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Pope marries couple on flight during Chilean trip

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO IQUIQUE, Chile (CNS) -- Love was literally in the air as Pope Francis performed an impromptu wedding ceremony at 36,000 feet aboard his flight in Chile.

During his flight to Iquique Jan. 18, the pope was approached by LatAm flight steward Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga and asked for a blessing for him and his wife, stewardess Paula Podest Ruiz.

The couple were supposed to be married in their home parish in Santiago Feb. 27, 2010. However, tragedy struck when an earthquake destroyed the church. Eight years later, they remained only civilly married.

Ciuffardi told journalists aboard the flight that, after he explained their story, he asked the pope for their blessing.

At that moment, the pope surprised the couple with offering to marry them right there on the plane.

Ciuffardi said he asked his boss and owner of LatAm airline, Ignacio Cueto, to be his best man.

The pope was on his way from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique before heading to Peru later in the day.

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March lauded for witnessing to life; participation in '9 Days' urged

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a message of support for the March for Life in Washington, a Vatican official praised "the tens of thousands" of participants for their witness to the "value of every human life" and for upholding the dignity of life from conception to natural death.

"You give witness to the world of your understanding of the value of every human life and of your commitment to welcome, nurture, protect and integrate every human life from the first moment of conception until natural death," said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

He made the remarks in a statement dated Jan. 19, the day of this year's march, and addressed to March for Life officials. It also was sent to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington; and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia.

In a Jan. 16 statement, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities, urged Catholics and others across the country to get involved in the "9 Days for Life" prayer and Action Campaign Jan. 18-26.

"Our prayers matter," he said. The campaign's website is www.9daysforlife.com.

"We bring many needs to God this month, including care for displaced persons, racial harmony, Christian unity and the protection of all human life," Cardinal Dolan said. "Every prayer matters, and if you can't start at the beginning, jump in when you can!"

"9 Days for Life" is the U.S. bishops' annual, pro-life prayer and action campaign surrounding the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

The overarching intention of novena at the center of the event is the end to abortion, and each day treats a different aspect of respecting the dignity of the human person -- from the beginning of life to its natural end.

This year, as part of the Catholic Church's "Share the Journey" campaign supporting displaced persons, one day addresses human trafficking, something migrants and refugees are particularly at risk of suffering.

Participants can make a "digital pilgrimage." They are encouraged to build "a culture of life" through prayer and action and by sharing their experiences on social media with the hashtags #9DaysforLife and #OurPrayersMatter. There also is a Facebook frame participants can use on their profile picture to show their support for life.

In his letter, Archbishop Paglia assured March for Life attendees of his prayers "for the fruitfulness of your undertaking that is so filled with love." He was certain that on Jan. 19 in particular "you will have the blessings and grateful prayers of all the innocent lives for whom you have, over so many years, cared and struggled."

Archbishop Paglia recalled his own participation in the march "one very cold January day more than 20 years ago."

He added: "I join with Cardinal Wuerl of Washington and Bishop Burbidge of Arlington, with all my brother Catholic and Orthodox bishops in the United States, and with all the members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, in honoring what you do and who you are, and in encouraging you always to remember the love that God has for you his "good and faithful servants."

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Young people at forefront of pro-life fight called 'new Magi' of movement

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Over 5,000 people from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and other Midwestern states gathered Jan. 14 in Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago for the annual March for Life Chicago commemorating the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Participants carried signs with pro-life messages and balloons during the rally and march through the streets of downtown. The drum line from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein played in the march.

Chris Murrens of Libertyville brought her two teen-age children to the march and said seeing the many youth and young adults in attendance was "heartwarming" and "inspirational."

"The heavenly Father is smiling. Our Lady is smiling. It's a great day," she told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Murrens said she brought her two teenagers because she felt it was important to expose them to the event and the message.

"I want them to see how important this is and for them to be part of this generation that is turning things around to become more pro-life," Murrens said. "They are having a wonderful time and getting the message all at the same time."

Young people, especially in their teens, are impressionable and open to new things so that is a pivotal time to share the church's teaching that life is sacred from the womb until natural death, the mother of three said.

"This is when they see so much of what is going on in the world. This is the time when you can really grab their hearts and make a difference for the rest of their lives," she said.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich -- one of several speakers who addressed the gathering prior to the march -- applauded the witness of young people and, referring to the recent feast of Epiphany, called them "the new Magi."

"You give us confidence that the energy to protect the child in the womb has not grown weak over these 45 years, but is as youthful, strong and vibrant as you are," the cardinal said. "You are the new Magi in our time, who teach us all to keep our heads up, and amid the darkness of the night at times, to take heart that God is still in the heavens, guiding us like that Bethlehem star and keeping our dreams alive."

Quoting Pope Francis, Cardinal Cupich said that children make society "dream beyond ourselves."

"Taking human life, especially the life of the child in the womb, not only has an impact on that one human being but deeply wounds all of humanity, robs from us our ability to dream and see life as much bigger than our own concerns, challenges and struggles," he said. "Is it any wonder that we are so divided as a nation when we are so fixed only on ourselves, when we can no longer dream and see all that God is doing beyond ourselves?"

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision robbed the nation of its children and its dreams, he said.

"Now with the recent law passed by our Legislature and signed by our governor, more lives and dreams will be robbed as will family incomes that will be forcibly used to pay for abortions," Cardinal Cupich said referring to legislation Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law in 2017 that provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions.

"Can we not better use our tax dollars to support health care for families expecting children, and child care and assistance to parents when their children come into the world?" the cardinal asked. "Can we not better use our tax dollars to keep alive both our children and our dreams as a nation?"

Other speakers at the rally included Illinois Congressmen Dan Lipinski and Peter Roskum and former Planned Parenthood director Ramona Trevino.

Earlier in the day, Cardinal Cupich celebrated the archdiocesan Mass for Life at Holy Name Cathedral attended by a standing-room only crowd. During the Mass, young people brought white roses to the altar, commemorating lives lost to abortion and homicide in Chicago last year.

In the Denver Archdiocese a day earlier, about 3,000 people gathered outside the state Capitol in Denver for the annual Colorado March for Life. The afternoon rally and march were preceded by the celebration of several morning Masses at a number of churches, including one celebrated by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

"This is the Colorado piece of the largest civil rights movement in our lifetime," Lynn Grandon, archdiocesan Respect Life program director, said in advance of the Jan. 13 gathering.

More pro-life marches were planned around the country. Among those will be the fourth annual OneLife LA Jan. 20 in Los Angeles, followed exactly a week later by Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco.

In Chicago, some of those who attended the Mass and rally also planned to travel to Washington for the national March for Life Jan. 19.

Others preparing to attend the march and rally in the nation's capital included students at Monsignor Bonner Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Catholic school leaders throughout the U.S. take thousands of their students to the regional or national March for Life events each year in an effort to engage them in the pro-life cause and to eventually pass the torch of leadership to them, said Steven Bozza, director of the Philadelphia archdiocesan Office for Life and Family.

The pro-life activists who have been embroiled in the movement for decades will not be able to go on forever and it's up to the current leaders to prepare the next generation of advocates, Bozza told Catholic News Service during an interview in Drexel Hill.

"We're going to win this battle," he said. "Maybe not tomorrow or next week. Maybe not this year, but we're going to win it. Especially with the new generation coming up."

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth in Drexel Hill.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Bishop: Basilica title honors church's role in diocese, nation's founding

IMAGE: CNS photo/Zoey Maraist, Catholic Herald

By Zoey Maraist

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNS) -- The Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments declared St. Mary Church in Alexandria a minor basilica, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington announced to parishioners during Mass Jan. 14.

"It is an extraordinary honor to announce that the Holy See has designated St. Mary's in Old Town to be the newest basilica in the United States. This historic announcement recognizes the important role St. Mary's has played in the diocese, the city of Alexandria and even the very founding of our country," he said.

To be named a basilica, a church must have architectural or historic value and meet liturgical requirements, such as an adequate amount of space in the sanctuary and a fitting number of priests. There are only four major basilicas, all in Rome -- St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major.

There are thousands of minor basilicas throughout the world, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore and the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk.

Bishop Burbidge congratulated Father Edward C. Hathaway, pastor of the Alexandria church, and "all of the priests who have served this parish over the generations for their work in bringing St. Mary's to this special day. I pray that Our Lord continues to bless St. Mary's and its community for generations to come!"

A committee from St. Mary began to research the application process for becoming a basilica last January, according to Father Hathaway. Bishop Burbidge approved the application in June, and sent it to the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship. USCCB officials approved the plan in July, and sent it to the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

"Today, we are overjoyed and humbled by the recognition of St. Mary as one of the major churches in the world dedicated to Christ," said Father Hathaway. "Thank you so much, Bishop Burbidge, for being here with us today, and for the encouragement and enthusiasm you have shown during the many months that led to this announcement."

"The naming of St. Mary as a minor basilica brings honor to the entire diocese and to Roman Catholics throughout the country," the priest continued. "As the first Catholic parish in Virginia and West Virginia, learning its history is to gain a greater insight into the spread of the Catholic faith in the former English colonies and throughout our nation."

In 1788, an Irish aide-de-camp of George Washington, Col. John Fitzgerald, held a fundraiser in his home for the construction of a Catholic church. Washington was the first to donate. In 1795, St. Mary was established as a mission of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. Eventually, a church was built on South Royal Street, where the contemporary church stands, and was dedicated by Jesuit Father Francis Ignatius Neale in 1827.

Throughout the years, the church has undergone several repairs and renovations. Ministry buildings and offices such as the Lyceum as well as the cemetery are scattered around Old Town. The parish school, one of the largest in the diocese with around 700 students, was established in 1869 after a wave of poor Irish immigrants arrived in the area. Today, St. Mary has 7,100 registered parishioners and dozens of liturgical, fellowship and service ministries.

In the near future, the church will be marked with special signage indicating its new status. As with all basilicas, St. Mary will install an "ombrellino," a silk canopy designed with stripes of yellow and red -- the traditional papal colors -- and a "tintinnabulum," a bell mounted on a pole and carried during some processions.

"Crossed keys, which are the symbol of the papacy, will be placed prominently on the church exterior," said Father Hathaway.

St. Mary also has designed a seal, which all basilicas have. The symbols within the seal pay homage to the diocese, the Jesuits who founded the parish, and to Mary. In the bottom right quadrant of the shield is a ship, representing Alexandria's role as an important port town in colonial times. The vessel further represents the frigates that brought Catholic immigrants to the New World.

"The Ark and The Dove were the two famous ships, chartered by Cecil Calvert to transport 140 colonists to the shores of Maryland," according to a statement from St. Mary. "Similar ships brought the Jesuit founders, as well as many Irish and Scottish merchants, to the port city of Alexandria."

The seal is one of the many ways the new basilica will aim to share its past with visitors.

"We will be looking for ways to communicate our significant history and contribution to Catholicism in the commonwealth and beyond through printed guides and other means," said Father Hathaway.

The parishioners at the Jan. 14 Mass applauded the announcement. Sam Lukawski, a fifth-grader at St. Mary School, was one of the 11 altar servers at the Mass. "I was glad that it became a minor basilica and that it'll be (St. Mary Basilica) instead of St. Mary Church," he told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper.

Pat Troy, a longtime parishioner, sent his children to the school and used to host Theology on Tap in his Alexandria bar. He loves the parish for its commitment to Mary, its priests and the fact that it was founded in part by an Irishman. "This was the first time (we) walked down the steps of this historic church as St. Mary Basilica," he said with reverence.

Jonathan Fililpowski and Nicole Hendershot are getting married at St. Mary in April. "We're excited to be able to get married at a basilica. It's a beautiful space to come and be able to worship, tied to the roots of our nation," she said.

Deborah and Glenn Cooper were thrilled by the announcement. "I'm so honored to be part of this historic occasion. It makes me want to go back and probe more into the history of the church and also into the whole meaning of being a basilica," she said.

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Maraist is on the staff of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Pope asks forgiveness from victims of clergy sex abuse in Chile

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Pope Francis, in his first formal speech in Chile, asked forgiveness from those who were sexually abused by priests.

Addressing government authorities and members of the country's diplomatic corps Jan. 16, the pope expressed his "pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church."

"I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensure that such things do not happen again," he said.

Preparations for Pope Francis' visit to Chile Jan. 15-18 were overshadowed by continuing controversy over the pope's decision in 2015 to give a diocese to a bishop accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse perpetrated by a notorious priest.

The pope's appointment of Bishop Juan Barros as head of the Diocese of Osorno sparked several protests -- most notably at the bishop's installation Mass -- due to the bishop's connection to Father Fernando Karadima, his former mentor. Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

The protests against the pope's appointment of Bishop Barros gained steam when a video of Pope Francis defending the appointment was published in September 2015 by the Chilean news channel, Ahora Noticias. Filmed during a general audience a few months earlier, the video showed the pope telling a group of Chilean pilgrims that Catholics protesting the appointment were "judging a bishop without any proof."

"Think with your head; don't let yourself be led by all the lefties who are the ones that started all of this," the pope said. "Yes, Osorno is suffering but for being foolish because it doesn't open its heart to what God says and allows itself to be led by all this silliness that all those people say."

Survivors of abuse and their supporters planned a conference and protests around the pope's arrival.

But Pope Francis made his way to La Moneda, the presidential palace, and was welcomed by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Thousands were gathered in the square outside the palace, chanting "Francisco, amigo, Chile esta contigo" ("Francis, friend, Chile is with you").

Despite the jovial atmosphere at outside La Moneda, there were serious signs of protest in Santiago.

Chilean media reported vandalism at Divine Providence Parish, not far from O'Higgins Park, where the pope was to celebrate Mass later in the morning. Vandals spray painted the words "complice" ("accomplice") and "papa arde" ("burn, pope") on the facade of the church below a banner welcoming Pope Francis.

Three days earlier, several Chilean churches were firebombed, and police found other, unexploded devices at two other churches in Santiago. Some of the pamphlets included the phrase, "The next bombs will be in your cassock" and spoke of the cause of the Mapuche indigenous group.

"How are you? Where you able to rest?" Bachelet asked the pope when he arrived at the palace. "Perfectly," he responded. The two leaders stood as the national anthems of Chile and Vatican City State were played before entering the courtyard of the palace where about 700 members of the country's government authorities and of the diplomatic corps welcomed the pope with a standing ovation.

In his speech to the country's political leaders, Pope Francis emphasized the need for officials to listen to the people and to value their experiences, cultures, sufferings and hopes.

Included in the pope's list were "children who look out on the world with eyes full of amazement and innocence and expect from us concrete answers for a dignified future."

At that point he told the officials, "I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church."

The pope's acknowledgment of the crimes of sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy was met with a loud applause from the government authorities present.

Looking at the country's social and political life, Pope Francis congratulated the nation for its steady growth in democracy since 1990 when the rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended.

The recent presidential elections in November, he said, "were a demonstration of the solidity and civic maturity that you have achieved."

"That was a particularly important moment, for it shaped your destiny as a people founded on freedom and law, one that has faced moments of turmoil, at times painful, yet succeeded in surmounting them. In this way, you have been able to consolidate and confirm the dream of your founding fathers," the pope said.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is scheduled to hand the office over to President-elect Sebastian Pinera in March.

Chile's future, Pope Francis said, depends on the ability of its people and leaders to listen to those in need and "replace narrow ideologies with a healthy concern for the common good."

The unemployed, native peoples, migrants, the elderly, young people and children all deserve to be listened to while also giving "preferential attention to our common home."

The wisdom of the country's indigenous population, he added, can help Chilean society "transcend a merely consumerist view of life and to adopt a sage attitude to the future."

"The wisdom of the native peoples can contribute greatly to this," Pope Francis said. "From them we can learn that a people that turns its back on the land, and everything and everyone on it, will never experience real development."

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Pope begins seven-day pilgrimage to Chile, Peru

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Pope Francis arrived in Santiago Jan. 15, the first stop on a seven-day, six-city visit to Peru and Chile, where he will take his message of hope to people on the margins of society.

Arriving in Santiago after more than 15 hours in the air, Pope Francis was greeted by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and a young Chilean girl. He told the crowd he was happy to be in Chile, and he blessed the workers at the airport before being transported to the papal nunciature, where he will stay the three nights he is in Chile.

On Jan. 17, the pope will travel to Temuco and meet with residents of the Mapuche indigenous community. Members of the Mapuche have called for the government to return lands confiscated prior to the country's return to democracy in the late 1980s.

"Chile won't be too difficult for me because I studied there for a year and I have many friends there and I know it well, or rather, well enough. Peru, however, I know less. I have gone maybe two, three times for conferences and meetings," the pope told journalists aboard the papal flight.

There was no mention of increased security for the Chilean visit. Three days earlier, several Chilean churches were firebombed, and police found other, unexploded devices at two other churches in Santiago. Some of the pamphlets included the phrase, "The next bombs will be in your cassock" and spoke of the Mapuche cause.

Before flying to Peru Jan. 18, Pope Francis will visit Iquique, where he will celebrate Mass on Lobito beach.

In Peru Jan. 18-21, will visit Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo.

He will also meet with the indigenous people of the Amazon during his visit to Puerto Maldonado. The Amazon rainforest includes territory belonging to nine countries in South America and has experienced significant deforestation, negatively impacting the indigenous populations in the area and leading to a loss of biodiversity.

In both countries, he will work to restore trust and encourage healing after scandals left many wounded and angry at the Catholic Church.

Shortly after take-off from Rome, Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, distributed a photo card the pope wished to share with journalists aboard his flight from Rome.

The photo depicted a young Japanese boy shortly after the bombing in Nagasaki, waiting in line, carrying his dead baby brother on his back to the crematorium. On the back of the card, the words "The fruit of war" were written along with Pope Francis' signature.

Before greeting each of the 70 journalists, the pope said that he found the photo "by chance" and "was very moved when I saw this."

"I could only write 'the fruit of war.' I wanted to print it and give it to you because such an image is more moving than a thousand words," he said.

Responding to a journalist's question about nuclear war, Pope Francis said: "I think we are at the very limit. I am really afraid of this. One accident is enough to precipitate things."

The Peru-Chile trip is Pope Francis' fourth to South America. In July 2013, he visited Brazil for World Youth Day. In July 2015, he traveled to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. His trip to Colombia in September was his third visit to the continent as pope.

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Contributing to this story was Jane Chambers in Santiago.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @ArochoJu.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Fear becomes sin when it leads to hostility toward migrants, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being afraid and concerned about the impact of migration is not a sin, Pope Francis said, but it is a sin to let those fears lead to a refusal to help people in need.

"The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection," the pope said Jan. 14, celebrating Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

While fear is a natural human reaction, he said, "the sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord."

Thousands of migrants and refugees now living in Rome, but coming from more than 60 countries, joined Pope Francis and an international group of cardinals, bishops and priests for the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Sixty of the migrants and refugees carried their homeland's national flags into the basilica before the Mass and hundreds wore the national dress of their countries, including many of the people who read the prayers of the faithful and brought up the gifts at the offertory during the multilingual Mass.

While care for migrants and refugees has been a priority for Pope Francis, the World Day for Migrants and Refugees has been an annual celebration of the Catholic Church for more than 100 years. St. Pius X began the observance in 1914.

After reciting the Angelus in St. Peter's Square after the Mass, Pope Francis announced that "for pastoral reasons" the date of the annual celebration was being moved to the second Sunday of September. The next World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he said, would be marked Sept. 8, 2019.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 258 million people are living outside the country of their birth. The number includes 26 million refugees and asylum seekers, who were forced to flee their homelands because of war or persecution.

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis reflected on Jesus' response to the disciples who asked him where he lived. "Come and you will see," Jesus tells them, inviting them into a relationship where they would welcome and get to know each other.

"His invitation 'Come and see!' is addressed today to all of us, to local communities and to new arrivals," the pope said. "It is an invitation to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, to know and to acknowledge him or her."

For the migrants and refugees, he said, that includes learning about and respecting the laws and customs of their host countries. "It even includes understanding their fears and apprehensions for the future," he added.

For people in the host countries, he said, it means welcoming newcomers, opening oneself "without prejudices to their rich diversity," understanding their hopes, fears and vulnerabilities and recognizing their potential.

'In the true encounter with the neighbor, are we capable of recognizing Jesus Christ who is asking to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated?" Pope Francis asked.

"It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences," the pope said. That is one reason why "we often refuse to encounter the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves."

People in host countries may be afraid that newcomers "will disturb the established order (or) will 'steal' something they have long labored to build up," he said. And the newcomers have their own fears "of confrontation, judgment, discrimination, failure."

Both set of fears, the pope said, "are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view."

Sin, he said, enters the equation only when people refuse to try to understand, to welcome and to see Jesus present in the other, especially "the poor, the rejected, the refugee, the asylum seeker."

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Catholics urged to ignore rhetoric, help immigrants facing deportation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Catholics have a responsibility to look past the noisy rhetoric of the current debate on immigration and answer the "cry of the poor" by engaging with individuals facing deportation.

That was the focus of a National Migration Week discussion Jan. 11 at the Church of St. Francis Assisi in New York examining the plight of individuals affected by President Donald Trump's Jan. 25, 2017, executive order on deportation. Presenters discussed practical actions to extend Christian charity and seek justice.

National Migration Week began Jan. 7 and ends with the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Jan. 14.

"We're talking about being correct with our faith response as Christians. Are detention and deportation the right solutions?" Franciscan Father Julian Jagudilla asked the participants. "Are we here for our interests or the interests of the people we serve?"

Father Jagudilla, director of the Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi since 2012, detailed routes to legal immigration and said there are more than 12 million people who face removal from the United States because of an irregular or precarious immigration status.

This number is made up of more than 11.4 million people in the country without legal permission and about 700,000 "Dreamers," those currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Also included are 325,000 people from 13 countries whose Temporary Protected Status has been terminated, and 60,000 unaccompanied minors who fled Central America in 2014.

The executive order, "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States," described people in the country without legal authorization as being "a significant threat to national security and public safety" and also described the priorities for deporting "removable aliens."

Father Jagudilla said those individuals make up 3 percent of the U.S. population and the reasons cited in the order for their removal are vaguely worded and open to broad interpretation.

The Catholic Church shies away from using provocative words to describe immigrants because such words are "an assault and insult to their dignity" and contradict "what we believe about the value of the human person," Father Jagudilla said.

The Migrant Center was founded at the Franciscan parish in 1999 and has a mission to minister "to people who are alienated, displaced or persecuted, the 'pilgrims and strangers' in our midst and welcome immigrants and migrants of all ethnic backgrounds regardless of political or religious affiliation."

Father Jagudilla said the center has given legal, advocacy and education services to more than 3,000 people since it was reinvigorated in 2012.

Legal assistance is provided by two contract attorneys and trained volunteers. The center's education programs include forums on immigrant rights, labor unions and human rights.

"Our battle cry is, 'The power is in your hands'," Father Jagudilla said. "The accurate info we bring people is power. When you know your rights, you can protect yourself from raids and fraudulent practices."

"Through our campaigns, we cautiously engage the undocumented. They trust us because we are from the church. It is a re-victimization if they turn to the Catholic Church and there is nothing for them," Father Jagudilla said.

Migrant Center volunteers visit people held in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Lawrence Omojola, the Migrant Center's volunteer liaison officer to the detainees, described the twice-monthly visits as a corporal work of mercy and an expression of hope.

"For some people detained at the airport on their first trip to the United States, we are the first people they interact with from outside the immigration system. We are representatives from the outside world and a reminder that there is a community that remembers them," he said.

Omojola said most of the detainees at the Elizabeth facility have no prior convictions and some are held for more than one year. "They need someone to listen to them. We don't give advice. We reach out and hear their stories," he said.

Omojola conducts an orientation for volunteer visitors from the Migrant Center. They join volunteers from Jesuit-run St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan on visits organized by First Friends, a local organization that works on behalf of detained immigrants and asylum seekers.

Father Jagudilla said 380,000 to 420,000 people are detained in the U.S. each year by immigration authorities. They are held in 47 private, for-profit detention centers and more than 200 county jails.

Jennifer Engelhart became a volunteer visitor with the Migrant Center through the young adult group at St. Francis of Assisi.

"It was really powerful to look into the face of someone who was trying his best to remain hopeful and positive in a tough and uncertain situation," she said of a recent visit. The 37-year-old construction worker she visited was brought from Mexico as a child. His car was pulled over in a traffic stop 15 months ago and he was detained when he could not produce legal documentation.

"You hear about this on the news, but it's not a reality until you speak with someone who tells you his story," she said.

Father Jagudilla gave urgency to his call for a compassionate response to immigrants without papers when he said a colleague in the immigration movement was detained earlier in the day.

Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, a network of faith and community groups that advocates for immigrants, was arrested Jan. 11 when he appeared for a routine check-in appointment with immigration authorities at the Federal Building in New York.

Ragbir was convicted of a nonviolent felony in 2001 and has fought a deportation order for more than a decade. His arrest sparked street demonstrations in Manhattan.

One of the participants at the St. Francis of Assisi event urged people to call ICE and federal elected officials. The script she offered for the calls included a detention number she said was necessary to identify Ragbir, "even though he's a real person."

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Trump comments 'harsh, offensive,' Vatican newspaper says

IMAGE: CNS/Bob Roller

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In its continuing coverage of the U.S. immigration debate, the Vatican newspaper noted media reports that President Donald Trump "used particularly harsh and offensive words about immigrants" from several countries.

"No agreement on Dreamers" was the headline on the lead story for L'Osservatore Romano's edition dated Jan. 13 and published late Jan. 12.

In the past few days, the paper reported, "the tension on the theme of immigration has risen noticeably" with Trump and a bipartisan group from Congress meeting Jan. 11 to discuss a measure that would keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program intact, but also include Trump's demands for a border wall.

The program, known by its initials DACA, protects from deportation between 700,000 and 800,000 young people illegally brought to the United States as children.

Based on media reports about the meeting, L'Osservatore said, "Trump used particularly harsh and offensive words about immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and some African countries. The expressions immediately gave rise to controversy and indignation."

The Associated Press and other media outlets reported that, according to people present at the meeting, Trump questioned "why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and '(expletive) countries'" in Africa.

While the Vatican newspaper noted that the White House did not immediately deny the remarks, Trump later tweeted, "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."

The Vatican newspaper also noted that a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked Trump's decision to rescind DACA and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Jan. 8 that it was ending a provision called Temporary Protected Status for some 200,000 citizens of El Salvador currently in the United States.

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Update: Pope faces challenge of restoring trust in wake of Peru, Chile scandals

IMAGE: CNS photo/Pablo Sanhueza, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis embarks on his fourth visit to South America, he will face the enormous task of restoring trust and encouraging healing after scandals in Chile and Peru left many wounded and angry at the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis planned the Jan. 15-21 trip as an opportunity to take a message of hope and comfort to people on the margins of society, particularly the indigenous people.

However, the challenges facing the church in both Chile and Peru will make this visit different from his previous trips to South America.

In Peru, young members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Catholic movement, were subjected to psychological and sexual abuse by group leaders, including the founder, Luis Fernando Figari. An internal Sodalitium investigation confirmed the abuse of children, teens and young adult members of the movement.

Less than a week before the pope's visit to Peru, the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life named a Colombian bishop to be the trustee of the scandal-plagued movement.

The Vatican said Jan. 10 that Pope Francis followed the case "with concern" and "insistently requested" the congregation to act.

Despite his actions to address the issue of sexual abuse in Peru, his decision to appoint a bishop accused of turning a blind eye to abuse drew outrage in Chile.

The pope's appointment of Bishop Juan Barros as head of the Diocese of Osorno in January 2015 sparked several protests -- most notably at the bishop's installation Mass -- due to the bishop's connection to Father Fernando Karadima, his former mentor.

Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters Jan. 11 that Pope Francis' formal schedule for Chile and Peru does not include a meeting with sexual abuse victims or with the people still protesting Bishop Barros' appointment. Sexual abuse is "clearly an important theme," Burke said, adding "the best meetings are private meetings."

The Associated Press Jan. 11 published what it said was a letter from Pope Francis to members of the permanent committee of the Chilean bishops' conference just three weeks after Bishop Barros' appointment to Osorno was announced. The Vatican would not comment on the letter.

In it, Pope Francis thanked the committee members for expressing their "concern" over the appointment as well as for their "prudent and constructive" suggestions made to him in February 2014.

According to the letter, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, the nuncio to Chile, asked Bishop Barros to resign as military ordinary and take a sabbatical. The nuncio, the letter said, told Bishop Barros' that two other bishops connected to Father Karadima would be asked to do the same. "The nuncio's comment complicated and blocked any eventual path to offering a year's sabbatical," the pope wrote without further clarification.

Bishop Barros was installed as bishop of Osorno March 21, 2015.

The protests against the appointment gained steam when a video of Pope Francis defending the appointment was published in September 2015 by the Chilean news channel, Ahora Noticias. Filmed during a general audience a few months earlier, the video showed the pope telling a group of Chilean pilgrims that Catholics protesting the appointment were "judging a bishop without any proof."

"Think with your head; don't let yourself be led by all the lefties who are the ones that started all of this," the pope said. "Yes, Osorno is suffering but for being foolish because it doesn't open its heart to what God says and allows itself to be led by all this silliness that all those people say."

Many were outraged by the pope's assessment of the situation, including several of Father Karadima's victims, who organized an event to coincide with Pope Francis' arrival in the country.

The conference, titled "Sexual Abuse in an Ecclesiastical Context," is sponsored by the Foundation for Trust and will feature several notable speakers, including Peter Saunders, a former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

"The fact that the pope is coming and we are having this seminar is because many people are coming to show their commitment to the rights of children as well as their anger at the lack of reaction and the mistaken words the pope gave," Jose Andres Murillo, director of the foundation for people who suffered abuse at the hands of Father Karadima, said in an interview with Chilean news website, El Mostrador.

Protesters from the Diocese of Osorno are also expected to be in Santiago, calling on the pope to remove Bishop Barros.

Meanwhile, in an open letter published on Jesuit news blog Reflexion y Liberacion, a group of Chilean students said they hoped Pope Francis' visit would bring about true change "not just in our holy and sinful church but also the world."

"We hope that you will be courageous, that you give a face to the invisible men and women of Chile, that you confront the true reality of the country and not allow yourself to be hoodwinked by the lies sold by the business community, political authorities and even many of our ecclesiastical authorities," the students wrote.

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Catholic Charities in Iowa archdiocese ends refugee resettlement program

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Russo, The Witness

By Dan Russo

DUBUQUE, Iowa (CNS) -- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque is preparing to end its refugee resettlement program after 77 years in operation.

The primary reason the program is closing down is because the numbers of refugees are down.

The U.S. Department of State decreased the number of refugees who can legally seek refuge in the United States from 110,000 to 45,000 annually. Also, the department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration recently announced that all refugee resettlement sites across the country will be required to resettle at least 100 refugees annually to stay open.

These federal changes are happening when the needs of local refugees also are being met by other groups, and as a result Catholic Charities will not be able to meet the new minimal threshold required.

"Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque has been resettling refugees from all over the world in eastern Iowa since 1940, primarily in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo," said Tracy Morrison, the agency's executive director, in a Dec. 18 statement. "It's a loss for our entire community."

"Our faith guides us to believe in the dignity of all persons and the need to protect the most vulnerable, especially refugees and migrants. It is with a heavy heart that we announce the ending of this ministry," added Dubuque Archbishop Michael O. Jackels.

Catholic Charities' refugee resettlement program employed three full-time staff and two AmeriCorps members. There also were other staff members at the agency who didn't work in the program directly, but their jobs will be impacted.

"Some employees will be laid off, others will be transitioned into other ministries," Morrison told The Witness, Dubuque's archdiocesan newspaper.

Catholic Charities will continue to help newcomers to the country through the agency's legal aid program for immigrants.

Morrison said the demand for legal services is so high that the charity is looking into hiring another attorney.

Mary Ready, refugee resettlement manager at the agency, said the "ultimate reward" for her in working with the program has been "seeing families reunited."

"We worked (with those who had) U.S. ties. The refugees who arrived here always had family," she said.

One particularly heartwarming scene Ready said she'll always remember was an airport arrival where a father got to meet his son for the first time because his wife was pregnant when they were separated.

"Getting to witness those moments and to hear families say they finally feel at home and they're happy to be back with their family, that's the most memorable," she said, adding that she hopes other groups will be able to continue this service.

Catholic Charities has been providing key assistance to refugees for a 90-day period after they arrive as part of an agreement with the U.S. government. They received federal funds for this purpose as one of several approved refugee resettlement providers in Iowa. In December, they began assisting a family and another individual, and will stay with these cases until the 90-day period is concluded. After that, the agency's resettlement program will end. In the past year, they assisted 49 refugees, down from 94 the previous year.

"Prior to these December arrivals, we had not resettled a family since June and so our program has been slowed down substantially by these decreasing numbers," said Morrison.

Catholics from the communities where refugees were settled have played an important role in recent years, doing everything from mentoring refugees to providing material support, according to Ready. "The volunteers are really the ones that help them go from surviving to thriving and becoming comfortable in the community," she said.

Morrison said Catholic Charities also would consider reopening the resettlement program should conditions change. For now, it remains committed to supporting refugees and immigrants through its Immigration Legal Services ministry available in several Iowa locations.

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Russo is editor of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

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Ending DACA will lead to 'humanitarian crisis,' says Archbishop Gomez

IMAGE: REUTERS

By

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Congress must separate "the conversation about DACA" from the "larger issues" about U.S. immigration policy, because allowing the program to expire will lead "to a humanitarian crisis," especially in Los Angeles, said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

"As a nation, we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to the 'Dreamers.' These young people have done nothing wrong. And their futures hang in the balance of these debates," he wrote in a column. "So, I hope you will join me in urging our leaders in Congress to help them in a spirit of generosity and justice."

He urged Americans "to tell our leaders that fixing DACA should be the first step in the systematic immigration reform that has long been overdue in our country."

Archbishop Gomez's column, dated Jan. 9, was posted on the websites of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Angelus News, its multimedia platform.

"Once again, we begin a new year with uncertainty and fear over immigration, and this year our leaders in Congress face a hard deadline" to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, said Archbishop Gomez.

Within the borders of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, he said, there will be a humanitarian crisis if DACA ends because an estimated 125,000 young people protected by the program live there. DACA protects between 700,000 and 800,000 young people.

"The story of these young people ' is well-known. Brought to this country as children by undocumented parents or family members, they are not 'illegal' through any fault of their own," Archbishop Gomez wrote. "The 'Dreamers' have lived their whole lives in this country -- many are now in their 30s.

"And during their lifetime, leaders in Washington have not been able to reach an agreement to fix the broken immigration system that allowed them to enter in the first place."

In September, President Donald Trump announced that in March, he would end DACA, which President Barack Obama created by executive order in 2012. At the same time, Trump called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution by then to keep the program in place.

Obama instituted the program to protect young people whose parents brought them into the country as minors when they entered the U.S. without legal permission. DACA has allowed them to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and get a work permit.

Advocates around the country have rallied to urge passage of the DREAM Act -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries.

On Jan. 9, Trump and a bipartisan group from Congress met to discuss a measure that would keep DACA intact and include Trump's demands for a border wall and other security measures.

The same day, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked Trump's decision to rescind DACA, saying the U.S. government must start accepting renewal applications again from current beneficiaries of the program. The ruling, which is certain to be appealed, also said the government does not have to accept applications from those not currently covered by DACA.

"Today, the 'Dreamers' are the 'poster children' for how broken our system is and how unhealthy and unproductive our political discourse has become," Archbishop Gomez wrote. "By any measure, these are the kind of young people that our country should be encouraging.

"Nearly everyone -- 97 percent -- is either in school or in the workforce. About 5 percent have already started their own business; 15 percent have bought their first homes," he continued. "These are good kids and we should want to help them to develop their God-given potentials, to keep their families together and to make their own contribution to the American dream."

The archbishop said U.S. business leaders feel DACA recipients "are vital to our economic future."

"In a letter to congressional leaders in September, more than 800 executives representing every sector of the economy agreed that DACA youths contribute more than $460 billion to our economy and another $24 billion in taxes," he said.

Since so many Americans agree on their contributions to the country, fixing the program that protects them "should be easy," he said, but instead "these young people find themselves stuck in the middle of a much broader debate about border walls, national security and the inner workings of our visa system."

"This debate is passionate and partisan, as it should be," Archbishop Gomez said. "Systematic reform of our immigration policy is absolutely vital to our nation's future. And we need to have this conversation."

The nation's immigration system "has been broken for too long and there is too much that is wrong," he added, saying that "a serious debate about border security" is also important.

"No one disagrees that we need to secure our borders and protect ourselves from those who would do harm to us," he explained, but he urged the larger debate about border security and other immigration reforms be handled separately from the DACA issue.

"Congress should take the time to debate the issues properly and to truly fashion an immigration system that reflects the global realities of the 21st-century economy," the archbishop said.

Besides discussing various proposals for protecting the border, he said, other issues to be debated should include how the country grants visas; what types of guest-worker programs are needed to provide workers, especially for the agricultural industry; and an honest examination of assumptions that immigrants take jobs from Americans.

Also, "we need to think more clearly about our labor needs in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement," Archbishop Gomez said.

"The point is that we need a total reform of our immigration system, and it should not be tied to the current debate over DACA and the 'Dreamers,'" he added.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Don't rush through silence at Mass, pope says at general audience

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The silence that precedes the opening prayer at Mass is an opportunity for Christians to commend to God the fate of the church and the world, Pope Francis said.

Departing from his prepared text at his weekly general audience Jan. 10, the pope urged priests "to observe this brief silence and not hurry."

"I recommend this to the priests. Without this silence, we risk neglecting the reflection of the soul," he said.

Continuing his series of audience talks on the Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the Gloria and the opening prayer.

After the encounter between "human misery and divine mercy" experienced in the penitential rite, the faithful are invited to sing the ancient hymn of praise that was sung by the angels after Christ's birth, the pope said.

"The feelings of praise that run through the hymn," he said, "are intertwined with the confident pleading of divine benevolence" that characterizes the entire liturgy and "establishes an opening of earth to heaven."

After the hymn, the priest invites the assembly to pray and observes a moment of silence so that the faithful may be conscious of the fact that they are in God's presence and formulate their petitions, the pope explained.

This silence, he said, is not just an absence of words but a time to listen "to other voices: that of our heart and, above all, the voice of the Holy Spirit."

"Perhaps we come from days of toil, of joy, of sorrow and we want to tell the Lord, to invoke his help, to ask that he be near us; we have family members and friends who are ill or who are going through difficult trials," the pope said.

The priest's posture -- with hands outstretched in supplication -- is also an important sign as it is an imitation of Christ with his arms open on the cross, the pope said.

"In the crucifix, we recognize the priest who offers pleasing worship to God; that is, filial obedience," he said.

Pope Francis said that pondering the prayers and gestures, which are "rich in meaning," Christians can make "many beautiful meditations" that can benefit their spiritual lives.  

"To go back and meditate on the texts, even outside of Mass, can help us to learn how to turn to God, what to ask, which words to use," the pope said. "May the liturgy become for all of us a true school of prayer."

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Basketball helps priests teach New Jersey students about vocations

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Blaine

By Mary Stadnyk and Rich Fisher

HOLMDEL, N.J. (CNS) -- Students at St. John Vianney High School expected their recent pep rally to be fun, colorful and filled with good-natured competition.

But they were completely taken by surprise during the pre-Christmas celebration when six priests ran out onto the basketball court for a friendly exhibition game -- all with the intention to teach about vocations.

The basketball game was a way "to reach out and let them know that priests are approachable and they, too, can enjoy hobbies," said Father Michael Wallack, priest secretary to Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton and diocesan director of vocations.

He said he hoped that through the game, the message was conveyed that priests "don't always just stay in the church all week, waiting for Sunday."

"Most people don't really know what a priest does during the week besides writing a homily," said Father Wallack, who was joined on the court by Father John Michael Patilla, parochial vicar of St. Benedict Parish, in Holmdel and chaplain in St. John Vianney High School; Father Augusto Gamalo, parochial vicar of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Hamilton Square; Father Thomas Vala and Father Gregg Abadilla, pastor and parochial vicar, respectively, of St. Clement Parish in Matawan; and Father Dean Gaudio, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Avon-by-the-Sea.

It didn't take long before the game between the St. John Vianney Lancers and the priests, who called themselves God Squad II, went from being a friendly game of hoops to a competitive match that resulted in a 4-2 win for high schoolers. The diocesan communications staff produced a video of the game.

Also evident in the video and in comments following the game was the strong camaraderie between the priests as they reflected on how basketball could serve as an effective vocation recruitment tool.

"Sports is a good avenue to promote vocations and meet kids where they are at," Father Patilla said.

Afteward, Father Vala, who smiled when he said he lasted longer than he thought he would in the game, thought the "kids got a kick out of it."

The priests enjoyed sharing a bit on how they prepared for the game with Father Gamalo saying "there's some prayers involved," especially because the priests did not have the opportunity to practice beforehand. Listening to upbeat music and watching games on television helped to motivate Father Gamalo and Father Abadilla give their all to the game.

Father Gaudio smiled as he shared how he thought the goal of the game was to show students that priests "are not all 70 years old" and can be everyday men who like sports.

"I would like to think there was a young man in today's crowd who might be thinking of a vocation to the priesthood, and our appearance at the game got him thinking about it even more," said Father Gaudio, who used to play basketball for Bound Brook High School and on an intramural team in St. Bonaventure University.

Father Vala said he hoped that through activities such as sports or music, the students can get to know a priest and share a friendship with him. And through that friendship, he hoped students would feel comfortable approaching a priest when thinking about the priesthood as a vocation.

"The priesthood is a vocation to serve God, and in doing so, you touch the lives of others when you reach out to them and make a positive difference in their lives," he said.

"When I embraced my Catholic faith in a serious and responsible way, I found meaning and purpose," he added, saying that being a priest has "brought me the joy and happiness that I sought in my life."

After the game, James Guilbert, a senior and varsity basketball player at the high school, said he thought the game allowed the St. John Vianney community to "see a different aspect of priests lives and that they live normal lives, too."

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Editor's Note: A video of the game is available online at http://bit.ly/2Fg5pNe.

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Stadnyk is associate editor of and Fisher writes for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Catholic groups decry end of immigration protection for Salvadorans

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the Catholic Church in the U.S. began observing National Migration Week, a time to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, immigrants, refugees, and human trafficking victims, the administration of President Donald Trump announced that it would end an immigration program for thousands of Salvadorans, one of the largest groups of modern-day immigrants in the country and one that includes many Catholics.

More than 200,000 Salvadorans, living under a special immigration status in the U.S., now face the prospect of staying in the country illegally or returning to a nation designated as one of the most dangerous in the world not at war, after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Jan. 8 that it was ending a provision called Temporary Protected Status after Sept. 9, 2019.

"The decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador was made after a review of the disaster-related conditions upon which the country's original designation was based," DHS said in a statement. Salvadorans affected can apply to stay under a different program, if they qualify, or make plans to return to their home country, the statement continued.

Citizens of El Salvador were able to apply for TPS in 2001 after the Central American nation experienced a series of major earthquakes. TPS grants a work permit and a reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations, to remain temporarily in the United States. El Salvador had previously received the designation in 1990 after thousands of Salvadorans fled to the U.S. seeking refuge from a brutal civil war.

Supporters of the Salvadorans said current TPS recipients should be allowed to stay because they have built families and are firmly rooted in the U.S.and local faith communities.

Catholic bishops and organizations have expressed concern that Salvadorans would be forced to return to a socially unstable country that is ravaged by gangs and has been designated by various organizations as one of the most dangerous places in the world and one not equipped to absorb such a large-scale repatriation.

"From our experience working with the Catholic Church and other local partners in El Salvador, the Salvadoran government does not have adequate humanitarian capacity to receive, protect, or integrate back into society safely this many people," said Catholic Relief Services in a statement released shortly after the decision was announced.

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Texas-based Hope Border Institute, said the administration's decision would instead create an additional 200,000 "soon-to-be undocumented immigrants" in the U.S.

"Today, the Trump administration unnecessarily and cruelly put the security, safety, families and lives of over 200,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients, including over 35,000 in Texas, in jeopardy. Deporting them will mean uprooting and destroying families and livelihoods and sending families back to poverty and violence in one of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world," Corbett said. "And make no mistake, we as Americans through our trade and security policies, and because of our insatiable appetite for drugs, are morally implicated in the crisis in El Salvador and Central America."

Recalling the words of Pope Francis, Corbett said building walls, detaining human beings and "deporting our Salvadoran sisters and brothers is just another example of how the Trump administration is stirring up 'primal fears' for political advantage."

A big concern for Catholic organizations and leaders is the 192,000 U.S.-born children of Salvadoran families.

"This is yet another ill-conceived decision by an administration that ignores the immense contributions to our country by immigrants and that has lost sight of the United States' long history as a safe haven for people who flee danger abroad," said Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, chairman of the board of the Maryland-based Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. 

"By terminating TPS for El Salvador, hundreds of thousands of people, including U.S. citizen children and extended family, will be faced with wrenching decisions about how to proceed with their lives," Bishop Vann said. "The administration fails to address how it makes the United States any safer to expel people who have been living and working legally as valued residents of our country. Instead of withdrawing their protections, our government should welcome these long-term, settled members of our communities and find ways to give them a permanent path to residency."

In a statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Committee on Migration, said the administration's decision was "heartbreaking."

"We believe that God has called us to care for the foreigner and the marginalized ... Our nation must not turn its back on TPS recipients and their families; they too are children of God," he said in a statement.

While urging Congress to find a solution, Bishop Vasquez said the USCCB stands in solidarity with Salvadoran TPS recipients and that the bishops would continue to pray for them, their families, "and all those who are displaced or forced to flee from their homes."

The Center for Migration Studies in New York said 88 percent of Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries are employed, many are homeowners, and typically have lived in the U.S. for 21 years. Returning them to El Salvador would be "destabilizing," said Donald Kerwin, the center's executive director, said in a statement.

"Today's decision creates many losers, and no winners," he said. "The losers include the TPS recipients themselves, their employers, their U.S. citizen children, their U.S. communities, El Salvador, and the U.S. economy. The rule of law is another loser as the decision will relegate hard working legal immigrants into persons without status and force TPS beneficiaries and their U.S. children to return to violence-plagued communities without good economic prospects."

Ricardo Calderon, of the Central American Resource Center in San Francisco, told Catholic News Service that the affected Salvadorans have suffered what amounts to "psychological torture" while waiting for the administration's decision.

Many have felt anger, worry, uncertainty, wondering what will happen to their children and to their family members abroad who depend on them. Some are scrambling to understand the decision since there is so much misinformation, he said.

Though the conditions that led to the TPS designation may have improved in El Salvador, it makes no sense to ignore the conditions that continue to plague the country and which seem daunting to those who are facing them: lack of jobs, rampant crime, and a long list of social ills, Calderon added.

The Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network said returning, for many Salvadorans, means returning to danger.

"We have become familiar with the reality of Salvadoran TPS holders through the stories of individuals in our Ignatian network," the organization said in a statement. "These women and men of all ages -- whom we know as students, teachers, colleagues, parishioners -- are faced with a future of uncertainty and grave risk for themselves and their families as they contemplate a return to the violence and impunity in El Salvador."

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Pope to diplomats: World peace depends on right to life, disarmament

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Because everyone has a right to life, liberty and personal security, nations must find nonviolent solutions to conflict and difficulties, Pope Francis said.

A culture of peace "calls for unremitting efforts in favor of disarmament and the reduction of recourse to the use of armed force in the handling of international affairs," he said Jan. 8 in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican.

Given the urgent need to favor dialogue and diplomacy in conflict resolution and to end the stockpiling of weapons, "I would therefore like to encourage a serene and wide-ranging debate on the subject, one that avoids polarizing the international community on such a sensitive issue," the pope said.

At the start of a new year, the pope dedicated his speech to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly in December.

The declaration was an attempt to help the world's nations base their relations on "truth, justice, willing cooperation and freedom" by upholding the fundamental rights of all human beings, he said. The very foundation of freedom, justice and world peace, he said, quoting the document, is built on recognizing and respecting these rights.

However, in his nearly 50-minute speech to the diplomats, the pope cautioned that there has been a movement to create "new rights" that often not only conflict with each other, but can be at odds with the traditional values and cultures of many countries, while neglecting the real needs they have to face.

"Somewhat paradoxically, there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable," he said.

Seven decades after the creation of the universal declaration, Pope Francis said, "it is painful to see how many fundamental rights continue to be violated today. First among all of these is the right of every human person to life, liberty and personal security."

War, violence and abortion all infringe on these rights, he said.

Not only are innocent unborn children discarded because they are "ill or malformed, or as a result of the selfishness of adults," the elderly are often cast aside especially when they are infirm, he said.

Ultimately, the right to life entails working for peace, he said, because "without peace, integral human development becomes unattainable."

Integral development, in fact, is intertwined with the need for disarmament, he said. "The proliferation of weapons clearly aggravates situations of conflict and entails enormous human and material costs that undermine development and the search for lasting peace."

The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last year shows how the desire for peace continues to be alive in the world, he said.

"The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced" and "nuclear weapons must be banned," particularly given the risk that a nuclear conflagration could be started by accident, Pope Francis said, quoting St. John XXIII's encyclical on peace, "Pacem in Terris."

"In this regard, it is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean peninsula, in order to find new ways of overcoming the current disputes, increasing mutual trust and ensuring a peaceful future for the Korean people and the entire world," Pope Francis said.

Fostering dialogue is also of primary importance for Israelis and Palestinians "in the wake of the tensions of recent weeks," he said, apparently referring to demonstrations that took place after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Pope Francis had said such a move would further destabilize the Middle East.

In his speech to diplomats, the pope repeated the Vatican's long-standing position that any policy change in the Holy Land must "be carefully weighed so as to avoid exacerbating hostilities" and should respect the "the status quo of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims."

"Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognized borders," the pope said. "Despite the difficulties, a willingness to engage in dialogue and to resume negotiations remains the clearest way to achieving at last a peaceful coexistence between the two peoples."

In a list of world conflicts of concern, the pope also pointed to the need to support "the various peace initiatives aimed at helping Syria."

"The time for rebuilding has now come," he said, which includes, not just rebuilding destroyed cities, but rebuilding hearts and "the fabric of mutual trust, which is the essential prerequisite for the flourishing of any society."

"There is a need, then, to promote the legal, political and security conditions" for each citizen and to protect all religious minorities, including Christians, he said.

"The right to freedom of thought, conscience and of religion, including the freedom to change religion," must be upheld around the globe, the pope said.

Instead, "it is well-known that the right to religious freedom is often disregarded, and not infrequently religion becomes either an occasion for the ideological justification of new forms of extremism or a pretext for the social marginalization of believers, if not their downright persecution," he said.

Turning from events unfolding on the world stage, the pope drew attention to the daily reality of families, urging countries to support the bedrock of all stable, creative societies: "that faithful and indissoluble communion of love that joins man and woman" in marriage.

"I consider it urgent, then, that genuine policies be adopted to support the family, on which the future and the development of states depend," he said, adding that "without this, it is not possible to create societies capable of meeting the challenges of the future."

Neglecting families has led to sharply declining birth rates in some countries, which is a sign of a nation that is struggling to face the challenges of the present and fearful of the future.

The pope also warned against talking about migrants and migration "only for the sake of stirring up primal fears." The movements of peoples have always existed and the freedom of movement -- to leave one's homeland and to return -- is a fundamental human right, he said.

"There is a need, then, to abandon the familiar rhetoric and start from the essential consideration that we are dealing, above all, with persons," he said.

Another urgent task before humanity, the pope said, is caring for the earth.

"One must not downplay the importance of our own responsibility in interaction with nature. Climate changes, with the global rise in temperatures and their devastating effects, are also a consequence of human activity," he said.

Therefore, people must work together, he said, including by upholding commitments agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Accord, and leave "to coming generations a more beautiful and livable world," he said.

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Churches no longer exempt from FEMA disaster aid

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency is revising its policies to no longer exclude houses of worship from applying for federal aid to recover from damages caused by natural disasters.

The policy change was outlined in the agency's revised 217-page manual: "Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide" issued Jan. 2.

This change is not just for damage caused in future disasters but also affects claims made by churches last year from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma because it can be applied retroactively to claims made "on or after Aug. 23, 2017."

An introduction to the new FEMA manual credits the change in policy to a Supreme Court decision last June, which ruled that Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri should not have been denied a public benefit just because it is a church. The court's 7-2 decision specifically referred to the church-run preschool and said it should not be excluded from a state grant program to refurbish its playground surface just because it is a religious entity.

"In light of the Trinity Lutheran decision, FEMA has considered its guidance on private nonprofit facility eligibility," the agency's new document says, pointing out that houses of worship would not be excluded from eligibility for FEMA aid on the basis of the religious character or primarily religious use of the facility.

Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for the Becket Fund, representing Texas churches and Florida synagogues that have sued FEMA over not getting federal disaster aid, welcomed the policy change.

"Better late than never," he said in a statement. "By finally following the Constitution, FEMA is getting rid of second-class status for churches, which in the words of the Supreme Court was 'odious' to the First Amendment. We will watch carefully to make sure that FEMA's new policy implemented to provide equal treatment for churches and synagogues alongside other charities."

Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, was similarly pleased with the FEMA decision.

"The destruction due to the flooding and hurricanes is of such a magnitude that the government must help in the response," he said in a statement.

The Knights of Columbus have given $1.4 million to repair or help rebuild churches that were destroyed or badly damaged in hurricanes last year in Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization also raised $3.8 million for disaster relief in these areas.

Anderson said church repair has been a key component of Knights' relief efforts, stressing that "help from both the government and the nonprofit sector in the restoring of churches and other spaces dedicated to religious activities will send an important signal that these communities are coming back, that the spirit of the people is alive and well." It also helps these houses of worship with the many charitable and social services they provide, he added.

The battle over getting federal funds to restore storm-damaged church property has been in a legal tangle since last year when three Texas churches severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey were denied federal aid. The churches filed a lawsuit against FEMA over its policy accusing the agency of religious discrimination. Two Florida synagogues damaged in Hurricane Irma similarly filed lawsuits.

The Texas churches appealed the agency's decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied them emergency relief but agreed to hear the case in February. Another request for an emergency injunction for these churches has been pending at the Supreme Court.

The three churches are the Rockport First Assembly of God in Rockport, which lost its roof and steeple and had other structural damage, the Harvest Family Church in Cypress, and Hi-Way Tabernacle in Cleveland, which were both flooded.

President Donald Trump has said on Twitter that places of worship damaged in hurricanes should be able to receive federal aid from FEMA.

This past fall, the issue of FEMA disaster aid going to faith-based groups has been making its way through Congress. In late November, a committee approved the Disaster Recovery Reform Act which would open the doors for church groups to seek FEMA aid, but the bill was awaiting deliberation from the House floor.

Chairmen of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty and the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs supported the measure in letters sent to members of the House and Senate.

The letters, signed by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the religious liberty committee, and Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, chairman of the ecumenical committee, said the bill regarding FEMA aid and houses of worship "is not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment that conforms to constitutional protections."

"It should be noted that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, houses of worship often play an irreplaceable role in the recovery of a community," they wrote. "Discrimination that treats houses of worship as ineligible for federal assistance in the wake of a natural disaster, beyond being a legal violation, hurts the very communities most affected by the indiscriminate force of nature."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Pope visits sick children on eve of Epiphany

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By

FIUMICINO, Italy (CNS) -- On the eve of Epiphany, when most Italian children wake up to find gifts and candy, Pope Francis visited a pediatric hospital outside Rome.

The pope arrived at the Palidoro Bambino Gesu Hospital at about 3 p.m. Jan. 5 and visited the various wards where about 120 children are receiving treatment, according to the Vatican press office.

The pope greeted the children and "exchanged some words of comfort with the parents who are caring for their children in their tiring and painful trials," the statement said.

Visiting the hospital, Pope Francis was "continuing the experience of the Mercy Fridays," visits he made to hospitals, orphanages and other care facilities during the 2015-16 Year of Mercy.

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Update: Congo's Catholic leaders condemn attacks on protesters, churches

IMAGE: REUTERS

By

KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- Congolese church leaders, including the nation's cardinal, condemned security forces' attacks on Catholic protesters that left at least five dead and 120 people detained.

The Vatican Embassy in Kinshasa backed local church officials, saying that "the promotion of social justice and the defense of political and civil rights of citizens are an integral part of the social doctrine of the church."

The Jan. 2 statement said the nuncio was keeping the Vatican Secretariat of State informed, but people should not look for approval or condemnation "because it is standard in the church to respect the competence of the diocesan bishops."

The nunciature also updated the number of dead and churches involved.

The Dec. 31 protest against rule by President Joseph Kabila was organized by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay coordination committee. At least six priests and a seminarian were among those detained.

"We condemn with utmost vigor this unjustified violence," the Congolese bishops' conference said in a statement Jan. 2.

"We similarly denounce this attack on freedom of worship, which is guaranteed in every democratic state, as well as the profanation of churches and physical aggression against the faithful and their priests."

The statement said the bishops were "profoundly shocked by such ignoble acts," and would demand a "serious and objective inquiry" into who was responsible.

Police also used tear gas and batons against Massgoers in some of the capital's parishes and violently broke up attempted marches in which protesters demanded fresh elections in the country. The nunciature said 134 churches were surrounded by police, and at least two parishes were not permitted to celebrate Mass Dec. 31. In five parishes, Mass was interrupted by security forces.

In a statement, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa called the response "nothing short of barbaric." He said people at Mass, armed only with Bibles and rosaries, were attacked with tear gas.

"How can we trust leaders incapable of protecting the population, of guaranteeing peace, justice and love of people?" the cardinal asked a news conference. "How can we trust leaders who trample on religious freedom of the people, religious freedom which is the foundation of all freedom?"

A U.N. spokeswoman initially said seven deaths had been recorded in Kinshasa, and another at Kananga. Congolese authorities denied that the deaths were linked to the protests, but the nunciature documented the parishes where the five deaths occurred.

The violence was condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who urged Kabila's government to show restraint and "respect the rights of Congolese people to free expression."

The Catholic Church makes up around half the 67.5 million inhabitants of Congo, and the bishops have pressed Kabila to step down since his second and final term expired in December 2016.

Later, a church-brokered accord allowed the president to stay in office, alongside an opposition head of government, pending elections by the end of 2017. However, in November, Congo's Electoral Commission said the ballot would be postponed until Dec. 23, 2018.

In a November statement, the bishops' conference said church observers had recorded 56 deaths and 355 arrests in half a year of opposition protests. They urged Kabila to release political detainees and stick to the Dec. 31, 2016, accord.

The rector of Kinshasa's St. Alphonse Parish, Msgr. Hugues Ndongisila, told Radio France Internationale that police had beaten and robbed Catholics when they sought refuge in his church, also shooting out its stained-glass windows. He said the bodies of two dead protesters had later been collected by the Red Cross.

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Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is supported in part by Aid to the Church in Need -- USA (www.acnusa.org).

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In op-ed, border bishop pleads for TPS leniency for sake of children

IMAGE: CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Days before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decides whether to extend or terminate a special immigration status for some 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S., a border bishop pleaded with the Trump administration to think about the well-being of the immigrants' children who are U.S. citizens.

In a Jan. 2 opinion piece for the Washington-based political website The Hill, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said he worries for families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others have a less permanent immigration status.

He asked what will happen to the children of Salvadorans who have Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, if the program ends and people are forced to return to their homeland. TPS grants a work permit and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations so they can remain temporarily in the United States.

"A question that burns in my heart is what will happen to these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will become of their futures?" Bishop Seitz asked in the opinion piece.

DHS was expected to decide by Jan. 8 what to do in the case of Salvadorans with TPS, but various groups in the country, including a national coalition of cities and counties, are clamoring to allow them to stay.

"The Salvadoran TPS recipients we represent have deep roots in our communities. Allowing their TPS status to expire will divide families and harm our cities. Salvadoran TPS recipients have lived in the United States for an average of 21 years and have 192,700 U.S.-born children," said a letter issued Jan. 3 by Cities for Action, which includes signatures from 19 bipartisan mayors of major U.S. cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington.

Salvadoran TPS recipients arrived in the U.S. because of war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as increasing gang violence plaguing the Central American nation.

"These individuals took refuge in our city and have since become deeply embedded in our economy, houses of worship, schools and neighborhoods," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Cities for Action letter.

In his op-ed, Bishop Seitz cites the economic contributions of the recipients and said their absence, should TPS end for them, will be felt financially and directly in certain industries, such as home health care and construction, not to mention the loss of taxes they pay to the local and federal government. But there's a more noble and Christian reason to help TPS recipients, he said.

"How we treat the most vulnerable in our society is reflective of who we are and whether we have learned anything in the 2,000 years since the birth of another immigrant child, born in a stable because his parents could find no room for him at the inn -- an event we have just celebrated," he wrote.

"In my role as a bishop of the Catholic Church, I have served and stood by countless Central American families. I have been a guest in their homes and at their first Communions, graduations, confirmations, weddings. I have seen these families flourish despite incredible obstacles," he continued.

Ending TPS for Salvadorans would mean putting the lives of the parents as well as their children at risk, and permitting the "possibility of being hunted by gangs and identified for extortion, gang recruitment and worse in a country that they don't call home," he added.

In 2017, Bishop Seitz and other bishops traveled to El Salvador and Honduras "to examine conditions on the ground in both countries and to assess whether those conditions merit an end to TPS," he said.

Their delegation determined "large-scale protection issues if TPS holders are forced to return to their home countries, particularly El Salvador," he said in the op-ed.

"Will these families face separation and breakdown, so that their U.S.-citizen child can access the benefits of an American education? Or will families stay together and leave to their parents' home countries, facing a decided lack of opportunity and, worse, extreme violence and possible exploitation? The end of TPS for El Salvador would force such a heartbreaking decision upon thousands of families," he wrote.

He said he met with youth "who tearfully explained to me why they attempted to migrate north, forced out of their homes, extorted by gangs. I have heard from young girls who faced sexual assault and domestic abuse; teenage boys have spoken with me about being afraid to go to school because of the fear of encountering gangs on the way and having to pay daily to enter and leave their neighborhood."

If TPS for Salvadorans is not extended, those forced to leave and their U.S.-born children will face those conditions, too, he said.

"Worse, they may be targeted precisely because of their U.S. citizenship status, their American habits and their English-language skills," he wrote. "I steadfastly pray that our national leaders do not turn their backs on these children by closing the door to their parents."

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