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Bishop Barron: Don’t water down Christianity

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 15:21

Chicago, Ill., Jan 3, 2018 / 01:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to some 8,000 people at a Catholic leadership conference, Bishop Robert Barron said on Tuesday that trust in the risen Christ should give us the courage to preach the truth boldly.

“Through the Holy Spirit, the ascended, risen Christ commands his mystical Body the Church to do what he did, and to say what he said. That’s it…that’s the task of the Church to the present day.”

Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, is also the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and host of the award-winning “Catholicism” documentary.  

He delivered one of the opening keynotes at this year’s Student Leadership Summit in Chicago. Known as SLS, the summit is hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) every other year. It aims to train student leaders and other ministers with tools for evangelization and missionary work, largely on college campuses.

This year’s SLS drew more than 8,000 participants, more than double the attendance of the last summit, hosted in 2016 in Dallas with approximately 3,400 participants.

In his talk, Bishop Barron focused on the Acts of the Apostles, a Biblical book that he said “sets the agenda for us” in the work of evangelization.

He noted that this book begins with an account of Jesus’ ascension, comparing Christ’s glorified position in heaven to that of a general who commands his army at a vantage point from above.

“It tells us very clearly who’s in charge, and what I mean by that is, the ascended Christ who now commands his Church.”

Moving on from the Ascension to the account of Pentecost, Barron said that the descent of the Holy Spirit compels us to spread the Word of God. The Holy Spirit comes to earth to guide the Church, he said, led by the ascended Christ from heaven.

“In a myriad ways, according to your particular missions, bring something of heaven to earth, doing as Jesus did,” the bishop exhorted attendants.

In bringing the message of heaven to earth, Catholics should be careful not to water down the Gospel or fall for bland and uninspiring half-truths, he said.

He recalled an encounter that he had with Biblical scholar Scott Hahn, who remarked that “there is no historical basis for the for the claim that St. Francis said, ‘Preach always, and when necessary, use words.’”

While indeed “our whole life should be a kind of preaching,” Barron said, the statement attributed to St. Francis can become a problem when it is “used as a justification for a kind of pastoral reductionism,” for example, the idea that “what it all really comes down to is taking care of the poor.”

While caring for the poor is important, Barron said, this work “in and of itself can never be evangelically sufficient.”

“This is not the time for anti-intellectualism in our Church! We have lots of young people, you know them, they're your friends and colleagues, who are leaving the Church for intellectual reasons,” Barron said.

He called for a kind of “bold speech” needed to proclaim the Gospel, pointing to the preaching in the early Church, which challenged the widely held belief at the time that “Casear is Lord.”

“The bold speech of the Church is that not ‘Caesar,’ or any of his colleagues or predecessors or successors, but rather Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the king. And he is also Christos, anointed.”

The Roman empire at the time, Barron said, was rather liberal with regards to new religions, yet still rejected the early Christians because they identified Jesus – and not Caesar – as the only Lord.

“If he is Lord, everything in your life belongs to him. Your personal life, yes. Your body, yes. Your friendships, yes. Your political life, yes. Your entertainment, yes. All of it.”

When Christianity becomes reduced to a mere message that can be gained from the dominant culture, Bishop Barron said, it moves from the faith of early persecuted Christians to one which is rewarded lavishly by others.

“That’s what happens to a weakened, attenuated Christianity,” he said.

“In the Acts of the Apostles we hear that when those first disciples spoke, people were cut to the heart. Still true, still true to this day. Bland spiritual teachings, saying what everybody else says, that won’t cut anyone to the heart, but trust me, declaring the lordship of Jesus, that’ll cut them to the heart.”

Bishop Barron highlighted Jesus’ role in light of the Old Testament, saying that only as a fulfillment of laws and the prophets does Jesus make sense. He pointed to St. Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom, in which the saint summarized the entire Old Testament and then described Jesus’ ministry.

When Jesus is cut off from his roots in Israel, he becomes just a philosopher or wise figure, a “flattened out, uninspiring Jesus,” the bishop warned.

In contrast, he said, “when you present Jesus as the fulfillment of the great story of Israel, Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple that was meant to bring humanity and divinity together, when you preach him as the fulfillment of the law and the covenant and the Torah, when you preach him as the culmination of all the proclamation of the prophets, people will be cut to the heart.”

Bishop Barron related a story he commonly tells of a little girl he met while working in Chicago who presented to him a detailed account of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies. He said that kids’ aptitude to memorize such complex plotlines and character names dispels the notion that they cannot understand the Bible.

“This great, rollicking, complex, rich story that we have, full of weird names, yeah, but no weirder than Obi-Wan Kenobi, right? The kids have no trouble with that. Don’t tell me they can’t understand the Bible. And therefore don’t tell me that they can’t appreciate Jesus as the culmination of that great story.”

The bishop ended his talk by encouraging conference attendees in prayer and asking them to help “remind the world whom they are to worship.”

“Everybody worships somebody or something,” he said. “Everyone’s got a king, right? Our job is to stand up boldly and say, ‘No, Christ is your king. Everything in your life belongs to him’.”



Bishop urges Trump admin to extend protections for El Salvador migrants

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 14:00

El Paso, Texas, Jan 3, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of El Paso is urging the Trump administration to extend a temporary residency program for Salvadoran migrants for the sake of keeping families together, as a deadline looms for the Department of Homeland Security to make a decision.

Temporary Protected Status, a temporary immigration permit program, is set to expire for El Salvador March 9, unless the Department of Homeland Security decides, by Jan. 8, to extend it.

“Will these families face separation and breakdown, so that their U.S.-citizen child can access the benefits of an American education? Or will families stay together and leave to their parents’ home countries, facing a decided lack of opportunity and, worse, extreme violence and possible exploitation?” Bishop Mark Seitz questioned in an opinion piece published Jan. 1 in The Hill.

“The end of TPS for El Salvador would force such a heartbreaking decision upon thousands of families,” the bishop stated.

 Seitz asked: “As I meet more mixed-status families here in Texas who have TPS-recipient parents, a question burns in my heart is what will happen to these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will become of their futures?”

Temporary Protected Status originated in 1990 as a program for individuals and families whose home countries are experiencing natural disasters, armed conflicts, or exceptional situations in which they could seek temporary shelter in the United States and work legally within the country until the situation in their homeland is resolved.

Since its beginning, around 200,000 individuals from El Salvador have taken advantage of the TPS program. Among these individuals, there are an estimated 192,000 U.S.-citizen children whose parents are a part of the TPS program.

If the Department of Homeland Security moves to end the program, Seitz has concerns over the future of the mixed-citizen families and their children.

Seitz also underscored the number of benefits the United States has received from TPS holders, including economic contributions through the taxes they pay and through the industries they work in, including construction and home health care.

Last August, a group of Catholic bishops and researchers from the Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops headed an expedition to explore the living conditions in El Salvador and Honduras. Their report found “large-scale protection issues if TPS holders are forced to return to their home countries, particularly El Salvador.”

The report also noted that the end of TPS could “negatively impact regional security, and have negative economic and humanitarian consequences.”

After the delegation returned from its examination, the bishops proposed a number of policy recommendations for the United States to progress towards a better, long-term solution for the situation in Central America.

In addition, Seitz pointed to the number of families and individuals who have given first-hand accounts of their experience in El Salvador and Honduras.

“I have sat with youths who tearfully explained to me why they attempted to migrate north, forced out of their homes, extorted by gangs,” Seitz recalled.

“I have heard from young girls who faced sexual assault and domestic abuse; teen-aged boys have spoken with me about being afraid to go to school because of the fear of encountering gangs on the way and having to pay daily to enter and leave their neighborhood,” he continued.

Seitz is confident that if TPS is ended for El Salvador, hundreds of thousands of people will return to these volatile conditions, forcing families to wrestle with the decision to stay together or separate.

The Texas bishop also urged leaders to continue the TPS program for the sake of the children, noting that conditions in El Salvador particularly are not fit to return to.

“I steadfastly pray that our national leaders do no turn their backs on these children by closing the door to their parents,” Seitz urged.

“Ending TPS for El Salvador is akin to exactly that.”

TPS was extended for Honduras in November, but the status was not renewed for either Nicaragua or Haiti in the same month.

Judge orders more mediation to resolve Minn. clergy abuse settlements

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 05:32

Minneapolis, Minn., Jan 3, 2018 / 03:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Disputes over clergy abuse settlements in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis have led a federal bankruptcy judge to order a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

“Judge Kressel’s decision bolsters our resolve to move forward in the bankruptcy process,” Tom Abood, chairman of the archdiocese’s reorganization task force, said Dec. 28. “We are guided by his words from earlier this year, that the longer this process continues, the less money will be available for those who have been harmed.”

Abood voiced gratitude that the judge has dismissed claims from creditors’ attorneys that the archdiocese has acted in bad faith in the reorganization.

“We look to engage with all participants in mediation as directed by the judge to bring a prompt and fair resolution,” said Abood.

The archdiocese, insurance companies, parishes, a creditors’ committee and sex abuse survivors are involved in seeking a settlement for more than 400 victims. The process has lasted more than two years.

Judge Robert Kressel’s Dec. 28 ruling said the plan presented by abuse survivors required too much time and money to carry out. He said the archdiocese’s plan lacked sufficient financial accountability from the parishes involved, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

“Therefore,” his order said, “I expect all the parties to return to mediation. And I expect them to mediate in good faith.”

In January 2015 the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

“The public record certainly demonstrates that for decades the response of officials from the archdiocese to the sexual abuse of children was disgraceful,” Judge Kressel said, adding that the record shows the archdiocese is “taking steps to do better and to remedy some of those wrongs.”

The committee representing abuse survivors had composed a plan calling for tougher settlements with insurance companies and much larger contributions from the archdiocese. The archdiocese, parishes and insurance companies objected to the plan, saying its effect would be “liquidating” the archdiocese.

From the archdiocese came a proposed plan that included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. The plan would draw about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes adequately.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the sexual abuse victims, said more than 90 percent of abuse victims voted against the plan. He said the judge’s ruling could mean a faster settlement.

Jim Keenan, who was sexually abused by a priest at age 13 and now chairs the creditors’ committee that represents the survivors, said the ruling is “absolutely phenomenal for us.”

“We need a fair and just settlement and to make sure this never happens again,” he said.

The survivors’ committee has said the archdiocese should contribute $80 million, instead of $15 million.

How an abortion clinic became a medical center for the poor

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 21:00

Manassas, Virginia, Jan 2, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Three years ago, a medical office in Manassas, Virginia was one of the area’s largest abortion clinics. Today, it is a free medical clinic for the poor, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic opened its doors on Dec. 6, 2017. Supported by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington (CCDA), the clinic provides free medical care to uninsured or underinsured adults living in Northern Virginia.  
The abortion clinic previously at the site, Amethyst Health Center for Women, closed in September 2015, when its owner retired. The building was purchased in 2016 by the BVM Foundation (BVM being an abbreviation for “Blessed Virgin Mary”), who passed it on to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington. In August, the diocese announced that the newly transformed clinic would open later that year.

The clinic is run by a volunteer force of doctors, nurses, and translators, and is open weekly for patient care, provided completely for free. The clinic also does referrals for other services.

Most of the patients served by the clinic do not know about the building’s past use, but all of the volunteer workers are aware of its former life.
Medical director Dr. Scott Ross told the Washington Post that he thought the volunteers had been “energized” by how they would be part of “something good” coming from the same place where abortions had been performed for years.
Ross told the Post that he is hoping to expand the clinic’s hours with the help of additional volunteers, and that he hopes the clinic is able to make agreements with other medical providers to further serve patients in need of assistance.
Many of the patients served at the Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic are recent immigrants who have not yet obtained insurance or cannot afford medical insurance, Ross said. The clinic is partnered with Novant Health UVA Health System, where Ross works as a family physician.  Catholic Charities says this partnership will provide even more low-cost medical care to those who qualify.
In addition to medical care, Ross told the Post the he hopes to eventually expand the clinic to offer food assistance to patients, and mental health counseling. Ross said that he has been surprised by the number of people who visited the clinic with complications from poorly-managed diabetes, and wants to assist these patients with meal-planning and education.

“We are starting as a drop in the bucket,” said Ross.
When it was an abortion clinic, Ross used to regularly pray outside of the building. He told the Post that it was “eerie” going into the building before it was renovated into its current state.
While the clinic is now running, the initial sale of the building to the BVM Foundation was criticized by abortion proponents. The former building owner says she was “duped” into the sale, and said she was unaware that the BVM Foundation was a Catholic group intent on shutting down the abortion clinic.

Sean Garvey, one of the founders of BVM, and Jim Koehr, the secretary/treasurer, say their group was entirely transparent throughout the sale process and communicated with Amethyst’s owner many times about what they intended to do with the office.

Controversy also arose after the abortion clinic’s closure, when its former telephone number, still active at the site, was routed to the crisis pregnancy center located next door. Koehr said that women who were calling a closed abortion clinic needed to hear “someone who cared” on the other end of the line.

The Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic was blessed by Bishop Michael Burbidge on Nov. 19, about two weeks ahead of its formal opening.

Want to get close to your (Heavenly) Mother? Check out this book.

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 08:00

Charlotte, N.C., Jan 1, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Catholics, it’s fairly par-for-the-course to be questioned by non-Catholics about the Blessed Virgin Mary at some point.

And that’s probably because the Catholic Church has a lot to say about her. Church teaching holds that Mary was conceived without sin, that she maintains perpetual virginity, that she conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that she was assumed into heaven, among many other things.

A recent book, the Manual for Marian Devotion, provides the context and answers for all kinds of questions about Marian doctrine, as well as prayers and stories for growth in personal devotion.  

The Manual was produced last year by TAN Books in conjunction with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, and so has a touch of Dominican flavor throughout.

“They wanted it to reflect the charism and the spirituality of our community to a certain extent, so it was really great to work with them,” said Sr. Albert Marie, who along with another Dominican Sister helped write the book.

The manual is divided into two sections. The first part provides explanations of Marian teachings and doctrines, while the second includes various Marian prayers and stories of Marian miracles for personal devotion.

“It’s not an aggressive apologetics, it’s just: this is what the church teaches, this is why it’s beautiful, this is how it can touch your life,” Sr. Albert Marie told CNA.

It also differs from a Marian consecration book, such as the one by St. Louis de Monfort, in that it provides context and information about Mary rather than focusing on one particular path of devotion, Sr. Albert Marie said.

“This might be coming out of my own personal prayer life and spirituality, but before I do something - whether it’s a particular prayer or devotion - I want to know the why and the big picture before I’m taken by the more particular details,” she said.

“I think there’s a lot of people in the Catholic Church who are growing up realizing that the Catholic Church is beautiful, or who are interested in Mary, but need a little more of that intellectual formation to see where exactly does she fit, or how clearly do we think about her,” which is where the manual can be particularly helpful, Sr. Albert Marie added.

One of the biggest roadblocks to Marian devotion for some people is that they seem to get caught up in the otherness and special graces granted to Mary, which can make her seem distant or inaccessible, Sr. Albert Marie said.

But the faithful shouldn’t be intimidated by Mary, she added. She received special graces necessary for her particular role, but her privileges do not mean that she “shines down on us” as something separate and different forever, but rather as someone who paved the way to Christ and to Heaven.

Mary also provides women with a unique example of Christian holiness, she said.

“The way that a mother models to her children what it means to be an adult woman, there’s a way that Mary’s privilege and us an image of Christian holiness to move towards,” she said.

The manual was originally released last year, during the 100th anniversary year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, in which Mary appeared to three children for six months in 1917. She brought messages about the importance of prayer and making reparation for sin, as well as messages about the World Wars and the future of the Church. During the sixth and final apparition, on October 13, the sun appeared to miraculously dance in the sky.

Sr. Albert Marie described the anniversary as a special time in which the whole Church turns with special and renewed devotion to Mary,

But her favorite Marian miracle described in the manual is much less dramatic than Fatima or some of the other more well-known Marian miracles.

It’s called “She Helps the Friars Preach,” and recalls a simple story of a Dominican Friar who decided at the last minute to ditch his prepared sermon in favor of one that was divinely inspired.

A Cistercian monk who witnessed the small miracle said he could see Mary next to the friar, holding up a book. The Cistercian said the preachers seemed “to speak better and with greater profit to souls, and farm more fervently than he had done for a long time.”

It’s a simple story, but close to Sr. Albert Marie’s heart in her roles both as a Dominican and as a teacher, she said.

“That’s one story that will never be brought for anyone’s canonization, nothing will be done with it, it’s just the testimony of one person,” she said. “But it’s an example of that very simple presence and help of Mary in daily life.”

Sr. Albert Marie also said that she hopes the different stories of Marian miracles and the different quotes about Mary from various saints will help readers foster their own unique relationship with their Mother.

“For everyone who reads the manual or prays to our lady, there’s going to be a particular feel to that relationship, and it’s going to be unique because it is a personal relationship between them and with her,” she said.

The manual is available through TAN books on their website at: It is the second in a series of devotional books being produced by the publisher.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 22, 2017.

Meet the monks who decided to go green years before Laudato Si

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 17:20

Arlington, Va., Dec 31, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship.

“This really is a re-founding,” Fr. James Orthmann of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. told CNA, a “real renewal and a re-founding, and in a real sense getting back to our traditional roots.”

Since 2007, the community has taken concrete steps to be better stewards of the earth in the tradition of the Cistercian Order, while also reaching into the outside world to draw more Catholic men to their monastic life.

The abbey was founded in 1950 after a planned Trappist abbey in Massachusetts burned down. The Diocese of Richmond offered to accept the monks and they procured 1200 acres of pasture on the Shenandoah River in Northwest Virginia, just in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

However by the early 2000s, the community had shrunk along with the overall number of religious priests and brothers in the U.S., which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1965. The community’s Father Immediate – the abbot of their mother house – suggested in 2007 they start planning how to sustain the abbey for the long-term.

The monks discussed their most important resources and “literally everybody talked about our location, our land,” Fr. James recalled. “As monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, we have a vow of stability. So we bind ourselves to the community and to the place that we enter.”

The Trappists have a long history of settling in valleys and caring for the land, dating back to their roots in the Cistercian Order and their mother abbey in Citeaux, France, founded in 1098. Monks at Holy Cross Abbey began farming the land in 1950 but as the community grew older, they leased out the land to local farmers and made creamed honey and fruitcake for their labor.

“We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land,” Fr. James explained. “The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”

So what specifically have the monks done to become better environmental stewards? First, they reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could be more environmentally sustainable in the Cistercian tradition.

A group of graduate students made the project their master’s thesis. The result was a massive 400-page study, “Reinhabiting Place,” with all sorts of recommendations for the monks. With these suggestions as a starting place, the monks took action.

First, they turned to the river. They asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease 600 acres of their land to stop his cattle from grazing in the river. This would protect the riverbanks from eroding and keep the cows from polluting the water, which flows into the Potomac River, past Washington, D.C., and eventually feeds the massive Chesapeake Bay.

They fenced off tributaries of the river and planted native hardwoods and bushes on the banks as shelter for migratory animals and to attract insects and pollinators to “restore the proper biodiversity to the area,” Fr. James explained. They also leased 180 acres of land to a farmer for natural vegetable farming.

Most of the abbey’s property was put into “conservation easement” with the county and the state. By doing this, the monks promise that the land will forever remain “fallow,” or agricultural and undeveloped, and they receive a tax benefit in return. The county provides this policy to check suburban sprawl and retain a rural and agricultural nature.

The community also switched their heating and fueling sources from fossil fuels to propane gas. They had a solar-fed lighting system installed in two of the guest retreat dorms, and they pay for the recycling of their disposable waste. The monks stopped making fruitcake for a year to install a new more energy-efficient oven and make building repairs.

The have even started offering “green burials” at Cool Spring Cemetery in the Trappist style.

Normal burials can cost well over $7,000 with embalming fluids and lead coffins that can be detrimental to the soil. A Trappist burial, by contrast, is “rather sparse” and “rather unadorned,” Fr. James explained. A monk is wrapped in a shroud and placed directly on a wooden bier in the ground.

The Trappist burials, while quite different from a typical modern burial, actually have an earthy character to them that’s attractive, Fr. James maintained.

After the “initial shock” at seeing such a sparse burial for the first time, “oddly enough, it’s very cathartic and you have a real sense of hope,” he said. The burials are “a lot less formal” and “people [in attendance] are more spontaneous,” he noted, and there’s “even a certain joyfulness to it.”

With their “green burials,” the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container like a wooden coffin, and buried in the first four feet of the soil. By one year, just the skeleton may be left, but it’s a harkening back to the Ash Wednesday admonition, “Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

And this contrasts with the complicated embalming process of normal funerals where chemicals like formaldehyde can seep into the ground.

The monks have already touched lives with their example of stewardship.

Local residents George Patterson and Deidra Dain produced a film “Saving Place, Saving Grace” about the monastery’s efforts to remain sustainable, for a local PBS affiliate station. The affiliate’s general manager had looked at the story and thought everyone needed to hear it.

The monastery has been an “example” to the county’s leadership with its care for the land, Patterson said. Dain, a retreatant at the monastery 15 years ago, is not Catholic but found her time at the abbey “inspiring” and as a lover of nature praises their sustainability initiative.

All in all, the communal effort for stewardship is “helping to renew our life,” Fr. James said of the community.

Papal statements on the environment have given a boost to their efforts. “There was a lot of supportive stuff from the time of Pope Benedict about the environment,” Fr. James recalled, particularly in his 2008 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which upheld the responsibility of man to care for the environment.

This “helped bridge” any gulfs that kept certain members of the community from fully embracing the sustainability initiative, Fr. James said.

Parts of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment Laudato Si are “so sophisticated in (their) grasp of environmental teaching,” he continued, and it’s quite a support to have popes promoting environmental stewardship amidst the bureaucratic tediousness of upgrading the abbey’s land and facilities.

“At the end of the day, I can open up Laudato Si and say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done’,” he said.

The community hopes too that it can be a sustainability model for developing countries that might not be able to afford high-tech and expensive solutions to environmental problems. Their facilities are simple by nature and not sophisticated, and the monks’ consumption is already low because they take a vow of poverty.

Plus, retreatants at the monastery can observe first-hand the changes made and consider what they can do in their own lives to be more caring for the environment.

However, in its “re-founding” efforts, the community has also explored ways to attract more vocations to the abbey.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost most of our seniors first to illness, aging, and then death. So in a sense, the community has a whole new profile right now,” Fr. James said. The abbey was founded to be “separate” from the cosmopolitan world, but young men are not actively seeking out the monastic life like they did in the 1950s and 60s.

So the community created a new website and continuously update it with new posts. They started hosting “immersion weekends” where men come and live with the monks for a weekend, praying with them. They expanded their local profile in the community by hosting teenagers to earn their school community service hours. “Only two students had realized we existed here,” Fr. James recalled in a telling moment.

“We’re reaching out to men of all ages, and it’s probably even more likely, given the limits of our way of life, that nowadays it’s going to be older men who are coming to this vocation,” Fr. James admitted. “This way of life and its limits make much more sense to people who have tried their quote-unquote dream, have been disillusioned by the result, and they’re yearning for something more.”

What distinguishes Holy Cross Abbey and the Trappist way of life? Their vocation to community life, Fr. James answered, “the silence, the discipline of silence, and daily familiarity with the Scriptures.”

The monks follow an intense daily schedule of prayer, contemplation, and work that includes 3:30 a.m. prayer and a “Great Silence” beginning at 8:15 p.m. They don’t leave the abbey grounds and don’t own private property.

“It’s a lifestyle that very much will develop one’s interiority, spirituality, relationship with God,” he said. “It’s a vocation of adoration, done in community, and offered to the world around us through hospitality here in this place.”

And the modern world offers special challenges to a man discerning this vocation, he admitted.

“There’s not much in the pop culture to invite a person to even think about interiority. And in fact it can be rather threatening to people,” he said. “Initially,” when one begins to seriously cultivate an interior life, “it’s the negative stuff that comes up.”

However, “with guidance you realize that’s the negative face of very important, unrecognized resources. And our vulnerability is perhaps the greatest resource we have in life. (Even if) that’s not the message you’d get from watching Oprah.”
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 2, 2015.

One of the largest collections of Ethiopian religious texts is in DC

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Dec 31, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With a gift of more than 600 handmade leather manuscripts earlier this year, The Catholic University of America is now home to one of the most important collections of Ethiopian religious manuscripts in the United States.

The collection includes Christian, Islamic, and “magic” texts. It is the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside of Ethiopia.

Dr. Aaron M. Butts, a Professor of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literature at Catholic University, said in a statement earlier this year that the manuscript collection “provides unparalleled primary sources for the study of Eastern Christianity” and reaffirms the school’s standing as one of the leading places to study Near Eastern Christian language, literature, and history.

The manuscripts are handmade of goat, sheep, or calf hides, and most of them date to the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

In total, the collection includes 125 Christian manuscripts, such as psalters, liturgical books, and hagiographies. Within the 215 Islamic manuscripts of the collection are Qurans and commentaries on the Quran.

The collection also contains more than 350 so-called “magic” scrolls – Christian prayer talismans. Each talisman, Butts told CNA in January, is handwritten by a “debtera” – a lay person or cleric in the Ethiopian Church, and contains the name of the person for whom it is written.

The scrolls are worn around the neck, and are created to help the wearer with a certain kind of ailment, such as headaches. Many of these talismans are dedicated to women’s ailments – such as childbirth or painful menstruation – and Butts said it is clear that some of these “magic” scrolls have been passed down through the generations from mother to daughter.

Butts also noted that at various times in Ethiopian history, use of these prayers has been discouraged within the Ethiopian Church. Because of this status, as well as the domestic, personal nature of their use, he continued, not much research has been done on these devotional tools.

Many of the manuscripts in the collection, including the “magic” scrolls, contain intricate illuminations and other decorations on the scrolls.

According to Butts, the collection’s age is fairly typical for Ethiopian manuscripts. He explained that while many Western and Middle Eastern manuscripts can date back centuries and even more than a millennium, Ethiopian scripts tend to be much more recent, in part because Ethiopians still use the manuscripts in daily life for prayer and reading, and also because the alternating rainy and dry climate destroys the hides.

The manuscripts will be stored at CUA’s Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR), a research auxiliary of the Semitics department. The donation expands the already-impressive collection of more than 50,000 books and journals as well as antiquities, photographs, and archival materials documenting early Christianity in the Middle East ICOR houses.

The collection, valued at more than $1 million,  was donated to Catholic University by Chicago collectors Gerald and Barbara Weiner. Butts told CUA that the couple wanted the Ethiopian people to use the scrolls for prayer, along with making the manuscripts available for study by students and researchers.

The Washington, D.C. area is home to one of the largest Ethiopian populations outside of Ethiopia, and there are several Ethiopian Orthodox and Ethiopian Catholic churches, along with cultural centers, in the area. CUA officials are currently working with the community to coordinate the scrolls’ use.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 10, 2017.

In the US, we're more likely to jail the mentally ill than get them help

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 19:11

Washington D.C., Dec 29, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- People with severe mental illness are much more likely to be incarcerated than treated for their disorders, say advocates, and changes need to be made in order to break the vicious cycle of prison and homelessness.

“We don’t have a mental health professional in half the counties in America. We need to do something about that,” Doris A. Fuller of the Treatment Advocacy Center said at a panel in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.

Almost 400,000 inmates in the U.S. prison system are estimated to be mentally ill. For many with severe mental problems like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, their untreated illness may have played a primary role in landing them in prison.

“The going in and out of jail is a challenge. And many of the times it is because of the mental illness,” said Karen Ostlie, director of behavioral health services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

“So that’s the same as across the country, is you get a lot of people that are incarcerated because of their mental illness,” she told CNA, and it might be for something small like “trespassing if they’re homeless and they’re trying to find a warm place to sleep at night.”

The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized.

And if they are released from the criminal justice system back into society, without receiving the proper treatment, they may very soon end up back in jail.

In the span of five years in Miami-Dade County in Florida, 97 people – primarily homeless men and people with schizophrenia – were arrested a total of 2,200 times, said Judge Steve Leifman of the Miami-Dade County Court Criminal Division.

The panel discussion, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., discussed the criminal justice system and the U.S. mental health crisis. Participants explored the scope of the problem after the release of a new report “Emptying the ‘New Asylums’” on reducing the number of inmates waiting in prison to be treated at a state hospital.

“We have a population of inmates behind bars in America today with mental illness that’s about the size of the city of Oakland, California,” Fuller stated, noting that an average of 5,000 people with “serious mental illness” are booked in jails per day.

They are arrested for a number of crimes ranging from the small, like trespassing or public urination, to violent felonies. Many crimes among this population are the result of someone’s untreated mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, panel members argued.

The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. An estimated 40 percent of those with severe mental illness are incarcerated at some point in their lives.

A shortage of mental hospitals

Some 90,000 people in prison have been judged “incompetent to stand trial.” In all but three states, they must then be treated back to a competent state. Usually they are sent to state mental hospitals for this, yet there are far too few beds available for them there.

In the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. housed far more people in mental hospitals, but starting in the 1950s, a push to “deinstitutionalize” the system – as well as federal cases brought against hospitals for horrific abuses there – led to budget cuts and the closing of hospitals rather than states working to reform them, Leifman said.

Thus, state hospital beds for the severely mentally ill fell dramatically from 337 per 100,000 persons in 1955 to only 11.7 per 100,000 in 2016.

As a result, severely mentally ill persons are “languishing” in jail and even dying there, advocates warn. “Incarcerating pre-trial and convicted criminal offenders with serious mental illness is so common today that jails and prisons are routinely called the ‘new asylums.’ They are anything but protective,” said the report “Emptying the New Asylums” by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

The prison system does nothing to help an existing case of mental illness, and all too often exacerbates it. Studies have shown the deleterious effects of prolonged solitary confinement on someone’s mental condition, and for those with serious mental illness, a prolonged stay in prison can cause crippling damage to their health.

“If you want to really improve your public safety, improve the community mental health system.”

There may be no immediate option for people in this situation, said Kianna Richardson, a correctional support specialist with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The jail or prison cannot release someone who is not competent to stand trial onto the streets without treatment.

“It would be kind of difficult just to work with them, because they may refuse services, and in turn, they may go through the same cycle and commit another crime,” she told CNA.

One way to help seriously ill inmates get the treatment they need more quickly would be to make “small changes” to the waiting system at state hospitals, said participants at the AEI panel.

The Treatment Advocacy Center contracted with the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University to gather and analyze data from five state hospitals. Their findings led them to believe that changes could benefit the system.

In Florida, for instance, where 120 inmates per month will need to be treated for illnesses before they stand trial, “if you divert two of them, the average bed wait drops from 12 days to 3 days,” Doris A. Fuller noted. In Wisconsin, if eight beds were added to the state hospitals, the average waits for a bed would fall from two months to two weeks.

The importance of post-jail treatment

However, even after mentally ill inmates are released from jails and state hospitals, if they are not properly treated in their communities, they are at high risk of recidivism.

“Putting someone in jail with mental illness for even a few days and then releasing them – which everyone gets released – is not an improvement of public safety,” Leifman insisted at the panel. “Most of them have serious trauma issues, and jail re-traumatizes people.”

“If you want to really improve your public safety, improve the community mental health system,” he added.

Matthew D. Chase of the National Association of Counties pointed to the example of Leon County, Florida, which established a system where non-profits met officials at the jail at midnight to take in homeless individuals and inmates with serious mental issues.

They were sent to various groups who worked with mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse cases, among others, he said, where previously these people would have gone straight onto the street.

Other groups like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. are actively ministering to this population, providing case management and long-term psychiatric treatment for inmates and those who have been released from the justice system.

Kianna Richardson, a correctional support specialist with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., sees clients with arrest records, most of whom are “non-violent offenders.”

She provides 60-day case management for those “with severe and persistent mental health diagnoses who are returning from Charles County detention center back to the community.” She insisted that “it’s crucial for them” to receive treatment.

“Hopefully that will help them avoid being incarcerated in the future,” she said, and “reduce their recidivism rate.”

Housing and employment are the biggest challenges for this population, she insisted. If they have untreated mental health problems and an arrest record, they have a much lower chance of getting a job and holding it down. If they have no job, they can’t pay for a place to live.

Also, in the county where she works – Charles County, Md. – the temporary shelter stays open only during the winter months, meaning that the homeless may have no options from April through September.

Washington, D.C. is one of the highest cost-of-living metropolitan areas in the U.S., and this poses a unique challenge to the city’s homeless population, said Karen Ostlie of Catholic Charities, D.C., who has worked in mental health in the district for 20 years.

“There’s a lack of affordable housing,” she said. “That can be very difficult, when somebody doesn’t have a stable place to live, to stabilize that person, for them to follow through with their mental health treatment.”

Catholic Charities provides psychiatric treatment, and the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team “works with about 120 of our consumers,” Ostlie explained, including “some of the most disengaged” and “seriously ill consumers.”

They also work with other clients who had long-term hospitalizations at St. Elizabeth’s, a psychiatric facility in Southeast D.C.

The ACT team will find and meet the homeless where they are, seeking to engage them in treatment, she said. But there are challenges – even if they receive prescription medication upon being discharged from mental hospitals, if they have no stable home, it is harder for them to keep the medication and take it as ordered.

The goal is to get the patients to engage in treatment with a psychiatrist, Ostlie said. They also work to get benefits for the patients and to help them apply for the appropriate housing, such as a single occupancy room or a group home.

“With some of our most seriously ill consumers, part of the difficulty with finding housing, other than the cost of apartments, is that they can’t manage in a shared group home situation, or their behaviors are so challenging that the folks that run the group homes won’t accept them or they leave or they don’t want to deal with the rules.”

Drug abuse is another significant challenge among this population, she said. Not only can it make mental illness worse, but even if patients go through treatment for it, they can easily fall back into addiction by returning to their former place on the streets.  

“The key is to change the way we think about these things,” Leifman said at the panel, insisting that there must be a greater national focus on improving mental health in communities rather than just incarcerating the perpetrators of crimes. “So much of our money is now going into correctional cost.”

“There is no other illness in this world that is permissible to send people out into homelessness in the middle of the night,” he said, but when it comes to mental illness, “people don’t bat an eye.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 21, 2017.

Saving ancient Christian cultures…one story at a time

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 14:12

Washington D.C., Dec 29, 2017 / 12:12 pm (CNA).- Ancient artifacts. Centuries-old legends. Prayers dating back to the time of Christ. An enemy seeking to destroy it all. And a team of dedicated scholars trying to save the memories before it’s too late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preserving the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'More than just memories'

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

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

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

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

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

The next generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of The Catholic University of America.

This article was originally published on CNA June 16, 2017.

Commentary: Tribalism in the Christmas Octave

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 13:55

Washington D.C., Dec 28, 2017 / 11:55 am (CNA).- Pope Francis recently warned against the commercialization of Christmas, and reminded us that if our Christmas isn’t centered on Jesus, it is fake. But beyond commercialization, there is another temptation, among Christians and others, conservatives as well as liberals, to politicize the Christmas message and twist it to fit into our contemporary political squabbles.

It was this tendency that I took on this week when I tweeted:

“If you are returning to the town of your birth for a government mandated census, you are not a refugee.

If you are fleeing a murderous king who wants to kill your child, you’re seeking sanctuary, and are owed it as a matter of justice.

You’re welcome.”


If you are returning to the town of your birth for a government mandated census, you are not a refugee.

If you are fleeing a murderous king who wants to kill your child, you’re seeking sanctuary, and are owed it as a matter of justice.

You’re welcome.

— C. C. Pecknold (@ccpecknold) December 26, 2017


Fr. James Martin S.J., whose views on human sexuality I find confusing, but for whose defense of the unborn I am deeply grateful, misrepresented my comment to a horde of his progressive readers. Either out of ignorance, or ignoble intent, he framed my comment as being a partisan one pitted against refugees.


Actually, no. When the Holy Family flees to Egypt, they meet the current definition of refugees: those fleeing "conflict or persecution." And the word the angel uses in Joseph's dream in Matthew (2:13) is "φε?γε" (pheuge), from which comes the word "refugee," the one who flees.

— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) December 26, 2017


I am told that Fr. Martin had earlier claimed that the Holy Family were refugees in Bethlehem, so he may have thought my comment was directed at him (it wasn’t). Fr. Martin exegetically self-corrected, and rightly noted that the Holy Family were refugees in their flight to Egypt. But how he could have missed the fact that we agree on the justice owed to the refugee? Is it animus or ignorance that could have placed obstacles before his understanding of a very clear, simple distinction between when the Holy Family were not refugees (Bethlehem) and when they were (Egypt).

But the progressive priest had sounded a dog whistle against a “known conservative,” and so, as I am sure Fr. Martin was well aware they would, many of his readers rallied together in unison with common ad hominem cries against me. None of them are worth repeating. It was conduct unbecoming of humanity, instigated by a Catholic priest, and it saddened me.

I was touched that a former student of mine, active in progressive politics, sent me a note to say he was embarrassed by his tribe, and wanted to apologize on their behalf. Several priests and bishops sent me private notes of support, and many complimented me for not responding to the vitriol in kind. But on the Feast of St. Stephen, how could I do anything but count it all as nought compared to the witness of real martyrs?

But the point is not about me, or Fr. Martin. The fixed point of Christmas, as the Holy Father reminds us, is not partisan politics, but Jesus. The Christmas Octave is not made to fit us. We are made to be fitted to it. And so the Church bids us to attend to its every facet. On different days we follow the story of Jesus through the lectionary, and we focus on different aspects of the Gospel, and are reminded with daily feasts what it means to really conform ourselves to this Newborn King.

We shouldn’t let politics divide Christians, nor should we let non-Christians co-opt Christmas. We should fight against the political instrumentalization of the faith. Whether priests or laymen, whether believers or unbelievers, we need to guard against trying to fit the Gospels to us. Rather we must constantly do the exegetical labor of making sure that we are conforming ourselves to the letter and spirit of the Gospel, that we are speaking the truth in charity, and making the distinctions which guard us against error. Our political tribalism disorders us. It makes us murderous towards our brothers and sisters, and turns us into Herod.

The Christmas Octave bids us to live another story. Not a story of tribalism, but a real life lived bearing true witness, online and off, to the Word made flesh. Each of us were fugitives from God, but God rushed to meet us in Mary’s womb, to reveal to the Magi that his glory is not confined by small spaces, to show wicked kings that their rule has limits, and that justice will return.

May we be just to every person, each of us made in God’s image, and commend what is just for all, the unborn, as well as the persecuted refugee. We will all do better by our tribes if we all first bow down together to adore Christ, before trying to fit him to meet our predictable political postures.


Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America.  His opinions do not represent the opinions of Catholic News Agency.


Is the single life a vocation? Maybe we're asking the wrong question.

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 20:02

Denver, Colo., Dec 27, 2017 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- From a young age, Catholics are taught to pray about and discern their vocations – whether they're called to marriage, to the religious life, to the priesthood, or consecrated single life.  

This can leave the lay single person feeling that they are in a vocational limbo of sorts, and it's become a topic of much heated and emotional debate in the Catholic blogosphere: have these people missed their vocation? Is the lay single state, chosen or by default, a vocation?

Fr. Ben Hasse is a vocations director for the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. He said addressing the topic of singleness in the Church can be difficult because of the emotions surrounding the issue.

“I have quite a few friends who would like to be married, so there's a much more emotional investment in the question because there’s more people who find themselves single” rather than having specifically chosen it, he said.

Recognizing the emotional weight of the topic, Fr. Hasse noted that there are many aspects to addressing the question of vocation and singleness that need to be taken into account, and that it can be difficult – and dangerous – to make generalizations about a population in the Church that is actually very diverse.

Being specific about singleness

Fr. Hasse said that he has found it’s helpful as a pastor to approach singleness very specifically – whether it's a college student who hopes to marry someday, or a widow who lost her husband last month, being single encompasses a wide variety of people and circumstances.

“Everybody will be single for at least part of their life. Nobody is born as a priest or married to someone or a consecrated religious, so everyone will pass through being single,” he said.

“It's important to distinguish between people who are single because that's kind of where you're at when you're 16, versus someone who has really felt God calling them to give their life in service to the Church as a single person,” or various other circumstances.

For example, a single 19-year-old college student is probably not necessarily living a vocation of singleness in any settled way, Fr. Hasse said, but a person in their 40s who finds joy in serving Christ in their everyday circumstances of work and life “is not someone I would say lacks a vocation.”

“It would be different from the way we usually use the word because it wouldn't be defined, and made concrete by vows or promises,” he said.

“But the single accountant or school teacher could certainly live their life and see the work of their hands as something they're offering to God, and live that in a very spiritually fruitful way, and I wouldn't say, 'Now here's a person without a vocation'.”

Your vocation is given at baptism

Jason Coito, Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that most of the debates surrounding singleness and vocation rely “on a very narrow definition of vocation, or confuses the term with what we refer to as 'states in life.'”

He said when we become fixated on discerning our state in life, referred to in the Church as the primary vocation, “...we become so focused on the ranking of them, rather than looking at each day or the bigger picture and saying, here are all of these components of my life, now how am I called to live the promise of my baptism and of my life, and how do these things work together?”

It can be helpful instead to refocus these debates and conversations on the universal vocation to holiness that each Christian receives at their baptism, Coito said.

“I think this helpfully reframes the conversation and then asks us, 'How is God calling me to make a response to Him and to my brothers and sisters from within the state in life in which I find myself?'”

This respects every vocation, because it's a question anyone can answer on any given day in their life, regardless of their state in life, he said.  

“You do have a vocation. All baptized Catholics are called to live their lives as disciples of Jesus. This is the foundational call of our lives as Catholics,” he said.

“If you feel deeply called to get married, and you have prayerfully discerned and confirmed this call, then until you meet the person you feel called to get married to, you continue to live out your baptismal call, open to the people and circumstances that God puts in front of you each day. For those who are married, we do pretty much the same thing, except that we do this out of the sacramental relationship we have with our spouse,” he said.

In Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI wrote about the universal call to holiness each Christian has:

“Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”

Fr. Hasse reiterated the importance of the baptismal call to holiness, and said that this call is not something to “settle for,” but rather should be the primary focus of our lives as Christians.

“The call to holiness is not some second-string operation,” he said.

“It's not like – wow I really wish I had something important to work towards, but since I don't, sanctity will have to tide me over until the beatific vision.”

“So I think a reappropriation of the universal call to holiness, which is deeply, profoundly significant, it’s the one that matters in a sense, and we're all called to that,” he said.

The big lie: You are incomplete until you've made vows

Coito noted that one of the worst patterns of thinking that a Catholic can fall into when thinking about vocation is to believe that they are somehow less-than or incomplete until they are married, or are a priest or in a religious order.

When he taught high school religion, Coito said he would ask his students to recall the famous line from Jerry Macquire, when he tells his love interest (played by Renee Zellweger): “You complete me.”

“I would always tell them that from a Catholic perspective, that's ridiculous. It wasn't as though before marriage you were incomplete, or that a priest before his ordination is incomplete. God already made us whole and entire,” he said.

“We've been given everything as human beings that God intends us to have, so to begin to think of ourselves as somehow unfinished...we can joyfully be living out our vocation already right now.”

Part of this mentality has seeped in from the culture, he said, which tends to romanticize love and to view marriage as another achievement or milestone in life, rather than as a sacrament.

“I think it's important to address the mentality that if I'm not married or in a community or ordained that I’m this sort of 'Catholic arrested development' or 'suspended animation,'” he said.

The belief that marriage or religious life will also magically make us completely fulfilled is also a mentality that can set people up for disappointment, he noted.

“It ends up being a Disney sort of (mentality) of happily ever after, but it's much more Paschal mystery than happily ever after,” he said.   

Finding fulfillment: It's about self-gift

The reasons that there are more single people in the Church now than in other times in recent history are many and varied – an emphasis on education, a culture that values individualism, higher rates of divorce and economic factors are just some of the many reasons there are more singles in the pews.

But this doesn't mean that human nature has changed – we are still made for love, self-gift and service, Fr. Ben Hasse said.

“Trying to schedule events in our lives that will make us happy at some point that doesn't really work,” he said. “Happiness is richest and fullest kind of as a by-product of gifts of love and of service.”

“There's almost a way where you can attend to the basic dynamics of seeking to live a life of holiness, and that's the actually the path that’s going to leave you more and more disposed to receive his call,” he said.

In particular, acts of service can be a key way to find fulfillment regardless of one's state in life, he said.

“Look for opportunities to give of yourself,” he said. “It's also a good way to meet other people who have a similar disposition...doing that has very real potential to fill one's heart, and leaves you more and more receptive to (God's) call.”

Soley utilizing acts of service as a way to find a spouse would be unhealthy, Fr. Hasse added, but serving alongside like-minded people, and finding others who share your values is a good way to find authentic community, in whatever form that may take.

What the Church has to say about single people

Pope John Paul II, who wanted to be known as ‘the Pope of the family’, wrote in his familial document “Familiaris Consortio” that those without a family must be able to find their family within the Church. In fact, the entire final section of this document is dedicated to single people.

This is a subject with which John Paul II would have been intimately familiar – by the age of 20, all of his immediate family on earth had passed away, and he surrounded himself with good friends that essentially became his family.

In the document, he wrote: “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church - the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate - must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'”

The Catechism of the Catholic also recognizes “the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.” (CCC 1658).

Practical advice from single Catholics

Still, it can sometimes be difficult for single people to know where they fit in the Church. Parishes are often structured around family life, which can make it challenging for single people to find community.

Judy Keane is a 40-something single Catholic and author of “Single and Catholic,” a book in which she interviewed numerous single Catholics of a wide variety of ages, circumstances and backgrounds about their experiences in the Church.

“Mother Teresa once said that the greatest poverty is loneliness, and feeling discounted by society,” Keane said.

“So I would say (to married people in the parish): approach single people, connect with them, take that initiative to introduce yourself, not make them feel like because they don't have a spouse and children in the pew with them that they’re no less a member of the parish community,” she said.

MaryBeth Bonacci is a Catholic author and speaker who has often written on the topic of being a single Catholic. She said she loves it when people in her parish help her feel included in their families and lives.  

“Some people would say, 'Oh well she wouldn’t want to go to a 1-year-old's birthday party.' Yeah I would!” she said. “We don't have our exciting singles lives that you think we have, I'm at home eating cottage cheese and watching Simpsons reruns, it’s not that exciting.”

Bonacci said she's also had a friend at her parish who told her she was invited to her family's dinner any time. And she didn't wait to make good on the invitation – she followed up with Bonacci every day.

“She would call me every day at 3:00 and say, am I setting a place for you? And I didn't go every night...but she actually called every day, and said if you want to come, we'll set a place for you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that.”

She added that she appreciates when parishes make an effort to create a cohesive community, rather than always segregating people into groups according to their states in life.

Both Bonacci and Keane said that they especially have noticed that there are many single elderly Catholics who are alone, whether they’ve never been married or have since lost their spouse.

“If you're having a family Sunday dinner, why not try to befriend an elderly single person who may have lost their spouse and say we’re having our family dinner, would you like to join us?” Keane said.  

It's also important to remember that God acts in unexpected says, and oftentimes frustration with one's state in life stems from a place of thinking about vocation or God’s will too rigidly, Fr. Hasse noted.

“If I'm talking to someone who says well most of my friends seem to have found their vocation and I haven’t, what do I do? I usually say man, the saints are people that God caught in all kinds of unexpected situations and places,” Fr. Hasse said.

“So there's lots of precedent for thinking God has passed me by or hasn't answered my prayers” but then he shows up in unexpected ways, he said.


This article was originally published on CNA July 20, 2017.

The story behind sex change surgery you haven't heard

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 18:04

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 27, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- You've probably heard of Bruce Jenner.

Now referred to as Caitlyn Jenner, the high-profile Olympic athlete with a famously dramatic family had a very high-profile transition from male to female – including mutilple surgical alterations, a cover on Vanity Fair magazine and the now-canceled docu-series “I am Cait.”

You probably haven't heard of Bruce Reimer.

Bruce and his twin brother Brian were born in Canada in the 1960s. At the age of seven months, the otherwise healthy boys were circumcised. But the doctors used a new method of circumcision, involving an electric cauterizing needle, on Bruce. An accident occurred, completely burning off the little boy's penis.

Brian's operation was canceled, but his parents were devastated.

The Reimers decided to take Bruce to Dr. John Money, a psychologist and sexologist at Johns Hopkins they had seen on T.V.

Dr. Money had a theory that aside from reproductive and urinary functions, gender was a social construct. Until the Reimer twins, he had largely worked with intersex cases – children born with ambiguous genitalia or abnormal sex chromosomes.

But the Reimer twins – otherwise healthy and biologically normative – were the perfect experiment on which to test his theory of gender fluidity. Brian would be raised as a boy, and Bruce would from now on be called Brenda, and raised as a girl.

The Reimers agreed, and insisted on girl's clothes and socialization for Brenda throughout childhood. They never told the twins about the accident, or about Brenda's biological sex.

The twins were brought in for a yearly observation with Dr. Money, who dubbed the case a wild success by the time the twins were nine years old.

“No-one else knows that she is the child whose case they read of in the news media at the time of the accident,” he wrote.

“Her behavior is so normally that of an active little girl, and so clearly different by contrast from the boyish ways of her twin brother, that it offers nothing to stimulate one's conjectures.”

What the Doctor didn't tell

Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert is two things you wouldn't necessarily expect to occur in tandem – a plastic surgeon, and a deacon for the Roman Catholic Church.

These two roles give him a unique understanding of the human person, both physically and metaphysically. They've also given him a unique perspective on transgendered persons, and the current cultural movement to support surgical sex changes.

Dr. Lappert was asked to speak at this year's Truth and Love conference for Courage in Phoenix. He included the case of the Reimer twins during his talk, “Transgender Surgery and Christian Anthropology.”

The on-paper success of Brenda Reimer as a lovely and well-adjusted little girl did not match the lived reality of the child, Dr. Lappert said. Brenda Reimer was a rambunctious tomboy – shunned by the boys for wearing dresses, and by the girls for being too wild.

“She was very rebellious. She was very masculine, and I could not persuade her to do anything feminine. Brenda had almost no friends growing up. Everybody ridiculed her, called her cavewoman,” Brenda's mother, Janet, recalled in an interview with BBC News.

“She was a very lonely, lonely girl.”

During the twins' yearly checkup and observation, Dr. Money would force the twins to strip naked and engage in sexual play, posing in positions that affirmed their respective genders. On at least one occasion, this sex play was photographed.

By their teenage years, the twins were strongly opposed to going to their checkups with Dr. Money.

By age 13, Brenda was suicidal.

By 15, the Reimers stopped taking the twins to Dr. Money and revealed the truth to Brenda – he was biologically male. He fully embraced his male identity, chose the name David, and began hormone therapy and a surgical genital reconstruction. He dated and married a woman, whose children he adopted.

But the wounds of his traumatic childhood were deep for both David and his brother. Both suffered from depression. After 14 years, David's wife divorced him. Then Brian died from a drug overdose. Not long after, in May 2004, David committed suicide. He was 38 years old.

Despite everything, Dr. Money never printed any retractions of his studies, or added any corrections.

“He never said a word, never took any of it back,” Dr. Lappert said.

Which is hugely problematic, because this study is still frequently cited as a successful gender transition by the medical community at large, including the society of plastic surgeons to which Dr. Lappert belongs, he said.

“I put this case out there as an example, to show you the foundation – the sand upon which this whole thing is built,” Dr. Lappert said.

“We have to understand this as we’re talking about the human person as a unity of spirit and form, that there is an integrity to the maleness and femaleness with which we are made.”

One of the biggest problems with transgender sex change surgeries is that they are permanent and irreversible in any meaningful way, Dr. Lappert said.

“There’s nothing reversible about genital surgery – it's a permanent, irreversible mutilation of the human person. And there’s no other word for it,” he said.  

“It results in permanent sterility. It’s a permanent dissolution of the unitive and the procreative functions. And even the unitive aspect of the sexual embrace is radically hindered if not utterly destroyed,” he said, because of the inevitable nerve damage that occurs during the surgery, and because the brain will always register the genital nerves as coming from their organ of origin.

In other words, nerves connected to a vagina will always register with the brain as a vagina, even if they are now part of a surgically constructed penis, and vice versa.

Another major issue is that sex change surgeries seek to solve an interior dysfunction with an external solution.

“Underneath it all, you're trying to heal an interior wound with exterior surgery,” Dr. Lapper said.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 19, 2017.

Dating apps and the death of romance – what's a Catholic to do?

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 05:22

Denver, Colo., Dec 27, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If a recent Vanity Fair issue is to be believed, there's some disheartening news for single people: the “dating apocalypse,” brought on by wildly popular dating apps like “Tinder,” is upon us.

Young singles are too busy swiping left and right on their phones making shallow, transient connections, rather than finding real love with real people. Romance is dead, proposes author Nancy Jo Sales, in the September 2015 issue of the publication.

What sets Tinder apart from most other dating app or online dating experiences is speed and brevity. Based on a photo, first name, and age alone, users decide whether to swipe left (to pass) or right (to like). With GPS tracking, the app also tells users exactly how far away potential matches may be, making life even easier for those just looking for a quick hook-up. 

Shallowest dating app ever?

The biggest criticism of Tinder? It's a seriously shallow app that turns people into quickly-judged commodities on a screen.

In a 2013 article by The Guardian, “Tinder: the shallowest dating app ever?” author Pete Cashmore explains the ick-factor, yet addictiveness, of Tinder when compared to another dating app called Twine.

“Of the two apps, though, Tinder sounded worse, just because it seemed so contemptuously superficial. There are hundreds upon thousands of women, about whom you know almost nothing, and you snap-appraise them with a single swipe. It's a finger-flicking hymn to the instant gratification of the smartphone age. It's addictive.”

Matt Fradd is a Catholic speaker and author and founder of The Porn Effect, a website with a mission to “expose the reality behind the fantasy of pornography and to equip individuals to find freedom from it.” In his ministry, he’s heard a lot of stories from young people about their struggle to overcome objectifying people through porn.

Fradd had some harsh words for Tinder.

“Tinder exists for those who would rather not purchase a prostitute,” he told CNA.

“I would imagine most people who use that app aren’t there because they’re looking for a chaste relationship,” he added. 

And indeed, quite a bit of colloquial evidence backs him up. Alex in the Vanity Fair article said dating apps have turned romance into a competition of “Who's slept with the best, hottest girls?”

“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger,” he said. “It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

But Tinder doesn't always have to be that way, users argue. It is possible to find people on the app who want to go on some good old-fashioned dates.

Tinder users speak

Ross is a twenty-something Nebraska-to-New York City transplant and a cradle Catholic who’s used his fair share of both dating apps and sites. When signing up for Tinder, Ross said, probably the most important factor in whether someone will find potential dates or hook-ups is location, location, location.

“Your region matters so much,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “In Nebraska, women date on Tinder. They really do… In New York, (most) want a distraction, attention, and/or a hook up. Not emotion or connections.”

Holly, a twenty-something devout Catholic living in Kansas City, said she has had success finding a date – and a pretty decent one at that – on the app.

“I went on a great Tinder date. Granted it was the only Tinder date, but we even went out a few times before things ended. At the time Tinder sort of freaked me out, but I decided to jump in head first and it was an enjoyable experience over all,” she said. 

Many young people who've used Tinder also argue that the “shallow” critique is a bit overblown, considering that dating always takes into account whether or not a potential mate is physically attractive.

“How is me swiping right on a guy that I find attractive, and swiping left (on those) that I'm not that into any different than someone approaching a guy that I find attractive in a bar? We make snap judgements all the time. Why is it suddenly so much worse if I'm doing it online?” asked Michelle, a twenty-something practicing Catholic who lives in Chicago.

While she's definitely experienced the creepier side of Tinder – with guys sending her “rankings” on a scale of 1 to 10 and other, um, less-than-endearing messages, she said she found the app could be used as a way to maybe meet some new people in person and to get recommendations of things to do in the city.

“I think to immediately classify Tinder or any other dating app as a 'hook-up' app or as a very bad thing goes against the idea that things are morally neutral,” Michelle said. “Just like alcohol is not inherently bad but can be used for evil, I don't think Tinder is inherently evil as well. I definitely think you can use Tinder if you're using it to meet people – not to hook up with people.”

The morality of Tinder

It's admittedly a bit difficult to find someone who can speak with moral authority specifically to dating apps in the Catholic world. Because of the very recent explosion of smartphones, followed by the subsequent explosion of dating apps, or because of vows of celibacy, many clergy and moral experts have actually never used dating apps themselves.

Fr. Gregory Plow, T.O.R., falls into that category. Even though he's a young priest and friar who’s never used Tinder, Fr. Plow works with hundreds of young people every day as the director of Households at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (kind of like Greek houses, but faith-based).

Fr. Plow said when Catholics determine the morality of any act or tool, like Tinder, three things must be considered.

“Whenever discerning the morality of an act not explicitly defined by Church teaching, we must examine the object, the intention, and the circumstances,” he said, referencing paragraph 1757 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Regarding the 'object,' apps – in general, as an invention – are not bad in and of themselves. Like most other technologies, they are morally neutral in and of themselves,” he said. “Apps do, however, possess a certainly quality of being transitory that can factor in to the other two components (intention and circumstances) that factor in to judging the morality of an act.”

The transitory, cursory nature of swiping based on one picture in Tinder can be morally dangerous if that same mentality transfers to relationships with people, he said. Instead of pausing and taking the time to form real relationships, some people may decide to move on to the next best thing because they have so many options.

“Therefore, in as much dating apps are impersonal and transitory, or are used with the intention for receiving gratification and pleasure, they are immoral,” he said. “If, however, online dating apps or services assisting people in leading them to find another person to share the love of God with in the uniqueness of a dating relationship or marriage, it can be (morally) good.”

Mary Beth Bonacci, a Catholic speaker and author on John Paul II's Theology of the Body, said what's concerning about Tinder when compared to online dating sites such as CatholicMatch is the rapidity with which people can be turned into objects.

“The entire realm of dating is full of opportunities to turn a human person into a commodity. We get so wrapped up in thinking about what we want for ourselves that we forget we are dealing with another human person – and image and likeness of God. It's always been a temptation,” she said.

“But the rapid-fire nature of Tinder's 'scan and swipe' makes it easy to turn many, many human persons into commodities in a short period of time. That is what is scariest to me.”

Bonacci said while it's possible to find someone who’s interested in a virtuous dating relationship through apps like Tinder, the chances of that happening are probably pretty low when compared with online dating sites that have more extensive profiles.

Meeting someone in person as soon as possible is also key, she said, in determining whether or not a match made online or in an app has a chance of turning into a dating relationship. But apps like Tinder aren’t exactly helping breathe new life into romance, she said.

“Everything is instant. The nearly-anonymous sex is of course the antithesis of anything romantic or respectful. In the old days of the 'meat market' singles' bar, a person had to get dressed up, leave the house, buy a few drinks and at least pretend to have some real interest in the other person.”

The Church has a duty, she said, to offer young people better alternatives in the dating world than the instant gratification that they find in the current culture.

“The Vanity Fair article reminded me once again that we have to offer teens and young adults an alternative to the degrading, hook up world that surrounds them. We can't scare them out of it. They need to be inspired, to fall in love with the real beauty of the Christian vision of human sexual morality,” she said.

“They need to see their own dignity, their own importance, and how respecting their bodies and the beautiful language of human sexuality is the only way to finding real love. We have to. We can’t allow another generation of kids to fall into this cesspool.”


This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 13, 2015.

Our elders are lonely – do we care?

Tue, 12/26/2017 - 11:01

Denver, Colo., Dec 26, 2017 / 09:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It was August in Rome, the dog days of summer, and most people had left the Eternal City for the beach or another summer holiday destination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This article originally ran Sept. 25, 2016.

'A saint for our times' – the inspiring story of Chiara Corbella Petrillo

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 08:05

Manchester, N.H., Dec 24, 2017 / 06:05 am (CNA).- Chiara Corbella Petrillo lived a short life.

She met her husband Enrico Petrillo at age 18, became the mother of three children, and died at the age 28.

But what happened within those 10 years has touched the hearts of thousands across the globe. Chiara's sainthood cause was opened last week, five years after her death. Her story is told in the 2015 book, “Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy,” published by Sophia Institute Press.

“In the story of the Petrillo couple, many people recognize a providential consolation from heaven,” said Simone Troisi and Christiana Paccini, close friends of the Petrillo's who wrote the biography of Chiara's life.

“They discover that in any situation, there is no real reason to be sad. This is because Chiara shows that if you have God as your guide, misfortunes do not exist,” they told CNA.  

Chiara and Enrico married in Italy on September 21, 2008 after having met at Medjugorje in 2002. During the early years of their marriage, the young Italian couple faced many hardships together, including the death of two children, who both died only 30 minutes after birth.

Chiara became pregnant a third time with their son, Francesco. However, the joyful news of their pregnancy also came with a fatal diagnosis of cancer for Chiara. Her cancer was an unusual lesion of the tongue, which was later discovered to be a carcinoma.

Chiara rejected any treatment that could have saved her life during pregnancy because it would have risked the life of her unborn son. As the cancer progressed, it became difficult for Chiara to speak and see clearly, eventually making her final days on earth particularly excruciating.

“Her [Chiara's] suffering became a holy place because it was the place where she encountered God,” Troisi and Paccini recalled.

Although many couples face hardships, Troisi and Paccini remembered something different about the Petrillos - they leaned on God’s grace which made their family particularly serene. They made peace with the reality that Chiara would never grow old with Enrico or watch Francesco grow up.

During Chiara’s last days, Enrico embraced God’s grace just as Chiara did, saying, “If she is going to be with Someone who loves her more than I, why should I be upset?”  

Chiara died on June 13, 2012 at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends. Although her earthly life was over, Chiara would continue to be a witness to joy.

Troisi and Paccini believe that Chiara’s legacy is still living on because she gave witness to the truth that “love exists.” Neither she nor Enrico were afraid of love, marriage, or of committing themselves to their family.

According to the authors, the young couple showed how “the purpose of our life is to love... to be married is a wonderful thing, an adventure that opens you up to Heaven in the home.”

Chiara and Enrico's remarkable story is “a story of salvation in which God shows himself as a faithful God: they trust in Him and are not disappointed,” they stated.

However, they were quick to note that Chiara was not “an extraordinary young woman, in a way that makes her different from us.” Rather, she struggled with many human fears and anxieties, especially with thoughts of pain, vomiting, and purgatory.

“She had the same questions that we have, the same objections and struggles, the same fears,” Troisi and Paccini noted, saying what made her different was her “capacity to cast everything on the Father, to welcome the grace needed for whatever step she had to make.”

With Chiara, the ordinary always became the extraordinary. Troisi and Paccini have fond memories of everyday life with the Petrillos, when a conversation about cooking chicken would end in talking about heaven.

“We would share simple things like dinner, chatting, games on the rug with little Francesco... always very simple, without masks,” they remembered.

“But when we were together, there was no difficulty in believing that eternal life was here and now!”

Chiara has been called “a saint for our times.” Although her death was only five years ago, her legacy lives on and has inspired others around the world to be the same witness to joy.

“Today, this joy is visible in those that lived alongside her: even if they miss her, they experience a mysterious and profound joy,” Troisi and Paccini stated.

“We cannot insist enough on the fact that Chiara did what she did, not trusting in her own strength, but trusting in the grace and the consolation of God... She never doubted God's faithfulness to His promise of happiness for her story.

Chiara’s cause for canonization was opened June 13, 2017, the fifth anniversary of her death.


An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Dec. 2, 2015.  

What the littlest children can teach us about suffering

Sat, 12/23/2017 - 16:00

Denver, Colo., Dec 23, 2017 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- “There will be saints among the children.”

So said St. Pius X, when he lowered the age that children could receive their First Holy Communion. Previously, children had to be 10 or 12, now they are typically in second grade, or about seven or eight years old, though exceptions are made for some who are even younger.

Pope Francis canonized Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the child visionaries of the Fatima Marian apparitions, May 13. These shepherds are the first children who were not martyred to be canonized by the Church. Both died before age 12.

Austin Ruse, Catholic author and president of C-Fam, a family research institute, believes that Pope Francis may have just “opened the floodgates” to scores of saints from the littlest among us.

Several years ago, Ruse was struck by the stories of three children he knew - either personally or peripherally - that all seemed to have a common theme: “little children who died young, suffered greatly, and brought many people to Christ and his Church through their suffering.”

“They were just profound stories and they needed to be told,” he said in an interview with CNA.

In his recent book, “Littlest Suffering Souls,” Ruse tells of the short but significant lives of six children, three of them contemporary children whose families he has met.
Suffering, with ‘countless graces’

One of those children was Brendan Kelly, whose family went to Ruse’s parish, and whose funeral Ruse attended. While he had never met Brendan, Ruse had been praying for him.

Brendan was born to a devout Catholic family in Virginia. His parents, Frank and Maura, met while working in the George H.W. Bush White House in 1990.

Brendan was born with Down syndrome, and a seemingly innate love for Jesus. By the age of two, he loved to kiss crucifixes and statues of saints.

It was also at that age that a test confirmed Brendan had leukemia. He began a series of intense and painful treatments that would become an off-and-on part of the rest of his life.

“But along with the suffering would come countless graces,” Ruse noted.

One of the biggest graces was the “mystical” friendship that Brendan would develop with the pope at the time, Pope John Paul II.

Former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a family friend, personally delivered a photo of Brendan to Pope John Paul II while on a state visit to the Vatican. Once Brendan found out the pope was praying for him personally, he started praying for the pope personally too - every night.

Some time later, Brendan was offered a wish from the Make a Wish Foundation, the group that grants wishes to very sick children - typically a visit to Disneyland, or something along those lines.

But Brendan wanted something different.

“Me meet pope!” the toddler exclaimed. The Make-a-Wish officials were not convinced that this request was coming from the little boy, and so they shooed his parents out of the room. After an hour of questioning, Brendan didn’t waiver.

And so he did meet the pope - at the age of four, Brendan was granted an audience with Pope John Paul II. Not satisfied with the standard brief meeting and shaking of hands, Brendan stood by Pope John Paul II as he greeted everyone in the audience that day. As the pope was leaving, Brendan shouted “Bye, Pope!” and was able to shake hands one last time with the spiritual giant and his personal hero.

Other incredible moments of grace and signs of God’s presence occurred throughout Brendan’s short life. On one occasion, one of Frank’s friends, Peter O’Malley, was in the midst of a terrorist attack at Taj Mahal Palace in 2008.

In his moment of crisis, O’Malley knew who to call for prayers. Brendan prayed, and O’Malley escaped unharmed that night, when 164 people were shot.

His parish priest, Father Drummond, said he was first struck by Brendan’s faith and “absolute joy” as he was preparing him for communion and confession. When Father told him he would get to wear the black and white vestments of an altar boy, “He got a faraway look in his eyes and said quietly, ‘I love those’.”
Throughout his short life, Brendan would suffer bouts of leukemia, and grueling treatments. Before each one, his parents would ask him for whom he would offer his suffering - and he always had an intention.

One of his most frequent intentions was Bella Santorum, Rick Santorum’s daughter, who was born with a rare genetic disorder, Trisomy 18. She was only supposed to live a few months, but Brendan offered his suffering for her throughout his entire life. “Bella, I love you,” he would repeat during moments of pain. She is still alive today, some nine years longer than she was expected to live.

“(Brendan) very early on grabbed onto the idea of offering up his suffering, and he always would do it cheerfully, even though it was unbelievably painful, or it made him incredibly sick, he just knew that throwing up for the tenth time, this time is going to be for somebody, and it was useful,” Frank told CNA.

At the same time, he was a normal boy. He didn’t want to be sick, he loved to play with his siblings and be the life of the party. And he could school anyone in trivia from his favorite T.V. show “The Office.” He could name the season and the episode of any quote from Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute that his family could lob at him.

And so, when sick from leukemia and quarantined for a bone marrow transplant as a teenager, Brendan and his family played office trivia through a small, grainy T.V. - the only way they could communicate during the sterile procedure. Soon a crowd of doctors and nurses joined in the fun.

But it was his profound faith and joyful personality that impacted almost everyone he met, and that drew people to him.

“He wasn’t just this always smiley, (disabled) little child,” Frank said. “He would have very profound conversations with people, and say things that would profoundly impact people.”

When he passed away in 2013, at the age of 16, the line at his wake had to be cut short after three hours of people filing past to pay their final respects to Brendan.

“We had to go outside and thank everybody because it was too long, and there was almost an equal number of people at the funeral Mass the next day,” Frank said.

Since that day, they’ve had hundreds of requests for prayer cards of Brendan.

Frank said it has been a “surreal” experience to have a child whose impact is so great that there are people asking for his prayers.

He said he hopes that people who read Brendan’s story and are experiencing suffering themselves understand that they are never alone.

“Brendan never felt alone, and he knew that people were praying for him, starting with Pope John Paul II to the builders who were working on our house, to people he never knew,” Frank said. Even people in other countries who had never met Brendan had offered their prayers.  

A witness amid the ‘culture of death’

Another suffering soul, Margaret Leo, also had a dad who worked in the Washington, D.C. political scene. Leonard Leo is the executive vice president of the Federalist Society - a law organization to which several federal and Supreme Court justices belong. He also worked for President George W. Bush’s administration at one time.

Though Margaret suffered throughout her life from spina bifida and related complications, she bore everything with a cheerful smile and a simple but profound faith. Her photo now sits on the desk of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ruse names the people impacted by these suffering souls in his book intentionally.

These were not peasant children, like Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Ruse noted, and that’s important.

“They were born into influence and affluence, into a modern day (moral) desert, and they have a message for the modern day desert - all lives are worth living, there are no useless lives, even short, painful lives have a great deal of meaning,” Ruse said.

“We live in an age that people call the culture of death, aimed largely at the defenseless: children, the elderly, the disabled, the intellectually disabled, and these children are witnesses to the fact that all lives are worth living, even ones that are judged not to be worth living.”

It’s something that Margaret’s mom, Sally, hopes that people understand as they read her daughter’s story.

“Especially because such a high percentage of children with spina bifida and other disabilities are aborted these days, and we barely even ever see them,” she told CNA.

“If that wasn’t the case, we would see these kids walking around, we would see kids with braces or crutches or Down syndrome all the time, but 80-90 percent of them are killed, they’re not even given the chance.”

But in Sally’s experience, “It was a gift.”

Margaret taught them about faith and love in the simplest of ways. She gently pestered her dad until he became a daily Mass attendee. She would ask people when they were going to baptize their new baby, or if they had been confirmed.

“Her faith would invariably come up in any discussion that was more the perfunctory, and it would have an impact on people,” her father, Leonard, told CNA.

But she wasn’t a mystic, her parents insist. She just had a strong attraction to holy and beautiful things, and an intense but simple joy that was attractive to those around her. She loved coloring, and being involved in her siblings’ antics, and holding babies.  

“In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily go away thinking, ‘Oh wow, I just met a saint.’ But she would say to you, ‘Hi, how are you? How was your day? How was your birthday? When’s your confirmation?’ She wanted to know about you, which was really what touched people most about her, because you don’t necessarily find that among strangers,” Sally said.

“Charity and kindness and friendship, but at its most pure and most intense level,” Leonard added.

Margaret’s spina bifida meant that she had to have titanium rods placed in her back to straighten her spine. But instead, Margaret’s back bent the titanium rods - so much so that they ended up protruding from her neck. Despite it all, Margaret did not complain.

“It’s ok,” she would cheerfully say, even when it was clear that it was not.

Today, Leonard keeps the rods on his desk - “to remind me what a real bad day looks like.”  

After Margaret passed away and her story spread, the Leos were surprised at the impact their simple but faithful little girl was having on the people around them. When Ruse published an article about Margaret, they received hundreds of requests for a prayer card of her.  

What continues to draw people to Margaret is how she suffered with joy and trust in God, Leonard said.

“I think at some level that when we’re faced with adversity and suffering, we wish that we could be filled with joy, and we could be able to confront it in a way that brings us closer to God and closer to other people, and make the very best of it,” he said.

“And so when you saw her, it was impossible not to be reminded of the fact that we should be filled with joy, we should be thankful to God. As her tombstone says, we should be praying and thanking God without ceasing.”

Tears of inspiration

The third contemporary little suffering soul whose story Ruse tells is that of Audrey from France.

Although her parents were lukewarm Catholics when she was born, Audrey was “spiritually precocious” from a young age.

She practiced mortification by carrying home her school pencils in her shoe. She begged to receive Holy Communion at the age of five. Upon examining her, her priest found her ready to do so, because she understood that Holy Communion is Jesus, “And I want to receive Jesus.” She insisted that her family say grace before meals and a prayer for vocations every night.

She was also sure from a young age that she had a Carmelite vocation, “Caramel” as the little girl pronounced it.

This surprising faith scared Lillian, Audrey’s mom, who wasn’t sure where Audrey was getting her ideas.

“Follow her,” a priest told Lillian.

But she was also scared that her daughter’s spiritual maturity meant great trials were ahead - and they were. At a very young age, Audrey was diagnosed with leukemia.

When Lillian broke the news to Audrey, “She got this very wise, very gentle sort of look” and told her mother that they were “going to do what Jesus says. We’re going to be like the birds in the sky, and we’re just going to take one day at a time.”

“I can’t say that without weeping,” Ruse said.

And indeed, “Littlest Suffering Souls” is a book that will make you weep. But not in a sad way.

“We’re not crying out of sadness, we’re crying out of inspiration,” Ruse said.

“They’re neither tears of joy nor sadness, they’re some other kind of tear, that I don’t have the name for, but it’s just being moved by these inspiring stories.”

Audrey battled leukemia for several years, and, like Brendan, made it on the personal prayer list of Pope John Paul II after her dad was able to hand him a photo of her.

Audrey too offered her sufferings for specific intentions, and, like Brendan, people began flooding her with prayer requests. She had a special heart for vocations, and prayed especially for her Uncle Mick - who is now a priest today.

A bone marrow transplant for Audrey eventually proved ineffective. Knowing she was near death, her family took her to Lourdes, and then to Rome, where she was able to meet Pope John Paul II.   

They spoke together for several minutes, captured by a photo of Audrey’s swollen head next to the bent-down head of the now-Saint.

While no one knows what was said between the two of them, for the rest of the day, John Paul II could be heard around the Vatican muttering her name: “Audrey, Audrey, Audrey.”

She also asked to be confirmed, and insisted that the party be an “elegant” event - one of her favorite words, but one that she meant in beautiful simplicity, rather than extravagance.

In her final weeks, which she was able to spend at home, Audrey spent hours in the family’s chapel, where the bishop had allowed them to keep the blessed sacrament. She told her grandma that she spent her days praying and waiting.

She passed away at 3 p.m., the hour of mercy, on August 22, 1991, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. Her father Jerome had prayed she would pass away on a Marian feast day.

Audrey’s cause for canonization has been opened, and her story has spread throughout France and indeed throughout the world. Seminarians pray for her intercession for their vocations. A Carmelite convent in Spain has her First Communion dress on display, with permission of the family.

Lessons learned

The suffering of children is a difficult subject, but one that captures the attention of all, Ruse said.

“It seems to us to be profoundly unfair that children suffer, and that’s a common human reaction,” he reflected.

“Moreover, the reaction of these particular children to their suffering and maladies is confounding to those of us who cannot even handle the simple contradictions of the day very well,” he said.

“The simplest things can vex us, and yet these are kids who had bone marrow transplants and while they had them, Audrey was singing songs to Mary, and Brendan was offering his suffering for others - they’re just astounding.”

At the end of his book, Ruse offers what he believes are several lessons that can be learned from the stories of little suffering souls - forbearance, simplicity, a love for God, particularly in the Eucharist.

Moreover, he said, we learn that each life has dignity.

“Our modern man might see a child suffering from leukemia who has died young and see nothing but a misbegotten tragedy, a life with no meaning,” he wrote.

“In the simplest terms, modern man is wrong. The Littlest Suffering Souls stand as witnesses to the proposition that all human life has meaning and dignity, even and especially those lives we may not fully understand.”


This article was first published May 17, 2017. It has been updated accordingly.

Meet the Creole nun who risked her life to teach slaves

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 18:04

New Orleans, La., Dec 22, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Henriette DeLille, born a “free woman of color” before the Civil War, had all the makings of a life of relative ease before her.

Born in 1812 to a wealthy French father and a free Creole woman of Spanish, French and African descent, Henriette was groomed throughout her childhood to become a part of what was then known as the placage system.

Under the placage system, free women of color (term used at the time for people of full or partial African descent, who were no longer or never were slaves) entered into common law marriages with wealthy white plantation owners, who often kept their legitimate families at the plantations in the country. It was a rigid system, but afforded free women of color comfortable and even luxurious lives.

Trained in French literature, music, dancing, and nursing, Henriette was prepared to become the “kept woman” of a wealthy white man throughout her childhood.

However, in her early 20s, Henriette declared that her religious convictions could not be reconciled with the placage lifestyle for which she was being prepared. Raised Catholic, which was typical for free people of color at the time, she had recently had a deep encounter with God, and believed that the placage system violated Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

Working as a teacher since the age of 14, Henriette’s devotion to caring for and educating the poor grew. Even though she was only one-eighth African and could have passed as a white person, she always referred to herself as Creole or as a free person of color, causing conflict in her family, who had declared themselves white on the census.

In 1836, wanting to dedicate her life to God, Henriette used the proceeds of an inheritance to found a small unrecognized order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her non-white heritage had barred her from admission to the Ursuline and Carmelite orders, which only accepted white women at the time.

This group would eventually become the Sisters of the Holy Family, officially founded at St. Augustine's Church in 1842. Like Henriette, the other two founding sisters had denounced a life in the placage system.

The Sisters taught religion and other subjects to the slaves, even though it was illegal to do so at the time, punishable by death or life imprisonment.

They also encouraged free quadroon women (women of one-fourth African descent) to marry men of their own class, and encouraged slave couples to have their unions blessed by the church.

The Sisters also established a home to care for elderly women, many of them likely former slaves. It was the first nursing home of its kind established by the Church in the U.S., and it was there that the early Sisters cared for the sick and the dying during the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897.

Homes for orphans and eventually schools were also established by the order, which continued to grow and spread its mission throughout the South.

Henriette Delille died in 1862 at the relatively young age of 50, probably of tuberculosis. At the time of her death, the order had 12 members, but it would eventually peak at 400 members in the 1950s.

The Sisters of the Holy Family are still an active order in Louisiana today, with sisters working in nursing homes and as teachers, administrators and other pastoral positions.

In 1988, the Mother Superior of the order at the time requested the opening of Henriette Delille’s cause for canonization. She was declared a Servant of God, and then was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on March 27, 2010. A miracle through her intercession is needed for her beatification, the next step in the process before canonization.

Throughout her life, Henriette was inspired by this prayer, which she wrote in one of her religious books when she first founded her order: “I believe in God, I hope In God. I love. I want to live and die for God.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 12, 2017.

Bearded Gospel Men: A new devotional honoring the hairy and the holy

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 16:25

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 22, 2017 / 02:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- You’ve heard it said that beardliness is next to Godliness.

Well, maybe you haven’t heard exactly that. But there’s something about holiness and hairiness that have had the saints singing the praises of facial follicles throughout the centuries.

“The beard must not be plucked,” said St. Cyprian.

“The beard signifies the courageous...the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man,” said St. Augustine.

The folks at “Bearded Gospel Men” feel similarly. Begun five years ago as a blog and Facebook page, “Bearded Gospel Men” was started by Pastor Joe Thorn mostly as a place where he could joke and write about beards, God, and all things manly and Christian.

Since then, blog has grown into a community of more than 40,000 people, mostly furry-faced men, interested in growing in holiness and hairiness together.

The popularity of the blog spoke to a deeper need for authentic Christian community among men, prompting the creation of the new book, “Bearded Gospel Men”, based on the blog.

“The dark secret of the Christian publishing industry is that 70 percent of book purchasers are women, so the whole market is kind of geared towards women,” Jared Brock, co-author of the book, told CNA.

“It’s not the publisher’s fault obviously, they’re responding to market demand,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean that men, the bearded and the clean-shaven, aren’t hungering for authentic Christian community, he added.

That’s where “Bearded Gospel Men” can help. The 30-day devotional written especially for dudes chronicles the lives of the holy and hairy who came before - men who lived the Gospel message and rocked a wicked beard at the same time. It also includes follicular facts, jokes, and all of the beard puns two men could muster.  

“There aren’t a lot of books - especially devotionals - that are written specifically for men, so we’re glad to be able to give guys another weapon in their arsonal to help build their band of brothers,” Brock said.

The book is meant to be read in small groups, and small chunks, at a time. Each chapter is a day of the devotional, and tells the story of a bearded Gospel man, as well as a prayer, scripture verses, and questions for contemplation and discussion.

What exactly is a Bearded Gospel Man?

“Of course the key words in bearded Gospel men are obviously Gospel and men,” Brock said, the emphasis on beards largely a joke.

“We actually profile a couple of women in the book, as well as guys who didn’t have beards, we call them the ‘beards that could have been,’” Brock added.

Nevertheless, there is something about meeting fellow bearded fellows that establishes an instant connection, he noted.

“There is something about when I pass another guy on the street with a beard - we give each other a little ‘Hey what’s up bro’ nod, and there’s so much more (of a connection) when you bring God into the mix,” he said, such as when he met the book’s other author, Aaron Lyford.  

“For Aaron and I that was definitely a bonding moment - hey we both have beards and love Jesus? Cool!” he recalled.  

The Bearded Gospel Men who stories are told throughout the book include perhaps more obvious choices, such as John the Baptist and Jolly old St. Nicholas, along with some lesser-known but nonetheless bearded and holy men such as Charles Monroe Sheldon.

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ Sheldon invented the phrase about 100 years before those bracelets took over the world,” Brock said.

He was looking for a way to attract young people to Christianity, and eventually published a book full of stories about a man trying to live like Jesus. However, due to a publishing error, the book ended up in the public domain, and while it was a wild success, Sheldon barely saw a cent from his original idea.

But that didn’t stop Brock from living life as a Bearded Gospel Man, Brock noted.

“He just continued doing his thing, he kept preaching, he kept writing books, he was a social activist before social justice was even a phrase,” he said, founding schools and mentoring men from poor areas.  

Brock said he hopes that the devotional can inspire community and Christian conversation among men who may have felt they were missing those things in their lives.

He added that he views the whole community of Bearded Gospel Men as a pub - anyone is welcome to come in and join the conversation.

“We kind of picture Bearded Gospel Men like a pub, it’s this warm, welcoming space where anyone is more than welcome to pull up a stool and have a conversation about things that matter,” he said.

“The fire is lit, the drinks are poured, welcome to the pub.”

More information about the devotional book and the community can be found at

Military chaplains help traumatized soldiers, but who helps them?

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Dec 21, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As military veterans and victims of violence are treated for psychological trauma, the emotional wounds of missionaries and military chaplains might be overlooked, but are just as present.

And with mass shootings, suicides, and acts of terrorism on the rise, more and more first responders like policemen, firemen, hospital workers, and clergy will “continually bear the brunt” of experiencing these horrors.

That's according to Monsignor Stephen Rosetti, a psychologist and former president of the St. Luke Institute, who spoke to CNA.

“The priests are helping others, and the question is who helps them?” he asked.

Monsignor Rosetti is the former head of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., an organization that provides psychological care for priests and religious in need of treatment for mental illness, addiction, and other disorders.

Part of the institute’s ministry is helping military chaplains and missionaries who have served in war-torn areas, but also religious who have ministered to victims of trauma at home – amidst events like natural disasters and mass shootings.

Military chaplains suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental illnesses related to their ministry shared their struggles with the Washington Post last year. Repeatedly serving as a listening ear for the dark problems of soldiers, combined with experiencing the horror of battlefield combat and seeing the dead bodies of friends, can take its toll on a priest’s psyche.

“Just about all” priests and religious returning from a war-torn areas will need “some sort of support,” Monsignor Rossetti noted, like a “detoxing” in their transition from a stressful environment to life back in the U.S.

However, a few will require special attention, he said. These are cases where someone has experienced a particularly appalling atrocity or ongoing violence or stress, “almost too much for the human soul to bear.”

“I think especially of missionaries who are in violent areas,” he said, those who have witnessed “mass murders” or “unbelievable poverty and disease.”

For any clergyman traveling to a poor or war-torn area, “we try to train them as best we can to deal with such trauma” before they depart, the monsignor said, “but sometimes the situation is just so horrible that there’s a real human toll to it.”

Trauma – inflicted especially through acts of terrorism, mass shootings, and suicides – is on the rise, he said. The suicide rate in the U.S. is the highest in decades; the number of mass shootings are also on the rise.

Catholics cannot act as if the first responders like parish priests or military chaplains won’t be affected, he insisted. We must “help train them” to deal with trauma, he said, noting the need for “qualified laypeople” in fields like psychology.

Also, he added, “I think we shouldn’t isolate our chaplains.” Rather, we should be working to connect “first responders” like police, emergency medical technicians, hospital nurses and priests, who can talk about their experiences with each other and “support each other,” he said.

Tragedies can make or break someone’s faith, he added. If a person who has experienced trauma is treated with professional psychological care and a network of support, it can help sustain one’s faith and not break one’s spirit.

“Unspeakable sufferings do challenge our faith, and in times when our faith is a little bit too glib, it kind of bashes that and challenges it,” he admitted. “So these kind of events really challenge us to move deeper into the Lord’s passion and eventually, hopefully, His resurrection.”

“It can build up your faith in a new, deeper way, or sadly sometimes people lose their faith.”


This article was originally published on CNA June 5, 2016.

So, Catholic coloring books for grown-ups are a thing...

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 06:13

Chicago, Ill., Dec 21, 2017 / 04:13 am (CNA).- Coloring books for adults have exploded onto the bookstore scene in the past few years. What was once considered a hobby for the kids is now all the rage for people who are full-grown.

While the most popular books out there feature images of gardens, forests and beautiful patterns, Ave Maria Press and Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui are creating adult coloring books that draw from something else: the tradition of medieval Catholic art.

Mitsui, who lives in Chicago with his wife and their three children, specializes in ink drawing and describes his style as very graphic, with “precise edges and sharp outlines.” He’s heavily inspired by Catholic art from the 14th and 15th century, but is also influenced by the graphic elements of Japanese art, particularly with how it treats light and shadow.

While Mitsui told CNA that he hadn’t paid much attention to the adult coloring book trend at first, he has done a lot of work in black and white, which works well for the medium. He would print a lot of images in black and white and then color them in to sell as hand-colored images, and he would give his children the extra prints, or the prints that didn’t turn out just right, for them to color.

“I would save all of the ones that didn’t pass my quality control, and I would give them to my kids to color at Mass,” he told CNA.  

“I have small children who have a hard time paying attention so I would give them some of these coloring sheets. And friends of mine started asking for them and I thought, you know, I should really make this available to the public.”

With this in mind, Mitsui started adding the black and white images – usually of saints or other religious images – to his website, so that parents could access them for their kids and leave a little donation. Almost immediately, he was contacted by Ave Maria publishing company about creating a book for adults.

His first book features images from the mysteries of the rosary. Mitsui had been privately commissioned for a project on the rosary a few years back, and so he said it was easy to compile those images and create a coloring book with a unifying theme.

Faced with quick success, he soon began planning for another book, featuring colorable images of the Saints. While the book includes many of the main players – the Virgin Mary, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Michael the Archangel – it also includes some more obscure figures like St. Robert of Newminster, St. Gobnait, and St. Hugh of Lincoln.

While many of Mitsui's images in the coloring books come from privately commissioned pieces he’s done in the past, some of them also come from images he's created as part of lessons for his children, who are homeschooled.

Mitsui added that he finds it unnecessary to divide coloring books into categories for children and adults. Children deserve, and equally enjoy, the beautiful and more intricate images that are often only marketed to adults, he said.

“I don’t think that you should say well, we have these really sophisticated coloring books with detailed art, and we’re going to give these to adults, and then we present things that have artwork in them that we don’t really think is that good, and then give those to kids,” he said.

“There’s so many children’s picture books that are really beautiful and really sophisticated and intelligent artwork, but they kind of get drowned out by so many ones that are sort of insipid, and I don’t think that that’s right,” he added.

“Kids like to see detailed images, they can actually appreciate serious art, and a good way to introduce them to it is to look through what coloring books are being sold for the adults.”

The sudden upsurge in the popularity of coloring books for adults has fascinated everyone from researchers to art therapists to yoga and meditation connoisseurs.

Mitsui said he’s excited about the trend, because it may mean that more adults are acknowledging their desire to express themselves creatively.

“It seems there’s an idea that a lot of adults have that drawing or making art is something that you do when you’re a child, and then unless you become a professional you kind of give it up,” he said. “And I think that’s just sort of a poverty...I don’t know why there’s a reluctance on the part of so many adults to create artwork.”

Drawing used to be the fashionable thing for adults to do in the Victorian era, he added. Many adults, particularly women, had their own sketchbooks and honed their drawing skills. Some of these sketchbooks have been preserved, and some of the work is quite good.

“I think what that demonstrates is that a lot of what goes into being an artist is skill that is learnable with practice,” Mitsui said. “People have this idea that somehow when it comes to art, you’re given this measure of ability from the beginning and you can never do anything to increase or decrease that, and I don’t think that’s true.”

For Catholics in particular, a Catholic adult coloring book is a way to become familiar with the rich tradition of Catholic art in a way that is different than viewing a painting in a museum, he said.
“The Catholic church has such a superabundance of wealth in terms of its artistic tradition, that sometimes it can get lost when it’s just sort of viewed as data,” he said.

“I’m interested in medieval religious art, and I think the art of that era certainly is very rich in terms of what it can teach you about the Catholic religion in that it’s very precise theologically, it corroborates the writings of the Church fathers, it corroborates the liturgy. So you see all of the Catholic tradition more clearly if you’re familiar with its presentation,” he said.

Having a book that you’re able to look at closely, and an image that you’re engaging not just with your eyes but also your hands, forces you to slow down and really concentrate on the image, he added.

“It’s a way to train yourself to really look at art and I think to really look at anything,” he said. “That more concentrated vision is something that is quite peculiar to a mass media age.”


This article originally ran on CNA July 10, 2016.