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Could Mississippi expand its abortion ban?

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 18:31

Jackson, Miss., Feb 6, 2018 / 04:31 pm (CNA).- An abortion ban is up for debate in Mississippi, where the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would bar most abortions after 15 weeks into pregnancy.
House Bill 1510 passed by a Feb. 2 vote of 79-31, with some Democratic support in the Republican-controlled House, the Associated Press reports. The bill allows exceptions for when a woman's life is in danger or when an unborn child has a severe abnormality.
“Women deserve real health care, not some fake health care that involves the destruction of human life and a woman's health,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee.
State records indicate about 200 abortions a year are performed on women 15 to 20 weeks pregnant, he said.
Rep. Becky Currie, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill is appropriate because most women discover they are pregnant months before the pregnancy reaches 15 weeks.

According to Felicia Brown-Williams, state director for Planned Parenthood Advocates Southeast, the bill is unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court will not allow abortion bans earlier than the age of fetal viability.
Bill opponent Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, a Democrat, said the proposal is “just another fancy way of telling a woman what to do with her body and when to do it.”
The bill must now pass the Senate.
Both Mississippi and North Carolina bar abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy, measured from a woman’s last menstrual period. Other states start from a date two weeks later.
The state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, does not perform abortions as late as 20 weeks and so it did not challenge the current law, clinic owner Diane Derzis told the Associated Press. The clinic does perform abortions three weeks past the proposed ban limit.
It is unclear whether such abortion limits will pass scrutiny in federal court.
CNA sought comment from the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi but a response was not available by deadline.


Ambassador Brownback: “Religious freedom is the most important foreign relations topic today”

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 17:46

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2018 / 03:46 pm (ACI Prensa).- In his first public appearance as US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback spoke to Muslim, Jewish, and Christians leaders gathered to discuss their shared commitment to promoting peace and protecting religious minorities in the Muslim world.

“I think religious freedom is the most important foreign relations topic today,” Brownback told the delegates at the Alliance of Virtue for the Common Good Conference in Washington, DC.

“The world needs reconciliation. It needs it between the Abrahamic faiths,” the ambassador  said.

The three-day event is hosted by the Middle East-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and will culminate in the signing of a declaration on religious freedom the morning of Feb. 7.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington is on the steering committee for the interfaith conference, along with Rabbi David Saperstein and other Muslim and Evangelical leaders.

The Washington Declaration will build upon the 2016 Marrakesh Declaration, which affirmed the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries, by adding an additional call to respect Muslims living in the U.S.

The Marrakesh Declaration was signed by hundreds of Muslim scholars and leaders from more than 60 countries, according to the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

“Forty years after the Helsinki Accords, the Muslim community developed an agreement on the freedom of religion and equal citizenship that was true to Islam’s history and teachings,” reflected the founder and president of the forum, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, in his keynote address.

The Skaykh is a scholar of all four major Sunni schools of jurisprudence, and is known as an outspoken critic of terrorism.

Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Timo Soini, spoke of his experience as a Catholic minority in a Lutheran-majority country during remarks immediately following Brownback.

Soini, who has worked with Iraqi Christian refugees in Finland, told CNA “the Christian minorities are the most persecuted people at the moment. And that must be said aloud...this is something for us western and European people to be outspoken [about].”

Sister Agatha O. Chikelue of Nigeria was invited to speak at the conference about her peacebuilding work among Christians and Muslims. “I want to hear the experiences of others from different parts of the world on how they managed their conflict, how the improved their interreligious dialogue, so that I can bring this back home to Africa,” Sr. Agatha told CNA.

The Executive Director of the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP), works with refugees displaced by the Boko Haram. She has also created a network for Christian and Muslim women to work together to stand up against violence.

In her presentation to Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith leaders, Chikelue said that the Marrakesh Declaration reminds her of the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate, “which gave us the room to embrace people, to extend our hands in fellowship to other people from other religious communities, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists.”

Sister Agatha continued, “If we, the Catholics, have seen this 50 years ago, and the Muslims have seen it now, and understood the need for us to work together, then what stops us from doing that? So, it is only left to us to use this Marrakesh Declaration, use the Second Vatican Council, to build a platform for us to discover our commonalities.”


U.S. bishops kick off National Marriage Week

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 17:26

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2018 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This year’s National Marriage Week USA kicks off on Wednesday, Feb. 7, and will continue until Feb. 14, St. Valentine’s Day.

In a letter to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., said that the week’s celebrations are an annual opportunity to “focus on building a culture of life and love.”

Chaput, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, added that he hoped the week could nurture “an ever-deeper appreciation for the gift of marriage and the blessings of family life.”

National Marriage Week USA is part of a larger international movement seeking to celebrate and strengthen marriage.

The celebration of National Marriage Week began in 2010, and each year includes World Marriage Day, which is celebrated each year during the second Sunday of February.

This year, World Marriage Day will be held on February 11, the same day as World Day of the Sick.

Throughout National Marriage Week this year, couples will be able to partake in daily online retreats on the USCCB’s “For Your Marriage” website and its social media channels. These daily retreats have the theme “Marriage: School of Life and Love.”

Other resources, including books and prayer cards, are also available on the USCCB website.

?As part of the week’s celebrations, the USCCB will also be live-streaming a rosary for engaged and married couples, as well as for families in need of healing on its Facebook and Twitter feeds. 

Germain Grisez had ‘a lively sense of Providence,’ long-time friend says

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 11:55

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2018 / 09:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A longtime friend of distinguished theologian Germain Grisez will celebrate the scholar’s funeral Tuesday, at St. Anthony Shrine Roman Catholic Church in Emmitsburg, Md. Grisez died Feb. 1, at the age of 88.

Grisez was professor emeritus at the Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, and the author of dozens of books and articles. He was widely regarded as an astute and original ethicist and moral theologian, and a vocal defender of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae.

Father Peter Ryan, SJ, a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, met Grisez after his brother, Bill Ryan, was taught by the scholar at Georgetown University. The men developed a friendship while Fr. Ryan was studying theology in Rome, and the friendship became a relationship of scholarly collaboration.  

 “The Lord saw fit to give me many years of friendship and close collaboration with Germain,” Ryan said. “It’s been a real blessing.”

When their friendship began, Grisez asked Ryan to review draft chapters of "Living a Christian Life," the second volume of his landmark work of moral theology, “The Way of the Lord Jesus,” which includes three printed volumes.  The volumes also appear on Grisez’s website along with hundreds of pages of a fourth volume and many of his other works.  

After the second volume was published, Ryan continued to collaborate with Grisez; the pair published articles together and consulted with one another regularly about individual projects.  

In fact, Ryan told CNA that he will continue to work on a theology text—a book on eschatology—that he and Grisez began together. “It will be very much inspired by his thought,” Ryan said.

Ryan said that Grisez’s scholarship was rooted in his deep spirituality.

“He was very interested in having us see that morality is not about extrinsically ‘laying down the law,’ but is rather the implication of loving persons, wanting all that is good for persons, desiring their true fulfillment,” he told CNA.

For Grisez, morality is best understood as “striving for what is truly good for you and others,” Ryan said. “It’s beautiful to live that way—and not always easy!”

Ryan told CNA that Grisez wrote a good deal about personal vocation--that idea that “God has a unique, unfolding plan for everyone’s life.” Following the Lord’s plan means “always seeking God’s Kingdom first, or living out what Grisez calls ‘evangelical life.’”

For motivation to live that way in the face of difficulties, Ryan cited Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”
“I think Germain really tried to live that,” he said.

Ryan said his “mentor and collaborator,” was “a remarkable man, a very firm believer. He had a strong and unswervingly orthodox faith, which he defended with great lucidity. And he was loyal.  He loved his family and was a faithful friend.”

“I think he had a lively sense of Providence.’

He also, said Ryan, loved to work.

“He was a workhorse. He was 20 years older than me, and he would be working as if he were 20 years younger. I would think, ‘if he can do it, I should be doing it.’”

Ryan said the witness of Grisez’s life helped him know how to preach at his friend’s funeral.

“He was very concerned that we need to be prepared for death, and to live with confidence that the Lord really will destroy sin and death, and that we will be able to live with Him in great joy.  He knew that the definitive Kingdom that God is preparing is real and very much worth devoting one's entire life to,” he said.

Ryan also told CNA that he would not be starting from a blank slate as he prepared the funeral homily.  Grisez, Ryan said, had some “thoughts sketched out about what it would be good to talk about—and he was thorough!”


RISE up and be a man – 30 day challenge builds masculine and Catholic habits

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 6, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new 30-day challenge maps out daily actions for men hoping to live authentic masculine Catholicism by reclaiming the identities of sons, brothers, fathers, and spouses, its creators say.

“This program is rooted in four primary identities that sum up masculinity … that all men share in the call to fatherhood, all men are sons, all men are brothers, and all men are spouses,” said Chris Stefanick, host of EWTN’s “Real Life Catholic” and co-creator of RISE.

“Not that [men] are all married and have kids, but those are the ways that we love, the ways that we follow Christ, relate to the Trinity, and serve the Church,” he told CNA.

RISE is co-created by Bill Donaghy, a curriculum specialist at Theology of the Body Institute.

The next 30-day challenge begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14, when Stefanick said he will be starting it himself.

Each week of the challenge is themed: fatherhood, sonship, brotherhood, and spousal masculinity.  Every day offers reflections and daily video challenges, which are tailored to participants’ states in life: single, married with or without children at home, divorced, separated, or windowed.

Weekly videos of men giving testimony to these identities will be included.

The challenges are encouraged to be undertaken in groups of men at parishes, with at least 3-5 men suggested for each group. The challenge includes points of discussion and reflection for men’s groups.

“We want to form a communion of men praying for one another as they go through these challenges,” said Stefanick.

Stefanick said the challenges are practical and basic, ranging from simple prayers to steps in building authentic brotherhood. Unlike other Catholic male initiatives, he said the program looks to instil sustainable, life-long habits not temporary trails.

“A lot of men’s movements are very ‘ra-ra’ that feel like a testosterone blast combined with ministry,” he said. “But what changes your life is the power of habits.”

“It doesn’t take much to go deeper.”

The challenges will include simple prayers a man might say in preparation for work or practical steps on building authentic male friendships. These steps to male friendships aren’t complicated either, Stefanick said, but are specific, intentional actions.

“The ways to find friendships … is to be the friend you want to have,” said Stefanick. “The specific kind things they do to let their co-worker, who they love in Christ, know that this person matters to them.”

When asked about the crisis of masculine identity within contemporary culture, Stefanick said the reasons are not as important as the solution.

“I don’t think it matters as much as the solution, which is men being intentional about living out who they are in Christ in their lives every day. That’s the solution.”

There is a kind of spousal love and fatherhood that is particular to male identity, he said, and this contains a call to “living out the love of Christ” by leading, protecting, and providing.

“There is a call to fatherhood [and] to spousal love. There is a thing inside of a man who specifically wants to love by laying down his life for his beloved, [like] slaying a dragon [or] going on an adventure.”

Marriage Encounter movement celebrates 50 years of strengthening marriages

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 19:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 5, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Here’s a story about Dick and Diane.

“We met in December of 1965,” Diane said.  

“December 7,” Dick specified.

Dick and Diane Baumbach have been married for more than 50 years - but not every year was happy, they say.

After something of a whirlwind romance - “We told each other we loved each other after three weeks” - they were married by September of 1966, just nine months after they’d met.

Seven years later, they were each at wits’ end in the marriage and were ready to call it quits, just before they found themselves on a weekend retreat with Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

Dick was working as a journalist, and had been doing some freelancing for the local Catholic paper in New York, when he and Diane heard about Worldwide Marriage Encounter retreats through an event he’d been asked to cover. Although they weren’t going to Church at the time, the couple decided to sign up for a weekend.

“From then on our lives were totally different, we put God in our relationship and it’s made all the difference,” Diane told CNA.

Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) began as a Catholic movement in Spain in the 1950s when a priest, Fr. Gabriel Calvo, began developing a series of conferences aimed at strengthening marriages. By the late 1960s, the marriage enrichment weekends were also being offered to couples in the United States, and continue to be offered today in various languages and in nearly 100 countries throughout the world.  

The encounters typically consist of weekend retreats, which begin on Friday evening and end on Sunday afternoon. Couples who attend the retreats are encouraged to turn off their cellphones, and are guided through various aspects of their relationships through a series of talks by couples and priests. They are also given time to discuss everything they’ve learned privately with their spouses. Priests are also encouraged to attend a WWME weekend, to gain new insights and perspectives on marriage, in order to better pastor married couples.

This year, the movement is celebrating the 50th anniversary of marriage encounter retreats in the United States, with a special anniversary convention with the theme “We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe.” According to the leadership team, couples and priests are registering from as far away as New Zealand and South Korea.

As many as 500 couples are expected to attend the June 22-24 weekend in Lombard, Illinois.

Since their life-changing weekend 45 years ago, the Baumbachs have been helping with the movement in some capacity ever since, giving presentations and now serving as the North American media relations coordinators.

Diane said that after nearly every weekend, there are amazing stories of transformations in the couples that have attended.

One of the highlights of the WWME 50th anniversary event will be highlighting the stories of couples or priests who have impacted, or have been impacted by, a WWME weekend.  

Diane said that she particularly remembers the story of one couple who were planning to get divorced the day after their marriage encounter retreat weekend ended - they had an appointment with their lawyer at 10 a.m. on Monday, and the divorce papers all filled out and ready to go.

“They had told their children: we’re going away for this weekend, this is our last try, but while we’re gone you need to decide which person you’re going to live with - mom or dad,” Diane recalled.  

But by the time the couple left their marriage encounter weekend, “they had torn up their divorce papers and they were going home to their kids as a couple,” she said.

Diane said she thinks the structure of the weekend, as well as the intensive focus on the relationship away from distractions, makes marriage encounter weekends particularly powerful.

“You’re away from the busyness of the world, you’re in a protected setting. We ask them not to get on their cellphones, just try and focus on each other,” she said.  

The basic message of the weekend hasn’t changed much in 50 years, she noted, but “the atmosphere of nurturing support, and a lot of prayers, and the fact that the holy spirit is really with them on that weekend” can often provide what some couples are unable to find in counseling or therapy.

Dick and Diane said their involvement in WWME has also made them hopeful about the future of marriage - they said they see many couples who recognize the challenges that marriages and families face in today’s society, and they are earnestly seeking to strengthen their marriages.

“I think people are realizing - just like we get re-certified for our profession, we read and studied and are mentored for our the world’s pressures get greater and the attacks on the family and marriage are greater, that it’s important also that these couples get as much help as they can (in their marriages), and I think we’re seeing that,” Diane said.

Dick said if he could offer couples today any advice, it would simply be: “Love one another.”

Diane added: “Love is a decision.”

The 50th anniversary event in June is for couples who have already made at least one WWME weekend together.

"What we are hearing and reading over and over is that WWME truly impacted the lives of tens of thousands of couples and priests. We hope that as many as possible will be at the 50th Anniversary of the movement. They can then share with others the wonderful adventures they have experienced as a result of the weekend," the convention leadership said in a press release.

“It’s a chance to try and connect all of us as we move forward in the next 50 years, it’s a time to get together with friends, but it’s also a time to look ahead to how we move forward for the next half a century,” Diane added.

Couples who have already attended at least one WWME weekend can find more information about the 50th anniversary event at Couples interested in attending a WWME weekend can find more information at:

Bishops praise bipartisan work on immigration, say agreement needed urgently

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced a bipartisan immigration plan on Monday that would provide a path to citizenship for “dreamers” who have been in the country since 2013, and increase border security. The bill would not immediately provide the funds for a wall or enact any new measures on “chain migration” or the diversity lottery.

President Donald Trump’s past proposals would put an end to the visa lottery and limit “chain migration,” the policy which allows immigrants to the US to sponsor the immigration petitions of family members, and would have provided funding towards the construction of a wall on the Mexican border.

A representative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops told CNA Monday that the conference is in favor of bipartisan collaboration to solve this issue, and that they hope that a solution can be found quickly.
“The USCCB is reviewing the proposal, but we welcome the bipartisan effort to find a solution to protect Dreamers and pragmatically address and assess border security needs. We urge Congress to act to find a humane solution as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.

The USCCB has offered mixed reviews of Trump’s past proposals. On Jan. 26, a bishops’ conference spokesperson told CNA that while the conference was pleased with the proposed plan for a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million people, they were less enthused with possible restrictions on family migration and with the amount of money allocated for a border wall.

The White House has already rejected the McCain-Coons proposal, calling it a “total waste of time.”



As alumni claim sexual assault is mishandled, Christendom College vows to improve

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 17:45

Front Royal, Va., Feb 5, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following allegations that Christendom College mishandled student sexual assault reports, the college’s administration has said it is committed to doing better.
Donna Bethell, chair of the college’s board, told CNA that Christendom takes recent reports seriously, and has hired an outside firm to conduct a review of the college’s policies regarding sexual assault prevention and reporting.
“We have brought in a professional group that is expert in sexual assault policies and procedures, and they are reviewing our entire program and will give us a report on whether we are meeting best practices – not just Title IX, those are regulatory minimum requirements – but best practices in providing our students with the protection and services they need.”
In mid-January, the small Catholic college in Front Royal, Virginia was rocked by allegations that the administration had mishandled several cases of sexual assault in the Christendom community. The initial allegations were published in a series of blog posts by Catholic writer Simcha Fisher.
Among those who came forward with their stories is Adele Smith, who says that she was raped by her then-boyfriend during a date in Shenandoah National Park in 2009. Smith was a sophomore at Christendom, where her boyfriend was also a student.
Smith told CNA it took her a while to process what had happened to her. She eventually filed a report with both local police and the park service, but was told that there was very little chance of a conviction.
Meanwhile, she said, her alleged rapist was continuing to verbally harass her on campus, and her physical and mental health were suffering.
“I developed major depressive disorder and rape-related PTSD,” she told CNA. “I’ve been on medication ever since. I’ve struggled a lot with self-harm and suicidal ideations. Medication and therapy is the only thing that’s been helpful in coping with that.”
Smith told CNA she approached the administration during her junior year. She said she was told that because there was no policy against sexual assault in the student handbook, and because the alleged rape took place off-campus, the school could only investigate the harassment charges.  
Christendom notified the male student that he was being charged with harassment following what was described as “a prior incident” between the students, according to a July 19, 2011 letter obtained by CNA. The letter said that he was not allowed to talk to Smith or transmit messages to her through other people, during the ensuing investigation.
Christendom found the male student guilty of harassment, according to an Aug. 8, 2011 letter also obtained by CNA.

According to the letter, the college sanctioned the student with a year’s housing suspension, two semesters of disciplinary probation, a prohibition from contact with Adele Smith, and restricted access to campus for one semester.  

Initial reports said the student was restricted from on-campus housing for only a semester, though the letter sanctioning the student explicitly stated that he would be subject to “Housing Suspension for 1 year.” A representative from Christendom College told CNA she was unable to clarify the term of the student’s suspension from on-campus housing.

Initial reports also said that the student lived with a founding professor of the college during his housing suspension, though CNA was unable to verify this

Smith acknowledged the complexity of her situation. “I don’t have any proof, because I have no witnesses,” she told CNA.

She said it was several points in the investigative process that made her feel her concerns were being dismissed.

“[T]he sense that reputation was more important was just pretty damaging to my faith and to my confidence and to my self-esteem, because you’ve already been victimized by one person, and then a whole institution just kind of tells you that you don’t really matter.”

She noted that documents charging and sanctioning the male student, which were reviewed by CNA, did not mention the rape allegations. Smith said that omission was “shattering.”
When she reached out to the administration for updates on the investigation, “it was always really slow getting a response.”
She also believes the school should have been proactive in ensuring that she did not have to attend classes with the male student while the investigation was ongoing.
“The burden of me not encountering my rapist was entirely on me. They handed me his class schedule and the time that he would be allowed in the library.”
It was up to her to avoid him, she said, and on a small campus, this was often difficult.
There were usually two different sessions of a class, Smith said. “I would go to the 9:30 for example, and if he was there, I would leave and I would go back to the 10:30 class.”
Smith also said that when her father wrote a letter to college president Dr. Timothy O'Donnell, the president responded with a letter, obtained by CNA, which mentioned Smith by her first name, but referred to her alleged rapist with the formal title “Mr.”  
“I thought it was incredibly insulting,” Smith said. “It was just kind of another subtle message to us that we didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter to the school, that I wasn’t even deserving of that small indicator of respect.”
She also said that she raised the question of why a policy against sexual assault was not part of student handbook.
“I was told that these sort of things take time, and that there were a lot of other factors involved in terms of changing the code of student conduct,” she said. A policy against sexual assault was added to the handbook for the 2013-2014 school year.

Donna Provencher is vice president of communications & victim outreach for the Christendom Advocacy and Support Coalition (CASC), a group not affiliated with the college. She told CNA that Smith’s story is not unique.
CASC has “spoken to 12 victims whom the [Christendom] administration personally failed,” Provencher said. She says the group is also aware of six more potential victims via friends or family members.
In total, the group alleges there occurred “18 known rapes and sexual assaults between the 1980s and 2016, 16 of those between 1998 and 2016 under [current Christendom president Timothy] O'Donnell.”
In a Jan. 24 statement, O’Donnell acknowledged failings, and announced that a thorough review process was being undertaken.
“We have failed some of our students,” he said. “I am grateful to each woman who has come forward with her story… To those students who have been harmed, I am deeply sorry. We will do better.”

CASC has called for additional steps to both prevent sexual assault on campus and improve how reports of assault are addressed.
Although the college does not accept federal funding and is therefore not bound by Title IX regulations, the advocacy group believes the school should voluntarily adhere to reporting regulations so that prospective students and families can see the statistics regarding sexual assault cases.
The group has called for faculty and staff training to help them recognize signs of abuse, and for a full-time nurse to be made available to students.
In addition, it says, an independent panel should be used to assess rape cases, because the president and dean of the college could have conflicts of interest between protecting students and protecting the reputation of the school.
Amanda Graf, director of student affairs at Christendom, said that many of these recommendations have been implemented by the college in recent years, or are currently being considered.
A presentation is given to students during freshman orientation outlining the college’s expectations regarding student behavior, policy on assault – including definitions – and instructions on how to file reports, she said.
Faculty members, student life staff, and resident assistants are trained in how to receive reports of assault, and to recognize signs of it.
“Obviously, it’s not just, ‘Do you have a process in place? Do you have the right paperwork?’ But it’s ‘Do the students trust the people that they’re reporting to? Do they actually believe that when a report is made, something will happen?’” Graf said.
She said efforts in the last several years have included adding more female staff members on campus, creating more formation events, and spending more time getting to know the students “so they are really confident and comfortable bringing us any reports they might have.”
Questions of whether to increase the nurse practitioner’s office hours and who should adjudicate cases of sexual assault will be discussed with the firm conducting the review of Christendom’s practices, Graf said. She noted that adjudicating cases of sexual assault currently falls under the Student Affairs Department at Christendom, which she said is in line with practices as most colleges.

“We’re really interested in doing an in-depth study of how effective our education has been and how we can improve it,” she said. “Going forward, we have this great firm that is going to make sure we’re doing everything in the best way to serve our students and to serve our mission.”
Graf stressed the importance of discussing challenging topics in order to move forward and improve.
“We always need to be having these conversations,” she said.
Members of CASC have called for President O'Donnell’s resignation, pointing to numerous reports of poorly handled assault cases during his tenure.
Bethell told CNA that from what she has seen, the Christendom community “very strongly” supports the president.
“While nobody for a minute says bad things could not have happened, they also want to say that this is an excellent institution that has played a very important and positive role in their lives, and you don’t want to lose sight of that,” she said.
In recent days, Bethell said, the college has issued an open invitation to alumni who want to discuss anything that happened to them while they were students, and meetings have begun being held.
“We’re hoping to help to heal, and also to learn how we can improve our practices and policies, and recognize what happened,” she said. “The truth is what’s most important to us, and the welfare of our students and alumni. That’s an ongoing process, and it’s already begun to bear fruit.”


Portland archbishop celebrates marriage Mass after call for new family initiatives

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 16:53

Portland, Ore., Feb 5, 2018 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon celebrated a Mass for marriage, after calling for new marriage initiatives in his archdiocese last fall.

“…Marriage is a bond, it’s the covenant, it’s the union between a man and a woman. It should be built upon a strong foundation of faith, rooted in prayer,” Archbishop Sample said in his homily on Feb. 3 at St. Mary Cathedral in Portland, according to the Catholic Sentinel.

He asked the couples gathered, “How many married couples pray together?” saying “prayer is so important, especially in the difficult times,” and is the foundation for a strong marriage.

The Portland archbishop blessed the couples that were gathered at the Mass and also noted that their marriages were giving him strength and hope for the future.

Sample held the Mass for marriage after committing the archdiocese to four new marriage and family initiatives in September. These new efforts come in response to the Church’s 2014 and 2015 worldwide synods of bishops on the topic of marriage, which the archbishop noted was a “major priority for the whole Church throughout the world.”

The first initiative proposed for the Archdiocese of Portland was establishing the ministries of Courage and Encourage, which together provide a support network for same-sex attracted persons who are looking for chaste ways to live their lives, as well as their families.

“We must respond with love, respect and sensitivity to these persons and their families,” Sample said, according to the Catholic Sentinel.

“The Church must do a better job of educating and forming young people and adults according to the teachings of Christ, Scripture and the moral doctrine of the Church,” Sample continued.

The second new effort within the archdiocese was “for our local Church to do a better job of preparing people for marriage.”

Sample said marriage prep begins in youth, through religious education and the ways children grow to view marriage through high school, college and adulthood. He also noted that the archdiocese would be seeking out programs that would best fit existing parish and vicariate-level preparation programs.

The third initiative focuses on “providing sound resources to Catholics seeking out the services of mental health professionals that will support their life of faith,” particularly in struggling marriages.

The final focus for the archdiocese was “aimed at strengthening marriages and family life in a broader sense.” This included providing resources, materials and programs that will proactively help build strong marriages and family lives.

“If we are successful in building all of these initiatives in our Catholic schools, religious education programs, adult faith formation, parishes, vicariates and especially in our families, we will go a long way toward addressing this critical need as identified by the universal Church in our times,” Sample said.

“It will be a challenge, but with your prayers and moral and financial support, we can make it happen.”


Catholic school principal named new auxiliary bishop of Atlanta

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 14:00

Atlanta, Ga., Feb 5, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has appointed Marist School principal Father Joel Konzen, S.M., to serve as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Bishop-elect Konzen is an Ohio-native, but has served in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for 28 years. He has led the Marist School in Atlanta as its principal since 1999 and previously held administrative positions at Marist from 1980 to 1989.

Konzen is the recipient of the 2015 National Catholic Educational Association’s Educational Excellence Award and recently helped to found two new Catholic schools in Atlanta, Notre Dame Academy and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School.

“He has been an effective and generous administrator and advisor to the educational ministry of thousands of young people and their parents,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory at the announcement of Konzen’s appointment Monday morning.

Konzen said preparing for Atlanta’s Banquet for Education Mass when he first received the call from Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre asking him to accept the appointment.

“We Marists are supposed to avoid ecclesiastical honors. That’s in our Constitution. That’s not easy to do when the papal nuncio tells you that this is the will of the Holy Father,” Konzen said at the Feb. 5 press conference.
Father Konzen took first vows in the Society of Mary in 1975 and was ordained a priest in 1979. The Marists are a religious order founded in post-Revolution France by Jean-Claude Colin.

“A Marist is to think, act, judge, and feel as Mary would,” explained bishop-elect Konzen reflecting upon how his order’s charism has impacted his priesthood, “...humility, hospitality, prayerfulness, union with God and with one another...these are the virtues that Father Colin wanted to instill in the first Marists.”

He clarified that there are two different religious orders named the Society of Mary in the Church today with the same initials: S.M. Both were founded in France around the same time, the Marists by Father Colin and the Marianists by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade.

Auxiliary bishop-elect Konzen holds a bachelor of arts in English from St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, IN, a master of divinity from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and both a master of arts in systematic theology and a master of arts in educational administration from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

During his time in D.C., he served as vicar provincial of the former Washington Province of the Society of Mary.

Konzen’s episcopal ordination will be on Easter Tuesday. He will be joining Bishop Bernard Shlesinger, who was appointed as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Atlanta in May of 2017.

We must become 'new men,' Archbishop Chaput says

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 07:00

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 4, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the Catholic Men’s Fellowship Conference, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia challenged more than 1,300 men to remember how masculinity was lived in the past by faithful Christian men.

“We’re here to recover what it means to be men, and especially how to live as Christian men of substance and virtue,” he said at the Feb. 3 conference in Phoenix.

The conference was themed “Into the Breach,” after a recent pastoral letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, who released his new book “Manual for Men” at the event.

Among the event’s speakers were Father Sean Kilcawley, Diocesan Director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Lincoln; Hector Molina, an international Catholic speaker; and Terry Kennedy, former All-Star Major League Baseball catcher.

Chaput said that history plays an important role in Christian culture. “Just as memory anchors each person’s individual story, history plays the same role for cultures, nations and communities of faith. History is our shared memory. … A community dies when its memory fails,” he said.

Pointing to the Poor Brothers of the Order of the Temple of Solomon, The Knights Templar, Archbishop Chaput expressed the need for men to remember the order’s courageous commitment to charity, truth, and chastity.

The Knights Templar began 900 years ago, after the First Crusade recaptured Jerusalem from Muslim rule in 1099. The religious community was established to defend pilgrims journeying on the roads near Jerusalem, protecting them from Muslim raiders and highway criminals who robbed, raped, killed, and kidnapped, Chaput said.

“As warriors, the men had skills,” he explained. “The men had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. And their first task, under obedience, was to patrol the roads.”

Archbishop Chaput said this was a “new knighthood,” different from those medieval knights who were “heavily armed male thugs – men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape.”
The church took knighthood and made it into something holy, he said, noting that while some men didn’t live up to Knights Templar ideals, most embraced the prayer, courage, and chastity the order called for.

“[Knighthood] provided the animating ideal at the core of the Templars: to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak.”

Christianity is still a “fighting religion,” said Chaput, borrowing the phrase from C.S. Lewis, because “living the Gospel involves a very real kind of spiritual warfare.”

“Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen to and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith, and speaking the truth unambiguously with love,”  he added.

The archbishop said “Christian equality” understands “the reality of the differences and mutual dependencies of real men and women.”  

“As men, we’re hardwired by nature and confirmed by the Word of God to do three main things: to provide, to protect, and to lead – not for our own sake, not for our own empty vanities and appetites, but in service to others.”

How do men reclaim Christian masculinity?

Chaput said men must become the living proof of what the church teaches: “the personal example of her saints.”

“Do love the women in your life with the encouragement, affection, support and reverence they deserve by right. Do be faithful to your wife in mind and body. Do show courtesy and respect to the women you meet, even when they don’t return it. …. Finally, those of you who marry, do have more children, and do invest your time and heart in them.”

He condemned the recent sexual harassment scandals involving celebrities as the “symptom of an entire culture of unhinged attitudes toward sex. Women are right to be angry when men treat them like objects and act like bullies and pigs.”

But a change in culture will only come through changes of the heart, he said, when a man  “discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires.  In other words, when he becomes a new man.”

“A real reform of male behavior will never come about through feminist lectures and mass media man-shaming by celebrities and award ceremonies. ... A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better.”

“So my prayer for all of us today is that God will plant the seed of a new knighthood in our hearts – and make us the kind of ‘new men’ our families, our Church, our nation, and our world need,” concluded Archbishop Chaput.  


Debate IRL: Douthat/Faggioli debate moves from Twitter to Fordham campus

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 13:00

New York City, N.Y., Feb 3, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA).- After public disagreement in dueling op-eds, and frequent disagreements on Twitter, one could be forgiven for expecting the debate between New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and Villanova Professor Massimo Faggioli to be a little fiery.

The two met on January 31 on Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. The event, titled “Francis@Five: Assessing the Legacy of Pope Francis Five Years After His Election,” was a 90-minute discussion some observers described as “tense.”

Though their discussion was civil, and no one was accused of heresy, the two presented sharply contrasting assessments of what the first five years of Pope Francis’ papacy have meant for the Church and its future.

The discussion was moderated by David Gibson, the director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture.

The differences centered around the roles of tradition and doctrine--and whether and how they should shape the future of the Church.

The central point of debate was the now-infamous “Footnote 351” in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which, some interpreters claim, contradicts the Church’s teaching on marriage.

On the issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, Douthat had a far more alarmed take than Faggioli. While acknowledging that the debate was an “elite battle” that most ordinary Catholics don’t really know much about, he said it was part of a larger “civil war” between liberal and conservative Catholics.

Douthat he said that he feared that Francis’ perspective on communion for those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment, as he understood it, could have the potential to cause a schism, with the “losing side” of that debate simply forming their own faith.  

Faggioli admitted that he had “underestimated” the resistance to some interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, adding that, in his view, resistance to the Second Vatican Council is also a “North American problem.”

Douthat said that the Church has no obligation to “evacuate teachings” (on marriage) under the guise of being “pastoral,” and that this was the “core tension” of Pope Francis’ papacy. He warned that this could potentially create a proto-Anglican model for the Church, where teachings are different in different parts of the world.

Faggioli disputed this, saying that Pope Francis was not seeking to undermine marriage, and that Jesus had spoken out against divorce. On the contrary, he said it is necessary for the Church to minister to the needs of people who are already divorced--which was the point of the 2015 Synod on the Family that preceded Amoris Laetitia.

Douthat warned that pastoral changes unchecked by doctrine have the potential to turn the Church into “liberal Protestantism in Catholic dressing,” but that it will take years before the Pope’s impact is truly understood.

Faggioli argued that “adjustments” on certain Catholics teachings were not a sign of an imminent rupture of the faith. Faggioli said that with 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, 50 percent of children might never see their parents receive the Eucharist, which is not ideal for either evangelization or for the Gospel. This, he argued, is a reason why the Church must change her pastoral practice.

“There are different responses to the same question in different times,” Faggioli said, when asked whether withholding communion to the divorced and remarried had always been wrong.

While disagreement between the two was sharp, they found agreement on two issues: the Pope’s 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato si --both are fans of it, albeit for different reasons--and the importance of women in the Church’s life.

Faggioli said he would approve of ordaining female deacons “tomorrow,” whereas Douthat said he was “agnostic” on the issue of women in the diaconate, but did concede that putting women in positions of ecclesial responsibility is one of the “more reasonable” parts of liberal Catholicism.

Neither gave a true closing statement to finish off the night, but Faggioli perhaps summed up the dispute best when he described Catholic teaching and tradition as an “animal” capable of moving and adapting.

While he only grinned wryly in response, Douthat probably had a different take.

Denver archbishop spotlights Humanae Vitae in new pastoral letter

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a new pastoral letter honoring the 50-year anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver underscored the perennial significance of the church’s sexual teachings, saying they are a gift and a light in darkness.

“I write this pastoral letter to you, my brothers and sisters, to affirm the great beauty of the Church’s consistent teaching through the centuries on married love, a love that is so desperately needed today,” Archbishop Aquila wrote in his Feb. 2 pastoral letter.

“Defending this love in our culture requires strong commitment,” Aquila continued, saying “it is crucial to reaffirm our commitment to the truth, goodness and beauty of Christ’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.”

According to Archbishop Aquila, Blessed Pope Paul VI “prophetically defended the integrity of married love and warned us against the danger of reducing sexuality to a source of pleasure,” in his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Published in 1968, Humanae Vitae will celebrate its 50th anniversary on July 25 of this year.

Aquila noted in the years since its publication, the Church has remained steadfast in her teachings on truth, as theological reflection on Humanae Vitae has continued to develop.

One positive development, according to Aquila, was Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” which has “deepened our understanding of the great gift of human sexuality, which requires nothing less from us than a complete gift of self.”

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, Aquila said, have also been instrumental in further reflection on Humanae Vitae’s theology of love. Additionally, Aquila pointed to the “great advancements” in natural family planning, which has been a helpful resource for countless families over the years.

“NFP… enables couples to accurately understand their fertility, maintain openness to life, and grow in the kind of self-control that is necessary for a happy marriage,” Aquila said, noting that sacrificial love is crucial to the practice of NFP.

Aquila explained that contraception disrupts the procreative nature of the marital act, which “harms the unitive dimension of sex.” Blessed Paul VI did not reject contraception simply because it was artificial, Aquila said, but because it fundamentally damaged the most intimate part of the conjugal act between spouses.

The archbishop also lamented cultural decline over the past 50 years, which, he said, was predicted by Blessed Paul VI. He specifically pointed to the widespread use of contraception, which has led to higher divorce and abortion rates.

Pornography, sex trafficking, government-imposed contraception, a rise in STDs, low birth and marriage rates are also some negative consequences, according to the Denver archbishop. He added that technology has become a major player in the realm of sexuality, causing more complications.

“Sex itself has been changed from a gift and source of life in the family to a means of pleasure and self-satisfaction,” Aquila said.

“Once sex and marriage has been redefined and trivialized in this way, it is possible to change the definition and makeup of marriage or anything related to sexuality,” he continued.

However, Aquila believes that Humanae Vitae and the theology of the body reveal the antidote to “the widespread false ideas of freedom and the purpose of sexuality that so many are suffering from today.”

“Blessed Paul VI teaches us the truth about married love, listing its four essential qualities: it needs to be fully human, total, faithful and fruitful,” Aquila said, also noting their inseparable connections.

Despite the cultural distortion of sexuality and marriage over the years, Aquila noted that the goodness of sexuality remains through the dignity of each human person.

“We also know from Scripture…that our dignity comes from being made in his image and likeness,” Aquila said.

“God, the source of all life and love, planned from the beginning that the love between a man and a woman should image his own love and bring forth new life in the context of family,” he continued.

Humanae Vitae teaches procreative love is an “extremely important mission” with both “supernatural and eternal” effects, the archbishop said. Aquila calls this the “very nature of married love,” which also prompts a husband and wife together towards holiness.

“Through the sincere gift of themselves, spouses discover their authentic identities as children of God the Father, and their love radiates beauty and the splendor of the truth,” Aquila said.

While Humanae Vitae proclaims the bold beauty behind the Church’s teachings on sexuality, it also reminds the faithful of the Church’s mission of evangelization, Aquila noted.

“Every Catholic has a mission to live and share the good news of God’s plan for human sexuality,” Aquila said, saying this proclamation requires courage.

“We evangelize first by witnessing to what God has done in our own lives and by living out Christ’s teaching in our family and work,” he continued, saying that “pointing people to the teaching of Jesus is not confrontational, but an act of love.”

The first evangelizers of society, Aquila said, are parents and married couples, who are the primary educators of children. Because of this, parents and couples have the responsibility to faithfully teach their children in the truths of the Church.

Unfortunately, today’s children are bombarded with distorted sexual ethics at a young age, with exposure to pornography and the lure of casual sex, the archbishop said. These dangers present new challenges to parents in their efforts to raise children of God, but Aquila encouraged honest conversations with children to promote healthy relationships.

He also pointed out that priests and deacons are called to evangelize to their own flocks. Aquila advised priests to be “gentle and merciful in confession,” and re-commit themselves to their work with engaged and married couples.

Aquila also addressed individuals in the workforce, encouraging them to give witness to the truth in their everyday lives. He also specifically addressed engaged couples, asking them to “make the most of your preparation for marriage.”

Aquila concluded his pastoral letter by mentioning the endless measure of God’s love, and encouraged individuals and couples everywhere to reflect this true love through “a complete gift” of themselves.

He challenged married couples to be generous in their love and to imitate Christ’s ultimate sacrificial love as the way “to find true happiness.” Aquila also pointed back to Humanae Vitae, saying its 50th anniversary is the perfect occasion for a renewed commitment to sharing the liberating truth that it proclaims about sexuality.

Humanae Vitae was a gift for the Church and for the world, a courageous prophesy about the beauty of human life and married love,” Aquila said, calling the encyclical “a great light in the midst of a dark and confused world.”

“We ask for the prayers of Blessed Paul VI as we look to his guidance for handing on and living according to the teachings of Christ in the world today.”


Bishop of Saginaw asks for prayers following lung cancer diagnosis

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 19:00

Saginaw, Mich., Feb 2, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Joseph Cistone of Saginaw, Michigan has asked for prayers and some leeway in his schedule following a recent lung cancer diagnosis.

In a letter to his priests and diocesan leaders yesterday, Bishop Saginaw said his diagnosis came after a series of tests, following a persistent cough and labored breathing which “persisted since September.”

“Over the past two months, I have undergone a series of tests and have now learned that I have lung cancer,“ he said. “The good news is that, since I have never been a smoker, it is a form of lung cancer which is treatable and potentially curable,” he noted.

Bishop Cistone is the sixth bishop of the Saginaw diocese, and was appointed there in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Originally from Pennsylvania, Cistone was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1975, where he also served as auxiliary bishop from 2004-2009.

Due to a six-week treatment plan including chemotherapy and radiation, Cistone said that he may need to step aside from certain scheduled events, but that he planned to maintain his administrative responsibilities and involvement in pastoral concerns “to the best of my ability.”  

He also noted that parishes should not make changes regarding visits from the bishop unless they receive word directly from the bishop’s office.

Cistone said that he was told by his doctors that he will experience relief of his symptoms within the first two weeks of his treatment plan, which is scheduled to be completed before Easter.

“With the grace of God, we will celebrate the Chrism Mass together with prayers of gratitude,” he said. “In the meantime, I ask for your prayers and those of your people, as I assure you of my prayers for you and those entrusted to your care.

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 17:47

Louisville, Ky., Feb 2, 2018 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of student at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from their siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

"A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in 2nd grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

"In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added, “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

"Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.” “Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.

A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding."

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Catholic schools are ‘instruments of the new evangelization,’ NCEA president says

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. Tom Burnford, president and CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association, spoke to CNA’s Jonah McKeown during Catholic Schools Week 2018 about his Catholic education  and the evangelizing mission of Catholic schools in the United States.

How did your own Catholic education lead you to work in this field?

I was blessed to attend Catholic primary school in England, where I grew up: St. Joseph's in Storrington, in Sussex. And then I also went to Catholic high school: Ampleforth College in Yorkshire. My experience was a rigorous academic curriculum, and a study of the Catholic faith with a particular focus on scripture, and also living at the high school, a boarding school, in a community permeated by the gospel spirit. For me, the witness of the teachers, some of whom were Benedictine monks, others were lay people...they witnessed a Catholic faith that made me believe what they said when they talked about their Catholicism and their faith. Secondly, there were rigorous academic expectations, which led me to work hard and grow. And now I love Catholic schools because they integrate faith and knowledge in the life of the student and the adult.

How has the shift toward more lay teachers, rather than teachers who are members of a religious order, changed Catholic education in the U.S.?

Catholic schools in the United States were founded on the work of religious brothers and sisters, and today the staffing of schools, as we know, is predominantly lay teachers, lay faculty, and lay principals. However, it is the same faith that moves teachers today to teach in a Catholic school, and to do this work of integrating knowledge in the life of the student. What can be difficult is that in the past, the sisters were in a religious community setting 24 hours a day, focused on the school. And therefore we seek new and fresh formation opportunities for teachers, particularly as the society around us changes and becomes less faith-filled. So many diocese are doing great work in faith-formation programs, many colleges and universities do great work in helping to form teachers and leaders who can do this critical work of integrating faith and knowledge in education.

Along with an increasingly secular society, what are some of the other challenges that Catholic schools are facing today?

TB: Catholic schools face challenges today in terms of the financing ... in the United States, the parental choice legislation is growing, and yet there is still huge need for fixing the injustice of the public school monopoly on tax funds that come from everybody. I think another challenge is helping the general population understand that Catholic schools don't just teach religion. They form the whole person, with excellent academics and with values that come from and are rooted in a deep Catholic faith. Our research shows that the vast majority of all parents want a values-based education for their children...that's what Catholic schools do, and so much more. They form young people with solid values as well as providing a great academic education.

It sounds as though you're really trying to make evangelization an integral part of this. Would you say the whole mission of Catholic schools is one of evangelization?

Absolutely. Catholic schools are instruments of the new evangelization. They are evangelistic communities of faith, that serve as a witness not only to the parents who come to the school, but to the entire parish geography and surrounding neighborhoods.

For someone reading who may not be aware of how Catholic schools benefit the United States, what would you say to that person?

Catholic schools form great citizens. For example, Catholic school graduates vote more than the general population. Our academics are, overall, better than public education. We have higher graduation rates, by far, and higher college success rates. The graduates of Catholic schools are contributing citizens who are formed for success in life and contribution and service to society.

In what ways are the NCEA and Catholic schools in general reaching out to the changing demographics of the Catholic Church in the United States?

A critical opportunity is to collaborate within the Hispanic and Latino community to fully welcome Hispanic and Latino Catholics to Catholic schools, because this is the future of the Church. So, the NCEA is working hard to reach out to Latino organizations around the country to ensure that Catholic schools are available and accessible to the greatest extent possible to all Catholics...particularly to minority students in urban areas. This week we just completed the Many Gifts, One Nation program, and through social media invited all alumni of Catholic schools to contribute, in a 24-hour period, to Catholic schools. We raised $750,000 in 24 hours, our first year. This is a significant initiative of NCEA to help, in a small way, with funding issues at Catholic schools.

Is there anything you'd like to say about this year’s Catholic Schools Week?

I started Catholic Schools Week on Monday morning at the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and I was blessed to be able to pray for Catholic school educators and families in the room where Mother Ann Seton died. This was a great blessing to me, and how appropriate to start this celebration of Catholic schools nationally at the place where, in one sense, it all began with Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was so influential in founding this gift of Catholic schools in the United States.

Are you hopeful for the future of Catholic schools in the U.S.?

Absolutely. Catholic schools have a bright future in the U.S. We have challenges, and we have great successes. These schools work, Catholic schools work, in the formation of the whole person, and they're such a gift to the country because of the quality of graduates, who then contribute to society and to the Church.


Holy habits: what school sisters bring to the classroom

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Lincoln, Nebraska, you can tell the seasons by the habits of the School Sisters of Christ the King.

It’s not really summer until you spot a “CK Sister”, as they are affectionately known, walking around in her lighter blue summer habit.

But when a CK sister is donning her dark blue habit, that means the months are turning colder. And when the dark blue habits come out, you can find almost every CK sister in a classroom, teaching in one of the 27 Catholic elementary schools in the diocese.

Religious school sisters are a fairly common sight in the Diocese of Lincoln, which has two diocesan orders of women religious - the Christ the King Sisters as well as the grey-habited Marian sisters, many of whom can also be found teaching in the local Catholic schools.

In much of the rest of the country, however, religious sisters are something of a rare novelty - though they used to be a much more common sight in the United States.

In 1965, there were nearly 180,000 women religious in the United States, many of them school teachers, according to data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate out of Georgetown University.

By 2014, there were less than 50,000 religious sisters, the numbers having steadily declined over the past half-century in the post-Vatican II upheaval that was felt in many parts of the Church around the world.

It was in the midst of this upheaval and decline that Bishop Glennon Patrick Flavin, then of Lincoln, decided to found the Christ the King Sisters as a religious order dedicated specifically to teaching children.

“He noticed that there were a good number of sisters in our schools in the 50’s and 60’s, but by the 70’s the sisters were starting to pull out of our classrooms,” Sr. Mary Cecilia, a Christ the King Sister, told CNA.

Bishop Flavin had difficulty finding already-established religious orders that were able to come to the Diocese of Lincoln, and eventually felt called to found a diocesan order dedicated specifically to teaching, Sr. Mary Cecilia said.

“He knew that our seminaries were growing and increasing in number, and he thought if the Lord was calling this many young men to serve as priests then he was probably calling young women to serve as sisters also,” she said.

Sr. Mary Cecilia, who now serves as principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Lincoln, said that Bishop Flavin founded the order with the idea that a good religious education would strengthen the faith of much of the laity in the diocese.

“He wanted to extend Christ’s reign in whatever place possible...and he realized what was so important to make that happen was Catholic education. Because if we can reach the young people in the diocese, we not only reach the young people but we also reach their parents and families,” she said.

“He realized that one of the best ways to really nurture their faith in the lives of these children is through the consecrated life, through having sisters present in the schools, the value of the witness of a religious - their life totally dedicated to God, their gift of self-sacrifice, being a spiritual mother to every single student in the school,” she added.

For herself, Sr. Mary Cecilia said she knew from a young age she wanted to teach.

“I have a brother who’s a priest - he often talks about how I used to play school so everything he knows about teaching came from me when he was little,” she joked.

In college in the early 1990s, she studied high school math education and dreamed of teaching calculus and algebra to older students. But that’s also when she met the Christ the King Sisters, who only teach at the elementary level.

“I realized oh they’re joyful, they’re young, vibrant, I like that,” Sr. Mary Cecilia said.

Even though she was drawn to religious life as a CK Sister, she was still hesitant about teaching at the younger level - “that was something that I had to take to the Lord,” she said.

Ultimately, though, the spirit of the CK Sisters, their depth of prayer, their warmth, and their dedication to education were what drew Sr. Mary Cecilia to them.

“We are extending the kingdom of God in Catholic schools, and Catholic schools are so important to me primarily because of my own education in Catholic schools,” she said.

Sr. Mary Agnes belongs to another religious order, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Wichita, Kansas, that is also primarily dedicated to the education and formation of young people.

A veteran teacher of 10 years, Sr. Mary Agnes said she believes that religious sisters bring something unique to the classroom that other teachers cannot, even though at a basic level, they perform the same functions.

“Our vocation is to be a more radical, vivid sign of the presence of Christ in the world, and then hopefully through that witness draw people to an encounter with Christ,” she told CNA.

“We do really similar things that other people do who are not sisters,” she said. “So (the value of) religious life is not about doing, it’s about witness and the being of the person. Our vocation is to be a more radical, vivid sign of the presence of Christ in the world, and then hopefully through that witness draw people to an encounter with Christ.”

Perhaps some of the most well-recognized teaching sisters in the Catholic Church in the U.S. today are the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia based in Nashville, Tennessee and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Both orders, primarily dedicated to education, have sisters teaching on Catholic campuses throughout the country.

“We belong to the Dominican Order and our charism is preaching and teaching.
Women religious have been an integral part of the history of Catholic education in the United States,” Sr. John Dominic with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist told CNA.

“As Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, we seek to continue the tradition of educating generations of young people in their faith and most of all, to bring youth into a deeper relationship with Christ,” she said.

Despite the general decline in religious life that has been happening over the past few decades, both Dominican orders have seen a boom in young vocations in recent years. The Dominican Sisters of Mary recently opened a new priory in Texas in order to accommodate all of the young women discerning religious life in their order.

When asked what is drawing so many young women to their order, Sr. John Dominic responded: “The young people are responding to God’s invitation to ‘come and follow Him’.”

Sr. John Dominic said the depth of the prayer life of the sisters and the close relationship with the Lord that their way of life allows lets them bring the fruits of their spiritual life to their students.

“Pope Saint John Paul II once described women religious as being a ‘sign of tenderness’ in the world. From my experience in working with Sisters in schools, this is precisely what many of them bring - tenderness and an intuitive heart,” she said.

Sr. Mary Agnes said she is always humbled when parents and students recognize the unique gifts and witness that religious sisters bring to the classroom.

“...that to me is the most striking, when the students come back after they graduate and they’re so excited to express: ‘Thank you what you’ve done for me.’ Many times they don’t recognize it at the time but then they do say thank you I’m glad that you taught me, I’m glad you were there for me, and it’s so humbling,” she said.

Sr. Mary Cecilia said that she would encourage young women considering religious life not to be afraid, and to encounter sisters up-close before believing some of the misconceptions about religious sisters that exist.  

“When I was younger I thought that all sisters instantly became like 70 once they put that habit on, and that’s not true!” she said. “None of our sisters are 70 yet.”

On a more serious note, she added, “I think one of the misconceptions out there is that you have to give up everything that you hold dear, that you have dreams of, in order to do this. And in reality you do but it's not the giving up that you focus on,” she said.

“It’s what takes its place - your relationship with the Lord, and being able to be filled with an intense and immense love for him, and therefore an immense love for the people you’re asked to serve.”



Caviezel to play St. Luke in upcoming St. Paul biopic

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 1, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It has been more that a decade since Jim Caviezel played Jesus in the “Passion of the Christ.” This spring, he’ll play St. Luke in another major religious film, “Paul, the Apostle of Christ,” opening in theaters on March 28.

Unlike the “Passion,” Caviezel will not be the main actor in the film: James Faulkner, star of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” will portray Paul.

“James Faulkner is to Paul as Christopher Reeve is to Superman. … This guy was born to play Paul. When he was walking around, it was in his behavior. You couldn’t find someone else who organically nails it like this,” Caviezel recently told USA Today.

The movie follows St. Paul in the last days of his life, facing Roman imprisonment for preaching Christianity while waiting execution under Emperor Nero. Luke, a physician, is able to visit his fellow Christian in jail.

Caviezel said the movie’s theme centers on forgiveness and merciful love, a message relevant today, and he recalled a powerful scene in which Paul restrains Luke from calling for justice on the Roman oppressors.

“Forgiveness starts with not just love, but ardent love,” Caviezel told USA Today. “It’s really easy to love people who think like you think; it’s very hard to treat someone with a polar opposite view with the same dignity and respect you would treat a friend. That’s this movie’s core message.”
Since Caviezel played the role of Christ, he has received offers for parts in other religious movies, but is picky about the movies that change scriptural stories.

“It’s like, ‘We want to change this, pull that out,’” said Caviezel. “I’m like, ‘This book has been around a lot longer than any of us in Hollywood.’”

“‘I have the faith to believe it’s still good for us now.’ That’s one of the greatest things about [“Paul.”] You don't realize it, but it's actually scriptural.”

While the release of “Paul” is still a month away, Caviezel is also excited about another movie, the sequel to “The Passion,” again directed by Mel Gibson.

Caviezel has not disclosed the sequel’s tentative schedule for the filming date, but has hinted at some surprises in the retelling of Christ’s resurrection.

“There are things that I cannot say that will shock the audience,” he said. “But I’ll tell you this much: The film [Mel Gibson’s] going to do is going to be the biggest film in history. It’s that good.”

Mel Gibson has talked about the movie in the past. He has said it has taken time to develop a script that sheds a new light on Christ’s resurrection without making it “weird.”

“The resurrection. Big subject. Oh, my God," Gibson told USA Today. "We’re trying to craft this in a way that’s cinematically compelling and enlightening so that it shines new light, if possible, without creating some weird thing.”

This Catholic school’s official holiday is Groundhog Day?

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 19:00

Irving, Texas, Feb 1, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students at the University of Dallas have an unusual favorite holiday. Groundhog Day.

“The holiday is more than just a large party,” said Larisa Thelan, Alumni Relations Officer. “It’s a celebration of student and alumni camaraderie, [a chance] to take a break and enjoy life.”

“The students make a point to celebrate this Catholic camaraderie, where you are enjoying your life … taking a break from your responsibilities for a day, and relishing that you are all in a Catholic community,” she told CNA.

As the story goes, some students in the 1950s approached the university’s president looking for a fun activity to entertain themselves during the bleak season of winter. The president was busy, and, half-jokingly, suggested Groundhog Day.

The students made Groundhog Day their official school holiday 55 years ago. Today, it is celebrated with a champagne breakfast, a five-kilometer run, and a bonfire barbecue, with hayrides and live music. Thelan said 2,500 people are expected to attend this year’s Groundhog Party on Saturday night.

Students wake up on Groundhog Day with a “feeling like Christmas,” Thelan said, and start the morning with mimosas. Classes are cancelled, and a festival spanning several days begins.
The ticket to access the festivities is the university’s official Groundhog Day sweater, which has become a platform for memorable quotes, often mixing theology, philosophy and revelry.

This year’s quote is in Latin:

“Qui bibit dormit; qui dormit, non peccat; qui non peccat, sanctus est; ergo: qui bibit, sanctus est.” (He who drinks sleeps; he who sleeps does not sin; he who does not sin is holy; therefore he who drinks is holy.)

Thelan said alumni travel from across the country to partake in the festivities, and some graduates host parties in other cities, among them Madrid, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

“Alumni are coming back to the campus party for Groundhog Day not just because they love a good time, but because the University of Dallas holds the best memories of how they became men and women,” she added.

The Groundhog Day reunion is cherished and sentimental, she said, but it is also an opportunity for students to receive advice from alumni.

The alumni are able to “get to know students, relive, and give [students] advice on how they are doing in life, what it means to be a UD student, and what it means to appreciate the classes,” she said.



Report: Vandals on Catholic campus target pro-life community

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 18:47

Louisville, Ky., Feb 1, 2018 / 04:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Recent vandalism on the Catholic campus of Bellarmine University reportedly targeted the school’s pro-life community, destroying a “Cemetery of Innocents” display with pro-abortion messages.

The pro-life display, organized by the university’s Catholic Students Association, was vandalized on Monday night, according to reports. Crosses from the display were stolen, and messages such as “Support Planned Parenthood” and “Abortion is legal and an unalienable right in all 50 states” were written on the signs. The vandals have yet to be identified.

Bellarmine University is a private, Catholic college located in Louisville, Kentucky with a total enrollment of around 3,800 students.

According to Students for Life of America, vandalism targeting pro-life groups on school campuses across the country is on the rise. A number of different states have reported similar attacks against pro-life displays on school campuses, including high schools, in recent years.

“The attack is another example of the hostility on college campuses to free-speech, especially those of pro-lifers,” stated Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, in a press release.

“The students who vandalized the displays should be ashamed of themselves and the university should take swift action against them.”