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In rare WSJ op-ed, Cardinal Sarah says Fr. Martin's LGBT outreach falls short

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 15:07

New York City, N.Y., Sep 1, 2017 / 01:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic outreach to LGBT individuals must always include the truth about Catholic teaching and chastity, Cardinal Robert Sarah said in an article responding to Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin.

“The Catholic Church has been criticized by many, including some of its own followers, for its pastoral response to the LGBT community,” Cardinal Sarah wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Sept. 1.

“This criticism deserves a reply, not so much to defend the Church’s practices reflexively, but to determine whether we, as the Lord’s disciples, are reaching out effectively to a group in need.”

The Guinean-born cardinal heads the Congregation for Divine Worship. He specifically named Father Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of the Jesuits’ America Magazine, as “one of the most outspoken critics of the Church’s message with regard to sexuality.”

Fr. Martin has become a media personality and has a significant presence on social media. He authored the 2017 book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”

The book drew praise from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, as well as Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who said the book “marks an essential step in inviting Church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our Church as any other Catholic.”

However, other admirers include dissenting Catholic groups like New Ways Ministry, which hosted the lecture on which the book is based and gave Fr. Martin their Bridge Building Award last year.

New Ways Ministry is part of the Equally Blessed Coalition, itself an outspoken critic of Catholic theology and sexual ethics. The coalition’s funders include billionaire heir Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation, which is following a broad strategy to counter Christian opposition to LGBT activism and to foster global social change on LGBT issues, particularly within Christianity and other religions.

At the same time, Fr. Martin’s book has its critics. They say the book avoids Church teaching on marriage, celibacy and chastity and shows an apparent reluctance to recognize Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and seek to follow Catholic teaching.

In his op-ed, Cardinal Sarah said the priest repeated “the common criticism that Catholics have been harshly critical of homosexuality while neglecting the importance of sexual integrity among all of its followers.”

The cardinal said Fr. Martin is correct to reject any double standard on the virtue of chastity “which, challenging as it may be, is part of the good news of Jesus Christ for all Christians.”

“For the unmarried – no matter their attractions – faithful chastity requires abstention from sex,” the cardinal said. While this may appear to be a high standard, Jesus’ wisdom and goodness would not require something that cannot be achieved.

“With God’s grace and our perseverance, chastity is not only possible, but it will also become the source for true freedom,” the cardinal continued. “Jesus calls us to this virtue because he has made our hearts for purity, just as he has made our minds for truth.”

Cardinal Sarah stressed the importance of both truth and love.

“To love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth,” he said. “Those who speak on behalf of the Church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ because only by living in harmony with God’s creative design do we find deep and lasting fulfillment.”

Cardinal Sarah summarized Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction: the person is good because he or she is a child of God. Homosexual attractions are not sinful if not willed or acted upon, even though they are not in harmony with human nature. However, homosexual actions are “gravely sinful and tremendously harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them.”

“People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the Church about this complex and difficult topic,” the cardinal continued.

The cardinal recommended the book by American author Daniel Mattson titled “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay,” for which he wrote the foreword.

“It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel,” Cardinal Sarah said. “I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply.”

Such Christians testify to “the power of grace” and the truth of Church teaching, he said. Some have been reconciled to Jesus Christ and the Church after living apart from the faith.

“Their lives are not easy or without sacrifice…but they have discovered the beauty of chastity and of chaste friendships,” he said, adding that these Christians deserve respect and attention for their ability to teach about “how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”

Speaking generally, the cardinal further stressed the necessity for Catholic fidelity in public life. Rejecting God’s plan for human intimacy and love has sad consequences, he said.

“The sexual liberation the world promotes does not deliver its promise. Rather, promiscuity is the cause of so much needless suffering, of broken hearts, of loneliness, and of treatment of others as means for sexual gratification,” the cardinal warned. “As a mother, the Church seeks to protect her children from the harm of sin, as an expression of her pastoral charity.”


Arizona, New Mexico bishops ask Trump to keep DACA

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 06:38

Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 1, 2017 / 04:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Arizona and New Mexico have joined the growing chorus of voices calling on President Donald Trump to maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA).

“(We) want to reiterate our strong and unwavering support for DACA youth so they do not have to live in fear of deportation,” the bishops said in an Aug. 31 statement.

“These young people entered our country as children and should have the opportunity to remain in our country to be educated here and to have opportunities to exercise their gifts for the enhancement of our nation.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was established under President Obama to protect young people who were brought into the country illegally as children from deportation and to allow them to secure work permits.

The Trump administration is under pressure from the attorneys general of 10 states, who have said they will file suit against President Trump on Sept. 5 unless he cancels the program.

“Presently, DACA protects nearly 800,000 of these young people, while allowing them to live and work in our country without fear of deportation,” the bishops of Arizona and New Mexico noted in their statement. “Through DACA they have furthered their education, started small businesses and become integral members of our communities in Arizona and New Mexico.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup.

The bishops acknowledged that “DACA is not a permanent solution,” but said they “support its continuance until a permanent solution can be found.”

“Accordingly, we urge our federal elected officials to move forward with permanent solutions that grant relief to these young people along with the chance to earn permanent residency and eventually to seek citizenship,” they said. “We ask that all people of goodwill join us in praying and advocating for governmental efforts to protect DACA youth and for reform of our broken immigration policies.”

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has also called on President Trump to reconsider his stance on DACA.

“They did not make the decision to enter this country in violation of our laws, and in fairness we cannot hold them accountable,” Archbishop Gomez said in an Aug. 29 column for the Archdiocese’s Angelus News.

On Aug. 21 the Vatican released the Pope’s message for the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, to be observed by the Catholic Church on Jan. 14.

“Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights,” Pope Francis said, stressing the need to increase access to humanitarian visas and to reunite separated families.

Pope Francis cited the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in his own message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2007 said the family is “a place and resource of the culture of life and a factor for the integration of values.”

Other backers of DACA youth include the Catholic bishops of Nebraska. On Aug. 29, they said these young people have become “contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes.”

“To the DACA youth here in Nebraska, please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you,” said the bishops of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. “It is our desire to accompany you in the anxieties and fears you face through this journey.”


Holy brainteasers? Catholic puzzle book hopes to point readers to God

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 05:19

South Bend, Ind., Sep 1, 2017 / 03:19 am (CNA).- With hopes of leading Catholics to a deeper search for Christ, a new puzzle book from Ave Maria Press challenges readers to expand their interaction with God’s mysteries.

“I open the book with a quote from Proverbs 25:2, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out’,” said Matt Swaim, author of Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers: Volume 1.

“Properly understood, the idea of God as a mystery shouldn't cause us to throw up our hands and stop searching him out; it should draw us to engage with him and get a window into his magnificence,” he told CNA.

Catholic Puzzles, which will go on sale Sept. 22, contains interactive word problems such as anagrams, code scrambles and crypto quizzes. The puzzles empower readers to learn more about saints, the mysteries of the rosary, Holy Scripture, and Church doctrine.

Swaim started developing fun interactive puzzles to aid his 8th grade CCD students with understanding Church teachings. After connecting with Ave Maria Press, a suggestion was made to put together a similar project for a broader adult audience.

“I think adults see their kids doing worksheets for religious ed classes and wish there were more of that kind of thing for their skill level out there.”


He said the puzzles are meant to be a challenge for older Catholics, but not so difficult as to deter anyone from giving it a try.

So far, he said, the response has been positive: “Most people are just excited to discover that something like this exists, and that it's not at the elementary school level.”

Watching people wrestle with thought-provoking questions is one of his favorite things about the new book, Swaim said, noting that the struggle to solve a problem can help bring us to a deeper knowledge of it.

“Think about it – if you're working on solving a particular encrypted saint quote for a half an hour, that's 30 minutes for your brain to mull it over, let it sink in, and have it stay with you.”

He clarified that searching for truth and for Christ does not mean that we treat God like he is a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery. Rather, delving into the mystery of God’s creation gives us “a greater insight into just how wonderful and big and mind-blowing it is to be in relationship with him.”

Seeing God as a mystery doesn’t stop us from pursuing him, Swaim said, adding that growing in our relationship to God’s mystery is similar to the experience of getting to know another human person through friendship, marriage or parenting.

“If every person in this world is a unique, unrepeatable mystery to learn about and learn from, then how much more the God who created all of them?”

“God has hidden himself in his creation, in the faces of our neighbors, in the most minuscule aspects of our days. He's constantly searching after us, but he also wants us to be searching after him.”

But we do not always search for God, he said. Instead, “we devote hours to studying the intricacies of the NFL” or memorizing quotes of “our favorite television shows.”

Swaim challenged Catholics: “What if we applied a fraction of that inquisitive fervor toward exploring our faith?”

Evangelicals' Nashville Statement 'largely consonant' with Catholic thought

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 02:08

Nashville, Tenn., Sep 1, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Evangelical Christian coalition’s statement on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity is “largely consonant” with Catholic thought, according to one commentator.

“The language of the document is clearly Evangelical, but its articles are largely consonant with Catholic understandings of human sexuality and sexual morality,” Stephen P. White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA Aug. 30.

“I think Pope Francis would agree with virtually everything in the letter,” White continued. “When man forgets his Creator, he loses sight of himself as well. We see the result of this in the confusion over sexual morality, but in many other areas as well. It’s what most of Pope Francis’ last encyclical, Laudato si', was about.”

The Nashville Statement was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood after endorsement in Nashville by more than 150 Evangelical Christian leaders Aug. 25.

“As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being,” said the statement. “By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life.”

“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female,” it continued. “It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences.”

Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said the statement aimed “to shine a light into the darkness – to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female.” He said the council prayed that the statement might provide churches and Christian organizations with “biblical guidance on how to address homosexuality and transgenderism.”

The council aims to foster a coalition of like-minded Evangelicals and influence a new generation of Evangelicals who are being pressured to abandon their vision of Christian teaching.

Signatories of the Nashville Statement include Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World Magazine; K. Erik Thoennes, a theology professor at Biola University; and Jerry A. Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters.

The statement includes 14 articles which each include affirmations and denials. It affirms marriage as a lifelong union of a man and woman; sex differences and sexual equality as a part of God’s creation; “chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage”; God’s forgiveness of sins; and salvation through Christ.

It rejects sexual immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The statement affirms “our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.” Another of its affirmations: it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism, on the grounds that “such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” It is not “a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

The Nashville Statement affirms the ability of people with same-sex attraction to live a life pleasing to God, encourages a self-conception as male or female “defined by God’s holy purposes in creation,” and rejects “a homosexual or transgender self-conception” as inconsistent with God’s purposes in creation.

For White, the statement’s language reflected “the absence of Catholic sacramental theology, for obvious reasons.” He also questioned an apparent failure to recognize that chastity is a virtue for both married and unmarried people.

“But the basic outline of Christian sexual morality is there: our sexuality is good and God-given, sexual intimacy belongs in marriage and nowhere else, marriage is between a man and a woman, no sin is insurmountable to God’s grace, etc.”

White predicted a mixed reaction, saying “many will be grateful for simple sanity in a time of widespread confusion; others will see the affirmation of orthodox Christian teaching on sex and marriage as disconcerting, perhaps even hateful.”

“The Gospel doesn’t please everyone,” he added.

White said that Americans’ views on sex and morality have undergone drastic change. These changes are more than a shift in morality, in his view. Rather, they reflect “a fundamental change in our understanding of human nature itself.”

“Whether it’s individualism, or affluence, our technological power, we often delude ourselves into thinking we can do as we please…and that doing as we please will make us happy,” White said, citing the Book of Genesis. “It’s the oldest temptation in the book, literally: to make ourselves like gods.”

“Unfortunately, when man forgets God, he loses sight of himself as well,” he said. “We see the result of this in the confusion over sexual morality, but in many other areas as well.”

Nashville mayor Megan Barry criticized the statement on Twitter, saying it “does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville”.

Chicago archdiocese to receive relic of Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 19:20

Chicago, Ill., Aug 31, 2017 / 05:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sept. 5, Saint Mark's Parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago will receive a first class relic of Saint Teresa of Calcutta for public veneration, which will then be permanently kept in the church.

The relic, which consists of some of Mother Teresa's hair, was requested from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity by St. Mark's pastor Father Martin Ibarra, and parishioner Fernando Iñiguez.

Iñiguez said that they had asked for the relic to help promote the life and virtues of the recently canonized saint.

“Also, so that the parishioners will be inspired with fervor and a new prospect of evangelization on the parish level and that the will same occur throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Iñiguez told CNA.

On September 5, Fr. Ibarra will celebrate Mass at the parish at 7:00 p.m. to mark the one year anniversary of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and in thanksgiving for the arrival and installation of her relic. Missionaries of Charity sisters will be present at the celebration.

In the following days, the parish will organize pilgrimages, novenas, and other events at parishes that would like to have the relic visit.

Saint Mark's Church will be the only parish with a relic of Mother Teresa in the archdiocese. It is also the only church that has a first class relic of Padre Pio, which consists of a vial of his blood.

“As the community of Saint Mark's we feel blessed and happy to have the relic of such an important woman on the world level in every sense and aspect of life,” Fr. Ibarra said. “But especially in the power she conveys through her evangelization and humanitarian service to the most needy.”

As State Department reorganizes, what will be the fate of religious freedom office?

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 19:03

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2017 / 05:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Although the State Department plans to cut or consolidate certain senior positions as part of an ongoing reorganization, the international religious freedom office will reportedly be expanded.

“I am encouraged by this move,” Dr. Tom Farr, head of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA in a written statement on the agency moving religious “special envoy” positions into the Office of International Religious Freedom.

“Each of these religion-related envoys and offices are intimately connected to religious freedom,” he said.

“I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus,” Tillerson wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, “and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.” CNN first reported the letter.

Of 66 senior positions at the department which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed in his letter, 30 are planned to be kept in place, according to a department official. Nine will be cut, 21 will be consolidated into various bureaus within the agency, and five others will be “folded into existing positions.”

The moves are being made to consolidate positions within the agency in the name of efficiency, clarity, and concentration of resources, according to an official at State.

Certain senior religious positions at State – including their staff and functions -- are now being assumed by the Office of International Religious Freedom, all of which will reportedly be expanded.

That office was created with the original International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), sponsored by former Congressman Frank Wolf. It was meant to establish a place at the State Department where promoting religious freedom would be a lasting part of U.S. foreign policy.

Daniel Mark, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal commission that advises the State Department and promotes religious freedom abroad, did not take an official position on the re-organization.

However, he said that if it improved the effectiveness of the State Department’s mission of promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, then it obviously would be a sound move.

“For coordination purposes, it is helpful, we think, for the Ambassador for International Religious Freedom to be taking the lead and coordinating the activities of all those different groups and offices,” he said of the re-organization.

“The goal isn’t to have this many envoys or that many envoys. The goal, of course, is just to see all the issues that need to be addressed, addressed in an efficacious way.”

The end results may depend on how much of a voice the Office of International Religious Freedom is given within the State Department.

Some advocates have thought that the office was marginalized at the agency over the years, both in its physical presence within the building and in its diminished role in the hierarchy of offices.

However, the previous Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, who served during the last two years of the Obama administration, played an important role in increasing the voice of the office within the agency, Wolf said.

President Donald Trump nominated Kansas Governor and former Senator Sam Brownback for the position in July. He has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

And in the new State Department plan, the ambassador will report to “a higher-level official,” Mark told CNA.

The ambassador will now report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, a change which is “a step in the right direction” and one which will hopefully gain the office a more prominent voice within the agency, Mark said.

However, “we would look to see it be elevated even further,” he said, “to be a direct report, involved in the senior-level staff meetings and that sort of thing.”

The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which is the most recent version of IRFA, passed by Congress in 2016, calls for the ambassador to report directly to the Secretary of State.

And now the office will absorb other religious positions within State: the U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, the U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia.

And by keeping the envoys and placing them within the International Religious Freedom office, State will be able to bring their expertise to the office’s mission of promoting religious freedom.

“For example, the Muslim-related envoys will strengthen the US capacity to advance religious freedom in Muslim-majority nations by, for example, presenting evidence that moving toward religious freedom will benefit Islam and their societies,” Dr. Farr said.

One of the positions – the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia – has been hailed by advocates for Middle Eastern Christians as vital to the mission of protecting them.

Knox Thames is the current Special Advisor, but a State Department official could not provide information as to whether specific staff members would remain in positions. Wolf praised Thames’ work as Special Advisor.

The Special Advisor position was created through bills passed by the House in 2013 and by the Senate in 2014 as a way to ensure that an advocate for persecuted religious minorities in the region would exist at State as part of a “one-stop special place” for leaders of those communities to share their concerns and requests.

Initially a “Special Envoy” position, it was changed to be a “Special Adviser” role under the Obama administration. The position is extremely important, Wolf told CNA, because of the dire plight of many religious minorities in the region.

These persecuted communities, he said, would include Coptic Christians suffering deadly terror attacks in Egypt, Iraqi Christian refugees, and Yazidis who suffered genocide at the hands of Islamic State, Baha'is imprisoned in Iran, and Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan.

“You can’t pick up the paper, and there’s not a story about persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East,” Wolf said. “You can’t get rid of the person who’s working on that issue at this very time. It would send a terrible message to the persecuted people in the Middle East.”

Not only must the position exist, he said, but the right person must fill it.

“Personnel is policy,” Wolf said. “You put the right person in, and things are going to happen. You put the wrong person in, and you can have nothing happen.”

The Special Envoy for anti-Semitism will reportedly be kept, but moved to the Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor. The Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan will be cut, with its functions and staff being transferred to the Bureau of African Affairs.

This health center for the uninsured used to be an abortion clinic

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 18:31

Manassas, Va., Aug 31, 2017 / 04:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Prayer. Sacrifice. Friendship. Charity. Could one Virginia community’s work to put basic Gospel tenets into action be a model for the future of the pro-life movement?

“I think it is a turn from desperation to great hope and transformative hope going forward,” Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, told CNA of a new free medical clinic set to open in November, replacing a long-standing abortion clinic.

The story began with friendship. The Amethyst Women’s Health Center was a decades-old abortion clinic in Manassas, Va., a western suburb of Washington, D.C., founded by a husband and wife and operating since 1988. The clinic averaged 1,300 abortions per year.

As the clinic opened its doors day after day for years, local Catholics began to regularly pray outside the building all year round for the victims of the abortions, for the clinic workers and owners, and for an end to the abortions there.

In 2013, two members of the pro-life community visited the clinic and struck up a friendship with the owner, her son, and one of the contracted abortionists. In their regular clinic visits, they learned that the owner, now a widow, was not opposed to leaving the practice but felt trapped since operating the clinic had been her livelihood for years. If she left the clinic, her son would need support as well.

They tried to find a job for her son, while realizing that they would need to raise a significant amount of money within three months to purchase the clinic and buy her out so she could retire. For such an urgent task, one of the men received a key piece of advice – pray to the Blessed Mother. He began to pray a 14-day rosary novena.

Members of local parishes began discreetly spreading the word among their church communities. A coalition of local entrepreneurs also banded together and began raising money.

Donations poured in, and in less than three months, the community raised all the money required to buy out the clinic, which closed at the end of September 2015. The owner, who had been a baptized Catholic, eventually repented and came back to the faith.

However, the community was faced with the question of what to do with the former clinic building. The idea formed to turn it into a charitable medical clinic.

There was a “great desire that something redemptive would happen here,” Art Bennett told CNA. He had been approached about possibly establishing the health clinic, and local community members “wanted it to be a place where people would find hope and healing.”

Over the next two years, parishioners of nearby parishes and the diocese worked to make the dream a reality. In August 2017, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington gave the approval for the new clinic, and Catholic Charities announced that it would indeed open in November.

“Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic” will offer a range of general family practitioner services free-of-charge, with physicians and nurses volunteering their time and effort. It will have a target demographic of uninsured persons, which number around 8,000 in that part of the county, Bennett said.

The clinic will also provide referrals to nearby Novant Health for other services for qualified patients, and a physician network has been set up to see patients with more serious medical problems at a reduced or free rate.

Bennett hopes that the clinic will serve as a “transformation” of the community from having an abortion clinic to providing free health care for those who need it. Another free health clinic in the area had closed, he said, and that was a further impetus for Catholic Charities to fill the gap.

Promoting human dignity and upholding the common good will be two pillars of the clinic’s mission, he said.

“By offering this service, we’re not only acknowledging the dignity of the individual,” he said, but also “helping the common good, helping people overcome problems so they can flourish and lead a better life.”

The clinic will also put into practice the corporal works of mercy.

“Most of the work we did on this was done during the Year of Mercy, mapping it out, doing the research, so we think this is a fruit of the Year of Mercy,” he said.

They also see a Marian connection. The abortion clinic closed after the countless rosaries that were said for life, and the new clinic is named for the “Mother of Mercy.”

“Mary, with her maternal care for people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, we thought that that was a nice integration,” Bennett said.

The clinic was “brought in to bring a better future to this location,” he told CNA, a future that would include “hope and healing and transformation.”

“This has been quite a transformation.”

Kansas City Royals' manager says he warns his team about porn

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 14:08

Kansas City, Mo., Aug 31, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As part of a new program to educate baseball players on the dangers of substance abuse, the general manager for the Kansas City Royals added pornography to the list of potential harms for his team.

In an Aug. 29 statement, Royals general manager Dayton Moore explained that the team's leadership formation program discusses the problems surrounding drug and alcohol use, and also “pornography and the effects of what that does to the minds of players.”

Moore expressed hope that team formation program might focus on the development of players beyond the early years of their careers, into the “next part of their journey – what type of husbands [and] what types of fathers [the players may become].”

He also linked pornography to the damage it has on family life and other relationships, saying that it can lead to the domestic “abuse of women.”

Moore's comments came in response to questions about Danny Duffy, a Royals pitcher who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on Sunday Aug. 27, shortly after the Royals lost 12-0 to the Cleveland Indians.
Moore isn't the first sports figure to speak out openly against the dangers of porn.

In 2016, former NFL player Terry Crews revealed that pornography had been destructive in his own life, saying that the addictive habit had cost him his first marriage. He also said pornography fed a sense of entitlement, which made him believe that his needs were more important than his wife's.

“When you believe that you are more valuable than another person, you kind of feel like they owe you, and if they don’t do what you tell them then, you know, [they're] not good enough,” he said on one of the three anti-porn videos he released on Facebook.

In the 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis urged parents to equip children to deal with the "flood of pornography" available on the internet.  In 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued "Create in Me a Clean Heart," a pastoral letter addressing the problem of pornography.

How visiting prisoners can change your life (and theirs)

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 08:15

Denver, Colo., Aug 31, 2017 / 06:15 am (Denver Catholic).- Sometimes people surprise us for the better.

For Lorenzo Patelli, leader of one of the Communion and Liberation (CL) communities in Denver, and a man called “J,” a former inmate who is now on parole, the surprise of friendship turned into a deep encounter with Christ through one another — all in the setting of prison ministry.

But the meeting had just happened to fall on Patelli’s lap. At that time, J had been in prison for several years and requested the CL magazine, Traces, in German to learn the language, only to find that he also needed the English one to help him better translate with his German dictionary.

J contacted the Human Adventure Corporation, the legal entity the CL movement uses in the U.S. to run Traces and other various events, to ask about getting the English subscription.

“We got a phone call or an email from [a woman] saying, ‘Hey, I got this request to send Traces to this prison in Colorado, I have no clue who this person or prison is, I can definitely send the magazine, but you guys want to get in contact with him?’” Patelli said.

Not long after, another member of Patelli’s Denver community reached out to J by letter and said that the group wanted to visit him in prison. After a long process of applications and verification, eight from the community were added to J’s list of people he was allowed to see in prison, although he couldn’t see more than four at once. So they rotated.

A surprising friendship

Patelli recalled that at first, he didn’t want to know J’s crime, but then realized that not knowing someone’s full story “is like not even knowing your name.”

“We were really struck by his story and so I knew at that point, even if he had told me he killed 200 people, I would have been, not fine, but, ‘Okay, this is it,’” Patelli said. “But before, I didn’t want to have the opposite thing, looking at him with his crime in my mind. And a beautiful friendship started.

“I thought I was going to find someone desperate or really struggling. And I remember we met a man who was busy, certain of his faith more than me and all of us together, and it was immediately clear to all of us that we didn’t go to help him, but that something was given to us,” Patelli continued. “[We left] every time way more aware of the love of God for us. That God could have said, ‘J I free you right now,’ and he was not doing that, but yet, J was loving his life.”

“Think about J” became a saying in the community to one another when they were struggling with things big and small.

“He became a presence, a something in our mind,” Patelli said. “Everything took a new perspective.”

For both J and Patelli, as well as the others that visited him, the friendship was a surprising encounter, Patelli said.

“We were talking about everything, he got to know us in what was going on in our lives more and more. He was telling more and more about his days,” Patelli said. “You can’t bring anything in [to the prison], not even your wallet. So you’re naked in front of another person, who is very naked in terms of his being in prison. So it’s a very interesting dynamic that makes you very true in front of what you’re saying, what you want to say, what’s happening in your life. It was very, very real.”

Finding Christ in prison

Before meeting Patelli and the other members of the community, J had already experienced a conversion to the Catholic faith several years before.

He had previously been baptized, but when his mother left the Church while he was a kid, he did too.

But his journey back accelerated in prison. J accepted a Bible from a chaplain and began to read it only to prove to his evangelical brother that it was “full of holes.” But he found something else instead.

“I was amazed,” J said. “I had no idea that there was all this history in there, and it just really spoke to me. It was clearly true. I had always believed in God and believed that Jesus was God, but I didn’t know what that meant, and certainly didn’t have any personal experience with Christ.”

After finishing the Bible in a matter of weeks, he told his family about his experience, and his grandfather, who was a devout Catholic, sent him books so he could read more about the faith.

“I basically read my way back into the Catholic Church,” J said. “It made sense to me as I read this stuff…Catholicism isn’t a faith that requires you to check your brain at the door. It actually makes sense. You have to accept some premises on faith, but everything logically makes sense. You might say it’s above logic, but that doesn’t mean it’s illogical or unreasonable, it’s just more than logical and reasonable.”

After getting confirmed, J became an Oblate of St. Benedict, got his master’s degree in theology through the Catholic Distance University, became a leader of a non-denominational religious program, a Bible study leader, and an RCIA leader — all while in prison. He even sponsored five men in baptism and confirmation while there.

“I kind of miss it. I’m obviously happy to be out of prison, but there are days when I say, I was having a lot more impact on the world in there than I can out here, and it’s been a frustration for me,” J said. “I had wanted very much to get something going out here, a prison ministry that would reach into the prisons and befriend people and act as mentors. There are so many people who could use that.”

“Somebody who loves me”

During the three years that the CL community visited J, they saw the act of visiting as a charitable work, but the experience changed the way they view other people.

“When we were going down, we were reading a little booklet by Father Giussani [the founder of the CL movement] on charitable work, and he says you don’t go because you can fulfill the need of the other, because who knows what that need is,” Patelli said. “You go because it’s part of the law of life to give yourself. And even these words, they sound cute and nice, but they were carrying a weight every time we were going down there.”

They visited J about every other month until he was released on parole last October, during the Year of Mercy.

Immediately the question became, “What happens next for J?” which brought Patelli a lot of anxiety.

“So this is the situation. And then he tells me in this letter that he’s going to rely on me for finding a job and getting back on track,” Patelli said. “But the thing he’s needed the most he’s already been given, which is somebody who’s out who loves me and waits for me. And that took all the anxiety and pressure off my back.

“I could have said that to myself, but it was very different to hear him say that,” Patelli continued. “That exactly in these three years of visiting him, his awareness that that’s what we did and that’s what he needs first and foremost, is very liberating.”

Now, with the gifts he’s been given of conversion and a thorough education, J dreams of getting back into prison ministry to help the people he’s lived so long with — especially on a relational level so they know that they, too, have “somebody who loves me.”

“Of the 1,500 guys in the prison I was in, we would get about 20 guys at Mass on a regular basis,” he said. “That’s less than one percent. It’s not that those people aren’t interested in questions that life is giving them, they just don’t know what the answers are. And somebody needs to engage them in a way that’s compelling to them.”


This article was originally published in the Denver Catholic.

Sci-fi, fantasy – and faith? A look inside the 'Christian ComiCon'

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 05:02

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Inside a Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the middle of Washington, D.C., self-described “geeks” decorated the meeting hall to look like the “Lantern Waste” of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.

Over the course of a weekend, the hall's snow-covered tabletops and frosted windows were replaced with flowers and bright colors, as springtime came for Narnia.

In the meantime, a group of video game characters, Star Trek crew members, Marvel heroes and villains from Narnia itself hustled back and forth to talks on Christian themes in horror films, the brokenness of the world, and the meaning of death in the Doctor Who series.

Neither the topics of the talks nor the importance of the shifting scenery were lost on attendees of Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention Doxacon – a gathering its organizers jokingly refer to as “Christian ComiCon,” when not lauding its “Geek Orthodox” credentials.

Like the warming of Narnia occasioned by Aslan's sacrifice, the sci-fi and fantasy fans hope that Christian reflection on the greatest stories and fictional worlds of today  can shed light on the good, the beautiful, and the enchanting truths reflected in these works.

“Great stories are just something everybody loves (and they) go deeply into the humanity that a lot of the culture can't do,” Edmund Lazzari, a Doxacon attendee, told CNA.

He said that many of the authors, TV shows and films discussed during the weekend point to “something deeper,” and that questions like “can aliens be saved,” or considerations surrounding liturgy and worship in space or on other worlds, can lead to fruitful reflection on the Gospel.

“I love these sorts of conversations and I'm so glad to be in a place where we can have these conversations.”

Lazzari said that Christians have something important to bring to all aspects of the world – even stories as fantastical and strange as these. “You can see everything in the light of theology,” he said. “There's nothing authentically human that’s alien to the Catholic faith.”

“Looking at these stories that have aspects of humanity in them – the good and the bad all in display – we've definitely got something to say.”

Lazzari joined about 80 other fans of science fiction and fantasy at Doxacon, held this year in Washington, D.C. The fourth annual event gathered a crowd of just under 100 people to St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, with various talks and discussions held throughout the building.

The conference, put on by a team of local science-fiction and fantasy fans incorporates a Christian worldview while looking at topics within the genres. This year’s Doxacon talks spanned topics such as beauty within fantasy, mortality within the Doctor Who series, the authority of faith and of people on the margins within horror films, and loving one’s enemies in stories like Beauty and the Beast. Since the first conference held in Washington, D.C. in 2013, other Doxacon conferences have also been held in Toronto and Seattle.

The exploration of science fiction and fantasy through a Christian perspective was something, Father David Subu, found lacking both at other science-fiction meetings as well as within many Christian spaces. Fr. Subu is an Orthodox priest in Fairfax, Virginia and one of the founders of Doxacon. He told CNA that one day, he found himself talking to other Christians about some of their favorite sci-fi series and wishing they could have the same kind of deep conversations about these topics on an openly Christian setting.

“We were lamenting one year how they have these amazing conventions like ComiCon, but there's not really a venue that existed to explore those ideas from a Christian point of view,” he said. “For so long, Christians were told from both sides that these worlds can't mix.”

In his experience, he said many Christians can be distrustful of some elements of science fiction and fantasy, or discount an entire genre because of problematic elements within one book or show. Meanwhile, many fans of these works try to prove they're the “smartest person in the room,” by promoting explicitly atheistic readings of various stories or themes.

This apparent disconnect between sci-fi fandoms and Christianity is all the more concerning given the genre's audience, he pointed out. “The majority of people consuming fantasy fiction and sci fi are like the rest of America: they're Christian.”

Daniel Silver, another one of Doxacon's founders, said the presumed tension between fandom and faith is part of what inspired him to help put the conference together. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian home, “I had been told by my church that these genres were not for me.” After converting to the Orthodox faith, he discovered that “there are other people like me who enjoy these things who are geeks and nerds” – but also devout Christians.

Silver said that the conferences have also been an opportunity to both share some of the life of the faith as well as to reach out across denominational lines. Since its inception, the group has brought together speakers and attendees from a variety of Christian traditions: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

Still, Silver added, the conference makes sure to incorporate elements of the Orthodox tradition its founding organizers.

At the beginning of the conference, attendees gathered to sing an Akathist prayer: a chanting song of praise focused on the goodness of God and of all creation. The melody resounded in the main dining hall, a reminder that God has already enchanted this world and blessed it with an abundance of beauty and goodness. Before dinner at the end of the conference, the busy schedule was stopped so that everyone could gather to pray Vespers: one of the traditional hours of the Church and a marker of time in both the Eastern and Latin Churches. These two breaks for prayer bookended a busy schedule of discussions and debates.

While prayer was a core of the convention weekend, so was discernment. One of the keynote talks by Catholic writer Leah Libresco focused on the idea of brokenness within different magical worlds. In the “Young Wizards” series by Diane Duane, magic is used to help heal the brokenness and chaos in this world – an analogy for the Christian approach to sin that Libresco said was a helpful touchstone during in her conversion. Meanwhile, in “The Magicians” series by Lev Grossman,  magic serves as an extension of its characters' pain, hurt and anger, and Libresco heartily encouraged all to stay away from the series.

Stephanie Subu, another one of the conference organizers, said that this kind of differentiation of themes within seemingly similar books is also an important aim of the conference. She admitted that not every story is appropriate for Christians to engage with – some stories have elements that promote worldviews or actions that challenge Christian faith and life. “There's stuff out there that yes, really is not good to read and unless you have the tools and the spiritual eyes to know the difference.”

Several talks at the event aimed at parents and children continued this conversation, focusing more explicitly on what themes and examples of goodness to look for in good fiction and fantasy – and how to know is something is worth putting back on the shelf.

Still other attendees appreciated the philosophical depth and seriousness speakers brought to these stories  – some of which can be brushed off as fanciful or even childish.

Felix Miller, an attendee who heard about the event from a friend, said that it was this seriousness he appreciated the most.

“I really liked the idea of fantasy/sci-fi/pop culture and more rigorous philosophical and cultural considerations. One of the things I've liked is that the presenters have done a really good job of not presenting the conversation in a shallow way.”

“They're doing a really good job of taking the texts seriously and engaging with them in a theological bent,” he told CNA.

Miller said he hoped some of what he heard this weekend could lay the groundwork for further discussions about some of his favorite shows and books after Doxacon.

“People are dealing with a lot of these same questions, but maybe aren't dealing with them in the same way with careful philosophical distinctions,” he noted.

Erin Gillaspy – who wore a shirt emblazoned with the words “Ask me about Space Catholics” – also appreciated the opportunity to talk about philosophy and theology – as well as the chance to discuss the difficulties of setting liturgical calendars for astronauts.

She commented that, while some fictional worlds might have elements that are dark, fantastical or ridiculous, these stories provide the opportunity to speak to a wide audience about the truth of the human condition. This truth, Gillaspy said, is something that Catholics can dialogue with, no matter the context.

“The truth is not going to stop being true. Just because you happen to put that truth on a rocket ship or in deep space or on Mars or on Pluto or on the Moon, they’re not going to stop being true – they’re immutable truths,” she said.

However, she also said that while a Catholic can see the enchantment and truth within a number of stories, Christians also need to be actively engaged not only in interpreting these worlds, but creating them too.

“The only major players in science fiction and fantasy these days who are Catholic are JRR Tolkien and Gene Wolfe – and Gene Wolfe is not super well-known,” she pointed out. “I mean this lovingly, but there's gotta be more representation.”

Lazzari – who joined Gillaspy in explaining the challenges and opportunities facing “Space Catholics” – agreed.

“A lot of times what happens in our culture is that Christianity is one aspect of our society. You’ve got economics, you’ve got politics, you’ve got religion, you’ve got the arts, but really, the great thing here is that our view is a whole worldview.”

“[Christianity] is not a box you check, it's a way of life, it's a way of seeing the world.”

In Denver, new women's shelter cares for hidden side of homelessness

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 02:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 31, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cindy Brown spent 12 years in the U.S. Army. Approaching late middle age, she found herself in a crisis.

Samaritan House homeless shelter, run by Catholic Charities of Denver, was there for her.

“I’m just very grateful. Samaritan House saved my life. They did,” she told CNA Aug. 25.

“I became homeless, I believe in 2015,” Brown recounted. “I lost my job, couldn’t pay for my apartment, that story. I was referred to Samaritan House. They had a veteran’s program there also.”

“That’s where I ended up, instead of being on the streets. I’m very blessed that that happened,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.  I was like, ‘where do I go? I can’t live on the streets. I’m tough, but I’m not that tough’.”

Over 1,700 women in the Denver metro region were homeless on any given night in January 2017, according to a report from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. They made up 33.7 percent of the region’s homeless population. Women aged 55 and over are among the fastest growing demographic among the homeless.

While homeless women number less than homeless men, they face more risk of trauma and abuse. They tend to require more medical attention, especially those who are pregnant.

Overall, women find it more difficult to escape homelessness.

The new Samaritan House Women’s Shelter aims to help them succeed. The shelter, located northeast of downtown Denver, offers emergency space to 100 single women and a 29-day transitional program to 50 more. It is the largest women’s shelter in Denver.

Combined with current shelter space, Catholic Charities will be able to provide 250 single women with emergency overnight shelter.

Denver’s Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told CNA that opening a new women’s shelter is a way for the Church “to serve those women who are in such great need of assistance and help.”

“We were commanded by Jesus to do that: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger,” he said. “It’s a way that we are able to show their dignity as human beings and particularly as women.”

The new shelter’s transitional program will provide women access to recovery resources, mental health services, and employment information through its computer lab. Participants can also apply for government benefits and if necessary seek help from other Catholic Charities programs.

Women who complete the transitional program can move to a 120-day program at the Samaritan House downtown location. This program aims to help residents develop life skills and find opportunities for employment and housing.

Larry Smith, CEO of Catholic Charities of Denver, said gentrification of Denver neighborhoods has made housing unaffordable for many people.

“With the increase in the value of those properties, and the increase in the price of rent, those people are being forced out of their homes, and for the first time experiencing homelessness,” Smith told CNA.

“As a result, you end up with an increasing population of former Denver residents who now don’t know where to go because they can’t afford housing.”

Catholic Charities’ administrative offices will be located in the same building, which has 32,000 square feet of space. The women’s shelter is a $5.1 million project, including $1 million secured by the City of Denver.

Mayor of Denver Michael Hancock joined Archbishop Aquila and Smith at an Aug. 24 grand opening of the shelter. He has made homelessness a priority in his administration.

“We are fortunate here in Denver to have a strong community of partners who work alongside the city to serve those experiencing homelessness,” said Hancock.

“We are never to stop trying to care for them, and to make sure we do everything we can to provide comfort and compassion and opportunity to live a healthier fuller life,” he added. “While we may not always agree how we do it, the bottom line is we’re trying to do it.”

Hancock cited the injunction of Jesus to St. Peter in the Gospels to “feed his sheep.”

According to Smith, the growing homeless situation in Denver is “terribly challenging.”

“Both the City of Denver and other major shelters in the city are working to change how homelessness is addressed and help those who experience homelessness recover,” he said. Partnerships like the grant secured through the city will help these people “find a path back to self-reliance and dignity.”

For Brown, the assistance she found from the Veterans’ Administration and Samaritan House was wonderful.

“I appreciated everything,” she said. After living in transitional housing, she is planning to move into her own place with the help of a housing voucher.

During her time at Samaritan House, Brown was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Given her disability, she hopes to find something she can do like volunteer work.

“I’d love to help out the community, help those who have helped me,” she told CNA.

The Samaritan House website is

Here's what Benedict XVI's former students will discuss next month

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 17:32

Rome, Italy, Aug 30, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The persecution and martyrdom of Christians will be the topic of discussion at an annual gathering of Pope Benedict XVI’s former theology students, who will meet in Rome Sept. 1-3 for a reunion and symposium.

The “Ratzinger Schuelerkreis” is a group of students who studied under Benedict XVI and who continue to meet each year.

Meeting alongside the Schuelerkreis will be a group called the New Schuelerkreis, comprised of young scholars who study the thought of Benedict XVI.

The upcoming symposium is entitled “On the Persecution of Christians and Martyrdom.”

Fr. Stephan Horn, coordinator of the Ratzinger Schuelerkreis and formerly assistant professor to Joseph Ratzinger in Regensburg, told CNA that the topic “met the consensus of the majority of the Schuelerkreis members, and Benedict XVI accepted it and immediately suggested the presenters for the symposium.”

The two presenters are Msgr. Helmut Moll and Bishop Manfred Scheuer of the Austrian diocese of Linz. Both have studied the martyrdom of Christians, with a particular focus on martyrs of the 20th century.

Msgr. Moll was already a member of the Ratzinger Schuelerkreis, but he is also the curator of the “German Martyrologium,” a book published by the German bishops’ conference dedicated to the martyrs of the 20th century.

Bishop Scheuer is the postulator of the cause for the beatification of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian Catholic who refused to collaborate with Nazis, and was sentenced to death and beheaded Aug. 9, 1943.

The discussion will likely focus on the meaning of martyrdom in 20th century. This theme is especially important to Pope Francis, who has stressed throughout his pontificate that “there are more martyrs now than in the Christianity’s early ages.”

Fr. Horn noted that one of the reasons for the martyrdom of Christians is increased secularization, which Pope Benedict XVI noted in the years following the Second Vatican Council.

“To the Pope Emeritus,” Fr. Horn said, “the Church’s suffering comes from this secularization. But secularization can be won with a renewed testimony of faith, since when Christians are more united, or work together for unity, secularization can be defeated.”

He added that “unity” is crucial to Benedict XVI because “martyrdom does not affect only Catholics, but all Christian groups.”

In addition to the two presenters selected for the symposium, Coptic Bishop Anba Kyrillos William Samaan of Assiut, Egypt will offer testimony on the experience of martyrdom in the Middle East.  

Fr. Horn explained that the Pope Emeritus will not fully participate in the symposium, but he will receive a small delegation of participants. The Pope Emeritus has not fully participated in the annual gathering since prior to his resignation in 2013.

The gatherings began in 1978. When Joseph Ratzinger was appointed Archbishop of Munich, his students asked him if they could meet with him once a year, to discuss specific issues. Cardinal Ratzinger said yes.

The Schuelerkreis meetings continued even after Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and moved to Rome in 1981. In 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, but continued the tradition of the annual gathering.   



How this Catholic saint might be the patron of opioid addicts

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the opioid addiction crisis rises to the threshold of a national emergency, the story of a little-known Catholic saint from the early 20th century is offering hope to those devastated by it.

Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, who suffered from an addiction to opium until the end of his life, was martyred in July of 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion – a violent anti-colonial and anti-Christian uprising that took place in Northern China around 1900.
“He gives hope in the most important way for addicts – even though you are struggling with some addictive behavior, your dignity as a human person is still intact and you are destined for greatness,” Dr. Gregory Bottaro, executive director of the Catholic Psych Institute, told CNA.

According to the New York Times, over 52,000 people died in 2015 from drug overdoses. While the official statistics have yet to be available, that number is expected to rise to 59-65,000 deaths for the following year. In a study that ranged from 2000 to 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that six out of ten drug overdoses involve opioids, and that an estimated 91 people die every day from opioid abuse.

Ji used opium to treat a severe stomach ailment, and he soon became addicted to the drug.

At the time, addiction was not understood as a disease, and there were few resources available to effectively help Ji. After repeated failure to give up the drug, Ji abstained from receiving the Eucharist for 30 years, while continuing to practice the faith, even amidst persecution.

During the Boxer Rebellion at the beginning of the 20th century, Ji and his family were martyred. Chinese nationalists known as the Boxers, or the Militia United in Righteousness, expelled missionaries and persecuted Christians across China. Thirty-two thousand Chinese Christians and 200 foreign missionaries were killed.

Ji requested to be beheaded last in his family so as not to leave any of his loved ones alone during their death.

“I think the story is a beautiful testimony to the goodness and complexity of the human heart. His struggles can give great hope to people who are suffering,” Dr. Bottaro said.

“The interesting paradox here is that he did not recover from his addiction, but he did recover from separation from God.”

He noted that those who struggle from addiction “[do] not have the same kind of freedom to avoid the addictive behavior,” and therefore their actions cannot be judged in the same way.

“However, there is a point at which the faculty of freedom is active,” he said, adding that this freedom could manifest itself in someone reaching out for help from friends, family, or a 12-step program such as Narcotics Anonymous.

“This is where we need to support and educate people who are suffering this way. Judging the actions of an addict as a personal moral failing does not support the addict when they are superficially directed only at the addictive behavior.”

According to the CDC, in 2014 nearly two million U.S. residents abused or were dependent on opiods in the form of painkillers prescribed by medical professionals.

An HIV specialist at Brown University Medical School, Deacon Timothy Flanigan said the growing abuse of opioids is connected to controversial medical guidelines, which have called for a more aggressive plan in treating chronic and acute pain.

Deacon Flanigan said that, while poorer urban neighborhoods have encountered drug abuse issues for decades, abuse has increased among the middle class because of more frequent opioid prescriptions. Since opioids have a high addiction rate, he speculated that a patient may switch to cheaper and easily accessible street versions of the drug, like heroin or meth.

The president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, released a report on drug overdoses and proposed reform on Aug. 1.

“The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled,” Gov. Christie said. “The average American would likely be shocked to know that drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined.”

The report asked President Trump to declare the opioid addiction epidemic in the U.S. a national emergency, to spur increased federal funding for prevention and recovery programs.

US bishops to hold special collection for Hurricane Harvey victims

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a special nationwide collection in upcoming weeks to aid victims and dioceses affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to all who have lost homes and businesses along with their sense of peace and normalcy,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in an Aug. 28 letter.

“We also stand with our brother bishops in the region who have the difficult task of providing pastoral care in these most trying times while managing their own losses. Our prayerful and financial support is urgently needed,” he said.

He suggested that his fellow bishops across the country hold a collection in their dioceses during Sunday Masses on the weekend of Sept. 1-2 or Sept. 8-9.

Money received from the collection will aid the recovery efforts of Catholic Charities USA, and will also support affected dioceses throughout southeast Texas, including efforts to rebuild churches damaged by the storm.

According to a report from the National Weather Service, some areas of Houston have received more than 40 inches of rain since Aug. 24, and authorities have encouraged residents to keep hope and search for higher ground while waiting to be rescued.

In an Aug. 29 briefing held by Houston’s officials, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the authorities will continue to focus on search and rescue efforts. The chief of police, Art Acevedo, said the rescue count so far has been “well over 3500.”

Archbishop Gomez applauded the efforts of authorities so far.

Together with U.S. bishops’ conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and the bishops throughout the affected region, he said, “I express deep gratitude to the first responders and countless volunteers who are assisting the Gulf Coast region in countless ways.”


Archbishop Gomez prods President Trump to change DACA position

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 18:29

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 29, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump’s promise to treat undocumented minors with “great heart” needs to be reflected in policy that gives them legal protection, not deportation, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said.

“They did not make the decision to enter this country in violation of our laws, and in fairness we cannot hold them accountable,” Archbishop Gomez said in an Aug. 29 column for the Archdiocese’s Angelus News. “America is the only country they know, and the vast majority are working hard to make their own contribution to the American dream.”

“It would be a tragedy to cancel DACA and declare these 800,000 young people ‘illegal’ and begin deporting them,” he added.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was established under President Obama to protect such people from deportation and to allow them to secure work permits.

The Trump administration is under pressure from the attorneys general of 10 states, who have said they will file suit against President Trump on Sept. 5 unless he cancels the program.

Archbishop Gomez, however, saw an opening for the president to change.

“President Trump campaigned on a promise to end DACA,” the archbishop continued. “But since his election he has expressed sympathy for these young people, promising to treat them with ‘great heart’.”

“His words on DACA have been reassuring, even as his actions in other areas — ordering increased immigration raids and deportations — have caused widespread fear.”

Archbishop Gomez called on lawmakers to grant those covered by DACA permanent relief from deportation and to give them the chance for permanent residency and, eventually, to seek citizenship.

The fate of the eleven million undocumented people in the U.S. is “the most complicated and controversial aspect” of proposed immigration reform. However, the archbishop said there is broad support for a “generous path” to regularizing their status and even giving them citizenship if they meet requirements like learning English, paying some fines, and holding a tax-paying job.

Such a path to reform would begin with resolving the situation of the young people who qualify for DACA, he said.

Archbishop Gomez’s column also reflected on the personal and political difficulties surrounding immigration status.

“We need to keep in mind that beneath all the politics, there are real people, real issues and legitimate differences of opinion,” he said. “That should not be an excuse for inaction. It should be the reason for coming together and finding a way to move forward.”

“Immigration remains a difficult issue and it is made even more difficult by the polarization of our politics. It is no secret that both parties and activist groups on either side ‘benefit’ by the present gridlock,” the archbishop continued.

He said there is reluctance on all sides to seeking common ground, and a seeming willingness to “leave the issue unresolved, even if that means people continue to suffer — all for the sake of not ‘giving the other side a win’.”

“No one should be naïve about this reality. But we should not accept this reality, either,” he said, saying that the situation is a sign of a deeply unhealthy phenomenon in democracy when all sides

Archbishop Gomez said that the current administration is continuing the policy under President Obama, who deported nearly 3 million people.

“President Trump seems intent on deporting even more,” added the archbishop. “But deportation alone is not an immigration policy.”

He said criminals who threaten the safety of communities should be deported, but the “wide net” of the government is catching “a lot of good people — ordinary moms and dads who have been in this country for decades; young people starting their careers; small-business owners.”

According to Archbishop Gomez, there is not enough trust to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, a longtime goal of the U.S. bishops. He suggested a slow, piecemeal approach may be more constructive.

His outline for immigration reform included security concerns, but he said that a well-functioning visa system would be the best “border wall.”

With appropriate tracking, such a system would ensure enough visas for agricultural and construction workers, for service workers and unskilled labor, as well as for hi-tech and other professional jobs. Non-ministerial religious workers also need to be included in a visa system.

The archbishop’s column follows soon after prominent comments from Pope Francis.

On Aug. 21 the Vatican released the Pope’s message for the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, to be observed by the Catholic Church on Jan. 14.

“Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights,” Pope Francis said, stressing the need to increase access to humanitarian visas and to reunite separated families.

Pope Francis cited the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in his own message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2007 said the family is “a place and resource of the culture of life and a factor for the integration of values.”

Francis stressed support for family reunification, including grandparents, grandchildren and siblings, “independent of financial requirements.” He urged greater assistance for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees with disabilities.

Other backers of DACA youth include the Catholic bishops of Nebraska. On Aug. 29, they said these young people have become “contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes.”

“To the DACA youth here in Nebraska, please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you,” said the bishops of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. “It is our desire to accompany you in the anxieties and fears you face through this journey.”


Religious freedom advocate: Female genital mutilation is unjustifiable

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 14:03

Washington D.C., Aug 29, 2017 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- While lawyers defending the practice of female genital mutilation claim that it is protected by religious freedom rights, one leading religious liberty advocate insists that it must be condemned as a human rights violation.

“Religious freedom does not protect harmful practices, and in particular religious freedom never, ever protects harming children. Never,” Kristina Arriaga, a commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told CNA of the practice of female genital mutilation.

Defined by the World Health Organization as the alteration, removal or cutting of female genital organs “for non-medical reasons,” the practice of female genital mutilation is illegal in the United States, and has been since 1997. Since then, traveling to other countries to undergo the practice, known as “vacation cutting,” has also been criminalized.

The procedure does not have health benefits, it can cause lasting bodily injury, and it is a human rights violation, according to the World Health Organization, and more than 200 million women have been mutilated in 30 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

It is still administered in many immigrant communities as a “rite of passage” for women, and has been understood in the past to discourage illicit sexual behavior. Or, it has been sought out as an “economic issue” to ensure girls will have a husband when they grow older, Arriaga said.

Nevertheless, in the United States, an estimated 500,000 girls under the age of 13 have had the cutting procedure or are at risk of receiving it. Many are not even aware of the procedure or how widespread it is, Arriaga told CNA. Since 1997, “only one single case has been brought forward,” she said. “Officers look the other way.”

Contrary to the belief of many, it is not only Muslim communities practicing cutting, Arriaga said, but Christian communities as well. In fact, in certain countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, Christian communities have higher rates of cutting than other communities do, she said.

Some of these Christian communities in the U.S. practice female genital mutilation as a “perception of purity,” Arriaga said, to deter illicit sexual behavior by young girls.

But the practice is not required by any religious text – instead it is an ancient cultural custom that has been made into a “false” religious practice, she said. “These communities have confused a cultural interpretation in giving it a theological explanation.”

She also clarified that there is a vast difference between male circumcision – which is often performed for hygienic reasons – and female genital mutilation.

“Male circumcision causes no harm. Female genital mutilation is not a form of circumcision,” she said, but is rather an extremely painful procedure that “causes serious health and psychological harm.”

Many religious leaders, including Pope Francis, have spoken out against mutilation, she added. In 2015, at an assembly hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Francis said that the “many forms of slavery, of commodification, of mutilation of women’s bodies oblige us therefore to work to defeat this form of degradation.”

The U.S. State Department stated a several times last year its intent to fight the practice of female genital mutilation.

In July 2016, at the 32nd session of the U.S. Human Rights Council, the U.S. “cosponsored resolutions” that supported “the elimination of female genital mutilation,” the State Department announced.

“Just because this is a tradition in some places does not make it right. This practice is harmful, and therefore wrong wherever it occurs,” President Barack Obama stated on Feb. 5, 2016, in his remarks on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

Yet a case in Michigan has brought the practice into the national spotlight, as attorneys for the parents and doctors who performed the procedure on children argue that it is a religious practice and should be protected under freedom of religion.

Three people were charged earlier this year by the U.S. attorney’s office for a federal district in Michigan with performing female genital mutilation on minors, as well as “conspiracy to obstruct the federal investigation.”

Jumana Nagarwala, M.D., Fakhruddin Attar, M.D., and his wife Farida Attar were all charged with performing the practice out of Attar’s medical office in Livonia, Mich., in an Indian-Muslim sect – Dawoodi Bohra – in suburban Detroit.

Lawyers for the accused claim that the practice should be protected under freedom of religion.

However, no human rights violation against children should be protected under freedom of religion, Arriaga said, including female genital mutilation. “This is a grave violation of human rights,” she said, and a “form of child abuse that no one should have to endure.”

The World Health Organization says the practice “can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”

One woman who underwent the procedure with other young girls recalled in Mother Jones magazine that “we were cut. Some of us bled and ached for days, and some walked away with lifelong physical damage.”

To defend the practice under freedom of religion would endanger the cause of religious freedom, Arriaga said.

“Conservatives and liberals alike must unite to make sure that the Michigan case does not taint the concept of religious freedom, because if it does, everyone in the United States loses regardless of their religious or political persuasion,” she said.

In 2016, the chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a statement saying that religious liberty and religious freedom were being used as “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

“This generation of Americans must stand up and speak out to ensure that religion never again be twisted to deny others the full promise of America,” then-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Martin R. Castro stated.

Although the statement was sharply criticized by religious freedom advocates including Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Arriaga said that defending human rights violations like female genital mutilation under the cause of religious freedom would ultimately give fuel to such sentiments.

“People who care about religious freedom must make sure that religious freedom is never a code for harming children, that it’s never a code for discrimination, that it’s never a code for bigotry,” she said.

Religious leaders and communities must also speak up for the rights of women, she said.

“Every single state should pass laws criminalizing female genital mutilation, and every community must find leaders in their community that can speak frankly, openly, and in the same language to families who are doing this to these girls,” she said. Michigan has recently passed a law increasing the punishment for the practice to up to 15 years in prison.

“These girls deserve our protection. These girls do not deserve to be harmed,” Arriaga said.


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Pope Francis' May prayer intention: honor the dignity of women #Catholic

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California's first Catholic school sparks controversy by removing statues

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 05:01

San Anselmo, Calif., Aug 29, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Parents are concerned after a California Catholic school has removed several religious statues from its campus in an effort to be more inclusive of other faiths.

San Domenico School in San Anselmo, California removed several religious statues from display on campus, donating some and relocating others to storage.

Many parents and members of the school community expressed worry  that this could signify an erasure of the school’s Catholic identity.

Shannon Fitzpatrick, whose 8 year-old son attends the school, voiced her objections to the removal of the statues to the school’s board of directors, according to the Marin Independent Journal.  

“Articulating an inclusive foundation appears to mean letting go of San Domenico’s 167-year tradition as a Dominican Catholic school and being both afraid and ashamed to celebrate one’s heritage and beliefs,” she said.

Cheryl Newell, who had four children graduate from the school, echoed concerns that attempts to be inclusive were actually erasing the school’s identity.

“They’re trying to be something for everyone and they’re making no one happy,” she told the Marin Independent Journal.

San Domenico was the first Catholic school in the state of California, founded by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael in 1850. It now operates as an Independent Catholic school, meaning that most day-to-day decisions and operations are decided by the school’s board and administration, not by a parish or a religious order. The Dominican sisters maintain sponsorship of the school, as well as the approval of certain decisions like board members or the budget.

The school is within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, but runs largely independently of the archdiocese, archdiocesan spokesman Michael Brown told CNA. The canonical responsibility for the school falls to the Sisters.

Brown added that the archdiocese would have further clarifying conversations with school officials about the removal of the statues.

“We are going to be in contact with the school, just to clarify what the situation is, but it isn’t in any sort of crisis mode,” he said. “There’s just been a lot of publicity and public concern, so we’ll be having private conversations with the school hierarchy.”

School officials have maintained that the removal of the statues was in compliance with a plan that was approved unanimously by the school board, and that it was part of an attempt to be more welcoming to the growing number of non-Catholic students at the school.

“Over San Domenico’s 167-year history as California’s oldest independent and Catholic school, we have adjusted the number of statues on campus many times, and our recent effort is part of that continuum; the recent political climate and conversation have served to distort our intentions,” Kimberly Pinkson, Director of Marketing and Communications for the school, told CNA.

Pinkson added that previous numbers and photos shared by the media were misleading.

“For the record, there were 16 statues on campus prior to the school year and today there are 10 statues on campus,” she said.

She added that another photo of a statue that had been published had actually been in storage since 1965.

“In the start of this school year we moved our statue of St. Dominic to a more prominent place at the center of our school and put up a plaque honoring St. Dominic as our School’s patron saint. The plaque was placed the first week of school, prior to this news cycle. There has been and there is no plan to move any other statues,” she added.

Fitzgerald said she was concerned that the removal of the statues was only the latest in an overall backing away from the school’s Catholic identity, including “the word ‘Catholic’ has been removed from the mission statement, sacraments were removed from the curriculum, the lower school curriculum was changed to world religions, the logo and colors were changed to be ‘less Catholic,’ and the uniform was changed to be less Catholic,” she said.

Cecily Stock, Head of School, told the Marin Independent Journal that the removal of sacraments from the curriculum was on account of a lack of interest from families, not an attempt to erase the school’s Catholic identity.

“Over the last few years we’ve had fewer Catholic students as part of the community and a larger number of students of various faith traditions. Right now about 80 percent of our families do not identify as Catholic.”

Kate Martin, Director of Communications for the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, told CNA that the publicity surrounding the removal of the statues has sparked a “good but hard” conversation about how to be welcoming of everyone while maintaining a Catholic identity.

She said the question can be especially difficult in a place as religiously and ethnically diverse as California, where Christian and Catholic values are not common.

“The Dominican values are still being taught (at the school) every minute, but there are lots of other families that have been coming to the school. How do we reach out and embrace everybody who wants this Dominican education? do we continue Catholic education and have lots of different families of different backgrounds?” she said.

Martin added that she did not believe the school “intended for this kind of upset” and that the sisters would be looking into the situation more deeply in the coming days, including exactly how many statues were removed or remained, and what will happen to the statues that will no longer be displayed.

For historic Philadelphia seminary, enrollment hits a new peak

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 02:04

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 29, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The number of seminarians at Philadelphia's St. Charles Borromeo Seminary is on the rise, and rector Bishop Timothy Senior says Pope Francis' visit has been a positive influence on the seminarians.

“With 167 seminarians, we're very excited and not only just the numbers but just extraordinary young men, candidates that really reflect the rich diversity of our region,” Bishop Senior told CBS Philly.

There are 43 new seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo this year, 11 of whom are enrolled for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The enrollment is seminary's largest since 2004. The bishop credited Pope Francis' 2015 visit for influencing some of the seminary candidates.  The Pope stayed at the seminary campus during his visit.

“I really do believe it sort of freed them up to speak more openly about their desire to be priests because the Holy Father’s example has made the priesthood more attractive,” he said.

One seminarian, Griffen Schlaepfer of Yardley, Penn., entered the seminary after a year at Pennsylvania State University. He cited the influence of others in motivating him to discern a vocation.

“My friends and family recognized it in me and saying ‘Wow, I can really see that as a path for you’ even when I didn’t see it in myself,” he told CBS Philly.

St. Padre Pio's relics are touring the US!

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 14:06

Washington D.C., Aug 28, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Relics of St. Padre Pio will soon be touring the United States, as the second half of a two-part tour reaches a number of dioceses across the country next month.

After being on display for veneration at cathedrals across America from May 6-21, the relics will again be visiting dioceses from September 16 – October 1 this year.

The tour is taking place to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Padre Pio’s birth, and the 15th anniversary of his canonization. It is being sponsored by the Saint Pio Foundation, which works to promote awareness of the saintly priest and continue his work. The foundation raises funds for American Catholic healthcare as well as educational, social, religious, and cultural organizations.

Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina, Italy on May 25, 1887.

He voiced a desire for the priesthood at age 10 and entered the Capuchin order at age 15, taking the name Pio. At the age of 23, he was ordained a priest.

The saint was widely known during his lifetime as a mystic. He dedicated much of his priesthood to hearing confessions. People would travel from around the world to have their confessions heard by Padre Pio, as he had the gift of being able to read souls.

He also received the stigmata, or the wounds of Christ, and was known for being able to heal people. He was reported to bi-locate, or appear in two locations at once.

Padre Pio died Sept. 23, 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The full schedule for the relic tour is below:

• May 6-8 at Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
• May 9 at Saint Paul Cathedral in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
• May 10-11 at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the Archdiocese of Denver.
• May 13 at Cathedral of the Risen Christ in the Diocese of Lincoln.
• May 18-19 at St. Andrew Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
• May 20-21 at Saint Ann Catholic Church in the Diocese of Arlington.
• September 17-18 at St. Patrick Cathedral in the Archdiocese of New York.
• September 20 at Cathedral St. Joseph the Workman in the Diocese of La Crosse.
• September 20 at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
• September 22-23 at Basilica of St. John the Baptism in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
• September 24 at St. Theresa Catholic Church in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
• September 29 at Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in the Diocese of Saginaw.


An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA May 2, 2017.

Be ready to help Hurricane Harvey victims, U.S. bishops say

Sun, 08/27/2017 - 23:38

Washington D.C., Aug 27, 2017 / 09:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The damage done by Hurricane Harvey is a cause for prayer and preparation to help the storm’s victims, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said. “As the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, this crisis hits very close to home,” conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said Aug. 27. “In solidarity with my brother bishops in this area of the country, I call on people of faith to pray for all of those who have been impacted by this hurricane, and I ask people of good will to stand with the victims and their families. “May God, the Lord of mercy and compassion, protect all who are still in danger, and bring to safety those who are missing. May He care in a special way for those who were already homeless, or without support and resources, before this disaster,” the cardinal said. The cardinal said the storm was “catastrophic and devastating” and many dioceses have been affected. Hurricane Harvey made landfall Friday night as a Category 4 storm. It has killed at least two people. More than 1,000 had to be rescued. Many thousands are trapped by the water, CNN reports. Although the hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical storm, the National Weather Service said the flooding was catastrophic, unprecedented and expected to continue for days. Up to 50 inches of rain could fall on some parts of Texas. Several international airports in Texas, and a Houston hospital has evacuated after flooding caused power loss. The City of Dallas has said it will turn its convention center into a shelter to host up to 5,000 evacuees. Cardinal DiNardo said the U.S. bishops’ conference is working closely with local dioceses, Catholic Charities USA and St. Vincent de Paul societies, as well as other relief organizations. The bishops’ conference will share more information about how best to aid hurricane victims. The cardinal prayed in thanksgiving for the first responders who have put their lives at risk. “We include in our intentions the everyday heroes reaching out to help their neighbors in need, those who, like the Good Samaritan, cannot walk by a person in need without offering their hand in aid,” he said. Cardinal DiNardo concluded with a general prayer: “May God bless you and your families this day and always,” he said.