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Update: Navy revises policy on service members attending services off base

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A prohibition by some U.S. Navy commands against active service members participating in off-base indoor religious services over coronavirus fears has now been revised, allowing attendance at places of worship where congregants can maintain social distance and wear face coverings.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, called the change "most welcome" and said it "recognizes that worship is a part of the exercise of religious liberty and helps to ensure the readiness of the forces who defend us."

"It is clear that the Catholic Church has taken to heart the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) measures and organized the celebration of the sacraments in ways that ensure the safety of participants, good order, and the dignity of the rites," he said in a statement sent to Catholic News Service July 10. "I am sure that other religious groups will do the same."

He added, "I am grateful to the Department of the Navy and everyone else who contributed to this timely revision."

Acting Undersecretary of the Navy Gregory J. Slavonic issued a memo July 8 saying that none of the priorities set by the Department of Defense for protecting service members from the spread of COVID-19 including "measured activities" that commanders must consider "should be construed to restrict attendance at places of worship where attendees are able to appropriately apply (coronavirus) transmission mitigation measures, specifically social distancing and use of face covering."

When Archbishop Broglio first learned of the policy, he called it "particularly odious to Catholics."

"Frequently there is no longer a Catholic program on naval installations due to budgetary constraints or many installation chapels are still closed -- even though many of them could well ensure appropriate social distancing" to protect worshippers from the coronavirus, he said in a July 5 statement.

"Participation in the Sunday Eucharist is life blood for Catholics," he said. "It is the source and summit of our lives and allows us to receive the body and blood of the Lord."

He said the policy was brought to his attention by some of the faithful in the archdiocese and he "immediately contacted the Navy Chief of Chaplains' Office, which was unable "to offer any relief from these provisions." "My attempt to contact the chief of naval operations has not even been acknowledged," he added.

On July 9, the First Liberty Institute announced the Navy had revised the policy, pointing to the Slavonic memo issued a day earlier.

The Texas-based nonprofit legal organization that handles religious liberty cases said the change came a few days after it sent a letter on behalf of Air Force Maj. Daniel Schultz, currently assigned to a Navy command, asking the U.S. Navy to grant an accommodation so he could attend the church where he leads worship.

In his July 5 statement, Archbishop Broglio noted that Catholic churches -- "and I presume others" -- have gone to great lengths to ensure social distancing in seating and receiving holy Communion and have even adjusted the liturgy "to avoid any contagion."

He also pointed out that during this pandemic, President Donald Trump, as commander in chief, has said houses of worship provide "an essential service" and should be allowed to be open while taking the proper protective measures against the virus.

"I want to assure the Navy Catholic faithful of my prayerful solidarity, invite them to continue to participate in Masses that are broadcast or livestreamed, and to be fervent in their faith," he said, and rightly predicted "this situation will pass."

"As Pope Francis reminded us, Christ is in the boat with us," Archbishop Broglio added.

In a statement reacting to the change in the Navy policy, First Liberty Institute general counsel Mike Berry said: "We are grateful to and Navy leadership for righting this ship, and to Commander-in-Chief Trump for making religious liberty a priority. This is a major victory for the Constitution and for religious freedom within our military."

Berry added that Slavonic's memo "means tens of thousands of our brave service members will be able to safely and freely exercise their religious beliefs."

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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July 16 virtual pilgrimage to Lourdes to affirm prayer against COVID-19

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- An international virtual pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Lourdes, France, will "affirm the power of prayer" against COVID-19, said the shrine's vice rector.

"Lourdes is all about spiritual and physical healing, and we've received 15,000 prayer petitions daily throughout the lockdown from around the world -- for people about to die or fearing infection," said Father Xavier d'Arodes de Peyriague, vice rector and head of international pastoral ministry.

"We quickly realized we weren't just praying for people in Lourdes, but for those in need worldwide -- and this e-pilgrimage will honor their presence in a great affirmation of the power of prayer."

The priest spoke amid preparations for the July 16 event, marking the French site's official reopening after four months' closure.

In a July 10 interview with Catholic News Service, he said the 15-hour multigenerational and multicultural e-pilgrimage would include rosary recitals, lectures, music and archival videos in 10 languages illustrating the center's mission, as well as three consecutive international Masses for Asia and Oceania, Europe and Africa, and the Americas.

"This shrine has never closed previously -- not even during two world wars and other major traumas, and it's been extraordinary to stand alone at its normally crowded grotto," Father d'Arodes said.

"We've had to adjust our prayers from a focus on individual healing to the challenges of a pandemic. But five times the normal numbers are now following us on social networks, while we're broadcast on Catholic channels worldwide."

Lourdes, close to the southern Pyrenees Mountains, annually attracts up to 5 million visitors and has been a place of pilgrimage since 1858, when St. Bernardette Soubirous, 14, experienced the first of 18 visions of the Virgin Mary while gathering firewood.

A website statement said the sanctuary faced a "historic loss" of 8 million euros ($9.06 million) from its enforced shutdown and would be appealing for funds during the virtual pilgrimage.

In his interview, Father d'Arodes said Lourdes depended heavily on the knowledge and talents of 320 full-time employees, as well as up to 100,000 volunteers who came each year, and had done its best to retain them.

However, he cautioned it was still unclear when medical conditions and travel possibilities would allow sick pilgrims to return.

"For now, it's recommended the fragile and vulnerable remain at home -- though some handicapped people have come, we've had to change the way things are done here, closing the sanctuary's baths, suspending processions and restricting torchlight rosaries," he said. "But people are in need of faith and hope, and we've instead been animating the digital community, which is building amazingly all the time."

 

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Hard-hit Italian hospital has no more COVID-19 patients in intensive care

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Pope John XXIII hospital

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- Staff at the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo -- once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy -- announced they had no more patients with coronavirus in their intensive care unit.

After 137 days of trying to keep critically ill patients alive, staff gathered July 8 for a moment of silence to remember those who passed away in their wards, followed by applause for the more than 400 hospital workers in the department.

Maria Beatrice Stasi, director general of the hospital, told reporters they had discharged the last patient to recover from COVID-19, marking "a moment of great emotion" and relief as the intensive care unit can now accommodate other patients and staff can return to their regular uniforms.

At the worst point of the crisis, which began with their first patient being admitted Feb. 23, the ICU had more than 100 patients intubated.

Luca Lorini, head of the intensive care and reanimation department, told reporters July 8 that the exceptional effort and teamwork by staff led them to the "great result" of having no more COVID-19 patients in their unit.

"We had the courage to tell the truth" about the numbers of critically ill people they were treating, he said, and "what we did during this (early) phase saved a piece of the world," he told Bergamo News.

"We showed we could do it with the little information and resources we had" at the start of the outbreak, but now "we must not be unprepared, we must prepare for a future that no scientist can foresee, but we must be ready for another return of COVID," he said.

"People must maintain an attitude of caution; it will do no harm to keep washing hands or wear a face mask until we get to zero infections, zero patients and zero dead" from the coronavirus, he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, another hospital in the hard-hit north of Italy was seeing its number of COVID-19 patients steadily diminishing.

Lorenzo Menicanti, chief cardiac surgeon at the San Donato hospital in Milan, told the online medical news service MedPage Today, his unit had been entirely dedicated to COVID-19 patient care when the 500-bed hospital found itself needing to care for 600 people ill with COVID-19.

Now they have had no new positive cases admitted to the hospital the past three weeks, he said July 7, and he attributed the country's overall success in containing the spread of the virus to people complying first with the strict lockdown and then social distancing.

Health care workers have also improved in pinpointing "hot spots" and sources of infection and reacting fast to limit its spread, Menicanti told MedPage Today.

"Of course it's not over, we know that," he said. "But the population is very prudent and being very attentive to the rules."

While new cases of infections keep oscillating around 200 new cases per day since June 27, the Italian bishops' conference surveyed all diocesan Caritas agencies to see how they have been helping those in need during the crisis.

Results from the survey, posted on the bishops' website July 1, show 96% of current requests for assistance were related to job and income loss. Other problems reported included paying rent and mortgages, psychological difficulties, problems with school, solitude, depression and delays in or unavailability of needed treatment or health care, it said.

About 34% of those assisted by Caritas reported it was the first time they had ever gone to Caritas for help, the survey found.

Of the thousands of Caritas workers and volunteers nationwide, young people had been instrumental in providing the needed assistance, since they had to fill in for many people who were over the age of 65 and were advised to obey quarantine measures.

Twenty Caritas staff and volunteers died out of the 179 who contracted COVID-19, it said.

While the numbers are not complete, at least 450,000 people were helped by Caritas from March to the end of May. The bishops boosted funding for Caritas so it could meet the demands in services, such as supplying personal protective equipment, food banks and deliveries, help lines, purchasing medicines and other medical supplies, support in hospitals and medical facilities, help for the homeless and those mourning deceased loved ones, and providing lodging for those needing to be isolated or put in quarantine.

 

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New York Archdiocese closes 20 schools; six more close in Brooklyn Diocese

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By

NEW YORK (CNS) - Twenty schools in the Archdiocese of New York will not reopen in the fall because of the financial fallout caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Archdiocesan education officials also announced that three schools will merge.

A news release from the archdiocese cited the pandemic for sickening thousands of people with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and leading to massive layoffs that have left people without jobs for weeks, leaving them unable to pay school tuition.

The archdiocese also pointed to "a significantly low rate of re-registration for the fall, and added that months of canceled public Masses have resulted in a loss of parish contributions that traditionally help support the schools and also hurt fundraising for scholarships.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, school leaders said six schools will close there as of Aug. 31. They also attributed the closings to the pandemic.

"Children are always the most innocent victims of any crisis, and this COVID-19 pandemic is no exception," New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said. "Too many have lost parents and grandparents to this insidious virus and now thousands will not see their beloved school again."

Cardinal Dolan added that his prayers were with the children and their families most affected.

"Given the devastation of this pandemic, I'm grateful more schools didn't meet this fate and that Catholic schools nearby are ready to welcome all the kids," he added.

The archdiocese said that about 2,500 students and 350 staff members will be affected by the closings. Eleven of the schools are located in three of New York's five boroughs -- Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island -- with the remaining nine in outlying communities including New Rochelle, New Windsor, Poughkeepsie and Yonkers.

Michael J. Deegan, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, acknowledged that closing the schools was a painful decision. He said studies of the financial status of each left administrators with no option but to close them.

"I have been a Catholic school educator for more than 40 years and could never have imagined the grave impact this pandemic has had on our schools," he said in a statement.

Deegan suggested that unless additional federal assistance in any future emergency response bill would be coming, more schools would face closure.

"This is a very bad day for everyone in the extended Catholic school community. I send my love and prayers to the families, teachers, principals and staff of the affected schools," Deegan said.

In Brooklyn, the six schools are located in the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.

The diocese said in its news release the schools have experienced declining enrollment for the last five years, but that registrations dropped off significantly as the pandemic took hold of the metropolitan area.

The schools have more than $630,000 in outstanding tuition payments, the diocese said.

"This is an incredibly sad day for our Catholic community to have to close these schools, but the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic is insurmountable," said Thomas Chadzutko, diocesan superintendent of schools.

School leaders in New York and Brooklyn said efforts are underway to enroll children in Catholic schools that remain open.

In the Brooklyn Diocese, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust is providing a one-time $500 grant for each child from a closed school who enrolls and attends a new Catholic school in Brooklyn or Queens in the fall as long as all other financial obligations have been met.

 

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Sanctuaries, shrines Catholics can 'visit' virtually in Europe, Mideast

IMAGE: CNS photo/Thibaud Moritz, JMP/ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- Despite ongoing and unpredictable travel restrictions, there are still a number of important sites, shrines and sanctuaries people can "visit" online in Europe and the Middle East.

In fact, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France will be holding a worldwide online pilgrimage July 16 -- the anniversary of the last apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Everyone is invited to join the online initiative, which will be livestreamed for 15 hours in 10 languages from the Grotto of Lourdes at www.lourdes-france.org/en/lourdes-united.

For more than 160 years, the sanctuary has been an essential place for millions of people who visit each year, seeking hope, healing, fraternity and deepened faith, the event's promoters said in a news release June 30.

"The world is facing an unprecedented economic and social crisis, coupled with an unprecedented quest for meaning," it said.

And the "Lourdes United e-pilgrimage will bring together all those who, in the four corners of the world, see Lourdes as a beacon of faith, commitment, sharing and hope," it added.

Navigating the top of the homepage at www.lourdes-france.org/en/, visitors can also find ways to request a Mass, light a candle and place a prayer petition in the grotto.

Here are several other places important to Catholics that are offering some kind of virtual visit or livestreaming service. Many of these online sites are also appealing for donations since lockdowns and restrictions have seriously reduced a major source of income from pilgrimages and tourism.

-- The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land oversees 55 sanctuaries in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. Visitors at www.custodia.org/en/sanctuaries can get a more in-depth look at these sacred places, especially the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus's tomb, in Jerusalem.

-- The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal offers a livestream of the chapel and live daily broadcasts of praying the rosary and Mass at www.fatima.pt/en/pages/online-transmissions. The same link also provides a gallery of pictures, videos and "sounds," including an audio library of Marian hymns.

-- Though only in Italian, the Holy House of Loreto near the Adriatic Sea in Italy posts videos of their daily Masses and the recitation of the rosary on their YouTube channel "Santa Casa Loreto" at www.youtube.com/channel/UCT9uLSAfEfqgXbArvYyHzQg.

Their main website at santuarioloreto.it/, also only in Italian, has links for sending prayer intentions and for seeing photos and videos of the sanctuary, which tradition holds is where Mary was born and raised and where the Holy Family was thought to have lived when Jesus was a boy. The one-room Holy House also is held to be the place where Mary received the angel's annunciation and conceived the Son of God through the Holy Spirit.

-- The website of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi offers a huge list of online opportunities, all in Italian, but still visually enriching, like a livestream of the tomb of St. Francis with an option of sending a prayer petition at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/web-cam-cripta-di-san-francesco-assisi and a livestream of daily Mass in the basilica at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/messa-diretta-streaming-oggi.

There is a 360-degree virtual tour of the basilica at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/basilica/ and of the tomb at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/visita-virtuale-tomba-san-francesco/. The 13th-century basilica had to be painstakingly restored, including its frescoes by Giotto, after a devastating earthquake in 1997.

-- While a special online exposition of the Shroud of Turin was held April 11 for prayer and contemplation during the coronavirus epidemic, the recorded event, with commentary in English, can still be found online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7BmsSE_4Wk.

 

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Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. from WHO 'deeply regrettable,' CHA says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Callaghan O'Hare, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Health Association July 7 said it was "deeply regrettable" that President Donald Trump has formally withdrawn the U.S. from the World Health Organization during a global pandemic.

Instead, the U.S. should be "leading a coordinated global response to protect the lives of millions of people around the world," the organization said in a statement released the same day the U.S. submitted its withdrawal notification to the secretary-general of the United Nations.

"As with Ebola, smallpox, polio and HIV/AIDs, the COVID-19 virus does not recognize national borders," the CHA said. "A global response therefore is needed to save lives around the world and here in the United States. CHA strongly urges the President to reconsider this decision and ensure the U.S. remains a leader in global health."

CHA's statement referred to a letter its president and CEO, Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, sent to Trump June 22 asking him then to reconsider pulling out of WHO.

"Withdrawing from the organization at the height of the pandemic is counterproductive and only ensures that the U.S. will have little influence on these efforts" to reform WHO, she said. "Indeed, now is the time to stand in solidarity with those in need around the world to save lives and provide hope."

Sister Haddad noted that "for over 100 years, through yellow fever, the flu of 1918 and up to today, Catholic health providers have been at the front line of addressing global pandemics."

"We increasingly hear from our sister Catholic organizations in other regions of the world looking for information and resources on how best to prepare and respond to COVID-19," she said. She sent copies of her letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

She added, "At a time when the world faces a global pandemic and the rates of infection dramatically increase in the developing world, a global response that includes the United States is essential to build solidarity between people within our own country and around the world."

Sister Haddad quoted Pope Francis in his "urbi et orbi" (to the city and to the world) address at Easter when he said, "The most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned."

The United States has been WHO's largest contributor, giving over $400 million annually to the specialized U.N. agency. Based in Geneva, the agency's primary role is to direct international health within the United Nations' system and to lead partners in global health responses.

In April Trump suspended the United States' contributions to WHO over what he called the agency's "failed response" to the pandemic and its "alarming lack of independence" from China. Experts believe the novel coronavirus first began infecting humans in late 2019 in Wuhan, a city in China's Hubei Province, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

In a May 18 letter to WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the president outlined in bullet-point fashion what he said were "repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic (that) have been extremely costly for the world," starting with December 2019, when he said the agency "consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan."

Trump gave WHO 30 days to commit "to major substantive improvements" or he would make the temporary freeze U.S. contributions to the agency permanent.

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Update: Court rules in favor of employer exemptions to contraceptive coverage

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 7-2 decision July 8, the Supreme Court upheld regulations by the Trump administration giving employers more ability to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

The decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the administration had "the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections."

Dissenting votes were by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

"This is a saga that did not need to occur. Contraception is not health care, and the government should never have mandated that employers provide it in the first place," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

The bishops said they welcomed the decision and hoped it "brings a close to this episode of government discrimination against people of faith. Yet, considering the efforts we have seen to force compliance with this mandate, we must continue to be vigilant for religious freedom," they said.

The statement was issued by Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The case examined if the expansion of the conscience exemption from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate violated the health care law and laws governing federal administrative agencies.

It highlighted -- as it has before when the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate has come before the high court -- the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order of women religious who care for the elderly poor. The sisters were represented, as they have been previously, by Becket, a religious liberty law firm.

The case before the court combined Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.

According to government estimates, the Trump administration's rule changes would prevent 70,000 to 126,000 women from having contraception coverage in their employee health insurance.

Ginsburg, who cited these numbers in her dissent, said the court had previously taken a balanced approach in accommodating claims of religious freedom "one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs." She said that in this decision the court, for the first time, "casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree."

The U.S. bishops said there had been "multiple opportunities for government officials to do the right thing and exempt conscientious objectors. Time after time, administrators and attorneys refused to respect the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Catholic faith they exemplify, to operate in accordance with the truth about sex and the human person. Even after the federal government expanded religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, Pennsylvania and other states chose to continue this attack on conscience."

Thomas, describing the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their involvement in this case, wrote: "For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother ... .But for the past seven years, they -- like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today's decision -- have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs."

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, the order's U.S. provincial, said the Little Sisters of the Poor were "overjoyed that, once again, the Supreme Court has protected our right to serve the elderly without violating our faith. Our life's work and great joy is serving the elderly poor and we are so grateful that the contraceptive mandate will no longer steal our attention from our calling."

A recap of the sisters' involvement in this case goes back to 2013 when religious groups and houses of worship were granted a religious exemption by the Supreme Court from the government's mandate to include contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

Three years later, religious nonprofit groups challenged the requirement to comply with the mandate and the court sent the cases back to the lower courts with instructions for the federal government and the challengers to try to work out an agreeable solution.

Then in 2017, religious groups were given further protection from the contraceptive mandate through an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit religious ministries, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the contraceptive mandate.

HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey obtained a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate; that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.

This is where the Little Sisters come back because they appealed the circuit court's ruling and asked the Supreme Court to step in.

In one of the two consolidated cases, Trump v. Pennsylvania, the administration argued that the exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious groups were authorized by the health care law and required by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Lawyers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey said the administration lacked statutory authority to issue such regulations and said the government did not follow proper administrative procedures.

The second case examines whether the Little Sisters of the Poor had the standing to appeal the 3rd Circuit ruling since a separate court order had already allowed them to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor, which stressed that the court needs to set the record straight, particularly with its interpretation of RFRA, which says "governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification."

The brief said there was a compelling need to review this case not only because the 3rd Circuit Court decision conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings on this topic in Hobby Lobby and Zubik decisions, but because its ruling "threatens to reduce one of America's leading civil rights laws to virtual impotence," referring to RFRA.

It emphasized that RFRA essentially hangs in the balance because the appeals court "adopted a grudging interpretation of the statute that will, unless reversed, too often deny protection for religious people and institutions."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Decline in confession called harmful to church's mission to spread Gospel

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Gina Christian

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- With COVID restrictions lifting, pastors looking to welcome faithful back should rethink their confession schedules -- and start talking more about the sacrament in the pulpit.

That's according to Archdiocese of Philadelphia evangelization director Meghan Cokeley, who said that a lack of convenient times for the sacrament of reconciliation, along with a poor understanding of its significance, are leading to declines in overall Mass attendance.

"Sin is like spiritual cholesterol, and the arteries (of the church) are clogged," she said. "This is a hidden spiritual reality, but it actually explains why there's so little life."

Cokeley said that many area faithful have advised her that traditional Saturday afternoon confession times "are terrible as far as accessibility, (especially) for young families."

Respondents to a survey by Cokeley said that Sunday mornings and weeknights were more viable for receiving the sacrament.

Aside from logistical concerns, however, the lines for confession have been shrinking for years.

A study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that in 2005, 42% of Catholic adults said they never went to confession, a number that rose to 45% in CARA's 2008 follow-up polling. The latter study found that 30% participated in the sacrament of reconciliation less than once a year.

Numbers from a 2015 Pew Research survey were slightly more encouraging, yet still found a "lukewarm embrace of confession."

But the data that really shocked Cokeley came from a recent five-year study by the Malvern-based Catholic Leadership Institute, which surveyed some 17,000 practicing Catholics from the Philadelphia archdiocesan area.

"Seventy-five percent of them reported that they go to confession once or twice a year or never, and that 'never' portion was almost 30%," Cokeley told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan online news outlet. "These are regular Massgoers ... our ministry leaders, parish council members, finance council people."

Cokeley said the issue strikes to core of the faith itself.

"The Gospel is conversion, turning away from sin and being faithful to the Gospel," she said. "What this is telling me is that we're actually missing the heart of the matter."

Part of the problem, she said, is due to "a very comfortable Catholicism" that prevails in parishes and in the overall culture.

"There's just this logic that somehow ... Jesus exists to make me feel good about myself," she said.

That kind of individualism and self-affirmation have profound social consequences, said Cokeley.

"If we ourselves aren't dealing with our sin regularly, we're not going to have this healthy responsiveness to the evil that we're seeing around us," she said.

Although they're not in line for confession, many Catholics -- about 89%, according to Pew's 2015 study -- nonetheless believe sin exists.

But fear and shame often keep faithful away from the sacrament, said Cokeley -- and unnecessarily so, since "conversion is not condemnation."

"We have to start talking about the call to conversion as an expression of Christ's love, that he wants our burdens pulled off of us, and he wants our chains broken," she said.

Addressing sin is an "unbinding of the heart," she said, which is why the pivotal aspect of the sacrament is "not the confessing, but the receiving of grace to break the chain, to walk away from it."

"When the priest utters those words, 'I absolve you' -- that word literally means to break," she said. "So when he speaks those words, the chains are broken, and it doesn't have anything to do with how we feel about it. It actually happens."

A reawakening to the need for regular confession is crucial for the spread of the Gospel, said Cokeley, who said that "when we're introducing people to the person of Christ, it has to be the real Jesus."

"I think unfortunately in evangelization sometimes we almost do a bait and switch," she said. "We have a soft, easy Jesus, and then we tell people about the hard stuff later. Jesus needs to be presented in truth from the beginning."

For both first-time and lifelong penitent, the sacrament of reconciliation is one of healing and hope, she said.

Encountering Christ is a "radical, beautiful call ... that really fulfills the deepest desires of our hearts," said Cokeley.

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Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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Update: U.S. bishops welcome court decision on Catholic schools

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two U.S. bishops said they welcomed the Supreme Court's 7-2 ruling July 8 which said California Catholic schools could not be sued for job discrimination in firing teachers. The bishops said the decision "rightly acknowledged" the limit on state authority.

The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, said: "What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does."

He said that even though the elementary school teachers "were not given the title of 'minister' and have less religious training" that the teacher in the previous court case involving the ministerial exception, the court holds that the same rule applies.

"The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission," Alito wrote.

Dissenting votes were by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

"Education is a central aspect of the church's mission," the bishops said. "As "institutions carrying out a ministry of the church, Catholic schools have a right, recognized by the Constitution, to select people who will perform ministry. The government has no authority to second-guess those ministerial decisions."

The statement was issued by Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael C. Barber, of Oakland, California, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education.

Adrian Alarcon, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Catholic Schools, similarly pointed out that "religious schools play an integral role in passing the faith to the next generation of believers" and that the archdiocesan Catholic schools are "grateful that the Supreme Court recognized faith groups must be free to make their own decisions about who should be entrusted with these essential duties."

In her dissent, Sotomayor said the court's ruling is "not only wrong on the facts, but its error also risks upending anti-discrimination protections for many employees of religious entities."

She noted that the court has "recently lamented a perceived 'discrimination against religion.'" Yet in this case, she said, the court "swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs," something she said will be "impossible to ignore for long, particularly in a pluralistic society."

This case examined if courts can hear employment discrimination claims brought by teachers at Catholic elementary schools. It involved California Catholic school teachers who claimed they had been victims of job discrimination and the schools who fired them who said they were exempt from anti-discrimination laws due to ministerial exception spelled out in a previous Supreme Court case about a fired teacher at a Lutheran school.

The cases before the court were a combination of two cases, St. James School v. Biel and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berrum, both schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

At St. James School in Torrance, former fifth grade teacher, Kristen Biel, said she was fired after informing school administrators that she had breast cancer and would have to take time off for surgery and chemotherapy. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Biel died last summer, but her husband is seeking damages. Becket, the nonprofit religious liberty law firm representing the schools, said that in 2015, the school chose not to renew Biel's one-year contract based on classroom performance.

Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Hermosa Beach did not renew the contract in 2013 for Agnes Morrissey-Berru, who had taught both fifth and sixth grades since 1999, saying she had a problem keeping order in her classroom and meeting expectations under a new reading program. Morrissey-Berru sued, alleging age bias under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

In both cases, federal district courts ruled in favor of the schools, citing ministerial exception. But two separate panels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed these decisions, saying the limited extent of the employee's religious duties were insufficient to qualify for a ministerial exception that was more often applied to those with roles of religious leadership.

The 2012 decision these schools were standing on is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where a teacher at a Lutheran school in Michigan said she was fired for pursuing an employment discrimination claim based on a disability.

In that ruling, the court said the ministerial exception to anti-discrimination laws meant that religious organizations couldn't be sued for firing an employee classified as a minister.

Briefs filed by both schools point out that the "scope of the ministerial exception is a vital and recurring question of nationwide importance for thousands of religious organizations and individuals."

The National Catholic Educational Association, in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of St. James School, stressed instead that Biel, as the school's only fifth grade teacher, "bore particular responsibility for effectuating -- and embodying -- the integral formation that is distinct to Catholic schools."

Richard Garnett, law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School and director of the university's Program on Church, State and Society, said at the time of the oral arguments that even though these teachers were not giving theology instruction and were not ordained clergy do "their role is, and is understood as, a ministerial one, and secular courts are not in a good position to second-guess or override religious institutions' decisions about their ministerial employees' role."

He also said the cases were not, "as some have complained, about a supposed right of churches to 'ignore' civil-rights laws. Quite the contrary. These cases are about protecting the civil and constitutional rights of religious institutions to decide religious questions for themselves."

In a tweet after the decision was announced, Garnett said it was no surprise that the court reaffirmed "its Hosanna-Tabor decision and the religious-freedom rights of schools and reverses the Ninth Circuit's narrowing of that decision." Well done, he said, adding: "Too bad this one is not unanimous."

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Update: Retired Pope Benedict follows his brother's funeral virtually

IMAGE: CNS photo/, Reuters

By

REGENSBURG, Germany (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI followed the funeral of his brother, Georg Ratzinger, via livestreaming, reported the German Catholic news agency KNA.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg said Pope Benedict, 93, was connected to the Mass taking place for his older brother July 8 in the Regensburg Cathedral. Msgr. Georg Ratzinger died on July 1 at age 96.

During the Mass, the Regensburg bishop recalled the surprise June 18-22 visit Pope Benedict paid to the sickbed of his dying brother.

"This sign of humanity touched many people. So all the more do we share in your mourning," he said in words addressed to the retired pope.

The Vatican newspaper and KNA reported that alongside Bishop Voderholzer at the altar was Pope Benedict's private secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, and the pope's ambassador to Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. Among other participants were the former Regensburg bishop, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, and Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

The retired pope had written to his deceased brother a letter, which was read out loud at the ceremony by Archbishop Ganswein.

Remembering his "dear brother, Georg," Pope Benedict wrote, "May God reward you for everything you have done, have suffered and have given me."

The retired pope said his brother "received and understood his vocation to the priesthood as a musical vocation at the same time." He recalled his brother's "cheerfulness, his humor and his joy for the good gifts of creation." He also noted that his brother came to accept living with almost total blindness for 20 years.

Recalling his visit to Regensburg, the retired pope said he said "farewell" to his brother, knowing that "it would be a farewell from this world forever. But we also knew that God, who is good, who gave us this gift of being together in this world, also reigns in the other world, and there he will let us be reunited again."

Providing musical accompaniment for the funeral Mass were 16 former members of the "Domspatzen," the name of the Regensburg Cathedral's world-famous boys' choir that Msgr. Ratzinger directed from 1964 to 1994.

Bishop Voderholzer praised Msgr. Ratzinger's musical contribution and said it made clear how church music was not an "external ingredient" in a Christian church service. Music itself was " a medium of evangelization," he said.

 

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Pope: Migrants seeking new life end up instead in 'hell' of detention

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Decrying the unimaginable "hell" migrants experience in detention centers, Pope Francis urged all Christians to examine how they do or don't help -- as Jesus commanded -- the people God has placed in their path.

Christians must always seek the face of the Lord, who can be found in the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and foreigners, the pope said on the anniversary of his first pastoral visit as pope to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Jesus warned everyone, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," and Christians today must look at their actions every day and see if they have even tried to see Christ in others, the pope said in his homily during Mass July 8.

"Such a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is possible also for us, disciples of the third millennium," he said.

The Mass, held in the chapel of the pope's residence, marked the seventh anniversary of his first apostolic journey to an island that has been a major destination point for migrants seeking a new life in Europe.

However, since 2014, at least 19,000 people have died, drowning in the Mediterranean Sea during those boat crossings. Pope Francis mourned their deaths during his 2013 visit with prayers and tossing a floral wreath into the rippling water.

In his homily at the Vatican chapel July 8, he remembered those who are trapped in Libya, subjected to terrible abuse and violence and held in detention centers that are more like a "lager," the German word for a concentration camp. He said his thoughts were with all migrants, those embarking on a "voyage of hope," those who are rescued and those who are pushed back.

"Whatever you did, you did for me," he said, repeating Jesus' warning.

The pope then took a moment to tell the small congregation -- all wearing masks and sitting at a distance from one another -- what had struck him about listening to the migrants that day in Lampedusa and their harrowing journeys.

He said he thought it strange how one man spoke at great length in his native language, but the interpreter translated it to the pope in just a few words.

An Ethiopian woman, who had witnessed the encounter, later told the pope that the interpreter hadn't even translated "a quarter" of what was said about the torture and suffering they had experienced.

"They gave me the 'distilled' version," the pope said.

"This happens today with Libya, they give us a 'distilled' version. War. Yes, it is terrible, we know that, but you cannot imagine the hell that they live there," in those detention camps, he said.

And all these people did was try to cross the sea with nothing but hope, he said.

"Whatever you did ' for better or for worse! This is a burning issue today," the pope said.

The ultimate goal for a Christian is an encounter with God, he said, and always seeking the face of God is how Christians make sure they are on the right path toward the Lord.

The day's first reading from the Book of Hosea described how the people of Israel had lost their way, wandering instead in a "desert of inequity," seeking abundance and prosperity with hearts filled with "falsehood and injustice," he said.

"It is a sin, from which even we, modern Christians, are not immune," he added.

The prophet Hosea's words call everyone to conversion, "to turn our eyes to the Lord and see his face," Pope Francis said.

"As we undertake to seek the face of the Lord, we may recognize him in the face of the poor, the sick, the abandoned, and the foreigners whom God places on our way. And this encounter becomes for us a time of grace and salvation, as it bestows on us the same mission entrusted to the apostles," he said.

Christ himself said "it is he who knocks on our door, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, seeking an encounter with us and requesting our assistance," the pope said.

The pope ended his homily by asking Our Lady, the solace of migrants, "help us discover the face of her son in all our brothers and sisters who are forced to flee from their homeland because of the many injustices that still afflict our world today."

 

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Trump expected to refile paperwork soon in his effort to end DACA

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump is expected to refile paperwork during the second week of July to end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, following the Supreme Court ruling that his administration went about trying to end the program the wrong way.

The Hill, a political news outlet, reported July 6 the president's upcoming action had been expected the previous week and currently "the exact timing remains in flux."

The day after the court's June 18 DACA ruling, the president vowed to do something about it and tweeted he would submit "enhanced papers" to comply with requirements to end DACA. "Nothing was lost or won," he said about the decision, saying the court had punted on it and the administration would just try again.

The issue before the court was Trump's 2017 executive order to end the Obama-era program that had enabled 700,000 qualifying young people, brought to the U.S. as children by their parents without legal documentation, to work, go to college and get health insurance -- and not face deportation.

President Barack Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012.

The court's combined decision on three separate appellate court rulings that blocked Trump's order stop DACA basically left the program in place -- protecting recipients from deportation and enabling them to still receive benefits such as work authorization -- while emphasizing the president went about rescinding the program in the wrong way.

Catholic leaders who work on immigration issues right away predicted Trump would continue his efforts to end DACA, starting with refiling the paperwork to do so in a way that complied with the high court's requirements.

The process will "likely immediately be mired in litigation," said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ilisa Mira, an attorney in the Oakland, California, office of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC, similarly said Trump could issue a new memo that she said would satisfy what the court was looking for but would "bring up more litigation."

Another possible path, she said, would be for the Department of Homeland Security to issue a regulation affecting the program that would need a notice and comment period and could take months to complete.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the government failed to give acceptable reasons for ending DACA and that Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, in her efforts to dismantle the program three years ago, didn't use all options to limit the program and didn't consider the program's importance to its participants.

"Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients," the opinion said. "That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew."

While waiting to see what the president does, immigration advocates, like Feasley and Mira, are urging DACA supporters to push the Senate for legislation that would give DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, and those with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a path toward citizenship.

"We can't let the Senate get a pass," Feasley said in a June 19 webinar sponsored by the USCCB's Justice for Immigrants campaign.

When asked if the issue could wait until after the November elections, Feasley was adamant it could not, "especially if the president is doubling down; it really is time," she said.

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Vatican task force calls for an end to arms production

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gabriel A. Martinez, U.S. Navy, ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Human health, peace, security and progress would be better served with a complete end to the production of weapons worldwide, said members of a Vatican task force.

"Now, more than ever, is the time for nations of the world to shift from national security by military means to human security as the primary concern of policy and international relations," Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said at a Vatican news conference July 7.

Cardinal Turkson also heads a COVID-19 response commission Pope Francis created in April to analyze the many challenges the world is facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and to come up with proposed guidelines and strategies for addressing the many crises.

The commission has five task forces focused on different issues, and the cardinal was one of three speakers at the news conference giving an update on what the working group dedicated to "security" has proposed for building a more peaceful, healthy and secure world.

The pandemic and the many emergency measures in place have sparked a number of problems in some parts of the world, the cardinal said; for example, there is an upsurge in domestic violence, police or military brutality in enforcing lockdowns, "adventurists" taking advantage of social or global disruptions to embark on a new war or seize territories; and the disruption of elections, which could worsen tensions.

"Now is the time for the international community and the church to develop bold and imaginative plans for collective action commensurate with the magnitude of this crisis" caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

"Now is the time to build a world that better reflects a truly integral approach to peace, human development and ecology," he said.

One concrete proposal endorsed by Pope Francis is the United Nations' call for a global cease-fire, Cardinal Turkson said. A complete cessation of hostilities would be necessary for achieving the peace, solidarity and global unity needed for successfully dealing with the pandemic and its effects, he said.

"But one thing is to call or endorse a cease-fire statement, another thing is to implement it" and get it to hold, he said, which means "we need to freeze weapons production and dealing" and end investments in armaments.

Salesian Sister Alessandra Smerilli, a member of the COVID-19 commission and an economic expert, said "we are at a stage in which we must understand where to direct financial resources."

Safety and security are supposed to be about guaranteeing human health and well-being, she said. But arsenals full of weapons do nothing to help stop the spread of the pandemic, she added.

What if instead of engaging in an arms race, she asked, "we 'race' toward food, health and work security? What are citizens asking for right now? Do they need a strong military state or a state that invests in common goods?"

Nations should ask how their citizens want their money to be spent and if it makes any sense to continue with "massive investments in weapons if human lives cannot be saved because there is no adequate health care system," added Sister Smerilli, who teaches political economy at the Salesians' Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences "Auxilium."

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the world's military spending keeps rising, and last year it was estimated to be $1.9 trillion or about $250 per person.

Sister Smerilli said this ongoing push for more arms and greater military power is "a vicious circle that never ends, pushing in turn toward a constant increase in military spending, a positional competition that causes irrational expenses."

"We need courageous leaders who can demonstrate that they believe in the common good, who are committed to guaranteeing what is most needed today. We need a collective pact to direct resources for health security and well-being," she said.

Alessio Pecorario, who heads the commission's task force on security, said "choices have to be made. Medical supplies, food security and economic revival focused on social justice and green economy all require resources that can be diverted from the military sector in the context of renewed arms control."

Given the urgency, complexity and intertwined nature of today's challenges, the task force has concluded that "human and financial resources and technology should be used to create and stimulate strategies, alliances and systems to protect lives and the planet and not to kill people and ecosystems," he said.

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The Vatican COVID-19 commission publishes weekly newsletters of its work at www.humandevelopment.va/en/vatican-covid-19/newsletter.html.

 

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Focolare member in Colombia pays it forward by helping fellow migrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Manuel Rueda

By Manuel Rueda

TOCANCIPA, Colombia (CNS) -- When Alba Rada arrived in Colombia, members of the Focolare movement gave her a warm welcome, got her kids in school and helped her with housing until she found a place to rent.

Now the 44-year-old Venezuelan immigrant replicates that kindness through a nonprofit that is helping more than 200 Venezuelans who live in Tocancipa -- and many more who pass through a highway that crosses the town.

"We know what it's like to go through tough times and face an uncertain future," said Rada, who arrived in Colombia six years ago.

"So we like coming out here to provide material and emotional support," she said, as she handed out hot meals to a group of migrants that had been on the road for days.

Rada set up her nonprofit, the Radaber Foundation, in 2018 as thousands of Venezuelans left their crisis-wracked nation and headed to neighboring countries like Colombia in search for work. With their savings depleted by hyperinflation, many were forced to walk and hitchhike for hundreds of miles toward their destinations, passing through small towns like Tocancipa.

"We started to help these hitchhikers with food and by finding people who would host them for a night or two," Rada explained. "It started as a WhatsApp group, and eventually we became a more formal organization."

The group is made up mostly of Venezuelan immigrants who want to help recent arrivals. Some of the volunteers are also members of the Focolare movement, a Catholic lay group that promotes the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood and operates in dozens of countries.

Rada is a lifelong member of Focolare and ended up in Tocancipa largely because of her ties to that group.

The town in central Colombia only has 35,000 people, but its home to a large Focolare center that includes a school, a house for consecrated members, and a space for spiritual retreats.

"At first I only thought of guerrillas and drug trafficking when Colombia was mentioned," Rada said. "But my sister convinced me to give it a try. She told me the movement was here and that there was a school for the kids."

Rada ran a graphic design company in Venezuela and had been looking for a way out of the country for some time. She was pushed to make the move in 2014 after her car was stolen from her at gunpoint, while her children were in the back seat.

In Tocancipa, members of the Focolare movement helped her to settle down, securing a place for her two children at the movement's school, and holding a dinner party, where they donated electrical appliances to her family.

With her accounting skills, Rada also landed an administrative job at the Focolare school and made contacts that would later help her with donations for her nonprofit.

Now the Radaber Foundation is focusing mostly on helping Venezuelan migrants to deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of people have lost their jobs in Colombia as the government imposed a national lockdown to slow down the virus.

In Tocancipa and the surrounding area, Rada's nonprofit has provided food packages to more than 200 families that have lost their income during the pandemic.

It is also helping migrants who are now trying to head back to Venezuela after losing their jobs and not being able to pay rent.

More than 70,000 Venezuelan migrants have returned to their country since the pandemic broke out, according to the Colombian government. Many are doing so on foot, because they cannot afford bus fare.

On a recent weekend, Rada and half dozen volunteers gathered below a pedestrian bridge that crosses the main highway leading out of Tocancipa.

They handed out sleeping bags, snacks, sunblock and toilet paper to migrants who were making the long trek back home.

"I was doing well in Colombia," said Jose Luis Sanchez, a 54-year-old taxi driver from Venezuela, who had found work at a plastics factory in Bogota. "But my factory shut down and I had no more money to pay rent." Sanchez was walking back to Venezuela with this wife and figured the journey to the border would take him about two weeks.

Another migrant, Luisiana Cordoba, said she was coming from Ecuador, where she had been working as a dental assistant. The dentist closed her practice due to the pandemic, leaving Cordoba jobless.

"I'm travelling with my kids, so people have been more friendly and we've gotten several rides," said Cordoba, who had three small children with her. "Along the road we've been sleeping at bus terminals or under shopfronts to avoid the rain."

Rada said her organization is trying to make the perilous journey back to Venezuela safer by giving migrants orientation and advice on the risks ahead.

She said that while funding for her organization is sometimes scarce, she is motivated by the expressions of gratitude from the people she helps and by a biblical passage that was sent to her years ago in a letter written by the founder of the Focolare movement.

"There is more joy in giving than in receiving," the passage said.

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Faith leaders ask Congress to boost overseas pandemic aid

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Three dozen faith-based organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, have asked Congress to immediately fund efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic around the world.

"If we don't beat COVID-19 everywhere, we can't beat it anywhere," CRS said in a news release publicizing the letter sent July 1.

CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, said the faith leaders were seeking $10 billion to $15 billion in aid for the more than 70% of countries the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described as ill-equipped to handle outbreaks of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The amount being sought is 0.005% of the $3 trillion Congress authorized in a series of domestic pandemic relief bills since March, CRS said.

Members of Congress continue to discuss another relief package to aid U.S. workers and institutions. In May, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act. It did not include spending on international aid.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, has said the bill would not be taken up in that chamber. Republicans are undecided on whether to adopt another aid package although talk has emerged in recent weeks that another relief bill was necessary to prevent a deepening of the economic recession the U.S. is experiencing.

The faith leaders' letter said that if the international response is neglected, "we worry that many lives could be at risk."

"A recent report estimated that up to 3 million deaths could occur in these countries without additional humanitarian assistance, and millions more stand on the brink of starvation given the economic upheaval in the world's poorest countries," the letter said.

Among those signing the letter was Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace. He was joined by leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision USA, Food for the Hungry, Sudan Relief Fund and Compassion International, among others.

Vital humanitarian, global health and diplomatic programs from the U.S. can help save lives through prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the illness, and by providing personal protective equipment, the organizations said.

"It is also critical that our country respond to the dire economic, food security, humanitarian and developmental needs heightened by the effects of COVID-19, and to continue ongoing humanitarian operations including treating malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and promoting religious freedom around the world," the letter said.

The leaders also stressed the Christian responsibility to care for people in need.

"At this critical moment, we cannot turn our back on our brothers and sisters around the world," the letter said. "As a nation, we have both the ability and the obligation to provide resources which will prevent the worldwide spread of this disease and alleviate the suffering of those afflicted, and in so doing, we are certain it will also protect us here at home as well."

A poll conduct in April by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and Morning Consult found that 72% of American voters support assistance to vulnerable people overseas in response to the illness.

The letter was sent as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and some countries has spiked in recent weeks, while people have returned to work and businesses have reopened. The worldwide death toll neared 535,000 July 6, with 132,000 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Soto: 'Strenuous labor' of ending racism shouldn't be 'toppled' by looting

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNS) -- By defacing and toppling a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento, protesters may have meant "to draw attention to the sorrowful, angry memories over California's past," but "this act of vandalism does little to build the future," Bishop Jaime Soto said July 5.

The bishop, who heads the Sacramento Diocese, made the comments after the statue on the grounds of the California Capitol in Capitol Park was torn down by a group of demonstrators late July 4.

"There is no question that California's indigenous people endured great suffering during the colonial period and then later faced the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent state of California," Bishop Soto said. "This legacy is heartbreaking."

However, he continued, "it is also true that while Father Serra worked under this colonial system, he denounced its evils and worked to protect the dignity of native peoples."

"His holiness as a missionary should not be measured by his own failures to stop the exploitation or even his own personal faults," the bishop added.

Bishop Soto's remarks echoed those of Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez in a column he wrote for the July 1 feast day of St. Junipero Serra. The Sacramento bishop also referred to the column, published June 29 in Angelus, the online news platform of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

"The exploitation of America's first peoples, the destruction of their ancient civilizations, is a historic tragedy," Archbishop Gomez wrote. "Crimes committed against their ancestors continue to shape the lives and futures of native peoples today. Generations have passed and our country still has not done enough to make things right."

"I understand the deep pain being expressed by some native peoples in California. But I also believe Fray Junipero is a saint for our times, the spiritual founder of Los Angeles, a champion of human rights, and this country's first Hispanic saint," the archbishop said, noting that he was "privileged" to concelebrate the Spanish Franciscan's canonization Mass with Pope Francis in 2015 during the pontiff's pastoral visit to Washington.

Known for spreading the Gospel in the New World during the 18th century, the Franciscan priest landed in Mexico, then made his way on foot up the coast of Mexico and to California, where he established a chain of missions that are now the names of well-known cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

He was the first president of the California mission system, and personally founded nine of the state's 21 missions. It is estimated that during his ministry, St. Junipero Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.

In 2015, some people objected to the canonization of the Spaniard, like critics did of his beatification in 1988, because of questions raised about how Father Serra allegedly treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the Americas.

"Understanding the efforts of Father Serra to bring light into the bitter, bleak darkness of colonial ambition is the difficult task of history," Bishop Soto said in his statement. "So is the present arduous work to chart the future with hope.

"The strenuous labor of overcoming the plague of racism should not be toppled by nocturnal looting," he continued. "Dialogue should not abdicate to vandalism. Nor should these unnerving episodes distract us from the duties of justice and charity upon which a better California can be built."

The Fourth of July weekend, Bishop Soto said, was a reminder to the nation "our common cause is to be a living monument to those words carved into the American soul, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"

"All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America's founding ideals," he said. "The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down."

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At Angelus, pope backs U.N. resolution calling for global cease-fire

IMAGE: CNS photo/Iliya Pitalev, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis praised the United Nations' adoption of a global cease-fire resolution amid the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world.

"The request for a global and immediate cease-fire, which would allow that peace and security necessary to provide the needed humanitarian assistance, is commendable," the pope said July 5, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"I hope that this decision will be implemented effectively and promptly for the good of the many people who are suffering. May this Security Council resolution become a courageous first step toward a peaceful future," he said.

The resolution, which was first proposed in late March by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was unanimously passed July 1 by the 15-member Security Council.

According to the U.N., the council "demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda" to allow for "the safe, unhindered and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance."

In his Angelus address, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus thanks God for having hidden the mystery of the kingdom of heaven "from the wise and the learned" and "revealed them to little ones."

Christ's reference of the wise and learned, the pope explained, was said "with a veil of irony" because those who presume to be wise "have a closed heart, very often."

"True wisdom comes also from the heart, it is not only a matter of understanding ideas: True wisdom also enters into the heart. And if you know many things but have a closed heart, you are not wise," the pope said.

The "little ones" to whom God has revealed himself, he added, are those "who confidently open themselves to his word of salvation, who open their heart to the word of salvation, who feel the need for him and expect everything from him; the heart that is open and trustful toward the Lord."

The pope said Jesus placed himself among those "who labor and are burdened" because he, too, is "meek and humble of heart."

In doing so, he explained, Christ does not place himself as "a model for the resigned, nor is he simply a victim, but rather he is the man who lives this condition 'from the heart' in full transparency to the love of the Father, that is, to the Holy Spirit."

"He is the model of the 'poor in spirit' and of all the other 'blesseds' of the Gospel, who do the will of God and bear witness to his kingdom," Pope Francis said.

"The world exalts those who are rich and powerful, no matter by what means, and at times tramples upon the human being and his or her dignity," the pope said. "And we see this every day, the poor who are trampled underfoot. It is a message for the church, called to live works of mercy and to evangelize the poor, to be meek and humble. This is how the Lord wants his church -- that is, us -- to be."

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John Feister of Glenmary Challenge wins St. Francis de Sales Award

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cassie Magnotta, courtesy John Feister

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- John Feister, assistant editor of Glenmary Challenge, is the recipient of the 2020 St. Francis de Sales Award from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

The award -- named for the patron saint of writers and journalists -- recognizes "outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism" and is the highest honor given by the CPA.

The announcement was made July 2, via a pre-recorded video released as a premiere on social media during the 2020 Catholic Media Conference, which was held virtually using digital technology due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's an honor to receive this prestigious award," Feister said in his video acceptance message.

He spent much of the message thanking family, friends and colleagues who had supported him over the decades in his craft in print, broadcast and digital media.

"In a media environment where ongoing change becomes our new normal, there is someone who has for more than a quarter century led the charge to make the media organizations he has worked with better and has collaborated with and shown his colleagues in the Catholic press ways forward," said Mark Lombard, the 2019 winner of the St. Francis de Sales Award, in his nomination of Feister.

"From his work as editor of both St. Anthony Messenger magazine and the 200,000+ circulation Catholic Update newsletter, founding AmericanCatholic.org, and guiding audiobook and online efforts including 'Saint of the Day' at Franciscan Media and leading online video efforts at Glenmary Home Missioners, co-authoring seven books and launching American Catholic Radio," Lombard said, "John Feister has demonstrated his commitment to effectively reach and faithfully impact Catholics throughout the world."

Feister was one of four finalists for the 2020 St. Francis de Sales Award, often nicknamed the Franny.

The other three finalists were Michael F. Flach of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia; George Matysek Jr. of Catholic Review Media in the Baltimore Archdiocese; and Garry O'Sullivan of The Irish Catholic.

Though Feister expressed his gratitude for receiving the award, he said his achievements were not solely dependent on him.

"It is the people you work with who make your career," Feister said. "Along with loving family, they make you who you are. Yes, you have to cooperate, you have to shine, you have to pour your heart and mind into anything you expect to be excellent. But, we all share the award."

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Archives reveal abuse allegations against founder of Schonstatt movement

IMAGE: CNS photo/KNA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Documents uncovered from the recently opened archives of the pontificate of Pope Pius XII revealed allegations of sexual abuse and abuse of power against the founder of the Schonstatt movement, Father Joseph Kentenich.

Reports of the apostolic visitation made in the early 1950s written by Dutch Jesuit Father Sebastiaan Tromp were made known by German scholar Alexandra von Teuffenbach July 2 after she wrote a letter regarding her discovery to German newspaper Die Tagespost and Italian journalist Sandro Magister.

Von Teuffenbach, a former professor of church history at Rome's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, said the testimonies, letters and conversations Father Tromp had with members of the Schonstatt Sisters of Mary, as well as Father Kentenich, revealed "a situation of complete subjugation of the nuns, concealed in a certain way by a sort of family structure applied to the work."

"Kentenich was the 'father,' the founder with absolute power, often equated with God," von Teuffenbach wrote to Magister. "So much so that in many expressions and prayers it is not clear whether these are addressed to God the Father or to the founder himself."

The behavior of the founder of Schonstatt, she added, is "a striking example of what Pope Francis probably means when he speaks of clericalism, with the father and founder of the work who sets himself up as the proprietor of the nuns, in soul and body."

She also praised Father Tromp, as well as the Roman Curia under Pope Pius XII, noting that that the documents revealed an "assiduous and meticulous search for the truth" during the investigation.

The Schonstatt movement was founded in Germany in 1914 by Father Kentenich as a way "to help renew the church and society in the spirit of the Gospel" and is present in over 100 countries around the world, the movement's website states. It includes priests, nuns and lay members.

The process of beatification of Father Kentenich was opened seven years after his 1968 death.

The day before Die Tagespost's article regarding von Teuffenbach's findings were published, Father Juan Pablo Catoggio, superior of the Schonstatt movement, released a statement acknowledging Father Tromp's visitation in 1950 and the accusations against Father Kentenich, "which led to the 14-year long exile of the founder" to Wisconsin.

However, Father Catoggio said, "these issues were discussed and clarified during the process of beatification opened in 1975" and that all documents regarding the allegations were "made available to the competent church authorities."

"If doubt regarding the moral integrity of the Schonstatt founder would have remained, his exile would not have finished and the Vatican would have not published a 'nihil obstat' ('no objection') to open his process of beatification," he said.

Speaking by phone with Catholic News Service July 2, von Teuffenbach said she decided to make Father Tromp's findings known in the hope "that the truth will be told."

"We have in the Gospel that verse that says, 'the truth will set us free,'" she said.

Von Teuffenbach told CNS that her intention in making the details of the visitation known was not meant to "hurt Schonstatt, because they do many good things."

"I hope that this does not do damage for Schonstatt, but rather a path so that Schonstatt can have a new beginning, not by venerating a person of this kind, but by doing positive things," she said.

Nevertheless, she said, the revelation of allegations against Father Kentenich by a Vatican-appointed visitor should mean that "it is not possible to beatify a person who, more than just sexual abuse, committed abuse of power."

"There must be a necessary process because it cannot continue this way," von Teuffenbach told CNS. "What they (Schonstatt) have done is create a veneration based on a lie, on a falsehood. And I do not like this. It cannot work" this way.

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Vatican's top diplomat meets about Mideast with U.S., Israeli ambassadors

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohammed Salem, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, met with the U.S. and Israeli ambassadors to the Vatican to express concern that "possible unilateral actions" on their part would further jeopardize peace in the region.

"The Holy See reiterates that the state of Israel and the state of Palestine have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders," said a statement from the Vatican press office July 1.

"It thus appeals to the parties to do everything possible to reopen the process of direct negotiation, on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, and aided by measures that can reestablish reciprocal confidence," it said.

According to Reuters, Cardinal Parolin met separately with Callista Gingrich, U.S. ambassador, and Oren David, Israeli ambassador.

Though the Vatican did not specify which "unilateral actions" caused their concern, the Vatican recognizes the sovereignty of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine and their rights to exist in peace and security.

Israel has said it plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, which is part of Palestinian territory, as part of a peace plan put forward by the U.S. administration.

However, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said June 29 that international law is very clear that "annexation is illegal. Period. Any annexation. Whether it is 30% of the West Bank, or 5%."

It would have "a disastrous impact on human rights" throughout the Middle East, she added.

The Vatican statement quoted Pope Francis' 2014 plea for peace, saying it hoped the two sides would have the courage to sit down together and "say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity."

 

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