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CDC confirms US fertility rate fell to 'all-time low' in 2018

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 13:23

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2019 / 11:23 am (CNA).- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday that the US fertility rate continued to fall in 2018, to an all-time low. The report confirms provisional figures released in May.

“The 2018 general fertility rate fell to another all-time low for the United States,” researchers with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a July 24 report.

The fertility rate among women age 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

The percentage of children delivered at less than 39 weeks increased, from 9.93% in 2017 to 10.02% in 2018. The percentage of births preterm and early term increased, while full-, late- and post-term deliveries declined.

According to the early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, fewer than 3.8 million children were born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

The data comes amid warnings from experts about the economic and social consequences of the continued decline. At the same time, the same experts say that the complicated causes of ever-lower fertility mean there are no clear or easy ways of reversing the trend.

While the statistics underline a stark trend, experts emphasize that there is no single root cause behind the general decline.

In the past, women in their 20s have had the highest birth rate. But since 1968, the average age of a first-time mother has increased by more than five years, from 21.4 to 26.8.

Last year, childbirth rates among women aged 20-24 dropped 4%, and 3% among women aged 25-29. In 2018, women aged 30-34 had a higher birthrate than those aged 25-29 – marking the first time women in their early thirties were the leading age demographic for the number of children born.

Johnathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” points to a complex of social factors which, he says, contribute to the numbers of women having fewer children later in life.

“Many of the reasons people are having children later are good and reasonable. Look at the drop in fertility among 20-24 year-olds: that’s in large part down to the number of people now attending college, and people just don’t tend to get married and start families while they are in college,” Last told CNA when the provisional data were released in May.

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that changes in the use of contraception could also be a factor.

Since 2002, use of the contraceptive pill has declined in favor of implanted contraceptive devices. In 2002, 19% of women aged 15-44 reported using the pill, while only 1.3% used IUDs. By 2017, pill usage had dropped to less than 14%, and 8.6% of women were using IUDs.

This, Pakaluk said, could be contributing to the sharp drop in unplanned pregnancies.

“These long-acting contraceptives tend to be much more immune to behavioral screw-ups. Even with the pill people are prone to contracepting badly and have a higher error rate leading to accidental but not necessarily unwelcome births, and these are disappearing.”

“It’s not a negligible percent, I don’t think it is the whole story but I do think it could be enough to be dragging us down to the historic lows we are seeing.”

Pakaluk said that while it is difficult to study, a shift in the way women approach pregnancy and contraceptives means that birth rates are increasingly subject to the expectations and experiences of generations raised in smaller families.

“One thing that should give us pause, and which I am really interested in examining more closely, is the effect of being around babies on adolescent wellbeing and mental health,” Pakaluk said.

“If you live in a society in which the typical family has three or four children, the older children will be experiencing a young child into their teenage years. But if you move to an average of 1.5-2, no teenagers on average will live with babies – think what that means for their own likely fertility choices.”

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate.

Last told CNA that the wider aspirations of society and politics to sustain and grow social welfare programmes depends on a demographic model opposite to current trends.

“The things we take for granted, let alone the things we aspire to do, in welfare, healthcare and so on, just do not work when you have an inversion of the population growth” Last told CNA.

Pakaluk agreed that there is widespread consensus on the economic and social problems associated with the long-term trend of lower fertility.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said. “Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But if the wider problems associated with dropping fertility rates are well known, both Pakaluk and Last highlight widespread dissatisfaction at the personal level.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Last told CNA that these numbers need to be considered as a factor in the state of our society.

“What we are seeing is the constant ‘fertility gap’ between people’s stated desire to have more than two kids and the reality that they tend to have less,” Last said. “For a whole host of reasons, people aren’t meeting their own expectations, and that has wider societal impact.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We are living in a fascinating paradox. In the post-feminist age of women’s right and control of reproduction they are not getting what it is that they say they want.”

According to Last, there is a level or irreducible complexity to changes in the fertility rate, intended or otherwise.

“The causes of lower fertility are incredibly complicated, and there is no obvious or simple mechanism for moving those numbers in the other direction,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of simply pushing button A and pulling lever X, it’s everything.”

“Of course,” Last noted, “ consistently the single greatest tracker of higher fertility is church attendance: across all faith communities, people who regularly show up for religious services have more kids.”

“I think a big part of this is looking at your life as part of a linear continuum, understanding your place between what has come before and what will come after helps condition you to understanding the greater good of starting a family and having children,” said Last.

“If your worldview is primarily formed around personal fulfillment and self-actualization, where is the incentive to have a family? You might have one child for the experience, but not two or three or four.”

Countries around the world are experiencing similarly falling fertility rates.

In South Korea in 2017, there were 7 births per 1,000 people, a number which has since fallen.

In February, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban announced that women with four children or more will be exempt from paying income tax for life, in an effort to encourage births. The Hungarian fertility rate is currently 1.45 children per woman.

A study published in The Lancet in November 2018 found that nearly half of countries have fertility rates below replacement level.

US bishops decry policy of expedited removal of undocumented migrants

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 12:32

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2019 / 10:32 am (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke out Thursday against new Department of Homeland Security policies that includes the expedited removal of undocumented migrants who cannot prove to an immigration officer they have lived in the United States for two continuous years.

“This action is yet another escalation of this Administration’s enforcement-only immigration approach, and it will have terrible human consequences,” Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chair of the of the US bishops' migration committee, said in a July 25 statement.

The DHS said in a July 19 notice that the new policy is meant to harmonize existing policies that treated migrants arriving by land and by sea differently. Expedited removal has existed in US immigration law since 1996.

Previously, the DHS could designate illegal aliens for expedited removal “within 100 air miles of the border and within 14 days of their date of entry regardless of the alien’s method of arrival.” The new policy allows DHS to expedite the removal of any undocumented immigrant anywhere in the United States, provided they are unable to prove they have been in the country less than two years.

The bishops called the new policy “unjust” and said it will stoke “fear in our communities.”

“The new policy will allow for the deportation of many more individuals without providing them an opportunity to seek legal counsel and have a hearing before an immigration judge,” he argued.

The DHS notice stated that undocumented immigrants can apply for asylum when they are apprehended, potentially delaying an immediate deportation until a credible-fear hearing and a determination is made, NPR reports.

“Even those migrants who have long-standing ties to the U.S. and have been in the country for more than the requisite two years required under the new policy may now be subjected to expedited removal if they are unable to prove such to the satisfaction of an individual immigration officer,” the bishop said.

The DHS is seeking public comment on the new policy.


After nearly 20 years, federal government will resume executions

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 11:41

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2019 / 09:41 am (CNA).- The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will resume executions after an almost two-decade lapse, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Thursday.

“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” Attorney General William Barr said in a written statement on Thursday.

The Bureau of Prisons, adopting a proposed addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol, has scheduled five executions for the first time since the last federal execution in 2003. Five death-row inmates, convicted of the murders of children and adults and in some cases torture, are to be executed on dates in December 2019 and January 2020, and the DOJ said that the scheduling of “additional executions” will occur in the future.

The new federal lethal injection process will utilize one drug, pentobarbital, instead of the old three-drug process used in previous federal executions. It is similar to protocol in Missouri, Georgia, and Texas, a DOJ press release said.

The five death-row inmates are Daniel Lewis Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Alfred Bourgeois.

Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2267 on the death penalty was updated in 2018 with a statement from Pope Francis, calling the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr, a practicing Catholic and member of the Knights of Columbus, stated on Thursday.

Federal death penalty statues were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia; in 1988 revised federal death penalty statutes were instituted, and the number of eligible offenses was expanded under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). There are currently 62 federal death-row inmates, according to DPIC.

For Christians in the Holy Land, churches are more than just pilgrimage sites

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 05:15

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2019 / 03:15 am (CNA).- Churches, shrines, and monasteries in the Middle East are not only pilgrimage destinations, but also places of sanctuary, identity, and hope for local Christians who are suffering existential threats, local religious leaders said.

“Christ dwelt among us in Bethlehem, in Egypt, in Galilee, and, of course, in Jerusalem. And by His Holy Spirit, he has continued to be present down the ages in Jerusalem, the Middle East, and to the very ends of the earth,” Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem said. “Our holy sites tell the stories of God’s history with us.”

“Few can deny that this region, the place of divine-human encounter in sacred history, is in fact the center of the earth,” the patriarch stated of the Holy Land at a side event of a global religious freedom gathering in Washington, D.C. last week.

Patriarch Theophilus III addressed an audience of priests and civic and religious leaders at an event on “Christian Holy Sites and Holy Places in the Middle East” on the side of the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the U.S. State Department from July 15-19 in Washington, D.C.

The Ministerial was attended by religious and civic leaders from around the world, including delegations from 106 countries, meeting to discuss religious persecution and strategies to advance religious freedom.

Thursday’s event on the “Holy Sites” was sponsored by the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre and the Hudson Institute's Working Group on Christians and Religious Pluralism in the Middle East.

Speakers focused not only on the spiritual significance of pilgrimage sites throughout the Middle East, but on their central importance to the Christians who live there.

Patriarch Theophilus is the 141st patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, the most senior Christian leader in the Holy Land. At last week’s event, he warned that “attacks from radicals on Church properties in Jerusalem continue,” and that the groups “know only too well that every attack against a holy site poses another threat to our Christian identity.”

The holy sites are threatened on multiple fronts, he said, including vandalism, “intimidation from radical settlers,” and hostile policies in Israel’s Knesset legislature.

These policies would allow the municipal taxation of church-owned property in Jerusalem like hospitals and schools, which could “bankrupt” the churches, the patriarch said; another bill would have allowed the state to confiscate land sold by churches to private groups supposedly for the defense of the tenants.

These policies were at the heart of the decision by Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian leaders to temporarily close the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in February of 2018.

“Enough was enough, and it was time to draw the line,” the Patriarch said of the closure. “Forces beyond our control threatened the sanctity and integrity of our holy sites.”

“To keep just one pilgrim” out of the church “is a tragedy,” he said, but he added that the solidarity of millions around the world with the churches was heartening.

The church was reopened after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened in the efforts to impose the tax policy, and the city backed off on the proposals. When the “solution was found,” the patriarch said, “the light of the Resurrection shone bright.”

The Patriarch stated his gratitude to Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for their efforts to protect the Holy Sites, as well as “the continued and faithful custodianship over the holy sites” of King Abdullah II of Jordan, and legislators in the U.S. and the UK for their support.

He drew attention to the July 11 prayer vigil attended by other patriarchs and heads of churches at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, in the wake of the Israeli supreme court ruling against the Greek Orthodox Church in a controversial land deal that dates back to 2005.

The deal involved the sale by the Church, later disputed, of hotels just inside the Christian Quarter of the city to Israeli settlers, a transfer of property that the patriarch said could affect the “integrity” of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, and possibly impede access of pilgrims to the holy sites.

A joint statement of the patriarchs and heads of local churches in Jerusalem called the deal “underhanded” and said it threatened the Status Quo agreement of the city.

Patriarch Theophilos said he has asked local officials to join in support of Netanyahu and his work “to keep the pilgrim route open to all, and to maintain the historic, multiethnic, multicultural and mutireligious fabric of our great city Jerusalem.”

Preservation of holy sites in the Holy Land as well as Syria, Iraq and Egypt was discussed at last week’s event.

Fr. Alexi Chehadeh of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, told of how holy sites “all over Syria” have been destroyed during the country’s ongoing civil war. Hundreds of churches and monasteries have been fully or partially destroyed, with billions of dollars needed to rehabilitate or reconstruct them.

The symbolic importance of the reconstruction of holy sites cannot be ignored, he and other Christian leaders insisted.

Many holy sites of the Patriarchate are churches dating back to the second or third century, he said. To rebuild them is “caring for the roots of Christianity,” Fr. Chehadeh said, but it would also be “a sign of a peaceful environment” for Christians to return to Syria. Around half of Syria’s Christian communities left Syria during the civil war.

Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, gave orders to start the rebuilding process in Iraq’s Nineveh region by focusing on the homes of the Christian genocide survivors, Fr. Salar Kajo, a priest in Teleskov, Iraq, said.

Yet “the people insisted to start with the holy places, the churches and the monasteries,” Fr. Salar said. “This is the only sign of hope that we have, and we will return because of these places.”

In Egypt, after the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood: “came after the churches,” Nermien Riad, founder of the group Coptic Orphans, said.

Why did they target the churches? “We recognize that there’s a gradual shrinking of public space for Christians in Egypt,” Riad said, as extremists want to remove public icons and statues; the exclusion of Christians from public spaces has reportedly even reached sports, as Christians have reported discrimination in joining soccer clubs and in making the national soccer team.

Thus, “churches have become the nucleus of the Christian community,” she said, and “serve as a vital support center” for Christians and a “place of refuge” for them “from the insidious messaging” of them as “second-class citizens.”

“Most importantly,” she said, “it is the last remaining vestige that we exist.”


New York law bans revenge porn

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 02:30

New York City, N.Y., Jul 25, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA).- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill criminalizing revenge pornography - the distribution of sexual or nude images without the subject’s consent.

Cuomo signed the bill into law on Tuesday. It will go into effect in 60 days.

“Our laws have not kept pace with technology and how abusers can use it to harass, intimidate and humiliate intimate partners,” he said after the bill’s signing, the Hill reported.

“By criminalizing the publication of revenge porn, we are empowering victims of this heinous act to take action against their abusers and showing them a path to justice.”

The legislation makes it a Class A misdemeanor to disseminate revenge porn. Convictions may result in one year of jail time, and victims may seek additional civil recourse. The law also permits a court order to remove all of the victim’s intimate images from the web.

Under the law, revenge porn is defined as “the criminal act of unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image when done with the intent to cause harm to the emotional, financial, or physical welfare of another person and when the image was taken with a reasonable expectation that the image would remain private.”

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Washington D.C. and 46 states have criminalized revenge porn. New York legislators had attempted to pass the law last year, but it failed in the state Senate because social media brands and other internet companies could have been held responsible for unknowingly publicizing these images. The content of the bill was revised before it passed in February.

Kathy Hochul, Lieutenant Governor of New York, said the goal of the law is to promote justice and fight violence against women.

“This legislation ensures New Yorkers are not victims of nonconsensual release of intimate images, empowering them to take action to remove images from the Internet and subject abusers to jail time,” she said in a recent statement.

Judge blocks Arkansas abortion regulations

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 21:01

Little Rock, Ark., Jul 24, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Arkansas on Tuesday temporarily blocked several new regulations on abortion clinics, which otherwise might have led to the closure of the state’s last abortion clinic.

District Court Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas issued a 14-day injunction July 23 concluding that the laws "cause ongoing and imminent irreparable harm" to patients.

The court’s ruling will allow Little Rock Family Planning Services, the abortion clinic in question, to remain open to provide medical abortions up to 10 weeks, NPR reports.

At issue are a number of abortion regulations in Arkansas, one of which is a ban on abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, which passed in March. Another is a law that bans abortions based solely on a Down syndrome diagnosis. The new regulations were set to go into effect July 24.

The injunction blocks the laws’ enforcement while legal challenges play out in court.

A Planned Parenthood-affiliated abortion doctor from New York City testified to the court that there is "no relationship" between board certification and the ability of a physician to perform a safe abortion, according to local station KATV.

If it stands up to judicial scrutiny, the 18-week abortion ban would be one of the strictest abortion limits in the U.S. Arkansas already has a 20-week abortion ban, enacted in 2013, which has yet to be challenged in court.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison signed a “trigger law” in February which would ban most abortions in the event the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that recognized abortion as a constitutional right in the United States. Eight states have a law to ban abortion if Roe is overturned.

Nominee grilled over Knights of Columbus membership confirmed as federal judge

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 18:15

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Wednesday voted to confirm Brian Buescher, a judicial nominee grilled by two senators last year over his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Buescher will now become a U.S. District Judge in Nebraska.
“I can’t believe I need to repeat it here in the U.S. Capitol, but there is nothing about living out one’s faith that is disqualifying for public service. To the contrary, what the Constitution does forbid is imposing any kind of religious test for public office,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) stated on the Senate Floor on Wednesday before the vote.
The Senate on Wednesday voted 51-40 to confirm Buescher, with nine senators not voting. The vote fell along party lines, with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) voting No.
Several presidential candidates, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did not vote.
During his confirmation hearings, Buescher faced pointed questions over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, and over the organization’s “extreme” opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Kamala Harris.
A series of written questions sent by Sen. Hirono to Buescher in December stated that the Knights taken “extreme” positions including supporting California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, a successful ballot initiative to overturn same-sex marriage.
Sen. Hirono asked Buescher if he would end his membership in the Knights “to avoid any appearance of bias,” and if he would “recuse” himself “from all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position”.
Sen. Harris said the Knights opposed a woman’s “right to choose” and asked Buescher if he knew about that stance when he joined, calling the Knights “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men.” She also asked the nominee if he agreed with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson’s previous statements that abortion is “the killing of the innocent on a massive scale” which has “resulted in more than 40 million deaths”.
A spokesperson for the Knights said the hostile questions hearkened back to a “sad history of anti-Catholic bigotry” in the U.S.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia also rebuked the questioning in his weekly column on Jan. 9, writing that that “[t]he sheer ignorance, not to mention injustice, in the senators’ describing the Knights as “extreme” would be baffling – if it weren’t part of pattern of bigoted thinking already sanctified by other senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in her vulgar 2017 grilling of now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett (“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern”).”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also defended Buescher in a July 18 statement, saying that “[t]his has been a long process and we’ve had to fight everything from political smears to outright anti-Catholic bigotry.” On Wednesday, he called the opposition to Buescher’s confirmation, along with the questioning of the religious beliefs of other nominees, a “weird rebirth of McCarthyism,” according to Jason Calvi of EWTN News Nightly.

In the Senate on Wednesday, Sen. McConnell noted, tongue-in-cheek, that the “negative bombshell” on the nominee was that he “is a practicing Catholic.”

“My goodness. Imagine that, in the United States of America: a person of faith, serving in government,” McConnell said.

The Knights of Columbus are “known among other things for their love of their Catholic faith, their unparalleled commitment to charitable work, and for hosting barbecues and pancake breakfasts,” he said, in response to claims of the Knights’ “extreme” views.

Amid global Christian persecution, this Coptic archbishop urges unity

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A leading Coptic archbishop said that Christians must “walk in the shoes” of those facing global Christian persecution, while overcoming a “false” divide between churches of the East and the West.

“As Christians, we believe in the example of Christ, who came and walked in our shoes, the humanity, to be our advocate.”

“And if we’re going to advocate for others, we’re going to need to walk in their shoes as well, whether they be in the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia or anywhere else,” Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and an international religious freedom advocate, told CNA in an interview last week.
“I think one of the false barriers we have is this ‘Christians of the East and Christians of the West’ mentality. A Christian is a Christian. The Body of Christ is the Body of Christ,” he added.

Archbishop Angaelos talked with CNA at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. from July 15-19. The meeting - the second of its kind - featured religious and civic leaders from around the world, as well as delegations from 106 countries, meeting to discuss religious persecution and strategies to promote and defend religious freedom.
The archbishop, who spoke at the Ministerial, is the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, appointed to the role in 2017 after having served as General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom since 1999. He has also been recognized by Queen Elizabeth II as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his “Services to International Religious Freedom.”

The beheading of 20 Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian Christian by ISIS militants on the shores of Libya in February of 2015, filmed for global distribution by ISIS, was a “turning point” in global consciousness of Christian persecution, the archbishop said.

“I think they captured the imagination of people. I think it was one red line too many that was crossed,” he said. “They saw that these men were brutally killed for no other reason than they were Christians, and the grace with which they reacted was iconic.”

Also, he said, the refugee crisis used to be a “distant” phenomenon, he said, but now “Western countries have had to deal with the situation, and so it’s become more prevalent, more understood.” He also credited Pope Francis with helping bring international attention to the refugee crisis.
Christians are persecuted in more countries than any other religious group, according to the Pew Research Center, being harassed, detained, imprisoned, tortured, or killed for their faith in 144 different countries.
Christians in the West must actively “engage with” their persecuted brethren elsewhere, “speak with the people on the ground, see what they need, see how they want to be helped rather than how we think they should be helped,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure this isn’t about us and our conscience, that we just feel like we’ve done something well. It’s actually about standing with people who are facing existential challenges,” he said.
Coptic Christians in Egypt continue to face harassment and acts of violence by their neighbors, but also face a quiet persecution of marginalization in the country with only “a few token appointments” to government positions, and “no significant appointments.”
This persecution is not a recent phenomenon, he said; the modern persecution dates back to the revolution in the 1950s with the revolution and the gradual radicalization of Egypt.
“We’ve started to see a change in Egypt, but it’s going to take a long time, it’s going to have to be intentional and programmatic,” he said.
The archbishop praised Pope Francis’ work to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians.
In 2013, Pope Francis referenced an “ecumenism of blood” that can unite Christians. Archbishop Angaelos noted that heard Pope Francis say that “before any of the major attacks had happened.”
“I think if you look at our history and our tradition, we have shared a history of martyrdom, a history of people dying for their faith,” he said.
“And so I am very thankful to His Holiness Pope Francis for having been a wonderful and clear and courageous and gracious voice, and I am thankful for the relationship he has with Pope Tawadros.”

For Christians in Northern Iraq, rebuilding is still a daunting challenge

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 15:21

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2019 / 01:21 pm (CNA).- As some Christian genocide victims rebuild their homes in Northern Iraq, a tenuous security situation still threatens their future in the region.

“Every week we have two, three families leaving,” Father Salar Kajo, a priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Teleskov, Iraq and member of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, told CNA last week at an international religious freedom gathering in Washington, D.C.

However, he added, “we will not lose our hope and our faith.”

Fr. Salar spoke with CNA at the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. from July 15-19. The ministerial was attended by religious and civic leaders from all over the world, including representatives of 106 countries; it was held to draw attention to religious persecution and to promote freedom of religion.

A major discussion topic at the ministerial was the role of U.S. assistance in Northern Iraq to help Christian and Yazidi survivors of the ISIS genocide rebuild for the future.

ISIS was driven from Mosul in 2017, and the last remaining town of the original caliphate in Syria fell earlier this year. Yet many Christians who fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 have not returned to their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh region, and an estimated 360,000 Yazidis are still displaced in Kurdistan and have not returned to Sinjar.

The primary obstacle to their safe return is a lack of security, said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, in an interview with CNA at the ministerial.

Although the territorial ISIS caliphate is gone, the security threats to Christians and Yazidis in the region are two-fold: ISIS splinter cells that continue to operate, and Iran-backed militias that commit abuses with impunity.

There are up to 15,000 ISIS fighters estimated to have remained in Iraq, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Meanwhile, militias that are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have committed abuses against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, and Iran’s influence in the PMF has grown. Militias are harassing Christians, extorting them and stealing plumbing and wiring materials from their homes as part of Iran’s “colonization” effort in the area, Anderson wrote in an April op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Despite the abuses, the Iraqi central government has failed to hold the militias accountable, allowing them to operate with “impunity,” panel members at last week’s ministerial said in agreement.

The security situation in Teleskov is “okay,” Fr. Salar told CNA, but other towns are far less secure; residents of Batnaya and Tall Kayf, for instance, will not return until the militias there are gone, he said. The tension in the area has only been exacerbated by the threat of a U.S.-Iran regional conflict.

The U.S. had a direct hand in sparing the town of Teleskov from a conflict between militias and the Peshmerga around the time of the Kurdish referendum in 2017, Fr. Salar said. Most families had fled the town, but Fr. Salar remained with around a dozen young people despite orders to leave from the militias. He contacted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for help. “They supported us, and they stopped everything,” he said.

One long-term solution to the security problem is “more community policing,” Anderson told CNA. Officers in the police forces need to come from the communities they serve, so that local religious and ethnic minorities can have “confidence” in law enforcement and enjoy more security, he said.

Aid to genocide survivors requires a level of security to be effective, yet it also cannot simply be short-term food, clothing, and shelter. To build for the future, families need the goods to live a normal life—education, infrastructure, and jobs—made possible through economic investment and international assistance.

Countries like Hungary and Poland have already been helping with resettlement efforts; the Hungarian government donated $2 million in 2017 to help rebuild the town Teleskov in Nineveh. The Knights of Columbus delivered $2 million for the town of Karamles in just over 12 months in 2017-18, and Aid to the Church in Need has also been instrumental in helping Christians in the area recover and resettle.

However, leaders on the ground have insisted for years that substantial U.S. assistance is necessary for the long-term stabilization of the region; charitable groups can only bring so many resources to the table. For years, displaced Christian families reportedly were almost entirely dependent upon groups like the Knights of Columbus and the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil for humanitarian assistance. They claimed that little to no assistance reached them from the U.S. and the United Nations.

Then, at the annual In Defense of Christians Solidarity Dinner in October of 2017 in Washington, D.C., Vice President Mike Pence promised that the U.S. would begin directly funding aid groups working on the ground in the region, rather than sending assistance through the United Nations.

Members in Congress also worked to establish a policy change like this one. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act to authorize and direct the U.S. to fund aid groups working with persecuted religious and ethnic minorities. The legislation passed the U.S. Congress in November of 2018 and was signed into law in December of 2018.

Pence’s announcement represented a sea-change in U.S. policy; persecuted communities would have a hand in determining the assistance they would receive, explained Mark Green, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to CNA at last week’s ministerial.

Pence “gave us the mandate, basically, and the space to, community-by-community, reach out to local faith leaders and say, ‘Look, we want to work with you. What are your needs?’ Not us telling them what their needs are, but instead them telling us what their needs are,” Green told CNA.

And now the U.S. has someone in Iraq dedicated to working with the local minority communities—USAID’s Special Representative for Minority Assistance Programs in Iraq, Max Primorac. He “spends his time every day going to communities,” Green said. “I’ve met with Archbishop [Bashar] Warda a number of times, and our team does all the time.”

Yet in the months after Pence’s announcement, Iraq’s Christians said the promised assistance was slow in arriving. Multiple proposals to USAID by local aid groups were rejected, prompting Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil to tell the National Catholic Register in June of 2018 that Pence’s announcement had backfired in a sense—it had encouraged some donors to move on to other charitable causes with the assumption that Iraq’s Christians now had a secure backing from the U.S., which they apparently did not.

Green promised that help was on the way. On Wednesday, a USAID official told CNA that the U.S. has provided approximately $367 million for the Vice President’s initiative to support persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in Northern Iraq; USAID contributed $308 million, and the State Department has contributed $57 million, the official said.

Green told CNA that the overall process of providing the needed assistance is encouraging but much work remains to be done. “In some ways, it’s turning an aircraft carrier around in a canal,” he said.

Anderson agreed that the agency “is working very hard” but is dealing with a regulatory process that will slow the delivery of aid.

There has been “an incredible change in the bureaucratic orientation” in the past year, Primorac said last week at a ministerial side event on the Holy Sites in the Middle East. The Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, and Syriac Catholic Church are now seeing “equal treatment” by the U.S. with other non-religious civic organizations in how assistance is distributed.

The U.S. has funded efforts to restore or rehabilitate holy sites in the area, such as projects at St. Matthew’s monastery, or Mar Mattai, of the Syriac Orthodox Church and damage assessments at St. George’s Monastery in Mosul, Primorac said; the U.S. is also the largest donor for demining operations in Iraq.

Local priests also attested to the U.S. help in the region. Fr. Thabet Habib Youssef, a priest from Karamles, told attendees at the ministerial that the U.S. has provided useful construction equipment and trucks to help clear out rubble, and helped bring water and electricity back to the town.

He begged the U.S. not to create a “culture of dependency” with aid, but to honor the “dignity of work” through public-private projects that create “honest economic growth.”

Creating local jobs will be critical to keeping the youth from leaving and securing the future, Fr. Salar said, “because without youth in these places, in 10 or 15 years we will lose everything.”

Fr. Salar still keeps contact with families who have left Iraq for nearby countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Some are “ready to return back,” he said, but “we can’t give them a sign of hope” at the moment. Their return may be dependent on whether the Iraqi government in Baghdad is “working with us,” he said.

The rebuilding of churches is also critical to the future of the Iraqi Christians, as they join their very identity to the local churches and monasteries. In the rebuilding of Karamles, Anderson said, it was “very important to have a church, very important to have cultural centers restored.”

However, in addition to security and international assistance, Christians in Iraq need to have the law on their side. Specifically, they need legal accountability for the perpetrators of genocide, and equality under the law in Iraq so that they are not treated as second-class citizens.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 as a “Never Again” response to the horrors of the Holocaust.

“If that is to mean anything,” said Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a member of the UK House of Lords, in an interview with CNA at a ministerial side event, “we have a duty according to the Convention to prevent genocides from happening, to protect those who are going to be subject to genocide, and then to punish those who are responsible. And we have been failing on all three counts.”

If the ISIS perpetrators of genocide are not held accountable for their atrocities, “it’s like giving a green light” to despots and military leaders around the world to commit abuses with “impunity,” Lord Alton said.

While the International Criminal Court is not recognized by many countries, “we should be creating an ad hoc tribunal” to try the ISIS perpetrators of atrocities, he said, “not unlike the one that operated at Nuremburg after the Second World War.”

Changes to the Iraqi constitution are also needed to recognize the rights of Christians, Fr. Salar said, because they are currently treated as second-class citizens. Christians have acted as peacemakers between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, and other minorities, he said.

“Believe me, we are working hard with them because we consider ourselves the life in these places, and the salt, also. Without the salt, there is no taste,” Fr. Salar said.

Catholic groups installing 5,000 solar panels in DC

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 18:32

Washington D.C., Jul 23, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic organizations are installing 5,000 solar panels in a five-acre space in Washington, D.C., in what will become the largest ground array of solar panels in the city.

The project is being led by Catholic Energies, which is a nonprofit organization that is part of the Catholic Climate Covenant. Catholic Energies is working with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to design and create the solar panel field. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington owns the field, which is next to a retirement home and convent.

“Catholic Energies was born as a way of providing the time, the expertise, and probably more importantly, the resources,” for creating renewable energy projects in Catholic-owned-and-operated buildings, Page Gravely, the executive vice president for client services at Catholic Energies, told CNA.

These resources are primarily financial, as energy efficiency projects are typically expensive. Catholic Energies will team up with renewable energy companies, who act as investors and work with contractors to make the projects come to life. In return, the investors receive a federal tax credit, and other financial incentives. In this project, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington will not pay anything for the solar panels.

In this project, IGS Solar is the investing company. Washington, D.C., has the highest solar tax credit in the country.

Gravely explained that Catholic Energies’ COO Dan Last kept being asked, “How do we actually put into action...Laudato Si? What can we do here at a parish or at a church?”

Initially, the group worked with LED retrofitting. LED lights are more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs. The company shifted focus to solar after receiving numerous inquiries from potential clients about solar panels.

“I think really from the standpoint that there was familiarity with it,” said Gravely. “Folks that both could use it at home, or they just knew about solar and you know the growth in the solar market has been well-publicized, but also it was a larger impact,” he said.

Compared to an LED retrofit, solar panels are also far more visible and tangible.

“So we pivoted,” he said. The field in D.C. is Catholic Energies’ second project in the area. In June, they coordinated the installation of 440 solar panels at Immaculate Conception Church in Hampton, VA. The panels will account for the entirety of the parish’s energy usage.

The project in Washington received some concerns and pushback from those who live near the site, who were concerned about the environmental impact of the panel installation.

Gravely told CNA that these concerns were considered, and there will be 100 trees planted in the field to create a screening effect for the panels, as well as to help beautify the area. Additionally, there will be flowers planted to help rebuild the bee, bird, and butterfly populations. Catholic Energies worked with the city to ensure that stormwater runoff would not be impacted.

“There’s still gonna always be a handful of the neighbors not happy with it, but we can only do so much. And we've done a lot,” said Gravely.

The panels are scheduled to be operating by March of 2020. The energy produced by the solar panels will be returned to the D.C. power grid, and the energy credits will be enough to cover the energy cost of 12 buildings owned by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Christian baker asks for dismissal of lawsuit over cake signifying gender transition

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 16:01

Denver, Colo., Jul 23, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Attorneys for Denver-area cake artist Jack Phillips filed a motion Monday to dismiss a third lawsuit seeking to force him to create a cake that expresses a message contrary to his religious beliefs.

Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina, who filed an unsuccessful complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in 2017, is seeking $100,000 in monetary damages plus legal fees in the third lawsuit Phillips has faced in seven years.

Phillips, a Christian, is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, a Denver suburb. He has operated his shop since 1993 and has focused his talents on artistic cakes.

“Phillips wants to peacefully live out his faith as a cake artist by serving all people while declining to express messages that violate his beliefs,” the July 22 motion to dismiss, filed by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, reads.

“After losing in court, the state [of Colorado] was content to leave Phillips alone to do just that. But Scardina won’t allow it.”

“Phillips requests that the court dismiss the complaint so that he can return to the life he had before the state and Scardina targeted him for his faith,” the motion concludes.

Phillips has said in the past that he not only has declined same-sex union cakes, but he also declines other types of cakes that go against his beliefs, including cakes for Halloween, bachelor parties, divorce, cakes with alcohol in the ingredients, and cakes with atheist messages.

Phillips in 2018 won a six year legal battle that led all the way up to the Supreme Court, whose ruling upheld Phillips’ religious freedom and freedom of expression in his declining to make a cake in 2012 that would have celebrated a same-sex union. Phillips said that particular kind of cake would violate his religious beliefs, but that he would create other kinds of cakes for the couple. Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

Three months after winning the Supreme Court case, Scardina, who identifies as a transgender woman, sued Phillips for his refusal to make Scardina a gender transition cake – pink on the inside and blue on the outside.

Phillips then countersued the state of Colorado, claiming that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs. The case was dropped in March 2019 “after the discovery phase demonstrated that the state was displaying ‘anti-religious hostility’ by continuing to pursue Phillips,’” the National Review reported.

Scardina on June 5 of this year sued Phillips for a second time, claiming that he refused to make Scardina a birthday cake.

According to the complaint, filed with the District Court for the city and county of Denver, Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a “birthday cake – one in a simple design that Defendants admit they would make for any other customer.”

The complaint noted that Phillips has said previously that he would be happy to make other kinds of cakes for LGBT individuals, as long as they expressed messages that did not violate his religious beliefs.

In the call, Scardina requested from Masterpiece Cakeshop a birthday cake for 6-8 people, with pink cake and blue frosting. A Masterpiece Cakeshop employee confirmed to Scardina that they could make such a cake.

“Ms. Scardina then informed Masterpiece Cakeshop that the requested design had personal significance for her because it reflects her status as a transgender female,” the complaint states.

It was at this point that Masterpiece Cakeshop told Scardina that they “did not make cakes for ‘sex changes.’” Scardina reconfirmed that it was a birthday cake, but Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to take the order and ended the call, according to the complaint.

Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop again, in case the previous call had been unintentionally disconnected, the complaint states. Scardina spoke to a different Masterpiece Cakeshop employee about the same order, and that employee also declined the order, saying that making such a cake would violate their religious beliefs.

“Masterpiece Cakeshop, at the direction of Phillips, refused to sell a birthday cake to Ms. Scardina because of her status as a transgender woman,” the complaint states.

The cake Scardina mentions in the new complaint is notably similar to the gender transition cake Scardina requested from Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2017, which was also requested to be made with pink cake and blue frosting.

ADF reported that Scardina had also asked Phillips to create a custom cake depicting satanic themes and images.

Discerning in, and discerning out: What happens when seminarians leave?

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 14:15

Denver, Colo., Jul 23, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Catholic journalists know that discernment stories are popular because they give readers hope. And they often follow a pattern: They usually include a “God moment” in which the subject, through a dramatic circumstance, hears the word of God and finds with sparkling clarity,  the call to become a cleric or religious. They end with ordination or follow final vows.

Jacob Hubbard’s discernment story isn’t like that.

Hubbard had multiple “God moments,” and he entered seminary because of them. But in seminary Hubbard realized that ordination wasn’t his calling. In November 2018, he discerned out of seminary.

“By our baptism, we're all called to be priests, prophets, and kings,” Hubbard told CNA. “So although I won't be an ordained priest, I'll be living out my calling by being the priest of my family- the bridge between them and God, offering them Christ as much as I possibly can and relying on His Strength to do so.”

It could be easy to see Hubbard’s discernment out of seminary as a failure. In fact, many seminarians who discern out of seminary face a kind of stigma from their friends and family, and even from themselves.

But that stigma is based on a misunderstanding of seminary’s purpose, Hubbard told CNA.

As Hubbard said, “The stigma today is that when people see seminarians, they don't see them as discerning individuals, they see them as mini-priests.”

Seminary is a “house of discernment,” he said, “not a house of mini-priests,” adding that if a man leaves seminary, it’s often a positive sign of his ongoing vocational discernment.

Fr. Phillip Brown, President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, agreed.

“As a seminary faculty and as a rector, when a seminarian discerns out, and we're satisfied that it was an authentic, good, discernment, we don't consider that a failure. We consider that a success,” Brown explained.

“What I say to the seminarians is that in the end, the objective here is not to become a priest, but to be what God has made you to be,” Fr. Brown said.


Discerning with openness to God’s call

According to Fr. James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, only about 30% of men who originally enter seminary are ordained.

“It's not a failure,” Fr. Wehner said. “We think it's a very healthy process of discernment where he and the Church recognize that he's not called to priesthood.”

“But we want to give the guys an opportunity to discern and to form, and if they're not called, they will leave here stronger, healthier, Christian men because they were totally open to the formation experience, so it's a win-win situation.”

Even if a man leaves before ordination, Hubbard told CNA, “you can walk out a better man if you do seminary right. You could really figure out the areas you have believed lies your entire life. And then you can accept God's love there instead.”


The difficulties and the fruits of seminary life

There are many gifts that come with entering seminary, but they come alongside trials, Hubbard said.

When he entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, Hubbard found himself face-to-face with a slew of challenges.

A strict schedule and constant obligations kept him busy, even without the additional work a full-time student must face at the school next door, the University of Dallas.

“You need structure to build your life on, and that structure needs to include self-love, so doing things that you personally love, and then of course prayer where you receive love from God,” he said regarding structure.

The routine of seminary taught Hubbard that “it's impossible to earn God's love by your own measures. But the routine can open you up to being able to receive it more.”


Discerning into seminary

Hubbard said he had long considered the priesthood, with encouragement from his family, and reflected on it while journaling about his prayer life while in high school, and through retreats and mission trips.

After several invitations to visitation weekends at HTS, he attended one, and after a “God moment,” he chose to apply to the seminary, entering as a sophomore in college.


Discerning out of seminary

During Hubbard’s time in seminary, he worked hard to be engaged in the community and to take the opportunities presented to him.

The summer before his senior year, his pastoral assignment was as a counselor at The Pines Catholic Camp, a summer camp in East Texas. There, Hubbard worked closely with other counselors to teach and take care of children at the camp.

Hubbard told CNA that he was struck by some of the beautiful and inspiring marriages he saw the camp directors have, and the happiness he saw that came from their relationships with their wives and children.

That summer he also participated in Trinity Cor, “a two-week backpacking journey to discover your heart,” Hubbard explained. “To really find your manly heart and discover your masculinity, and it was awesome.”

“Coming back from that, I was really feeling like I had more grasp at my heart, and really had the question of discernment lodged in me from The Pines because I saw beautiful relationships there. That experience of The Pines mixed with deepening the discovery of my heart through Trinity-Core began the questioning of my discernment,” Hubbard said.

He sought out counsel about his questions, and trusting his spiritual director to keep his best interests in mind, opened up to him about everything.

One of the biggest moments for Hubbard was when his spiritual director asked Hubbard to consider marriage.

His spiritual director asked Hubbard to imagine himself, in prayer, as a priest coming home from a good day of Confessions and Mass, and then to imagine, in prayer, being married and coming home to a wife and children.

“I felt so much more deeply my heart belonged with a family,” Hubbard explained. “There's no way to really articulate it, except that I just felt myself more present, more human there. Even just painting the picture almost brought me to tears.”

Hubbard left seminary in November of his senior year.

“And I have not regretted it since,” he said. “It's been a beautiful journey. Seminary was a necessary step, and so I know that God has just continued to lead me along a path which I hope one day, He will use to help heal those hurting around me. I want to still give of myself to those around me."


Does “discerning out” mean failure?

Although seminary was helpful for Hubbard in his discernment both for the priesthood and for the married life, he found that a lot of people misunderstood the reasons he had left, and some saw it as a failure on his part.

“I think that a lot of people have the misconception that when you step out of seminary it's a failure of sorts. Their reactions are, ‘Oh, I'm sorry,’ or things like that. The negative stigma of discerning out needs to be eradicated so that seminarians who are torn don't have that fear that when they leave, their friends, their families, their priests back home will be disappointed.”

“The stigma holds seminarians back from being able to healthily discern. I think that's something pretty unaddressed in today's world: the very healthy and good option of discerning out. People see it as something entirely negative, and they shouldn't,” Hubbard continued.

After explaining his decision to his friends they understood and supported him, he told CNA, but the initial uncomfortable or negative feelings still felt like a stigma, or at least a misunderstanding, about what he considered to be a healthy discernment.

“And I experienced that a bit with some of my friends and family, but I also had overwhelming support, especially from my father, and so it was okay,” he said. “I definitely felt supported in my decision.”

Discerning into seminary at 18, his father told Hubbard that he “was proud of Hubbard no matter what.” At the time, Hubbard wondered why his dad didn’t seem more enthused about his entrance to seminary.

“But that consistency was something that was actually beautiful in the long run, and that's what I think parents should strive for when their kids enter seminary,” he told CNA.

“That's the exact same thing he said to me when I discerned out of seminary, and I knew that he supported me on either side and trusted my judgement, so it was incredible. It really was,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard’s father, Brad, told CNA that his first and foremost step is to pray for his children, and says that he wanted to make sure his son was happy with the formation he was receiving while in seminary.

“For me, it's just the importance of leaving the discernment to God. As a parent, I'm there to support and especially pray, and then God's will be done in regards to that.”


Hubbard’s Future

Last May, Hubbard graduated from the University of Dallas with a degree in philosophy, and he now plans to attend the Augustine Institute for a graduate degree in theology.

He believes he has had many blessings throughout his time in seminary and now working, and wants to have the opportunity to impact people through an occupation in ministry after he graduates.

Hubbard finds that despite the magnitude of the decision, he does not question his choice. He told CNA that his relationship with God has grown since his departure from seminary.

And in the pursuit of marriage, Hubbard has felt more confirmed in his choice.

“If everything else were to fall apart in my life, if I questioned every other piece of discernment, that is what I could hold onto and know for a fact that I made the right decision because I have so deeply encountered God's love incarnationally in a way that I could not have in seminary,” he said.


Foster moms ask Supreme Court to hear Philadelphia case

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 14:08

Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 23, 2019 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- Two foster moms are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the right of a Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia to contract with the city without being required to place children with same-sex couples.

“As the City of Philadelphia attempts to shamelessly score political points, dozens of beds remain empty and children are suffering the consequences,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which is representing the moms and the Catholic foster agency.

“It’s time for the Supreme Court to weigh in and allow faith-based agencies to continue doing what they do best: giving vulnerable children loving homes.”

Sharonell Fulton, one of the plaintiffs in the case, has fostered more than 40 children through Catholic Social Services.

“As a single mom and woman of color, I've known a thing or two about discrimination over the years. But I have never known vindictive religious discrimination like this, and I feel the fresh sting of bias watching my faith publicly derided by Philadelphia's politicians,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer last year.

Toni Simms-Busch, the other foster mother in the case, said in a statement that she valued the freedom of choosing the foster agency that she felt best suited her needs.

“As a social worker I evaluated the quality of care provided by all of the foster agencies in Philadelphia. When I decided to become a foster parent myself, I chose to go through the agency that I trusted the most,” she said.

“The consistency, integrity, and compassion of Catholic Social Services has made all the difference in my journey through the foster care process.”

Last March, the City of Philadelphia announced that it was experiencing a shortage of foster families, in part due to the opioid crisis, and put out a call for 300 new families to help accept children.

A few days later, the city announced that it would no longer refer foster children to agencies that would not place them with same-sex couples.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services (CSS), an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. CSS serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time.

City officials cited the group’s unwillingness to place foster children with same-sex couples due to its religious beliefs on traditional marriage, even though lawyers for Catholic Social Services argued that no same-sex couple had ever approached the agency asking for certification to accept foster children.

Catholic Social Services filed a lawsuit seeking a renewal of its contract, arguing that the city’s decision violated their religious freedom under the constitution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against CSS on April 22.

“The City’s nondiscrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro concluded.

Catholic Social Services has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“CSS will only certify foster parents who are either married or single; it will not certify cohabitating unmarried couples, and it considers all same-sex couples to be unmarried. So far as the record reflects, no same-sex couples have approached CSS seeking to become foster parents,” Judge Ambro wrote.

Despite this, Ambro concluded that the City of Philadelphia “stands on firm ground in requiring its contractors to abide by its non-discrimination policies when administering public services,” and that the record demonstrates, in his view, the “City’s good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination” rather than an anti-religious bias.

The U.S. Supreme Court in August 2018 declined to grant an injunction that would require the city to continue its foster-care placement with the agency during litigation over the matter.

Philadelphia is not the only city to refuse to work with a Catholic organization on the issue of foster care and adoption placement. In Buffalo, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

Bishop Wall introduces regular 'ad orientem' Mass at Gallup cathedral

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 13:11

Gallup, N.M., Jul 23, 2019 / 11:11 am (CNA).- Bishop James Wall of Gallup announced Monday that each Sunday a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral will be said with the celebrant facing the same direction as the faithful, in order better to respect the Blessed Sacrament.

Such worship, he said in a July 22 letter to the Diocese of Gallup, is “a very powerful reminder of what we are about at Mass: meeting Christ Who comes to meet us. Practically speaking, this means that things will look a bit different, for at such Masses the Priest faces the same direction as the Assembly when he is at the altar.”

“More specifically, when addressing God, such as during the orations and Eucharistic Prayer, he faces the same direction as the people, that is, toward God (ad Deum). He does so literally, to use a phrase dear to St. Augustine, by 'turning toward the Lord' present in the Blessed Sacrament. In contrast, when addressing the people, he turns to face them (versus populum).”

The bishop wrote that “since the recent solemnity of Corpus Christi, the 11:00am Sunday Mass will henceforth be celebrated ad orientem at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Gallup.”

Bishop Wall opened by reflecting on Benedict XVI's recent letter in which he noted a certain laxity in how the Eucharist is approached.

“We would do well to remember,” Bishop Wall wrote, “that the Eucharist is not simply a nice 'sign' or 'symbol' of communion with God, but rather truly is communion with God.”

He said the emeritus pope's letter “provides an opportunity for us to reflect on how better to respect the Most Blessed Sacrament,” noting arriving early for Mass to pray; remaining afterward to offer thanksgiving; dressing appropriately; keeping the Eucharistic fast; regular, even monthly confession; and reverent reception of the Eucharist.

“There is, however, one particular practice that I would like to highlight here,” said Bishop Wall. “It is about exercising the option to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass facing 'toward the East' (ad orientem) or 'toward God' (ad Deum) as distinct from 'toward the people' (versus populum).”

He acknowledged that such celebration can be “contentious” and that “to make changes to the way we pray can be difficult,” adding that “by explaining and advocating for this, I am in no way trying to disrupt the way the people of this Diocese pray.”

“Rather, I am trying to open the treasury of the Church’s patrimony, so that, together, we can all experience one of the most ancient ways that the Church has always prayed, starting with Jesus and reaching even to our own day, and thereby learn from the 'ever ancient, ever new' wisdom of the Church.”

The bishop wrote that “celebrating Mass ad orientem is one of the most ancient and most consistent practices in the life of the Church.”

However, he said that “celebration of Mass ad orientem is not a form of antiquarianism, i.e. choosing to do something because it is old, but rather choosing to do something that has always been.”

“This also means, in turn, that versus populum worship is extremely new in the life of the Church, and, while a valid liturgical option today, it still must be considered novel when it comes to the celebration of Mass,” he noted.

In ad orientem worship the main point, the bishop said, is that it “shows, even in its literal orientation, that the priest and the people are united together as one in worshipping God, even physically with their bodies.”

He added that describing such Masses as ones in which “the priest has his back to the people,” while technically true, “largely misses” this main point, which is “much grander and more beautiful.”

“Celebrating Mass ad orientem, then, is meant to remind us … that the Mass is not first and foremost about us, but rather about God and His glory—about worshipping Him as He desires and not as we think best. It is His work after all, not ours, and we are simply entering into it by His gracious will,” Bishop Wall reflected.

He also pointed out that a “common objection or at least misunderstanding is that this particular way of celebrating Mass was disallowed at or after the Second Vatican Council. This is not accurate, as none of the conciliar documents even mention this.”

In fact, “a close reading of the rubrics of the Roman Missal will still show today that ad orientem is assumed to be the normal posture at Mass: they often describe the priest 'turning to face the people,' which implies he is facing the altar before and after doing so.”

Bishop Wall also addressed the idea of “preference,” and the principle that “when it comes to taste, there is no room for dispute.”

“To a point, that is true,” he said. “Nobody can fault anybody for liking chocolate chip ice cream more than mint, or Chevrolet more than Ford. When it comes to the ways in which we worship God, however, nothing is simply a matter of taste.”

He quoted from a 2016 writing by Msgr. Charles Pope, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, who said that “Preferences should be rooted in solid liturgical principles. […] People matter, and they should be nourished and intelligently engaged in the Sacred Liturgy—but not in a way that forgets that the ultimate work of the Liturgy is not merely to please or enrich us but to be focused on and worship the Lord”.

The decision to provide one ad orientem Mass at the cathedral each Sunday “provides the faithful with the opportunity to attend the Mass in this way … which is still approved and generously allowed by the Church,” he said.

Bishop Wall added that he would like to encourage the practice throughout the diocese as an option for priests.

In his letter, Bishop Wall referenced Fr. Uwe Michael Lang's Turning Towards the Lord, as well the works of Benedict XVI on the liturgy.

Bishop Wall's decision echoes an appeal made several years ago by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

In July 2016, the prefect had said during an address that “I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – Eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God.”

Cardinal Sarah's encouragement to priests to say Mass ad orientem was part of an address on how the Second Vatican Council's document on the liturgy can be more faithfully implemented.

Archbishop Kurtz resigns as religious liberty chair during cancer treatment

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 12:01

Louisville, Ky., Jul 23, 2019 / 10:01 am (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville has stepped down from leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ religious liberty committee as he undergoes treatment for bladder cancer.

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, has been appointed as his replacement and will serve as acting chair of the committee until the November 2019 General Assembly meeting.

“We are praying for Archbishop Kurtz, especially as he undergoes an intense treatment plan at Duke Cancer Institute over these next several weeks and months,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, in a July 23 statement released by the conference.

“I very much appreciate Bishop McManus’s agreeing to step into this chairmanship role and lead the important work of the Committee for Religious Liberty,” he added.

Previously, McManus was chairman of the Subcommittee on Health Care Issues from 2012 until 2018, and also was the chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education from 2005 until 2008. He is a member of the Committee on Doctrine and was a former member of the Pro-Life Activities Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee. He is a native of Providence, Rhode Island and was a priest in the Diocese of Providence before becoming a bishop.

Kurtz announced on July 10 that he had been diagnosed with urothelial carcinoma, the most common form of bladder cancer. He will be undergoing treatment at Duke University, and is expected to receive 12 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove his bladder and prostate.

Kurtz, who formerly served as president of the bishops’ conference, said he had “good cause for optimism” and will be staying in North Carolina for the duration of his treatment.


Senate pro-lifers caution Trump against abortion funding in spending negotiations

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 18:25

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2019 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- The leader of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus is asking President Trump to refuse any attempts to undermine or strip pro-life measures from future spending bills.

“As you work with Congress on a deal to set discretionary spending caps for the next two fiscal years, we wish to express our support for your efforts to secure a commitment from Democratic Leaders to reject anti-life poison pill riders in the House-passed appropriations bills,” states a letter currently being circulated by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), for signatures by fellow members.

Sen. Daines chairs the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, formed this year. He circulated the letter amidst negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders on setting discretionary spending caps and the debt ceiling, Roll Call reported. Daines is insisting that any deal must not include pro-abortion riders.

Some of the pro-life protections mentioned in Daines’ letter include the long-standing Hyde Amendment, a bipartisan policy that bars federal Medicaid funding of elective abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at stake. The amendment has passed Congress every year as part of spending legislation since 1976; the rape and incest exceptions for abortion funding were added in 1994.

In June, several Democrats led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) attempted to include an amendment reversing Hyde in an appropriations package, but the amendment was pulled amidst concerns that it would affect final passage of the legislation through the Senate.

Other “poison pill riders” that Sen. Daines’ letter warns Trump against include attempts to undo pro-life policies such as the Dornan Amendment that prohibits the District of Columbia from using local funds for elective abortions, as well as any reversal of the Trump administration’s “Title X Protect Life Rule” and its “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy, an expansion of the Mexico Policy.

The Mexico City Policy was implemented by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush and barred funding of abortions in $600 million of U.S. foreign aid. Trump’s expansion applied the abortion funding ban to over $8.8 billion in U.S. foreign aid for global health assistance.

The “Title X Protect Life Rule” instituted pro-life protections into federal Title X family planning grant policy; grant recipients could not refer for abortions, nor could they “co-locate” with abortion clinics.

In January of 2019, President Trump wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), promising to “veto any legislation that weakens current pro-life Federal policies and laws, or that encourages the destruction of innocent human life at any stage.”

Sen. Daines pressed President Trump to honor that commitment in spending caps negotiations, and pledged to fight against any pro-abortion riders in legislation.

“As members of the pro-life majority in the United States Senate, we will strongly oppose each of these anti-life poison pill riders and will work to ensure they are not inserted into any appropriations bill before the Senate, either in committee or on the floor,” the letter stated.


HHS delays enforcement of Title X Protect Life Rule

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 16:01

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services has reportedly delayed enforcement of the new Protect Life Rule, which bars public money from taxpayer-funded clinics that refer patients for abortions.

The Associated Press reported that it had received a copy of a notice sent June 20 from HHS to the representatives of the clinics in question. The notice said the government “does not intend to bring enforcement actions” against clinics that are making “good-faith efforts to comply,” the AP reported.

The HHS had on July 15 informed Title X fund recipients that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortion services, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions.

Under the new HHS notice, clinics must submit a compliance plan by August, and by mid-September must demonstrate that they are carrying out “most of the new requirements,” the AP reports.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The HHS had originally said last week that the new rule required immediate compliance. By March 2020, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X moneys. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds.

Previously, abortion providers were ineligable to receive Title X funds, and the Supreme Court upheld this restriction in 1991. When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, his administration changed the program to include abortion providers.

The rule will strip about $60 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, whose clinics both refer for abortion services and are co-located with abortion facilities. Planned Parenthood presently receives about one-fifth of the total amount of Title X funds distributed and serves about 40 percent of all clients who benefit from Title X.

Planned Parenthood has chosen to eschew federal Title X funding under the new rule and continue to refer for and perform abortions. The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents many of the affected clinics, is challenging the rule in federal court, but the administration says there is currently no legal obstacle to enforcing it, ABC News reports.

Illinois has already announced that the state will provide state funding to abortion clinics and clinics that refer for abortions in the light of new changes to Title X rules, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced July 18.

Planned Parenthood locations in Illinois received 40 percent of the Title X funds distributed in the state, despite only operating 17 of the more than 70 clinics who received funds each year. Approximately 112,000 people in Illinois acquired birth control through Title X.

US bishops calls report of shutting down refugee program 'disturbing'

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- If reports of major cuts to the U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum programs are true they are alarming, the chair of the US bishops' migration committee said Friday.

Politico has reported that officials in the Trump administration were considering cutting the annual refugee cap next year to zero, or to greatly reduced numbers such as 10,000 or 3,000. This represents the total number of refugees that would be allowed into the United States in the next fiscal year.

“This recent report, if true, is disturbing and against the principles we have as a nation and a people, and has the potential to end the refugee resettlement program entirely,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin said July 19..

The reports were leaked to Politico from three individuals close to recent meetings of security officials.

These numbers would represent a dramatic decrease from this year’s cap of 30,000 refugees. In 2018, the cap was 45,000, and in 2017 it was 50,000. According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, reported by the Washington Post, prior to Trump’s presidency, the immigration cap has typically been set, since the 1990s, between 70,000 and 80,000.

Vasquez said he was concerned by the reports of cuts to the refugee cap when “the world is in the midst of the greatest humanitarian displacement crisis in almost a century.”

“I strongly oppose any further reductions of the refugee resettlement program,” he said. “Offering refuge to those fleeing religious and other persecution has been a cornerstone of what has made this country great and a place of welcome. Eliminating the refugee resettlement program leaves refugees in harm’s way and keeps their families separated across continents.”

Vasquez noted that refugees already undergo an intense vetting process that often lasts between one and a half to two years, and includes extensive interviews and background checks.

“Many of these refugees have familial ties here and quickly begin working to rebuild their lives and enrich their communities,” he added.

“As Pope Francis has said we must work for ‘globalization of solidarity’ with refugees, not a globalization of indifference. Rather than ending the program, we should work instead to restore the program to its historic norms of an annual resettlement goal of 95,000,” Vasquez concluded.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration published a new regulation for asylum seekers, which states that people seeking asylum in the U.S. must prove that they also sought protection in at least one other country that they passed through in order to get to the U.S.

The move appears to be targeted at the wave of migrants from Central American countries, who pass through Mexico in order to get to the U.S. border.

Trump has made increased immigration restrictions and regulations a cornerstone of his 2020 presidential re-election campaign.

The final cap for refugees for the 2020 fiscal year will be announced in September.

Car crash reveals Santa Rosa priest embezzled $95,000

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 13:05

Santa Rosa, Calif., Jul 22, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- When EMTs rushed to the scene of a Santa Rosa car accident June 19, they found Fr. Oscar Diaz, a local pastor, stuck in the car with a broken hip and other injuries. They also found $18,305.86, in cash.

Diaz told police the money was his salary. It wasn’t.

The money belonged to Santa Rosa’s Resurrection Parish, where Diaz is pastor. Diaz was attempting to steal it. A subsequent investigation found that Diaz had, in his office and home, collection bags from Resurrection Parish, totaling more than $95,000.

The priest has now been suspended from ministry, the Diocese of Santa Rosa announced July 22, and he has been the subject of a police investigation.

“There is also evidence that money was stolen in a variety of ways from each of the parishes where he had served as pastor. I am deeply grieved that this has happened and am deeply saddened that the parishes he was sent to serve have been harmed,” Bishop Robert F. Vasa wrote in his July 22 press release.

“The full extent of the theft is not known and may never be fully known but the Diocese is committed to determining as fully as possible the extent of the theft from each of these parishes. Once such determinations are made it is the goal of the Diocese to make restitution to the parishes.”

Vasa added that the Santa Rosa “police determined that the protocols surrounding collection accounting would make it difficult to arrive at sufficient proof of theft to pursue criminal prosecution.”

In addition to its July 22 statement, the Diocese of Santa Rosa posted on its website a July 19 memo from Vasa to priests of the diocese, offering further details on the embezzlement.

Diaz, 56, admitted the theft, according to the memo, and will likely not be permitted to serve again in the diocese.

“I will not hide this ugly truth. I have no desire to be defamatory. What we, as a Church, do at this juncture needs to be healing, restorative and transparent. This public declaration is a way in which Father Oscar can be made accountable for his actions. Unfortunately, given the length of time over which theft occurred, the variety of methods and the total dollars involved, I cannot envision any possible future ministry. This will need to be discerned further,” Vasa wrote.

After the priest’s admission of guilt, “I expressed to him my deep sadness, anger and dismay that he had so seriously violated the trust given to him by the Diocese, by the Parishes, and by the parishioners,” Vasa added.

The July 19 memo also explained “reluctance to pursue a criminal investigation” on the part of police.

Vasa noted that pursuing possible criminal prosecution of the thefts would require the diocese to contract a Certified Fraud Investigator, costing at least $5,000, “and possibly more.”

“I have no idea what such an investigation would cost,” Vasa wrote, noting that a fraud investigator would be required to visit five parishes and examine their records.

“While I am willing to have Father Oscar face prosecution I do not know that I want to expend additional money for a prosecution which brings no additional benefit to either the Diocese or the parishes which are victims of his crimes. I am very interested in determining a full accounting of  the theft for possible Insurance purposes and in order to do this I initially thought that a criminal complaint by me and a police investigation would be the only way to access Father Oscar’s Banking Records. To his credit, Father Oscar has been very cooperative with me in obtaining the records I need to establish some estimate of the full extent of theft,” Vasa wrote.

The bishop added that he had reflected prayerfully on whether to expend diocesan funds to pursue the possibility of criminal prosecution.

“My goal is some semblance of justice, reparation, and at least spiritual restitution,” Vasa wrote.

“I am still very angry and it is almost impossible to set that anger aside and mercifully discern the path forward. I have asked myself repeatedly what ‘good’ could come from Father Oscar’s prosecution and possible imprisonment. What does ‘justice’ look like in this particular case?”

Vasa noted that possible prosecution could be a deterrent to future theft, but noted that canonical penalties could serve the same purpose. He added that the priest’s “public certainly a punishment which sends a strong message.”

“It may happen that the individual parishes involved may desire to file charges and pursue prosecution. I could not oppose such an action. It is the parish’s right to do so. I would however advocate for mercy,” the bishop wrote.

“I have seriously considered this matter from a variety of perspectives but that does not mean that I am convinced that I am right,” Vasa added.

“I know and fully understand that Father Oscar’s actions have only indirectly touched me. Others have been more strongly affected, either directly or indirectly. I am aware that you, my brothers in the priesthood, have felt this theft as a violation of fraternity and a betrayal of both trust and friendship. I cannot speak for your ability, desire, or will to forgive. I can only acknowledge that I am aware of these feelings.”

“Other individuals have been betrayed as well; mostly the lay faithful. Our laity have been asked so often to understand and forgive and I can assure you that I take my responsibility to speak on behalf of the Church, which is all of us, most seriously. I speak in the name of the Church but the individual parishes where Father Oscar has served have a voice as well. I do not envision that any individual parish will seek to pursue criminal prosecution but I fully understand the hurt and anger which undoubtedly will be stirred up in light of this theft and betrayal,” the bishop wrote.

“I ask you to try to turn this moment from one of hurt and anger to a desire for healing, compassion and ultimately forgiveness. I am not negating the seriousness of the crime, I am suggesting a way forward which is more fully consistent with a good and merciful God.”

Church in Puerto Rico to hold 24 hour prayer encounter amid protests

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 12:40

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jul 22, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- The Puerto Rican bishops' conference announced Saturday it will hold a 24-hour prayer encounter this weekend, in the face of the territory's social and governmental instability.

Protesters have been calling this week for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Earlier this month, crude messages from a group chat among Rosello and some of his team were published in the media.

More remotely, his administration has faced pressure over corruption and its response to the territory's debt crisis, economic recession, and Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017.

Rosello announced July 21 that he will not seek re-election next year, but he intends to complete his term.

The Puerto Rican bishops' conference said July 20 that it will hold a day-long prayer encounter at the National Sanctuary of Mary, Mother of Divine Providence in San Juan. The encounter will begin and end with Mass on the evenings of July 26 and 27, with Eucharistic Adoration in between.

“We invite the People of God to participate and to unite in prayer at a crucial moment of the history of Puerto Rico,” read the message signed by Bishop Ruben Antonio Gonzalez Medina of Ponce and Bishop Eusebio Ramos Morales of Caguas, the president and secretary, respectively, of the bishops' conference.

The bishops emphasized that the encounter will be an opportunity to contribute to the correction of Puerto Rico's “complicated social, political, and economic situations.”

“Under the mantel of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Divine Providence, Patron of the whole of the Puerto Rican mation, let us implore the mercy of God for our people and that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit be poured out upon our leaders,” the bishops concluded.

“Let us make this convocation in faith and in confidence in God the Father who walks with his people.”