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'So small a thing' can be a big deal, bishop says at march vigil's end

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, quoted from Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien to make a pro-life point during his homily at the Jan. 18 Mass that closed the Vigil for Life.

"In J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings,' there is a passage where Boromir, a lord of Gondor, is tempted by the Ring of Power. He holds it up, while being tempted to use its power to defend his people, and he says: 'The ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!'"

But those small things can be big deals, Bishop Knestout said at the Mass, celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

He pointed to three small things: the splitting of the atom, the invention of the microchip, and the development of the birth control pill.

With the first, "unbelievable destructive power is unleashed when that stability and union of the atom is broken," Bishop Knestout said. "When these are in their right relationship, stability and peace are the result." When they are not, he added, the result can be destruction "almost beyond our imagination."

Because of the microchip's ubiquitousness, "communication and communicator are divided," he said. "Before this technology, both communicator and communication were present at the same time, and you must deal with the person in front of you -- not some anonymous, abstract entity or idea that can be attacked or discarded easily."

With the pill, Bishop Knestout said, "life and love, husband and wife are divided. Union and communion with one another and with God is broken. From this is unleashed the destruction of the family, right relationships between human beings. What results are broken families, societies and cultures."

Bishop Knestout remarked on how Washington, site of the March for Life, has also been the site of division.

"We celebrate this Mass for Life just a few months after the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of 'Humanae Vitae,'" which proscribed the use of artificial contraception, he said.

"We celebrate this Mass for Life in the city of Washington, the nation's capital, where the pill was approved by the FDC in 1960, where the American 'Humanae Vitae' crisis was centered in 1968, where the Supreme Court decided that abortion was a constitutionally protected right in 1973, and where the sexual abuse and church leadership crisis has been centered in 2018," Bishop Knestout added.

"It is a strange fate that these have all occurred here, but it has a lesson for us. These secular and ecclesial crises can be linked together through a small but challenging teaching."

Many of the things St. Paul VI predicted "if society came to accept the idea that the unitive and procreative ends of marriage could be separated" have come to pass, Bishop Knestout said.

The bishop included among them "the general lowering of morals in society," "the objectification and attacks on the dignity of women," "widespread pornography, and addiction to it," and "coercion by the state in matters of reproduction and family life."

"Promiscuity, abortion, in-vitro fertilization, surrogacy, homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, partial-birth abortion, sex-selection abortions, genetic abnormality abortion -- all flow from this division," he said.

The "remedy" Bishop Knestout suggested: "We must return to the Gospel, and the teachings of Christ. ... The remedy is embracing the face of God in each person and embracing what the church teaches about human life. When we do that, we need not fear the dark of night, or the discord of nations."

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'Deception' guided court cases that legalized abortion, archbishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The two Supreme Court cases that legalized abortion virtually on demand in the United States were based on "deception," said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.

"The late Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, lied about being gang-raped," said Archbishop Naumann, new chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. "After her pro-life conversion, Norma acknowledged that she was deceived by her attorneys about the reality of abortion. For the last 20 years of her life, Norma McCorvey labored tirelessly to overturn Roe v. Wade."

In his homily at the Jan. 17 March for Life vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Archbishop Naumann said, "The late Sandra Cano, the Jane Doe of the Doe v. Bolton decision, never wanted an abortion."

He added, "Her lawyers, whom she had engaged to assist with regaining the custody of her children, used her difficult circumstances to advance their own ideological goal to legalize abortion. She actually fled the state of Georgia, when she feared that her lawyers and family members intended to pressure her to actually have an abortion."

Archbishop Naumann also touted another early figure in the abortion debate, Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

"Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL and himself an abortionist, became pro-life not because of theology or any religious sentiment, but from his own study of the scientific advancements in embryology and fetology," he said. "While it is true that Dr. Nathanson eventually became Catholic, it was long after he had become a pro-life advocate because of science."

Archbishop Naumann criticized one of the consequences of legal abortion.

"Protecting the life of the unborn children is the pre-eminent human rights issue of our time, not only because of the sheer magnitude of the numbers, but because abortion attacks the sanctuary of life, the family. Abortion advocates pit the welfare of the mother against the life of her child," he said.

"Every abortion not only destroys the life of an innocent child, but it wounds and scars mothers and fathers who must live with the harsh reality that they hired someone to destroy their daughter or son. In reality, the welfare of parents and their child are always intimately linked."

Archbishop Naumann also took note of the legal and political landscape surrounding abortion.

"We assemble in 2019 with some new hope that the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court may result in a re-examination and an admission by the court of its tragic error 46 years ago," he said, referring to the addition of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. "We pray that state legislatures and the people of this country will again have the ability to protect the lives of unborn children."

He added, "At the same time, we are sobered by the ferocity and the extremism of the proponents of legalized abortion as evidenced in the recent confirmation process to fill a vacancy on the U. S. Supreme Court. Recently, two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the suitability of a judicial nominee because of his membership in an extremist organization" -- and here he paused to make a face, as if he couldn't believe what he was about to say next -- "the Knights of Columbus."

The Mass, which brought an estimated 10,000 people into the basilica's Great Upper Church, was not as filled with pomp and grandeur. The entrance procession, for instance, lasted 17 minutes -- less than half the 35 minutes recorded in some past years.

Also, after the prayers the faithful, all at Mass read aloud a "Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse," which read in part, "Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace, join to your own suffering the pain of all who have been hurt in body mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them. Hear our cries as we agonize over the harm done to our brothers and sisters."

Archbishop Naumann also mentioned the abuse crisis in his homily.

"For all Catholics, the last several months have been profoundly difficult. We've been devastated by the scandal of sexual misconduct by clergy and of past instances of the failure of bishops to respond with compassion to victims of abuse and to protect adequately the members of their flock," he said.

"The abuse of children or minors upends the pro-life ethic because it is a grave injustice and an egregious offense against the dignity of the human person," he said. "Moreover, the failure to respond effectively to the abuse crisis undermines every other ministry in the church."

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Take charge of your roots, culture, pope tells indigenous youths

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said that in order to face the challenges ahead, young indigenous men and women must protect and never forget their roots and their cultures.

In a video message sent to the World Meeting of Indigenous Youth in Soloy, Panama, Jan. 18, the pope urged the young people to "be grateful for the history of their people," which will help them "go forward full of hope."

"Return to your culture of origins," he said. "Take charge of your roots, because from your roots comes the strength to make things grow, flourish and bear fruit."

According to a press release, over 2,000 indigenous young people were expected to attend the Jan. 17-21 meeting to prepare for World Youth Day in Panama.

The pope, who will arrive in the country Jan. 23, said he looked forward to meeting them at WYD and said their presence would be a way "of showing the indigenous face of our church" as well as being a confirmation of the church's "commitment to protect our common home."

The gathering of young indigenous men and women, he added, will "stimulate the search for answers from an evangelical perspective to the many scandalous situations in the world such as the marginalization, exclusion and impoverishment that condemn millions of young people, especially youths from the original peoples."

"Take charge of your cultures, take charge of your roots!" Pope Francis exclaimed. "A poet once said that 'everything that blooms from a tree comes from that which is underground,' the roots. But roots that grow toward the future, projected toward the future. This is your challenge today."

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Without a voice at home, Nicaraguans ask Washington-based OAS for help

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For a few hours, Gio Gomez left the warmth of the Florida sun and headed north toward an arctic blast in Washington. She protected herself from the winter breeze while wrapped in a yellow and white Vatican flag outside the building of the Organization of American States, the place where diplomats and an array of officials from the three American continents Jan. 11 were weighing "the situation in Nicaragua."

She made the trek from her home in the Miami-Dade area to Washington, she told Catholic News Service, to show support for the Catholic clergy in the Central American nation of Nicaragua.

Her native country has, for almost a year, been undergoing a crisis involving a government accused by detractors, like Gomez, of killing and injuring its citizens, violating their human rights (as well as their right to free and fair elections), threatening independent media and usurping power.

In the middle of it all, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, from its bishops to the laity, has been in the thick of the drama. The country's bishops attempted to dialogue with the government after massive protests and unrest erupted in April 2018 when Ortega administration officials announced a plan to reduce pensions as a cost-cutting measure while increasing employee contributions to the social security system.

Though the government rescinded the proposal, the violent reactions toward it yielded hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries after police and pro-government forces clashed with dissenting civilians.

The country, which had showed modest but stable economic growth, also plummeted financially, resulting in even more public demonstrations of discontent. Those demonstrations migrated beyond the borders of Nicaragua. They regularly occupy space on Twitter via the hashtag #SOSNicaragua and expanded abroad in places like Washington and Florida, where Nicaraguan expats who feel they cannot be heard at home, are urging multilateral organizations such as the OAS to act against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, whom they largely blame for the crisis.

"Gentlemen, ladies, don't be indifferent, they're killing people," Gomez shouted in Spanish. She was with about 200 other Nicaraguan immigrants outside the OAS building in Washington, as the regional forum met to weigh what action, if any, to take.

Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Washington-based OAS, an organization of 35 independent states from North, Central and South America, called for the urgent session in January to address the allegations against Nicaragua, an OAS member state.

During that meeting, Paulo Abrao, executive secretary for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH for its Spanish acronym), said the organization had determined that 325 Nicaraguans had died and at least 2,000 had been injured since anti-government demonstrations began in April 2018.

At least one of those deaths included the killing of a student from a Jesuit high school in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Alvaro Conrado Davila, 15, a student at the Loyola Institute, died April 20, 2018, after being hit in the throat by a rubber bullet.  

But Nicaragua Foreign Minister Denis Ronaldo Moncada Colindres disputed the accusations against his government. In a scene reminiscent of the Cold War, he accused the OAS secretary-general during the meeting of being a pawn of the U.S., reminded representatives of member states gathered in the room of "Yankee troops" marching into other Latin American countries and of past interventionism in the region, and said if illegal action was taken against Nicaragua, they could be next.  

"The government of Nicaragua rejects and condemns this convocation," he said, accusing Almagro of supporting terrorist groups that advocate overthrowing legitimate governments such as the one run by Ortega and Murillo.

But even the legitimacy of the Nicaraguan government is in question. The Ortega administration, which has ruled the country for more than a decade, has been accused of using the country's judicial system to quash any significant political opposition groups. The administration exerts control over all branches of government.

Moncada Colindres classified those opposing Ortega as terrorists or as paid actors of the "ultra-right" of the United States, posing as pacifist workers for nongovernmental organizations, he said, but intent on attempting a coup. He used the example of a priest in Nicaragua threatening violence against local police. Media reports said the priest was trying to calm the situation by marching through the streets with the Eucharist.

Though the relationship between the government and a church on the side of the Nicaraguan people seems tense at best, it wasn't always so.

In a Jan. 3 telephone interview with CNS from Managua, Catholic journalist Israel Gonzalez Espinoza explained that in the past Catholic authorities had worked with the Ortega government, including in an effort that resulted in 2006 with getting a national law approved that banned abortion. The relationship between the church hierarchy and government was "cordial," Gonzalez said, and differences were discussed privately.

In 2014, the country's bishops met with Ortega and presented him with a document, an "X-ray," of the country's problems, Gonzalez said, including the need to guarantee free and fair elections in 2016. They also pointed out in the document the need to stop "political manipulation of religious symbols for political interest" and the "appropriation of terminology and values of the Catholic religion" incorporated into partisan slogans.

"They never received a response" from the administration, said Gonzalez, who covers the Catholic Church for the Spanish-language online site Religion Digital.

By the time the Nicaraguan bishops met with the Ortega administration last year to try broker peace and open a dialogue following the protests, government officials had dug in their heels.

"They just wanted to talk about the economic situation, that was their 'war horse,' saying that at the international level, Nicaragua was an economically stable country" and the government shouldn't be questioned, Gonzalez said.

But since then, the economy contracted. The Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that "more than $900 million have fled the financial system" in Nicaragua since the conflict started. The economic instability seemed to fuel public shows of discontent.

Catholic churches have served as places of refuge during some of the clashes, especially since young Nicaraguans, many of them Catholic, have been involved in some of the demonstrations.

Prelates such as Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez have come under fire and even physical attack by pro-government groups for speaking out against the Ortega administration. That's what prompted Nicaraguans abroad, such as Gio Gomez, to seek help abroad, not just for other Nicaraguans, but also the Catholic Church as an institution in Nicaragua.

"Their rights are under attack," said Gomez, waving a blue and white Nicaraguan flag as OAS members left the building. Though no action was taken against the Ortega administration Jan. 11, the OAS is considering various upcoming diplomatic options.

Though OAS representatives from Venezuela and Bolivia backed Nicaragua, many seemed to side with Secretary-General Almagro, who offered strong rebuke during the meeting saying that the "grave" situation in Nicaragua prompted a deeper look at the country because democracy cannot exist amid repression and violation of human rights.

When a government openly violates basic human rights, he said, "it's obvious that it has forgotten that sovereignty is rooted in the people."

Referencing the OAS meeting, Nicaragua's Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said to online news site Confidencial in early January that "if an observation has merit, I think it has to be evaluated well, and those things that need to be changed, well, they need to change, for benefit of the country."

 

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Australia delegation makes pre-WYD stops at March for Life, Guadalupe

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- About 1,000 young Catholic Australians left their homeland to participate in World Youth Day in Panama.

But, since they were in the neighborhood -- well, make that hemisphere -- about half of them made a visit to Washington prior to World Youth Day to take part in the annual March for Life. The other half made a pilgrimage to Mexico City to see the site where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego.

Why, though, would Australians want to participate in the march when American law plays no role in Australian law?

"What America does in this (issue) does affect the whole world," said Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia's largest city, citing the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, and how state laws are affected.

Australian law, according to Archbishop Fisher, similarly makes distinctions on what belongs in the federal purview and what is germane to its states, such as New South Wales, where Sydney is located.

Abortion is still outlawed in Australia's states, "but the courts have ruled that to save the life or health of the mother, an abortion may take place," he said.

"It's hard in Australia to get late-term abortions," the archbishop said, defining "late-term" as the third trimester.

Australia's biggest pro-life challenge is euthanasia, Archbishop Fisher said. A couple of states have already legalized the practices, and advocates of physician-assisted suicide would like to alter the law so that medical professionals "legally be required to cooperate" with any euthanasia wish, he added.

Another challenge for the Catholic Church in Australia is a Royal Commission report issued last year on clergy sex abuse.

The Royal Commission said the bishops should urge the Vatican to change canon law so that "the pontifical secret" -- the confidentiality surrounding a canonical investigation and process -- "does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse."

Further, the Royal Commission asked that the bishops urge the Vatican to eliminate the "imputability test" of canon law when dealing with cases of clerical sexual abuse. This test means, in essence, that a person's level of guilt for a crime is lessened to the degree that he or she was not aware that the action was wrong; if the imputability is diminished, canon law would recommend a lesser penalty for the guilty.

The commission also recommended the bishops work with the Vatican to amend canon law to remove the time limit for commencement of canonical actions relating to child sexual abuse, but the bishops, in a response to the report, said this was already the practice in Australia.

Archbishop Fisher said two Australian states have already made it law requiring for priests to break the seal of the confessional -- a law that, as reported by Australia's state broadcaster ABC, priests have said they will not follow.

The archbishop said it was presumptuous of the Royal Commission to think that one nation's bishops would ask the church worldwide to "alter its universal teaching." He added he found it ironic that, following a recent case where a criminal defense attorney turned out to be a police informant, Australia's legal community wants to "enshrine" lawyer-client confidentiality in Australian law, yet not extend "confessional privilege" to the church.

Changes in the law, Archbishop Fisher said, would not help uncover more abuse, but would likely hinder it, as any priest considering confessing to abuse would instead not confess to keep the abuse from being reported.

Be that as it may, he added, confession is an "underutilized" sacrament in Australia. There are "church centers in the cities where thousands" of Catholic go to confession, Archbishop Fisher said, "but in the parishes, it's much, much less."

The archbishop said he hopes the Vatican meeting with the heads of bishops' conferences worldwide on clergy sex abuse drives home a few points: "that it's not Anglo-Saxon, it's not a media beat-up and it's of world proportions."

The problems surrounding the issue are "severe, they're real and they're universal" Archbishop Fisher said. "Sadly, I think there are bishops around the world who still do not get it," Archbishop Fisher said, but they should, he added, "learn from the American, the Irish and the Australian experience" before the issue comes knocking at their own door.

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Vatican releases guidelines to help church fight human trafficking

IMAGE: CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has created a set of pastoral guidelines to inspire and improve the church's work in addressing the crime of human trafficking and the care of its victims worldwide.

The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released its "Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking" Jan. 17 at a Vatican news conference.

"Pope Francis' insistent teaching on human trafficking provides the foundation for the present pastoral orientations which draw also from the longstanding practical experience of many international Catholic NGOs working in the field and from the observations of representatives of bishops' conferences," the text said.

"While approved by the Holy Father, the orientations do not pretend to exhaust the church's teaching on human trafficking; rather, they provide a series of key considerations that may be useful to Catholics and others in their pastoral ministry, in planning and practical engagement, in advocacy and dialogue," it said.

The Migrants and Refugees Section also released a separate publication, "Lights on the Ways of Hope," which compiles Pope Francis' teachings on migrants, refugees and human trafficking.

"Its purpose is similar to that of the 'Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,' to serve one and all as an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events" concerning the movements of people today, and as "a guide to inspire" people to look to the future with hope, the book's introduction said.

The nearly 500-page volume collects more than 300 complete or excerpted speeches, messages and reflections by the pope on the three themes.

Additionally, the collection is available online at https://migrants-refugees.va/resource-center/collection/ with a robust search engine to help people who are looking to study more in-depth what the pope has said, Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio, the section's undersecretary, said at the news conference.

While the printed volume compiles Pope Francis' teachings from 2013 to the end of 2017 in Italian and English, the online version will offer other languages and be updated with more recent talks by Pope Francis as well as the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II on migrants, refugees and human trafficking, said Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, the section's other undersecretary.

While the collected teachings offer a more academic service, the pastoral guidelines on human trafficking have the specific aim of inspiring action, aiding current efforts and reaching the long-term goal "to prevent and ultimately dismantle this most evil and sinful enterprise of deception, entrapment, domination and exploitation," Father Czerny said.

The International Labor Organization estimates there are more than 40 million victims of human trafficking around the world. It estimates 81 percent of victims are trapped in forced labor, 25 percent are children and 75 percent are women and girls. It also estimates that the trafficking of human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation generates $150 billion a year, making it the third-largest crime industry in the world behind drugs and arms trafficking.

The complex and global nature of human trafficking requires a global and multidisciplinary response, the guidelines said.

"The booklet will help the church play its important role in this struggle," Father Czerny said, also announcing his office will host a three-day conference in April at the Vatican to discuss implementing the guidelines.

The orientations are "offered to Catholic dioceses, parishes and religious congregations, schools and universities, Catholic and other organizations of civil society and any group willing to respond," he said.

"They are for planning and evaluating practical pastoral engagement as well as advocacy and dialogue," adding that many of the points "should be read as proposals for policy" for governments.

"It is up to citizens to make it clear to their state that this is something that is going on within our borders" and requires action by the state, which is ultimately responsible for protecting the human rights and security of those within its borders, Father Czerny told reporters.

One area of concern, he said, is that the large numbers of migrants and refugees moving across borders are providing "fertile ground" for traffickers.

Looking specifically at North America's border concerns regarding "caravans" of people escaping Central and South America, he said it is "very important to see that migration policy and trafficking are linked."

"The more difficult you make it for people to move, the more likely they are to be trafficked so that is a very important consideration if we are really concerned about human rights and human dignity," said Father Czerny.

While the church has been actively engaged on multiple levels and places in the fight against trafficking for many years, "this handbook is really the first coherent publication pulled together" on the subject, making it "an important step" in this battle, he said.

The guidelines present pertinent quotes and teachings from Pope Francis and detailed input from church leaders, scholars and experts working in the field of trafficking.

They offer a reading and analysis of "Why does the depravity of human trafficking persist in the 21st century? How can it remain so hidden?" as well as an understanding of "How does the ugly, evil business of human trafficking operate?" Father Czerny said.

It concludes, he said, with action guidelines addressing, "What can be done to alleviate and eliminate human trafficking? How can it be done better?"

The 40-page booklet is available at https://migrants-refugees.va/resource-center/documents/ in formats suitable for professional reprints or for sharing online.  

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Julliard-trained violinist returns to N.J. roots to record first album

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Lauren Desberg

By Carl Peters

CAMDEN, N.J. (CNS) -- In recent months, violinist Alana Youssefian has performed at New York City's Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Yale University and venues in Texas, California, Washington and Canada.

But she's coming home to New Jersey -- her hometown parish in particular -- to record her first album.

The recording will take place at St. Rose of Lima Church in suburban Haddon Heights, where her mother still is involved in the parish music program.

Youssefian, 26, attended the parish school, sang in the parish children and teen choirs, and listened to the Spice Girls with her friends. She holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory, Rice University and The Julliard School, and she makes her living as a traveling soloist, performing Bach, Haydn and Vivaldi.

She told the Catholic Star Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Camden, that her specialty is "historical performance," often working with musicians playing historical instruments.

Because of that, Youssefian easily can be viewed as the image of sophistication and high art. And she is given to saying things such as, "I can't recommend Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas enough."

Don't think stuffy though.

In her spare time, she reads escapist fiction and listens to the Rolling Stones and the Beastie Boys.

Moreover, those who have seen her on stage describe a magnetic and exuberant performer. One admirer has referred to her as a baroque Lady Gaga.

Pre-performance excitement is always overcome by "a feeling of pure joy," she said in an email interview.

Once a performance concludes, she said, "the joy is compounded with a feeling of gratefulness to my colleagues and audience for the support and love they give back to me."

"The most rewarding part of the job for me," she added, "is when someone comes up after a concert and says, 'I used to think classical music was boring, but you changed my mind!'"

Youssefian grew up in an atmosphere of music and faith. Her mother is a pianist, her brother is a violinist and guitarist, and her father is a drummer and guitarist.

"My mother, Ellen Youssefian, has been involved in the music program at St. Rose Church since I was a baby, and she got me and my brother involved very young," Youssefian said.

She started playing the violin at the age of 4 and eventually learned to improvise while playing hymns during church services.

"My favorite memories of Saint Rose are centered around my time in the choir, sharing beautiful music with my friends and the church community. Music has its own language and its own ability to touch people," she said.

"My mom always told me and my brother that our music was a gift to be shared with the community, and I continue to remember that even in the craziness of the professional world," she added. "I definitely consider my music as an expression of my spirituality; it has always felt like something bigger than me. I'm thankful every day that I've been given a gift that can bring so much joy to those who experience it."

As a student at Oberlin Conservatory, Youssefian became interested in historical performance.

"The approach to the music and the sound the historical instruments produce is so alive, way more relative to singing and speech," she explained. "The historical repertoire also gave us some of the most beautiful sacred music you will ever hear."

The album she will record beginning Feb. 25 is titled "Brilliance Indeniable: Virtuoso Violin in the Court of Louis XV." It will feature never-before-recorded works for violin and chamber ensemble by the French composer Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, a virtuoso violinist in 18th-century Paris.

Youssefian will be joined by friends Stephen Goist on violin, Matt Zucker on cello and Michael Sponseller on harpsichord.

The violinist chose to record the album in St. Rose of Lima Church for personal and professional reasons. She calls the church "the home of my musical upbringing." Just as importantly, the church has excellent acoustics, which she considers better than a studio.

"The type of music we will be recording is for historical instruments, which sound especially beautiful in the resonance of a church," she said.

Youssefian also will perform music from the album she is recording during a concert at the church Feb. 28.

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Editor's Note: More information about Youssefian can be found online at www.alanayoussefian.com.

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Peters is managing editor of the Catholic Star Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Camden.

 

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Cardinal Wuerl acknowledges he knew of one accusation against predecessor

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By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a second letter issued in mid-January about what he knew and didn't regarding abuse allegations involving his predecessor, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Washington's retired archbishop, apologized Jan. 15 for what he called a "lapse of memory," clarifying that he knew of at least one abuse allegation against former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, but he had "forgotten" about it.

In the letter sent to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged that he became aware of the allegation against now-Archbishop McCarrick after receiving a report in 2004 about a different allegation, but the "survivor also indicated that he had observed and experienced 'inappropriate conduct' by then-Bishop McCarrick."

The former cardinal is now an archbishop, having stepped down from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 following accusations that he abused minors in the past. Other accusations followed about inappropriate behavior with seminarians. He has denied the accusations, but the Vatican is reportedly considering whether to laicize him. He now is living in a Capuchin Franciscan friary in Kansas.

Cardinal Wuerl was bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2004 and he said in the Jan. 15 letter that back then, he received a report from the Pittsburgh Diocesan Review Board, which reviews allegations of abuse, about a separate case and "at the conclusion of this report, the survivor indicated the 'inappropriate conduct'" he observed by McCarrick.

Previously, Cardinal Wuerl had said in a Jan. 12 letter that when "the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was brought against Archbishop McCarrick, I stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors." But the context, he said, was in discussions about sexual abuse of minors, not adults. He said in the Jan. 15 letter that the survivor in the Pittsburgh case had asked that the matter be kept confidential, he heard no more about it, "I did not avert to it again," and "only afterwards was I reminded of the 14-year-old accusation of inappropriate conduct which, by that time, I had forgotten."

The latest letter from the cardinal came after the person who had brought up the "inappropriate conduct" allegations in Pittsburgh spoke with The Washington Post newspaper in mid-January to say that Cardinal Wuerl, indeed, knew about the concerns he had then voiced.  

Cardinal Wuerl, in the latest letter, said he apologized to this survivor "for any of the pain and suffering he endured" during the abuse he suffered, and also "from the actions of then-Bishop McCarrick."

He also said "it is important for me to accept personal responsibility and apologize for this lapse of memory. There was never the intention to provide false information."

Cardinal Wuerl has been under fire since an August 2018 report from a grand jury in Pennsylvania that painted a mixed record during his time as bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh as it pertained to handling abuse cases. The report has recently been under scrutiny, however, and since then there have been calls for the cardinal to step down from his current post.

Now 78, he had submitted his resignation to the Pope Francis when he turned 75, as required by canon law. The pope accepted it last fall and named Cardinal Wuerl as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington; he' ll remain in the post until a successor is named.

 

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Pope wants abuse summit to lead to clarity, action

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By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the upcoming meeting on protecting minors, Pope Francis wants leaders of the world's bishops' conferences to clearly understand what must be done to prevent abuse, care for victims and ensure no case is whitewashed or covered up.

"The pope wants it to be an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference -- a meeting characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering," Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters Jan. 16.

The Feb. 21-24 meeting on the protection of minors in the church "has a concrete purpose: The goal is that all of the bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors," Gisotti said, reading from a written communique in Italian and English.

"Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response," he said.

The pope announced in September that he was calling the presidents of the world's bishops conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men's and women's religious orders to the Vatican to address the crisis and focus on responsibility, accountability and transparency.

Gisotti said, "It is fundamental for the Holy Father that when the bishops who will come to Rome have returned to their countries and their dioceses that they understand the laws to be applied and that they take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried."

He acknowledged the "high expectations" surrounding the meeting and emphasized that "the church is not at the beginning of the fight against abuse."

"The meeting is a stage along the painful journey that the church has unceasingly and decisively undertaken for over 15 years," he said.

In a separate communique, the Vatican press office said the meeting's organizing committee met with Pope Francis Jan. 10. The committee members are Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The members informed the pope about their preparations for the gathering, which will include plenary sessions, working groups and moments of common prayer and "listening to testimonies."

Pope Francis has asked Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the former director of the Vatican press office, to moderate the plenary sessions.

The meeting will include a penitential liturgy Feb. 23 and a closing Mass Feb. 24, Gisotti said.

"Pope Francis guaranteed his presence for the entire duration of the meeting," the communique said.

The organizing committee has already informed participating bishops that they should prepare for the gathering by meeting with survivors of abuse.

"The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened. For this reason, we urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome to learn firsthand the suffering that they have endured," said the committee in a letter released to the public by the Vatican Dec. 18.

Without "a comprehensive and communal response" to the abuse crisis, the committee said, "not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world."

The members also had sent participants a questionnaire so they could "express their opinions constructively and critically as we move forward, to identify where help is needed to bring about reforms now and in the future, and to help us get a full picture of the situation in the church."

Pope Francis, they had said, "is convinced that through collegial cooperation, the challenges facing the church can be met. But each of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency and holding everyone in the church accountable."

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Lord's Prayer is reaching out for father's loving embrace, pope says

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By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To pray well, people need to have the heart of a child -- a child who feels safe and loved in a father's tender embrace, Pope Francis said.

If people have become estranged from God, feel lonely, abandoned or have realized their mistakes and are paralyzed by guilt, "we can still find the strength to pray" by starting with the word, "Father," pronounced with the tenderness of a child, he said.

No matter what problems or feelings a person is experiencing or the mistakes someone has made, God "will not hide his face. He will not close himself up in silence. Say, 'Father,' and he will answer,'" the pope said Jan. 16 during his weekly general audience.

After greeting the thousands of faithful gathered in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope continued his series of talks on the Lord's Prayer, reflecting on the Aramaic term, "Abba," which Jesus uses to address God, the father.

"It is rare Aramaic expressions do not to get translated into Greek in the New Testament," which shows how special, important and nuanced "Abba" is in reflecting the radical and new relationship God has with his people, the pope said.

St. Paul, he said, wrote to the Romans that they were now "children of God, for you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!'"

Jesus teaches his disciples that "Christians can no longer consider God a tyrant to be feared," but instead feel a sense of trust growing in their hearts in which they can "speak to the creator, calling him 'Father,'" the pope said.

The term "Abba," the pope said, "is something much more intimate and moving that simply calling God, 'father,'" It is an endearing term, somewhat like "dad," "daddy" or "papa."

Even though the Lord's Prayer has been translated using the more formal term, "Father," "we are invited to say, 'papa,' to have a rapport with God like a child with his or her papa."

Whatever term used, it is meant to inspire and foster a feeling of love and warmth, he said, like a child would feel in the full embrace of a tender father.

"To pray well, one must have the heart of a child, not a heart that feels adequate" or self-satisfied, he said.

People must imagine this prayer being recited by the prodigal son after he has been embraced by his father, who waited so long, who forgave him and only wants to say how much he missed his child, Pope Francis said.

"Then we discover how those words take on life, take on strength," he said.

People will then wonder, "'How is it possible that you, God, know only love? That you don't know hate? Where inside of you is revenge, the demand for justice, the fury over your wounded honor?' And God will respond, 'I know only love.'"

The father of the prodigal son also displays the maternal qualities of forgiveness and empathy, the pope said. Mothers especially are the ones who keep loving their children, "even when they would no longer deserve anything."

"God is looking for you even if you do not seek him," he said. "God loves you even if you have forgotten him. God sees a glimpse of beauty in you even if you think you have uselessly squandered all of your talents."

"God is not just a father, he is like a mother who never stops loving" her child.

At the end of the general audience, in preparation for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25, Pope Francis said, "ecumenism is not something optional."

The purpose of the week of prayer and encounter, he said, is to foster and strengthen a common witness upholding "true justice and supporting the weakest through concrete, appropriate and effective responses."

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Visiting bishops see 'incomprehensible complexity' of Holy Land situation

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Mazur via catholicnews.org.uk

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Visiting with Christian communities in northern Israel and the northern Palestinian Territories has helped bishops participating in the annual Holy Land Coordination see "the great need" to promote an understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, said Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Ireland.

"There is ... a need to devise ways for both people to understand that, ultimately and finally, for the common good of all, a permanent and sustainable solution is needed," said Bishop Treanor. "The kind of issues at stake here are not easily resolved, but some kind of solution has to be found. It is difficult to know when that will be achieved."

"It does not make sense that people living in such close proximity should be a source of conflict," he added.

He said every generation has the responsibility to take the necessary steps to promote mutual respect and understanding. Based on the Irish experience, he highlighted the important role the international community plays in finding solutions to such conflicts.

"The kind of problems faced here ... are part of the human condition," Bishop Treanor said. "An emphasis must be on the role of the international community. The world has become more interdependent ... and the international community must be involved so that people may live in peace and harmony."

The annual Holy Land Coordination includes bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa. Based this year in the northern Israeli city of Haifa Jan. 12-17, it has focused on the challenges and opportunities for Christians in Israel. The bishops visited Christian hospitals, schools and villages in Israel. They also met with Christian religious leaders, Christian mayors from Israeli towns, members of the Israeli Knesset, academics and internal refugees from the Melkite Catholic village of Ikrit.

The diverse meetings have helped highlight the "incomprehensible complexity" of the situation, said Bishop Treanor.

"We have also seen people working for peace and justice and the promotion of mutual understanding. Those are the ingredients for a sustainable solution and hope," he said.

On Jan. 13, the bishops celebrated Mass at the Church of the Visitation in the northern Palestinian village of Zababdeh and visited the Jenin refugee camp and a school run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine.

The school has been adversely affected by the U.S. government's withholding of funds to UNRWA, noted Archbishop Timothy Broglio, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

"The cutoff of USA aid is a very aggravating factor, which makes life more difficult," he said, noting that class sizes have increased to about 45 students per classroom and job training and job promotion programs had to be closed. "Those are innocent people caught in a battle."

Job promotion is critically important in helping young Christians remain in the Holy Land, he said.

He also noted the importance of meeting with the Christian community in Israel to learn about their perspective.

"They are Israeli citizens and do form a bridge. They can be loyal members of Israel as well as loyal members of our faith tradition," he said.

Archbishop Broglio said that while Christians in Israel have opportunities, they also face challenges and discrimination such as the newly passed Nation State Law, which recognizes Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people." Opponents say the law reduces non-Jews to second-class citizens.

The bishops' visit also inspires hope in the local Christian community that people abroad care about them and that will advocate for them to their governments.

In his homily at the Church of the Visitation in the West Bank, South Africa Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town told parishioners that the bishops understood the challenges they face and the importance of their presence in the Holy Land.

"We know and understand the difficult circumstances in which you live, and we also understand the important vocation you have of keeping the flame of Christianity alight in the place of the Messiah's birth, ministry, death and resurrection," he said.

Catholics cannot remain silent in the presence of untruth, injustice, hatred and violence, Archbishop Brislin said.

"The promotion of truth, love, justice and peace are integral to the mission of the church. In the presence of untruth, injustice, hatred and violence we cannot remain silent. We have an obligation to witness to the kingdom. We cannot be silent, nor can we be neutral," he said.

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Update: Parish of teen who escaped abduction credits power of prayer

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By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For nearly three months, parishioners at St. Peter Catholic Church in Cameron, Wisconsin, were praying for the safe return of one of their own -- 13-year-old Jayme Closs.

When parishioners heard the news that she had escaped her abductor Jan. 10 and was safe, their prayers switched to gratitude.

The parish sign said, "Praise God Welcome Home Jayme," after its Mass times listing. It joined dozens of messages that had sprung up in signs and storefronts across the Wisconsin town and neighboring towns cheering the teen's safety.

"Our prayers have been answered and God is good," parishioner JoAnn Trowbridge told the local NBC affiliate, WEAU, after Jan. 13 Mass at St. Peter. She also said she thinks their prayers may have been answered because "God got sick of us nagging him."

St. Peter, in the Diocese of Superior, is where Jayme attended religious education classes and Mass with her parents, James and Denise, who were murdered Oct. 15, 2018. Their funeral Mass was celebrated at the church Oct. 27.

Superior Bishop James P. Powers said in a Jan. 11 message to priests and parish leaders that he hoped all parishes would add a "thanksgiving petition to God" during Masses that Jayme was found alive and safe. He said that during her nearly three-month captivity, she had to endure "God knows what kind of physical and mental torture as we kept her in our prayers asking for her safe return."

"We now want to keep her in our prayers asking God's healing touch on her body, mind and spirit," he said in a message posted on the Facebook page of the Catholic Herald, Superior's diocesan newspaper.

Jake Patterson, 21, has been charged with couple's murder and with kidnapping Jayme, both of which he has confessed to, according to a criminal complaint released Jan. 14 by the Barron County District Attorney.

Jayme was found in the town of Gordon, about 70 miles from her home in Barron, when she escaped the cabin in the woods where she had been held for 88 days and met a woman walking a dog who took her to a nearby home and called police.

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters when he announced the teen's return that she was back through the "hope and the prayers in this community and what everybody did."

He also primarily praised the teen saying: "She took that first step. Taking that step was just unbelievable." He said when people talk about this kind of situation with their kids they need to advise them: "Never give up hope, keep your prayers alive. When you get into a situation, you never give up."

Jayme is currently staying with an aunt. Her grandfather told The Associated Press that she is "in exceptionally good spirits."

St. Peter Church will hold a special service of Thanksgiving for her return Jan. 20.
During the parish's Jan. 13 Mass, parishioners prayed for Jayme and her family and for all who had searched for the teen while she was missing.

They said they want her to know of their support in the weeks, months and years ahead, particularly that she can "handle this and get her life back together," as one parishioner put it.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Foster dialogue, promote solidarity, pope tells Academy for Life

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By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking the Pontifical Academy for Life's 25th anniversary, Pope Francis encouraged the research and advisory body to promote human solidarity and fraternity as part of its mandate to promote human life.

A sense of fraternity between people and nations has been weakened with an erosion of mutual trust and "remains the unkept promise of modernity," Pope Francis said.

"The strengthening of fraternity, generated in the human family by the worship of God in spirit and truth, is the new frontier of Christianity," the pope said in a letter addressed to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the pontifical academy.

Speaking to reporters at a Vatican news conference Jan. 15, Archbishop Paglia said the letter's title, "The Human Community," indicated how the pope wants pro-life concerns to include a concern for human relationships -- in the family, in society, among nations as well as with creation.

"Life is not an abstract universal concept, it is the human person," and the way human beings live embedded in a specific context interwoven with others, he said.

Christians must rebuild and strengthen human bonds and relationships, the archbishop said, because "the weakening of fraternity, whether we like it or not, contaminates all the human and life sciences."

The pope sent the letter to mark the 25th anniversary of the academy's establishment by St. John Paul II on Feb. 11, 1994.

St. John Paul, the pope said, recognized the "rapid and sweeping changes taking place in biomedicine" and saw the need for greater research, education and communication aimed at demonstrating "that science and technology, at the service of the human person and his fundamental rights, contribute to the overall good of man and to the fulfilment of the divine plan of salvation."

Pope Francis said the academy's new statutes, issued in 2016, were meant to encourage its activities, expand its fields to include the rapid and complex discoveries and changes unfolding in science, medicine and technology, and recognize the social and relational effects of these new developments.

Today, the pope wrote, the human dimension is being lost.

"Mutual distrust between individuals and peoples is being fed by an inordinate pursuit of self-interest and intense competition that can even turn violent. The gap between concern with one's own well-being and the prosperity of the larger human family seems to be stretching to the point of complete division," he wrote.

People's estranged or strained relationship with others and with the earth is "the result of the scarce attention paid to the decisive global issue of the unity of the human family and its future," the pope said. It reflects the existence of an actual "anti-culture," which is not only indifferent to the community, it is "hostile to men and women and in league with the arrogance of wealth."

Progress has produced a "paradox," he said. Just when humanity has developed the economic and technological resources that make caring for the whole human family and its home possible, "those same economic and technological resources are creating our most bitter divisions and our worst nightmares."

People's awareness of this paradox often leaves them "demoralized and disoriented, bereft of vision," he said, and in even greater need of the hope and joy offered by Christ and of a taste for the beauty of a life lived in fraternity with others on the earth as a common home.

"It is time for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples," Pope Francis wrote. "We know that the faith and love needed for this covenant draw their power from the mystery of history's redemption in Jesus Christ."

But, he wrote, Christians must reflect whether they have been "seriously focused on the passion and joy of proclaiming God's love for the dwelling of his children on the earth? Or are they still overly focused on their own problems and on making timid accommodations to an essentially worldly outlook?"

"We can question seriously whether we have done enough as Christians to offer our specific contribution to a vision of humanity capable of upholding the unity of the family of peoples in today's political and cultural conditions," he said.

Perhaps, he said, "we have lost sight of its centrality, putting our ambition for spiritual hegemony over the governance of the secular city, concentrated as it is upon itself and its wealth, ahead of a concern for local communities inspired by the Gospel spirit of hospitality toward the poor and the hopeless."

The Pontifical Academy for Life has an important role to play in facing this difficult challenge, the pope said. Its scientific community has shown for the past 25 years how it can enter into dialogue with the world and "offer its own competent and respected contribution."

"A sign of this is its constant effort to promote and protect human life at every stage of its development, its condemnation of abortion and euthanasia as extremely grave evils that contradict the spirit of life and plunge us into the anti-culture of death," the pope wrote.

"These efforts must certainly continue, with an eye to emerging issues and challenges that can serve as an opportunity for us to grow in the faith, to understand it more deeply and to communicate it more effectively to the people of our time," he said.

Pope Francis expressed his hope that the academy would be "a place for courageous dialogue in the service of the common good," a dialogue unafraid of advancing "arguments and formulations that can serve as a basis for intercultural and interreligious, as well as interdisciplinary, exchanges" along with discussions about human rights and duties, "beginning with solidarity with those in greatest need."

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Editors: The pope's letter, "Humana Communitas" can be found in English at:
http://www.academyforlife.va/content/dam/pav/documenti%20pdf/
2019/LETTERA%20PAPA%2025anni/HC%20ENG_DEF_ENG_.pdf

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Abuse report's claim of cover-up, mishandling of cases called 'misleading'

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By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The conclusion reached by a Pennsylvania grand jury that six of the state's Catholic dioceses acted "in virtual lockstep" to cover up abuse allegations and dismiss alleged victims over a 70-year period starting in 1947 is "inaccurate," "unfair" and "misleading," said a veteran journalist in an in-depth article for Commonweal magazine.

The grand jury report was based on a months-long investigation into alleged abuse by clergy and other church workers in the Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Harrisburg and Greensburg dioceses, and it makes "two distinct charges," said Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, former religion writer for The New York Times and professor emeritus at Fordham University in New York.

The first "concerns predator priests, their many victims and their unspeakable acts" and is, "as far as can be determined, dreadfully true," he said in the article posted at www.commonwealmagazine.org.

Its second charge, he said, has had the "greatest reverberations" and is not documented by the report: the explosive claim that church leaders mishandled these abuse claims for decades, moved around many of the accused abusers to different assignments and were dismissive of the alleged victims -- all reportedly resulting in a major cover-up.

"Stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological and spiritual integrity of children and young people" are documented in the report, Steinfels said, as well and how "many of these atrocities could have been prevented" by promptly removing credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly ministry. It shows that some church leaders seemed to have an "overriding concern" for protecting the church's reputation while disregarding children's safety and well-being, he said.

A third or more of the crimes documented in the report, he said, "only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after." In 2002, the U.S. bishops approved their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which mandated automatic removal from ministry when a priest or church worker is accused of abuse.

But Steinfels said that if one reads the full report carefully, "it is clear" that it "does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction -- namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls -- except to conceal them."

The grand jury says "'all' of these victims ... were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all," he wrote. "Or as the introduction to the report sums it up, 'Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.'"

"This ugly, indiscriminate and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report's own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice," he said.

This charge "is contradicted by testimony submitted to the grand jury but ignored -- and, I believe, by evidence that the grand jury never pursued," noted Steinfels.

"The report's conclusions about abuse and cover-up are stated in timeless fashion," he said. "Whenever change is acknowledged, the language is begrudging."

Steinfels said his conclusions about the report do not "acquit the Catholic hierarchy of all sins, past or present" regarding the abuse crisis. "Personally, I have a substantial list," he added.

But right now, he stated, "the important thing is to restore some fact-based reality to the instant mythology that the Pennsylvania report has created."

He said the grand jury could have reached accurate and "hard-hitting findings about what different church leaders did and did not do," but chose "a tack more suited" to society's current "hyperbolic, bumper-sticker, post-truth environment."

Steinfels reached his assessment on the report by reading its "vast bulk," he said. He noted that in some PDFs of the report posted online it consists of 884 pages; but other versions include over 450 additional pages consisting of "photocopied responses from dioceses, former bishops, other diocesan officials, and even some accused priests protesting their innocence."

He reviewed "one by one" how hundreds of cases were handled; tried to match the dioceses' replies with the grand jury's charges; and examined other court documents and spoke "with people familiar with the grand jury's work, including the attorney general's office."

Released Aug. 14, the grand jury report was based on an investigation initiated by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office. It linked more than 300 priests and other church workers to abuse claims during the 70-year period it covered and said alleged victims numbered over 1,000.

The day after its release was the feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation, Steinfels noted, and millions of Catholics that day "went to church sick at heart" because of the report. "I was among them," he added.

"No Catholics serious about their faith, indeed no one of any sensitivity, could have read about the report without feeling horror and shame. And anger," said Steinfels.

The report made international headlines, he noted, prompting the Vatican -- along with the Pennsylvania dioceses' bishops and the U.S. church's national leadership -- to express sorrow and shame. It has prompted attorneys general in other states to pledge the same kind of investigation; Illinois for one has begun a similar probe.

"It is possible that these investigations could be productive and salutary. But only if they make distinctions between dioceses, leaders and time frames," something the Pennsylvania grand jury report does not do, Steinfels said.

As a veteran journalist quite familiar with deadline pressures, Steinfels said, he knows reporters were pressed to quickly get stories out on the report, so had to rely on its 12-page executive summary and were no doubt hard-pressed to find knowledgeable sources to interview who had actually read the report, he added.

"Almost every media story of the grand jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its 12-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples," he said.

He acknowledged his conclusions about the report "are dramatically at odds with the public perception and reception" of it, so to substantiate them, it was "essential to examine, step by step, how this report was produced, organized and presented; what it omits as well as includes; and finally, whether a careful sampling of its contents supports its conclusions."

With many Catholics "angry and dismayed" over abuse in the church, raising questions about the report "flies in the face of almost overpowering headwinds," Steinfels said. "To question let alone challenge the report is unthinkable. It borders on excusing the crimes that bishops and other church leaders are accused of committing."

"Before examining more closely what is in the report, it is important to ask what isn't" in the report, Steinfels said. "Beyond those references to more than 300 predator priests -- actually 301 -- and more than 1,000 child victims, to dozens of witnesses and half-a-million subpoenaed church documents, there are almost no numerical markers.

"There is, for example, no calculation of how many ordained men served in those six dioceses since (the mid-1940s), a figure that might either verify or challenge previous estimates of the prevalence of sexual abuse among the clergy. There are no efforts to discern statistical patterns in the ages of abusers, the rates of abuse over time, the actions of law enforcement, or changes in responses by church officials.

"Nor are there comparisons to other institutions. One naturally wonders what a 70-to-80-year scrutiny of sex abuse in public schools or juvenile penal facilities would find," he added.

Steinfels said it is true "that disturbing instances of apparent failures by church officials continue to come to light -- and will no doubt continue to do so, especially as the line between past cases and current ones is regularly blurred, and as cases from all around the world are increasingly blended with a few American ones into a single narrative."

"Church leaders must remove persistent doubts that these failures are being thoroughly investigated, with consequences for those found responsible," he said.

Regarding Pennsylvania, "whether one looks at the handling of old allegations or the prevention of new ones, the conclusion that a careful, unbiased reading of the Pennsylvania report compels is this: The Dallas charter has worked," he said.

"(It has) not worked perfectly" and is "not without need for regular improvements and constant watchfulness," he said, but it has worked.

"Justified alarm and demands for accountability at instances of either deliberate noncompliance or bureaucratic incompetence should not be wrenched into an ill-founded pretense that, fundamentally, nothing has changed," he said.

"Just as the grand jury report correctly though not consistently points to 'institutional failure,' something beyond the virtues and vices of individual leaders, the Dallas charter has apparently proved to be an institutional success," he added. "It set out, and has regularly fine-tuned, procedures, practices, and standards that can be overseen by middling caretaker leaders as well as outstanding, proactive ones."

The bishops' charter is "not a recipe that can simply be transferred to any society or culture or legal and governmental situation around the globe," Steinfels remarked, but he said the U.S. bishops "should go to the Vatican's February summit meeting on sexual abuse confident that the measures they've already adopted have made an important difference."

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Update: Rome mayor says Caritas will still get Trevi Fountain coins

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By

ROME (CNS) -- After weeks of confusion and consternation, Rome's mayor told the Vatican newspaper that Rome Caritas would benefit not only from the coins tourists throw in the Trevi Fountain, but from coins tossed in any of the city's historic water features.

Caritas was informed in late December that it would no longer receive the coins that tourists toss over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, a ritual that is supposed to guarantee the person who pitched the coin would one day return to the city.

But, Virginia Raggi, Rome's mayor, said it was all a misunderstanding. The city needs to ensure an accurate count of the money, so instead of having Caritas volunteers sort and count the coins, the city will entrust that to ACEA, the city utility responsible for cleaning and maintaining the famous fountain.

In 2018, the international collection of coins added up to about 1.5 million euros or about $1.7 million, a significant portion of the Rome diocesan Caritas' budget for funding homeless shelters, soup kitchens and parish-based services to families in difficulty.

"No one ever thought about depriving Caritas of these funds," Raggi told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Jan. 14. "The diocesan agency plays an important role for many needy and for the city of Rome, which wants to continue to be the capital of welcome for the weakest."

Although the city council has been threatening since October 2017 to use the money for its own projects, Raggi said the decision reached in December was simply "an administrative act responding to the need to collect and quantify the coins tourist throw not only into the Trevi Fountain but into the other monumental fountains of Rome."

ACEA counting the money will bring "order and transparency" to the process, she said, and expanding the collection to other fountains will bring more money to Caritas.

Interviewed Jan. 12 by Vatican News, Father Benoni Ambarus, director of Caritas Rome, said, "The first thing I want to say is thank you to the millions of tourists who created a sea of solidarity with their coins."

The priest at that point was still hoping something would change before the change dried up in April. After all, the city council voted in October 2017 to start keeping the money in city coffers, but after a public outcry, the agreement with Caritas was extended to April 2018 and again to Dec. 31, 2018.

 

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Faith is passed on at home, pope tells parents at baptism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faith isn't something learned just by studying the catechism but rather is a gift passed on to children by the example of their parents, Pope Francis said.

Although children learn the tenets of the Catholic faith in catechism class, it is first transmitted in the home "because faith always must be transmitted in dialect: the dialect of the family, the dialect of the home, in the atmosphere of the home," he said before baptizing 27 babies.

The pope celebrated the Mass and baptisms Jan. 13, the feast of the baptism of the Lord, in the Sistine Chapel.

"The important thing is to transmit the faith with your life of faith: that they see the love between spouses, that they see peace at home, that they see that Jesus is there," Pope Francis said during his brief and unscripted homily.

As the lively sounds of babies' squeals and cries filled the frescoed Sistine Chapel, the pope said babies often cry when they are "in an environment that is strange" or because they are hungry.

Repeating his usual advice to mothers of infants, the pope urged them to make their children comfortable, and "if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them."

Children "also have a polyphonic vocation: One begins to cry, then another makes a counterpoint, then another and in the end, it is a chorus of cries," he said.

Offering a piece of advice to parents, the pope called on them to pass on the faith by letting their children see their love and refrain from arguing in front of them.

"It is normal for couples to argue, it's normal," he said. "Do it, but don't let them hear, don't let them see. You don't know the anguish a child has when he or she sees parents fighting. This, I may add, is advice that will help you transmit the faith."

Later, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis asked those gathered to pray for the newly baptized babies and their families. He also asked them to "keep the memory of your own baptism alive."

"There you will find the roots of our life in God; the roots of our eternal life that Jesus has given us through his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection," he said. "Our roots are in baptism."

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Shutdown won't deter crowds from marching for life in nation's capital

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Neither snow nor sleet -- nor partial government shutdown -- will keep pro-lifers away from the nation's capital for the March for Life Jan. 18.

If it continues, the shutdown will be almost a month old by then. Daily news reports show the closures of monuments, memorials and the Smithsonian museums in Washington and trash cans overflowing on some federal property -- images that might lead some folks around the country to think it is affecting big events planned for the nation's capital.  

But not so.

"PLEASE NOTE: We plan to march even if the government shutdown is not yet resolved," declares the March for Life website, marchforlife.org. "We have marched for 45 years and will march again this year to end the human rights abuse of abortion."

Come to think of it, the start of what was a two-day historic blizzard that hit Washington in January 2016 had some impact on numbers, but marchers by the thousands still turned out that Jan. 22 to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion virtually on demand.

"The shutdown really did not factor into our planning at all," said Patrick Ford of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. Director of campus ministry and the Hintemeyer Catholic Leadership Program at the college, Ford is the point person for the school's pro-life contingent heading to the march.

"This year, especially, we have tried to make this trip more of a pilgrimage and less of a site-seeing event," he told Catholic News Service in an email Jan. 10. "The venues we will visit -- the (St.) John Paul II National Shrine and the Basilica of the National Shrine (of the Immaculate Conception) -- are not affected by local politics, so our trip should be entirely unaffected by the goings-on in Washington."

Ford added, "We look forward to another great March for Life with our hundreds of thousands of friends!"

The same goes for the 500-plus students coming in from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. They'll be carrying a giant green banner and wearing winter hats especially designed for this year's march, said Dominique Cognetti, a junior majoring in social work.

The entire effort -- from promoting the march in late September with fliers on campus to designing their gear for the march -- is led by the students, Cognetti told CNS in a telephone interview Jan. 9.

"I don't think at this time it's going to affect anything," she said of the shutdown, recalling that Franciscan students came to Washington "when the whole storm" took place in 2016.

They're coming in eight buses. This year, like always, they will begin their trip on the eve of the march with a late night Holy Hour. They depart at midnight to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception about 6 a.m., in time for the 7:30 a.m. Mass that sends participants forth for the March for Life rally, with a lineup of speakers, on the National Mall.

After the rally, the march itself goes up Constitution Avenue and ends at the Supreme Court.

This year's theme, "Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science" focuses on how scientific advancements reveal "the humanity of the unborn child from the moment of conception."

Speakers will include three members of Congress -- Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois and Chris Smith, R-New Jersey -- and a Democratic member of the Louisiana Legislature, Rep. Katrina Jackson.

"We are delighted to have these four pro-life champions speak at the March for Life rally," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. "The right to life is a nonpartisan issue and, regardless of politics, we should all unite for life and stand against abortion, the greatest human rights abuse of our time."

Others who will address the rally include Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus; Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None; Alveda King, Priests for Life's director of civil rights for the unborn; Dr. Kathi Aultman, fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and Ally Cavazos, president of Princeton Pro-Life.

Attending the March for Life is something Cognetti has been doing since she was a freshman in high school, she told CNS.

When she was younger, she would accompany her parents to the march, and later got involved on her own. To see the "amount of people" gathered for life, "especially those in my generation, really touched me. ... We have thousands of people coming to D.C. to defend what they believe in and not just older people," she said.

The March for Life is a great way for her and everyone from Franciscan University "to stand together, to stand firm in what we believe in. We know life starts at conception."

The march is "very eye-opening," she added, and provides a chance for people who say they are pro-life to do something about it.

Cognetti added that she feels her generation is making "a name for ourselves and not sitting down any more and saying we're pro-life -- we're taking action!"

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Follow asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Despite high turnover, number of Catholics little changed in Congress

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In most election cycles, there may be 30 to 50 new members of Congress. For 2019, there are 89 -- and a 90th may yet be headed for Capitol Hill based on how a disputed House election in North Carolina plays out.

Yet, despite the broad turnover, the number of Catholics in the current Congress is little changed from that in the past Congress.

Two years ago, there were 168 Catholics in the House and Senate combined, a high-water mark. This year, for the 116th Congress, the number is down five, to 163.

Even so, their representation in House, at 32.5 percent, is more than half again their representation in the U.S. population, which the Pew Research Center pegs at 21 percent.

Pew's biennial "Faith on the Hill" report, which breaks down the religious composition of Congress, notes that Catholics are the single largest denomination in Congress. The next highest, at 80: "unspecified/other" Christians who are members of denominations smaller than the 16 listed in the Pew report, or did not specify their religious affiliation.

Greg Smith, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said the percentage of those in Congress who did not specify their branch of Christianity is triple that of the general population, which registers at about 5 percent.

But one thing Pew can do in its surveys is follow up to ask respondents if there is a specific denominational affiliation. For its numbers, the "Faith on the Hill" survey depends on results from a questionnaire developed by CQ Roll Call and sent to each member.

Among those who did specify, Baptists come in at 72 members in both the House and Senate, followed by Methodists at 42 and Jews at 34. Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians/Anglicans are each tied at 26 members apiece.

The only other entries in double digits are Mormons and members of nondenominational churches, both with 10. Pew noted that the number of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Congress is the lowest in at least a decade.

Some argue "you can't be a Catholic and a Democrat," because of the party's support for legal abortion. But the Pew numbers show more Catholic Democrats in the House -- 87 -- than Catholic Republicans, who number 54. In fact, the number of Catholic Democrats is not far from the number of Protestant Democrats in the House -- there are 97 of them.

In the Senate, though, the margin is closer, but more Catholics in the upper chamber are Democrats than Republicans, 12-10. Protestant Senate Republicans, though, double the number of Protestant Democrats, 40-20.

Among new members, despite the high turnover rate, Catholics were the only religious group in double digits, with 29 new members.

The "Faith on the Hill" report said, "Catholics have held steady at 31 percent over the last four Congresses, although there are now many more Catholics in Congress than there were in the first Congress for which Pew Research Center has data." That was when there were an even 100 Catholics in both chambers, good for 19 percent of the total. It was the 87th Congress, which began in 1961 -- the year the nation's first Catholic president, John Kennedy, was sworn in.

While Catholics may be down five to 163 members in this Congress, they also had 163 in 2013-14, and 164 members in 2015-16.

The number of Protestants has dwindled over the past two generations from 398 in 1961. In four of the past six Congresses, they have totaled fewer than 300.

While much has been made of two Muslim women now serving in the House this term, there are just three Muslims overall in Congress. There are five Orthodox Christians, three Hindus, two Buddhists and two Unitarian Universalists.

Perhaps the most underrepresented group in Congress are those who claim no religious affiliation. While Pew puts their number at 23 percent of the U.S. population, there is just one who professes such: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

There may be others, as 18 members of Congress -- up 10 from two years ago -- either didn't or wouldn't answer the question from CQ Roll Call. "It's hard to know what to infer from that," Smith told Catholic News Service.

It is apparent, though, that candidates for office still see a need to check the "religion" box on their resume when presenting themselves to voters -- and that CQ Roll Call believes it to be important enough to continue to ask the question nearly a half-century after it started asking about religious affiliation.

"It is true -- it's definitely true -- when we look at our survey data, that being an atheist is, and long has been, a political liability," Smith said. That percentage has dropped, though, from 63 percent of Americans saying in 2007 they would be less likely to vote for an atheist, to a bare majority of 51 percent in 2016.

On the other hand, the religiosity of a candidate may not necessarily seal the deal with voters.

In early 2016, Pew asked survey respondents about the religiosity of a fistful of presidential aspirants. The percentage of those agreeing that the following candidates were at least somewhat religious were: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, 68 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 65 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, 61 percent, Hillary Clinton, 48 percent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, 40 percent; and, checking in at 30 percent, eventual President Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump was not widely seen as a particularly religious candidate and that did not hinder his candidacy for the Republican nomination," Smith said.

Religion in public life is, and can be, a good thing, according to Douglas A. Hicks, dean of -- and a religion professor at -- the Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta.

"Welcoming more faith perspectives into public debate risks even more cacophony and conflict than we already experience. Like most other matters of import today, citizens hold divergent religious beliefs and practices and will disagree," Hicks said in a Jan. 10 essay.

"Yet religious differences are part and parcel of our wider debate about what it means to be a flourishing democracy," he wrote. "To have those diverse perspectives present in our politics, including among our national leaders, is a positive step -- not only toward ensuring that many voices engage the democratic process, but also for reaching constructive solutions to the social, political, and economic issues that we face together."

 

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Sister Pimentel disappointed about not being able to address president

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Johnston, courtesy University of Notre Dame

By Rose Ybarra

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- Sister Norma Pimentel was "truly disappointed" after not being given an opportunity to speak during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump during his Jan. 10 visit to McAllen.

The president traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to make his case for a southern border wall and other security measures amid a partial government shutdown that began over funding for the wall.

Calling the president's visit "quite an important moment," Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, lamented that representatives of local agencies working with migrant people and local elected officials were not invited to speak during the discussion.

"I was looking forward to this roundtable discussion, but there was no discussion unfortunately," Sister Pimentel told The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Brownsville Diocese. "There were certain people selected to speak, people who support the president's agenda," she added.

"We would like for President Trump to know who we are and what the reality is here on our border," said Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus

Trump arrived about 12:45 p.m. local time, along with Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House staff.

Supporters of Trump as well as protesters gathered on opposite sides of a street near the airport awaiting the president's arrival.

Trump was taken to a nearby U.S. Border Patrol Station for what was billed as a roundtable discussion with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, local officials and key players of the immigration story such as Sister Pimentel, who has spearheaded efforts to assist about more than 100,000 immigrants since June 2014.

A Jan. 10 Catholic News Service story incorrectly reported that Trump would visit the Catholic Charities-run Humanitarian Respite Center that Sister Pimentel oversees and that serves migrant people.

When asked what she would have said to the president if she had been recognized, Sister Pimentel said, "I would definitely say that I appreciate and understand the importance of border security and keeping our border safe -- that's so important. We must support our Border Patrol and their job to defend and protect our borders. We must know who enters our country."

Sister Pimentel noted she has a good working relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol and other government agencies.

"When I walked into the meeting room, all the Border Patrol agents present, even the ones from D.C. were happy to meet me and talk to me," she said. "It really demonstrates the importance of how we on the ground work together as a community -- city officials, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the volunteers -- to the realities we face at the border.

"We recognize, yes, it's important to keep our border safe to support our Border Patrol but we also recognize there are lots of families, innocent victims of violence that are suffering," she said. "We as a community are responding to help them. It's a part of who we are as Americans: compassionate, caring."

Sister Pimentel continued, "That's a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listen to. I would have loved to have the opportunity to personally invite him to the respite center, to meet the families, to meet the children. As Catholics, as people of faith, we feel God has asked us to support, defend and protect all human life and that's what we're doing here at the respite center."

In an op-ed posted to The Washington Post website Jan. 9, Sister Pimentel invited Trump to visit the center, which opened in 2014 to provide assistance in response to the influx of immigrants arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries.

Sister Pimentel said the center offers shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed in the U.S.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

In her column, she invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

The center is staffed with volunteers who offer food, clothing, toiletries, baby supplies and travel packets, which include supplies for their journey.

These immigrants, mostly women and children, already have been detained and released by immigration authorities. They have been granted permission to continue to their destinations outside of the Rio Grande Valley and given a date for a court appearance.

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Ybarra is assistant editor of The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

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Update: Migrant advocate welcomes president to Rio Grande Valley

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- President Donald Trump joined a roundtable discussion to hear about how agencies in South Texas are responding to the influx of refugees on the southern border.

The discussion Jan. 10 came a day after Sister Norma Pimentel welcomed the president to the Rio Grande Valley and invited him to see the work of staff and volunteers assisting people from throughout Central America seeking asylum in the United States.

The invitation from Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, appeared in an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post.

The president also joined a roundtable presentation on the situation facing migrants and those who serve them during his visit to the center.

The column explained the work of the center since 2014, when tens of thousands of people mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras made their way northward to flee violence and poverty in their homeland.

Sister Pimentel said the center -- offering shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed into the U.S. -- has welcomed more than 100,000 people since opening.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

She invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

"We work closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Rio Grande Valley Sector, and our team has cultivated a culture of mutual respect and dialogue," wrote Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus. "Our center staff, in communication with the Border Patrol, prepares to receive groups of immigrants who have been released. We try to meet the need.

"It is vital that we keep our country safe, and I appreciate the work of the men and women in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection who are vigilant as to who enters our country. I pray for them daily."

She detailed daily life at the center, from early morning until bedtime in the evening, explaining the tasks staff and volunteers undertake to ensure the dignity of the immigrants.

"I am energized each day by the families I meet, especially the children," Sister Pimentel wrote. "I am energized as well by the volunteers. They come from our local communities but also from across the United States. We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.

"As the Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, bishop of our diocese, says, 'We must put human dignity first,'" the op-ed concluded.

 

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