Priest says Egypt's Christians feel they could be martyrs at any time

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters


CAIRO (CNS) -- Christians in Egypt "are getting to this idea that we could be a martyr at any moment," the spokesman for the nation's Catholic bishops told Catholic News Service.

The spokesman, Father Rafic Greiche, also lamented the number of children killed in an attack on a bus carrying Coptic Orthodox Christians to St. Samuel Monastery in southern Egypt May 26.

At least 26 people, many of them children, were killed when masked assailants attacked the bus. Dozens of others were injured.

"It is too early to say who is behind it, but certainly terrorists, and the security forces are now scanning the area" to find the culprits, Tarek Attia, Interior Ministry official, told Sky News Arabia, an Arabic-language television station, May 26.

He said three cars carrying the masked gunmen had attacked the bus at roughly 10:30 a.m. in the southern governorate of Minya, a traditional stronghold of Egypt's Christian community, which accounts for a tiny percent of the country's mostly Sunni Muslim population.

At the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, expressing Pope Francis' prayers and solidarity after the "barbaric attack."

"Mindful in a particular way of those children who have lost their lives, His Holiness commends the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty. He assures their grieving families and all who have been injured of his ardent prayers, and he pledges his continued intercession for peace and reconciliation throughout the nation," the telegram said.

The attack marked the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Coptic Christians, whose church was founded by St. Mark the Apostle in the first century, and whose community represents the largest of the Middle East's Christian minorities.

On April 9, two suicide bombers attacked St. George's Cathedral in Egypt's northern city of Tanta and St. Mark's Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. Those attacks killed and maimed dozens in what was the deadliest attack against Christians in Egypt's recent history. A nationwide state of emergency has been in place since.

In a widely publicized visit to Egypt soon after the April attacks, Pope Francis addressed the terrorist violence carried out in the name of a fundamentalist reading of Islam. Pope Francis frequently has said there are more Christians being martyred today than during the persecutions of the church in the early centuries of Christianity. And, using the term "ecumenism of blood," he has noted how Christians divided into churches and denominations are united in mourning for their members killed not because they are Orthodox or Catholic, but simply because they are Christian.

The pope paid tribute to the Coptic Orthodox Church's modern martyrs, praying before a memorial in Cairo marking the place where 29 people were killed and 31 wounded in December by a suicide bomber. He told Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, "Your sufferings are also our sufferings."

After the May 26 attack, the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement saying, "We extend our condolences to all the affected families and are suffering with the entire country due to this evil and violence."

"We hope for the necessary procedures to prevent these kinds of attacks, which degrade the image of Egypt and cause so much suffering to Egyptians," the statement said.

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria sent condolences to Pope Tawardros and "all families of all the martyrs," reported the Egyptian paper, Al Masry al Youm.

Ashraf Sultan, Egyptian parliament spokesman, told Sky News Arabia, "This is an attack on the entire society and affects us all."

And Egypt's top authority on Islam, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, said that "such attacks can never satisfy a Muslim or a Christian." 

In Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. Di Nardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, compared the May attacks with previous attacks, noting that, again, children were murdered as they traveled to church.

"Though our grief is unbearable, our unity grows all the more strong. That unity is the way to peace," he said, sending prayers and condolences to the Egyptians.

Other church leaders around the world also reacted. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed the condolences of churches in the Holy Land.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, offered prayers and said, "This attack reminds us again of the horrific persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and their courageous witness to their faith."

An Egyptian Interior Ministry statement said unknown assailants driving three four-wheel-drive vehicles had attacked by "randomly shooting" the bus carrying the Copts, and that an official count of the final toll was underway.

Local media showed grainy images of bloody bodies strewn on sandy ground, indicating many of the slain had fled the bus trying to escape the assailants' bullets.

Later, the media showed images of the wounded being taken to hospitals and reported that el-Sissi was calling for an emergency security meeting to address the attack. El-Sissi had instructed authorities to take all necessary measures to attend to the injured and arrest the assailants, the local media reported.

Asked about government assurances that security in the country would be tightened, Father Greiche told CNS: "It is now time for action, not just words."

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Pope, President Trump speak of hopes for peace

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump spent 30 minutes speaking privately in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 24, and as the president left, he told the pope, "I won't forget what you said."

The atmosphere at the beginning was formal and a bit stiff. However, the mood lightened when Pope Francis met the first lady, Melania Trump, and asked if she fed her husband "potica," a traditional cake in Slovenia, her homeland. There were smiles all around.

Pope Francis gave Trump a split medallion held together by an olive tree, which his interpreter told Trump is "a symbol of peace."

Speaking in Spanish, the pope told Trump, "I am giving you this because I hope you may be this olive tree to make peace."

The president responded, "We can use peace."

Pope Francis also gave the president a copy of his message for World Peace Day 2017 and told him, "I signed it personally for you." In addition, he gave Trump copies of three of his documents: "The Joy of the Gospel"; "Amoris Laetitia," on the family; and "Laudato Si,'" on the environment.

Knowing that Pope Francis frequently has quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump presented Pope Francis with a large gift box containing five of the slain civil rights leader's books, including a signed copy of "The Strength to Love."

"I think you will enjoy them," Trump told the pope. "I hope you do."

After meeting the pope, Trump went downstairs to meet Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. He was accompanied by Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. The meeting lasted 50 minutes.

Tillerson later told reporters that climate change did not come up in the meeting with the pope, but that U.S. officials had "a good exchange on the climate change issue" with Cardinal Parolin.

"The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it's an important issue," Tillerson said. "I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange (on) the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy."

Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin's encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: "The president indicated we're still thinking about that, that he hasn't made a final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It's an opportunity to hear from people. We're developing our own recommendation on that. So it'll be something that will probably be decided after we get home."

Tillerson also told reporters he did not know what Trump meant when he told the pope, "I won't forget what you said."

The Vatican described the president's meetings with both the pope and with top Vatican diplomats as consisting of "cordial discussions," with both sides appreciating "the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of religion and of conscience."

"It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to immigrants," the Vatican said.

The discussions also included "an exchange of views" on international affairs and on "the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities."

Because of the pope's weekly general audience, Pope Francis and Trump met at 8:30 a.m., an unusually early hour for a formal papal meeting. The early hour meant Pope Francis still could greet the thousands of pilgrims and visitors waiting for him in St. Peter's Square.

Many of those pilgrims, though, had a more difficult than normal time getting into the square. Security measures were tight, with hundreds of state police and military police patrolling the area and conducting more attentive searches of pilgrims' bags.

Reaching the St. Damasus Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where the U.S. flag flew for the morning, Trump was welcomed by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, and a formation of 15 Swiss Guards.

Accompanied by the archbishop up an elevator and down a frescoed hallway, the president passed more Swiss Guards in the Clementine Hall.

Although the president and Pope Francis are known to have serious differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy and climate change, the pope told reporters 11 days before the meeting that he would look first for common ground with the U.S. leader.

"There are always doors that are not closed," the pope told reporters May 13. "We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward."

After leaving the Vatican, the president was driven across Rome for meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Asked by reporters there how his meeting with the pope went, Trump responded, "Great."

"He is something," Trump said. "We had a fantastic meeting."

Meanwhile, the first lady went to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu children's hospital -- right next door to the Pontifical North American College, which is where U.S. seminarians in Rome live. Trump's daughter, Ivanka, went to the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay movement, for a meeting on combating human trafficking.

The United States and the Vatican have long partnered on anti-trafficking initiatives, a common effort White House officials had said Trump hoped to discuss with the pope. The White House also pointed to a shared commitment to promote religious freedom around the world and to end religious persecution.

The evening before Trump met the pope, the Vatican newspaper carried two articles on Trump policies. One, echoing the U.S. bishops, praised the Trump administration's decision to extend by six months the Temporary Protected Status program for Haitian citizens in the United States.

The second article was about the budget plan the Trump White House released May 23. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, noted that it contained cuts in subsidies "for the poorest segments of the population" and "a drastic -- 10 percent -- increase for military spending."

What is more, the newspaper said, "the budget also includes financing for the construction of the wall along the border with Mexico. We are talking about more than $1.6 billion."

The border wall is an issue where Pope Francis and President Trump have a very clear and public difference of opinion.

In February 2016, shortly after celebrating a Mass in Mexico just yards from the border, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about then-candidate Trump's promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

"A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said.

Trump, asked by reporters to comment on that, said Mexico was "using the pope as a pawn," and he said it was "disgraceful" for a religious leader to question someone's faith.

On the eve of the pope's meeting with Trump, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of an influential Italian Jesuit journal, noted that the differences between the two were drawing a lot of attention. However, he wrote, "Francis, the pope of bridges, wants to speak with any head of state who asks him to because he knows that in crises" like the world faces today "there are not only absolute 'good guys' and absolute 'bad guys.'"

"The history of the world is not a Hollywood film," Father Spadaro wrote on his blog May 23.

The pope's approach, he said, is "to meet the major players in the field in order to reason together and to propose to everyone the greatest good, exercising the soft power that seems to me to be the specific trait of his international policy."

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Contributing to this story were Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

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College presidents appeal to homeland security for meeting on 'dreamers'


By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Worried about the fate of some of their students, more than 65 college presidents representing U.S. Catholic institutions asked for a meeting with the Secretary of Homeland Security to talk about immigration policy.

"As leaders of Catholic colleges and universities, we are dedicated to educating students from all backgrounds. In keeping with this commitment, many of our institutions are home to young men and women who are undocumented and have met the criteria for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We are deeply concerned about the futures of our undocumented students," said the May 23 letter addressed to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

In the letter, they cited incidents in which DACA recipients have been placed under immigration detention, including a case in which one of them was deported, and said that "recent actions and statements by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about young people who met the DACA criteria raise many questions about the safety of our students." They referred in particular to a tweet from ICE that said: "DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority."

Addressing Kelly, they said: "implementation of immigration enforcement policies falls under your discretion. We respectfully request a meeting with you to better understand how enforcement agencies are approaching DACA holders."

John Gehring, Catholic program director at Washington's advocacy group Faith in Public Life, which along with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities helped coordinate the effort, said there were worries because of "aggressive enforcement tactics we're seeing around the country." And since Kelly is Catholic, they wanted to convey to him that "the Catholic community is concerned with these aggressive actions," Gehring said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service. He added that the culture of fear those aggressive actions have created is "unacceptable."

The list of signers includes the presidents of The Catholic University of America in Washington, Trinity Washington University, as well as Villanova, Gonzaga, Fordham, Loyola and Santa Clara universities.

The college presidents say they want to "clarify" the administration's stance on the special status granted to the students via the Obama-era's DACA policy that allowed minors who had been brought into the country without proper documentation a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit, if they met certain conditions.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump said he would do away with the DACA policy. As president, he said he would decide what to do about the policy "with heart" and has said that it's a "difficult" decision to grapple with. Some of the recipients are "absolutely wonderful kids," he said in a February news conference, but then immediately also said that some DACA recipients are "gang members and they're drug dealers, too."

The college presidents said that as the academic year concludes, they worry about what the future brings because "many of these students will leave our campuses for internships, summer programs and jobs. Our prayer is that they return." They said they want to meet with Kelly to discuss the administration's policies and request that he take steps to protect their immigrant students who are at risk of deportation.

Gehring said the Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged receiving the letter.

The students for whom the college leaders are advocating are known in immigration circles as "dreamers" because of a bipartisan bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, that failed to pass in 2010. It would have granted residency in the country for some unauthorized persons brought in to the country as minors, if they met certain conditions.

"Our shared faith calls us to protect the most vulnerable among us," said the letter signed by the college presidents. "Over the years, we have opened the doors of our colleges and universities to dreamers and advocated for comprehensive immigration reform so that they and their families can live safe, full lives in our country."

Jesuit Father Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University New Orleans, said sending back young men and women to countries they don't know is "morally wrong," particularly when they contribute much to the U.S.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to protect these students. We urge Secretary Kelly and President Trump to do the same," said Father Wildes in a news release about the letter.

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, said her institution would stand in solidarity with "dreamers" and other immigrants.

"No nation can claim greatness by treating our youth as dispensable because of conditions for which they are not responsible," she said. "We reject as cruel and immoral, and will resist to the greatest extent possible, any government effort to harm our students and their families."

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, said the Catholic Church has always stood with immigrants but particularly with the young and with families seeking a better life.

"In our time, some of those young people are university students who have qualified for DACA protection," he said. "While the need for immigration reform is evident, we hope that policymakers will pay particular attention to the integrity of the family, the importance of work and the dignity of the human person."

Others spoke of how Catholic higher education traditionally "has welcomed students on society's margins," and recalled the pope's words during his apostolic visit to the U.S. in 2015 when he said immigrants provide "many gifts" to a nation.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Catholic leaders find proposed federal budget largely fails the moral test

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget sent shivers through social service, education and environmental communities, prompting church leaders and advocates to question the administration's commitment to people in need.

The leaders repeated in interviews with Catholic News Service that a budget is a moral document that reflects the nation's priorities and that they found that the spending plan revealed May 23 backs away from the country's historical support for children, the elderly and the poor, and protecting the environment.

Their concern focuses on the deep cuts -- totaling $52 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $3.6 trillion over the next decade -- in international aid, senior services, health care, hunger prevention, job training, air and water protection, and climate change research. The cuts essentially are paying for a corresponding $52 billion boost in military spending.

"We say there's a human component here. It's not just about defense. It's not just about deficits," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"Too often we think the budget is a number. It's not. Right behind those numbers are human beings and they look like you and they look like me," he told CNS.

Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, echoed Bishop Dewane's contention, saying she was "profoundly disturbed" by the White House plan. "You can't have people who are suffering and expect them to bring themselves out of poverty when we cut off their access to food and health care and job training. It's absolutely ridiculous," she said.

"Clearly, it's saying where the values are of this administration. And their values do not align with our values as people of faith who are charged with looking out for those among us who are most in need," Sister Markham added.

But rather than directly engage the White House, officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and other agencies are planning to turn to Congress, which they see as a firewall to minimize the depth of the cuts being proposed. They have four months of work before a budget must be in place Sept. 30, the start of the next fiscal year.

Democrats in Congress, as expected, have opposed the change in spending priorities. Many Republicans have as well, describing the plan assembled by Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and a Georgetown University graduate, simply as a starting point.

That still worries social service administrators such as Gregory R. Kepferle, CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County in San Jose, California.

"By just presenting this extreme case, it's a classic negotiating ploy (to) be as obnoxious and extreme as possible and then move to the middle," Kepferle said. "It still means devastating cuts to the poor and more money for the rich. It's a breathtaking transfer of wealth from the poorest of the poor to the wealthy."

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, is so concerned about the budget plan that he has undertaken a day of fasting and prayer on the 21st day of each month from now through December 2018 when the current session of Congress ends.

Bishop Pates said the effort, organized by Bread for the World, for which he serves on the board of directors, is a time-honored tradition in the face of injustice. "In addition to the lobbying efforts, we really feel that prayer and fasting and relationship together as a religious community is very important," he said.

A look at the numbers provides insight into the concern that prompted such action.

Through fiscal year 2027, the budget outline incorporates more than $800 billion in reduced Medicaid spending envisioned in the House-approved American Health Care Act, which is under review in the Senate. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, will see $192 billion in reduced spending over the decade.

In Trump's plan, deep cuts are proposed for teacher training, after-school and summer programs, Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance, and the Senior Community Service Employment Program. The $200-million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program and the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant program are among the better-known programs slated for elimination.

The Environmental Protection Agency would lose $2.5 billion, about 31 percent of its current budget. Plans call for reducing support for research and development, the Superfund cleanup program and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Funding for international climate change programs would end.

Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said it appears that the administration values business profits over people's health.

"There's this sense that if it's hurting business then it's a bad regulation," Misleh said. "I certainly think there are undoubtedly some regulations that can be scaled back or done away with, maybe environmental regulations that outlive their usefulness. But I also think that can't be the only criteria whether we judge a regulation is good or bad.

"How these regulations impact people should be the first priority and whether business can afford them or is truly detrimental to business is another conversation," he said. "As Catholics, we should be concerned about how these environmental rules and regulations impact people."

Some proposals in the budget have long been sought by Catholic advocates. The fiscal year 2018 plan includes $1.4 billion for charter schools, private schools and other school choice initiatives. Another provision would prohibit funding for any agency that offers abortion services even though federal funds cannot be used for the procedure, as current law requires. If adopted, the proposal would end all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.

"A great country does not send money to those who kills its children," Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement, supporting the budget provision. "It's appropriate not to force taxpayers to subsidize abortionists and it's logical to exclude Planned Parenthood from health programs. Abortion is not health care."

Still, there are overarching concerns about the impact of the budget on people who are least able to fend for themselves.

"Adding money to the military is not going to solve our problems," said Lawrence Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Washington. "In the long run this is untenable. Eventually people will not tolerate that type of situation where they are not at the table."

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, said cuts in Medicaid funding are particularly troublesome because nearly half of such spending supports senior citizens and disabled people.

"If (the budget is) implemented as proposed I think many people will kind of fall through the cracks," he said. "I do have a certain hope and confidence as it goes through the legislative process that people will realize that the proposed budget needs significant modification."

When it comes to international aid, a spokesman for Catholic Relief Services said foreign aid cuts ultimately could affect national security because poverty and desperation would expand. Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at the agency, called on Congress to protect nearly $60 billion in diplomacy and development aid.

O'Keefe cited the McGovern-Dole food program as one that has made a difference in the lives of children at a small cost. In a region of Honduras, for example, the program provides 90,000 children with a lunch at school, allowing them to attend classes and reducing the likelihood they will join a violent gang, O'Keefe said.

"It's not just lunch," he told CNS. "It's providing opportunities for kids to go to school, get a quality education and for the community to engage in the school in a way that's good for the community."

In the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Patrick J. Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities, predicted people will feel the pinch of reduced services. While the agency does not receive federal funds outside of refugee resettlement and natural disaster services, Raglow expects that it will be counted on to provide broader assistance particularly in rural communities if the proposed budget remains substantially untouched.

He suggested that funding will have to be sought elsewhere to meet existing needs if the cuts go through.

"It means you have to engage the (wider) community differently to sustain the community you're serving. We have to be faithful to God almighty, not to Uncle Sam almighty," Raglow said.

"It does mean you have to get off your duff and get out of your office and you've got to make some asks," he added. "Resources are available. You just have to go out and find them. But we shouldn't sit there and crawl under our desk because of this budget."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Monument honors lives of two religious sisters fatally stabbed in 2016

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ruthie Robison, Mississippi Catholic

By Ruthie Robison

DURANT, Miss. (CNS) -- A downpour of rain didn't dampen a dedication and blessing ceremony of a monument to honor the lives of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, who were slain in their Durant home Aug. 25, 2016. They were both 68.

A crowd of about 100 gathered the afternoon of May 20 in Durant's Liberty Park to pay tribute to the two sisters, who both made a lasting impact on the community in which they resided for the last 15 years of their lives.

Sister Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth based in Nazareth, Kentucky, and Sister Held belonged to the School Sisters of St. Francis congregation based in Milwaukee. The two nurse practitioners worked at Lexington Medical Clinic and attended St. Thomas Catholic Church in Lexington, located about 10 miles west from their home.

"It was wonderful to see so many people come here from around the country," said Franciscan Father Greg Plata, pastor of St. Thomas, who led the service. "Even though it was a horrible day weather-wise, that did not deter from the joy of the day that we come together. I think that every time I go that way, (the monument) will be a place for me to stop and say a prayer and be thankful to God for these two amazing women. It's just a great way to remember our sisters."

Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, Mississippi, later confessed to fatally stabbing the two women and stealing their car. He was charged with capital murder, burglary and grand larceny.

Among those at the memorial service were Durant city leaders, family members and longtime friends of Sisters Held and Merrill, staff members and patients of Lexington Medical Clinic, and parishioners of St. Thomas.

Durant Mayor Tasha Davis and Jackson Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz were featured speakers, and there were songs, prayer, Scripture readings and the unveiling of the monument.

"I know it is a sad event that we're here, but they were such wonderful people," said Davis, as she welcomed the crowd. "The Bible teaches us to give honor where honor is due, and we can all agree that it is befitting to honor these two ladies who left an everlasting mark on the city of Durant and Holmes County as a whole."

Before blessing the monument, Bishop Kopacz spoke of the sisters' service to their communities.

"Just as from the heavens the rain and the snow come down and accomplish what they're sent to do, so Sister Paula and Sister Margaret came to these communities, accomplished God's mission and returned to life fulfilled in heaven," he said.

After the unveiling, several people in attendance shared sentiments about Sisters Held and Merrill.

Mary James, who worked with the sisters at Lexington Medical Clinic, said that she and the other staff members at the clinic were truly blessed to have known the two women.

"They took me under their wings, and we became family," she said. "The sisters' angelic presence was so great. We miss them daily. ... Whenever we get a little down or teary-eyed, we remember these words, 'Let love win.' If the sisters were here today, they would probably say something like this: 'There's no love like forgiveness, and there's no forgiveness without love.'"

Sister Held's brother, James, spoke of her love for the people of Durant and Holmes County.

"We always tried to convince her to come back to the Midwest," he said. "We never could convince her to come back, and we missed her. She loved you so much, and she stayed and she gave her life for all of you."

Sister Merrill's family was unable to attend the ceremony. Connie Blake, a longtime friend of Merrill's and an associate with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, spoke on behalf of the family.

"Sister Paula was my friend for over 49 years," she said. "One thing she said she always wanted to do was to follow what we've all been asked to do, and that's to love one another and to care for one another, and indeed that was her life's work."

Blake said she and Merrill's family are humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support they continue to receive.

Sisters Held and Merrill "would be astonished and somewhat embarrassed by all of this attention," she said. "Paula and Margaret were quiet, humble and simple women, who lived out their passion to serve the underserved in Mississippi."

After a closing prayer and blessing by Father Plata, a memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Thomas, followed by a fish fry.

"I think it isn't just their deaths that are important, it's their lives," Sister Tonya Severin, vice provincial for the Western province of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said later. "They lived with the message of Jesus, that we are to give of ourselves in loving service to others, and that's what they did so unobtrusively."

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Robison is a contributor to the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Jackson.

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Gunmen take Catholic hostages; Philippines' Duterte imposes martial law

IMAGE: CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters


MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State group threatened to kill hostages, including a Catholic priest, who were taken from the southern Philippine city of Marawi May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao late May 23, but reported that many, including church leaders, characterized the imposition of martial law as an overreaction.

As of early morning May 25, nothing had been heard of the whereabouts of the priest and the prelature's staff and some churchgoers who were taken captive.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato appealed to Muslim religious leaders to intercede with the gunmen, who claimed to be Muslims, for the safety of the hostages who were reportedly used as "human shields" when the militants attacked the city.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Philippine bishops' conference, said the terrorists "have threatened to kill the hostages if government forces pitted against them are not recalled."

"As the government forces ensure that the law is upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration," he added.

Initial reports received by said Father Teresito Suganob, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, and several staff of St. Mary's Cathedral, which was set on fire, were taken hostage. The gunmen also forced their way into the residence of Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi.

Bishop de la Pena confirmed reports that the attackers took Father Suganob, several of the prelature's staff, and some churchgoers. He said he received a call from "a member of Islamic State" who used his kidnapped secretary's phone and demanded a "unilateral cease-fire" in exchange for the life of the priest and the other hostages.

"They want a cease-fire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi," said Bishop de la Pena. "Otherwise they will kill the hostages."

In a statement on his Facebook page, Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told the people of Marawi that no words could express the "shock, confusion, and sadness for what happened."

Sending solidarity and prayers from the Archdiocese of Manila, the cardinal asked why anyone would hurt their neighbor.

"We weep for you, for all Filipinos, and everyone in the world (whose) lives (are) ruined because of the violence," he said. "O God, forgive our contempt for life and human dignity."

Archbishop Villegas said Father Suganob was performing priestly duties at the time of his capture.

"He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict," said Archbishop Villegas.

Fighters of the Maute group, which has vowed allegiance to the Islamic State, also burned several buildings, including the cathedral, a Protestant school and the city's jail.

The bishop said the gunmen used the hostages as "human shields" as fighting continued with security forces May 24.

In Marawi, the military confirmed that five soldiers were killed and 31 others injured in the attack on the city. At least two policemen were also reported killed.

Philippine authorities refuse to release the number of casualties and fatalities as "clearing operations" continued.

Duterte placed all of Mindanao's 27 provinces and 33 cities, roughly a third of the country, under martial law for a period of 60 days. Mindanao is home to an estimated 20 million people.

Duterte warned that the martial law in Mindanao "will not be any different" from the martial law declared by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

"I'll be harsh," said Duterte. "I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines," he said, even as he assured Filipinos "not to be too scared." reported that religious leaders and civil society groups, however, said there was no need for Duterte to put Mindanao under military rule. Filipinos have been wary of martial law since it was used by Marcos to remain in power for two decades, until his ouster in 1986.

"Putting the whole of Mindanao under martial law is very dangerous and vulnerable to abuse," said Alih Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines.

The Muslim religious leader told that "innocent people might be caught in the crossfire or might be arrested illegally by mere suspicion."

"Fighting terrorism does not need the declaration of martial law, because our existing laws are more than enough to enforce it," said Aiyub.

Bishop Jose Bagaforo of Kidapawan said the declaration of martial law could have been limited to Marawi City and surrounding areas, "not all of Mindanao."

Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, who works with basic ecclesial communities and the bishops' conference, said declaring martial law across Mindanao while only Marawi was attacked "is either idiotic or an excuse to expand dictatorial control."

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Guidebook helps delegates prepare for Convocation of Catholic Leaders


By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The 3,000 people attending the upcoming Convocation of Catholic Leaders are being seen as members of diocesan teams who will return home to act on what they see and learn while discussing the church's role in a changing social landscape.

A combination guidebook and journal has been developed to help the delegates prepare for the gathering in Orlando, Florida, set for July 1-4.

The 68-page book offers activities for the diocesan teams as they meet during the weeks leading to the gathering, allowing them to reflect and pray on Scripture and the teachings of Pope Francis, particularly his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel").

"To get something done, we want people to have prepared as teams before they come in to get more out of (the convocation)," said Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner. "What you get out of this is what you put into it."

The booklet is being sent to each registered participant to the invitation-only event. It also is available online to anyone interested in learning more about the convocation at

Reyes told Catholic News Service that the guidebook encourages team members to plan which sessions to attend that fits with the goals of their diocese in building a church built on mercy and missionary discipleship.

"In the ideal world, it's forming a team that brings together people from the peripheries who are not normally together. This book is what's going to help them think as a team before they get there. It gives them some things to reflect on together," he explained.

"We're trying to make clear that this isn't the kind of thing you attend passively and that bishops and leaders are meant to be integrated in a conversation of the whole church together and experience the conference not as the bishops over there, the laypeople over here. It's actually meant to be everyone mixing together in conversation," Reyes added.

The guidebook offers numerous Scripture citations and references to passages from the pope's exhortation. Delegates are encouraged to read some of the passages and pray about what they mean for their particular role in the convocation and the church at home.

A separate section includes space for journal entries based on the discussion of each day of the convocation. The idea, Reyes said, is to allow participants the opportunity to reflect in the moment and then return to their writings when they return home.

"It's spiritual preparation as well," Reyes said of the book. "It's deeply scriptural and there's a lot of "Evangelii Gaudium" as well as some other key church documents from the bishops. It's a lot of Scripture and a lot of Pope Francis."

The convocation is meant to guide people to build the church that Pope Francis is calling people to shape, Reyes added.

"We didn't want to create a program. This (convocation) is for people to design or think through together what mission looks like. Pope Francis says again and again, 'Don't do the same old things.' You want to think creatively. So we're not going to put together a program, but people are going to experience, hopefully, in a way that gives them a way forward, a vision for their own," he said.

Meanwhile, more than $500,000 had been pledged to support scholarships for people attending the convocation. Reyes' department and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have allocated $100,000 each in financial assistance. The Black and Indian Mission Office has pledged another $300,000.

The goal of such scholarships is to allow diverse voices to be on hand in Orlando, Reyes said.

"If there's a Francis inspiration in this, it's let's not just talk, (but) act," he told CNS. "So we are pushing action, action, action through proper preparation."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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After years of cramped spaces, Ukrainian Catholics bless chapel in Odessa

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mariana Karapinka

By Mariana Karapinka

ODESSA, Ukraine (CNS) -- When Anastasia Voinikova joined the local Ukrainian Catholic community more than 20 years ago, liturgies were celebrated at the basement of the Roman Catholic church.

Later, in 2005, the community was able to purchase a private house and reconstruct it into a small chapel, which served as the cathedral for the Odessa Exarchate, which covers huge territory of southern Ukraine and at that time, Crimea.

But about 10,000 Ukrainian Catholics lived in Odessa, and the chapel could not house more than 100 people at a time.

On May 21, local Ukrainian Catholics blessed a new chapel at the outskirts of Odessa. With the help of Dutch and German aid agencies -- and some financial support from Ukrainian Catholics in the United States -- parishioners were able to buy abandoned Soviet-style construction materials and construct the chapel.

The faithful were really engaged in this project, because they waited so long for more suitable place to pray, said Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy of Odessa.

"We dreamed of a golden-domed church," he told Catholic News Service. "This is very important in our circumstances in Odessa, where we are often not considered as a 'real' church. A dome is a sign."

"It's hard to be a Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic in Odessa," said Voinikova, "because the Orthodox majority doesn't recognize us as a canonical church, they just reject us."

For more than dozen years community members sought a parcel of the land from the local authorities to build the proper church, as allowed by law. But because of the harsh opposition from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate -- their demands were rejected.

The Orthodox hierarchy considers southern Ukraine part of its "canonical territory" and objects to the right of other communities to establish their structures there. Roman Catholics and some Protestants have had it easier than Ukrainian Catholics, because those churches were present from the establishment of the port and the city.

Ukrainian Catholics came later, explained Bishop Bubniy.

"During the times of the Soviet Union and after Ukraine got independence, many people from the Western part of the country, who were traditionally Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic, moved to Odessa. We just followed our faithful, who invited us," he said.

"But it would be wrong to say that only Western Ukrainians are members of our community," he added. "There are many locals who are joining our church."

The May blessing of the new parish also included members of the Roman Catholic and Armenian Catholic communities; different Protestant denominations; even the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine.

One priest who had worked in Odessa for 13 years said that opening such a small chapel in Odessa was a much bigger event than opening a huge cathedral in Western Ukraine.

"Every church is a house of God, but for our city, new church is a true blessing," said Roman Catholic Bishop Bronislaw Bernacki, "because Odessa needs God's word, faith, and mercy."

Bibhop Bubniy dreams of a parish "in every area of Odessa" and plans construction of a pastoral center with a school and kindergarten.

The parish already has a catechetical program, but U.S.-born Father Roman Mirchuk, administrator of the parish, sees the real work as just beginning.

"It is easy to build the church of stones, but much harder to 'build churches' in the hearts of people," he told CNS.

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God is no warlord claiming victory with enemies' blood, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If it seems hard to find God in this world, it is because he chooses to be with the defeated and dejected and in places where most people are loath to go, Pope Francis said.

"God does not like to be loved the way a warlord would like, dragging his people to victory, debasing them in the blood of his enemies," the pope said May 24 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

The audience began just after Pope Francis had met U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Our God is a dim flame that burns on a cold and windy day, and, for as fragile as his presence seems in this world, he has chosen the place everyone disdains," Pope Francis told the crowd in the square.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope looked at the Gospel of Luke's account of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus after Jesus had been crucified and buried.

In the story, the pope said, the disciples, are struggling to understand how such a fate could have befallen the man they had faith in: the son of God.

Their hope was merely human, he said, and it easily shattered after such an unforeseen defeat of God, who appeared "defenseless at the hands of the violent, incapable of offering resistance to evil."

"How much unhappiness, how many defeats, how many failures there are in the life of every person. In essence, we are all like those two disciples," he said. Just when life seems to be going well, "we find ourselves struck down, disappointed."

But just as Jesus was on the road with the disciples, the pope said, he is also walking with everyone on their journey through life.

"Jesus walks with all those who are discouraged, who walk with their head down," so he can offer them renewed hope, he said.

But he does so discreetly, the pope said. "Our God is not an intrusive God."

Even though he knows what is bothering the disciples, he asks them a question and listens patiently, letting them tap into the depths of their bitterness and sadness.

Whoever reads the Bible will not find stories of "easy heroism, blazing campaigns of conquest. True hope never comes cheap -- it always comes through defeat."

In fact, he added, the hope felt by those who have never suffered may not even be hope at all.

The disciples initially didn't recognize God on the road because their hope had been in a victorious, conquering leader, the pope said. They only recognize him when he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them -- exactly like he did with his own life.

The church should be this way, too, Pope Francis said, by letting Jesus "take us, bless us, 'break' our lives -- because there is no love without sacrifice -- and offer it to others, offer it to everyone."

The church needs to be just like Jesus, not staying in a "fortified fortress," but out where everything is alive and happening -- on the road.

"It is there (the church) meets people, with their hopes and disappointments," listens patiently to what emerges from their "treasure chest of personal conscience" and offers the life-giving Word and witness to God's love, he said.

This is how people's hearts are rekindled with real hope, the pope said.

Just when the way seems blocked by "a wall ahead, Jesus is always next to us to give us hope and strengthen our hearts to go ahead, 'I am with you. Go on.'"

Christ's "therapy of hope" is that despite all appearances to the contrary, "we continue to be loved and God will never stop loving us," the pope said. "He will walk with us always, always, even during the most painful times, even in the most terrible moments, moments of defeat. That is where the Lord is."

At the end of the audience, the pope greeted pilgrims from Hong Kong on a day dedicated to Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai.

Pope Benedict XVI established a world day of prayer for the church in China on the feast day.

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Pope, English church leaders offer prayers after Manchester Arena attack

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andrew Yates, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Pope Francis decried the "barbaric attack" on concertgoers in Manchester, adding his voice to Catholic leaders dismayed at what British officials said was the deadliest case of terrorism since 2005.

In a telegram sent to English church officials on Pope Francis' behalf, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope "was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life" after a suicide bomb killed at least 22 people and injured another 59 at Manchester Arena May 22. Many concertgoers at the Ariana Grande concert were teenagers, young adults and families.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The pope "expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence," the telegram said, as "he commends the generous efforts of the emergency and security personnel and offers the assurance of his prayers for the injured, and for all who have died."

"Mindful in a particular way of those children and young people who have lost their lives, and of their grieving families, Pope Francis invokes God's blessings of peace, healing and strength upon the nation."

In Britain, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and other Catholic leaders offered prayers for the victims of the attacks and their families.

"My shock and dismay at the horrendous killing of young and innocent people in the Manchester Arena last night is, I know, shared by all people of goodwill," Cardinal Nichols said in a May 23 statement posted on the Westminster archdiocesan website. "I know, too, that Catholics and many others will be praying earnestly for those who have been killed, for the bereaved and for grieving loved ones.

"We pray in support of all those working so hard in response to this tragedy: the police and security forces, hospital staff, neighbors and friends and for all the people of Manchester. May God, in his mercy, strengthen and sustain us and keep us firmly united in the face of all evil."

The terrorist attack took place within the Diocese of Salford, which incorporates most of Manchester and much of northwest England.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford offered a lunchtime Mass May 23 at St. Mary's, a popular city-center church close to Manchester Arena.

In a statement the same day, he said: "The citizens of Manchester and the members of the Catholic community are united in condemning the attack on the crowds at the Manchester Arena.

"Such an attack can have no justification. I thank the emergency services for their prompt and speedy response which saved lives," he continued. "We join in prayer for all those who have died and for the injured and their families and all affected by this tragedy. We must all commit ourselves to working together, in every way, to help the victims and their families and to build and strengthen our community solidarity."

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, whose diocese covers southern parts of Manchester, wrote to his clergy, urging them to pray for the victims and their families.

"Let us also keep in our prayer the police and emergency services, together with all hospital staff and chaplains," he said in his letter.

The bishop added: "Together with church and religious leaders in Greater Manchester, I ask the prayers of your parishioners for peace and solidarity in all our communities that the hate which inspires such indiscriminate violence may be overcome by that love which faith and prayer inspires in our hearts. I hope the days ahead, overshadowed by this atrocity, will lead us all to such prayer and active charity."

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Bishop Arnold to assure him of the prayers of Catholics in the United States.

"Words are not enough to convey the deep shock and sadness with which Catholics and all people of goodwill in the United States learned of the horrible attack which took place yesterday at England's Manchester Arena," said his letter, released May 23 in Washington. He mentioned "the unspeakable loss of life, terrible injuries, and untold trauma to families -- especially to children."

"Evil, as dense and dark as it is, never has the last word," Cardinal DiNardo wrote. "As we prepare to celebrate the new dawn of Pentecost again, may the Easter words of the risen Christ, 'Peace be with you,' settle deep into the hearts of the citizens of your great country."

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U.S. extends Temporary Protected Status for Haitians for six months

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Tens of thousands of Haitians enrolled under the Temporary Protected Status program can stay in the United States until at least January.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly renewed the designation May 22. The decision affects more than 58,000 Haitians in the U.S.

The designation, also known as TPS, was implemented by the U.S. government for Haiti days after a powerful earthquake in January 2010 leveled much of the country surrounding the capital of Port-au-Prince. It allowed Haitian nationals to stay in the U.S. because of adverse conditions in their homeland.

Kelly's order extends Temporary Protected Status until Jan. 22, 2018, six months beyond the original expiration date of July 22. Previous extensions had been granted for 18 months.

Kelly did not adopt the recommendation of the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that called for ending the designation for Haitians altogether in July. In an April 10 memo to Kelly, James W. McCament said "conditions in Haiti no longer support its designation for TPS," but suggested delaying the effective date of the termination for six months to allow "for a period of orderly transition" for Haitian nationals.

The homeland security secretary stopped short of saying the designation automatically would be renewed again in January. In a statement Kelly urged that Haitian nationals begin to assemble travel documents and "make other necessary arrangements for their future departure" from the U.S.

"Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake in 2010, and I'm proud of the role the United States has played during this time in helping our Haitian friends," Kelly said.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, said he was grateful Kelly and the Trump administration gave the six-month extension, but added, "It still leaves many Haitian families in the United States in an insecure and vulnerable position, particularly with respect to ensuring legal work authorization (during that extended period)."

"Extending TPS serves an important humanitarian role by providing for the safety, well-being, and stability of Haitians living in the United States," he said in a statement. "We encourage our government to work proactively with the Haitian government to provide life-saving aid and recovery assistance. Haiti will continue to struggle to receive back those who are temporarily protected, even those who may be returned in the near future."

He said the Catholic Church through its various service networks "will continue to assist Haitian families in the U.S., aid the rebuilding process in Haiti and look for opportunities to collaborate with the church in Haiti and the Haitian and U.S. governments."

Kelly's statement said the "Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96 percent of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps." He also cited Haitian government plans to rebuild the presidential residence on the grounds of the National Palace destroyed in the earthquake and the withdrawal of the United Nations stabilization forces as signs of progress.

In addition, Kelly said he had heard from the Haitian government regarding its desire to welcome Haitian TPS recipients.

Advocates have disagreed with McCament's assessment and have said Haiti is experiencing the same dire social challenges and deep poverty that existed when the TPS designation first was made. Haiti's recovery, advocates also argued, suffered a setback when Hurricane Matthew inundated farms and communities in the country's southwest peninsula in October.

One of organizations advocating for Haitians, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said in a statement that the extension concerns those with Temporary Protected Status because they will be required to return to their still unstable homeland.

"The extension of TPS for another six months is nothing more than a brief respite," Jeanne Atkinson, CLINIC executive director, said in a statement.

"Kelly's statement making this announcement suggests he doesn't truly understand the purpose of TPS and its basis in what the conditions are in an affected country," Atkinson said. "His remarks ignore that it would be inhumane to precipitously force tens of thousands of people back to a country that still suffers from dramatic levels of homelessness, an ongoing cholera epidemic and other systemic deficits, such as a lack of clean water. An adequate national recovery to support their return is far more than six months down the road."

The designation of Temporary Protected Status can be made for any country because of a natural disaster, continuing armed conflict or other extraordinary conditions under the Immigration Act of 1990.

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Trump arrives in Holy Land, visits Holy Sepulcher, Western Wall

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Following his official welcome to Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump began his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Western Wall.

Details of the visits to the holy sites had been a carefully guarded secret until the last moment, but from early May 22 the alleyways of the Old City were closed to both residents and tourists, and the main thoroughfares leading to the Old City were closed off to all traffic.

Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honor guard announcing the way with the thumping of their ornamental staffs, the president made his way by foot through the Old City's alleyways to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed at the entrance of the church courtyard by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilos III; Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land; and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. The president spoke briefly to the religious leaders and stopped at the entrance of the church for a group photograph after also speaking to a few other religious.

Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent about 30 minutes in the church, which encompasses the area where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and later rose from the dead. At the entrance of the church is the stone of unction, where tradition holds that Jesus' body was laid out and washed after his crucifixion. Inside the central rotunda is the newly renovated Edicule, where Jesus was buried.

The delegation then walked the short distance to the Western Wall plaza, where Trump was greeted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall. Wearing the traditional Jewish kippa or skullcap, Trump walked alone to the wall, where he placed his hands on the stones for several minutes. He then placed a note with a prayer into a crack in the wall, a Jewish tradition. Melania and Ivanka Trump visited the women's section of the wall separately, and the first lady spent a few minutes silently in front of the wall, touching it with her hand.

Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital city.

The Western Wall, considered the holiest site for Judaism today as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple, also surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Jewish temple once stood and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site.

Avoiding any symbolic controversy involving the issue of the city's sovereignty, the Trump administration insisted the visit to the sites be private, vexing Israel by Trump's refusal to be accompanied by Israeli political leaders to the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israel had not allowed a Greek Orthodox Scout marching band to accompany the delegation to Church of the Holy Sepulcher as planned because of the Palestinian flags on their uniform. A spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Israeli involvement in the matter, suggesting that it might have been a U.S. security issue.

On May 23, Trump met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, West Bank, and told him, "If the Israelis and Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace throughout the Middle East."

Abbas told Trump that Palestinians were committed to working with him to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

"Our problem is not with Judaism, it is not a problem among religions," said Abbas. "Our problem is with the occupation, settlements and Israel's failure to recognize the state of Palestine."

On many occasions, U.S. and international Catholic bishops have spoken out against the expansion of Israeli settlements and confiscation of Palestinian lands.

Trump did not discuss hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. He did not visit Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, and earlier media reports had indicated that was because of an exhibit at the church supporting the hunger-striking prisoners.

In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly about the U.S.-Israeli bond and his deep sense of admiration for the country. He also spoke of the need to unite against "the scourge of violence."

"We have the rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people by defeating terrorism," Trump said at the welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. "But we can only get there by working together. We love Israel. We respect Israel and I send your people the warmest greeting from your friend and ally, from all people in the USA, we are with you."

Trump was scheduled to visit Pope Francis at the Vatican May 24.

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Pope announces new cardinals from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos, Salvador

IMAGE: CNS photo/Octavio Duran

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis announced he will create five new cardinals June 28; the new cardinals-designate come from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador.

Unusually, the group of prelates announced by the pope May 21 includes an auxiliary bishop whose archbishop is not a cardinal; he is Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chavez, 74, the current auxiliary bishop of San Salvador.

The other churchmen who will receive red hats are: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73.

After briefly talking about the day's Gospel reading, leading the crowd in St. Peter's Square in reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer and greeting various groups present, instead of wishing everyone a good Sunday and a good lunch -- the normal procedure at the noon prayer -- Pope Francis made his announcement.

The five new cardinals coming from "different parts of the world demonstrates the catholicity of the church spread across the globe," Pope Francis said. And the practice of assigning to each of them a church in Rome "expresses that the cardinals belong to the Diocese of Rome," which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch explained, "presides in charity over all the churches."

Pope Francis said that June 29, the day after the consistory and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the new cardinals would concelebrate a Mass with him, the entire College of Cardinals and new archbishops from around the world.

"We entrust the new cardinals to the protection of Sts. Peter and Paul," Pope Francis said, praying that with St. Peter they would be "authentic servants" of communion in the church and that with St. Paul they would be "joyful proclaimers of the Gospel."

The pope also prayed that "with their witness and their counsel," the new cardinals would "support me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, pastor of the universal church."

With five new cardinals, the College of Cardinals will have 227 members, 121 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. The number of electors exceeds by one the limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI. The next cardinal to turn 80 will be Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, who will celebrate his birthday Feb. 3.

The Vatican released brief biographical notes about the five who will be inducted into the college in June:

-- Cardinal-designate Zerbo was born Dec. 27, 1943, in Segou and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1971. He earned a license in Scripture studies from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and then returned to Mali as a pastor and professor at the seminary in Bamako.

Ordained a bishop in 1988, he served first as auxiliary bishop of Bamako and then was named bishop of Mopti. He has led the Archdiocese of Bamako since 1998.

According to the Vatican, "he played an active role in the Mali peace negotiations" and has worked for solidarity and reconciliation among the nation's citizens.

-- Cardinal-designate Omella was born in the small town of Cretas April 21, 1946, and did his seminary studies in Zaragoza as well as Louvain, Belgium, and Jerusalem. He was ordained in 1970. In addition to parish work in Spain, he spent a year as a missionary in then-Zaire, now Congo.

Ordained a bishop in 1996, he served as auxiliary bishop of Zaragoza and later as bishop of Barbastro-Monzon, then bishop of Calahorra and La Calzada-Logrorio. Pope Francis named him archbishop of Barcelona in 2015.

He has long been a member of the Spanish bishops' commission for social questions and served two terms as commission president. He is a member of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

-- Cardinal-designate Arborelius hosted Pope Francis' visit to Sweden in October as part of an ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Born in Sweden Sept. 24, 1949, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 20. A few years later, he entered the Discalced Carmelites, took vows in 1977 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1979.

Ordained bishop of Stockholm in 1998, he became the first native Swedish bishop in Sweden since the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, according to the Vatican.

-- Cardinal-designate Ling was born April 8, 1944, in Laos. The Vatican did not say in what city, but did say he was educated and did seminary studies in Laos and Canada.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1972 by the apostolic vicar of Vientiane, he was instrumental in training catechists and was known for his pastoral visits to remote mountain villages.

In October 2000, he was named apostolic vicar of Pakse and was ordained a bishop six months later. Since February, he also has served as apostolic administrator of Vientiane, which currently is without a bishop.

-- Cardinal-designate Rosa Chavez was born Sept. 3, 1942, in Sociedad, El Salvador. He studied at San Jose de la Montana Seminary in San Salvador, earned a degree in social communications and studied at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 in San Miguel and served overlapping -- and sometimes simultaneous -- terms as the bishop's secretary, pastor of a parish and director of the diocesan radio station. From 1977 to 1982, he served as rector of San Jose de la Montana Seminary in San Salvador, a position that brought him into regular contact and close collaboration with Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.

He was named auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1982. Currently, in addition to his duties as auxiliary bishop, he serves as pastor of the Church of St. Francis in the capital, president of Caritas El Salvador and president of Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Devil prefers comfy, business-savvy church that overlooks truth, pope says

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The devil would like to see a church that never takes any risks, never speaks out with the truth and just settles on being wishy-washy, comfortable and business-savvy, Pope Francis said.

God's prophets always were persecuted because they created a disturbance, much like those today who denounce worldliness in the church and get ostracized, the pope said May 23 during a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

However, "a church without martyrs gives rise to distrust; a church that takes no risks gives rise to distrust; a church that is afraid to proclaim Jesus Christ and cast out demons, idols and the other lord that is money is not the church of Jesus," he said.

The pope's homily looked at how Paul and Silas ended up in prison in Philippi after Paul cast a spirit out of a slave girl, and he and Silas were accused of disturbing the city and promoting unlawful customs.

The day's first reading (Acts 16:22-34), the pope said, shows that after helping the possessed girl Paul understood that even though people in the city accepted Christ's doctrine, their hearts had not been converted "because everything stayed quiet" and easy. "It was not Christ's church," he said.

The history of salvation is filled with similar stories, he said. Whenever the people of God were undisturbed, didn't take risks or started serving, "I won't say idols, but worldliness," then God would send a prophet to shake things up.

"In the church when someone denounces many kinds of worldliness, he or she is given the stink eye, 'This won't do, better they be removed,'" he said.

The pope said he could recall "many, many men and women, good consecrated (religious), not ideological," in Argentina who spoke out about what the church of Jesus was meant to be, but who would be accused of being communist and sent away and persecuted.

And "think of Blessed (Oscar) Romero, no? What happened for speaking the truth," the pope said, referring to the Salvadoran archbishop who spoke out against poverty, injustice and disappearances, and was assassinated by a suspected death squad. The one-year anniversary of his beatification was May 23.

There are many men and women like this in the history of the church, the pope said, "because the evil spirit prefers a peaceful church, without risks, a business church, an easy church, in the comfort of warmth, lukewarm."

"When the church is lukewarm, tranquil, everything organized, there are no problems, look where the deals are," he said, because the devil always comes in "through the pocket."

The path of daily conversion requires going from an easy, carefree life and "a religiosity that looks too much at earnings" to the joyous proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Lord.

This is how the Lord, "with his martyrs," moves the church forward and gives it "renewed youth," he said.

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Geography and geometry: New cardinals fit pope's formula for faith

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis, who described himself as coming from "the ends of the earth," continues to go to the far reaches of the globe to seek those who will advise him and possibly elect the next pope.

Announcing May 21 that he was adding five churchmen to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis said their geographic mix -- two Europeans, an African, an Asian and a Central American -- reflect the catholicity of the church.

After the June 28 consistory, 62 countries will have at least one cardinal elector -- a cardinal under the age of 80 and, therefore, eligible both to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, but also available for membership on various Vatican congregations, councils and dicasteries.

Obviously, Pope Francis is continuing the big push begun under Blessed Paul VI to internationalize the College of Cardinals. The cardinal electors that chose St. John Paul II in 1978 came from 49 countries. The group that elected now-retired Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 came from 51 nations (52 if England and Scotland are counted separately). And the cardinals who gathered in the Sistine Chapel to elect Pope Francis hailed from 47 countries.

But for Pope Francis it is not just about numbers, and he is not looking for some "balanced" geographical mix.

If it is about catholicity, as he said, then it is about the way the faith is lived, expressed and grows in different cultures and how those experiences become riches for the church as a whole.

Here Pope Francis' understanding of inculturation and his favorite geometrical shape -- the polyhedron -- come into play.

A polyhedron is an irregular shape with many sides; the sides do not have to be the same size and they do not have to be spaced the same distance from the center.

As Pope Francis wrote in "The Joy of the Gospel," the 2013 exhortation that laid out his vision for his pontificate, in a polyhedron each part "preserves its distinctiveness" but contributes to the whole.

For Christians, he said, seeing the global church as a polyhedron "evokes the totality or integrity of the Gospel, which the church passes down to us and sends us forth to proclaim."

Every facet or side of the three-dimensional object represents "the genius" of each people who has received "in its own way the entire Gospel and embodies it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration."

Masterpieces of theology and spirituality, music, art and architecture obviously are gifts Catholics are called to share with each other. But, for Pope Francis, so are the experiences of keeping the faith amid crushing poverty or persecution.

The five churchmen who will become cardinals June 28 are: Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74; Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, 67; and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73.

The short biographies the Vatican released May 21 give glimpses of the gifts Pope Francis wants them to share with the rest of the church. For example:

-- Cardinal-designate Rosa Chavez, who worked closely with Blessed Oscar Romero before he was assassinated in 1980, is the president of Caritas El Salvador and president of Caritas Latin America and Caribbean.

-- Cardinal-designate Zerbo played an active role in the Mali peace process, trying to end years of civil strife that began in 2012.

-- Cardinal-designate Mangkhanekhoun is known for training catechists and making pastoral visits to remote mountain villages.

-- Cardinal-designate Arborelius is a convert to Catholicism and the first native-born Swede to serve as a Catholic bishop in Sweden since the Protestant Reformation.

-- Cardinal-designate Omella has been a longtime member and two-term president of the Spanish bishops' social concerns commission.

In Pope Francis' vision, appreciating the polyhedron that is the universal church means not only going out to the "peripheries" with the Gospel, but listening to stories of faith there and giving witness of that experience to Christians living in places often mistakenly considered central, if not the center of the Christian world.

In his homily on Epiphany, Jan. 6, Pope Francis noted that the Three Wise Men first went to Herod's palace in Jerusalem, but they discovered "that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere, both existentially and geographically."

"The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day," the pope said. Off the beaten track, in Bethlehem, "before the small, poor and vulnerable infant," they "discovered the glory of God."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Be prophets of joy, not misfortune, pope tells nuns

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Consecrated women are called to be prophets of hope and joy in the world and avoid putting on a superficial joy that withers the soul, Pope Francis said.

In order to live out the joy of the Gospel, "it must be a true joy, not a counterfeit joy" that brings about "the cancer of resignation," the pope told a group from the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master.

"Please, sisters, no resignation. Only joy! The devil will say, 'We are small, we don't have many vocations.' And your face will grow long -- down, down, down -- and you lose joy," he said. "No, you cannot live like that; the hope of Jesus is joy."

Founded in 1924, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master are part of the nine institutes of consecrated life that form the Pauline Family established by Blessed James Alberione.

The congregation was in Rome April 30-May 28 for their ninth general chapter on the theme "New wine in new wineskins."

After receiving a warm applause from the sisters, the pope asked their pardon for his late arrival.

"I had a meeting with the bishops of Guatemala and these meetings go on and on and on and then, the sisters pay the price," he said as the sisters laughed.

In his speech, the pope expressed his hope that the congregation's general chapter would "bring forth abundant fruit," particularly the fruit of communion.

He asked them to practice "fraternal correction and respect for the weakest sisters" while warning of the dangers of divisions, envy and gossip that "destroy the congregation."

"For this reason, I invite you to cultivate dialogue and communion with other charisms and to fight self-referentialism in every way," the pope said. "It is ugly when a consecrated man or woman is self-referential, always looking at him/herself in the mirror. It's ugly."

The general chapter, he continued, is also a time to live out "the apostolate of the ear," that is, to listen to "the sisters as well as men and women of today." Listening to and sharing with others is necessary "if we want our lives to be fully meaningful for ourselves and the people we meet."

The vocation to consecrated life, he added, is also an opportunity for sisters to fulfill "the prophecy of joy" in their lives, which is both "a beautiful reality" and "a great challenge for all of us."

Pope Francis encouraged the sisters to not unite themselves with "the prophets of misfortune" who damage the church or give in to the temptation of "drowsiness" like the apostles in Gethsemane.

"Awaken the world, awaken the future," he said. "Always smiling; with joy, with hope."

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Pope: Christians without tenderness, respect are serpents who divide

IMAGE: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The sin committed most frequently in Christian parishes and groups is bad-mouthing and backstabbing each other, which not only divides the community, it drives away people who come seeking God, Pope Francis said.

"Truly, this pains me to the core. It's as if we were throwing stones among ourselves, one against the other. And the devil enjoys it; it's a carnival for the devil," he told parishioners in his homily during an evening Mass at a parish on the outskirts of Rome May 21.

Pope Francis told parishioners at the church of San Pier Damiani how important their use of language was. As baptized members of the church, every Christian has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, he said.

People must continue to pray for and safeguard that gift, which includes using a "special language," not Latin, he said, but something else. "It is a language of tenderness and respect" that is also mirrored in one's behavior.

"It is so awful to see these people who call themselves Christians, but they are filled with bitterness" or anger, he said in a homily that was off-the-cuff.

The devil knows how to weaken people's efforts to serve God and safeguard the Holy Spirit's presence inside them. "He will do everything so our language is not tender and not respectful," the pope said.

"A Christian community that does not safeguard the Holy Spirit with tenderness and with respect" is like the serpent with the long, long tongue, who is depicted in statues as being crushed under Mary's foot.

Pope Francis said a priest once told him about some people in a parish whose tongues were so long from wagging gossip that "they could take Communion from the front door; they could reach the altar with the tongue they have."

"This is the enemy that destroys our communities -- chatter," he said, adding it was also "the most common sin in our Christian communities."

A language that boasts or shows off "out of ambition, envy, jealousy" not only divides those already gathered, it drives off newcomers, he said.

How many people step inside a parish in search of God's peace and tenderness, but instead they encounter gossip, competition and "internal fighting among the faithful."

"And then what do they say? 'If these are Christians, I'd rather stay pagan.' And they leave, disappointed," he said. "We are the ones pushing them away."

Before celebrating Mass in the parish, the pope heard the confessions of four penitents, greeted the sick, met with members of the Neocatechumenal Way and spent time with people receiving assistance from the local Caritas.

While poverty or not having enough to get by "is a terrible cross," the pope said, it is the way Jesus chose to come into the world and live.

"We have to pray for the wealthy, for the wealthy who have too much and do not know what to do with the money and want more. Poor things," he said.

It's not about hating the rich, because that is not Christian, but praying for them so they will not become corrupt and they will recognize the wealth "is not theirs, it is God's that he gave them to administer" by being generous, working honestly and living simply and austerely, he said.

Pope Francis also told them he understood why, because of all the red tape, their pastor built without legal permits the kitchen they use to make meals for those in need. Sometimes things are made so complicated as a way to bring in bribes, he said, since "bureaucracy, usually, loosens with payoffs."

Earlier, the pope sat down with children and young adults at the parish-run sports center for a brief Q&A outside in the warm sun.

He reminisced about growing up as one of five children who knew how to have fun.

Wanting to illustrate the happy times they had, he also had to preface his anecdote with a "Don't try this at home" warning, as he told them about a parachuting contest they had which involved jumping off a balcony with an umbrella. One brother went first, and escaped harm by a hair's breadth.

"These are dangerous games, but we were happy," he said, emphasizing how they should cherish having a family and relatives who care about them. They should also obey their parents, he added, because they make many sacrifices for their well-being.

"It's a beautiful thing, it is a beautiful vocation, to have a family," he said.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz

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Bishops tell lawmakers to focus on poor in upcoming budget

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Decrease military spending and help the poor, said the U.S. bishops in a May 19 letter addressed to Congress, before lawmakers prepare to work on the federal budget for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.

The budget requires difficult decisions, but lawmakers must "give central importance to 'the least of these,'" said the letter sent to all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and signed by the chairmen of six USCCB committees.

The letter urged lawmakers to "promote the welfare of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity."

Increasing funding for defense and immigration enforcement while cutting "many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling," said the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, and Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

Respectively, they chair the bishops' committees on pro-life activities, international policy, communications, domestic policy, Catholic education and migration.

Decisions should be "guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity," said the bishops in the letter, and making deep cuts to programs that help the poor "would harm people facing dire circumstances."

"When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker," the bishops said in the letter.

An early budget proposal unveiled in March by President Donald Trump's administration called for a $54 billion increase in military spending and cutting nonmilitary programs by an equal amount. The proposal also asked for more money for immigration enforcement, while seeking deep cuts in social safety-net programs as well as environmental programs and dramatically reducing funding for the State Department and its foreign aid programs.

The early draft of Trump's proposed budget, called the "skinny budget" because of its drastic proposed cuts to certain departments, included slashing by 37 percent the $50 billion budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. Both departments have anti-poverty programs to help foster democratic societies abroad.

"It is hard to reconcile the need for diplomacy and political solutions with significant cuts to the State Department budget," they said.

The bishops said in the letter that diplomacy and international development are "primary tools" for peace, regional stability and human rights and lawmakers should "not adopt deep cuts to these budgets." As it is, the U.S. spends more than any other country on military and its spending is about a third of worldwide military spending, the bishops said.

"Our nation continues to increase spending on nuclear weapons, despite the moral imperative to verifiably disarm from this class of indiscriminate weapons," they said. "Military force should only be employed in a just cause as a last resort within strict moral limits of proportionality, discrimination and probability of success."

Although there isn't enough money to fund everything, spending money elsewhere, or saving money in the budget shouldn't be done by cutting health care, nutrition or other anti-poverty programs, the bishops said.

"The human consequences of budget choices are clear to us as pastors," they said, calling the federal budget "a moral document with profound implications for the common good of our nation and world."

"Our Catholic community defends the unborn and the undocumented, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad," their letter said. "We help mothers facing challenging situations of pregnancy, poor families rising above crushing poverty, refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines."

And in that fight, "we are partners with government," they said, adding that church institutions around the world help the most marginalized of communities.

"The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates," the bishops said. "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good."

It's unclear when Congress will take up talks on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Both parties expressed criticism of the president's initial proposal. The White House said it would release a full budget for the 2018 fiscal year May 23, while Trump is away on his first foreign trip as president and a day before he meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.


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Pope goes door to door, blessing the homes of the poor

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like parish priests throughout Italy do during the Easter season, Pope Francis spent an afternoon May 19 going door to door and blessing homes.

Continuing the "Mercy Friday" visits he began during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis chose a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Vatican press office said Father Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris parish, put up signs May 17 announcing a priest would be visiting the neighborhood to bless houses. The signs, which indicate a date and give a time frame, are a common site in Italy in the weeks before and after Easter.

"It was a great surprise today when, instead of the pastor, the one ringing the door bells was Pope Francis," the press office said. "With great simplicity, he interacted with the families, he blessed a dozen apartments" and left rosaries for the residents.

"Joking, he apologized for disturbing people, however he reassured them that he had respected the hour of silence for a nap after lunch in accordance with the sign posted at the entrance to the building," the press office said.

The pope's Friday visits to hospitals and hospices, homes for children, rehab centers and other places of care were planned for the Year of Mercy as tangible ways for the pope to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Although the Year of Mercy ended in November, the pope restarted making Mercy Friday visits in March when he visited a home and educational center for the blind and visually impaired.

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Search for common ground will be key to pope's meeting with Trump


By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite a few pointed comments in the past and fundamental differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy, military spending and climate change, sparks are not expected to fly May 24 when Pope Francis welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to the Vatican.

The two will have a private conversation, with interpreters present, and while anything is possible, protocol dictates that the joint statement issued after the meeting will describe it as "cordial."

Going into the meeting, Pope Francis made it clear he hoped it would be.

On Pope Francis' flight back to Rome from Portugal May 13, a reporter asked him, "What are you expecting from a meeting with a head of state who seems to think and act in a way contrary to your own?"

The pope replied, "I never make a judgment about people without hearing them first. It is something I feel I should not do. When we speak to each other, things will come out. I will say what I think; he will say what he thinks. But I have never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person."

Pope Francis said he would look first for areas of agreement and shared principles -- his basic recipe for creating "a culture of encounter."

"There are always doors that are not closed," the pope said about his meeting with Trump. "We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward. Step by step."

The key, he said, is "respect for the other, saying what we think, but with respect, walking together. Someone sees things in a certain way: say so, be honest in what each of us thinks."

Honesty, even if not completely diplomatic, characterized a couple of pointed remarks Pope Francis and then-presidential candidate Trump made in reference to the other's positions.

Flying in February 2016 to Rome from Mexico, where he had just paid homage to people who have lost their lives trying to cross into the United States, Pope Francis was asked about candidate Trump's promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

"A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said. He added that he would not tell anyone how to vote and that he would "have to see if he said these things, and thus I will give him the benefit of the doubt."

Trump responded by saying that the Mexican government had given Pope Francis only "one side of the story" and was "using the pope as a pawn."

Also, he said, "for a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now."

Efforts to protect freedom of conscience for employers and health-care workers and the need to defend religious freedom are likely to be a starting point for finding common ground.

A discussion about religious persecution could open the door to Pope Francis restating his conviction of the moral obligation to welcome strangers, especially those fleeing persecution, terrorism, war and abject poverty.

Protecting the unborn is another common concern and would provide an opening for Trump to talk about his Supreme Court nominee and his steps to halt funding of abortions overseas. It also would give Pope Francis an opening to talk about the protection of all life -- especially the weakest -- with health care, education, job opportunities and a clean environment where people can thrive.

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