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Why Nathanial Hawthorne's daughter is now called a Servant of God

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 15:34

Hawthorne, New York, Jul 11, 2017 / 01:34 pm (National Catholic Register).- Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “w” to his last name because one of his ancestors was John Hathorne, a Salem witch trial judge, and he wanted to distance himself from that legacy. Raised in a Calvinist milieu, Hawthorne was not a regular churchgoer, but as anyone who read The Scarlet Letter in high school knows, he was conversant with religious themes of sin, judgement, forgiveness, and mercy.

A supporter of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, he was rewarded with a diplomatic post – the consulship in Liverpool, England. The Democratic Party did not nominate Pierce to run for a second term, however, and the Hawthorne family toured Portugal, France and Italy in late 1850’s after leaving that post.

Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia Peabody, had been raised a Unitarian and both Nathaniel and Sophia were influenced by the Transcendental Movement, being friends with Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. They had three children, Una, Julian, and Rose.

Nothing in the family background could have prepared them for the conversion of their youngest child to the Catholic Church – except perhaps those years in Europe where they encountered “the Roman Church” in art and architecture, music, culture and prayer.
Marriage, Conversion, and Separation

Rose Hawthorne’s conversion to Catholicism in 1891 shocked the family. Her father had died in 1864 and her mother moved the family to Dresden, Germany, where Rose met George Parsons Lathrop. Because of Franco-Prussian War, Sophia moved again, back to England. There she died in 1871; Rose and George were married later that year in an Anglican Church over the objections of her brother and sister; they thought it was too soon after their mother’s death and that Rose was too young and vulnerable to marry.

They had a troubled marriage; he abused alcohol and their only child Francis died of diphtheria in 1881. George edited The Atlantic Monthly and Rose wrote poetry. They lived in New London, Connecticut and took instruction from a Paulist, Father Alfred Young, and were received into the Church. Like many new converts, they were filled with zeal and worked for the Church together on several projects, including the Catholic Summer School Movement and a history of the Visitation Convent in Georgetown.

In 1895, Rose and George took the extraordinary step of asking the Catholic Church for a permanent separation – not an annulment of their marriage – because of George’s instability and alcoholism which endangered Rose. Neither would be free to marry until the other died, so they demonstrated their belief in the indissolubility of marriage and in the Sacrament of Matrimony even as they separated. George died of cirrhosis of the liver three years later.
A New Cause; A New Vocation

Rose had witnessed the decline and death of the poet, Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus.” Rose noted that although there had been no cure for Emma’s cancer, she had been comfortable and cared for during her illness. Rose began to think of those who suffered from the same disease without the same palliative care and studied nursing the New York Cancer Hospital. She went out to the poor in their tenements and opened Sister Rose's Free Home on the lower East Side with the assistance of Alice Huber.

At the same time that she was engaged in such practical nursing and care for the poor. Rose attended daily Mass, went to Confession frequently, prayed, wrote (publishing a collection of family letters as Memories of Hawthorne), and worked to raise funds. At the urging of Father Clement Thuente, O.P., Rose and Alice became Third Order Dominicans.

On December 8, 1900, with the approval of the Archbishop of New York, Michael A. Corrigan, Rose founded a new religious order, the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer, and became its first Mother Superior with the name Mother Mary Alphonsa. She died on July 9, 1926 when she was 75 years old. Her parents had been married on July 9 in 1842.
Servant of God

The late Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, approved the opening of her cause for canonization in 2003. She is now called a Servant of God.

Her story, with its hints of literary romance and reality of separation and sorrow, demonstrates how strong the call to holiness can be. Out of her disappointment and grief from her failed marriage, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop as Mother Mary Alphonsa found a new vocation and a way to serve the poor and destitute in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, as her order is known today, offers this prayer for her canonization on their website:

Lord God, in your special love for the sick, the poor and the lonely, you raised up Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa) to be the servant of those afflicted with incurable cancer with no one to care for them.  In serving the outcast and the abandoned, she strove to see in them the face of your Son.  In her eyes, those in need were always “Christ’s Poor.”

Grant that her example of selfless charity and her courage in the face of great obstacles will inspire us to be generous in our service of neighbor.  We humbly ask that you glorify your servant, Rose Hawthorne, on earth according to the designs of your holy will. Through her intercession, grant the favor that I now present (here make your request).

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


This article was originally published by the National Catholic Register.


Don’t send Chaldeans back to persecution in Iraq, advocates plead

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 20:41

Detroit, Mich., Jul 10, 2017 / 06:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a federal judge again halted the deportation of over 1,000 Chaldeans from the U.S., advocates for the detainees insisted their deportations should be stopped until conditions in Iraq improve.

“We’re just hopeful that people continue to pray for these that are being detained, and understanding that this is a humanitarian crisis and that the administration steps in and puts a halt to these deportations,” Martin Manna of the Chaldean Community Foundation told CNA.

On July 6, U.S. district court judge Mark Goldsmith extended by two weeks a halt on the deportations of Iraqi nationals from around the country.

He wrote that “there is good cause to extend the stay order beyond July 10, 2017. The Court orders that the stay of removal for all members of the class, both original members and those added by way of the expanded definition, shall now expire on July 24, 2017 at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise ordered by the Court.”

Advocates for the detainees insisted that the stay of deportation was important, as they need extra time to prove to a judge their credible fear of persecution if deported back to Iraq.

Beginning on June 11, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began rounding up Iraqi nationals living in the Detroit metropolitan area, at their homes in front of their families or in public places. The Chaldeans, mostly Christian, had come to the U.S. legally, and were expected to complete a five-year process for eventual citizenship.

However, the Iraqis either failed to complete the process by applying for green cards, or committed a misdemeanor or felony which disqualified them from eventual citizenship. They received a final order of deportation from a federal judge.

Many of the crimes committed were decades ago, Martin Manna of the Chaldean Community Foundation insisted, and the Chaldeans served their time in jail and have been responsible members of the community since then, regularly checking in with ICE as they are required to do.

They make up a “community of entrepreneurs,” he said, contributing almost $11 billion per year to the state’s economy and are involved in their communities.

“The overwhelming majority of this population poses little or no threat to the United States,” former acting director of ICE John Sandweg stated in a June 6 conference call with reporters.

“The use of discretion in this case is more than appropriate. When you’re talking about 30-year-old nonviolent offenses, in no way, shape or form does it make sense to remove them at this time.”

For instance, one of the detainees is a woman who came to the U.S. as a 5 year-old and now has three children who are U.S. citizens. She received her final order of removal in 1986 and had committed misdemeanor fraud, serving probation time and being released “on an order of supervision.”

She had been “complying with this order,” Manna said, yet now she is set to be deported to Iraq.

Iraq had initially refused to accept the Chaldeans, but recently agreed to do so as a condition of the U.S. removing Iraq from the list of countries on President Donald Trump’s travel ban. In that executive order on national security, President Trump had listed several countries from which nationals could not enter the U.S. except with certain diplomatic visas.

Since June 11, over 1,000 Iraqi nationals from all over the U.S. have been detained by ICE and slated for deportation to Iraq.

U.S. bishops have advocated for a halt to the deportation of the Chaldeans, at least until they would no longer have a credible fear of persecution in Iraq.

In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chair of the bishops’ international justice and peace committee, insisted that the administration stop the deportations.

“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” they wrote.

“For decades, many of these Christians sought legal refuge in the United States. Like other refugees from various countries of origins, they have become integrated into American communities.”

Advocates for the Chaldeans have also been in talks with officials in the Trump administration, and have asked for a temporary protected status to be granted to the detainees from the President or the Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Overall, the situation for Christians in Iraq has deteriorated significantly since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and fell sharply with the rise of ISIS in 2014. While an estimated 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq in 2003, less than 200,000 live there now. There were over 340 churches in Iraq in 2003, and only just over 40 today.

Christians have also been victims of genocide. In 2016, the U.S. State Department declared that the Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria. ISIS still controls territory in Iraq.

And recently, a prominent Shi’a leader in Iraq, Sheikh Alaa al-Moussawi, was sued by Christian families for remarks he made that Christians there were “infidels.” He called for “jihad” against Christians.

“The threat of persecution is real and severe in this case,” Sandweg insisted of the deportations of the Iraqis, adding that “the U.S. government has long used its discretion to delay the removal of vulnerable populations until such time as those individuals face no threat in their home country.”

“Iraq cannot guarantee the safety of these Christians and many face persecution and death for their religious beliefs,” Martin Manna stated on a June 6 conference call with reporters. “There is no homeland remaining for the Christian community in Iraq because of the ongoing persecution.”

The ACLU of Michigan, which represented some of the Detroit-area Chaldeans in court, applauded the additional two week stay, adding that “we must ensure that our immigration policy doesn’t operate as a death sentence for anyone.”


House passes pair of bills aimed at tighter immigration enforcement

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 16:17

Washington D.C., Jul 10, 2017 / 02:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States House of Representatives on June 29 passed two bills in an effort to crack down on undocumented immigration and sanctuary cities.

The “No Sanctuary for Criminals” Act, also known as HR 3003, would strip federal grant eligibility from sanctuary cities which seek to harbor and protect undocumented immigrants from federal immigration authorities. It would ban any legal authority from seeking to prohibit or impede the enforcement of or compliance with national immigration law.

Dozens of such cities exist throughout the country, largely concentrated in California, which have some law or set of laws seeking to inhibit local cooperation with national policies.

The topic had been addressed just weeks before by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal DiNardo said June 9 at a migration conference that local law enforcement authorities should not be compelled to enforce federal immigration law, as this “would fundamentally alter the relationship between our local law enforcement officials maintain with our local communities, especially immigrant communities.”

He also warned that this “burden” would “tak(e) away from their efforts to ensure public safety” as they “pursu(e) those who are otherwise-law abiding.”

The House also passed a bill dubbed “Kate’s Law” which would establish mandatory minimum sentencing for deported immigrants who return to the country.

According to the Washington Post, the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the bill for penalizing those fleeing persecution in their home country.

The U.S. bishops have spoken up repeatedly in recent years on the subject of immigration. In 2003, they issued the pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” In the document, they defined the rights of persons to migrate, as well as nations to control their borders. They called for refugees and asylum seekers to be protected, and for respect for the human rights of undocumented migrants.

The bishops have been very vocal in recent months in speaking out against the Trump administration’s immigration policies and proposals, calling for a balance of national security and welcoming migrants.

In a November 11 statement, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary of Seattle, congratulated Donald Trump on his election and called for the protection of immigrant families. In the letter, he expressed the bishops’ desire “to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans.”

Following the president’s January executive orders to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and increase immigration detention centers, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas warned that “(t)he policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

Acting in his role as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, Bishop Vásquez stated that the bishops “strongly disagree” with a decision to halt refuge admissions in a similar order.

In a similar letter in response to two memoranda implementing January’s orders, Bishop Vásquez “recognized “the importance of ensuring public safety” and called for “reasonable and necessary steps to do that.”

However, he condemned the memoranda, saying that “the policies contained in these memoranda will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us, breakdown the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities.” He also warned against “the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference voted to give permanent status to their working group on migration at their annual spring meeting in June. The leader of the group, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, stated that “(t)here was a desire to express solidarity with and pastoral concern for those at risk, but also a desire to avoid encouraging exaggerated fears.”

On June 18, Archbishop Gomez celebrated a Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants and in his homily praised “the immigrant spirit that makes America wonderful.” In a July 2 interview, Crux reported, the archbishop came close to tears when recalling that “(i)n the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, many times children don’t want to go to the Catholic schools because they think that their parents are not going to be home in the evening.”

The current administration has deported nearly 66,000 undocumented immigrants, according to Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. This constitutes a spike from President Obama’s final years in office.


This Oklahoma priest was a martyr – and he'll be beatified this year

Sat, 07/08/2017 - 18:02

Oklahoma City, Okla., Jul 8, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- “Padre, they've come for you.”

Those were some of the last words heard by Father Stanley Francis, spoken by someone staying at the mission in Guatemala who had been led, at gunpoint, to where “Padre Francisco” was sleeping.

It was 1:30 in the morning on July 28, 1981, and Guatemala was in the throes of a decades-long civil war. The three ski-masked men who broke into the rectory were Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of the country since the 60s. They were known for their kidnappings, and wanted to turn Father Stanley into one of “the missing.”

But Father Stanley refused. Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

“How a 46-year-old priest from a small German farming community in Oklahoma came to live and die in this remote, ancient Guatemalan village is a story full of wonder and God’s providence,” writes Maria Scaperlanda in her biography of Father Stanley, “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run.”

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

Surrounded by good priests and a vibrant parish life, Stanley felt God calling him to the priesthood from a young age. But despite a strong calling, Stanley would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes and even out of one seminary before graduating from Mount St. Mary's seminary in Maryland. 

Hearing of Stanely’s struggles, Sister Clarissa Tenbrick, his 5th grade teacher, wrote him to offer encouragement, reminding him that the patron Saint of all priests, St. John Vianney, also struggled in seminary.

“Both of them were simple men who knew they had a call to the priesthood and then had somebody empower them so that they could complete their studies and be priests,” Scaperlanda told CNA. “And they brought a goodness, simplicity and generous heart with them in (everything) they did.”

When Stanley was still in seminary, Pope St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance and establish missions in Central America. Soon after, the diocese of Oklahoma City and the diocese of Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.

A few years after he was ordained, Fr. Stanley accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

When he arrived to the mission, the Tz'utujil Mayan Indians in the village had no native equivalent for Stanley, so they took to calling him Padre Francisco, after his baptismal name of Francis.

The work ethic Fr. Stanley learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers' co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, which was used for catechesis to the even more remote villages.

“What I think is tremendous is how God doesn't waste any details,” Scaperlanda said. “That same love for the land and the small town where everybody helps each other, all those things that he learned in Okarche is exactly what he needed when he arrived in Santiago.”

The beloved Padre Francisco was also known for his kindness, selflessness, joy and attentive presence among his parishioners. Dozens of pictures show giggling children running after Padre Francisco and grabbing his hands, Scaperlanda said.

“It was Father Stanley’s natural disposition to share the labor with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, ‘he was our priest,’” she said.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point. Fr. Stanley was constantly seeing friends and parishioners abducted or killed. In a letter to Oklahoma Catholics during what would be his last Christmas, the priest relayed to the people back home the dangers his mission parish faced daily.

“The reality is that we are in danger. But we don’t know when or what form the government will use to further repress the Church…. Given the situation, I am not ready to leave here just yet… But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it.... I don’t want to desert these people, and that is what will be said, even after all these years. There is still a lot of good that can be done under the circumstances.”

He ended the letter with what would become his signature quote:

“The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Stanley did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

“Father Stanley could not abandon his people,” Scaperlanda said. “He made a point of returning to his Guatemala parish in time to celebrate Holy Week with his parishioners that year – and ultimately was killed for living out his Catholic faith.”    

Scaperlanda, who has worked on Fr. Stanley’s cause for canonization, said the priest was a great witness and example, particularly for the Year of Mercy.

“Father Stanley Rother is truly a saint of mercy,” she said. “He fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, visited the sick, comforted the afflicted, bore wrongs patiently, buried the dead – all of it.”

His life is also a great example of ordinary people being called to do extraordinary things for God, she said.

“(W)hat impacted me the most about Father Stanley’s life was how ordinary it was!” she said.  

“I love how simply Oklahoma City’s Archbishop Paul Coakley states it: ‘We need the witness of holy men and women who remind us that we are all called to holiness – and that holy men and women come from ordinary places like Okarche, Oklahoma,’” she said.  

“Although the details are different, I believe the call is the same – and the challenge is also the same. Like Father Stanley, each of us is called to say ‘yes’ to God with our whole heart. We are all asked to see the Other standing before us as a child of God, to treat them with respect and a generous heart,” she added.

“We are called to holiness – whether we live in Okarche, Oklahoma, or New York City or Guatemala City.”

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognize Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr. Pope Francis recognized his martyrdom in early December 2016, after meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Fr. Rother will be beatified Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. The Mass will be said by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and concelebrated by Archbishop Coakley.


An original version of this article was published on CNA Feb. 18, 2016.

Our elders are lonely – do we care?

Sat, 07/08/2017 - 08:02

Denver, Colo., Jul 8, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It was August in Rome, the dog days of summer, and most people had left the Eternal City for the beach or another summer holiday destination.

It happens every year, essentially slowing the city to a crawl for a good two weeks or more. It can be a lonely time, especially for the elderly who no longer travel.

That’s when, last year on August 2, Italian police discovered Jole, 89, and Michele, 94, a couple living in the Appio neighborhood of Rome. Feeling particularly lonely, having had no visitors for some time, the couple’s sobs became so loud that concerned neighbors called the police, who found no crime on their arrival, just two very lonely people.

Besides offering medical assistance, the police decided to offer some comfort as well.

“They improvised a cozy dinner. A plate of pasta with butter and cheese. Nothing special. But with a special ingredient: Inside, there is all their humanity,” the Facebook post from the Italian police says.

Sadly, the problem of loneliness among the elderly is not just confined to the summer holidays in Rome - it is a growing problem around the world.

Last year, Katie Hafner for the New York Times reported that in Britain and the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone. In the United States, half of those older than 85 live alone. Studies in both countries show the prevalence of loneliness among people older than 60 ranging from 10 percent to 46 percent.

While not a physical sickness in and of itself, chronic loneliness can also be detrimental to physical health. Several studies show that social isolation or feelings of loneliness can lead to an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and even an earlier death.

Sr. Constance Veit is communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic sisters whose mission is “to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.” They currently operate more than 25 homes for the elderly in the United States, as well as homes all over the world.

Sr. Constance told CNA that the lonely elderly often pine for those who have preceded them in death, or perhaps family members who live far away or from whom they have been estranged.

“(W)e recognize that in a very real way you can never really replace those who are gone, so for most people there’s always going to be an unfilled hole left, so to speak,” she said. “But we do the best we can.”

Sr. Constance said that the Little Sisters and their staff are always on the lookout for signs of loneliness and isolation among their residents, and that they do the best to connect with them both through group activities and through one-on-one relationships.

“We recognize that we’re not just here to minister to people’s physical or medical needs, but the whole person,” she said.

The New York Times article featured several different service and organizations in the UK that are working to combat loneliness among the elderly. Although similar programs exist in the United States, the research and awareness of the topic in the UK is still much further ahead than it is in the U.S.

“In the U.S., there isn’t much recognition in terms of public health initiatives or the average person recognizing that loneliness has to do with health,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, told the New York Times. Her own research has also linked loneliness to deteriorating health.

John Lewis, a British retailer known for its heartwarming Christmas advertisements, partnered with Age UK, a charity for older people, to raise awareness of loneliness among the elderly, particularly during the holidays.

In the video, a young girl discovers with dismay that there’s an old man all alone on the moon for Christmas. Determined to show him he’s not alone, she sends some airborne Christmas gifts his way.

Statistics compiled in the UK have found that a million seniors go as long as a month without talking to anyone. The statistics in the United States are probably similarly shocking, Sr. Constance said.

“To think of an older person going a month without speaking to friends or family, that’s pretty bad,” she said.  

Pope Francis would agree. The pontiff once called neglect of the elderly a “mortal sin” after visiting an elderly woman in August who hadn’t seen her family since Christmas.

“It is a mortal sin to discard our elderly…The elderly are not aliens. We are them – in a short or in a long while we are inevitably them, even though we choose not to think about it,” he said during a general audience in March 2015.

“Children who do not visit their elderly and ill parents have mortally sinned. Understand?” he added.

The Holy Father himself had a very close relationship with his grandmother when he was growing up, and has urged Catholics many times to not neglect the elderly or the sense of memory that they bring to their families and to society.

Pope Francis has said that “we don’t have a sense of memory, of appreciation of a family history and family tradition, the things that used to bind the generations together in families,” Sr. Constance said.

We’ve also lost a sense “of filial piety, that we do have a duty to one another in a family and especially to our elders,” she added.

Another part of the problem can be that older people who don’t know how to use new technologies get left out of the loop, Sr. Constance said. A family that stays in touch through a texting group may be unintentionally leaving out older folks who don’t text.

But the blame lies not just with young people - it’s a reciprocal problem, Sr. Constance noted.

“The older generation, relatively speaking, of baby boomers also hasn’t nurtured bonds,” she said.

“They’ve been much more independent and have had more disposable income and have kind of done their own thing, but when something happens and they become frail, they haven’t really set up the networks themselves or those strong bonds, so I think it’s really’s just kind of sad, it leaves us all a bit isolated.”

Social isolation can also become a self-perpetuating problem. Studies show that, counter-intuitively, social isolation often causes people to go into a kind of defense mode, where rather than reaching out for the support they need, they instead close themselves off further from society.

The most important thing that people can do is to combat the problem is to look for meaningful ways to connect with the elderly in their lives, Sr. Constance said.

“Even if you feel like you don’t have elderly people in your life, chances are you do have elderly people in your neighborhood or in your parish, maybe in your extended family of aunts and uncles,” she said.

“Reach out to them and relate to them and to create bonds with them intentionally, whether it’s visiting them or offering them a ride to church or shopping, or include them in various things,” Sr. Constance added.

For those who live at a distance, teaching the elderly how to use Skype or some other technology that would help them say in touch is also important, she said.

The Little Sisters of the Poor home in Washington, D.C., where Sr. Constance is based, is right across the street from The Catholic University of America, which sends student volunteers to the home four nights a week.

While the young people are there to offer friendship to the elderly, it’s a very reciprocal relationship, Sr. Constance said.

“Sometimes I gaze out and realize what’s really going on is that the students are telling their trials, tribulations, joys and anxieties to these little old ladies, and the students feel listened to,” she said.

“So it’s very reciprocal, the residents are receiving something from the students, but the students - whether it’s relationship woes or academic worries, the elderly are going to listen in a different way than your friends who have been hearing it all the time. The elderly can really lend a more sympathetic ear to the angst of younger people, and be a great support for them if they would take the time to realize that.”

The Little Sisters in D.C. are also launching an initiative called “Youth & Aged for Life,” a prayer movement for the Gospel of Life that brings together the young and the old.

Strengthening bonds between generations - or what John Paul II once called the “covenant between generations” - is one of the most pro-life things Catholics and Christians can do, Sr. Constance added.

“It’s only by reestablishing that or strengthening (those bonds) that we can fight the temptation for abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, by bonding together more strongly and cherishing one another’s lives, both the very young and the very old.”

This article originally ran on Sept. 25, 2016.

New bill expands already-liberal abortion laws in Oregon

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 10:01

Portland, Ore., Jul 7, 2017 / 08:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new bill in Oregon would expand the state’s already-liberal laws, requiring insurance companies to pay for abortions and other reproductive services at zero cost to the patient.

House Bill 3391, or the “Reproductive Health Equity Act Of 2017”, requires that insurance companies provide coverage for abortions and reproductive services to undocumented immigrants, and regardless of income or gender identity.

It allows for almost $500,000 to be spend on cost-free abortions and reproductive health services for immigrants who previously would have been ineligible for those services under the Oregon Health Plan.

In the past 14 years, according to state health records, already-expansive abortion laws dictated that almost $24 million in state funds were spent on more than 52,000 abortions.

The bill is also uniquely expansive in that, while some states allow for cost-free abortions that are deemed medically necessary, the Oregon bill allows for coverage of abortions for virtually any reason, including sex-selective and late-term abortions.

While some religious exemptions are provided for, such as in the case of churches and some religious non-profits per federal law, the bill states that the government would step in to pay for coverage in the case of such gaps.

It also codifies the right to abortion access, even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned. Oregon is the only state without current restrictions added to provisions of Roe v. Wade.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled Oregon Senate on Wednesday, and now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.

The liberal law comes at a time when President Donald Trump’s administration is passing restrictive legislation on abortion and reproductive services, including allowing states to withhold federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

After the vote, Senate Republicans issued a statement saying the bill is "nothing more than a political statement and a political gift card to Planned Parenthood that brought unnecessary drama and divisiveness to the end of the legislative session."

Bill Diss, leader of pro-life group Precious Children of Portland, called the proposed law “fundamentally an abortion bill that will boost the coffers of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood,” according to Oregon’s Catholic Sentinel.  

Diss said other portions of the bill could be accomplished “without further funding and promoting the killing of unborn children.”


This fleet of food trucks serves up respect for Austin's homeless

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 05:05

Austin, Texas, Jul 7, 2017 / 03:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Austin, Texas, like any hipster city worth its organic, non-GMO salt, is known for its food trucks.

There are about 1,000 food trucks that roam the streets of the Texas capital, offering barbecue, breakfast tacos, and gourmet grilled cheese to the masses of Pabst Blue Ribbon-swilling millennials who have recently flocked to the city.

But among them, and before them, there was Alan Graham and Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

Mobile Loaves and Fishes is a Christian non-profit founded by Graham and five other men that delivers about 1,200 meals and essentials from 12 food trucks to homeless people on the streets of Austin every night.

The ministry also recently started a village called Community First!, a place where the formerly homeless, volunteers and those desiring a simpler life live together in a village of tiny homes and recreational vehicles in what Graham calls “an RV park on steroids.”

In his recently released book Welcome Homeless, Graham recalls the story and the people behind his ministries, in his raw, straight-shooting, and often humorous voice.    

In October 1996, Graham, a convert to Catholicism, had gone tentatively on a men’s retreat. At first, he was counting down the hours until the “hugs and hand-holding” were over. The retreat was too emotional for his then-very intellectual faith.

But by the end, he experienced a profound change of heart and adopted a philosophy of “just say yes.”

Several yesses and a couple of years later, Graham and his wife, Tricia, found themselves having coffee with a friend who was telling them about an initiative in Corpus Christi, Texas, where multiple churches would pool their resources to provide food for the homeless on cold winter nights.

An entrepreneur at heart, Graham immediately envisioned a catering truck that could deliver meals to the homeless (this was before the food truck boom; at the time, Graham called them “roach coaches”).

“I woke up the next morning knowing we could franchise it, and bring it to every church, every city, and every state to feed the homeless,” he recalls in his book. “This is how entrepreneurs think: one truck becomes a thousand.”

Through his church group, he recruited six more men to join him and invest in a food truck for the homeless (they started calling themselves “The Six Pack”). One of these men turned out to be an especially key player: Houston Flake.  

Socks and popsicles

Houston, who met Graham through the men’s group at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, was poorly educated and illiterate, but understood the Gospel like no one Graham had ever met.

Houston had experienced chronic homelessness throughout his life, and became a key tour guide for Graham and his crew, who were “clueless” about life on the streets as they began their ministry.

During one meeting, the group had discussed how great it would be if they could get phone cards (pre-cellphone times) to hand out to the homeless whom they would meet.

“Houston looked at us and said, ‘That is the dumbest idea on the face of the planet. They don’t need phone cards. No one wants to talk to them. They don’t want to talk to anybody. You need to put socks on that truck,’” Graham recalled.

To this day, socks are the most desired item on the trucks.

Houston also took Graham out to his “conference room” - to meet some of the homeless who were his friends. It changed Graham’s whole perspective on the population he was about to serve.

Not long after Mobile Loaves and Fishes began, Houston was diagnosed with bladder cancer and given mere weeks to live.

For his dying wish, Houston didn’t want to travel or eat a fancy steak dinner – he wanted to deliver 400 popsicles to homeless children on a hot summer day, a treat those kids rarely experienced.

“He wanted them to choose: Pink? Red? Blue? Purple? Green? He wanted to give that which they did not need but might want. He wanted to give them abundance in fruity, tasty, frozen form,” Graham wrote.  

That philosophy carried over to the food trucks. The people they serve are given options - PB&J, ham and cheese, tacos? Milk, coffee, orange juice? Oranges or apples? It’s a shift from the scarcity mentality found in soup kitchens founded in the Great Depression, to an abundance mentality that is possible in the most abundant country in the world, Graham explained. They are “the little bitty choices that people who live a life in extreme poverty don’t get to make often.”

The solution to homelessness is not just housing

Since the first truck run, the ministry quickly grew. Hungry people would chase down the food trucks as they saw them making their way through the streets of Austin.

By early 2017, the ministry had expanded to the cities of San Antonio, Texas; Providence, Rhode Island; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. To date, Mobile Loaves & Fishes has served well over 4 million meals, and with more than 18,000 volunteers, it is the largest prepared feeding program to the homeless and working poor in Austin.

But it didn’t stop there. A little over five years into the ministry, Graham envisioned an “RV park on steroids”, with the philosophy of “housing first”, which holds that the homeless need housing before they can solve any of their other problems.

However, Graham knew that mere houses were not enough. What these people need and desire, like everyone, is to be known and loved – they needed community. He envisioned a place where people lived life together, knew and cared for each other, sharing kitchens and gardens and conversation.

“It developed from this idea back in 2004, where we went out and bought a gently used RV and lifted one guy off the streets into a privately owned RV park,” he said.

Because of zoning laws and other issues, it took awhile to get the idea off the ground, but the Community First! Village project was finally able to break ground in 2014.

Today, 110 people, most of them formerly homeless, call the village home. Soon, there will be enough housing for 250 people. There are brightly colored tiny homes that would give HG-TV a run for their money, as well as recreational vehicles and “canvas-sided” homes (sturdy tents with concrete foundations).

The homes provide the basics – they are essentially bedrooms – while everything else is communal. There is a communal kitchen and garden and bonfire, and places everywhere to sit and have a conversation.


  Our @mobileloaves_genesisgardens chicken coop was definitely a top destination for everyone visiting #CommunityFirstVillage today. We loved having y'all out here, and the chickens definitely loved all the attention! ???? #divas

A post shared by Mobile Loaves & Fishes (@mobileloaves) on Apr 2, 2016 at 2:21pm PDT


“It’s all centered on Genesis 2:15,” Graham said. “Just after God created the Garden of Eden, he took the man, and centered him in the garden to cultivate and care for it. And so the foundation for our entire philosophy of the community is centered on God’s original plan for us, to be settled, to be at peace with each other, to live in community, to be cultivating with the gifts that he has given us, and to serve him by caring for each other.”

What needs to change

The solution to homelessness, Graham said, is not going to be found in new government policies or agencies, but rather in Christians and other people who choose to take care of each other.

“I believe it’s like the old African adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” Graham said. “We have to step in, the village should step in and care for its own. What we’re doing right now is abdicating that responsibility to our government, which … tries to resolve this issue transactionally, but I believe it’s a relationship issue. Our Kingdom desire is to be wanted by each other, not ‘if you buy me a house I’m going to be happy.’ That’s not where our happiness comes from.”

One of the foundational goals of the ministry is to change the stereotypes that people have about the homeless, so that they are seen as brothers and sisters rather than as other, Graham added.

He recommended that anyone who wants to help the homeless start building relationships with them –  say hello, ask their name, shake their hand, give them a sandwich or a gift card to Chick-fil-A. And then find an organization to volunteer with in your city.

“There’s a giant stereotype around the homeless, and we’re very good as Americans at stereotyping, and so the homeless population (is projected) to be drug addicts, mentally ill, criminals; they’re usually depicted as unkempt or that they don’t pay attention to hygiene, so we develop these preconceived notions that won’t even allow us to roll down our windows anymore to say ‘Hello’ or ‘God Bless,’” he said.

“Those things just aren't true,” Graham said.

“We have five major corporate goals, and goal number one is to transform the paradigm of how people view the stereotype of the homeless. When we change that paradigm, it changes our culture so as to be able to go and love on our brothers and sisters.”

That’s one of his hopes for the book, and the reason he made sure to tell the stories of so many homeless men and women who have directly touched his life.

“What we want to do is spread the kingdom message of a better way to love on our neighbors, so I’m hoping the book will go broad and deep, and people will be inspired to go out there and begin doing what it is that we’re doing, that’s what I hope.”

Because “what’s happening here in Austin, Texas is nothing short of a miracle.”

This article was originally published on CNA March 7, 2017.

In wake of North Korea threat, bishops call for elimination of nuclear weapons

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 13:21

Washington D.C., Jul 6, 2017 / 11:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just days after North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach Alaska, bishops in the United States and Europe have called for the “total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

“Even a limited nuclear exchange would have devastating consequences for people and the planet. Tragically, human error or miscalculation could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe,” the Bishops said in a joint declaration on Thursday.

“We call upon the United States and European nations to work with other nations to map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Entitled “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” the declaration was issued to coincide with the conclusion of a meeting hosted this week by the United Nations “to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

While the United States and most European nations are not participating in the U.N. meeting, the bishops urged any country that is building up their nuclear arsenal to reconsider the effectiveness of this as a security strategy.

“...our world has become increasingly multipolar with a variety of threats reaching from terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cybersecurity to environmental degradation and poverty, which raises doubts about the adequacy of nuclear deterrence as an effective response to these challenges,” they said.

The also noted that building up a nuclear arms base is a waste of money, reiterating a point Pope Francis made in 2014, when he said that prioritizing spending on nuclear weapons “is a mistake and a misallocation of resources which would be far better invested in the areas of integral human development, education, health and the fight against extreme poverty.”

In another message in March 2017, Pope Francis said that peace and security were not built on a race to power and arms, but on “on justice, on integral human development, on respect for fundamental human rights, on the protection of creation, on the participation of all in public life, on trust between peoples, on the support of peaceful institutions, on access to education and health, on dialogue and solidarity.”

Francis is joined by numerous other Catholic leaders including Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI who all opposed the development of nuclear weapons.

The bishops closed their statement with another statement of Pope Francis, who said in 2014: “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states. The youth of today and tomorrow deserve far more. They deserve a peaceful world order based on the unity of the human family, grounded on respect, cooperation, solidarity and compassion. Now is the time to counter the logic of fear with the ethic of responsibility, and so foster a climate of trust and sincere dialogue."

The statement was signed by Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions, and by Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the committee on International Justice and Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Security footage shows man threatening to kill nun in a Brooklyn church

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 11:11

Brooklyn, N.Y., Jul 6, 2017 / 09:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Police are investigating a possible hate crime after a man allegedly threatened to kill a nun who was praying inside a Catholic Church in Brooklyn yesterday afternoon.

The nun is the Mother Superior of her community, according to the Diocese of Brooklyn, and was praying inside the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph around 2 p.m. when a shirtless man approached her.

In the video, the man can be seen meandering through the entrance and the nearly-empty church before he stops in at the pew in front of the praying nun.

He told the nun: “I don’t believe in this because you don’t help the poor.” When she did not respond, he said, “What did I say?”

At that moment, the nun looked around the church at a woman in another pew.

“She can’t help you. I’m going to kill you,” the man said, according to the Diocese of Brooklyn. The video then shows the nun running out of the church to call for help.

The incident was caught on surveillance video.

In a press release, the Diocese described the man as African-American, bald, about 6’ tall with a medium build. He was wearing khaki shorts and white sneakers, and was carrying a white baseball-style cap in his hand and a shirt in his back pocket.

The nun was praying in the church while another sister from the parish is leading a service mission to assist the poor in West Virginia.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.

CNA has reached out to the Diocese for additional comment.

In the US South, the Church is in 'growth mode'

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 08:11

Charleston, S.C., Jul 6, 2017 / 06:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Church growth and expansion was the topic when leading bishops of the Catholic Church’s Atlanta province met recently in South Carolina.

“We are all in a growth mode. That’s a good thing,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta told the Diocese of Charleston’s newspaper The Catholic Miscellany.

“We are spending part of our time here talking about the need to establish new parishes, expand pastoral outreach, and respond to growing numbers both from immigration and those moving here from other parts of the country,” the archbishop continued. “We all are sharing in this growth.”

The growth in part reflects the number of Catholics moving south from northern dioceses. Though this results in the closures of churches and schools in former Catholic strongholds, it is driving new expansion in the U.S. South.

The provincial meeting, held in Charleston June 26-28, was attended by bishops, auxiliary bishops, and one auxiliary bishop-elect from the Savannah and Charleston dioceses as well as from the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Another focus of the province’s bishops was how legislation and the political climate are affecting immigrant populations.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston said the issue is especially important because most of the Hispanic immigrants are Catholic.

“We realize that we have those who are documented and undocumented, and they are all our brothers and sisters,” he told The Catholic Miscellany. “We have to see how we can be of assistance to them.”


Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 05:46

Denver, Colo., Jul 5, 2017 / 03:46 am (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his new book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.  
“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 26, 2017.

Will we go to the peripheries?

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 22:59

Orlando, Fla., Jul 4, 2017 / 08:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Encountering Christ brings with it the responsibility of reaching out to those on the peripheries, Catholic leaders urged their fellow Catholics.

This service and need to bring with us the joy of the Gospel to all starts with those around us who are overlooked and reaches to the furthest ends of the globe.

“Jesus is already at the peripheries,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. “The question for us today is whether he will be there alone or whether his disciples will be there with him.”

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a meeting of more than 3,500 Catholic leaders, priests and bishops from around the United States in Orlando, Florida. The theme for the meeting was “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Anderson highlighted the work of the Knights of Columbus around the globe in geographical peripheries like North Korea, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

“As missionary disciples, we must make the Universal Church a presence at the peripheries as the process of globalization continues,” he urged attendees.

“However,” he continued, “the most difficult challenge may not be reaching out to the world. The most difficult challenge may be in reaching out to our own neighbors.”

In ministering to those on the peripheries in one’s immediate area – in one’s parish, in one’s neighborhood, in one’s family – Catholics are challenged to go outside of themselves and be a living witness of Christ.

“Those who are closest to us are the ones who discern most clearly the authenticity of our witness.”

This care for the peripheries closest to us extends to the American Church at large as well, Anderson said.

“There is no other Catholic country in the world that has as much diversity as America,” he said, detailing the wide range of demographic, geographic and cultural experiences present in the Catholic Church in the U.S.

“We have the opportunity to do something so fantastic for Catholicism in the world and no other country has the opportunity to do something so fantastic.”

A life of missionary discipleship in one’s family or nation does not diminish the responsibility of U.S. Catholics to care for those on the peripheries worldwide.

“There is no reason the U.S government should ignore the plight of Middle Eastern Christians,” Anderson urged, emphasizing again the work of the Knights of Columbus in protecting Christians of the Middle East.  

Anderson’s speech was part of a larger session focused on the peripheries, a word used often by Pope Francis to refer to the outskirts of geographic and social boundaries. 

His comments were followed by a panel discussion on how the Church works in the peripheries in the United States and across the world.

Dr. Ansel Augustine, a campus minister at St. John’s University and former head of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of New York, highlighted the gifts that black Catholics have to offer the Church at large in America.

“Sometimes when we talk about black Church or black Catholicism, it’s met with some kind of shock or even at times disgust, because normally when we hear the notion of the word ‘black,’ it’s with the connotation of negativity,” he said.

This connotation, along with the long history of how persons of African descent have been treated in the U.S., make the black Catholic Church part of the peripheries, he noted.

The black Catholic community also has many gifts to give the American Catholic Church. He pointed to the example of the five African American men and women whose causes for canonization are open: Venerable Pierre Toussaint and Venerable Henriette Delille and Servants of God Fr. Augustus Tolton, Sister Thea Bowman, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Julia Greeley.

“That’s important to us and that’s our story, our pain, our struggle,” he said.

“All we ask is that the Church that we love show us they love us back.”

Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, Executive Director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grand Valley spoke about her experience ministering to immigrants coming over the southern border. She explained that many people coming over have experienced hurt and pain by other people who are Catholic as well.

When reaching out to those people, she said, “you have to trust that God is with you.”

She also stressed the importance of placing Christ and love for the other person at the center of outreach to people in vulnerable situations.

"If our work isn't grounded in the love of Christ, it quickly becomes about us," she said.

Lastly, Sr. Pimentel explained what can be learned from people living and ministering in the peripheries.

“The people in the valley, somos familia (we are family). We take care of one another,” she said. "Welcome the immigrants in your communities. They need you.”

Fr. Paul Check, Rector of St. John Fisher seminary and former Executive Director of Courage, a ministry for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction, spoke about chastity.

"Chastity is part of the Good News of Jesus Christ,” and a message that is needed in the world, he said.

“Our Lord would not ask us to do something that is impossible,” he explained, “but he also told us that we would be a sign of contradiction in the world. That contradiction is not to be provocative, and certainly not to be belligerent, but it is to invite people to the fullness of Joy, that living the life of Christ lived in this world will bring.”

Persons who have lived one way of life and then, through conversion, have started living another way are an essential part of the Church’s evangelization and ministry to those on the margins.

Fr. Check encouraged all to “be bold in your charity and chastity for the kingdom and God’s grace will help you.”

Carolyn Woo, former president and CEO of Catholic Charities explained how CRS goes about its work of ministry and service even in the most difficult of situations. In many countries where CRS serves, governments are hostile to Christians and Catholics.
Maintaining a Catholic identity in countries hostile to Catholics and Christians

“In some countries conversion is punishable by death,” Woo said, adding that in some cases, proselytizing actions could risk the lives of the people CRS serves as well as those of local lay faithful, priests and bishops.

Despite these challenges, “we have to go to serve and there can be no conditions.”

In countries all over the world, regardless of the state’s beliefs, CRS ministers. In some cases, this example of Christian life has resulted in changing perceptions among the public about what it means to be Christian, accompanied by a “sense of solidarity and trust for American Catholics,” she said.

In this, Woo continued, CRS sees its ministry as a form of evangelization.

“What does evangelization really mean? For us it means making real God’s love. The truth is God loves everyone all the time, and this love is very real.”

Cardinal DiNardo: To be active, we have to learn to be contemplative

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 16:44

Orlando, Fla., Jul 4, 2017 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Contemplation is the most active thing we can do if we want to work for the Lord, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in his homily on July 4.
Which might seem counter-intuitive, considering that he was addressing hundreds of bishops and thousands of Catholic leaders gathered in Orlando, Florida for the final Mass of the Catholic Convocation.
But contemplation is action, the Cardinal of Galveston-Houston said, and the Gospel of John shows us this.
In John 17, Jesus prays aloud for the apostles and for the Church to his Father during the Last Supper. He prays for their unity and for those they will evangelize, those they will meet once they are sent on mission.
The 12 apostles, gathered at the table, are “mute”, observing and listening to Jesus, Cardinal DiNardo noted.
“On this (4th of July) day of barbeques and fireworks, bands and parties, the Gospel text is striking...the most single contemplative chapter in the New Testament is read for us and proclaimed to us as we're going forth,” he said.
“Today, Jesus lets us overhear his intimacy with the Father,” Cardinal DiNardo said, the Father on whom he leans during his mission and during his passion and death.
He also pointed out another passage in the Gospel of John, during the multiplication of loaves, during which Jesus teaches his apostles another lesson about mission.
During the passage, found in Chapter 6, the apostles see the great crowds gathered around Jesus and despair at how they are going to feed them.
“Jesus says - you give them something to eat. What do the apostles do?” Cardinal DiNardo asked.
“It's apostolic, it's gone on ever since. What do they do? They whine,” he said, laughing.
"We don't have enough, we don't have bread," the apostles say.  
“Jesus responds - not wagging a finger of disapproval of their less than excellent conduct, but he just looks at them and says, just give me what you have.”
“Jesus gives so much power to his friends, it's amazing how he lets us work,” he said.  
From their meager offerings, Jesus is able to feed the multitudes. In the same way, we are called to offer what we can to the Lord, and expect that he will multiply our efforts, he added.  
“Imagine the gallons we'll have leftover if we do it at the Lord's word,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

And learn to distinguish the different between true action "and just running around," he added. 

“We are in a very significant time in our church in this country - and this reminds me of how contemplative we're going to be if we want to be active. Never are you more active than when the word of God is overpowering you. You are seated there, in God's loving grace, and you realize how much God can let you do.”


Bishop Barron: 6 tips for evangelizing the 'nones'

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 13:54

Orlando, Fla., Jul 4, 2017 / 11:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The way we evangelize should grab the world by the shoulders and shake it out of its apathy, Bishop Robert Baron told a crowd of Catholic leaders Tuesday.

Evangelization is especially urgent as the 'nones' - the number of the population who do not identify with a religion, continues to grow, he said.

Bishop Baron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and well-known evangelizer for Word on Fire, addressed the crowd of Catholic bishops and leaders gathered at the Catholic Convocation in Orlando, Florida through a live video feed on July 4, the last day of the gathering.
“We do have a fight on our hands, but the great saints of our church have always loved a good fight, and we should too.”  
In a talk entitled “Equipping Evangelizers”, the bishop with more than 15 years of evangelizing experience said that there are three main challenges and three main opportunities that Catholic evangelists face today.
1. The first challenge: Scientism
The culture’s embrace of “scientism”, or the philosophical belief that the only valuable knowledge is scientific knowledge, is one of the great challenges that evangelists face today, Bishop Barron said.
“Let me be clear: the Catholic Church has nothing against the sciences, the church stands with the sciences at their best,” he said. “What the Church opposes is scientism, or the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge.”
Actually, scientism as a philosophy is self-refuting, he noted.
“Scientism is not discoverable through the scientific method. Where did you empirically verify and test through experimentation that only scientific knowledge is valuable? Scientism is a philosophical position and therefore self-refuting,” he said.
But it can be challenge for evangelizers, who are speaking to the world about God.
“When we (as a culture) isolate ourselves from all references to the transcendent, we do damage to the human heart, we do damage to the human spirit,” he said.
2. The second challenge: The culture of “meh”
There’s a rampant apathy in today’s society, especially among young people, who have been formed not to embrace anything as objectively true, Bishop Barron said.
“If there is no objective truth, no objective value, what that produces is a culture of ‘meh’, or as the kids say, ‘whatever’” Bishop Barron said.
But objective truths and values form a firm foundation that sends us on mission, he said, pointing to an example used by St. John Henry Newman, who said a river gets its energy and verve from its firm foundation.
“Knock down the banks, and what’s going to happen? That river is going to open up into a big, lazy lake. Placid, with no energy, no purpose,” Bishop Barron said.
“Our society today is like a big lazy lake, all of us floating individually, tolerating each other, not getting in each other’s way, but without energy, without purpose.”
But evangelization, the declaration of the good news of Jesus, is the antithesis of this apathy, he said.
“Once you’ve been grasped by the power of know where to go and you do it with energy.”  
3. The third challenge: The culture of self-determination
What was once a fringe philosophical idea known as voluntarism, which stemmed from philosophers like Nietzsche and other recent existentialists, is now mainstream thought among the millennial generation in the United States, Bishop Barron said.
The core belief of this philosophy, embraced widely by young people, is that freedom defines identity, he noted.
“My freedom comes first, and then I determine essence, who I am, the meaning of my life. It’s all based on my freedom - my sexualtiy, my gender, purpose of my life is all up to me,” he explained.
But to evangelize is to say that “your life is not about you, your life is not up to you,” Bishop Barron said. “Remember the ecstatic expression of St. Paul: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in mean. When you’ve been seized by the power of Jesus Christ, your little ego-drama becomes pretty unimportant,” he said.  
The Bishop then presented three opportunities for evangelization based on the three transcendentals: truth, goodness and beauty.
1. The first opportunity: An intelligent truth
“I hate dumbed-down Catholicism,” Bishop Barron emphatically told the audience.
“What do I mean by that? It puts a huge stress on the superficial, the ‘banners and balloons Catholicism’ as I call it. We are a smart religion. When we don’t express Catholicism in a smart way, people fall away,” he said.
In particular, the Bishop urged catechists, apologists and evangelists to equip themselves with a good grasp on one of the great arguments for the existence of God. Young people often don’t have a robust understanding of God beyond a vague and irrelevant deity, he noted.
His favorite argument is based on contingency - that existence flows from God, and everything on the world gets its existence from him, because nothing created itself.
“The God that I’m talking about sustains the whole universe moment to moment the way a singer sustains a song. Continual creation - that’s the God the great Church talks about, that we must convey to our young people,” he said.
2. The second opportunity: The goodness of radical Christians
When the Christian life is embraced fully and radically, it’s goodness stands out to the world, Bishop Barron said.
The best example of this in the 20th century was Mother Teresa, who evangelized the world by her radical witness of goodness - caring for others indiscriminately, he said.
Throughout the history of the Church, he said, it was the “goodness and radicality of the Christian life that got the attention of the world,” through great saints like Benedict, Dominic and Francis.
“We need to recover what all these great figures found - this splendidly radical form of the Christian life. When it’s lived publicly, it evangelizes,” he said.
3. The third opportunity: Authentic beauty
Perhaps the best opportunity from which to start evangelization is with the authentic, objective beauty of the faith, Bishop Barron said.
And he’s not just talking about something subjectively satisfying like, say, deep-dish Chicago pizza, he said.  
“The objectively valuable and beautiful is not like that, it’s something so intrinsically good and beautiful that it seizes us, it stops us in our tracks - something called aesthetic arrest,” he said.
It’s an easy place to start evangelizing because it’s as simple as “show, don’t tell.”
“Just show people the beauty of Catholicism - show them Cathedrals, show them the Sistine Chapel, show them Mother Teresa’s sisters at work. Don’t tell them what to think and how to behave, show the beauty of Catholicism, and that has an evangelical power,” he said.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than the dying and rising of Jesus Christ,” he said, and the apostles in the New Testament communicate this with a “grab-you-by-the-shoulders” urgency.
“These are people who have been seized by something so powerful and so overwhelming that they want to grab the world by the shoulders and tell them about it,” he said. “We need to be filled with the same ‘grab-you-by-the-shoulders’ enthusiasm” about the beauty of our faith, he added.
“Yes we face obstacles, but the saints always loved a good fight, and we should love a good fight too, because we go forth with this great truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ.”


Rebuilt from the ashes: The story of an American basilica

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 05:41

Norfolk, Virginia, Jul 4, 2017 / 03:41 am (CNA).- An immigrant parish, burnt down, with only the crucifix remaining. A parish rebuilt, transformed and a key part in giving back to the community. In a sense, one parish’s story of struggle, pressure and rebirth is metaphor for the American Catholic experience.

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, Virginia, is the only black Catholic church in the United States that is also a basilica. Its dramatic history captures both the broader American Catholic history of persecution, growth and acceptance, but also a witness to the unique challenges faced by black Catholics over the centuries.

Founded originally as St. Patrick’s Parish in 1791, it is the oldest Catholic parish in the Diocese of Richmond, predating the foundation of the diocese by nearly 30 years.

“Catholicism was not legal to practice” in Virginia when the colony was founded, said Fr. Jim Curran, rector of the basilica. In much of Colonial America, before the Revolution and the signing of the Bill of Rights, churches that were not approved by the government were prohibited from operating, he told CNA.

The land originally bought in 1794 for the parish is the same ground on which the basilica today stands. From the beginning, according to the parish’s history, Catholics from all backgrounds worshiped together: Irish and German immigrants, free black persons and slaves.

However, by the 1850s, the parish’s immigrant background and mixed-race parish drew the ire of a prominent anti-Catholic movement: the Know-Nothings.

Largely concentrated in northeastern states where the immigrant influx was greatest, the movement rose and fell quickly. Concerned with maintaining the Protestant “purity of the nation,” it worked to prevent immigrants – many of whom were Catholic – from gaining the right to vote, becoming citizens, or taking elected office.

“I consider the Know-Nothings to be a sort of gatekeeper organization, by which I mean that they were both anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic at the same time,” said Fr. David Endres, an assistant professor of Church History and Historical Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

He told CNA that the Know-Nothing Party was able to bring together both pro- and anti-slavery voters in the mid-1800s, united in the common “dislike of foreign-born and Catholics.”

While most anti-Catholic activities took the form of defamatory speeches and public discrimination, the prejudice sometimes turned to violence and mob action, Fr. Endres explained.

The anti-Catholic discrimination and threats found their way to St. Patrick’s doorstep, where the Know-Nothings were unhappy that the pastor was allowing racial integrated Masses, said Fr. Curran.

The pastor at that time, Fr. Matthew O’Keefe, received so many threats directed against the Church and himself that police protection was required to stop the intimidation of the Catholics worshiping at the church, according to the locals.  

Despite the threats, however, Fr. O’Keefe did not segregate the Masses. In 1856, the original church building burned down, leaving only three walls standing. Only a wooden crucifix was left unscathed.

More than 150 years later, it is still unclear exactly who or what caused the fire, but since the days following the blaze, parishioners have had their suspicions.

“We don’t know for sure if they were the ones who burned it, but it’s widely believed, it’s a commonly held notion that it’s the Know-Nothings who burnt the Church,” Fr. Curran said.   

Fr. O’Keefe and the parishioners worked hard to rebuild the church, seeking donations from Catholics along the East Coast. A new church building was constructed less than three years after the fire and is still standing today.

After the church was rebuilt, the parish renamed itself in 1858 in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It claims to be the first church in the world named for Mary of the Immaculate Conception following the declaration.

In 1889, the Josephites built Saint Joseph's Black Catholic parish to serve the needs of the black Catholic community, and the two parishes operated separately within several blocks of one another. However, in 1961, St. Joseph’s was demolished to make way for new construction, and the two parishes were joined, reintegrating – at least in theory – St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

But the merger was not popular with many of the white parishioners and conflicted with the segregation policies of local government institutions and public life, Fr. Curran said. “St Mary’s became a de facto black parish.”

During this demographic shift, many parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception had to draw deeply upon their faith. Black Catholics had to be stalwart, facing prejudice from both some white parishioners, who did not view them as fully Catholic, and some black Protestants, who did not support their religious beliefs.

“They were devoted, and still are,” the rector said. “You have to be very devoted to be a Black Catholic.”

This devotion and witness of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was formally celebrated when, in 1991, Saint Pope John Paul II elevated the 200-year-old church to a minor basilica.

“Your black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the Church needs you, just as you need the Church, for you are a part of the Church and the Church is part of you,” Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed at the elevation.

Today, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception plays a vital role not only as the only Catholic basilica in Virginia, but also as an important anchor of the neighborhood. The basilica operates a “robust” set of outreach ministries to local families, including rent assistance and food aid, serving thousands of people.

“The Church standing proudly and beautiful in the midst of the poor is where we need to be,” Fr. Curran said.

He also pointed to the basilica’s history as an example of one way communities can aid churches affected by violence, such as the - such as the half dozen black churches across the South that have burned since late June.

“The reason why we were able to raise so much money so quickly was because there were so many people that were appalled at the burning of St. Patrick’s,” the rector said.

Tragic events like the burning of a church can actually help bring people together in a common cause, he continued.

“It unites people of faith. If people of faith who are appalled by this stand up and assist and let our voices be heard, we can do something wonderful.”

This article was originally published on CNA July 4, 2015.

Archbishop Lori: Like Doubting Thomas, God frees us from fear for mission

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 17:47

Orlando, Fla., Jul 3, 2017 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An encounter with the Lord frees us from sin and fear, and frees us for mission and evangelization, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in his homily at the closing Mass for the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom.
The July 3 Mass was held during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, and concluded the U.S. Bishop’s Fortnight for Freedom, a two week period of prayer for religious freedom in the United States.
The Mass was also celebrated on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, also known as “doubting Thomas”, from whom we can learn a lot about freedom, Archbishop Lori said.  
Archbishop Lori started by sharing his own moment of doubting.
When he was about 10 years old, the only working TV set in his house broke, the Archbishop recalled. Forced to live without shows like “I Love Lucy” and Fulton Sheen’s “Life is Worth Living”, he would sneak away to friends’ houses to watch TV.
Then one day, his parents told him they’d won a new TV in a raffle. But he didn’t believe them, he thought they were joking.  
“It was only when the TV was delivered that I believed them,” the Archbishop said.
“Blessed are those who have not seen ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and yet still believe,” he joked.
But in the case of Thomas the Apostle, who didn’t believe the other apostles about the Risen Lord, the “stakes were much higher.”
“Thomas had been with the Lord from the beginning, heard him preach, saw the miracles, enjoyed the Lord’s friendship,” he said. But after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, it must have seemed like the end of the world to Thomas.
“So when the apostles said the Risen Lord had appeared, Thomas thought they were delusional and demanded proof. Thomas got his (proof) as the Lord invited him to touch his wounds, by which we are made whole,” Archbishop Lori said.
This encounter with the Lord set Thomas free for mission, he added. According to Church tradition, Thomas set off to evangelize India, where he didn’t know the language or the culture but he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel.
The theme of the Catholic Convocation is The Joy of the Gospel, after Pope Francis’ encyclical by the same name. Common threads of the convocation have been evangelization, mission and reaching the peripheries.
The theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom was “Freedom for Mission”, of which Thomas the Apostle is a good example, Archbishop Lori noted.
“Notice that it was for freedom that the Lord Jesus set Thomas free,” Archbishop Lori said.
“By breathing into Thomas the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord set Thomas free from the yoke of sin, the Lord set Thomas free from the constraints of unbelief that lock us in a self-contained world of fear, he set thomas free for mission, free to leave everything behind so as to bring the Gospel as a stranger in a strange land,” he said.
“Might you and I need to undergo a process of conversion not unlike that of the Apostle Thomas?” he asked.
This conversion and increase of faith frees us for mission, and allows us to better protect our freedoms, especially our religious freedoms, in a country and a world where they are increasingly threatened, he added.
When we allow the Lord to touch us and free us from sin and fear, “we are free for to engage those who have no faith or have lost their faith, engage those alienated from the Church or who are lukewarm, those who are on the cusp of holiness and vocation and mission themselves,” he said.
As Catholic University of America’s President John Garvey once told a gathering of US Bishops: “If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must love God more.”
“Yes, we must take all the steps necessary to protect our freedom, advocate for those whose freedom has been denied, we must litigate, engage political leaders and one another,” Archbishop Lori added.
“But in the end, nothing will ever be more important than evangelizing, bearing witness, teaching and fulfilling our mission to love.”


As demographics change, how will the US Church respond?

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:01

Orlando, Fla., Jul 2, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The rapidly changing realities of the Catholic Church in the U.S. bring a host of challenges and unknowns, but also great opportunities for evangelization and engagement, said experts at a gathering of Catholic leaders.

“The future of U.S. Catholicism is being forged in areas once not central to U.S. Catholic life,” said Dr. Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. “Are we paying attention?”

Dr. Ospino spoke at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” event on July 2 in Orlando, Florida.

He explained to more than 3,500 attendees from parishes and Catholic organizations around the country how the face of the Church in the United States is rapidly changing. In particular, he pointed to the rapid growth throughout the nation, particularly in the South and West of Hispanic communities. He also noted swift growth of other faith communities, particularly Asian Catholic communities and, within some localities, communities of immigrants from Africa. 

These changes have swiftly changed the face of American Catholic life. Fifty years ago, over 80 percent of American Catholics were of European descent. Today, that number is less than 50 percent, with 40 percent of all Catholics claiming Latino heritage, 5 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, 4 percent African-American and 1 percent of Catholics of Native American descent. 

Among Catholics under the age of 30, those numbers are even more diverse.

To address these very shifts in American Catholic life, Catholics should imagine what the future of the Church will look like, Ospino said.

“What kind of community of faith will our children and grandchildren inherit?” he asked, encouraging Catholics in attendance to consider the best stories and guidance the Church can offer. 

Ospino also suggested Catholics reimagine their relationship with the public square. He warned that the ‘culture wars’ which have been a marker of American discourse in recent decades have hampered, in some cases, the Church’s ability to speak effectively to communities on the margins. 

“It has become impossible to speak about anything because one is expected to take an ideological position to make a point,” he commented.

“The Gospel, my friends, is not an ideology, to be a co-opted to advance an ideological position. The Gospel is a message of life and communion,” Ospino said to applause.

Catholics should look for other means of engaging and reaching these growing segments of the Church, and participate in the U.S. Bishops’ National Encuentro program as part of this engagement, he continued.

Dr. Ospino’s talk was followed by a panel discussion, describing the different ways the Church is growing and changing in the United States.

Jesuit Father Thomas P. Gaunt, SJ, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, explained that demographic changes in the United States do not apply just to Latino Catholics, but to all sections of the Church in the United States. He noted that populations of U.S. Catholic life are shifting away from the historic centers in the Northeast to booming job markets in the South and West. In addition, he noted, shifts are impacting African-American and Asian communities.  

Meanwhile, according to CARA’s research, nearly a third of U.S. Catholics are not connected to a local church. While this disparity is a sign for needed improvement, Fr. Gaunt suggested that this gap can also be seen as a resource.

“How do we re-invite and re-engage them once more?” he wondered. 

Kerry Weber, executive editor of America magazine, also pointed to these communities on the peripheries and noted that most of these communities have been engaged in the Church for decades or even centuries. The challenge for Catholic journalists, she said, is to show the diversity of the Church that has always been here. 

Helen Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, pointed to the great strides the Church has made both in promoting its view of the human person in the public square and improving her own witness to the living out of respect for the human person in daily life. 

On one hand, she said, “there is an embracing of the role of women in the Church and in the public square,” and embracing of men’s integral role in raising children in the home. Furthermore, “there is a huge emerging consensus that the Church's beautiful way of marriage sex and the family is freeing for all people.” 

However, there have also been challenges. She noted that in the past several decades, challenges to the family have been a major contributor to social inequality. In addition, she said, the Church has experienced “profound losses of ideas” and understanding of teaching. 

She urged participants not to be afraid to share the Church’s message and vision for the human person – even as it confronts the messages and priorities of the secular world.  

“Since when has the Church's message anywhere not been scandalizing to the world?” she remarked.

At the same time, however, Catholics should articulate the fullness and meaning of the faith, and not rely purely on constitutional and legal arguments.  “We have to tell them what we're going to use our religious liberty for,” she insisted.  

Franciscan Father Agustino Torres, CFR, works extensively with Latino youth in New York City and explained that Latino youth – one of the largest growing populations of Catholics in the United States, “don't want just a program,” but an example of the Church’s message. He pointed to the Church’s teaching on love and sexuality as a concrete example of doctrine that youth can apply to their lives, finding Christ in the process. 

“It makes the Church relevant to young people,” Fr. Torres said.  

Daniel Owens, who spoke with his wife Melanie on the powerful encounter of love provided in the Church’s message of chastity, echoed Fr. Torres’ insights, saying that he sees a “real opportunity” in sharing the message of the Gospel, and added that the Theology of the Body has the unique ability to speak to the questions many youth face today.

Outside of any specific program or message, however, Fr. Torres stressed the importance of encounter, particularly when reaching out to young people. Within many cultures, particularly Latino youth, young people feel torn between different cultures and identities asking for their attention. 

“If the Church were to say 'you belong here, this is your home,’ you're going to get an army of missionary disciples,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan: Joy is at the heart of evangelization

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 12:22

Orlando, Fla., Jul 2, 2017 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Church continues its mission of forming disciples in the 21st century, a key component must be a witness of joy, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

“People may claim that they do not want faith, hope, or love. Rare is the person who does not crave joy,” the New York cardinal said July 1.

Cardinal Dolan was the homilist at the opening Mass for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando.

The unprecedented convocation gathered bishops, priests, consecrated religious, diocesan leaders, and representatives from Catholic ministries, parishes, and organizations. The event drew some 4,000 participants, including members of 155 dioceses and roughly 200 Catholic organizations, and 160 bishops. 

Cardinal Dolan reflected on the convocation as a time to acknowledge Christ, and recognize how he “calls us to discipleship, summons us to unity, imparts to us joy, and sends us on mission.”

He pointed to Mary as “a model of discipleship, unity, joy, and mission.”

In the account of the Visitation, he recalled, Mary “has just been told by the Archangel Gabriel that she is to be the mother of our Savior. She is thus the first disciple, attentive to God’s word, open to Jesus; she is eager for unity, closeness with her kin St. Elizabeth; she goes on a mission to tell another the glad tidings of the Lord’s imminent arrival; she and Elizabeth, as well as the two babies in their wombs, Jesus and St. John the Baptist, leap for joy.”

And it is this joy, properly understood, that will attract people to the message of the Gospel, the cardinal continued. 

True joy is not merely pleasure, giddiness, or “some syrupy, superficial feel-goodness,” but rather, as St. Paul teaches, a gift of the Holy Spirit.

“How we are tempted to concentrate on problems, worries, bad news, scandals, darkness in the Church. Lord knows we can’t ignore them, but neither can we be dominated by them. We cannot become, in the folksy term of Pope Francis, ‘a Church of sourpusses’.”

Cardinal Dolan noted that the theme of the convention, pulled from the title of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, is “The Joy of the Gospel.”

“In that teaching, the Holy Father proposes that discipleship united for mission will be characterized by and effective only with joy.”

The bishops agree that “a renewal of joy is essential for a deepening of Catholic vitality and confidence today,” he stressed.

Man plows over 10 Commandments monument in Arkansas

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 19:51

Little Rock, Ark., Jun 30, 2017 / 05:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When Moses smashed the stone tablets in Exodus 32, out of rage for the sins of his people, he used his bare hands.

But maybe a car would have made the task easier?

Michael Tate Reed, 32, yelled “Freedom!” as he plowed his car into a statue of the 10 Commandments placed outside the state capitol of Arkansas early in the morning of June 28, demolishing it.

The privately-funded monument, the product of a years-long heated debate about its constitutionality, had been up for fewer than 24 hours when Reed filmed himself destroying it.

Reed posted the video to his personal Facebook, where he also self-identifies as a born-again Christian and “Pentecostal Jesus Freak.”

Reed was caught in the act by an on-patrol police officer at the capitol and is being held in the Pulaski County Detention Center on charges of defacing an object of public interest, criminal trespassing and first degree criminal mischief, according to authorities.

It is his second alleged 10-Commandment-smashing offense.

Oklahoma authorities confirmed to The Associated Press that Reed is the same man who was arrested in October 2014 for destroying Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol with his car.

At that time, Reed self-identified as a Satanist and said that Satan had told him to smash the monument. He was charged with destruction of state property or improvements, indecent exposure, making threatening statements, reckless driving, and operating a vehicle with a revoked license in 2014.

In 2015, Reed wrote an apology for the act that published in a local Oklahoma paper, saying he was sorry and that he had had a psychotic break that drove him to destroy the monument.

"I am so sorry that this [is] all happening and I wished I could take it all back," Reed said in a letter to Tulsa World.

Arkansas state Senator Jason Rapert, who pushed for the monument’s construction, told local media that the incident could be a call to consider the state of mental health care in Arkansas, but that it has not yet been a proven defense for Reed’s most recent act.

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson tweeted that “resorting to property destruction is never the answer to a policy disagreement”.

The American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the building of the Arkansas monument as well as other 10 Commandments monuments at state capitols around the United States. Its construction was also opposed by the Freethinkers Society and the Satanic Temple.

After the destruction of Arkansas’ monument, the ACLU has said that they “strongly condemn any illegal act of destruction or vandalism.”

“The ACLU remains committed to seeing this unconstitutional monument struck down by the courts and safely removed through legal means,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar said.

Monuments of the 10 Commandments have attracted controversy in the past. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a monument of the 10 Commandments in Texas was constitutional, and other federal courts have been divided on other such monuments.

Rapert said Wednesday during a Facebook live news conference that he intended to have the Arkansas monument rebuilt.

Is Virginia about to execute a man with a serious mental illness?

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 18:01

Richmond, Va., Jun 30, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- William Morva is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on July 6.

He has been convicted of murdering an unarmed security guard and a sheriff’s deputy at age 24, while trying to escape jail, where he had been charged with attempted robbery.

However, a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist who examined Morva concluded that he suffered from delusion disorder, and was impaired by the illness at the time of the crime.

Morva’s attorneys claim that had experienced persistent delusions in the past but had not received any mental health treatment in prison.

Fearing that he might die of a perceived gastrointestinal problem because of the deliberate negligence of the guards, and that the prison would not be held accountable for it, Morva, they say, decided to escape and shot the security guard and deputy out of a delusional fear for his life.

The scheduled execution is the latest in a series of controversial death penalty cases involving inmates who are arguably mentally ill or intellectually disabled, and whose mental disorders could well have impaired their reasoning at the time of their crimes.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Texas that the standards of Texas for evaluating the mental condition of inmates did not meet the standards set in previous Court decisions Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. States’ standards for determining one’s intellectual disability – and thus one’s eligibility for the death penalty – must meet the medical community’s consensus standards.

However, many states still execute inmates with severe mental illness. Many groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, have advocated for barring death sentences for persons who have been ruled by a psychologist to have been severely mentally ill at the time of their crime.

In Morva’s case, his lawyers claim he had suffered from delusional disorder that had gotten worse since he dropped out of high school in his senior year and his family moved across the state to Richmond.

He was evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist, Donna Maddox, M.D., who read statements from scores of witnesses who testified to his erratic and delusional behavior. Maddox reviewed his medical records and visited Morva in person.

She concluded that he was indeed suffering from a chronic psychotic disorder at the time of his crimes, and probably had been suffering from the illness several years prior.

After Morva’s family moved to Richmond, he remained in the town of Blacksburg after his time in high school and was “a bit of a vagabond,” Robert Lee of the Virginia Capital Resource Center, which represented Morva after he received a death sentence, told CNA.

While Morva’s high school classmates admitted he was a little odd, they hadn’t seen any serious signs of delusional behavior. However, that reportedly began to change as he walked around town barefoot and slept at the houses of various friends, Lee said.

Thinking that he suffered from a severe gastrointestinal problem, Morva ate raw meat, lots of cheese, berries, and pine cones. As his fluid living situation and poor health management continued, his mental condition deteriorated.

He thought he was destined to be a leader of indigenous tribes in North and South America, and he later believed that the authorities, especially members of the Bush administration, were trying to thwart his grand plan.

In 2005, Morva planned to rob a convenience store with other partners, wearing masks and carrying firearms. They left the storefront after finding it closed, but an employee inside spotted the group and called the police, who apprehended the suspects around town.

Charged with attempted robbery, Morva could not leave the Montgomery County Jail in Virginia because his family could not afford to pay the bail.

After hurting his ankle in a fall and being escorted to a hospital by a prison guard for treatment, he knocked the guard unconscious, stole his gun, and shot an unarmed security guard to death on his way out of the hospital. Hiding along a trail in Blacksburg, Va. for 24 hours, Morva was discovered by a Sheriff’s deputy, whom he shot dead with the stolen gun.

He was apprehended afterward, and was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

At his capital trial, mental health experts did give Morva an evaluation, but they relied on the testimony of his high school friends, who had not been regularly in touch with him as a young adult, when he had suffered his worst bouts of delusions.

Even his estranged mother and sister could only provide limited testimony, as they had lived across the state from him with little contact. They did tell experts of the time he showed up to his father’s funeral unkempt, exhibiting some bizarre behavior, and wanting to walk barefoot, Lee noted.

However, the experts ruled that Morva was not suffering from a psychotic disorder, but rather from a personality disorder that was comprised of odd behavior and a poor attitude. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, after which Robert Lee took up Morva’s case.

“They minimized his mental illness,” Lee insisted, saying that Morva’s psychotic disorders are “amenable to treatment” and medications. Nevertheless, according to the court proceedings, his record is that of his 2006 trial when he was determined to have a personality disorder, not his later determination of delusional disorder.

He is scheduled to be executed on July 6, and Catholics are petitioning Governor Terry McAuliffe to grant him clemency.

Furthermore, Morva’s brother Michael was diagnosed by the Virginia Department of Corrections with a delusional mental disorder. He received treatment and medications for the illness, and after six months the department determined he was “clinically improved and stable.” He is currently employed and living with family.  

“This is the case of somebody who is seriously mentally ill,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA, and “that mental illness precipitated the murder.”

Morva’s case is not the only controversial death penalty news of late. On Wednesday, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ended a federal district court’s halt of Ohio’s execution process by lethal injection.

The three-drug process was to be used in three scheduled executions, one of which is now set for July 26.

Ohio had used a drug combination of midazolam, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride in its lethal injection protocol. A federal district court had put a halt to that process after claims that midazolam, a sedative, was not effective enough in blocking the painful effects of the other drugs that would paralyze the subject and stop a beating heart.

Midazolam has been used in botched executions, like in Oklahoma where Clayton Lockett was seen visibly writhing on the gurney after midazolam and the ensuing drugs were administered to him. He eventually died of a massive heart attack.

While some pointed to the failure of midazolam to protect him from the painful effects of the ensuing drugs, others said that the problem was with a faulty administration of an IV into his vein.

A district court halted Ohio’s three-drug process, and the ruling was upheld by a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit. However, that ruling was appealed to the full court, which issued its 8-6 decision on Wednesday allowing the lethal injection protocol to proceed.

Although there was a risk of pain in the execution method, “the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution,” the court stated. The district court will now make a full decision on the use of the drugs. Ohio had used a three-drug protocol before but stopped the practice in 2009 before taking it up again recently.