTND's article, “Porn Ruins Your Sex Life,” found that pornography not only leads to dissatisfying sex, it can lead to less sex with actual human beings.   

In a series of studies examining pornography use, “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” published by the Witherspoon Institute, researchers found that those who viewed pornography became less satisfied with their sex lives, and that viewing porn just once can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction towards a human partner.

According to an article in Psychology Today by clinical psychologist Tyger Latham, Psy.D, erectile dysfunction, while once considered an issue plaguing old men, is cropping up more in young men who rely heavily on pornography to become sexually aroused. A study by the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine surveyed 28,000 men on their internet porn habits, and found that porn use over time led to a lower sex drive and an eventual inability to become aroused at all.

“As soon as they try to actually get close to someone and commit to somebody and have an intimate relationship with somebody, it's in those moments that the harms of pornography show their full colors and truly manifest themselves,” Olsen said. “The unrealistic expectations are completely exposed…

And we now see people in their 20s having porn-induced erectile dysfunction because they cannot get excited or aroused without the presence of pornography.”

A decline in marriage rates

Not only is pornography use destroying the physical sexual life, it may be impacting the number of people pursuing marriage or committed sexual relationships.

In the fall of 2013, an article in The Guardian sounded the alarm that fewer people in Japan were having sex, citing as evidence numerous statistics on the country's declining birth rate, marriage rate, and even rates of young people who are dating or who are interested in dating.

A follow-up article on Slate found that while the actual number of people having or not having sex might not be definitively pinpointed, the statistics on falling marriage and birth rates only mean Japan is leading a world-wide trend, rather than bucking one. While it's not clear whether porn is directly influencing these numbers, many have speculated that it is.

Researchers with The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany found an increase in free Internet pornography is at least correlated with a significant decrease in the percentage of young married men, and it may even be contributing to the trend. A 2013 Pew study found that 71 percent of single Americans were not looking for a committed relationship. Another study found that nearly 40 percent of American women had never been married.  

“The results in this paper suggest that such an association exists, and that it is potentially quite large,” the study notes, as reported in the Washington Post.

The study used General Social Survey (GSS), a comprehensive, nationally representative survey which analyzed internet use of 1,500 men ages 18-to-35, between the years 2000 and 2004. The researchers studied the number of hours spent on the internet per week, how often internet pornography was used in the past 30 days, as well as other activities such as use of religious sites.

Even when adjusted for variables such as age, income, education, religion and employment, the study found that generally, the more a person used the internet, the less likely they were to be married. Additionally, it found that the more a person used internet pornography, the less likely they were to be married. On the other hand, the use of religious websites was positively correlated with marriage.  

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Catholic who has studied religion and sexual behavior, cautioned against assuming that correlation equals causation in such studies – but said that pornography use is likely part of a more complex reason for dropping marriage rates.

“We know that both things are occurring, but it's difficult to establish a causal connection,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “A variety of things are contributing to the declining marriage rate.”

“I don't think porn use necessarily causes that, but contributes to it (together with diminished earnings power, diminished confidence, etc.),” he added. “To be sure, porn use doesn't help build confidence in men, something that's pretty necessary (but not sufficient) to be considered marriageable. So I'd say porn use is a suspect here, but connecting the dots is hardly straightforward.”

Increasing awareness

Only in the past few years and months has a conversation countering the “it's healthy, it's normal” narrative been emerging in mainstream media about pornography. Several celebrities are speaking up, and there are an increasing number of websites dedicated to helping people fight pornography addictions.

In 2015, the release of the controversial “50 Shades of Grey” movie sparked a conversation on social media about sexual violence against women in media, with the hashtag #50dollarsnot50shades encouraging people to forgo the movie and instead donate to places that help victimized women.

The movie sparked a response from an unlikely source – British comedian Russel Brand, whose short video about the problems with pornography went viral, generating over 500,000 views on his YouTube channel and over 2 million views on FTND's website.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another celebrity who has been outspoken about the negative impact of pornography, most notably in his 2013 movie “Don Jon,” which he wrote, directed and co-starred in along with Scarlett Johansson. The film explores the unrealistic expectations of love and relationships that come from pornography addictions and from the media at large.

“I think that there's not a substantial difference between a lot of main-stream culture and pornography. They're equally simplistic, reductionist,” Gordon-Levitt said in an interview with NPR about the film.

“Whether it's rated X or 'approved by the FCC for general viewing audiences,' the message is the same. We have a tendency in our culture to take people and treat them like things.”

But the internet has been around for decades now – why has it taken society so long to catch on to the fact that pornography is harmful?

“Science has caught up with the fact that pornography's harmful,” Olsen said, “but society is still catching up.”

It often takes years for something that was once culturally accepted as true to be flipped on its head as science proves otherwise, Olsen said, so Fight the New Drug knows they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

“We're very excited to see some of this progress and some of these mainstream media outlets kind of following suit and starting to talk about the negative impacts, we couldn't be more excited about it, but we still have a long way ahead of us.”

Some other websites that are also trying to raise awareness and give help to those struggling with pornography include The Porn Effect and Covenant Eyes, and internet filtering and accountability system.

The best way to kick a porn habit? Keep fighting it and lean on the sacraments, Regnerus said.

“(My) advice: don't give up hope; pursue confession regularly; recognize and avoid the contexts which give rise to temptation. That's a start.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 16, 2015.

Detroit archdiocese challenged to 'Unleash the Gospel'

Sat, 06/10/2017 - 18:07

Detroit, Mich., Jun 10, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of Detroit has issued a pastoral letter for his local Church which aims to encourage evangelization as an “outward, mission-focused” Church through proper formation and evangelical charity.

Issued June 3, the Vigil of Pentecost, Unleash the Gospel is the fruit of a diocesan synod held in 2016.

The missionary conversion at which the letter aims “entails making one’s relationship with Jesus and alignment with his will the central guiding principle of every aspect of life,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron wrote.

The letter was written in preparation for the coming years and is a reflection on the Detroit diocesan synod which met Nov. 18-20, 2016.

Encapsulating the prayers and discernment of the laity, clergy, and religious who gathered for synod, Archbishop Vigneron expressed hope that this project may help bring “every person at every level of the Church” to share the Gospel.

Unleash the Gospel deals with a foundational conviction, catechesis, 10 “guideposts” to guide the new vangelization, and propositions for action in families, parishes, and the archdiocese as a whole in being evangizers.

The archbishop identified vices of the local Church, the foremost of which was to see the Church as a wholly human institution, “a life enhancer” which is reduced to a social program. The root of the crisis facing the Church, he said, is the view that God is uninvolved in the world and that mankind is unable to know him.

Other bad habits within the archdiocese identified in the synod were a “status quo mentality”, being guided by fear, spiritual lethargy, and a an attitude of complaint.

He said the new evangelization is neither a “membership drive, nor is it an effort to shore up a code of conduct,” but is rather an invitation “to encounter Jesus and let their hearts be captured by him.”

This, he said, includes the involvement of all the members of the Church, there are no “bystanders” who do not participate in fostering a relationship with Christ as well as leading others to that same love.

The archbishop laid out the vision of an “outward, mission-focused church,” emphasizing a reconstruction of how people encounter Christ in parishes and ministries.

“For families this means that every family embraces its role as the domestic church and, in connection with other families and single persons, actively seeks the spiritual and social renewal of its neighborhood, schools and places of work. For parishes and archdiocesan services it means the renewal of structures to make them Spirit-led and radically mission-oriented.”

The guideposts map out various focuses, including proper tools to “evangelize the evangelizers,” a greater availability of the sacraments, and joyful attraction within parish life.

“This missionary conversion entails a strikingly countercultural way of living grounded in prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments; unusually gracious hospitality; a capacity to include those on the margins of society; and joyful confidence in the providence of God even in difficult and stressful times.”

Archbishop Vigneron wrote that “The Gospel is most effectively shared in person-to-person encounters. Such personal, on-the-spot evangelization can be prepared for and enhanced by programs and processes and media, but it cannot be replaced by them.”

He emphasized that the new evangelization “cannot be accomplished from within the walls of our churches,” and requires a “going out.”

The archbishop added that “Our service to the poor and marginalized needs to be a clear witness to Jesus our Lord, not mistaken for humanist philanthropy.”

“In recent decades, however, there has been a tendency for Catholic charitable work to become separated from our primary calling to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is time to overcome that distinction.”

The pastoral letter outlined “concrete action steps” for implementing new evangelization in the Detroit archdiocese, including a re-examination of the appropriate age for Confirmation, improved marriage preparation, encouraging Eucharistic Adoration and Marian devotions at parishes, and ongoing formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

Archbishop Vigneron concluded, writing that “I am firmly convinced that the graces bestowed upon the Church in Detroit in Synod 16 are a great spiritual treasure, riches which the Holy Spirit has poured out upon us for the monumental task that lies ahead.”

“With the help of God I will be a true and faithful steward of these gifts that are the common property of us all for the work that has been entrusted to us all.”

Could US tax reform drive down charitable giving?

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 17:42

Washington D.C., Jun 9, 2017 / 03:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As President Donald Trump and Congress get set to undertake tax reform, some are concerned that Republican tax proposals could lead to drastic reductions in charitable giving.

“I don’t think that it was intended, by any means, that they want to harm charitable giving,” Brian W. Walsh, executive director of the Faith & Giving Coalition, told CNA of research that claims GOP tax reform proposals could give Americans less incentive to make tax-deductible charitable donations. Religious charitable groups like Catholic Charities, USA are coalition members.

Yet, he added, “unintended consequences can be just as damaging as those that are intended.”

Walsh referred to two Republican tax proposals for his claim – Trump’s proposal released in April, and another “blueprint” by House Republicans last summer.

Both feature two policies, doubling the standard deduction and decreasing the highest marginal tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.

Taken together, these “would decrease charitable giving, including giving to religious institutions, by as much as $13.1 billion (4.6 percent),” research by the Independent Sector predicted.

One reason why this might be, the report explained, is that most Americans use the standard deduction on their taxes because it usually offers them a better rate of return than itemizing their deductions. Charitable giving, if written off on one’s taxes, is part of the itemized deductions.

If the standard deduction is doubled, therefore, even more Americans would take advantage of it and fewer taxpayers would choose to itemize their deductions. This could disincentivize charitable giving.

Religious organizations could see the highest drop in charitable giving under these proposals, the research claimed, as much as a 4.7 percent decrease.

“There remains on Capitol Hill some fuzzy assumptions that religious givers don’t pay any attention to their tax bills,” Walsh explained, adding that “if they have the ability to give more, and the tax code allows them to do so, they’re likely to do so.”

Doubling the standard deduction could bring economic relief to households, The Faith & Giving Coalition concedes. So rather than simply scrapping the proposals, the President and Congress could instead extend charitable tax deductions to everyone, and not just “itemizers.”

That, the report added, “erases that $13.1 billion deficit” and could actually increase charitable giving by as much as $5 billion.

This could decrease tax revenue, Walsh admitted, but in his estimate the change would be small, less than one percent.

Such a policy would be fairer, he said, than the proposed one, because it would enable more lower-income households to make charitable donations.

“Those who tend to be in the lower to lower-middle income classes who don’t itemize today, they right now don’t get any tax relief for their charitable deductions,” he said. Expanding the charitable deduction to everyone would help lower-income households “get the same tax relief for their charitable deductions that people who are in the higher income brackets get.”

And this scenario is advantageous, he argued, because charities do the best work of serving the poor and taxpayers are further empowered to reward those which do the best job.

“The money remains in the hands of individuals who can determine who’s doing the best job providing services to the impoverished, the homeless, and other needy people,” Walsh explained.

Behold, Catholic beard balm (yes, it's a thing)

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 14:03

Seattle, Wash., Jun 9, 2017 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- What do you do with an excess of chrism and a plethora of Catholic men with beards?

Tony Vasinda, a director of faith formation at a Catholic parish in Seattle, Wash., was faced with that dilemma three years ago when he ordered some of the fragrant, liturgical oil for his confirmation students.

“I love it when people can actually engage with the materials of the sacrament in advance, so I wanted to have some non-blessed chrism we could use for the candidates to smell and help cement in their memory the different lessons we were teaching,” Vasinda told CNA.

When he went to order essence of chrism, Vasinda only needed an ounce. But the minimum amount he could order was enough to make three gallons.

“So I had a little bit of an excess of chrism,” he joked.

Around that same time, Vasinda had been making beard balms for himself and his bearded friends, and he had an idea for what to do with his surplus.

“I thought hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I made some chrism-scented Catholic beard balm?”

That’s how Catholic Beard Balm got its start. Vasinda, and his friend and fellow Catholic beard balm creator Michael Marchand, soon started selling their handmade, natural balms in small batches with five signature scents. According to the website the balm has a myriad of beardly benefits including conditioning, nourishing, and promoting a fuller appearance.

And the great thing is, all the proceeds benefit Tony and Michael’s ministry, ProjectYM, a resource hub for Catholic youth ministers.

Tony and Michael sat down to chat with CNA about all things follicular and fragrant:

How did you recognize that Catholic beard balm would even have a market?

Tony: We had a conference coming up, and I thought we could take it there and sell it to other Catholic Youth ministers. We knew a lot of those guys have beards...So that was kind of how it started.

Michael: It’s funny, Tony brought like one hundred beard balms to that event, and we all kind of laughed at him and said there’s no way we’re gonna sell those, there’s no way people will buy those. And within a matter of hours, we sold all of them. So it was sort of like oh wait a minute, there is a market for this.  



What’s up with Catholic guys and beards? So many Catholic guys I know have a beard going right now.

Tony:  I don’t think it’s a new thing, I think the real question is kind of like, what’s up with the lack of facial hair? That was really the change that happened at some point in the last couple hundred years – men stopped growing beards.

(Beards are) kind of a unique signifier of manliness. There’s not a lot that men get to do that show off our masculinity in a way that’s easy for us to do in our daily life. Like I have zero desire to go chop down a tree and cut it up into lumber, I’m not working in a coal mine. So there’s a little bit of it that comes down to a desire to display our masculinity in a way that’s appropriate for who we are today. Plus beards are just awesome and they look great.

Michael: I started mine because I was lazy and my wife somewhere along the road told me hey, you either need to grow it out all the way or you need to shave it. There was no larger plan in my mind.

Tony: There was always a larger plan in my mind. I always wanted my beard to be larger and larger.

Tell me about the different scents your balms have.

Tony: We have five different aromas, the original three were chrism, Franciscan, which is the unscented, natural ingredients, it’s a nod to the simplicity of Francis and the Franciscan community and their close connection with God’s creation.

The next one was Lectio, which was supposed to be evocative of the sweet smell of old books or old bibles, so it’s got amber, vanilla, and sandalwood in it.

We’ve got Holy Smokes, which is the incense one, so that’s frankincense, a little bit of myrrh and a touch of woodsmoke. I actually had somebody the other day who was wearing it on their beard and their pastor was like, did we get the good incense? But it was because the beard balm smelled better than the incense they normally buy.

We also did one that’s kind of (a nod) to Chesterton that is called Orthodoxy, that is pipe tobacco and hops, it’s a lighter scent but it smells really good.

Who are your favorite bearded saints?

Michael: I’m a big John the Baptist fan, he’s kind of a throwback. He was willing to be radical and out there, I think he’s probably top on my list.

I’m also a big fan of Cyril and Methodius, I’m somebody who really values evangelization, and I think St. Cyril and Methodius are perfect examples of that mission.

Tony: It’s hard to choose, but St. John Chrysostom, I knew he had a beard but his statement on fasting particularly is a modern concept that most Catholics understand very poorly. He has this (reflection) on fasting and not just fasting from food or meat but fasting from sin, really taking the time to remove sin from our life in an intentional way.

Padre Pio – amazing beard, amazing saint. Such a surprising saint I think for young people to hear about.

And then St. Max Kolbe is another one that I think is phenomenal, he grew his beard so that he could gain more respect in the culture that he was trying to minister to, and as soon as the Nazi’s came to attack he knew his beard would offend them, but he knew his habit would offend them more, so he offered to sacrifice his beard because he wasn’t going to sacrifice his commitment to God.



What has the overall response to Catholic Beard Balm been like?

Tony: It’s really been a cool extension of the New Evangelization. It’s fun how oftentimes humor and mirth lead us into that place of evangelizing in a way that the culture responds to.

Michael: One of the things I think that surprised us I think initially and going into Lent was how strong the devotion is of men through their beard. It’s part of who they are, so the fact that they can identify with other Catholic men through something they share I think has been really cool.

I think sometimes it gets dismissed as being superficial, but I think it’s really interesting that an attribute of their masculinity, an attribute of who they are is something that they can connect with other men through that.

Do have other products besides the beard balm?

Tony: We had a lot of women who were really upset that we didn’t have any products for women, so we made Little Flower lip balm. We have three handmade lip balms that are rose, citrus or peppermint flavored, and we use really high quality essential oils in those, and we try to avoid anything that’s not a natural ingredient wherever we can.

We're launching our third product line – I would say it’s more geared towards women, but it could work for men as well, just like beard balm could work on a woman’s beard as well.

We’re selling a lotion bar called Lumina, my wife came up with the idea, in honor of st. Philomena, just like the Little Flower in honor of St. Therese, and four different aromas for that. And then also soap.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Michael: Our heart for ministry trumps our desire for beard balm to be successful, so we love that beard balm has been so successful because it empowers and enables the ministry that we’re doing.

Tony: The dialogues we get to have online with people has been amazing – I got to explain the difference between adult and infant baptism through Catholic Balm Company on Facebook, so there’s a lot of really big things that come into it.

A lot of people don’t know that we’re an authentically Catholic company run by guys who have a real passion for ministry, but we’re not just making money, we’re excited about all the ways it’s allowed us to do more. 

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 28, 2016.

Iraqi Christians endure despite persecution, Chaldean bishop says

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 08:04

Washington D.C., Jun 9, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Iraq’s Christians have suffered persecution for centuries, yet their faith has survived and the community will remain, provided their material needs are met, a Chaldean Catholic bishop has said.

“The story of suffering of Iraqi Christians is an ongoing phenomenon,” Bishop Bawai Soro, auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego, told CNA in an interview. “For two thousand years, it’s a story of suffering, a suffering Church,” he added, a “Church of the martyrs.”

Bishop Soro, a native of Iraq who came to the United States as a refugee in 1976, related of how his grandparents had told him of the massacre of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in the region around the time of World War I, where hundreds of thousands of Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire were killed or dispersed by the new progressive government.  

“The same thing, the whole story was repeated again after 100 years,” he said. “But amazingly, if my grandparents survived this difficulty and were able to hand their faith to the next generations, this suffering generation will do the same.”

Bishop Soro spoke with CNA June 7 after a press conference on Capitol Hill for the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, a bill that would let the U.S. distribute humanitarian aid directly to churches in Iraq and Syria so that it reaches Christian genocide victims there.

There have been many reports that U.S. aid is not reaching Christians, because either they are not in the U.N. refugee camps or the aid gets swallowed up in the bureaucracy of the Iraqi central or local governments. The bill, supported by Bishop Soro, would look to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most. The bill passed the U.S. House on Tuesday and will move to the Senate.

“The current situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria remains very fragile,” Bishop Soro stated at the press conference. “As a religious minority, Christians still suffer from remaining elements of radical Islamist groups and their policies.”

Christians in Iraq have drastically dwindled in number since the U.S. war in Iraq began in 2003, dropping from around 1.5 million to below 300,000.

After the Islamic State swept through northern Iraq in 2014, killing and displacing those Yazidis, Christians, Muslims, and others who refused to submit to their theocracy, refugee families fled east to Kurdistan, and have lived in temporary shelters around Erbil.

Their situation is an emergency, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House panel on global human rights, stated at Wednesday’s press conference, as the private aid has been stretched to its limits and, according to Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, they are expected to face “severe food shortages.”

Christians have also been “undercut” by aid groups that “would like to be politically correct” and believe in helping all persons equally, Bishop Soro said. Christians and other minorities need more aid from these groups, he insisted, because they may not receive any international aid from the UN or countries like the U.S.

“I think the American Church has a mission to go out of the political correctness when helping Christians is concerned, and to address the needs of the Christians,” he insisted to CNA.

Christians in America also need to “continue the political pressure” and hold the U.S. government accountable on the equitable distribution of aid and “directly help the Christian communities,” he said.

Yet, although it is vital for the immediate needs of Iraq’s Christians, they must also have the means to support themselves and live comfortably in the future with their homes rebuilt and with access to water, electricity, and health care.

Also, as citizens of Iraq they must be able to enjoy all the rights they are entitled to, he continued. “After the short-term financial needs are met, constitutional freedom and liberties are needed in stabilizing the Christians in Iraq and Syria for the long-term,” he said.

It is vital to keep Christians in Iraq because they “are, and have always been, the founders of educational and health care institutions” in the region, he stated on Wednesday.

“They often were the peacemakers and the catalysts of reforms,” he continued.

“As a religious minority and as a peace-loving people, they, and they alone, can once more bring together all the major segments of the Iraqi people, Shiites, Sunni, Yazidis, the Kurds, and the rest of the minorities. As a helping agent that delicately and serenely heals the present and offers a promising future.”

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