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California priest who embezzled donations gets prison time, $1.9 million fine

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 08:04

San Jose, Calif., Oct 5, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A priest in California has been sentenced to three years in prison for bank fraud and ordered to pay restitution after he put over $1.4 million in church donations into his bank accounts.

Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 57, was ordered to pay $1,880,000 to the Diocese of San Jose and the IRS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.

In March Nguyen was found guilty in federal court on 14 counts of bank fraud.

Prosecutors said he deposited 14 checks from parishioners into his personal account while he was pastor. The donations, made between 2005 and 2007, had been intended for the Vietnamese Catholic Center in San Jose, CBS San Francisco reported in March.

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.

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

Men are craving authentic friendships – and it's ok to admit it

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 05:08

Denver, Colo., Oct 5, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Timothy Piazza pledged a fraternity at Pennsylvania State University in February 2017, he had hoped to find a brotherhood.  

To join the fraternity, he endured severe hazing rituals, one of which ended with Piazza collapsing down a set of basement stairs, where he was left alone without medical attention. Ultimately, the injury led to his death. 

His girlfriend of three years, Kaitlyn Tempalsky, told reporters that Piazza joined the fraternity looking for friendships. She told the New York Times that “he wasn’t in it for the partying … He really wanted that brotherhood.”

Male friendships are becoming a rarity in American culture, Catholic leaders say, which could lead some men, like Piazza, to look for friends in dangerous situations.  

Historically, occasions for brotherhood were systemically built into many cultures, Catholic psychologist Dr. Jim Langley told CNA.  

Listing the examples of chopping down trees or heading into battle together, Dr. Langley said, “It’s our base coding, in our human nature as men” to complete projects or engage in activities together – though in contemporary culture, men are becoming more isolated.

“Men who are isolated are prone to all sorts of mental health problems – anxiety and depression. Specifically among men that we see in our work, men who are isolated are much more prone to addiction to pornography.”

Langley explained that the source of pornography addiction may stem from a desire for intimacy, even for male friends.

“Men in general struggle with [intimacy], it’s a pretty common thing. But it’s not just romantic intimacy, and it’s not just intimacy related to woman, we also have a longing for brotherhood.”

Because humans are physical, intellectual, and relational beings, he said, our sense of identity is not discovered by being alone, it is rather found in the context of other people.

“Specifically, figuring out how we can contribute in relationship and how relationships contribute to us.”

Matthew Schaefer, director of student development at Franciscan University of Steubenville, agreed.   

“I am the best man I can be when I have strong male friendships. We hear in Scripture that ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and so it is with men,” Schaefer said.

“When men engage in true friendships – and by this I mean more than spending time together playing sports or video games – they can encourage one another toward holiness.”

Schaefer pointed to the household system at Franciscan University, through which more than half of the university’s students participate in small, single-sex faith communities.  

“These same-sex communities help members grow in mind, body, and spirit and hold each other accountable to ongoing conversion.”

“In men’s households, they are encouraged to be on more of a schedule by committing to weekly gatherings, generally focused on prayer. They are present to console in times of need and celebrate in times of joy. They are brothers for the Christian walk.”

This type of accompaniment is not easily accomplished, said Daniel Porting, a FOCUS missionary at Southern Methodist University, who reflected on his own college experience in the Phi Gama Delta fraternity.

Porting told CNA that most fraternities have mentoring programs, but that those programs are not always taken seriously.

“So that’s a very good structure, I’m not saying they do it well, but there is a structure in every fraternity where they want to inspire that good authentic and organic friendship, where it starts on a one-on-one level, where one person can accompany another,” he said.

But secular culture is struggling to foster this type of friendship, Dr. Langley said, “because an authentic friendship with men, in some ways, needs to be reinvented.”

“As men, we connect through doing things side-by-side, but if you look at the routes that men have to connect with each other, it’s very superficial.”

Dr. Langley said that some social norms and stereotypes make it difficult for men to pursue deep friendships with one another.

“Until recently in our culture, being affectionate with another man was really frowned upon and looked at as being effeminate, or a person would worry about [appearing] homosexual.”

Research conducted by Dr. Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University, published in 2013 by the American Sociological Association, showed that male friendships, which include emotional vulnerability, are typical during boyhood. But as boys get older, and deep male friendships become associated with homosexuality, she said men lose this avenue of emotional vulnerability.

“It is only in late adolescence – a time when, according to national data, suicides and violence among boys soar – that boys disconnect from other boys,” said Way in a 2013 article in Contexts magazine.

“The boys in my studies begin, in late adolescence, to use the phrase ‘no homo’ when discussing their male friendships, expressing the fear that if they seek out close friendships, they will be perceived as ‘gay’ or ‘girly.’”

Mark Harfiel, vice president of Paradisus Dei, a family-based Catholic ministry, said that when culture doesn’t support true masculinity, men lose sense of what it means to be authentically human.

“When you turn from Christ and begin to make all truth relative with no absolutes, you begin to lose a sense of what it even means to be human. All relationships have become sexualized and masculinity itself has even come into question.”

Secular culture often promotes a damaged view of masculinity, Daniel Porting said. He suggested that there are three main characteristics of heightened masculinity in the culture: an emphasis on power, pleasure and wealth.

“And I think that those all lead to unfulfillment and a lack of joy.”

Porting noted that many college-aged men with whom he works have suffered from a lack of authentic masculine role models, which creates wounds in men and impedes the desire to be loved.

The FOCUS missionary said these wounds are difficult for men to address, and added that when he meets men on campus he will steer away from questions like, “how is your life growing up?” or “how is your family?”

These questions “trigger something that is very wounding because someone didn’t step up and be a good role model,” he said.

Every parish needs to have an opportunity for men to find fraternal bonds and spiritually rich accountability, Harfiel added. That Man is You, a program affiliated with Paridisus Dei, is one possibility, he said, noting the group has created an estimated 1,000 male fraternal groups and reached over 100,000 men in the past 12 years.

However, this avenue might not be available for everyone, and Langley acknowledged that some men struggle with an even bigger problem – namely, fear.

“If there are not opportunities, one could create opportunities, connections with other people, but we’re afraid to be the first person to do that. We’re afraid to meet new people. We are afraid to be real with other people. So the virtue which would overcome all these virtues really is truly courage.”

Especially if there is no men’s ministry at the parish, Dr. Langely said, most likely other men in the parish are feeling the same way. He added that most people will be flattered by an invitation, “because it feels good to be noticed.”

This invitation, he said, doesn’t need to be big. It could simply be asking a gentleman (and maybe his wife) out for a bite to eat, or starting a small parish group of guys who go out periodically for beers.

“If you do sense a call to start something, then don't be afraid to keep it simple. A friend of mine at my parish started a men's group called ‘faith fermentation,’ which is just a fancy title for a bunch of guys going to get some beers together.”

“So don't worry about starting anything big. Just start something that ‘scratches your own itch,’ and most likely it will scratch the itch for connection that other men have too.”

Prioritizing male friendships with priests, peers, old and young adults, Langley said, takes courage. He noted Christ’s own example of surrounding himself with friends.

“We are blessed with this wonderful example of Jesus Christ, and he told his apostles that he was their friend – they weren’t just his pupils, they weren’t just the flock he was ministering to.”


Pro-life leaders: Life has value. Always.

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 17:42

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The lives of all human people, especially those who are suffering, have value, speakers at a recent pro-life program at Georgetown University emphasized. Their lives deserve care and accompaniment, even in the most trying of times, the experts said.

“When we speak of respect for human life, it is easy for us to get caught up in abstractions, and our response can be – or appear to be – somewhat theoretical. But our obligations are quite concrete,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, in a speech at Georgetown University.

“Life depends on us,” he urged.

Wuerl spoke at an Oct. 2 event entitled “Lives Worthy of Respect,” beginning the school’s Respect Life Month programing.

After the cardinal’s address was panel of speakers, including George Mason University law Professor Helen Alvare, National Right to Life vice president Tony Lauinger, homelessness advocate Sister Mary Louise Wessell, and Congressman and doctor Dr. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio-2). The panel was moderated by Dr. Kevin Donovan, a a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University, and director of the university’s Center for Bioethics.

Wuerl stressed the importance of life – and the challenges facing culture where “people have the power to choose which lives are worth living and which ones are not.” The cardinal pointed to the prevalence of suicide among young people, the rise of physician-assisted suicide, and the discarding of the disabled, the unborn, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations as examples of a culture which views some lives as not worthy of living.  

The Christian view of life, he countered, honors life not as something we own or create, but are stewards of: “Life, as all creation, in its rich diversity is God’s gift.” To counter the views of life which see people as disposable and burdens, Wuerl suggested following the example of Pope Francis and accompanying those who are suffering.

The speakers’ panel echoed the cardinal’s critique of a culture of discarding others and the need to care intimately for the vulnerable. Alvare shared how her experiences caring for her severely disabled sister and elderly grandparents gave her a new appreciation for the Church’s “radical” message of the equality of all human persons. As she became more involved in the pro-life movement, she saw the web of situations and decisions in a culture “that immiserates women.”

“The poor are suffering the most,” she said of this culture, and critiqued the lack of solutions provided to women that don’t include abortion.

Westrup pointed to a deeply moving experience of caring for an AIDS patient in 1985 while he was a resident in Chicago. He explained that many of his fellow doctors were scared of the man, and the attending physician made care for the dying man voluntary. Westrup wanted to see him, however, and learned much from his examination.

“I learned even more from what he said to me afterwards,” Westrup recalled. The man told the young doctor that “you just examined me more than anyone,” and was grateful for his care. The patient died the next day.

“I thought what does that feel like to be so discarded, cast aside. To be made to feel that your life is meaningless,” Westrup mused. However, the man’s life, though it was painful at the end, was not meaningless, and Western still remembers his patient’s name and takes his message of care for each vulnerable person to heart.

“He delivered that message on his last day of life,” the congressman stated. “It matters to the very last moment.”

Lauinger emphasized the high cost of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and the millions of persons whose lives have been taken over the past 45 years. “It was less than 25 years after the Nuremburg trials that our own supreme court condemned to death the unborn children of America,” Lauinger lamented.

“This is not a victimless act,” he urged. “Therefore it is not a matter of private morality but public morality: protecting the most innocent, the most vulnerable members of our human family.”


Both on and off camera, 'Papal Ninja' is proud to be Catholic

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 17:37

Oakland, Calif., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- Whether he’s navigating a harrowing obstacle course in front of the camera or doing behind-the-scenes content editing for an evangelization website, Sean Bryan wants people to know that he is proud to be Catholic.

Also known as the “Papal Ninja,” Bryan competed for a second time this season on NBC’s obstacle course competition show, American Ninja Warrior.

“I hope (the audience) can see that the faith is not something extra-ordinary, but rather, something that is meant to be extraordinarily ordinary,” Bryan told CNA.

When he’s not training for daredevil feats of strength and agility, Bryan is working for Lay Mission Project, a website dedicated to equipping lay people with the tools to live their faith within the secular culture.

Through coursework and small groups, the project’s mission is “to form laypeople to delve deeply into the mysteries of the faith, to come to know Jesus at an intimate level, and to be lit on fire to act in his place in the secular realm.”

Bryan first garnered national attention in the eighth season of American Ninja Warrior, when he wore a bright yellow shirt with the words “Papal Ninja” written across the front. This year, he sported a papal flag emblem, and was one of three finalists, becoming the first contestant to defeat an obstacle known as “Wingnut Alley.”

No champion took home the $1 million prize this year, but Bryan said that he is grateful for his own personal improvement from last season, and for the ability to glorify God through his talents.  

“These abilities truly are God-given, for his glory, and are part of his plan for me in some way – no matter what the performance-specific result may be.”

Bryan also thanked God that he was able to be a witness to his Catholic faith on the show and that the producers were willing to portray it.

Part of the Papal Ninja’s goal in competing on the show is to portray the Church in a positive light, and to offer courage to young people as they encounter secular society.

“The negative publicity the Church has received in the past two decades has been overwhelming, as we all have experienced,” he said.

“I knew from the beginning of my Ninja Warrior endeavors that this would – in some way – not only shine a good light on the Church, but also help the youth open their hearts to our Lord in spite of the threat of potential persecution.”

While Bryan hopes to use his role on American Ninja Warrior as an evangelization opportunity, he is also involved in another apostolate – the Lay Mission Project.

Bryan serves as Animating Director for the group, a position that includes website development, networking, program facilitation and other tasks.

The goal, he said, is to form Catholics at the local parish level to better know and share their faith.

“Participants are brought to a profound awareness of their role as apostles to the world and are given the tools they need to respond to their calling and live out their vocations,” Bryan said.

Most of the course material is provided online, and participants are guided in spiritual exercises which coincide with each lesson.

“In addition to the coursework, participants also meet regularly in small discipleship groups, where they discuss what they’ve learned, share how have integrated the material, and talk through the struggles they’ve encountered along the way,” said Bryan, noting the project is currently being tested in the Diocese of Sacramento.

Although the project is still in initial development, Bryan said he is encouraged by how the program has already equipped parishioners with tools to be a witness of Christ at home, work, and in their communities.

Bryan is eager to expand the project, but he emphasized the importance of in-person collaboration to form disciples within a parish at a local level.

“We find it important to stick with the diocesan cohort approach, so that the formation lives in the diocese, revitalizes the local Church, and helps develop a network of disciples in a given geographic area, so that the Church is present and operative in ways in which it can be only through the laity.”


Sales of controversial birth control coil halted everywhere...except the US

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 17:09

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- German pharmaceutical company Bayer announced recently that it has suspended from all non-US sales the Essure coil, a controversial form of birth control which has received the strictest possible FDA warning for its side effects, which include chronic pain, bleeding, and severe allergic reactions.

“The device [Essure] was sold to me as a simple and easy procedure. I was told that I’d be in and out of the doctor’s office in 10 minutes and that there’d be no recovery time,” said Laura Linkson, a user of Essure who shared her testimony on the UK show Victoria Derbyshire, according to the BBC.

“I went from being a mum who was doing everything with her children, to a mum that was stuck in bed unable to move without pain, at some points being suicidal,” Linkson continued, saying, “I felt like I was a burden to everyone around me.”

Essure is a nickel and polyester coil which is inserted into the fallopian tubes, causing scar tissue growth, as a way of preventing eggs from reaching the womb. This form of birth control, known as hysteroscopy sterilization, has been around since 2002 and is currently manufactured and distributed by Bayer.

Last week, Bayer announced its voluntary decision to halt all sales outside of the U.S., citing “commercial reasons.”

“We would like to reassure the Essure patients and their accompanying healthcare professionals that this decision is made for commercial reasons and that it is not related to a safety or product quality issue,” read a statement from Bayer’s website. “According to our scientific assessment, the positive risk-benefit ratio of Essure remains unchanged.”

Essure sales in the EU were temporarily halted last month, following product license suspension in Ireland due to overall concerns for the product. Bayer also encouraged hospitals in the UK to suspend the use of their existing stocks for the time being.

However, Essure is still being sold in the U.S., its most popular market, although Bayer announced it is no longer marketing outside of the country.

Despite its popularity, more than 15,000 women in the U.S. alone have reported serious health issues resulting from the birth control coil, according to BBC.

In fact, over the past few years a group has surfaced called Essure Problems – an organization of women who are lobbying against Essure in court due to negative experiences with the product. The group now has more than 35,000 members.

Some reported side effects included chronic pain, flu-like symptoms, bleeding, depression, exhaustion, suicidal thoughts, and allergic reactions. In some cases, the coil had moved into other parts of the body, protruding into nearby organs and the pelvis.

These side-effects are a far cry from the device’s label warnings, which include “mild to moderate pain and/or cramping, vaginal bleeding and pelvic or back discomfort for a few days.”

“Whatever they’ve put on the label, multiply it by 200,” said Angela Desa-Lynch, an administrator for the Essure Problems Group, in a previous interview with CNA.

“They don’t tell you that it’s ‘I can’t get out of bed and take care of my kids’ kind of pain,” she continued.

Surgery or a hysterectomy is the only way to remove the Essure coil, which has resulted in additional complications with the birth control device.

The coils can easily break during surgery, causing further health issues such as additional surgeries, inflamed abdomens, and cysts. In addition, most health insurance companies will not cover the cost of the coil’s removal, resulting in a hefty medical bill.

“One woman had a coil in her colon, she went from a business owner to bankruptcy” after four surgeries, Desa-Lynch stated.

The FDA placed its most severe warning on the birth control coil in November 2016. Known as the “black box” label, it is “designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks,” according to the FDA’s website.

An FDA spokesman said that the agency “has taken several steps to ensure the ongoing evaluation of Essure's safety and efficacy, as well as to educate healthcare professionals and women about the potential risks of using the device.”

US bishops' anti-racism chairman announces committee membership

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 16:52

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 02:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an interview with CNA on Monday, Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, who chairs the US bishops' newly-formed anti-racism committee, revealed the names of the seven other bishops who are committee members.

The bishop members of the committee, Murry told CNA Oct. 2, are Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis.

Bishop consultants to the committee include Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C.; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice; and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin.

Lay consultants to the committee will be announced later this week, Murry said.

Murry reflected that “the problems of racism are deep and widespread, and will take time to heal … Young people are understandably frustrated. We don’t do them a service by not talking about this, by hoping it’ll go away.”

“We need to turn to them and say instead of throwing rocks, instead of destroying buildings, and instead of setting cars on fire, let’s sit down and talk about what concrete steps can we take to overcome this problem.”

The ad hoc committee was announced in August after white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied in Charlottesville, Va., and a 20 year-old man drove a car into the counter-protest killing one and injuring 19.

The committee will explore ways the Church can address the root causes of contemporary manifestations of racism, the conference said. The bishops will also hold public conversations about racism and race-related problems.

Will the real St. Francis please stand up?

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 12:16

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- St. Francis of Assisi is widely known for his life of poverty and love of creation. But there’s a lesser-known side to the friar as well – a side that showed a deep reverence for the Eucharist and attentive care to the sacred vessels at Mass.     

Francis’ love of creation really points to “the Christo-centrism of his spirituality,” said Brother William Short, a professor of spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in California.

“We can trivialize it and make Francis kind of a tree-hugger,” he told CNA, but “his Canticle of the creatures is a really profound way of understanding not just the presence of God, but the presence of Christ within all of creation.”

On Oct. 4, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a deacon from Assisi, Italy who renounced his wealth to follow Christ and founded the Order of Friars Minor, later called the Franciscans; the Order of Poor Ladies, now the Poor Clares; and the Third Order of Penance, now the Third Order Franciscans. Born in the 1180s, he died in 1226 and was canonized in 1228.

St. Francis is often cited as an example of poverty – he and his friars worked and begged for just enough food and resources to survive. The saint is also known for his love of creation, and statutes of the friar adorn many gardens. He is the patron of animals, ecology, and the environment and wrote the Canticle of the Sun where he praises God and His creation.

But the saint loved God first and creation in its proper order, stressed Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., a biographer of St. Francis.

“He loved nature and animals, and they caused him not only to pray and praise God but to become ecstatic. Nature was a reason for him to praise God, and he loved nature. But there was no confusion between nature and God for Francis,” he said.

Fr. Augustine wrote the book, “Francis of Assisi: A New Biography,” published in 2012. “One of the principal conclusions of my book is that Francis had no political projects, whether for the Church or for the society,” he told CNA.

“In fact, the idea that he would put himself in a position of knowing better than other people is completely contrary to his desire to be a servant of all and be below everyone else,” he said.

Brother William noted that there are false assumptions that Francis was eccentric and was purely a poet and mystic who was “vague on the details” and “not very well organized.” On the contrary, he said, Francis actually showed “very clear ideas and was very good at expressing them” and had “organizational and administrative skill” in founding three orders.

And while he preached peace and some may have seen him as “gentle” and perhaps “weak,” there was a “very demanding side of him,” Br. William added, as Francis demanded much not only of himself but also of his fellow friars in following Christ.

He has also been perceived as “simple” and “not very well educated,” but Francis was actually better educated than most of his contemporaries, Br. William added. He was literate in two languages and composed poetry in the Umbrian dialect of Italian.

“He misleads people by referring to himself as simple, but he was more educated than we might think.”

Another lesser-known side of Francis is the deeply religious and pious man who put a strict emphasis on care for the sacred vessels at Mass, reverence for the Eucharist, and obedience to the Church.

“The one case where he’s harsh in his deathbed confession is he says if there are any friars who are not Catholic or do not follow the books of the Roman Church for their services, they are to be arrested, put in chains, and held to be handed over to the corrector of the order, the Cardinal of Ostia,” Fr. Augustine said.

Of Francis’ nine letters, he added, “seven of them are basically dedicated to chastising priests for using unpolished chalices, dirty altar linen, and not keeping the sacrament in a suitable place.”

This was actually a common practice of the time, Br. William noted, so much so that the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 spoke out about the need for better cleanliness in churches and for the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved in a suitable place.

Francis “made it a personal crusade of his not only to encourage others, particularly the clergy, to take care of churches a little bit better, but he personally would go with a broom and actually sweep out a church as a volunteer simply out of respect for the Eucharist and for the Lord,” he noted.

And Francis also drew a “very strong connection between the Eucharist and the Nativity,” he added, “that for him, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the one who gives to the faithful the body of her son, is mirrored in the action of the priest at the Eucharist.”

“So there’s a strong connection between the Blessed Virgin and what he calls the hands of the priest and the womb of the Blessed Virgin – as these means by which the body of the Lord is given to the faithful.”

Francis’ devotion to the Eucharist also comes out in a letter he wrote to the Brothers and Sisters of Poverty where he described the “perfect act of poverty,” as Fr. Augustine summarized it:

“And the perfect act of poverty was when God Who was ruler of the universe took on weak human flesh in the Incarnation, and then not only did God Who was the ruler of all take on weak human flesh, he allowed Himself to be subject to being rejected, maltreated, tortured and killed, and then not only that, even more perfectly as an act of poverty, God Who became Incarnate and died on the cross gave us His body as our own food.”

That teaching “sums up everything about Francis,” he said.

Claims that Francis excoriated the clergy for their decadence were false and circulated by excommunicates decades after his death, Fr. Augustine added.

“Francis never displays in any authentic documents about him or his own writings anything except absolute submission, obedience to the hierarchy,” he said.

“The stories about him humiliating prelates and so forth about not living poorly are stories that date to over 100 years after his death and come out of circles of radical Franciscans who have been excommunicated by the Pope and are against the hierarchy.”


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 4, 2016.

Christian beauty and encounter – one author's proposal to heal a wounded culture

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 08:14

Denver, Colo., Oct 4, 2017 / 06:14 am (CNA).- The power of Christian beauty and human encounter will be the focus of a leading Communion and Liberation priest as he holds a roundtable discussion and speaking tour of North America this Oct. 9-15.

“Do we Christians still believe in the capacity of the faith we have received to attract those we encounter, and do we believe in the living fascination of its defenseless beauty?” Father Julian Carron asks in his book “Disarming Beauty.”

Carron heads Communion and Liberation, the international ecclesial movement which originated in the 1950s under the Italian priest Monsignor Luigi Giussani. The movement focuses on making faith real by living as a Christian presence in community.

His book “Disarming Beauty,” published in 2017 from Notre Dame Press, considers the Church’s relevance to modern society’s most pressing challenges. From terrorism to consumerism, so-called “rights culture” to marriage and family, the book examines the plight of our current world and invites Christians to respond, not from a place of fear, but from the joy of their original encounter with the living person of Christ.

Carron’s North American tour will begin Oct. 9 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, followed by an Oct. 10 stop in Denver, Colo. at the Denver Press Club, then an Oct. 11 roundtable at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. There will be an Oct. 13 event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York followed by a Spanish-language lecture that evening at the Sheen Center in New York for the Albacete Lecture on Ethics and Culture.

Fr. Carron will hold a panel discussion at La Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal, Quebec on Oct. 14 and conclude his tour Oct. 15 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in a public conversation with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.

The tour’s stops will include dialogue with discussants like New York Times columnist Ross Douthat; Fellowship of Catholic University Students founder and president Curtis Martin; M.J. Kahn, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston; and sociologist Dr. Amitai Ezioni.

Internet livestreaming will be available for the Oct. 9 event at Notre Dame, the Oct. 11 event in Houston, and the Oct. 13 Spanish-language lecture in New York.

“Disarming Beauty” contends that the contemporary cultural crisis of fear and confusion is deeper than the rejection of ethical precepts. Rather, people have lost sight of what it is to be human. Instead of moral exhortation as a solution, Fr. Carron advocates “an encounter with a person…who makes the human benefit of faith tangible.”

“The book speaks of the beauty of Christian faith, of its power and its attraction,” Fr. Carron told CNA in a June interview. “When God takes on flesh, He strips Himself of His own power, entering into the history and poverty of the human condition, revealing to everyone the truth of His power.”

“Beauty disarms us from our narrow way of looking at ourselves and at reality; it opens our minds and our eyes to the totality of reality, of the real,” he added. “The attractiveness of beauty moves us affectively, so much so that it allows reason to become truly opened to all the factors of reality. We discover this openness in Christ’s gaze on reality; we are surprised by the way Jesus looks at the publicans, at Zacchaeus or Matthew, or at the crowd.”

Carron is a professor of theology at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. He was born in Spain in 1950 and holds a doctorate from the Facultad de Teología del Norte de España. He is a past director of the San Justino Institute of Classical and Eastern Philology in Madrid and of the Spanish edition of the international Catholic journal Communio, and of the journal Estudios Bíblicos.

His book’s website is

Three years later, this terminally ill man is glad he rejected assisted suicide

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Three years ago, J.J. Hanson received a diagnosis that no one wants to hear. He had terminal brain cancer, and doctors said his time was short – he likely had about four months to live.

“The surgeon said my cancer was inoperable and three different doctors told me there was nothing they could do,” Hanson said.

He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same type of brain cancer that led Brittany Maynard to choose to take her life through assisted suicide in a high-profile case in California in 2014.

“I would have easily met the criteria for accessing assisted suicide if I lived in a state like Oregon or California, where assisted suicide is legal,” Hanson said.

“In a dark moment, I might have opted for it, but I am fortunate to have a supportive family, and was given the opportunity to pursue cutting edge, experimental treatment instead,” he said. “Here I am three years later, enjoying the arrival of our second son and living life to the fullest.”

Today, Hanson is president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, which opposes efforts to legalize assisted suicide. The group is currently backing a Congressional resolution objecting to assisted suicide on the grounds that it puts all people at risk.

“When assisted suicide becomes accepted public policy it threatens the lives of everyone, especially the poor, elderly, mentally ill, disabled, and terminally ill,” he said. “Why? Well, for starters, abuse is unavoidable and doctors are fallible. Assisted suicide policy also injects government insurers and private insurance companies with financial incentives into every single person’s end of life decisions.”

House Congressional Resolution 80, proposed by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) on Sept. 26, has nine co-sponsors from both parties. Besides Hanson’s group, other supporting groups includes the National Council on Independent Living, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Not Dead Yet, ADAPT, and Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Fund.

Rep. Wenstrup and the resolution’s sponsors said doctor-assisted suicide “undermines a key safeguard that protects our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and people experiencing psychiatric diagnoses. Americans deserve better.”

“When governments support, encourage, or facilitate suicide – whether assisted by physicians or others – we devalue our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings,” the legislators said. “That should not be who we are.”

The proposed resolution says that assisted suicide “puts everyone, including those most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of the health care system.” It notes that the purported “safeguards” limit the laws to patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live, but such people “outlive their prognoses every day.”

The federal government “should ensure that every person facing the end of their life has access to the best quality and comprehensive medical care,” including palliative or hospice care, says the resolution. It says the federal government “should not adopt or endorse policies or practices that support, encourage, or facilitate suicide or assisted suicide, whether by physicians or others.”

States with legal assisted suicide have come under criticism for lacking adequate safeguards to protect those who are depressed or pressured into requesting assisted suicide. Reporting standards for assisted suicide are substandard, according to the resolution. It also objects that some states require physicians to conceal assisted suicide and to list the cause of death as the underlying condition.

It adds that the low cost of lethal medication will make it more likely to be recommended to disadvantaged and vulnerable people.


US House passes bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 18:35

Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2017 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. House passed on Tuesday a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation in a largely party-line vote. The measure is a major pro-life legislative priority, but it is expected to fail in the Senate.

“The New England Journal of Medicine has documented that premature babies are surviving earlier and earlier, yet our nations laws fail to protect these children,” stated Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association.

The House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act late in the afternoon of Oct. 3 by a vote of 237 to 189, largely along party lines. The chamber also passed a version of the bill in 2015; but Tuesday’s bill, as in 2015, is expected to fail in the Senate.

If it were to be signed into law, the bill would “not only save between 11,000-18,000 lives a year, but will serve to educate the public on the humanity of the unborn person and affirm the science of fetal pain early in development,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.”

It bans most abortions past 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake. Pro-life leaders have pointed to studies which say that unborn babies can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization, and that a small number can actually survive with the proper medical care, if born at that stage of the pregnancy.

“The fact is that more than 18,000 late-term, pain capable unborn babies were torturously killed without anesthesia in America in just the last year,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced the bill, said on the House Floor Monday evening. “It is the worst human rights atrocity in the history of the United States of America.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked House members to support the bill in a Sept. 29 letter.

“We hold that every child, from conception onward, deserves love and the protection of the law. We believe that no person or government has the right to take the life of an innocent human being – and we hold that the real problems that lead women to consider abortion should be addressed with solutions that support both mother and child,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.

“Stories of children being born earlier in pregnancy, as early as 20 weeks post-fertilization, are becoming more common,” he wrote. “These procedures after the middle point of pregnancy also pose serious dangers to women – as evidenced by a disturbing number of news stories about the death or serious complications of women undergoing such procedures.”

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) said in a floor statement supporting the bill that “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will moderate our extreme position and ensure we protect the most vulnerable – like Micah Pickering, a lively five-year-old I met last week.”

He explained that Micah was born prematurely, at the age childen would be protected by the bill: “Micah was able to survive and thrive after spending more than four months in the neonatal intensive care unit. He is now in kindergarten, and I found out when talking to him that we share a love of Legos.”

“The bottom line is this: 20 weeks is halfway through a pregnancy. It’s too late to end the life of an unborn baby,” Hultgren stated. “It violates what Americans want, it violates science, and it violates our country’s most enduring values.”

The White House has promised to sign the bill if it passes both chambers, in line with a promise that President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail to sign certain pro-life bills if they were sent to his desk.

“The bill, if enacted into law, would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our Nation aspires,” the White House stated on Tuesday. “The United States is currently out of the mainstream in the family of nations, in which only 7 out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” Among those seven countries are China and North Korea.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Tuesday that “This bill, which the President has promised to sign, would get us out of that disgraceful club and bring our laws into line with basic human decency.” She noted that 20 states have already passed versions of the bill.

If the bill fails in the Senate, Dannenfelser told CNA last week that Susan B. Anthony List will begin working to ensure that enough pro-life candidates are elected in 2018 to build a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

“We are preparing for 2018 Senate elections,” Dannenfelser said. “What we’re doing is we’re building that Senate up to a 60-vote margin.”

Love Saves Lives: Theme of the 2018 March for Life

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Organizers of the March for Life issued the 2018 theme for the pro-life demonstration on Tuesday, and a challenge to pro-life advocates everywhere: “Love Saves Lives.”

“Deep down we’re all drawn towards selflessness,” said March for Life president Jeannie Mancini of the theme for the 2018 event. “Choosing life, as we all know is not always easy. But it is the loving, empowering, and self-sacrificial option.”

The Oct. 3 announcement revealed the theme for the 45th annual March for Life, which will take place Jan. 19, 2018. The pro-life event is one of the largest political protests in the United States, consistently bringing an estimated hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C. each January.

Mancini explained that the theme highlights the need for loving solutions for women facing difficult pregnancies, and for the unborn also in those situations. Mancini pointed out that many abortion proponents rightly note needs for housing, healthcare, leave, and pay when discussing abortion. However, “you don’t solve one problem by creating another,” she urged. “We believe that abortion will never be the solution.”

Allison Howard Centofante, Director of Alliance Relations at Alliance Defending Freedom, gave a powerful testimony on the power of love – and its ability to save lives.

“I know for a fact that love saves lives. It saved my father’s life and therefore, it saved mine,” she said. She explained that as an infant, her father was abandoned at a hotel and raised by a Catholic religious order. “I struggled that someone I’m related to could leave a child,” she said, of discovering this news when she was eight.

Her father’s perspective, however, made her re-evaluate her pain and see it instead as a gift. Howard Centofante explained that her father gave a talk highlighting the gift mothers give when choosing life, and how he thanks his mother for leaving him in a place where he would be found.

“For him, that’s enough to forgive her,” Howard Centofante said.

She also pointed to the love and work done by many pro-life volunteers throughout the country who help women with unplanned pregnancies and help provide them with the resources to take care of themselves, and the life within them.

Susan Gallucci, Executive Director of the Northwest Center, a pregnancy center in Washington, D.C., also spoke of the resources and love women who are facing crisis pregnancies receive.

“A lot of women were forced to choose between their housing and abortion,” Gallucci said, explaining that her maternity home works hard to provide aid, counseling, housing and all kinds of support for women through and after their pregnancies. She told story after story of driving expectant mothers to appointments, or to academic classes, or to help them find housing and jobs while facing all sorts of external pressures.

Her experience with these women highlights the truth that “love does save lives and we’re part of family,” Gallucci urged. “Being able to live that out is really a blessing.”

Mancini closed the event speaking to the challenges facing not only the pro-life movement, but the country. “We’re in a moment that desperately needs love,” Mancini said. That love, however, requires action and sacrifice, she commented. “What will you sacrifice to build a culture of life?”

How the US bishops' anti-racism committee will address social problems

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Racism is not going away. Catholics can’t pretend that it will just disappear, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ new anti-racism committee said on Monday.

“The problems of racism are deep and widespread, and will take time to heal,” Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, told CNA on Monday.

That doesn’t mean Catholics can simply do nothing, he said.

“Racism has been around for a long time. The result of racism is discrimination,” he said. People of all ages and races “have been prevented from a number of opportunities,” he said, like “housing, schooling, job opportunities.”

“Young people are understandably frustrated. We don’t do them a service by not talking about this, by hoping it’ll go away,” Murry said.

“We need to turn to them and say instead of throwing rocks, instead of destroying buildings, and instead of setting cars on fire, let’s sit down and talk about what concrete steps can we take to overcome this problem.”

“Sometimes a person will have problem, a physical problem, a psychological problem, and they ignore it. And they think that 'well, if I don’t do anything about it, it’ll eventually go away'. I think that’s what we have in many of the social situations in our country,” he said.

Murry spoke with CNA at an Oct. 2 gathering of Christian leaders at the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The leaders, including Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, invoked King’s 1957 essay “Non-Violence and Social Justice” to call for a peaceful response to injustice in society.

Murry explained that the bishops’ new anti-racism committee will promote human dignity, which he hoped would channel social frustrations towards peaceful solutions.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the establishment of the committee in August after white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied in Charlottesville, Va., and a 20 year-old man drove a car into the counter-protest killing one and injuring 19.

The bishop members of the committee, Murry told CNA, are Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis.

Bishop consultants to the committee include Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C.; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice; and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin.

Lay consultants to the committee will be announced later this week, Murry said.

The Charlottesville violence came after months of heightened racial tensions in the United States, and demonstrations across the country. The committee was formed to respond to this developing social tension, the USCCB noted

The committee will explore ways the Church can address the root causes of contemporary manifestations of racism, the conference said. The bishops will also hold public conversations about racism and race-related problems.

The committee will collaborate with the Knights of Columbus to combat racism and violence, he added. The Knights, he said, “have been a consistent voice for racial equality since they were created.”

The goal of collaboration is “to try to help people to experience a change of heart, and to recognize every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.”

Although some protests in recent years turned violent – like riots in Baltimore in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray – many demonstrations have been non-violent, and many parishes have worked admirably to address the problem of racism, Murry said.

He pointed to St. Peter Claver Parish in West Baltimore, Md., St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield, Ill., and Holy Trinity Parish in Dallas, Tex. as examples of Catholics “coming together to address these issues frankly and to find solutions in a non-violent way.”

'The Stray' inspired by director's real-life turnaround

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 16:18

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 3, 2017 / 02:18 pm (CNA).- Mitch Davis had the best intentions for his career and family life. He was an executive at the Disney and Columbia movie studios in the 1980s. He wanted to make family films, and he made the effort to be home around his kids, while many Hollywood colleagues logged countless extra hours at their offices.

But Davis was stressed at work and at home. He felt compelled to help make crassly commercial movies to boost the studios’ profits. He also frequently found himself wearing noise-canceling headphones to block out the sound of his children as he read a never-ending pile of scripts in a corner of his house.

Something had to change. The catalyst for improvements came in the most unlikely way: with the arrival of a stray dog at his home. Taking in a canine visitor they named Pluto, Davis found that its joyous presence had a profound effect on all their lives, and the transformation Pluto inspired forms the basis of his new movie “The Stray,” opening nationwide this weekend.

“That dog first started healing our family, and then saving it when we were struck by lightning on a camping trip,” says Davis. “There are two strays in the movie actually, the stray dog and the stray dad. I was headed in the wrong direction. There’s nothing like a bolt of lightning to center your priorities, and the dog reminded us what mattered most, and that was people and the members of our immediate family.”

Davis has been pleasantly surprised by how favorably early viewers have responded to “The Stray,” which was originally supposed to open on just 100 screens nationwide. After executives at Pureflix – the Christian-run film distributor that also handled the smash hit “God’s Not Dead” – saw it, the company immediately signed on to provide a broader release in more than 600 theaters.

He feels that showing the positive impact that dogs have on families is a universally relatable theme since “dogs have a way of loving everybody unconditionally.” Davis first asked his wife if they could buy a dog for their family, but due to their financial stress, she said he couldn’t bring a dog home on purpose.

“She said we could maybe keep a dog if I found a stray, and that might have tipped her hand because a couple weeks later, Pluto followed our oldest son home from school and never left,” recalls Davis. “In our life, the stray dog was an angel.”

“What happens and changes when you get a dog?” he continues. “You start going on walks, and you choose parks and places you can hang out with your family. What happens when you come home at 2 a.m. and your dog is waiting for you? It’s always ready to look at the stars with you.”

Essentially, Davis sees dogs as a reflection of God’s own unconditional love for us. He says that dogs forgive and forget any slights against them, they have innate ability to determine whether motives are good or bad, and they have a keen understanding of human emotions.

Davis’ dramatic relationship with Pluto and his incredible tale of surviving a lightning strike are at the center of the family film. Those qualities are in line with the other films he has made in the past 30 years, since Pluto touched his life.

“[Legendary director] Frank Capra once said that the morally courageous should be allowed to speak to their fellow man for two hours in the dark via movies,” says Davis. “What do we do when we go to a theater and walk into a dark room and allow a complete stranger to preach to us, teach us, or shock us? There’s really no other experience like it.”

“If your children came and said ‘I’m going to a stranger’s house to sit in the dark for two hours,’ you’d call the cops, but people do it everyday,” Davis continues. “We allow the complete strangers of television into our homes to teach us in the dark. It’s a serious responsibility and one I don’t think many take seriously today.”

Davis feels that most of Hollywood’s film output has only gotten worse since his crisis of conscience 30 years ago. He believes that as Hollywood has allowed budgets to grow astronomically, the studios have become more soul-less and driven to succeed internationally with films appealing to viewers’ basest instincts.

But he still sees hope, and is determined to be part of that.

“There’s a crying need for films and family entertainment and we’re hoping this little movie of ours provides just that for as many people as possible,” says Davis. “Thirty years ago is when I quit my job and sold my house to move to LA and go to USC film school. To have a movie coming out 30 years later about that period of my life, about my family and my desire to make family movies, is layers upon layers of irony. But it’s a true story and one that will hopefully entertain and inspire lots of others.”


Archbishop Gomez: American missionaries are the overlooked US founders

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 14:06

Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During the annual Red Mass marking a new term of the U.S. Supreme Court, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said that early American missionaries should be honored among the founding fathers of the United States.

“These missionaries – together with the colonists and the statesmen who came later – they laid the spiritual and intellectual groundwork for a nation that remains unique in human history,” Gomez told lawyers and judges during his homily at the 65th Red Mass.  

“A nation conceived under God and committed to promoting human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of a diversity of peoples, races, ideas and beliefs.”

The Red Mass is celebrated on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, which marks the beginning of the Supreme Court’s annual term. The liturgy is held at St. Matthew the Apostle Church in Washington D.C., and is meant to invoke God’s blessing on elected officials and members of the justice system.

Reflecting on the 5 million Catholics speaking 40 different languages in the L.A. Archdiocese, Gomez discussed current immigration issues and touched on the spiritual foundations laid by Franciscan missionaries.

He gave the example of the recently canonized St. Junipero Serra, whom he called a champion for indigenous people. The Franciscan saint had written a “bill of rights” to protect the natives when the colonial government refused to acknowledge their full dignity, he said.  

“Remembering St. Junípero and the first missionaries changes how we remember our national story. It reminds us that America’s first beginnings were not political. America’s first beginnings were spiritual.”

The archbishop reflected on the birth of the Church at Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit gave the “mission of gathering all the peoples of the earth into one family of God.”

“In God’s eyes, there are no foreigners, there are no strangers! All of us are family. When God looks at us, he sees beyond the color of our skin, or the countries where we come from, or the language that we speak. God sees only his children – sons and daughters made in his image.”

“The American dream is still a work in progress,” Gomez said, noting that “we have come a long way” from “the original sins of slavery and the cruel mistreatment of native peoples.”

“But we have not come nearly far enough,” he said. “America is still a beacon of hope for peoples of every nation, who look to this country for refuge, for freedom and equality under God.” he added.  

The archbishop explained that God gives the power of forgiveness, calling it “the greatest power that men and women possess under heaven. If only we could understand that! Because when we forgive, we are imitating Jesus Christ.”

Gomez said that forgiveness fosters “what we need in America today – a new spirit of compassion and cooperation, a new sense of our common humanity.”

“We need to treat ‘others’ as our brothers and our sisters. Even those who oppose or disagree with us. The mercy and love that we desire – this is the mercy and love that we must show to our neighbors,” he said.


Christian leaders invoke Martin Luther King Jr against violence, racism

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 19:07

Washington D.C., Oct 2, 2017 / 05:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After recent violent protests and the deadliest mass shooting recorded in U.S. history on Sunday, Christian leaders invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. as they condemned racism and violence.

“As a society, we need to stop making excuses and commit ourselves to a movement for nonviolence that involves every one of us,” Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, stated Monday.

The gathering of Christian leaders took place Oct. 2 at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, was present, along with Bishop Murry; Edwin Bass, a leader of the Church of God in Christ, and Eugene Rivers III, founder of the W.J. Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies and a Pentecostal minister.

The leaders called attention to King’s example of non-violent protest against social injustices, particularly on the 60th anniversary of his essay “Nonviolence and Social Justice.” They called for 2018 to be declared the year of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his 1957 essay, King wrote that “when oppressed people rise up against oppression there is no stopping point short of full freedom.”

“In struggling for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns,” he added. “Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and the morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”

Yet, Anderson noted at Monday’s gathering, “things did not immediately get better in 1957,” as bombings of churches and beatings and killings of African-American protesters of racism ravaged the country.

“Reverend King held the high ground,” Anderson said, believing that “in a democracy, there can be no place for political violence.”

The gathering was also held less than two months after a white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally occurred in Charlottesville, Va. to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. A coalition of various groups and religious leaders formed a counter-protest. On Saturday, Aug. 12, James Alex Fields, Jr., 20, drove a car into the counter-protest, killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer.

On August 23, the U.S. bishops formed an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named Bishop Murry as the chair.

Also since that time, other alt-right rallies have been formed, as well as counter-protests, with some of the protesters resorting to violence.

In St. Louis on the weekend of Sept. 15-17, demonstrators protested the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Most of the protesters were reportedly non-violent, although a minority escalated the protests at night into violence against police offers and vandalism of buildings, including the mayor’s house. Officers were reportedly heard chanting “Whose streets? Our streets.” Over 100 people were arrested.

The Knights of Columbus and the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies sent a letter to religious leaders around the country dated Aug. 30, asking them to advocate for non-violence “to help lead our country away from the precipice of violence and toward a future of honest and open civil discourse and respect for the dignity of each person.”

Signers of the letter included Carl Anderson; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Murry; and Rivers.

The letter’s purpose, Anderson said, was to spur “important conversations that will help us find civility in our public discourse and unity as Americans working together for the common good.”

Hours before the Monday press conference, a lone gunman killed at least 58 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nev. before killing himself, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history. Stephen Paddock, 64, was armed with machine guns and shot down into the Route 91 Harvest Festival from a high-rise hotel suite.

Religious leaders present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial decried the act of violence and prayed for the victims and all harmed by the shooting.

“As always in these situations, one finds it hard to say things that don’t sound like clichés,” Bishop Murry said.

“We have too much violence in our society, and everything we say is beginning to seem tired and repetitive,” he said. And although all must commit to non-violence, he said, “something deeper” is needed.

“That commitment requires true conversion. Each of us needs to restore the love that comes with true friendship,” he said. “A society should be a community. And unless we recover the sense that we are all in this together, because we are one family, I fear we will not be able to stop the violence trends we are facing.”

Leaders also spoke about the need to address systemic racism in U.S. society. Bishop Murry thanked the Knights of Columbus for their efforts in this initiative, saying they “have been a consistent voice for racial equality since they were created.”

Anderson noted that there has been “renewed racism by groups like the Ku Klux Klan” lately.

“Today as then, we stand united in the principle that all are created equal, and we reiterate the words of Pope Francis last month, calling for the rejection of violence, all violence, in political life,” he said.

“We believe the way of non-violence is as relevant today as ever.”

US bishops join in prayer after Las Vegas shooting

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 11:59

Las Vegas, Nev., Oct 2, 2017 / 09:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference voiced grief over a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

“My heart and my prayers, and those of my brother bishops and all the members of the Church, go out to the victims of this tragedy and to the city of Las Vegas,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an Oct. 2 statement.

Calling for prayer and care for those suffering, DiNardo offered a traditional Catholic prayer for the dead and asked protection from God for those who are suffering.

“In the end, the only response is to do good – for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light,” the cardinal counseled.

DiNardo’s statements follow an Oct. 1 shooting during a concert at the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. While details are still emerging, at least 50 people have died, and the Las Vegas Police Department reports that around 500 people have been hospitalized due to the shooting.

The sold-out concert was on the Las Vegas Strip, and thousands came to see acts including as Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean.

The shooter has been identified as 64-year-old Las Vegas local Stephen Paddock. According to the Associate Press, Paddock shot and killed himself in his hotel room as police tried to enter the room. Police are still investigating whether Paddock acted alone or with the help of accomplices.


Why bother with beauty? A book for right-brained Catholics

Sun, 10/01/2017 - 18:42

Fort Wayne, Ind., Oct 1, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- Just a few weeks after Catholic artist Cory Heimann got married, a close friend of his, who had been planning on travelling to Africa to film a documentary, passed away.

That friend had a simple but inspiring mission statement: “Present Christ as irresistible to the yearning heart.”

“Ever since that day, I've taken that mission as my own,” Heimann told CNA in e-mail comments. “And if Christ is irresistible, all we have to do is show it. I think that's our job as artists, whether subtle or overt.”  

That mission statement has driven Heimann’s work with his design studio, Likable Art, as well as the work behind his new book, “Created: Bridging the Gap Between Your Art and Your Creator,” which explores the art and inspiration of more than 40 Catholic artists and creators of all kinds.

“When I see great work I want to know how the heck did they do that? How did they take their ideas and share it with me in a way that moves me to my core?” Heimann said in a video about the project.

So he decided to ask them – if you could share anything with your fellow artists and creators, what would be your first five words to them?

Heimann chose to start with five words, because the first five words of the Bible are also about creation: “In the beginning, God created.” (Genesis 1:1).

“I realized that's why it's so innate in us to create – because we're sharing in the first thing that God shared that He did,” he said.

For the book, Heimann sought out his heroes – Catholic artists, architects, chefs, musicians, calligraphers, and everyone in between. He talked both to artists who are doing specifically Catholic work, and artists who are Catholic but working in the secular world.  

“We have everything from podcasters to painters, from Bishop Barron to a kindergarten teacher,” he said.

That’s because, as Catholic author and philosophy professor Peter Kreeft explains on his page: “We're artists because God is.”

“Which goes to show that in some way we are all artists, we just have to recognize it,” Heimann added.

This idea was also proposed by Pope John Paul II in his 1999 letter to artists, in which he wrote: “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

There has been a recent re-emphasis on the importance of beauty and quality art in the Church, including the creation of a collaborative group called Catholic Creatives, the brainchild of brothers Marcellino and Anthony D’Ambrosio. Many of the artists and creators in the book, including Heimann, are part of the group.

Good art is important in the Church, Heimann said, because it is the first thing that can attract and invite modern man into a deeper conversation.

He said that Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles explains on his page that using beauty to draw someone to the Church is like taking a kid to a baseball game to inspire him to play baseball, rather than just telling him all the rules.

“You take him to a game, let him smell the smells and watch the players, and he will desire and ask how to play the game. Good art does that for the Church, it draws us in to ask for the truth. We don't abandon the truth, but we do lead with beauty,” Heimann said.

He added that he hopes the book will inspire people to continue creating, and will help them see how the act of creating could lead them closer to God, and ultimately answer the question, “Why bother with beauty?”

“I think this book will (show) those that wrestle with being too artsy for their Catholic friends and too Catholic for their artsy friends that they have a place in the Church, and that their passions and desires are needed. I hope that it will help people to not turn inwardly in their creating but instead turn toward the ultimate creator.”  

The 9x9-inch book features a full-sized color photo or work of art from each collaborator, as well as their first five words and a brief reflection on how their art leads them to God. The book’s beauty also has the potential to draw in people who might not consider God as part of their creative process, Heimann noted.

“We never intended it, but I think this turned out to be one of the best evangelization books for the right-brained,” he said. “The average person reads two books a year, but this book doesn't fall into that problem. It's a book where you flip through a bit, you read a page, then another and all of a sudden you've read the whole book.”

The project has already seen impressive success – within two days of launching the book’s kickstarter fundraising page, the project had already surpassed its goal of $7,000, with more than $10,000 pledged by a total of 218 backers.

Religious leaders are fed up with discrimination against churches in disaster aid

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Federal disaster relief policy denies repair and reconstruction assistance to houses of worship – and that needs to change, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders have said.

“Firefighters don’t refuse to put out a fire because the fire is at a synagogue. The police don’t refuse to investigate a break-in because burglars targeted a church. And FEMA should not refuse houses of worship the same aid that it offers other non-profits,” Catholic and Jewish leaders wrote in USA Today.

“If a house of worship meets all the criteria for aid, it should be eligible to receive that aid on par with everyone else. Regardless of how FEMA treats us, however, we will still be present in our communities,” they continued. “We will feed the hungry, care for the orphan and elder, shelter the homeless, and welcome the immigrant.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami joined Rabbi Barry Gelman of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston and Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton Synagogue in writing the Sept. 27 opinion piece objecting to the policy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

They advocated the passage of the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives in 2013 by a vote of 354-72. The Senate failed to support it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a backgrounder on the legislation.

Under FEMA policy and the Stafford Act, nonprofits that are open to the public such as museums, libraries, community centers, and homeless shelters are eligible for federal aid for structural repairs if they are damaged in disasters. However, churches, synagogues, and mosques are not.

Proposed legislation to change this policy has the backing of Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

After a natural disaster, houses of worship are denied federal disaster relief funds despite their often “irreplaceable role in the recovery of a community,” the two bishops said in Sept. 27 letters to the House and Senate.

“Discrimination that treats houses of worship as ineligible for federal assistance in the wake of a natural disaster, beyond being a legal violation, hurts the very communities most affected by the indiscriminate force of nature,” they said.

The proposed legislation “recognizes the right of religious institutions to receive public financial aid in the context of a broad program administered on the basis of religion-neutral criteria.”

In USA Today, the Catholic and Jewish leaders pointed to the newly famous chainsaw-wielding nun, Sister Margaret Ann, who helped cleared debris in Florida after Hurricane Irma. They also noted the work that staff and congregants of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston did in rescuing people from their homes and bringing them to safe shelter.

“Sister Margaret and the congregants of UOS are emblematic of the role that houses of worship and religious communities play in helping our communities clean up after natural disasters,” the Catholic and Jewish leaders said. “We don’t wait for the local or federal government to step in. We just start helping those in need.”

“But when we are in need ourselves after a disaster, the federal government tells us we cannot receive aid because we’re religious,” they added.

United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston was flooded by the hurricane and is mostly unusable for the Jewish High Holidays.

FEMA policy has excluded houses of worship from eligibility “simply because these institutions are religious,” charged the religious leaders. Noting that Congress does not require such a policy, they said the ban on funding is “simply FEMA’s misguided and unfair internal policy.”

Some churches damaged in Hurricane Katrina of 2005 or Hurricane George in 1998 faced major hurdles in rebuilding due to lack of FEMA funds.

Archbishop Lori and Bishop Rozanski added: “by refusing aid to the very entities so engaged in helping others, FEMA’s policy by extension also hurts the broader community.”

Backers of the legislation include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, several Orthodox and Conservative Jewish groups, the Council of Churches of the City of New York, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Becket Law.

The Catholic bishops’ backgrounder said that the June 2017, U.S. Supreme Court decision Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer held that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against churches in a generally available government grant program.

The backgrounder cited precedents such as disaster relief grants to churches damaged in the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City federal building, grants under the Department of Homeland Security Nonprofit Security Grant Program, and grants to repair and maintain historically significant buildings like Boston’s Old North Church and the California Missions.

Here's how the Church in Baltimore is taking concrete steps to fight racism

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 06:43

Baltimore, Md., Sep 30, 2017 / 04:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As racial tensions continue across the United States, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore announced a statewide task force to combat racism and promote unity within local communities.

“The dreadful spectacle of violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville by various white supremacist groups is a shocking reminder of how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the sin of racism in our country, our state, and local communities,” stated Archbishop Lori in a Sept. 27 press release.

“This effort will require the courage to take an honest look at our past, the humility to repent of the ways we have actively caused pain or turned a deaf ear to those who suffer from the evil of racism, and a firm faith in the power of God’s love as we begin the path of reconciliation,” Lori continued.

Last month, a planned “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. A counter-protest, including a diverse coalition of religious leaders and members of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, was formed. On Aug. 12, a man drove a car into the counter-protest, injuring 19 and killing one.

The Charlottesville violence came after months of heightened racial tensions, with several fatal shootings of black men by police officers, as well as riots across the country.

The new task force is co-chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Denis Madden of Baltimore and Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell of Washington. It includes Maryland legislators, historians, and scholars, as well as leaders from local African-American and Latino communities.

The group held its first meeting on Monday.

The task force is similar to other Church initiatives launched recently to address racism. Last year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created the Task Force on Peace and Unity in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death and the ensuing riots in Maryland.

Last month, the bishops’ conference announced an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for the specific purpose of listening to “the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism,” and to “find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long,” according to Bishop George Murry of Ohio, who serves as chairman.

While these efforts are a beginning, Lori believes that there is still a long road ahead in terms of healing racial tensions and creating peaceful communities within the country.

“We know that we are far from where we need to be in fostering a truly loving, diverse community where all are welcomed and embraced, regardless of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or their country of origin,” the archbishop said.

“We ask for the prayers of Maryland’s Catholic community and all people of goodwill as we turn to this work with renewed zeal and urgency. May St. Peter Claver inspire and bless our coming together as we journey ever closer toward building the kingdom of God.”

Puerto Rican bishops offer message of hope after hurricanes

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 18:58

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sep 29, 2017 / 04:58 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Puerto Rican bishops’ conference issued a message of hope to Puerto Ricans after Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed much of the U.S. territory this summer.

In the letter, published on Sept. 27, the bishops of Puerto Rico said that the destruction “fills us with pain and suffering, especially when we see so many tears, and so much anguish in the faces of our people.”

On Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma passed through northern Puerto Rico, though it did not directly impact the whole island. However, on Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria directly hit the island as a Category 4 storm, leaving at least 16 dead. The hurricanes have left much of the island without water and electricity, and have led to widespread shortages of gasoline and food.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, told local media that these storms are “Puerto Rico's biggest terms of damage to infrastructure.”

Reuters reported that the storms had left an estimated $30 billion in material losses.

The Puerto Rican bishops praised the faithful for maintaining “...order and respect for neighbors, the law and the property of others.”

They added that the two massive hurricanes show the urgency of the need to address climate change.

“We understand that we cannot act as before and continue like this,” they said.

The bishops noted that the only way for the island to “be reborn” is by clinging to the “love of Christ.”

“From his cross and his pain, our hope is reborn,” they wrote.

The bishops’ conference also recommended that the Puerto Rican people adopt three attitudes: “to rebuild, rediscover, and have a reunion with Jesus.”

The bishops stressed that as people rebuild houses, churches or roads, they also need to repair “the damage that does not allow us to grow as a people and to progress as a nation.”

“Let us overcome the barriers, selfishness and divisions that may exist between us, and unite to rebuild our homeland, which shines with the beautiful, noble and Christian values that live in our hearts, and spring from our identity,” they said.

“Jesus comes to meet us, calms the storm and give us confidence. He invites us to walk towards Him, takes us by the hand and will not let us sink, so that we can say: 'Everywhere we are pressed, but not crushed.'”

The bishops promised to provide financial aid to the most affected dioceses and offered prayers for the victims of the storm. They also thanked local authorities and rescuers for their work.

“In these days, where basic resources are scarce, especially light and water, let us enter into personal and community prayer with the Lord,” they said, and urged everyone to continue their “gestures of solidarity with those brothers and sisters in need.”

The full press release in Spanish can be found here.


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.