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Foster parents join Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services in discrimination lawsuit

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 16:39

Philadelphia, Pa., May 17, 2018 / 02:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of foster parents and social workers appeared in court on Wednesday, asking that the city of Philadelphia rescind its decision to ban a Catholic organization from placing children in foster homes.

The plaintiffs of Sharonell Fulton et al. v. City of Philadelphia told a US District Court May 16 that they are being discriminated against because of their agency's deeply-held religious beliefs.

For over a century, Philadelphia has worked with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) to facilitate the placement of children in foster care. Catholic Social Services has assisted with home visits, training of foster parents, and placements. At any given time CSS serves about 120 foster children in 100 foster homes. In 2017, the charity says it helped more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area.

In March, CSS was informed that the city would no longer be referring foster children to the agency for assistance. Philadelphia then passed a resolution calling for an investigation into religiously-based foster care services, after a same-sex couple claimed they were discriminated against by a different faith-based agency.

CSS has not 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.

“Catholic Social Services will not stand in the way of anyone who wants to try and become a foster parent,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Becket is providing counsel for the case.

“They’re simply asking that they can continue to serve the children of Philadelphia consistent with their faith.”

The suit's lead plaintiff, Sharonell Fulton, has "fostered more than 40 children over 25-plus years as a foster parent. She has cared for children with significant medical needs and is currently caring for two special needs foster children," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims that Fulton "could not provide the extensive care that these special-needs children require without the support she receives from Catholic Social Services."

Other plaintiffs include a foster parent recognized in 2015 as one Philadelphia's "Foster Parents of the Year," and a long-time social worker, herself a foster parent, who claims that she would likely discontinue providing foster care to children if she could not work with CSS. The agency itself is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

If the city declines to renew its current contract with CSS, which expires at the end of June, there’s a chance that children in CSS foster-care placements will be immediately removed from their homes. Windham, however, is hopeful that this will not be the case.

Since the policy went into place, Philadelphia has put out calls for new foster parents, as the city is facing a severe shortage. According to Windham, there are at least a dozen empty foster homes in the city--which are empty because they work with CSS.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Chief Communications Officer Kenneth Gavin told CNA that the archdiocese is disappointed that the city decided to stop partnering with CSS, despite its history of providing care for children.

“Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) recognizes the vital importance of the foster care program in our city and is proud to provide safe and nurturing foster environments to young people in need. We have been providing those environments for over a century. We were extremely disappointed when the City ceased new foster care child intakes with CSS in late March of this year,” said Gavin.
Gavin said the foster care program provides care “for all those in need with dignity, charity, and respect regardless of their background.” Given that the Philadelphia is in “a foster care crisis,” Gavin said he hopes that CSS will be permitted to continue providing care for needy children.
The lawsuit is expected to be heard later this year.


Judge rules California assisted suicide law was wrongfully 'rushed'

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 18:42

Sacramento, Calif., May 16, 2018 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- California’s assisted suicide law was wrongly passed in a special legislative session, ruled a California judge this week.

Though the ruling might only be temporary, one terminally ill woman at the May 15 hearing was grateful for it.

“The bill’s proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness. I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Choice is really an illusion for a very few,” Stephanie Packer said, according to the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Angelus News. “For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable ‘treatment’ that is offered them.”

Packer said that her insurance company would not fund potentially life-saving chemotherapy treatments for her lung cancer, but instead offered her “aid-in-dying” drugs that would cost her $1.20. The action made the married mother of four a vocal opponent of assisted suicide laws, including California’s the End of Life Option Act.

Judge Daniel Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court ruled on Tuesday that lawmakers had unconstitutionally passed the law in a 2015 special session of the legislature dedicated to health care funding. The judge has postponed his judgment for five days to allow the state to file an emergency appeal.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra voiced strong disagreement with the ruling and said he plans to appeal it.

The judge’s decision drew support from other foes of the legislation.

“The act itself was rushed through the special session of the legislature, and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this,” Stephen G. Larson, head counsel for a group of doctors who filed a legal challenge to the law, told the Sacramento Bee.

The bill lacked an adequate definition of terminal illness and a provision exempting from legal liability the doctors who prescribe the drugs, according to Larson’s clients.

However, Larson challenged the bill specifically on the fact that the special session was called “to address funding shortages caused by Medi-Cal.”

“It was not called to address the issue of assisted suicide,” he said.

Under the law, lethal prescriptions may be given to adults who are able to make medical decisions if their attending physician and a consulting physician have diagnosed a terminal disease expected to end in death within six months.

The initial legislative effort to pass an assisted suicide bill failed in committee during the 2015 regular season, following months of media attention to the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with an aggressive brain tumor who moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of legal physician-assisted suicide there.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, who backed the bill, charged that the judge’s decision interfered with Californians in the process of securing the lethal drugs under the law.

“It's a reminder for all of us that there are those out there who would like to take our rights away,” she said. “When we move forward, there are those who would like to drag us back.”

Harry Nelson, a healthcare attorney in Los Angeles who represents several doctors who have prescribed lethal prescriptions, told the Los Angeles Times he thinks it is unlikely the law will be permanently overturned. He believes the legislature will be able to reinstate the law with any changes the court believes to be necessary.

Matt Valliere, executive director of the New York-based Patients Rights Action Fund, applauded the ruling. He said it affirmed that assisted suicide advocates “circumvented the legislative process.”

“It represents a tremendous blow to the assisted suicide legalization movement and puts state legislatures on notice regarding the political trickery of groups like Compassion and Choices,” he said.

In the first seven months after the law took effect in June 2016, there were 111 people who chose to end their lives under it, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Including California, seven states and the District of Columbia have legal provisions allowing assisted suicide, National Public Radio reports.

In January 2018, the California Catholic Conference reiterated its opposition to assisted suicide and criticized the lack of data collected and the lack of transparency of the law’s implementation.

“There is far too much still not known about how this law is put into practice – especially as it pertains to disabled, elderly and other populations,” the conference said Jan. 24. “California is failing to properly investigate some very fundamental questions such as whether patients were coerced into the procedure or somehow influenced and, especially for Medi-Cal patients, whether they had the option of good, effective palliative care.”


Archbishop Chaput: New Pope Francis movie is a beautiful tribute

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 16:54

Philadelphia, Pa., May 16, 2018 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- The upcoming film, “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” has won praise from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who applauded the movie’s compelling portrayal of the Holy Father.

The director “weaves an on-going, intimate, one-on-one interview with the pope throughout the film. It’s a hugely effective technique; one has a sense that Francis is looking directly at, speaking directly to, the individual viewer,” the archbishop wrote in a May 14 column.

The hour-and-a-half documentary offers an intimate look at the pope’s travels, acts of charity, and speeches. It shows the pope’s response to social issues around the world, including immigration and the value of family life.

Distributed by Focus Features, the movie will be released in select theaters on May 18. Archbishop Chaput reviewed the film at an early screening. Additionally, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago hosted a screening and discussion on May 14.

The film is co-written and directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders. Nominated for three Academy Awards, Wenders’ previous films include “Wings of Desire,” “Buena Vista Social Club,” and “Salt of the Earth.”  

The director’s work is largely “marked by a Christian-inspired spirituality,” Archbishop Chaput said, pointing to filmmaker’s Catholic upbringing.

“He focuses compellingly on the pope’s concern for the environment, the poor, and immigrants. He also captures the pope’s vigorous commitment to marriage, the family, and the complementarity of men and women.”

Among the most powerful scenes, Archbishop Chaput said, are the pope’s visits to “immigrants, the poor, the sick, the Shoah memorial Yad Vashem in Israel, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”

The archbishop did critique the film on a few points, saying the movie felt too lengthy and did not fully portray Catholic teachings on the human person.

“Wenders also misses (or avoids) the opportunity to present the holistic Catholic vision of human dignity that Francis serves, i.e., the reason why Catholic concerns for the unborn child, the disabled, the elderly, the environment, and the immigrant are inextricably linked in a network of priorities.”

Additionally, he said the film was incomplete in its portrayal of Saint Francis of Assisi, who inspired Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to take on the name of Pope Francis.

“Its portrait of Francis of Assisi, while useful to the narrative, is selective and only lightly acquainted with the real saint, who was a complex and formidable man concerned for Creation as a reflection of God’s glory, not as a limited natural resource.”

However, Archbishop Chaput said, they flaws do not detract from the beauty and substance of the film. He encouraged Catholics to support “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” coming to theaters this Friday.  

“Wenders and Focus Features (and the Holy Father himself) deserve our gratitude for offering the world such an exceptional encounter with the Successor of Peter. May it touch thousands of hearts.”


Military bases under consideration to hold undocumented children

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 13:54

Washington D.C., May 16, 2018 / 11:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Federal officials are evaluating U.S. military bases as temporary shelters for immigrant children who will be separated from their parents after crossing the border illegally under a new Trump administration policy.

While final decisions have not yet been made, the Washington Post reports that Department of Health and Human Services officials are visiting military bases in Texas and Arkansas to examine their suitability for housing children.

About 100 shelters currently exist, but they are close to capacity, and it is estimated that thousands of additional children could be placed in government care under the new immigration policy, the Wall Street Journal says.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings on May 7. The goal is for “100 percent” of those who cross the border illegally to face charges of “improper entry by an alien,” which can result in up to six months in prison.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions said, according to National Public Radio. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border.”

Under previous practice, people caught illegally crossing the border were returned to Mexico after a guilty plea and a brief detention. The violation is a misdemeanor under federal law.

With parts of Central America plagued by drug and gang violence, illegal border crossings in the U.S. increasingly consist of families or unaccompanied minors. While adults can be detained in immigration jails, the federal government is prohibited from holding immigrant children in jails.

Military bases may be used to shelter children whom the government has separated from their families, as well as unaccompanied minors. The children will receive foster care through the Department of Health and Human Services.

A department official said that the average time of custody for children in HHS care is 45 days, and 85 percent of children are released to a parent of adult relative in the U.S., the Washington Post reports.

Military bases were previously used to house children for several months during the child migrant crisis of 2014, when other resources were exhausted.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA May 10 that the policy change will “erode judicial efficiency, taking away resources to prosecute the most dangerous, in favor of prosecuting every parent.” The new policy could cost up to $620 per night to detain a family of one parent and two children.

Furthermore, she said, entering the border with one’s child is not automatically an instance of child smuggling.

“Many of these families are willingly turning themselves over to Border Patrol. They are not hiding. They are asking for protection, they are vulnerable and looking for safety,” she said.

Under the zero tolerance policy, immigrants detained at the border could receive federal criminal convictions even if they have valid asylum claims and are judged to have a right to stay in the U.S., CNN reports.

Intentionally increasing forced family separations at the border “is inhumane and goes against our Catholic values and the sanctity of the family,” Feasley said.

Family separation is “extremely traumatic” for children to experience, especially after a lengthy, stressful trip to the U.S. and possible traumatic experiences in Central America, she said. Very young children have been separated and left with strangers, many of whom do not speak their language.

“Then these children are put into shelter facilities which are confined spaces. The experience is doubly traumatizing,” she continued. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned against the long lasting emotional trauma and harm that separation can cause children.”

Feasley also warned that the new policy does not address “the pervasive root causes of migration,” such as state- or community-sanctioned violence, poverty, forced recruitment into gangs, lack of educational opportunity, and domestic abuse.

She said that policy solutions should consider those factors, and that Catholics in the pews should “remember the human dignity of all families and children who arrive, and look to assist these families in productive ways that help them comply with our immigration laws – ensuring that they know their rights and responsibilities in this country.”


Bishops object as Illinois governor pushes to reinstate death penalty

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 02:09

Chicago, Ill., May 16, 2018 / 12:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Conference of Illinois decried the governor’s call to re-establish the death penalty, which has not been used in the state in nearly 20 years.

“We are distressed and alarmed by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for the reinstatement of the death penalty in any way, shape or form,” the conference said in a May 14 statement.

“We are all God’s children, and our first – and primary – right to life must always be protected and unconditional.”

On Monday, Governor Rauner encouraged lawmakers to reinstate capital punishment in Illinois for individuals convicted of mass murder or the death of a police officer.

“Anyone who deliberately kills a law enforcement officer or is a mass murderer deserves the death penalty,” he wrote to the Illinois House of Representatives.

The recommendation came in an amendatory veto message for House Bill 1468, which would require a 72-hour waiting period before an assault weapon is purchased.

The governor cited child safety as his reason for wanting to reintroduce the death penalty. He drew attention to several recent attacks in U.S. schools.

“There is nothing more precious than our children, and they deserve to be safe and cared for at school,” he said.

Last month, an Illinois task force was created to map out a defense against school violence.

Governor Rauner said the death penalty should only be used in cases where an individual is guilty “beyond all doubt” rather than the often-used standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said this would help avoid wrongful convictions, such as those that contributed to the abolishment of the state’s death penalty.

However, the Catholic Conference rejected the idea of reinstating the death penalty in certain cases “beyond all doubt” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” saying that this distinction “is simply parsing words.”

“You cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

The death penalty has not been used in Illinois since 1999. Then-governor George Ryan issued a moratorium on the practice in 2000, following a report in the Chicago Tribune detailing flaws in the state’s capital punishment system.

The report said that the system was “so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken.”

Among other problems, the newspaper pointed to inaccurate juries, incompetent defending lawyers, and unreliable forensic tests. These were among the errors that occurred with 12 wrongfully convicted death row inmates who were later exonerated, the article stated.

Before leaving office in 2003, Governor Ryan commuted the death sentences of more than 160 death row inmates. In 2011, the death penalty was abolished in Illinois by then-governor Pat Quinn.


Bipartisan bill would make it easier to deduct charitable donations

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 02:03

Washington D.C., May 15, 2018 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress last week would make it easier for Americans to receive tax deductions for charitable giving, regardless of whether they itemize on their tax returns.

“Charitable organizations, including churches, synagogues, and other religiously-based entities, are the life-blood of services to those in need in our society, and I am committed to a tax policy that amplifies their ability to serve our community,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who authored the bill, in a press release.

“Americans have been generous patrons of charitable causes, and we want to ensure that everyone has the support they need to continue their generosity to charitable and philanthropic causes.”

The Charitable Giving Tax Deduction Act was introduced by Smith on May 11, with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) as an original co-sponsor.

“It is always important to give back to the community,” said Cuellar in a press release. “This bipartisan bill not only encourages us to help our fellow neighbors, but it also makes sure that taxpayers can receive their due deduction for charitable giving if they choose not to itemize.”

The bill would make charitable deductions “above-the-line,” meaning adjusted gross income would be reduced. This would allow taxpayers to write off charitable deductions regardless of whether households decide to itemize. Under the legislation, charitable contributions would not be capped.

More than a dozen religious and charitable organizations have voiced support for the bill, including the Union of United Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the Council on Foundations, the Faith & Giving Coalition, and the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance.

Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, said the bill would help correct flaws in the Tax Cut and Job Act of 2017. That legislation significantly increased the standard deduction, meaning that fewer taxpayers will itemize.

The proposed legislation would restore the tax incentive to donate, particularly for lower income households, Spruill said.

“At its core, our nation’s charitable giving policies should encourage and enable those small and medium-sized donors who serve as a powerful engine in the sector’s ability to assist communities. This legislation brings those givers back into the fold by expanding the charitable deduction to millions more,” she said.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference also praised the legislation for promoting and protecting the revenue resources that help charities to function, particularly after last year’s tax code revision “makes charitable giving increasingly more difficult.”

“Every year, New Jersey Catholic Charities agencies assist hundreds of thousands of individuals and families to meet their most basic needs. Their ability to provide quality services depends upon charitable donations,” the conference said. 

“The tax code should help not hurt nonprofit organizations tasked with serving the most vulnerable in our society. Congressman Smith’s bill would protect those revenues sources that are vital to the assistance of so many in need.”


Oklahoma bishops praise new protections for Catholic adoption agencies

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 20:03

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 14, 2018 / 06:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the signing of a bill preserving the religious freedom of adoption agencies in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin drew praise from the state’s Catholic bishops on Friday.

“We are grateful for Gov. Fallin’s support of religious liberty in Oklahoma. The new law will bring more adoption services to the state and allow crucial faith-based agencies to continue their decades-long tradition of caring for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa said May 11.

“Since the law does not change the process for placing foster children or ban any family from adopting, we hope and pray this action will increase the number of children matched with loving families,” said the bishops.

The bill, S.B. 1140, passed the Senate by a vote of 33-7 and the House of Representatives by 56-21. In the House, legislators opposed to the bill tried to make various parliamentary measures to prevent a full vote and at one point were warned that further disruption would result in their removal, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma reported.

Fallin said the bill “allows faith-based agencies that contract with Oklahoma to continue to operate in accordance with their beliefs. In a day and time when diversity is becoming a core value to society because it will lead to more options, we should recognize its value for serving Oklahoma also because it leads to more options for loving homes to serve Oklahoma children.”

“Other states that have declined the protection to faith-based agencies have seen these agencies close their doors, leaving less options for successful placement of children who need loving parents,” she said, according to the Tulsa World.

Catholic adoption and foster placement agencies in Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia, among others, have been forced to close because of laws or funding restrictions that would require them to place children with same-sex couples or with unmarried heterosexual couples.

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma was among the other backers of the Oklahoma bill.

The bill’s text bars requiring a private child-placement agency to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in a placement of a child for foster care and adoption should such a placement “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

It also bars denying licenses or state or local grants to agencies that act on religious or moral objections. Further, the law protects them from civil action.

Critics of the bill charged that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer for the Family Equality Council, contended it sent the message that LGBTQ people should not raise children, the New York Times reports.

Toby Jenkins, executive director of the LGBT activist group Oklahomans for Equality, charged that taxpayer dollars were being used to discriminate against both couples and children waiting for placement.

“Oklahomans for Equality is deeply disappointed in the governor’s lack of leadership. The pervasive and persistent mean-spirited legislative efforts continue to be day-to-day business in Oklahoma,” he said, suggesting recourse to the Oklahoma Supreme Court would be considered.

However, several legal scholars backed the bill’s constitutionality in an April 12 letter to State Rep. Travis Dunlap and State Sen. Greg Treat. Constitutional criticisms of the Oklahoma bill are, in their view, “obstructionist objections with no basis in existing law or in original understanding.”

The letter’s signers were professors Michael A. Scaperlanda of the University of Oklahoma College of Law; Richard W. Garnett of the University of Notre Dame Law School; Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia School of Law; and Thomas C. Berg of Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas School of Law.

“The Supreme Court is deeply divided on the question of whether religious exemptions are sometimes constitutionally required. But the Court has repeatedly been unanimous in support of the view that religious exemptions are constitutionally permitted,” they wrote.

“This provision would create an exemption from any provision of state law that might otherwise require an agency to violate its religious commitments,” they said, saying such exemptions have been an American legal tradition since the 1600s.

They cited a 1992 study which estimated there are 2,000 religious exemptions under federal and state laws. Many more exemptions have been enacted since then.

While there are limits to appropriate bounds of religious exemptions, the scholars said, the Oklahoma bill “does not come close to triggering any of these limitations.”

The 61 state-monitored child placement agencies in Oklahoma make “an ample number to meet the diverse needs of all Oklahomans, including LGBT children and LGBT adoptive parents.” With these “readily available alternatives,” said the scholars, the bill is “a model of liberty and justice for all.”

“The religious providers need not violate their conscience, and the needs of all Oklahomans are served.”

While critics of the bill had charged that it constituted the unconstitutional establishment of religion, the scholars said “exemptions are not a way of expanding the power of the dominant religion; they are a way of protecting religions that lack the political power to prevent legislation or court decisions that impose substantial burdens on their religious practice.”

“Government does not establish a religion by leaving it alone. The Supreme Court has repeatedly, and unanimously, so held,” they continued.

Receiving government funding does not bind private organizations to be treated as if they were state agencies, they explained: “if a child-placing agency with state funding chooses to act in accord with its religious convictions, the state has not directed that choice, the state is not responsible for it, and the child-placing agency’s choice is not state action.”

Fallin said similar legislation has existed in Virginia since 2012 without any court challenges. Five additional states have similar legislation, while Kansas Gov. Jeff Coyler has said he will sign legislation recently passed by the state legislature.

Fallin said the bill would not affect any current practices allowing LGBTQ individuals and couples to foster and adopt. She said she is committed to “preserving the rights of all Oklahomans who are eligible and want to be considered for parenting.” She announced a planned executive order directing the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to publish on its website a list of Oklahoma adoption and foster care agencies who are “willing to serve everyone” who meets the state’s adoptive parent criteria.

A significant advocacy campaign to limit religious freedom protections is underway across the U.S. CNA reports have found at least $8.5 million in earmarked grants from several wealthy funders, including some of the most influential foundations in the country. Many of these funders are now working together through the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative, which says it opposes “the inappropriate use of religious exemptions to curtail reproductive health, rights and justice, discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, and otherwise undermine fundamental rights and liberties essential to a healthy democracy.”

Runaway slave-turned-priest moves closer to beatification

Sat, 05/12/2018 - 17:23

Chicago, Ill., May 12, 2018 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first African American priest in the U.S. could become the country’s first African American saint as his cause took another step forward this week.

A document summarizing the life, virtue, and alleged miracles of Servant of God Fr. Augustus Tolton, known as the positio, was unanimously approved as historically correct by a committee of six Vatican officials this week, clearing the way for the priest’s cause for canonization to continue moving forward.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and diocesan postulator for the Tolton cause, called the approval a “very positive sign going forward” and noted its significance for the African American Catholic Community.

“Fr. Tolton lived during a particularly tumultuous time in American history especially for race relations,” Perry said in a statement.

“He was a pioneer of his era for inclusiveness drawing both blacks and whites to his parish in Quincy. However, due to his race, he suffered discrimination and condemnation. The beatification and canonization of Fr. Tolton will signal a significant milestone in the history of black Catholicism in the United States.”

Born in Missouri on April 1, 1854, John Augustine Tolton fled slavery with his mother and two siblings in 1862 by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois.

“John, boy, you're free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord,” Tolton’s mother told him after the crossing, according to the website of St. Elizabeth’s Church in Chicago.

The young Tolton entered St. Peter’s Catholic School with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr. Fr. McGirr would later baptize him and instruct him for his first Holy Communion. Tolton was serving as an altar boy by the next summer.

The priest asked Tolton if he would like to become a priest, saying it would take 12 years of hard study. The excited boy then said they should go to church and pray for his success.

After graduating from high school and Quincy College, he began his ecclesiastical studies in Rome, because no American seminary would accept him on account of his race.

On April 24, 1886 he was ordained in Rome by Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi, who was then the vicar general of Rome. Newspapers throughout the U.S. carried the story.

Fr. Tolton was ordained for the southern Illinois Diocese of Quincy. Upon his return in July 1886, he was greeted at the train station “like a conquering hero,” the website of St. Elizabeth’s Parish says.

“Thousands were there to greet him, led by Father McGirr. A brass band played church songs and Negro Spirituals. Thousands of blacks and whites lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the new priest wearing a black Prince Albert and a silk hat. People marched and cheered his flower-draped four-horse carriage. Children, priests and sisters left the school joining the procession heading towards the church.”

Hundreds waited at the local church where people of all races knelt at the communion rail.

Fr. Tolton served in Quincy before going to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics. The new church was named for St. Monica and opened in 1893.

On July 9, 1897, Fr. Tolton collapsed during a hot day and died from sunstroke at the age of 43.

His cause for canonization was officially launched in 2010, and he was given the title “Servant of God” by the Vatican in February 2011. The research phase of his cause concluded on September 29, 2014.

The next step in his cause for canonization will be in February 2019, when a theological commission with the Congregation for Causes of Saints will further investigate his life and virtue, and consider granting him the title of “Venerable,” which must receive papal approval.

After that step, Tolton’s cause would move forward toward beatification, for which a miracle through his intercession must be approved.  

More information about Fr. Tolton can be found on the website for his cause:

In Iran, Christian converts face 10 year prison sentences

Sat, 05/12/2018 - 08:02

Washington D.C., May 12, 2018 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Iran, conversion to Christianity can be a crime meriting a sentence of more than 10 years imprisonment.

Catholic churches within the country are closely monitored with surveillance cameras to ensure that Muslims do not enter, and religious schools are limited in what they can teach, an Iranian-born journalist, Sohrab Ahmari, explained to CNA.

Ahmari is currently writing a spiritual memoir about his own journey to the Catholic faith for Ignatius Press. He converted in 2016 after living in the U.S. for more than two decades. His conversion would have been nearly impossible had he still been living in Iran.

“In Iran, Catholicism is primarily an ethnic phenomenon. There are Armenian Catholics and Assyrian. They have their own churches, but they can't evangelize and they can't have Bibles in any languages but their own,” said Ahmari, who worked for the Wall Street Journal for several years before becoming a senior editor for Commentary magazine.

“The Iranian Constitution enshrines Shiite Islam as the state religion and it relegates certain other religious minorities to protected, but second class status, so that is Jews and Christians, mainly, people of the Abrahamic religions,” he continued. “These people have a certain degree of limited rights, but they also have all sorts of social handicaps.”

The Islamic republic’s population is 99 percent Muslim, and its recognized religious minorities are strictly controlled.

“The treatment gets far worse for groups that the regime does not recognize as legitimate,” explained Ahmari. This includes evangelical Christianity and the Baha’i religion.

After facing trial as apostates, Christian converts from Islam have been subject to increasingly harsh sentencing, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2018 report, which noted that “many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities.”

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert from Islam, was released from prison in August 2017 after serving more than her her full four year sentence. Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, was among those who advocated for her release.

In May 2017, four evangelical Christians were sentenced to 10 years in prison each for their evangelizing efforts.

The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom since 1999.

The Iranian government’s growing ability to censor and monitor Internet users increases their capacity to enforce official religious interpretations and crackdown on activists.

During Iran’s democracy protests in January 2018, the government disrupted internet access, including social media communication tools, according to USCIRF. Iranians protested economic and social grievances.

While Christians have fared much better off in Iran than in neighboring Iraq, Ahmani thinks it is important for Catholics to realize that these protests were different than other Middle Eastern uprisings.

“There is a tendency among some conservative Catholics to see any uprising or any democratic fervent in a democratic country as automatically bad now, precisely because they worry about those communities. They look at what happened with Iraq, at what's happening with the Copts in Egypt and they think 'no more uprisings',” said Ahmari.

“The case in Iran is different because the regime itself enshrines a kind of Islamic supremacy and suppresses minorities in various ways. The people who are rising up want religious freedom,” he continued.

Religious freedom and human rights were the focus of Pope Francis’ meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in January 2016. Iran and the Holy See have had continuous diplomatic relations since 1954.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis and Rouhani also discussed the application of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the “Iran nuclear deal,” which had gone into effect just ten days before the meeting.

On May 8, US President Donald Trump terminated the JCPOA and re-imposed the sanctions that had previously been lifted.

“The JCPOA failed to deal with the threat of Iran’s missile program and did not include a strong enough mechanism for inspections and verification,” according to the White House statement.

The Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and crackdown against protestors were also condemned in the May 8 statement announcing the end of U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal.

Commentary: Virtue and a losing team

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 17:59

Chicago, Ill., May 11, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- Last week I offered to spend an afternoon carrying things for my aunt, who wanted to go to an airplane hanger-sized thrift store and see how much of it would fit in her car.

While standing around between aisles, I noticed the store sold 1980s and ’90s baseball cards- batches of 100 were sold for a dollar. I lost my childhood collection in a transatlantic move, so I bought the store out on a whim, instinctively reciting the short litany of players I had grown up watching: Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson. I wondered if there might be some childhood gold to be panned from the slurry.

Living for much of my life in the United Kingdom, some parts of my character have been indelibly formed by British people and traditions. The best humor will always be, to me, self-deprecating. All humor should be spelled “humour.” At 11pm sharp on Saturday nights I crave, at a biological level, lamb rohgan ghosht.

But, even after more than two decades living away from my hometown, I find that some American things were imprinted on my heart too early to be changed. One of those is baseball, by which I mean the Chicago Cubs.

Many people follow a sport. Some follow a team to the point of calling its members their “family” or calling a stadium their “cathedral.” I’m not like that. But, for me, baseball is inextricably intertwined with both family and religion.  

Although I am right-handed, I swing a bat like a southpaw. This is a legacy from my left-handed father, who taught me how to swing on the front lawn of our family home in north Chicago. In Little League, other coaches and dads would sometimes comment on my swing. I learned the proper response from my dad too - batting lefty made me a step and a half closer to first base.

Despite my best efforts to unlearn my lefty swing for other sports, I can’t do it for baseball, not even a little. Neither can I unlearn an abiding loathing for the New York Mets, who never did a thing to me but who broke my dad’s heart in the summer of ’69 with their blasphemous “miracle”.

My grandfather, himself a lifelong Cubs fan despite his own father having pitched for the White Sox, would watch games with me in his living room, and very occasionally at Wrigley Field. I learned the players’ names from him. I watched players like Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Grace, and Joe Girardi, whose drafting by the Rockies taught me to hate expansion teams on sight. But there were three names I heard over and over again: Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson.

As we watched the games, my grandfather didn’t speak much to me about the strategy or mechanics of baseball. It was years before I understood what a squeeze play was, or when you should try one. When Grandpa spoke to me about baseball, he spoke about the Cubs, and he spoke about virtues. The litany I learned- Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson- was about men whose characters made them praiseworthy. It wasn’t about what they did, but how they did it.

Ryne Sandberg, I was taught, worked harder than any Yankee, never got into trouble, and was always more interested in moving a man over to third than he was trying for the fences. A player who could hit 40 home runs in a season made himself the best bunter on the team. His near-perfect fielding percentage at second base (.989) came from a total focus on reading the game and always, always making the play for the team. He was a leader who led with wisdom, who put prudence behind each step and every swing.

Greg Maddux was the first and only pitcher I really knew as a kid. I later had to have Nolan Ryan explained to me as being “like Maddux.” Even as a 10-year old I understood he was great. But more important, I remember his effort. My  grandfather said it wasn’t that he was good, it was that he always got better because he always tried to get better.

At his induction into the Hall of Fame, Greg Maddux said that Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors once asked him if he ever wondered how good he could be, and he said he hadn’t. Connors responded “Why don’t you go out there and try to find out?” Maddux said he’d spent every day since that conversation trying to find out how good he could be.

My father always taught me -  still encourages me today - never to consider how or what I am, but to consider what I could be. As a child I hated the word “potential.” I understood it as an unanswerable criticism, a by-its-nature unfulfillable standard.

As an adult, I have come to understand potential as the universal call to holiness, that as life is a pilgrimage toward heaven, the goal is always “nearer,” never “there.” To seek perfection is to seek God; to always have more to do is to never take salvation for granted. To enter the struggle every day takes fortitude, looking at your life for ways to improve requires courage.

My favorite player was Andre Dawson. In 1987, he was a free agent with bad knees. No one would sign him, even the 71-91 Cubs. But Dawson wanted to be a Cub, so he arrived at spring training with a blank contract, offering to play for free, just for the chance to show what he could do. This, my grandfather told me, is what humility looks like - this is how a real man acts. Dawson went on to become league MVP, during a season in which the Cubs finished in last place.

They being the Cubs, and it being the 1980’s and 90’s, their greatness was a rarely sullied by winning. To be a Cubs fan was to live in constant, cheerful hope for a World Series we probably would never see in this world. I learned to hope, not with clenched teeth and fists, but with a smile. I learned to shrug off the losses, and to invoke the promise of next year, to have faith that someday they’d go all the way.

Of course, where the Cubs finished never mattered to me, or to my grandfather, or to my father. And it never touched the greatness of the players for me. I cared that they played the game with, as Sandberg called it, respect - for the game, for each other, for their opponents. They were, as I saw it, righteous.

In 2003, I remember watching the Bartman Game with my dad, live from London in the middle of the night. By the end, I think we were almost relieved - the tragicomedy of the team’s collapse somehow made more sense than victory ever would have.

Of course, two seasons ago the Cubs did go all the way. Sadly, it was 12 years after my grandfather had died. During the 2016 NLCS and World Series, I spent most of the games on the phone with my dad. We talked about the game. But we talked more about my childhood, our family, and Grandpa. On the day of Game 7, I went to Mass (like a lot of Cubs fans). It was the feast of All Souls. I prayed for my grandfather.  

I can’t name the whole 2016 Cubs team, but I can still name the Cubs from the ’89-’90 seasons. The 2016 team was fun to watch, but they taught me nothing.

When I got back from the thrift store last week, I sifted through more than 1,000 cards. They were all there: Rick Sutcliffe, Joe Girardi, Mark Grace, even the manager Don Zimmer. I found Sandberg, Maddux, and Dawson as a matching set for the ’89 season. I called my dad. I sent him pictures of the cards. We told stories about Grandpa.

I am going to get those cards framed. When I look at them I won’t see just baseball players. I will see wisdom, fortitude, and humility. I will think of my grandfather, and our call to be righteous and holy. When I look at them, I will call my dad.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. They do not reflect the editorial perspective of Catholic News Agency.



No monkey business: Chimps don’t have human rights, philosophers say

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 13:00

Denver, Colo., May 11, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a New York judge said that courts must seriously consider whether animals deserve some legal protections afforded to people, Catholic philosophers say that human beings are unique, and that, when it comes to law and ethics, that matters.

“Chimps are amazing living beings… and it could be a big mistake to just think of the chimps as things or instruments,” said Dr. John Crosby, a philosophy professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

“Undeniably, there is something there mysterious [about them]. There is something of worth, but there is not a person. And therefore, because they are not a person, there are no real rights the chimp has,” he told CNA.
Nonhuman Rights Project has sought to release two New York-based chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko, from the cages of private owners, and into a wild animal sanctuary. Steven Wise is the lawyer in charge of the animals’ defense.

In March 2017, Wise filed for habeas corpus relief, citing the similarities between mankind and primates. The filing alleged that chimps’ captivity constituted a kind of unlawful imprisonment.

On May 8, New York’s highest court rejected an appeal from Wise aimed at freeing the chimpanzees. The Court of Appeals voted 5-0 in favor of an intermediate appellate court in Manhattan that denied the chimps’ legal status in June 2017. The appellate court ruled that chimps are not legal persons.

“The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee's capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions,” wrote Justice Troy Webber last year, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Judge Eugene Fahey, who voted against the chimps’ rights to habeas relief on Tuesday, argued that while a chimp might not be considered a person, animals might have the right to legal redress.

“While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing,” he said in an opinion statement. “In elevating our species, we should not lower the status of other highly intelligent species.”

“The Appellate Division’s conclusion that a chimpanzee cannot be considered a ‘person’ and is not entitled to habeas relief is in fact based on nothing more than the premise that a chimpanzee is not a member of the human species,” Fahey wrote.

There are a lot of similarities between chimps and people, Fahey said, drawing attention to chimps' advanced cognitive skills, ability to self-recognize, and a high percentage of shared DNA with humans, at least 96 percent.

He asked whether some animals should have the right to readdress wrongs committed against them. Animals are not morally culpable or legally responsible, he said, but neither are infants and some ill people, and therefore they might enjoy similar legal rights.

“Even if it is correct, however, that nonhuman animals cannot bear duties, the same is true of human infants or comatose human adults, yet no one would suppose that it is improper to seek a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of one’s infant child.”

Dr. Crosby agreed that animals should not be treated poorly, and he lamented over the mistreatment of animals by farms and luxury product testing. However, he disagreed with the judge’s argument about babies and comatose adults, noting chimpanzees permanently lack moral culpability.

Babies grow into morally responsible adults and comatose patients may potentially get better, he said. Even if the patient does not get better, he added, people “are the kind of being that in the normal instance has moral agency and something is blocking exercise of it.”

Animals do not have moral agency or free will, he said, while highlighting a few major differences between chimpanzees and people.

“A person is a being that possesses himself and is capable of originating action, where he freely determines himself,” said Crosby. “It’s very difficult to claim that any chimp, however amazingly skilled, is a free agent.”

Cautioning against conferring upon them the status of persons, Crosby said people should instead remember their moral obligations towards animals.  

“These animals merit a certain reverence. We ought to think of ourselves not just as users of them, but somehow custodians of them,” he said. “There are right and wrong ways of acting towards chimps and other animals, but they are not the subject of rights since they are not persons.”

Father Brian Chrzastek, a philosophy professor at the Dominican House of Studies, also reflected on the difference between chimps and people. He said that humans have a higher potential for abstract thought and originality. While animals act by instinct, he said people engage rationally with the world.

“Humans are different in kind. It’s not like we are just smart chimpanzees or something. We’re an entirely different level of thought, an entirely different kind of species,” he told CNA.


New US immigration policy violates 'sanctity of the family,' critic says

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 05:03

Washington D.C., May 11, 2018 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry into the U.S. is inhumane and will split up families seeking safety, a Catholic analyst of migration policy warned.

“If implemented this will lead to a drastic increase in forcible family separation at the border,” Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA May 10.

“Most importantly it is inhumane and goes against our Catholic values and the sanctity of the family,” she said.

The policy change means prosecution of people who illegally cross the southwest border and the separation of many children from their parents.

Feasley stressed that entering the border with one’s child is not automatically an instance of child smuggling.

“Many of these families are willingly turning themselves over to Border Patrol. They are not hiding. They are asking for protection, they are vulnerable and looking for safety,” she said.

“[The policy change] will also erode judicial efficiency, taking away resources to prosecute the most dangerous, in favor of prosecuting every parent,” she said. The new policy could cost up to $620 per night to detain a family of one parent and two children.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed law enforcement officials in Arizona and California in two May 7 speeches.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions said, according to National Public Radio. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border.”

Border agents detained close to 40,000 unauthorized immigrants on the Mexico border each in March and April alone. They include 5,000 to 10,000 families and underage minors traveling alone.

The Department of Justice will send 35 more prosecutors and 18 more immigration judges to handle the caseload, Sessions has said.

The attorney general said there is now “zero tolerance” for illegal border crossings. The goal is for “100 percent” of all people who cross the border illegally to face charges of “improper entry by an alien,” which can result in up to six months in prison. Alleged violators will be referred to federal prosecutors through the Department of Homeland Security.

Thousands more migrants could be held in detention facilities or children’s shelters. Families with juveniles will be separated and the minors will be sent to separate facilities.

Under previous practice, people caught illegally crossing the border were returned to Mexico after a guilty plea and a brief detention. The violation is a misdemeanor under federal law.

Sessions said the Department of Justice would take up as many referrals from DHS “as humanly possible.”

However, Feasley warned that there are many dangers of family separation. It is “extremely traumatic” for children to experience, especially after a lengthy, stressful trip to the U.S. Very young children have been separated and left with strangers, many of whom do not speak their language.

“Then these children are put into shelter facilities which are confined spaces. The experience is doubly traumatizing,” Feasley continued. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned against the long lasting emotional trauma and harm that separation can cause children.”

Some migrants have tried to challenge their treatment under U.S. authorities.

One Honduran woman, Olga George, was charged with illegal entry and separated from the four young children accompanying her. She has retained lawyers who charge that the Justice Department is discriminating against her for being a Central American.

A Congolese woman who sought asylum was detained and separated from her young daughter for months until DNA testing during court proceedings confirmed their identities.

If immigrants detained at the border have valid asylum claims, they could still receive federal criminal convictions on their record regardless if they are judged to have a right to stay in the U.S., CNN reports. However, there are no special arrangements under the current plan for those who claim asylum when they are detained.

Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen officially enacted a “zero-tolerance” policy on Friday May 3.

Nelsen has said that families are separated only for the children’s safety or when family relationships can’t be proven. Under federal law and court decisions, children must be released from detention quickly. Previously, this meant entire families were released rather than separated.

DHS has already referred over 30,000 illegal entry cases to the Department of Justice, an increase of 61 percent over Fiscal Year 2017.

Feasley said the new policy will not address “the pervasive root causes of migration.” Migrants are fleeing state- or community-sanctioned violence, poverty, lack of educational opportunity, forced recruitment into gangs, and domestic abuse, among other grave problems that compel children and families “to take the enormous risks of migration.”

“These are the factors that must be addressed as we look to repair our broken immigration system,” she said.

Feasley also had particular recommendations for Catholics.

“Catholics should try to remember the human dignity of all families and children who arrive and look to assist these families in productive ways that help them comply with our immigration laws--ensuring that they know their rights and responsibilities in this country,” she said. She suggested helping migrants get legal counsel, accompanying them to legal proceedings, and “welcoming and praying with and for these families in our parishes.”

“As Pope Francis says, they are not a problem or a burden but an opportunity for encounter,” she told CNA.

Canadians oppose abortion requirement for summer job grants, poll finds

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 16:49

New Haven, Conn., May 10, 2018 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent survey indicates that a majority of Canadians disapprove of a new provision in the Canada Summer Job Grants program which requires organizations to support the government’s pro-choice view to receive public funding.

The CSJ grant helps fund summer programs overseen by small businesses, non-profit organizations, and faith-based employers. To date, the program has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs for students in college or secondary school.

Under new requirements, announced earlier this year, organizations must check a box professing their alignment with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, case law, and other government commitments – including “reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

The recent Canadian poll was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization with nearly 2 million members worldwide.

It was conducted by StrategyOne, and included responses from 1,837 Canadians via a 15-minute online survey.

The Knights of Columbus released the results of the survey May 9, one day before thousands of pro-life advocates were expected to attend Ottawa’s March for Life.

“A majority (51 percent) of Canadians think requiring support for abortion in order to participate in the Summer Jobs Program is unfair – nearly twice the number that see the requirement as fair (27 percent),” the Knights of Columbus stated in a May 9 statement alongside the release of the survey.

The statement further noted, “A plurality of those who identify as pro-choice (44 percent) also think that the abortion requirement in the jobs program is unfair, as opposed to 36 percent who judge it is fair.”

However, the survey also showed that only 26 percent of the respondents had previously known of the new grant requirements, compared to 66 percent who said they did not know.

The survey found that 62 percent of Canadians identify as “pro-choice”; however, a greater percentage – 65 percent – believe that abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy. “This includes a majority (52 percent) of those who identify as pro-choice,” the press release said.

A majority – 60 percent – said that abortion should be covered under the Canada Health Act, while 20 percent said that it should not be covered, and another 20 percent were unsure. A plurality – 43 percent – said that medical personnel and organizations with moral objections should not be required to perform abortions.

In January, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that pro-life groups which explicitly oppose abortion are “not in line with where we are as a government and, quite frankly, where we are at as a society.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement in January, strongly objecting to the new grant rules.

“This new policy conflicts directly with the right to freedom of religion and conscience which too are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as in associated case law,” they said.

“It seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach and practise their principles and values in public.”


Commentary: What Catholics can learn about beauty from the Met Gala

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 19:12

New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- By now, you have likely heard that the theme of this year’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” I will admit: when I first heard this, I winced. I’m not really sure what I was imagining, but it certainly wasn’t what paraded down the red carpet on Monday night.

To my surprise, I wasn’t offended by the vast majority of the dresses—instead, I felt a little sad that contemporary fashion designers seem to appreciate the “Catholic imagination” more than some of today’s church architects.

The Catholic Church could benefit from taking a fresh look at some of the “imagination” that was on display on Monday. No, I am not talking about Rihanna’s dress, or Lana Del Rey’s—but perhaps something like what Blake Lively, Darren Criss, or Priyanka Chopra wore. By focusing only on the people who went over the top, we do ourselves a disservice—we ignore the interest and wonder fostered by pieces of art inspired by the beauty of our faith.

I grew up a parishioner in a church that was built in 1988, during the so-called “dark ages” of Catholic design. The church is nearly indistinguishable on the outside from the Congregationalist church across the street. Aside from the sign out front, there’s nothing about the building that screams “Catholic,” or even “I am different from that other church over there.”

The inside is not much better. It’s very plain. The walls are white. There are no frescoes. The only real color in the building comes from the carpet, which is a nice reddish color. There are banners behind the altar that are rotated with the liturgical seasons, but that’s about it. Even the stained glass is just colored panes, with no designs.

The tabernacle, which is a handsome, yet unadorned, wooden box, is hidden in the corner, behind where the altar servers sit. The priest’s chair is placed behind the altar.

In short: there is very little at this parish that would evoke the gasps, or the feelings of wonder and amazement that some of Monday night’s fashions drew. And that should make us sad. There is a human longing for beautiful things and traditions, and if these aren’t found in the Church, people will seek them elsewhere.

The Church has a wonderful history of art and beautiful designs, yet that seems to have fallen mostly by the wayside over the past few decades. Felt banners do not have the same effect on a person as a beautiful painting, intricate stained glass, or a sparkling mosaic. The rock n’ roll Masses of my youth, with drums and guitars, fail to create the same reverent, mystical, and contemplative atmosphere as chanting and polyphony.

An outfit based off my hometown parish would resemble something found in an H&M, not a one-of-a-kind couture look. Catholicism, with its pageantry, pomp, and bedazzled Eastern Rite bishops, is the haute couture of religion. This might be something the Church shies away from these days, but it was embraced by the revelers at the Met Gala.

Catholicism is one of few faiths that could inspire something like what we saw on Monday. Indeed, the Gala organizers had originally had planned for five major faiths—Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—to be the theme of this year’s gala, but dropped the other four during the planning stages when they realized there’s just too much good Catholic art and fashion.

There’s been a lot of hemming and hawing online, questioning what the public’s reaction would be if the event were used Islam or a different faith for its theme. Given that the internet recently had a nervous breakdown over a white Utah high schooler’s vintage Chinese prom dress, this is definitely something worth considering. It is important to be respectful of culture, and sadly, not everyone at the Gala was.

However, I propose a different thought exercise: Imagine if the Met Gala had been themed to feature Methodist, Baptist or Puritan fashion, art, and architecture. It would certainly have been a very different event. There’s just far less source material. Catholics should be proud of the beauty and imagery that the faith has inspired, and indeed, many are proud.

Take the story of Stefano Gabbana, a Catholic designer who has experienced a Catholic reversion of sorts in recent years. He says he no longer wishes to be identified as gay, and has lost friends in the LGBT community because of comments opposing same-sex parenthood, IVF, surrogacy, and nontraditional families. Gabbana has frequently used his faith as inspiration when designing his clothing, and he designed several of the more jaw-dropping pieces worn on Monday, including Sarah Jessica Parker’s nativity-inspired getup, Coco Brandolini d’Adda’s Our Lady of Guadalupe dress, and Criss’s blazer.

Gabbana, at least, and probably other designers, didn’t use Marian imagery or ancient mosaics in their pieces to mock them. They were inspired by them, and used those images, for the most part, to create beautiful clothing. Imitation, within limits, is the sincerest form of flattery. There’s a reason why Ariana Grande, a lapsed Catholic herself, wore a dress with images of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and not one depicting the ceiling of a Houston megachurch. Catholicism is different, but not in a bad way.

The Catholic imagination should be embraced and fully displayed. It is worth saving. It is worth promoting. And on Monday, a largely secular audience got to see it for themselves.  



The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. They do not reflect the editorial position of Catholic News Agency.


Outreach or outrage: Catholics react to Met Gala fashion

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 19:07

New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The papal pomp and Catholic circumstance on display at this year’s Met Gala in New York (aka the ‘Oscars of the East Coast’) was met with a combination of confusion and optimism from Catholic thinkers and writers.

The theme for this year’s annual gala, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, inspired equally creative and controversial attire, including the bedazzled, skin-bearing papal ensemble worn by Rihanna, a pregnant Cardi B dressed up as Mary Queen of Heaven, and a Sistine chapel-inspired dress worn by Ariana Grande, among many other outfits emblazoned with crosses and icons and other Catholic-inspired paraphernalia.

The event kicked off the Met exhibit with the same theme, which features Church garments borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met collection, and 150 designer fashion pieces that were intended to pay homage to Catholicism.

Considered by some to be a perverse and often baffling event, many Catholic writers seemed reluctant to dub the gala as either completely sacreligious or as a stroke of New-Evangelization genius - most fell somewhere in the middle.

Ross Douthat, a Catholic columnist at the New York Times, called the gala a “beautiful and blasphemous spectacle” and noted that “When a living faith gets treated like a museum piece, it’s hard for its adherents to know whether to treat the moment as an opportunity for outreach or for outrage.”

While he lamented the lack of faith behind the fascination with Catholicism, Douthat did wonder whether there was a lesson for the present-day Church contained in the secular world’s enamoration with the trimmings and trappings of an older Catholic aesthetic - one that he said has largely taken a back seat in the Church since the Second Vatican Council.

“The path forward for the Catholic Church in the modern world is extraordinarily uncertain,” Douthat wrote. “But there is no plausible path that does not involve more of what was displayed and appropriated and blasphemed against in New York City Monday night, more of what once made Catholicism both great and weird, and could yet make it both again.”

Also lamenting the lack of real faith behind the display was Matthew Schmitz of First Things, who said that people should pay attention to the real Catholic imagination and the meaning behind it, and not the overly sentimental and shallow aesthetic Catholicism that was on display at the gala.

“The same faith that gave rise to these beautiful baubles proposed views on sexuality and social order that are contrary to the spirit of the age. It is foolish to suppose that either the Church’s teaching or its relics are mere artefacts that now have lost their power,” he said.

“These beautiful copes, stoles, clasps, and rings still move men—still have the power Leo XIII acknowledged in Testem Benevolentiae when he advised priests in America to spread the faith ‘by the pomp and splendor of ceremonies’ as well as ‘by setting forth that sound form of doctrine.’ In the Met's carnival atmosphere, their splendor seems all the more radiant.”

Some writers noted that the gala also revealed a double standard of what is acceptable to culturally appropriated, following an uproar last week over a Utah teen who wore a Chinese dress to her high school prom even though she was not Chinese herself.

Daniella Greenbaum, writing for Business Insider, said that while she finds the whole concept of cultural appropriation “deeply misguided,” she did think that the Met revealed a double standard over what qualifies as offensive, given the outrage over the Chinese dress and the lack thereof over the Catholic costumes at the gala.

“It highlights the unfairness. Social-justice warriors inevitably create distinctions — they have appointed themselves the arbiters of which cultures deserve protecting. And in the meantime, it seems, they've left Catholics out to dry,” she wrote.

However, others saw the cultural appropriation as a neutral or even positive part of the event, creating opportunities for further conversation.

Madeleine Kearns, writing for The Spectator, a UK publication, said that Catholics ‘can cope’ with cultural appropriation, and that being offended by it is a “counter-productive, ideological dead-end; a festival of victim culture. As far as I’m concerned, if people want to dress up as the Pope, or drape rosary beads over their car mirrors — why ever not? It starts a conversation about a culture I’m proud of.”

Eloise Blondiau, writing for America magazine, said that “If nothing else, the theme of this year’s exhibition and gala shows a willingness to engage with religion that is healthy and promising in a climate where polarization is rife.”

While the event was organized in cooperation with the Vatican, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was one of a few prelates in attendance, joking later that he ordered in “street meat” - hot dogs from to a pushcart - to the posh event after finding the refreshments insufficient, and joking that Rihanna borrowed her miter from him.  

The cardinal, who some criticized for attending the event, said in a press conference for the opening of the exhibition that he came because the ‘Catholic imagination’ honors “the true, the good, the beautiful.”

In the ‘Catholic imagination,’ the True, the Good, and the Beautiful have a name: Jesus Christ, who revealed Himself as ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life,’” he said. “In the ‘Catholic imagination,’ the truth, goodness, and beauty of God is reflected all over… even in fashion.  The world is shot through with His glory,” he said, adding a thanks to the organizers of the event, as well as to the Vatican “for its historic cooperation.”  

Dolan later told SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel that as a self-proclaimed “JCPenney’s Big and Tall man” his personal interest in the event was not for the fashion, but for the chance to engage with people about the Catholic faith.

“There were some aspects that looked like kind of a masquerade party, a Halloween party,” he said. “I didn’t really see anything sacrilegious, I may have seen some things in poor taste, but I didn’t detect anybody out to offend the church.”

However, “A number of people came up and spoke about their Catholic upbringing and things they remembered and it was a powerful evening.”

The exhibition itself will run May 10 – Oct. 8, 2018 and is hosted at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval rooms at the Met on Fifth Avenue, and the Met Cloisters in uptown New York City. It is the Met Costume Institute’s largest show to date.

Church garments and liturgical vestments, many of which are still in use, will be displayed separately from the fashion exhibit, out of respect. The items in the separate exhibit come from the Sistine Chapel sacristy’s Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and range in age from the mid-1700s to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.


Sistine Chapel Choir's Met performance a real 'wow moment'

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 17:08

New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A surprise performance by the Sistine Chapel Choir at the Met Gala this week left attendees in awe and helped convey the joy and beauty of the Church, said one of the organizers of the performance.

The choir’s performance had not been announced in advance, coming as a surprise to those present at the May 7 Met Gala, which takes place annually on the first Monday of May and serves as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This year the Met exhibition, which opens May 10 and runs through October 2018, carries the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and features around 40 items on loan from the Vatican.

The items, many of which come from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy's Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, range in time period from the mid-1700s up to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.

Given the special nature of the Vatican items, they will be set up in a separate display from the other pieces, which include religious art from the Met collection itself and around 150 designer fashion pieces intended to pay homage to Catholicism and which draw inspiration from Catholic iconography, liturgy and other aspects of the faith tradition.

John Hale, one of the leading organizers of the choir's surprise performance at the gala, told CNA that the evening “was really a wow-moment.”

Hale sits on the board of directors for the Vatican's Patrons of the Arts, which consists of different chapters, most of which are in the United States, who fund restoration projects for the priceless treasures housed in the Vatican Museums.

At one point after the performance, Hale said Anna Wintour, Met board member and editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Vogue, told him guests were unusually silent, commenting that “this is the quietest I've ever seen for this gala.”

Wintour, Hale said, told him attendees “were absolutely enthralled” by the performance. That sentiment, he added, “summed it up beautifully.”

“I spoke with a number of the attendees and mixed with them right after the performance and it was perfect silence, there was very good applause and many folks were just really moved.”

Commonly referred to as “the pope's choir,” the Sistine Chapel Choir consists of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section composed of 35 boys aged 9-13, called the Pueri Cantores.

With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.

According to Hale, who is also president and co-owner of Corporate Travel Service, the invitation to sing at the Met Gala came during the choir's U.S. mini-tour in September 2017, during which the choir sold out performances in Washington D.C., New York and Detroit.

The choir's director, Maestro Massimo Palombella, had approached Hale several years ago about creating a tour in the U.S. The September mini-version was essentially a test run, Hale said, and given the choir's success during their fall tour, a longer nationwide tour is being organized for this summer.

Hale said he was initially hesitant when he was asked to help organize a performance at the gala, and had concerns over sensitivity to the Catholic faith. However, when the Vatican green-lighted the choir's visit, he jumped on board and kept the performance under wraps for nearly a year up until the moment the choir filed in and began singing.

And having worked with the Met to get all the details in order, “I can really say they were not only respectful, they really wanted to communicate the beauty and faith of the Church,” he said. “I really had that sense, and it was very sincere. I was very moved by how sincere they were.”

The exhibit itself was “beautifully done,” and serves as “a real opportunity to express the Church's teaching through beauty, through truth,” Hale said. “The same with the performance of the Sistine Chapel Choir.”

While there was some “outlandish fashion” that hit the red carpet at the gala, the vast majority of the 600 some attendees were “dressed beautifully and very appropriately,” he said.

“That might not be picked up traditionally because the media wants the outliers,” he said, explaining that while it is important to be sensitive to how the Church is portrayed, the Church also has to “go out.”

“We have to communicate beauty, and we have been invited, as a Church, to communicate what is our expression of beauty and our making manifest God's presence through beauty,” he said, adding that in his opinion, “it would have been a crime not to respond to that invitation.”

Ultimately, what gets communicated through the beauty of things like fashion and music is God's love, Hale said. “Everyone wants to be loved and we all need to be loved by God.”

Referring to a recent pastoral letter written by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron titled “Unleash the Gospel,” which spoke of the need to find “shallow entry points” for evangelization, Hale said the Met exhibit and gala “was an entry point into encountering God through the true beauty and good.”

Choir members themselves felt both appreciated and respected by gala attendees, he said, noting that a number of the singers told him they could see people in the front row, and it was obvious they were captivated.

“Several choir members commented on the smiles, the joy, they could see genuine joy,” he said. “There was an exchange and a communication of joy that was palpable and apparent to the choir members and to the attendees.”

Religious freedom efforts in the spotlight as North Korean prisoners freed

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 15:29

Washington D.C., May 9, 2018 / 01:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The release of three American prisoners from North Korea was hailed as an important first step in addressing abuses within the nation, as U.S. leaders call for a continued expansion of religious freedom initiatives in U.S. foreign policy.

The freed prisoners are expected to arrive in the U.S. early Thursday morning. They are accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had traveled to Pyongyang to finalized negotiations surrounding their release.  

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, called news of the prisoner release “a great victory for these families and one critical step toward restoring diplomatic relations with North Korea.”

However, he cautioned, “To keep progressing, this first gesture of goodwill must now be followed by further actions to address the long-running, systematic human rights abuses that still plague the people of North Korea.”

The May 9 release of Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song, and Kim Dong-chul from North Korea comes as the U.S. government is looking to expand its promotion of religious freedom abroad through both economic development and security partnerships.

In a May 8 policy briefing at the U.S. House of Representatives Canon office, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said that he had recently met with leaders in the Department of Defence and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to discuss the promotion of religious freedom in their fields.

Among the new developments, USAID will be adding a “religious freedom grid” as a part of the programs that it funds, according to Brownback, who also said that “we are training military leaders around the world on religious freedom.”

Browback’s pragmatic approach includes advancing an idea that religious freedom contributes to greater economic growth and security.

Religious freedom “is not only a God-given human right, which I think should be enough, but it is going to grow our economy and grow our security. And, we want to project that around the world,” he said.

The European Union counterpart to Ambassador Brownback, Ján Figel, also spoke about E.U. approaches to promote greater international religious freedom at the May 8 briefing, which was co-hosted by the International Catholic Legislators Network and the Religious Freedom Institute.

The U.S. will also be expanding its advocacy efforts on behalf of prisoners of conscience, announced the chairman of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Daniel Mark at a seperate event on May 8.

Through the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, USCIRF compiles a list of people who are imprisoned for their faith or religious freedom promotion, and advocates for their release.

Mark said that USCIRF is ramping up efforts to compile an even larger list of prisoners of conscience, especially for the “countries of particular concern” listed in their recently released 2018 report.

The three American prisoners released from North Korea each had Christian connections through their work within the country, known as being among the worst perpetrators of religious freedom violations in the world.

Kim Dong-chul is a Christian pastor who was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor in North Korea in 2016, on charges of spying. Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song both taught at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a university founded in 2010 by a Christian Korean-American entrepreneur, before their arrest. They were detained for “espionage” and “hostile acts,” respectively.

President Trump sees the release of the three American detainees as “a positive gesture of goodwill” leading up to his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to a statement released by the White House on May 9.

The high profile prisoner release may be a sign that human rights will not be neglected in the continued security and peacebuilding efforts with North Korea, a question that had previously been a point of contention.

“The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” continued the White House statement.

In contrast, when 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier was returned to his family last year after being detained in North Korea for 17 months, he had severe brain damage and died shortly after. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a political poster from his hotel while on a sightseeing tour of North Korea. His parents filed a lawsuit against the North Korean government on May 3.

Open Doors USA emphasized that while the release of the three prisoners this week is a positive development, there are still tens of thousands imprisoned in the Asian country, and their situations should not be forgotten.

There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.

“Reports indicate that tens of thousands of prisoners facing hard labor or execution are Christians from underground churches or who practice in secret,” said the 2018 report by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

USCIRF Associate Director of Research and Policy, Tina Mufford, underscored this point.

“Today’s release of three American citizens unjustly imprisoned by the North Korean regime is welcome news, but should serve as a call to action on behalf of the tens of thousands of North Korean citizens, many of whom are Christians, currently serving prison sentences in unspeakable conditions,” she said.

“North Korea may be positioning itself on the global stage, but the regime grossly disregards international human rights standards, including freedom of religion or belief,” she continued. “Any U.S. or international engagement with North Korea must include discussions about religious freedom and related human rights, in no small part because these fundamental freedoms are critical to regional and global security.”

Why some parishes are offering IDs to undocumented Texans

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 19:09

Dallas, Texas, May 8, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For undocumented immigrants in Texas, something as simple as a routine traffic stop could mean arrest and deportation.

Since an anti-sanctuary law was enacted this spring, Texas law enforcement officers are permitted to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they have detained, even during routine interactions, and must comply with federal guidelines to hold undocumented criminal suspects for possible deportation.

Despite promises that the law would not lead to racial profiling and unnecessary arrests, its passage has left many immigrants feeling uneasy in their communities.

Father Michael Forge, a Catholic priest in Farmers Branch, Texas, told Dallas News that since the anti-sanctuary law was passed, several of his undocumented parishioners have told him that they felt unsafe to going to church or taking their kids to school.

That’s why Forge and several other local Catholic churches have begun issuing Church identification cards. Unlike state-issued identification, they do have any legal significance, but they can provide officers with a name and address, assuaging for some card holders the fear of arrest during otherwise routine interactions.  

Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of Dallas, who helped launch the initiative with the group Dallas Area Interfaith, said that the identifications give immigrants a sense of safety, community and belonging.

“It was just a way of giving them status within the church,” Kelly told CNA. “It was a way of saying you belong to us, you’re a part of our parish family.”

Applicants for the church ID cards are typically asked to provide some other form of identification, such as an expired driver's license or passport from their country of origin, or an affidavit certifying their identity.  

Some parishes ask that immigrants show that they are active parish members for several months before applying, though that is not a requirement everywhere.

"You don't have to be Catholic for that matter," Forge told Dallas News. "We certainly want our immigrants, legal or otherwise, to have some sort of peace."

Kelly said the cards have been a way to offer some solidarity with and peace of mind to fellow Christians.

“They’re our brothers and sisters but oftentimes they live in the shadows, they’re subject to injustices, wage theft, people may hire them and not pay them,” he said.

Police in the cities of Dallas, Carrollton and Farmers Branch have been told that they are allowed to accept the church cards as a form of identification. The church IDs include a person’s name, address and home parish. They can also be used to enroll in citizenship or language classes.

“So far people have said there’s a sense of relief and joy that they have something that says that they belong to this parish,” Kelly added.

“They recognize that it’s not an official government ID, they know that, it’s just a way of saying: 'we are acknowledged here.'”


NM Supreme Court reconsiders textbook funding for private schools

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 18:54

Santa Fe, N.M., May 8, 2018 / 04:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision has given new life to New Mexico backers of state funding for private school textbooks, as their case returns to the state Supreme Court.

“Ending the textbook lending program will disproportionately hurt low-income and minority children, at a time when they need access to a quality education more than ever,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said May 7. “We should be investing in kids’ futures, not crippling their ability to gain a quality education.”

The Becket law group, working on behalf of the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools, has challenged a court decision that ended non-public school students’ participation in an 80-year-old textbook lending program for state-approved textbooks and other educational material.

“A science textbook is a science textbook no matter whose shelf it’s on,” Baxter said, arguing that siding with the school would “stop discriminating” and “give all kids equal access to the best educational opportunities.”

In 2011, two parents challenged the program on the grounds the state constitution bars education funds from being used “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university,” language known as a Blaine Amendment. A 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision, Moses v. Ruszkowski, sided with the parents and ended nonpublic school students’ participation.

Becket has challenged the ruling’s reliance on the Blaine Amendment. The law group claimed the 19th century law was “originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens” and “was all about anti-Catholic animus.”

Such amendments have been used “to keep religious organizations from participating in neutral, generally applicable government programs on the same terms as everyone else,” the legal group charged. It cited efforts in Oklahoma to use a Blaine Amendment to block the use of scholarships for learning-disabled children attending religious schools.

Frank Susman, a Santa Fe attorney who represents the parents, said their case was backed by the Blaine Amendment and at least two other constitutional amendments which he said bar appropriations for private entities, whether schools or students.

“They all absolutely ban this type of aid,” Susman said in court May 7, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.

The U.S. Supreme Court has returned the 2015 decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider in light of its own 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. That 7-2 decision sided with a Christian preschool which had been denied a Missouri state grant for an effort to improve playground safety because it was associated with a church.

The United States' highest court ruled that it was wrong to deny a church a public benefit that was otherwise available only because of its religious status.

New Mexico’s Public Education Department is also challenging the state court’s ruling, though the department has not provided funding for private school textbooks since the decision. The ruling relates to over $1 million in federal funds the state receives each year through the U.S. Mineral Leasing Act.

Wisconsin diocese to launch new parish for Hmong Catholics

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 04:41

La Crosse, Wis., May 8, 2018 / 02:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A special quasi-parish for Catholics of Hmong background will be established in the Wisconsin Diocese of La Crosse, its local bishop announced.

“It’s with great hope and joy that I welcome our newest parish, whose mission is to bring the Catholic tradition to the Hmong community,” Bishop William Patrick Callahan said May 6. “Today we are proud to continue in our history of reaching out to peoples who have not encountered Jesus and the gospels.”

A quasi-parish is the equivalent of a parish under canon law, with some exceptions. It can later become a parish at the discretion of the local bishop.

Bishop Callahan named Father Alan T. Burkhardt as the quasi-parish’s first pastor. He currently pastors St. Anne Parish in Wausau. That parish currently hosts a bilingual Hmong Mass on Sunday afternoons.

Hmong refugees began to arrive in the La Crosse area after the Vietnam War and the civil war in the southeast Asia country of Laos, where they are an ethnic minority. There are over 7,000 people with Hmong heritage in the Wausau area, and its Hmong Catholic community is the second-largest in the U.S. There are significant Hmong populations in La Crosse and Eau Claire as well.

The initial work to launch the quasi-parish, including organizational and civil requirements and selection of a worship space, is expected to finish by the end of 2018. According to the bishop’s decree, the quasi-parish’s name will be Mary, Mother of Good Help.

“The members of the Hmong community desire to know their faith and have asked me to consider the possibility of pursuing this dialogue as a new parish,” Bishop Callahan said in a May 6 letter to the Catholics of the diocese and of the Wausau deanery.

“I offer my fervent prayers and very warm wishes for all who are directly involved in this great missionary event,” he said.

“With great hope in Jesus, this new parish will provide new opportunities for the Hmong community to grow,” he added, invoking the diocese’s tradition of serving Irish, German, Polish and French immigrants.

Bishop Callahan said the needs of the diocese’s Hmong community have been a particular point of reflection for him in the last year.

The diocese has recognized a desire for integration between the Hmong community and the native population, but different cultures and languages are “real barriers” which require “special attention to overcome.”

While Catholic missionaries worked among the Hmong for decades before they arrived in the U.S., the community’s history in refugee camps and during relocation to the U.S., among other factors, have meant Hmong people have had limited time to establish “a common vocabulary and understanding of basic Catholic beliefs,” the bishop said.

“With this in mind, the ministry to the Hmong community requires adjustments from us to assist in their assimilation and knowledge that will provide them an ability to feel comfortable within Catholic tradition,” said Bishop Callahan.

“The Hmong community is new to Christianity,” he continued. “Their traditional spirituality is a form of animism. Since coming to our diocese, a significant number of Hmong have embraced the Catholic faith. Their conversion from animism to Catholicism requires special attention, so that the traditions of animism are not erroneously carried over into Catholic practices.”

“Since animism and Hmong culture are intimately integrated, this process of sorting possible errors is challenging,” said the bishop.

Creating a parish with a pastor for the Hmong community may help this dialogue evolve and help the community deepen their understanding of Catholicism, he said.

Bishop Callahan cited the 1987 letter from La Crosse’s then-Bishop John Paul, “On the Christian Welcome of the Hmong Population Among the Faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse.” Bishop Paul considered the history of the Hmong people and noted that the Hmong had allied with the U.S. during the Vietnam War. He asked Catholics to help the refugees meet their needs.

“The Diocese of La Crosse is honored to be involved in this missionary work by which we ‘welcome the Stranger’ by bringing our Catholic tradition and faith to the Hmong people who have made our diocese their home,” Bishop Callahan said.