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

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Arlington, Va., Mar 25, 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 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 the community has 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.
 

Gorsuch praised for record of building unity on religious freedom

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 14:06

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch received a strong voice of support Thursday from a lawyer at a major religious liberty firm, who said that he shows a record of consensus building and protecting religious freedom for all.

In addition to ruling on some high profile cases, Gorsuch also defended the religious freedom of religious minorities and prisoners, “some of the most politically powerless in our society,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Smith testified about Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Gorsuch sits on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was nominated by President Donald Trump in February to be an associate justice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In her testimony, Smith pointed to Gorsuch’s ruling in favor of a Native American inmate’s request to have access to a sweat house at his prison, for religious use.

Gorsuch wrote in that Yellowbear case, “While those convicted of crime in our society lawfully forfeit a great many civil liberties, Congress has (repeatedly) instructed that the sincere exercise of religion should not be among them – at least in the absence of a compelling reason. In this record we can find no reason like that.”

He also was “a remarkable consensus-builder,” Smith added, “in an area of jurisprudence that can be quite contentious.”

Smith said she studied 40 religious freedom cases where Gorsuch, appointed to the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush, either wrote an opinion or took a position. She found that “judges appointed by a Democratic president agreed with him in 80 percent of those cases.”

Where Gorsuch authored an opinion in a religious freedom case, she added, he “produced a unanimous decision every single time.”

“My assessment is that Judge Gorsuch, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, would be a jurist committed to protecting this vital freedom,” Smith said of religious liberty. “None of his religious liberty opinions has ever been reversed by the Supreme Court.”

Judge Gorsuch was a Marshall Scholar who received his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University, studying under Natural Law scholar John Finnis while there. He clerked for Supreme Court justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy before working as the principal deputy associate attorney general at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

In 2006, President Bush appointed Gorsuch to the Tenth Circuit. In his time on the circuit, he weighed in on major religious freedom cases including those of Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

He was nominated by President Trump on Feb. 1 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Senate Democrats, however, have announced their intent to hold up his confirmation through filibuster, which would require the votes of 60 senators to override.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, have not yet announced if they will invoke the “nuclear option” where the Senate rules would be altered to allow for a simple majority vote in the 100-seat chamber rather than a three-fifths, or 60-seat, vote.

Smith, in her testimony on Thursday, also pointed to Gorsuch’s rulings in recent prominent religious freedom cases.

As a judge, Gorsuch wrote a concurrence with the majority decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, and joined the dissent in the case that went against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, saying they were exempt from the contraceptive mandate, which “substantially burdened” their religious exercise and was not the “least-restrictive” means of ensuring access to contraceptives.

Later, in the middle of deciding the Little Sisters case, the Court called for the nuns and the government to outline alternative ways of allowing cost-free coverage of contraceptives while respecting the religious freedom of the nuns. After both parties submitted their answers, the Court sent the case back to the lower courts and instructed the parties to come to an agreement.

Ultimately, Smith said, Gorsuch’s record makes it clear that he will uphold the religious liberty of all people.

“His jurisprudence demonstrates an even-handed application of the principle that religious liberty is fundamental to freedom and to human dignity,” she said, “and that protecting the religious rights of others – even the rights of those with whom we may disagree – ultimately leads to greater protections for all of our rights.”

 

Americans agree: Moms and dads should have paid parental leave

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 10:56

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2017 / 08:56 am (CNA).- A new report by the Pew Research Center has found that the overwhelming majority of Americans support paid family and medical leave for workers.

More than 80 percent of adult Americans surveyed believe that women should have paid maternity leave, and just under 70 percent support paid paternity leave.

When it comes to paid leave for new fathers, there are significant generational differences. Of those under 30 years of age, 82 percent believe dads should get paid leave after a birth or adoption. Support drops to 76 percent among respondents from 30-49 years of age, and 59 percent for those 50 and older.

Support for paid family leave was a rare issue of agreement between both candidates in the last presidential election, although Democrats and Republicans have general disagreement on the extent to which the government should be involved in ensuring this benefit.

The study, based on two surveys conducted late last year, found that there is currently a drastic difference in leave opportunities between higher and lower income workers.

Some 60 percent of leave takers with annual household incomes from $30,000 to $74,999 received at least some pay when they took family or medical leave. The same is true for 74 percent of those with incomes of $75,000 or more. But that number drops to 37 percent for leave takers with incomes under $30,000.

For those who take unpaid or partially paid leave, the shortfall in income often proves to be a significant financial strain. The report found that 41 percent of people in this situation cut their leave short, 37 percent took on debt, and 33 percent put off paying bills.

Among lower-income workers who took unpaid or partially paid parental leave, nearly half went on public assistance to cover lost income.

Meanwhile, a little more than half of those who took parental leave said they took less time off than they needed or wanted to take. Lost income was the top reason cited, followed by concerns about the impact that additional leave would have on their jobs.

One in four women who took maternity leave in past two years say it negatively impacted their job or career.

Another area of strong agreement: about three-quarters of respondents believed that employers who offer paid leave are more likely to attract and keep good workers than employers who do not offer paid leave.

 

California priest found guilty of embezzling donations

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 08:38

San Jose, Calif., Mar 24, 2017 / 06:38 am (CNA).- A priest in California has been found guilty of diverting $19,000 in donations to his personal account.

Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 57, was found guilty on 14 counts of bank fraud by U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman of San Jose, CBS San Francisco reports.

The donations, made between 2005 and 2007, had been intended for the Vietnamese Catholic Center in San Jose. Fr. Nguyen had served as the center’s director from 2001-2011. He has also served as a pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, now called Our Lady of La Vang.

The priest previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion for the years 2008-2011. He faces sentencing for all convictions on June 30. He could face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for each bank fraud account, and a maximum sentence of five years for each tax evasion count.

Fr. Nguyen has been a priest of the Diocese of San Jose since 1995. He has been on a personal leave of absence since December 2013. Fr. Nguyen was born in Vietnam and fled to the U.S. as a boy during the Vietnam War.

 

New campaign highlights Catholic services in Michigan

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 02:14

Detroit, Mich., Mar 24, 2017 / 12:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new television ad campaign launched by the Michigan Catholic Conference is featuring commercials that spotlight the hand of the Catholic Church in health, education, and charitable systems throughout the state.

“The Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services, education, and health care after the government itself,” stated David Maluchnik, vice president of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), in a recent press release.

“This advertising project aims to reinforce the notion that faith-based health care, charitable, and educational entities here in the state are an inclusive and diverse component of our local communities that serve all in the spirit of ‘loving thy neighbor,’” Maluchnik continued.

Entitled “Freedom to Serve,” the ad campaign is the product of collaboration between the Michigan Catholic Conference and the media firm Minus Red. The commercials were originally produced as three short films, and were extracted from the films for television commercials.

The goal behind the commercials is to underscore how the Catholic Church is “free to serve” the community in Michigan through various outlets, such as the fields of health, education and charity. Currently, there is a Catholic presence in 222 schools, 33 health centers, 88 social service centers, and 73 specialized homes.

These commercials are being shown on 28 cable and network stations throughout the state, and will run from February through May. There are currently two commercials, titled “Little Simple Things” and “Hands of Service in Healing.”

Each commercial tackles big issues such as palliative care and how organizations, such as Catholic Charities, are providing much-needed water for the city of Flint. One commercial notes that Catholic Charities is “one of the largest suppliers of water in Flint,” and that they give water away for free to those who need it.

While there are only two commercials on air currently, new ads will debut over the next few months that will spotlight Catholic health centers and Catholic school systems.

“For over one hundred years, the Catholic community in Michigan has played a vital role providing our most vulnerable brothers and sisters with the material and spiritual care necessary to uphold their dignity as human persons,” Maluchnik stated.

According to the press release, the Catholic school system educated about 52,000 students during the course of 2016. The Church has also provided various social services and charity work for over 480,000 citizens in the state. Additionally, Catholic health services in Michigan have cared for over 5.5 million individuals, “all without regard to race, religion, or income.”

“Catholic institutions are administered and staffed by persons who do not leave their faith at the doorstep when serving others – it is who they are from morning until night,” Maluchnik noted.

There are about 1.8 million Catholics in the state – 18 percent of the Michigan population. The Michigan Catholic Conference is hoping that these commercials will highlight the many ways the Catholic Church is serving the greater Michigan community, and also bring light to recent government mandates which have put up roadblocks to serving those in need.

More information about the “Freedom to Serve” project is available at www.CatholicsServe.com

 

Baltimore mourns Cardinal Keeler, former archbishop

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 19:10

Baltimore, Md., Mar 23, 2017 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal William Henry Keeler, who was Archbishop of Baltimore from 1989 to 2007, has died at the age of 86, archdiocesan officials say.

He died early in the morning of March 23 at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville, Maryland, a home administered by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The cardinal's funeral Mass will be held March 28 at Baltimore's Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, after which his body will be interred in the basement crypt at the city's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said in a statement that getting to know Cardinal Keeler was one of “the great blessings in my life.”

Archbishop Lori added that after he was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 “I became more aware than ever of his tremendous ministry in the City of Baltimore and in the nine Maryland counties that comprise the Archdiocese.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, also offered his “prayers of gratitude for Cardinal Keeler’s return to the Lord he so dearly loved,” in a statement.

“As a priest, Bishop of Harrisburg, and Archbishop of Baltimore, the Cardinal worked to bring the hope of Christ to people’s lives. He also built bridges of solidarity to people of other faiths as a leader in ecumenism and interreligious affairs,” Cardinal DiNardo continued.

“Cardinal Keeler was a dear friend. The most fitting tribute we can offer is to carry forward his episcopal motto in our daily lives: ‘Do the work of an evangelist.’”

Cardinal Keeler was born in San Antonio, Texas March 4, 1931. After growing up and attending Catholic schools in Pennsylvania, he joined the seminary and then attended the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained there as a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1955, at the age of 24.

During the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Keeler served as secretary to Bishop George R. Leech of Harrisburg. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Harrisburg in 1979, and in 1983 became bishop of the same diocese. In 1989 he was named the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore, the oldest diocese in the United States.

Archbishop Keeler was also elected as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992, where he helped coordinate 1993’s World Youth Day celebrations in Denver, Colorado.

Archbishop Keeler was appointed a cardinal by St. John Paul II in 1994.

He retired in 2007, at the age of 76.

Cardinal Keeler was very involved in both interreligious and ecumenical activities, as well as the pro-life movement.

At the USCCB, he served as the moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations as well as the Chair for the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs between 1984 and 1987. He served on the International Catholic Orthodox Commission for Theological Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches over the years. He also served twice as the Chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

In Baltimore, Cardinal Keeler worked hard to secure funding for at-risk children and youth to attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Today, the fund that bears his name has awarded over 16,500 scholarships and has raised more than $70 million dollars in funding.

Other efforts of Cardinal Keeler include his hosting of both Sts. John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta during their visits to Baltimore, and his efforts to restore the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sean Caine, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told CNA that “the cardinal served the Archdiocese of Baltimore for 18 years,” a feat which made him third longest -serving bishop in the historic see. “He did so with great distinction, great clarity of vision and fidelity to the Church.”

Caine continued to explain the cardinal’s meaning to the city and the deep significance of his leadership over those nearly two decades.

“He was probably best known for his work in interfaith and ecumenical relations, which probably drew him close to Pope St. John Paul II, and that relationship bore particular fruit for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

During the Holy Father’s 1995 visit to Baltimore, the Pope “was the first and only sitting Pope to visit the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Caine explained.

“He was a champion of Catholic education” and helped organize the local Catholic Charities’ comprehensive Catholic social services program, the Our Daily Bread Employment Center, Caine added. “It really is the cornerstone of Catholic Charities here in Baltimore.”

Archbishop Lori expressed that the city will feel the impact of Cardinal Keeler’s loss.

“Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed,” Archbishop Lori wrote. “I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the Cardinal. May his noble priestly soul rest in peace!”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore asks that, in lieu of flowers, well-wishers make contributions to the Cardinal William H. Keeler Endowment Fund of the Catholic Community Foundation.

Here's a way to learn more about Mary, Queen of Heaven

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 11:02

Charlotte, N.C., Mar 23, 2017 / 09:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new, epic narrative about the life of Mary, Queen of Heaven has just been released with the hope of drawing individuals closer to the Mother of God during the upcoming 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

“We wanted to tell the story of Fatima. But, what the story of Fatima is really is the story of a battle,” Rick Rotondi, Vice President of New Business at Saint Benedict Press, told CNA.

“That battle goes a long way back to the very beginning of the Bible, with enmity with the serpent. It’s a long story and that’s what we are trying to tell: the battle that Our Lady is engaged with in modern times,” he continued.

The new program is titled Queen of Heaven: Mary's Battle for You and was released by Saint Benedict Press only a few weeks ago. The video series is broken down into eight different segments, in a document-style format and is hosted by Leonardo Defilippis, a Shakespearean actor and founder of St. Luke Productions.

Throughout the segments, over a dozen theological experts such as Tim Staples, Fr. Dominic Legge, Dr. Carrie Gress, and Fr. Chris Alar weigh in on the life of the Mother of God. The videos also take viewers around the country to places like the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the World Apostolate of Fatima Shrine, and the St. John Paul II National Shrine, where parts of the program were filmed.

The program was created for group study in parishes, where individuals can come together and learn more about the Queen of Heaven as a parish. However, individual study is possible through the use of DVDs.

“As you go through the program, you are learning about the richness of the Marian devotions and how to incorporate them in your life. That full experience is reserved for the parishes, but individuals will have access to the DVD content and a book,” Rotondi said.

Rotondi, who is also one of the script writers and developers for the program, noted that the whole series took about nine months to complete, and is a unique program unlike any other.

The release of the series at the beginning of March “was very deliberate,” Rotondi explained, saying that the centenary of Our Lady of Fatima was the driving force behind its debut.

“Seventy-five percent of the content is a study of Mary in the Bible and Mariology, the study of Marian doctrine, and even Our Lady of Lourdes and Guadalupe. Twenty-five percent is Fatima,” Rotondi stated.

Since its release only a few weeks ago, Saint Benedict Press has received positive feedback about the series, and they hope it continues to grow.

“It’s in a number of parishes currently, and we are getting very favorable responses,” Rotondi said.

Moving forward, the material for Queen of Heaven is also going to be available in a Spanish edition this summer, and DVDs will be released later this year. A book will also be published this May.

Rotondi believes that the goal behind this new series is “to have a deeper love of Our Lady,” and he hopes this program will be able to draw individuals closer to the Mother of God.

“Our Lady always brings us to her Son. I think a lot of people who will watch this love our Lord already, but may have not yet considered Our Lady in these ways,” Rotondi said.

“The greatness of Our Lord is also revealed fully when you realize what a beautiful Queen he has.”

Finding God in all things — even coffee

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 05:39

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 23, 2017 / 03:39 am (CNA).- Any Yelp-savvy person looking for a coffee shop in the midst of the University of Southern California’s surrounding urban streets may be lured by extensive positive reviews and a four-and-a-half star-rating to a little café dozens of reviewers call “an oasis.”

Located behind St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church, the Ignatius Café is very easy to miss. Near the bustling intersection of Adams Blvd. and Vermont Ave., the café is gated discreetly behind hedges, making it easy to understand why countless reviewers have described it as “a hidden gem.”

The Ignatius Café is housed in a beautifully preserved turn-of-the-century home, which stands before blossoming rose bushes, with tables and umbrellas situated under vine arches. Fresh flowers sit on every table of the warmly-decorated house. The overwhelming aroma of the café’s fair trade Ethiopian coffee beans envelope customers in warmth, as cheery volunteers bustle around tables with the most painstakingly-created foamed barista achievements. This is not your average coffee shop. To quote one USC student, “It’s like pressing the pause button on life. Over coffee.”

But the real reason this isn’t your average coffee shop is the patent missionary focus of the café: the statue of Mary standing in gardens as overseer of the café, the church bells ringing on the hour in the background and the visibility of its white-collared founder busily managing the café and greeting every visitor with a luminous smile: Father Robert Choi.

When Father Choi’s superior sent him from Korea to work as a pastor in Los Angeles in 2010, he brought with him an extensive background in coffee brewing. Pour-over coffee had recently been introduced by Japan to Korea and was quickly gaining in popularity. Father Choi received certification and training from the elite Coffee Quality Institute, getting technical training on producing sustainable, high quality coffee while enhancing the livelihoods of the growers. This training equipped Father Choi with a passion for the craftsmanship, social consciousness and esteemed quality for which his café is now known.

As a Korean-speaking pastor with a new parish in a foreign country, Father Choi needed a way to engage his new community in a language he could speak. That’s where his old passion for coffee came in. Coffee would be his simple, humble manner of communicating a grand mystical love that a language barrier impinged him from telling.  

LOS ANGELES I Finding God in all things — even coffee: https://t.co/lxg1l1N86w pic.twitter.com/AREacgSJC4

— Angelus News (@AngelusNews) March 17, 2017 “The Church should be a place open for all and a method for connecting to the less fortunate. I created the Ignatius Café to fulfill this,” explained Father Choi, “I want it to be a place where anyone, regardless of their beliefs, can come and rest. I want it to be a physical manifestation of the act of practicing love.”

Communicating this message of love was something St. Agnes Parish was more than eager to do. With his parish supporting him, Father Choi said setting up the café was not difficult. They set it up to rely solely on volunteers and accept payment in the form of donations. All proceeds are given to charities that support disadvantaged groups, including Catholic Relief Services, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Sudan Relief Fund and many others. Interested parishioners go through a rigorous coffee education program and board exam. And then they go to work under the guiding mission of the café, inspired by its namesake, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Find God in all things.”

It is this prayerful spirit that emanates from the café. You feel it in the deliberate and quiet contemplation of the elderly man hand-sorting coffee beans on the front porch of the café. It’s in the wee hours of every morning when Father Choi operates the café’s roaster. It’s in the sweat of the St. Agnes parishioner who painstakingly weeds the gardens. And it’s in the knowing compassion of a volunteer when a customer forgets their money.

“You can find faith within life and life within faith,” Father Choi said. “Christian life is not defined by finding God through exquisite works, but rather through ordinary instances.”

The “ordinary instances” that Father Choi created the café for have had an extraordinary impact. There have been café frequenters who became interested in Catholicism and were eventually baptized. There were lapsed Catholics who said the café played an integral role in restoring their faith. And the parish’s young adult community has steadily been growing inspired by the welcoming spot to meet. Most customers who come to the café, however, may not recognize the grand evangelizing mission, but may just remember it as a place where they felt at home, where they were loved.

“I love this place. The little ladies who work here are awesome!” one customer said. “You just feel so welcomed here! It feels like going to grandma’s house.”

USC students, professionals, coffee connoisseurs and parishioners alike are given a moment of love in a cup of coffee.

“Coffee is just a means. It’s a way for Father Choi to give people love,” one of the café’s volunteers, Jonathon Ko, said. “Love is what holds this place together. It’s the love the priest shows to the volunteers. And in turn the volunteers show love to the customers. And the customers’ donations impart love to the charity recipients.”

Father Choi has created a philosophy for the coffee creation process that he imparts to each one of his volunteers.

“There is a scientific aspect that cannot be ignored. But, ideally, we will integrate faith with science, prayer with skill and mind with theory,” said Father Choi. “One should approach life as they would for the extraction of a cup of coffee, unifying faith and life in one synonymous relationship.

“Every time I brew a cup of coffee,” he added, “I am able to thank God, bless the farmers who reaped the crops and provide peace to the individual who drinks it. With this sentiment I am able to see God in all things.”

 

This story originally appeared at AngelusNews.com

Don't lose your humanity in refugee debate, US bishops say

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 22:02

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The intense debate over U.S. refugee and migrant policy is a chance to meet newcomers and understand others' concerns, the country's bishops have said, warning against fear and mistreatment of others.

“It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity,” said the March 22 statement from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' administrative committee.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: 'We are with you.'”

Immigrant or refugee families may themselves be seeking security from extremist violence, the bishops said. Their statement, titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” aimed to voice solidarity with those who have fled their homes because of violence, conflict or fear.

The statement comes at a time of significant debate over U.S. refugee and immigration policy under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on more restrictive policies.

His latest executive order on refugees calls for a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions and an entry ban on most foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries. The order caps refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, a decline from 85,000 in fiscal year 2016.

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the temporary refugee ban and the travel ban from taking effect. The Hawaii-based federal district court said the state of Hawaii's lawsuit against the travel ban made a strong enough case that it unfairly discriminated against Muslims seeking entry into the U.S. and that the ban would significantly injure the state’s tourism industry and university system.

President Trump's other executive orders have sought an increase in immigrant detention centers  and the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. bishops' statement welcomed debate over policy, but criticized the “rhetoric of fear.”

“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked. “Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children.”

Catholics need to show solidarity for migrants and refugees, the bishops said. They should pray for an end to the root causes of violence that cause people to flee.

“Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own,” the statement said. “Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and help them know their rights.”

“It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

The bishops urged Catholics to call their elected representatives and “ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

They placed immigration debate in a Christian context.

“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

They cited the Biblical command not to mistreat alien residents, in the Book of Leviticus: “you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Another source for the bishops was Pope Francis’ comments that migration is “that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued.”

“For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland,” the Pope said.

Gorsuch made an important distinction when asked about assisted suicide

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 18:11

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch made a crucial ethical distinction in his response to questions about doctor-prescribed suicide during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, said one ethicist.

When asked what his views were on end-of-life care in the case of a terminal patient enduring unbearable pain, Gorsuch replied that “anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death. Not intentionally, but knowingly. I drew the line between intent and knowingly.”

This is an important distinction, said Edward Furton Ph.D., director of publications and an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He told CNA that the situation presents the case of “double-effect,” where proper steps taken to alleviate a patient’s pain may have the side effect of causing their death, but are permissible when certain conditions are met.

“You’ve got a good intention, the action you’re doing is good – in this case, it’s alleviating the pain with appropriate amounts of medication,” he explained, emphasizing that the dosage of pain medication may never be lethal and should not render the patient unconscious except when “absolutely necessary.”

“You’ve got a side effect, which is not intended, but is foreseen. It is going to happen, but you don’t want it to happen, you’re doing your action for another reason. And there is really no other route to alleviate the pain. So this is perfectly appropriate, it makes good sense,” Furton said.

Gorsuch, a judge on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, faced his third day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as he is considered for confirmation to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

He wrote a book in 2006 on “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” Gorsuch explored various arguments made in favor of doctor-prescribed suicide and euthanasia before offering his own observations and opinions.

The book “was my doctoral dissertation, essentially,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It was written “in my capacity as a commentator” and not as a judge, he clarified. The book was published the same year he was nominated and confirmed to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

He argued in the book that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Regarding doctor-prescribed suicide, he upheld laws prohibiting it, basing his argument upon “secular moral theory.”

Asked by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to briefly discuss his book, Gorsuch suggested that doctor-prescribed suicide could pose a significant threat “to the least amongst us – the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled.”

It does this by becoming a cheap end-of-life option offered to vulnerable people, he said. “I do know that when you have a more expensive option and a cheaper option, those who can’t afford the more expensive option tend to get thrust into the cheaper option.”

“It’s a long book. It’s complicated. And I do not profess to have the right, final, or complete answer,” he admitted. “I hoped, at most, to contribute to a discussion on an unanswered social question where all people – and I do think all people – have a good faith interest in trying to reach some consensus socially on it.”

Currently, doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in six states and in the District of Columbia, with some 25 states to consider legalizing it this year.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pressed Gorsuch on the matter on Wednesday, citing California’s End of Life Option Act that legalized the procedure in the state.

“I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths – family, of cancer – when there was no hope. And my father, begging me, ‘stop this Diane, I’m dying’,” she explained. “And my father was a professor of surgery.”

“And the suffering becomes so pronounced – I just went through this with a close friend – that this is real. And it’s very hard,” she continued, asking him what he thought of California’s law.

Gorsuch, speaking in his personal capacity, said that for some terminal patients, “at some point, you want to be left alone. Enough with the poking and the prodding. ‘I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family’.”

“And the Supreme Court recognized in Cruzan” – a 1990 decision on an end-of-life case – “that that’s a right in common law, to be free from assault and battery, effectively. And assumed that there was a Constitutional dimension to that. I agree.”

Gorsuch added that the matter of a terminal, suffering patient foregoing treatment was a personal one for him.  

“Your father, we’ve all been through it with family. My heart goes out to you. It does. And I’ve been there with my dad. And others,” he told Feinstein.

Speaking as an ethicist, Furton clarified that in end-of-life cases, pain management may certainly be used but should never be an overdose and should not render the patient unconscious except in extraordinary circumstances.

Pain medication should be “measured, so that it matches the pain that the patient is experiencing,” he said.

“You can’t just give them a massive dose, or something like that,” he said, as “it would bring about their death in a way that was not measured and not connected to a proper intention which is to alleviate the pain.”

And medication should not induce unconsciousness, except in extraordinary cases, he insisted.

“Another important element is that the loss of consciousness in a person who is dying is very significant, and shouldn’t happen unless it’s absolutely necessary, because we should meet our Maker alert and in a prayerful way,” he added.

Furton praised Gorsuch’s knowledge and treatment of the matter as someone who “has obviously thought about these issues very carefully.”

“So I think we should be happy that he has such a strong sense of where to draw the line in a case such as this, where you’ve got a person with intractable pain and needs to have it remedied,” Furton said.

“He understands that that is not intentionally killing somebody. It’s not euthanasia, it’s not physician-assisted suicide. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between those two, so it’s good that he does because he’s obviously going to be a man of considerable power and importance in the area of law.”

 

Catholic college's new bridge too Catholic, neighbors complain

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 17:40

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 22, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bridge featuring crosses on the property of Villanova, a Catholic university in a Philadelphia suburb, will be built despite complaints from some local taxpayers.

After an hour long debate, the Board of Commissioners of the township of Radnor voted 6-0 last month to approve the controversial pedestrian bridge that will connect Villanova University's main campus with an expansion of the campus.

The crux of the debate was the two, 4-foot 7-inch crosses planned for the top of the bridge, which will be visible to travelers on Route 30 underneath. Some local taxpayers complained that the school was crossing the line of separation of church and state by placing the crosses over a public road.

“I think they are overstepping their sense of ecumenism to shove these crosses in our faces," Sara Pilling, a longtime resident and opponent of the crosses, told The Inquirer Daily News before the meeting.

Others argued that taxpayer dollars should not fund a bridge that will feature displays of religion.

Villanova officials argued that the school was within its rights to place crosses on the bridge, which will be owned by the university and on university property.

“On every building on campus, there’s a cross,” Fr. Peter Donohue, university president, told the Inquirer.

“I understand people’s sensitivities, but it’s just something we’ve always done. It’s just part of who we are. We are a faith-based institution.”

Some locals believe that a compromise would be to turn the crosses so they face the pedestrians, or to incorporate them into the design of the bridge in a more subtle way.

“While we recognize the importance of Villanova to our community and the notoriety it brings to Radnor, are there less ostentatious ways to reflect a Catholic institution?” said Roberta Winters, president of the League of Women Voters of Radnor, in an interview with The Inquirer.

Commissioner Luke Clark told local media that the bridge has been in the works for a long time, and is a way to keep safe the hundreds of students who cross that road every day.

“The design looks great. The crosses are going to go up there. Is it right or wrong? I don’t know. But at the end of the day it is on their property. They are a religious institution and the law for the most part is in their favor,” said Clark.

Even after the board unanimously voted to approve the bridge, some concerned locals contacted the non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation wrote a “strongly worded letter” to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), contending that they were unconstitutionally funding Christian symbols on the bridge and asked them to removed either the crosses or their funding.

The department told local media that its $3.7 million contribution to the project was for the portion of the span over the right of way it controls.

PennDOT said it could not control what the university did with its own property and with its own funds, which are providing for the crosses and most of the bridge.

After the township vote Villanova's assistant vice president of government relations and external affairs Chris Kovolski told The Inquirer: "We're pleased that the conversation tonight resulted in an outcome that allows the university to move forward."

Judge Gorsuch nomination backed by dozens of pro-life groups

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 02:16

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 12:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Judge Neil Gorsuch deserves “swift confirmation” to the U.S. Supreme Court, leaders of pro-life and pro-family groups have said.

“Neil Gorsuch has proven himself to be a defender of the most basic human rights,” said the March 20 letter, organized by the Susan B. Anthony List and addressed to U.S. Senators.

The letter cited Gorsuch’s book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” in which he said “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Over 50 leaders signed the letter, including representatives of the Susan B. Anthony List, Live Action, National Right to Life, Students for Life, and state pro-life groups and pro-family groups.

They praised Gorsuch as an intelligent and fair-minded nominee with a fitting temperament, citing his 2006 unanimous confirmation by the Senate to his current seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We believe that Judge Gorsuch’s thoughtful opinions illuminate how he would decide difficult questions on the Supreme Court,” the letter said.

If approved by the Senate, Gorsuch’s presence on the Supreme Court could affect important cases involving religious freedom and legal abortion, among others.

The letter praised the judge’s “keen understanding and respect for religious liberty” in the cases of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Both faced federal requirements to provide employee health insurance coverage for drugs and procedures they considered to be violations of religion and ethics. They filed legal challenges saying the mandates were unconstitutionally burdensome on their religious freedom.

“Many of our organizations applauded Judge Gorsuch when he evinced a keen understanding and respect for religious liberty in cases involving Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor, concluding that application of the Affordable Care Act’s preventive service mandate, coupled with massive fines on religious objectors to elements of the mandate, substantially burdens religious liberty.”

The letter also cited Gorsuch’s dissent in a 10th Circuit panel decision that sided with abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

The panel overrode the finding of a federal district court over Planned Parenthood’s alleged involvement in violations of laws barring the procurement of fetal tissue for profit. The panel also issued an injunction against the Utah governor’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood over the allegations.

Gorsuch said the panel majority failed to follow appropriate standards of judicial review and failed to show customary deference to the lower court’s factual findings.
 
According to the March 20 letter, Gorsuch would apply an “originalist” approach to the U.S. Constitution and would respect the separation of powers in the tradition of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The letter praised the Gorsuch’s statement that judges should “administer justice equally to rich and poor alike, following the law as they find it and without respect to their personal political beliefs.”

Several of the letter’s signers, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, served on the Catholic advisory board to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president.

Gorsuch, an Epsicopalian, has clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He earned his doctorate at Oxford University, where his studies were supervised by the influential Catholic legal philosopher and natural law theorist John Finnis.

 

Lawsuit says girl in boys' locker room violated student privacy

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 23:45

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 21, 2017 / 09:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Pennsylvania high school wrongly allowed a female student into the boys’ locker room and violated an undressing male student’s privacy and his right to be free from harassment, a lawsuit charges.

“No school should rob any student of his legally protected personal privacy,” said Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania-based Independence Law Center, a co-counsel to the lawsuit.

“We trust that our children won’t be forced into emotionally vulnerable situations like this when they are in the care of our schools because it’s a school’s duty to protect and respect the bodily privacy and dignity of all students. In this case, school officials are clearly ignoring that duty.”

The student, named in the lawsuit as “Joel Doe,” was in a locker room in his underwear about to put on gym clothes when he noticed a female student in the locker room, also in a state of undress.

When the male student complained to school officials, they told him that students who identify as the opposite sex may choose their locker room. When the male student asked officials to protect his privacy, the officials allegedly told him to tolerate the behavior and make changing clothes in the presence of the student as natural as possible.

The school is in Boyertown Area School District, which covertly allowed students of the opposite sex into its schools’ locker rooms and restrooms, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, a co-counsel in the case. The district allegedly did not notify parents of the change.

The lawsuit against the school district was filed March 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It claims the student suffered sexual harassment prohibited under Title IX of federal law, violation of privacy guarantees under the U.S. Constitution, and violation of state privacy law.

“Our laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, who said state law requires schools to have separate facilities on the basis of sex.

She charged that some schools are “forcing our children into giving up their privacy rights.”

 

Supreme Court nominee drilled on abortion, religious freedom at hearings

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 18:50

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2017 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The judge nominated to replace Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court answered questions on abortion and religious freedom jurisprudence on Tuesday.

While he avoided commenting on how he may rule in certain cases, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals discussed the legal principles underlying topics such as the right to life and freedom of religious expression.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he acknowledged Roe v. Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S. – as settled precedent, though he declined to say whether it was decided correctly and how he would rule in future abortion cases.

Tuesday marked the second day of the committee’s confirmation hearing for Judge Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch was tapped by President Donald Trump in February to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

Trump had insisted while on the campaign trail in 2016 that he would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.

When asked at the final presidential debate in October if, as president, he wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S., Trump answered that “if that would happen, because I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life justices…it [the legality of abortion] will go back to the individual states.”

On Tuesday, Gorsuch was asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “whether Roe was decided correctly.” Gorsuch answered that the decision “is the precedent of the United States Supreme Court.”

Roe, he said, “was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases. So a good judge will consider a precedent of the United States Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.”

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member on the committee, asked Gorsuch about assumptions that he could vote to overturn Roe, he reiterated that it was “settled.”

“Once a case is settled, that adds to the determinacy of the law. What was once a hotly contested issue is no longer a hotly contested issue. We move forward,” Gorsuch answered. “It has been reaffirmed many times. I can say that.”

He expounded upon abortion law in a discussion with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who asked about the authority of states to set limits on abortions given that medical knowledge of unborn human life has developed with time.

Graham referenced the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision of 1992, which established the “viability” standard for states’ abortion laws, that they could restrict abortions after an unborn baby shows “viability.”

Recent research shows that unborn babies can “feel excruciating pain” at 20 weeks post-gestation, Graham argued, and so the “state has a compelling interest” to step in and limit abortions conducted after five months.

Currently, 19 states have “Pain-Capable” laws banning abortions after five months of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Rather than voicing support or opposition for such laws, Gorsuch simply promised that if an abortion law case came before him as a Supreme Court justice, he would, as Graham had asked, “look at the facts,” “read the briefs,” and “make a decision” from that.

Sen. Grassley also asked about the Griswold decision of 1965 that legalized contraception in the U.S. based on a right to privacy of married couples. Gorsuch answered that the case has precedent as it is “50 years old.”

“It’s been repeatedly reaffirmed, all very important factors again, in analyzing precedent.”

Senators also pressed Gorsuch about religious freedom cases, particularly the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to jurisprudence. RFRA was a law passed in 1993, and it set up a test to determine cases where a person claimed their free exercise of religion had been violated by the federal government.

The government may not “substantially burden” one’s free exercise of religion, the law says, unless it proved that its law “furthered a compelling governmental interest” and was the “least-restrictive means” of doing so.

RFRA has surfaced in Supreme Court cases as of late, especially in cases of employers or religious non-profits against the government’s birth control mandate. That mandate forces employers to provide cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions in employee health plans.

Gorsuch, while on the Tenth Circuit, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by a Christian family who claimed that the mandate violated their religious freedom because they had to provide employees coverage for drugs they believed caused abortions.

He insisted on Tuesday that the religious freedom law “applies not just to Hobby Lobby. It also applies to the Little Sisters of the Poor and protects their religious exercise,” he said, and protected a Muslim prisoner in Oklahoma who wanted to keep his beard at a certain length for religious purposes against prison rules.

Gorsuch joined the dissent in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor where they claimed that the federal government’s “accommodation” offered to them to opt-out of the mandate still violated their religious beliefs. The Tenth Circuit ruled against the sisters, but Gorsuch joined the dissent.

In the Hobby Lobby case, critics of the Court’s decision said that the business was not protected by RFRA because it was not a “person.”

Gorsuch explained how he reasoned that the law protected “closely-held for-profit corporations” as well.

The Green family claimed they owned “a small, family-held company,” Gorsuch said. “They exhibit their religious affiliation openly in their business. They pipe in Christian music. They refuse to sell alcohol or things that hold alcohol. They close on Sundays though it costs them a lot.”

“Congress didn’t define the term” of “person” when they wrote the law, he continued. The Court invoked the “Dictionary Act,” which states that “the words ’person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”

“So you can’t rule out the possibility that some companies can exercise religion,” Gorsuch said. “And of course we know churches are often incorporated. And we know non-profits like Little Sisters, or hospitals can practice religion. In fact, the government in that case conceded that non-profit corporations can exercise religion. Conceded that.”

Additionally, the birth control mandate was not the “least-restrictive means” of ensuring contraception coverage, he added. The Supreme Court ruled “that it wasn’t as strictly tailored as it could be because the government had provided different accommodations to churches and other religious entities.”

 

In New York, Catholic convert takes a step toward sainthood

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 02:39

New York City, N.Y., Mar 21, 2017 / 12:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic convert who founded the Society of the Atonement, Father Paul Wattson, S.A., could be one step closer to recognition as a saint.

“Father Paul started a small week of prayer on the top of a mountain in Garrison, and now it’s a worldwide movement,” Father Brian Terry, S.A., the minister general for the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, told the Catholic New York newspaper.

Fr. Wattson helped launch the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is now an international event held in January.

The Archdiocese of New York concluded an 18-month investigation into his cause for canonization on March 9. Fr. Wattson’s writings, along with writings about him, were collected together, boxed and wrapped and sealed with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s seal.

With the archdiocese’s investigation finished, the materials will now be reviewed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This could determine whether he can proceed to beatification and even canonization.

Fr. Terry briefly spoke with Pope Francis about Fr. Wattson in November. He said he gave the pontiff a prayer card, and the Pope “really seemed sincerely interested.”

“He said a saint of unity, a saint of healing, a saint of charity, that is something that is important,” the priest recounted.

Fr. Terry said that Fr. Wattson’s message has been absorbed locally in New York. He hopes that message can go worldwide.

Fr. Wattson was born in 1863 and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1886. He co-founded the Franciscan Society of the Atonement with Episcopal Sister Lurana White in Garrison, N.Y. The society consisted of both friars and sisters who wanted to promote Christian unity. Though it was originally Episcopal, the society became Catholic when Fr. Wattson converted in 1909. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1910.

He passed away in 1940 at the age of 77.

Cardinal Dolan said the progress in Fr. Wattson’s cause was “an affirmation from above.” He voiced gratitude to God and to those who worked on the priest’s cause.

The U.S. bishops approved his cause for canonization in November 2014 and the cause formally opened in September 2015 at the New York Catholic Center.

 Msgr. Douglas Mathers, pastor of St. John the Evangelist-Our Lady of Peace parish in Manhattan, served as the archdiocese’s episcopal delegate for the cause. He said there is no time limit on the process.

“Realistically, it’s the work of God; what God wants is going to happen,” he said.

 

US bishops push for universal, pro-life health care

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 18:34

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2017 / 04:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bill drafted to replace the Affordable Care Act has good pro-life measures but still presents “grave challenges” that must be remedied, said one leading bishop in a recent statement.

“Laudably, the AHCA [American Health Care Act] proposes to include critical life protections for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop Frank Dewayne of Venice, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, stated last Friday of the new bill that would make changes to the Affordable Care Act.

However, there are also “some very troubling features” in the new law, like restrictions on health care “access for those most in need,” Bishop Dewayne continued.

The American Health Care Act, currently under consideration in Congress and set for a floor vote soon, would be the biggest overhaul of health care policy since the Affordable Care Act passed under President Obama.

It would keep in place certain provisions, like insurers not being able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, but would also phase out the expansion of Medicaid coverage from the old law and could substantially reduce Medicaid coverage.

Pro-life groups have in general been pleased with the language in the bill, particularly its stripping federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year and its protections against taxpayer funding of abortion coverage in health plans.

Pro-life groups are also concerned that the Senate Parliamentarian could remove the language from the bill because, as it is to be passed through the budgetary procedure of reconciliation, such pro-life language could be interpreted as not pertaining to the budget.

These pro-life protections would be important, Bishop Dewayne insisted.

And the bill gives greater flexibility to the states, which could be good, although if it affects the “effectiveness or reach” of the “social safety net” it could be bad, the bishop wrote.

However, there are problematic provisions within the bill, Bishop Dewayne insisted. For instance, it lacks conscience protections that were also lacking under the Affordable Care Act. These could protect doctors, hospitals, and health care providers against mandates under the old law that they perform certain procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

Also, such a provision could protect employers, especially religious non-profits, against rules like the health care law’s contraceptive mandate that they provide birth control, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

The most notable case here was that of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by a Christian family who objected to the mandate because they believed that some drugs they had to cover in employee health plans could cause early abortions. The owners argued that this was a violation of their religious beliefs.  

Also, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits sued over the process of how they had to notify the government of their objection to the contraceptive mandate, saying it still forced them to cooperate with the provision of contraceptive coverage against their religious beliefs.

No conscience protections to nullify the harm caused by these mandates exists in the proposed legislation, Bishop Dewayne said.

Other provisions existing in the new bill are problematic, he continued. The Affordable Care Act provided federal subsidies for low-income persons to buy health insurance, while in the new bill tax credits would be provided.

This new system, though, could reduce the benefits for the elderly and low-income persons and “appears to create increased barriers to affordability,” Bishop Dewayne said.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate – a penalty for not purchasing health insurance – would be replaced with a 30 percent fine on a person’s new premium if there has been a long enough gap in their health coverage.

This could dissuade many from buying new plans if they lose their old health plan, Bishop Dewayne said.

Also in the proposed law are higher comparative limits that the elderly can pay in premiums when compared to younger enrollees. Under the Affordable Care Act, those limits were three to one, whereas under the proposed law the elderly could pay as much as five times the premiums of younger enrollees.

“Some studies show that premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically,” the bishop said.

Ultimately, the problematic parts of the Affordable Care Act should not be replaced with equally bad or worse policies, he concluded.

“(I)n attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society,” he said. “As Pope Francis has said, ‘Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.’”

 

Raymond Arroyo's books are having an astounding impact on at-risk kids

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 18:21

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2017 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Raymond Arroyo has an impressive resume.

He’s a New York Times bestselling author several times over. He’s an award-winning journalist and producer. And his weekly EWTN show, The World Over Live, reaches more than 350 million global households and 500 U.S. radio affiliates.

So when Arroyo says his Will Wilder series of books for young readers just might be “the most important work I’ve ever done,” it’s quite a statement.

What makes these books so important, in his view? The lifelong impact that they can have on kids.

“When an adult reads your works, they hold it at an arm’s length, even if they may be moved by it,” Arroyo told CNA.

“But a child enters that world with abandon. There are no limitations. The journey they go on is more profound, and because of how impressionable they are in that age, this book is helping them make sense of the world, and it becomes the language they’ll use to interpret that world.”

Reaching these young readers at a critical age is Arroyo’s goal with the second installment in his best-selling series, Will Wilder: The Lost Staff of Wonders (Random House Crown), which arrived in bookstores earlier this month.

The importance of childhood literacy is what led Arroyo to found Storyented a few years ago. The initiative, a project of DP Studios, works to connect best-selling authors with their readers, discussing the canon of work, allowing kids to ask questions, and creating online videos that parents and teachers can use to help excite kids about reading.

Arroyo said he hoped to be a sort of “passport agency” to literacy. And his Will Wilder books are doing just that.

St. Stephen’s Catholic School in uptown New Orleans serves many at-risk students. According to the school’s principal, Rosie Kendrick, some of the students don’t even own books, and it has been an immense struggle to encourage them to read.

But that all changed a year ago, when Arroyo visited the school and gave copies of the first Will Wilder book to the students.

“All they wanted to do was talk about the book,” Kendrick said. There were some students whom she had never seen read a book, now reading in the hallways, unable to put it down. “Will Wilder changed their reading habits by making them want to read.”

Arroyo said he was astounded by the book’s impact. Asked why he thought it was so successful, he pointed to two pieces of positive feedback that he was repeatedly given.

The first was that readers loved the idea that Will made mistakes, and that those mistakes had consequences, but that there were ways for him to go back and repair the damage that he had caused.

“That gave them a sense of hope,” Arroyo commented. He added that readers – especially kids from at-risk backgrounds – were reading about the demons that Will battles in the book and projecting onto these demons their challenges and battle of their own lives.

“The real world impact of how they project themselves into the story has really amazed me,” he said, explaining that numerous readers had told him, “Will gave me hope that I could conquer my own demons, that I could overcome the things that I’m struggling with.”

With some 67 percent of fourth graders reading beneath proficiency at the national level – and studies showing a correlation between illiteracy and jail or welfare later in life – the ability to excite kids about reading is no small feat.

“Kids really want to go on a fun adventure,” Arroyo said. If a book is exciting and has a protagonist that kids can identify with, “they want to go on a journey and find out how it ends.”

In the second installment of his young reader series, 12-year-old Will Wilder must find the Staff of Moses, which has vanished from a local museum, before supernatural terrors are unleashed upon his town.

Arroyo said the idea for the story originated after he read piece in the London Times claiming that the Staff of Moses was actually in a museum in Birmingham, England. While he did not find the argument convincing, it started him thinking: What would happen if the staff was in a museum, and it went missing?

The Will Wilder books have been hailed as containing the excitement of the Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson series. But Arroyo noted that there are a few components that set his series apart.

“All the antiquities and relics mentioned in these books can be found in libraries, museums or churches throughout the world. So that grounds it in a certain reality that other series don’t have.”

In writing the books, he tried to be “excruciatingly accurate” with the descriptions of relics and other antiquities, spending extensive time researching to ensure that the details were correct.  

And kids love this accuracy, Arroyo said. He has received numerous letters and pictures from readers who have gone to museums and found the actual objects and artifacts from his books.

There’s another key point that sets the Will Wilder books apart. Will is not an orphan or an abandoned child. He goes on adventures with his entire intact family, along with his friends.

This was an intentional decision, stemming from Arroyo’s frustrations with was he described as an “orphan trope in middle school books.”

But it also served to give the book a wider appeal. The cast is multi-generational, and so, it turns out, are its readers.

Arroyo said he has heard from children, college students, parents and grandparents who have all enjoyed the first book. He said that while he wrote the series for middle grade students, he included deeper reflections and subplots that adults would appreciate.

Ultimately, there’s a universal sense of wonder at the supernatural world that draws all ages to the story, and makes it great for parents and children to read together, he said.

For parents who want to encourage a reluctant reader, Arroyo offered advice. “The most important thing is to read to your child as early as you can, from the time they’re toddlers.” He also stressed the importance of children seeing their parents read books for pleasure.  

“Kids are great mimics,” he remarked, adding that reading fiction is particularly important because “fiction enlarges the imagination and puts them not only in the shoes but in the hearts and soul of characters and people they’ll never meet. And the lessons they’ll draw from that are lessons you can’t repeat.”

Finally, Arroyo suggested, parents can take their library or bookstore and give them a chance to browse and find the topics and ideas that fascinate them.

As your children discover their natural interests, feed those interests regularly with good books, he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see a kid get lost in reading.”

 

Don't cut foreign assistance, Catholic leaders tell Trump

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States mustn’t cut foreign aid while conflicts, famines, and a worldwide refugee crisis rage, Catholic leaders are insisting.

Amid a “huge, unprecedented refugee situation” around the globe and four countries with famines or on the cusp of famine “we’re just extremely concerned that the resources won’t be there to respond to those really critical humanitarian needs,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, told CNA on Friday of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that cuts some foreign assistance.

President Trump’s “skinny” proposed “America First” budget for FY 2018 – a more detailed plan will be released later -- increases defense spending and immigration enforcement, and makes significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, among other agencies and programs, to offset those increases.

“This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share,” President Trump stated in the proposal.

The proposal trims almost a third – 29 percent – of the International Affairs Budget, David Beckmann, president of the group Bread for the World, told CNA.

And while the number of persons displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded at over 65 million, with over 21 million of those refugees, the U.S. should not be cutting its foreign aid to vulnerable populations, CRS insisted.

With huge movements of people comes instability, O’Keefe said. “If we don’t meet” the humanitarian needs of vulnerable populations, “people will move and that will be destabilizing.”

106 faith leaders signed a letter sent to congressional leaders on Thursday in “support for the International Affairs Budget that every day brings hope to poor, hungry, vulnerable and displaced men, women and children around the world.”

Signers of the letter included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn and chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee.

“With just 1 percent of our nation’s budget, the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio,” they stated.

“Additionally, it promotes freedom and human rights, protecting religious freedom for millions around the world.”

In Trump’s budget proposal, foreign assistance would be targeted toward countries of greater “strategic importance” to the U.S.

This shifting of priorities could have serious consequences for the future of U.S. foreign policy, O’Keefe noted, as countries deemed “less strategic” for aid could see their societal problems greatly increase without assistance in the next few years.

“If you ignore countries that are fragile, poorly governed, with lots of poor and disenfranchised people, then they end up becoming strategic countries that you then have to fight wars in,” he said.

“We’d like to see our government investing more in prevention, and in building the capacity of societies to deal with their own problems and in the diplomacy to resolve conflicts without military action.”

He noted that the budget proposal keeps “much of the global health funding” like the PEPFAR program to fight AIDS in Africa, O’Keefe said, which is good.

However, the proposal targeted many other programs like the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which “allows CRS to support basic education in rural school settings,” O’Keefe said. The president had said that program “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”

The proposal also touches anti-trafficking programs and anti-gang programs, and the State Department’s 60 year-old Food for Peace program would see cuts, CRS noted.

“We understand the budget challenges,” O’Keefe insisted, while adding that “you’re not going to be able to balance the budget on the one percent that goes to foreign aid,” especially since it’s already been trimmed disproportionately for the last nine years.

He added that domestic and international anti-poverty programs have “been squeezed” to make room for military spending, which would prioritize short-term goals over long-term stability.

Some domestic programs saw cuts, including “housing and heating for poor people,” Beckmann noted, and certain block grants that provide funding for the program Meals on Wheels, a volunteer food delivery program to the elderly.

“How can you cut Meals on Wheels?” Beckmann asked.

The president of the organization, Ellie Hollander, explained what may be at stake in the proposal.

“The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details. So, while we don’t know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses,” Hollander stated.

Some of the other federal programs the President suggested cutting included the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and some funding for Meals on Wheels and the National Institutes of Health.

Programs fighting opioid addictions would receive a half-a-billion dollar boost in Trump’s plan, however. The Centers for Disease Control has labeled opioid overdoses an epidemic, and said that 33,000 people died from using prescription opioids and heroin in 2015.

Chaput: Everyone who's a legal citizen should come pray for immigrants

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 07:32

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 18, 2017 / 05:32 am (CNA).- As fears of deportation threaten to keep many immigrants home from a prayer service on Sunday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is calling on citizens and legal residents to attend the event in support.

“As a Church that herself bore the cross of hatred toward immigrants, our Catholic past is a compelling reason to welcome the immigrants and refugees among us today,” the archbishop said in his latest CatholicPhilly column.

“These persons and families need our help. They are not strangers but friends. And how we treat them will prove or disprove whether we take our Christian discipleship seriously.”

A statement from the archdiocese noted that Archbishop Chaput is planning to lead a prayer service for immigrants and refugees at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at 4:00 p.m. on March 19.

However, the statement noted, “because of recent ICE actions to detain and deport the undocumented, immigrants may avoid the very service intended to show them the Church’s support.”

Archbishop Chaput called on all Catholic citizens and legal residents in the Greater Philadelphia area to attend the prayer service in a demonstration of solidarity for the immigrant community in the region.

He also addressed the broader issue of immigration in his column for the archdiocesan paper.

“For immigrants and refugees now in the United States, or who hope to come here in the near future, recent weeks have been a steady diet of anxiety and confusion,” he said, pointed to the legal battle on travel bans that has created uncertainty for those seeking to flee persecution or be reunited with their families.

Inside the U.S., renewed deportation efforts have left children traumatized and families torn apart, he added.

The archbishop acknowledged the complexity of immigration policy, noting that there are good people on both sides of the issue. It is important not to demonize those who hold different views, he said, pointing to the polarization that has been created among families, friends and colleagues.

But true immigration reform must balance government’s duty to ensure national security with the country’s rich history of welcoming newcomers, particularly the oppressed, Archbishop Chaput said. “The U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for deep immigration reform aimed at meeting both goals.”

The archbishop outlined key ways that the Church in Philadelphia offers social services, legal aid and pastoral care to immigrants. “The Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees coordinates a network of priest chaplains, religious sisters and lay leaders who provide for the spiritual and material needs of persons from places like Indonesia, Haiti, West Africa, Vietnam and Brazil,” he said.

“Our ministry to Hispanic Catholics likewise provides support for Catholic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America,” he continued. “These are faith communities that enrich the devotional life of our whole Archdiocese. We do and always will welcome all Catholics to worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their legal status. They’re our family in Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and being undocumented diminishes neither their dignity nor personhood.”

Meanwhile, Catholic Social Services offers low-cost legal services to help with visas, permanent residency documents, work authorization, and citizenship. The organization also works in other ways to resettle refugees, connecting them with housing, employment opportunities, schools and medical care.

Furthermore, the U.S. bishops’ conference has offered a grant as part of its Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees initiative. The money is being used to create a coalition of resources, parish-based groups and independent Catholic organizations working to support immigrants and refugees.

Recalling that many times, “Catholics originally came to this country as poor, often non-English-speaking immigrants seeking a better future,” Archbishop Chaput reminded his local Church of past discrimination against their community by the “bigoted Nativist movement whose adherents torched Catholic churches in urban areas all along the East Coast.”

With this in mind, he said, it’s important to remember that those seeking a home in the United States are God’s children in need of help from Christ’s disciples.

 

Catholic priests, religious face wave of violence in DR Congo

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:39

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 / 03:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following recent attempts at brokering peace between the government and political opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Catholic priests and religious are facing violent backlash around the country.

According to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid society that works in the country, Catholics have experienced a slew attacks on churches and convents. In particular, a Carmelite Convent and a Dominican Church were both ransacked in late February.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, told the organization that the incidents “lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”

“Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos,” he said.

The attacks follow recent attempts by the Catholic Church in the DRC to mediate between talks between the government of  President Joseph Kabila and the opposition. The opposition to President Kabila and claims of a constitutional crisis follow after his refusal to step down from office at the end of 2016.

Since then, the Congolese Bishops' Conference has helped to broker a peace deal that would arrange for the peaceful transition of power. However, after delays for the funeral of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and other conflicts, the peace agreement has all but dissolved, according to some reports. Presidential elections are now expected to take place at the end of 2017.  

“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions,” Cardinal Monswengwo said in a statement about the elections.

The attacks have continued into March. According to Crux, 25 Catholic Seminarians in Malole in the south of the country had to be evacuated by UN peace-keeping forces by helicopter after armed troops attacked the seminary. The attackers were part of a militia loyal to former tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who died in August 2016.

For the Catholics, the violence has been terrifying.

“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers' rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, rector of the seminary, told Agence France-Presse.

Recently, the Church has also lead anti-corruption initiatives in the province and local area. The animosity towards the Church also extends outside of the church or convent walls.

“In the street, it's not unusual to hear threats against the Church,” Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of Saint Dominic's Church, the Kinshasa church vandalized in February said in a statement after the event.

Nearly half of the Congo's 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.

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