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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 41 min ago

Short film portrays life of Venerable Augustus Tolton, former slave

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 22:01

Birmingham, Ala., Dec 16, 2019 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- EWTN will release Wednesday a short film on the early life of Venerable John Augustus Tolton - the first African American priest - whose cause for canonization progressed in June.

“ACROSS: The Father Tolton Movie” will debut 10 p.m. ET Dec. 18 on EWTN. It will showcase the boyhood story of Tolton and his journey from a Missouri slave to a freeman in Illinois.

Prior to the film, a discussion will be held by Nashville filmmaker Christopher Foley, the movie’s writer and director, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, the diocesan postulator for Tolton’s sainthood cause. This will take place at 8 p.m. with host Father Mitch Pacwa.

The 36-minute film is in preparation for a full-length feature, which Foley will start producing this summer. He told CNA that the movie is called ACROSS for two reasons - the cross that Tolton carried, and the obstacles he had to conquer.

“He had to go across the ocean to get ordained. He had to get across the Mississippi River to escape slavery, but he had to carry a cross his entire life because he stood out and was different,” Foley said.

“He accepted that and great things came out of it. He made so many converts, and he just sets such a great example for everybody through his perseverance.”

Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri, in 1854. During the Civil War, Tolton and his family escaped slavery.

The young Tolton entered St. Peter’s Catholic School in Quincy, Illinois, with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr. The priest went on to baptize Tolton, instruct him for his first Holy Communion, and recognize his vocation to the priesthood.

Because of his ethnicity no American seminary would accept Tolton, so he studied for the priesthood in Rome. When Father Tolton returned to the U.S. after his ordination in 1889, thousands of people lined the streets to greet him. A brass band played hymns, and black and white people processed together into the local church.

Father Tolton was the first African American to be ordained a priest. He served for three years at a parish in Quincy before moving to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics, St. Monica's, where he remained until his death in 1897.

Foley said the film will explore Tolton’s family dynamic and his childhood. He said Tolton’s mother and siblings were owned by the Elliot family and his father was owned by the neighboring Hagar family. Tolton’s entire family lived in a cabin between the two properties.

“Both families of the owners were Catholic and they made sure that all of their slaves were baptized, which is kind of a weird dichotomy that they could believe in slavery but at the same time understand that these are souls that need to be baptized,” Foley said.

In the movie, Peter leaves the family to join the Union Army when Tolton is 10 years old. Sometime afterward, Tolton convinces his mother and siblings to flee to the north. They are then shown outrunning slave-catchers and Confederate soldiers, eventually crossing the Mississippi River to achieve their freedom.

Foley said, while the country continues to face issues of racial inequality, the film has come at the proper time. He said Tolton overcame hatred with acts of love.

“We see a lot of racial angst and discord in our country now. It was so much different back then and worse, but the solution is the same,” he told CNA. “He met hatred and discrimination with love.”

“It was interesting because he was actually one of the reasons he was kind of ousted from his hometown of Quincy. He was told to minister just to black people in Quincy, Illinois and white people started coming to his church and he was fine with that. He welcomed everyone, but that raised the ire of other people. He believed that there's no hierarchy of races.”

He said the movie has also come at a time of great difficulty in the Church, including the clergy sex abuse scandal. Similarly, he said the story will highlight the Church’s overall good even among villainous men.

“One of our bad guys is a priest who was a racist, but that doesn't change the goal and mission of the Church as being good,” he said.

“The majority of her priests are good, holy men, like Father Tolton. We need to kind of hold up this example now in the midst of these scandals and say, 'Hey, most priests are more like Father Tolton than the ones that are making the headlines. We need to raise up those good stories.”

Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtue of Fr. Tolton June 12, making him "Venerable”.

In a recent newsletter, Bishop Perry said Tolton is a model of civil rights and overcoming racial adversity with Christian virtues.

“Father Tolton shows us Christians how to get through to the Kingdom, surviving the apparent contradictions of life with our faith, hope and love intact,” said Perry.

“The unfinished business of racial reconciliation in America is inspired by Father Tolton’s sense of openness to walk amidst and serve both black and white at a time, post Civil War-Reconstruction, socially not yet ripe for interaction between the races. He was ahead of his time in leading both black and white under the roof of his Church while being resented for it by pockets of Church and society of his time.”

Catholic homilies shortest of all denominations, study finds

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 17:10

Washington D.C., Dec 16, 2019 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- A new analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that many Catholic priests are holding to Pope Francis’ advice to keep their homilies on the shorter side, especially compared to Protestant denominations.

An analysis of nearly 50,000 sermons, given across a variety of Christian denominations during the months of April and May this year, found that the median length of a sermon was 37 minutes, but for Catholic priests, the average length was just 14 minutes. 

Pew found that historically black Protestant sermons had the longest median length of 54 minutes, while mainline Protestant sermons were an average of 25 minutes long, with evangelical churches falling in between at 39 minute per sermon.

The analysis was published on Dec. 16, and was titled “The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons.” 

While the terms “homily” and “sermon” are often used interchangeably, they are actually different in nature. A “homily” refers to an explanation or further commentary of scripture during a Mass. A sermon is usually defined as a talk on a religious or moral subject, especially one given by a religious leader during a liturgy. 

For the purposes of this study, Catholic homilies were counted as “sermons.”

Pew took data from 6,431 different church websites to create the analysis. The churches all posted all or part of their religious services online. For this research, “online sermon” was defined as “a portion of a religious service posted to a church website that contains a commentary from the pulpit but sometimes may include other parts of the service as well.”

The analysis found that while sermons at historically-black and evangelical churches typically contained roughly the same number of words, the sermons at the black churches were longer in length. The study’s authors suggested that this was due to the inclusion of “musical interludes, pauses between sentences or call and response with people in the pews.”

In analyzing the content of the sermons, Pew found that 98% of Catholic homilies included the terms “God” and “Jesus.” The only word that included in 100% of the Catholic sermons examined was “say.”

Each denomination also had words that were distinct to their particular denomination. Among Catholics, the terms “homily,” “diocese,” “Eucharist,” “paschal,” and “parishioner” appeared more often than in any other denomination. 

Words or phrases distinct to mainline sermons were key phrases like “United Methodist” and “Gospel lesson.”  Distinctly evangelical terms included “eternal hell” and “absent body.” 

Historically black churches were eight times more likely to hear the phrase “Hallelujah...Come” than any other denomination, though the liturgy, if a denomination uses one, was not examined in this analysis. With the exception of the liturgical season of Lent, the Alleluia is sung at every Catholic Mass prior to the Gospel, but this is not considered to be part of the homily or sermon. 

The relatively shorter homilies by Catholic priests in in line with the pope’s own recommendations. In February 2018, Pope Francis addressed priests and other Catholics and discussed the importance of having short, interesting homilies. 

“Whoever gives the homily must be conscious that they are not doing their own thing, they are preaching, giving voice to Jesus, preaching the World of Jesus,” he said on Feb. 7. Homilies “should be well prepared, and they must be brief!”

To drive the point home, Francis told a story, recounting how a priest had once told him that when visiting another town where the priests' parents lived, the father had said “I’m happy, because me and my friends found a church where they do the Mass without a homily.”

“How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily, or chatting among themselves, or outside smoking a cigarette?” he said. When people laughed at the notion, Francis responded, saying “it’s true, you all know it...it’s true!”

“Please,” he said, “be brief...no more than 10 minutes, please!”

Mississippi governor: Legal fight for unborn children will head to Supreme Court

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 16:55

Jackson, Miss., Dec 16, 2019 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- An effort to ban most abortions from 15 weeks into pregnancy will head to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Mississippi governor has said after a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that blocked the law.

“We will sustain our efforts to fight for America’s unborn children,” Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said on Twitter Dec. 13. “Mississippi will continue this mission to the United States Supreme Court.”

Due to changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, both foes and supporters of legal abortion anticipate any decision on abortion could overturn or significantly modify existing precedent that, with few restrictions, mandates legal abortion across the U.S.

In a decision published Friday, however, Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with foes of the Mississippi law in citing existing precedent dating to 1973.

“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” he said in the ruling. “States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right but they may not ban abortions.”

The decision upheld U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves’ November 2018 ruling against the law. Reeves had said it is “established medical consensus” that the viability of the unborn baby, the point at which he or she can live outside the womb, typically begins 23 to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

The law allows abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy only when the mother’s life or a major bodily function is in danger, or when the unborn child has a severe abnormality and is not expected to be able to live outside the womb at full term. Exceptions are not granted for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Physicians who knowingly violate the law can lose their state medical license.

Bryant signed the legislation in March 2018, saying, “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal.”

The Catholic bishops of Mississippi had praised the law’s protections for unborn human life.

In defending the law, the state’s attorneys argued that it has an interest in protecting the life of the unborn, as well as maternal health. They pointed to an increased risk of complications for the mother when abortion is performed further into the pregnancy. They have also made a case that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain prior to viability.

Attorneys representing the state had argued that the law was a regulation, not a ban, and argued that the states had the right to regulate abortion, the Associated Press reports.

The law was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the only abortion clinic in Mississippi: Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which performs abortions up to 16 weeks, the Associated Press reports.

The pro-abortion rights group argued that the Supreme Court has held that states may not restrict abortion before the unborn baby is viable.

Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the appeals court “recognized today what is obvious: Mississippi’s abortion ban defies decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

“With this ruling, Mississippi — and other states trying to put abortion out of reach — should finally get the message,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

Bryant will leave office in January. His successor, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, also opposes abortion. Almost all Mississippi Republicans and some Democrats oppose legal abortion.

The ruling has consequences for similar laws in other states. A 15-week abortion ban signed in 2018 by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said it would take effect only if Mississippi’s law were upheld in federal court.

Prior to the passage of Mississippi’s 2018 law, the state bars abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy. It also requires that those performing abortions be board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologists. By law, a woman must receive in-person counseling and wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion.

In March 2019 Bryant had signed into law a different ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Reeves, the federal district court judge, blocked the law in a May 2019 decision, contending the state knew it was unconstitutional “to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” the New York Times reports.

Reeves contended that any professed interest in women’s health from the legislature was “pure gaslighting.”

Pittsburgh diocese announces next round of parish mergers

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 15:42

Pittsburgh, Pa., Dec 16, 2019 / 01:42 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced that next month 26 existing parishes will be merged into eight new parishes as part of the “On Mission for the Church Alive!” strategic planning initiative.

“For more than a year, you have journeyed together on a road that is intended to unite you on the mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to your neighbors and to strengthen all of you in faith,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote in a letter read at Sunday Masses at the affected parishes this weekend.

“This has not been a simple task. Jesus never promised that it would be easy to carry his message of love and mercy to others. He was clear that sacrifice would be necessary. However, you are positioning your new parish for more effective ministry by addressing financial needs, sharing resources and allowing your clergy to focus on the spiritual work for which they were ordained,” he stated.

The mergers will take place Jan. 6, 2020, and will reduce the number of parishes in the diocese from 170 to 152. The affected parishes are in Pittsburgh, elsewhere in Allegheny County, and in Washington County.

The diocese's strategic planning initiative began in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests. From 188 parishes at the beginning of the process, the diocese plans to end with 57.

The situation was exacerbated by the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. Earlier this year, CBS Pittsburgh reported that since the report's release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.

According to the diocese, no buildings will be closed immediately upon the mergers, and “decisions bout which buildings the new parishes use will occur later, after consultation among the faithful of those parishes.”

The local Church added that the mergers were requested by the groupings' administrators “after extensive consultation with parishioners,” and that the priest council and vicars general consented to the requests.

“On Mission for the Church Alive!” is “designed to help parishes mobilize their resources to prioritize mission over maintenance. Its goal is to help Catholics have a deeper relationship with Jesus and empower them to reach out to others with His love and mercy,” the dicoese stated.

Bishop Zubik noted that “southwestern Pennsylvania is radically different than it was 100, 50, 20, even 10 years ago, yet the work of the Church and our call from God to bring His love to everyone continues as strong as ever.”

Msgr. Ronald Lengwin, vicar for Church relations for the diocese, told CNA in July that ten years ago, some 187,000 people attended Mass in the diocese each Sunday. By 2018, that number had dropped to about 120,000 – a decline of more than 30%.

Brandon McGinley, a Catholic writer and editor who lives in south Pittsurgh, recently wrote in Plough Quarterly that his “was once one of the most dynamic Catholic neighborhoods in a city of Catholic neighborhoods. Its parish … was the largest parish with the largest school in the diocese. Now, although Pew hasn’t done a study on us, it would be fair to assume that 'lapsed Catholic' is the commonest religious identity among our neighbors.”

In 2000, the diocese had 338 parish priests in active ministry, compared with 211 in 2016 and 178 in 2018. The diocese estimates that with retirements and an average of four ordinations per year, the diocese will have 112 priests by 2025.

The abuse scandal has intensified problems that were already present for the local Church, including parishes that had been borrowing from the diocese to pay insurance premiums, creating an unstable financial situation.

Another wave of parish mergers under “On Mission for the Church Alive!” was announced in May, with five new parishes created. Five former parish churches were designated as shrines. And in 2016, four parishes in south Pittsburgh were merged into one.

The Pittsburgh diocese last went through a major restructuring during 1992-94, when the diocese shrank from 333 parishes to 218.

Did ‘thousands’ of women die from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade? WaPo says no

Sat, 12/14/2019 - 06:00

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- In its 2019 roundup of the biggest lies of the year (dubbed the biggest ‘Pinocchios’), the Washington Post included a false but oft-repeated claim that “thousands” of women died while undergoing illegal abortions before the legalization of abortion in the United States.

This statistic was frequently cited this year by Dr. Leana Wen, who was fired from her position as president of Planned Parenthood in July, just eight months after accepting the job.

“We dug through the statistics and it turns out she was citing numbers from the 1930s, before the advent of antibiotics,” Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post said in his 2019 Pinocchio list. “In 1972, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24 and from illegal abortions 39, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Wen was “repeatedly” told by her staff that the statistic she was citing was false, but continued to use it anyway, the New York Times reported. Insiders at Planned Parenthood told the New York Times that Wen was ultimately let go because the organization wanted someone at the helm with a more aggressive focus on political advocacy, while Wen had worked to reframe Planned Parenthood primarily as a healthcare organization.

In May of this year, Kessler fact-checked the “thousands of women” claim that Wen had also repeated in interviews. He noted that before abortion became legal, official statistics on the number of women who died from abortions were dicey at best due to the illegality of the procedure and the shame surrounding it.

“Still, by the time Roe was issued, 17 states had liberalized their abortion laws, and the Centers for Disease Control was collecting solid data on abortion mortality,” Kessler noted.

Estimates on the number of abortions performed before Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed for legal abortion in the United States, vary widely - from 200,000 to 1,200,000 per year, according to one 1958 study examined by The Washington Post.

“That’s quite a range for the number of illegal abortions, indicating how fuzzy the numbers are,” Kessler noted in May.

Another study cited in a NARAL document from 1936 used liberal estimates from a gynecologist named Frederick Taussig who used data from just 13 states and guessed at the rest to approximate the annual number of deaths from abortion at roughly 10,000.

But by 1948, researcher Christopher Tietze noted in a paper that deaths from abortion were swiftly decreasing due to the advent of penicillin and other antibiotics, as well as improved medical practices and an increase in available contraceptive methods.

In 1959, the medical director of Planned Parenthood reported that there had only been 260 deaths in the U.S. from illegal abortion, and that the procedure could be considered as safe as any other surgical procedure at the time, Kessler reported.

In 1969, a report in Scientific American magazine by Tietze and Sarah Lewit cited in The Washington Post stated that annually, the “Total mortality from illegal abortions was undoubtedly larger than (235), but in all likelihood it was under 1,000.”

“Even given the fuzzy nature of the data and estimates, there is no evidence that in the years immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s decision, thousands of women died every year in the United States from illegal abortions,” Kessler wrote.

New Jersey bishop opposes contraception bill removing religious exemption

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 22:40

Metuchen, N.J., Dec 13, 2019 / 08:40 pm (CNA).- A New Jersey bishop is calling on legislators to amend a bill that would force religious groups to fund contraceptive coverage for their employees, even if doing so violates their religious convictions.

“Legislation (S3804/A5508) is now being considered in the New Jersey legislature which eliminates the long-standing religious employers' exemption in the current law,” said Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen.

“Eliminating the religious employers' exemption would essentially force religious organizations to pay for medications, including abortion causing drugs, sterilizations and other procedures which violate our fundamental belief that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred,” he said in a Dec. 10 statement.

The bill was introduced to the New Jersey Senate in May and the state’s House of Representatives in June. If passed, it would require full coverage for certain contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in health care plans and remove exemptions for religious organizations.

“Contraception was named as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said bill sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, according to northjersey.com. “That was 20 years ago, whether or not insurance plans cover contraceptives shouldn’t be a question today.”

The bill must be addressed before the second week of January, when the current legislative session ends. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced his support for the bill in May.

Bishop Checchio stressed the importance of religious liberty as one of the “important building blocks of American society.”

He said the law would threaten the “basic human right” of religious freedom and would place religious organizations in an impossible position, negatively impacting their charitable work, including aid provided to immigrants and those in poverty.

“Passage of this measure would require our Catholic parishes, Catholic schools and agencies such as Catholic Charities to offer our employees comprehensive health benefits in violation of fundamental Catholic principles,” the bishop said.

“If this measure should pass many of our Catholic institutions and services will be seriously impacted. Assistance that we provide to the poor, the frail elderly, the sick and the dying, and to immigrants and their families could be at great risk.”

Edward Sita, a resident of St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge, which is operated by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, also spoke out against the bill.

“One of the principal reasons I am here is because we have a religious organization who wants to care for us,” he said of the senior home.

In a Dec. 12 statement, Sita said he is grateful in particular for the sisters’ attentive care for his wife, who has Alzheimers, as well as the for the opportunity for regular Mass, adoration, and other religious activities offered at the home.

“The folks here do so much and are completely giving of all that is possible to give, and that’s themselves. It’s hard to describe all the good things that are happening here.”

Sita said the proposed law would place the sisters in a “morally impossible situation.” He said he could not imagine life without the sisters’ help, if the home were forced to shut down.

“I couldn’t even imagine it and I pray and I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Bishop Checchio encouraged Catholics to take action against the bill, pointing to a website where people may appeal to their local representatives.

“I urge all of the faithful to contact their state senators today and urge them to amend the proposed legislation, S3804/A5508 to retain the established religious employers' exemption which is contained in current law,” the bishop said.

 

Bishops condemn antisemitism after New Jersey shooting

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference on Friday condemned the antisemitic shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City earlier this week, reiterating the Church’s absolute condemnation of antisemitism.

“The recent attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, alongside many other recent hateful and at times violent actions, have highlighted the importance of, once again, publicly condemning any and all forms of antisemitism whether in thought, word or action,” said Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chair of the U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious affairs committee, on Friday.

“The past has taught us silence and passivity can result in the advancement of the worst crimes humanity can commit,” he said.

On Tuesday, two gunmen fatally shot a police detective in Bay View Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey, before entering the nearby Jersey City Kosher Supermarket and shooting four civilians inside, killing three.

After a shootout of several hours, police entered the market and found the two suspects dead;  a pipe bomb was discovered in the U-Haul truck of the shooters parked outside the market.

Bishop Bambera on Friday pledged the Church’s “irrevocable commitment to the Jewish community.”

“At the Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church articulated, ‘Mindful of the inheritance she shares with the Jews, the Church decries hatreds, persecutions, and manifestations of antisemitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,’” the bishop stated.

“We offer our prayerful support for all victims of antisemitic violence and their families.”

The two suspects in the shooting reportedly expressed anti-Semitic views online and appeared sympathetic to the Black Hebrew Israelite group, recognized as a hate group. The shootings are reportedly being investigated as domestic terrorism with a hate-crime bent.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force, said on Friday the shooting is “yet another wake-up call like the anti-Semitic slaughter in Pittsburgh that demands we redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism.” The October, 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11.

“Even though Jewish people comprise approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, the disproportionate number of hate crimes against Jews is absolutely appalling,” Smith said, noting that anti-Jewish crimes made up more than 57% of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, in the 2018 FBI Hate Crimes Report.

Bishop Conley announces medical leave of absence from Lincoln diocese

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 14:34

Lincoln, Neb., Dec 13, 2019 / 12:34 pm (CNA).- Bishop James Conley announced Friday that he is taking a medical leave of absence from his ministry as Bishop of Lincoln, Neb.

“I have been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears,” Conley wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to Catholics of the Lincoln diocese.

“My doctors have directed me to take a leave of absence for medical and psychological treatment, and to get some much-needed rest. After prayer, and seeking the counsel of my spiritual director, my brother bishops, and my family, I have accepted the medical necessity of a temporary leave of absence,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he was sharing information about his health “because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.”

The bishop explained his own changing perspective on mental health.

“It has been difficult to accept that my mental health problems are real health problems, and not just a defect of my character, especially during a year of difficulty for our diocese.”

“For months, I’ve tried to work through these issues on my own through spiritual direction, counseling, and prayer,” Conley wrote.

“But the truth is that depression and anxiety are real psychological problems, with medical causes, requiring medical treatment. For me, those problems have been coupled with physical symptoms,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he “will be at a diocesan retreat facility in the Diocese of Phoenix, thanks to the kind invitation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, while I undergo the best psychological and medical treatment available to me.”

In a Dec. 13 press release, the Diocese of Lincoln said that Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha will be the temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese during Conley’s absence.

“I offer my full support to Bishop Conley as he steps away from the Diocese of Lincoln to focus on his personal health and well-being. As a brother bishop, I know the demands of being a diocesan pastor; as a friend, I want Bishop Conley to avail himself of the time and the setting that will help him to return to full health and strength. I look forward to welcoming him back when he is ready to return,” Lucas said Dec. 13.

The “difficult time” for the diocese to which Conley referred began in July 2018.

In that month, reports emerged that Msgr. Leonard Kalin, who served as vocations director in the Diocese of Lincoln from 1970 until the late 1990s, had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with seminarians and prospective seminarians.

Kalin, now deceased, reportedly made sexual advances toward seminarians, asked them to help him shower, and would invite seminarians on trips to Las Vegas or for late-night drinks.

Some reports accused Conley’s predecessors of failing to take seriously allegations against Kalin, although an August 2018 statement from the diocese said it had “addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry.”

After the Kalin report emerged, Conley ordered reviews of diocesan policies regarding clerical conduct and accountability, made personnel changes in the diocesan curia, and help listening sessions in the diocese about clerical abuse or misconduct.

Several Lincoln priests were subsequently removed from ministry, and Conley apologized for the way he had handled a 2017 report that a priest had “developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

The priest was removed from ministry and sent to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he said he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident,” Conley said last August.

In September 2018, Nebraska’s attorney general initiated an investigation into whether the state’s three dioceses had mishandled or covered-up allegations of abuse or misconduct. A report on that investigation has not yet been issued.

The diocesan press release did not cover what role Lucas will play in addressing those matters, though Conley’s letter said he had worked with the archbishop “for a smooth transition, with the full support of my senior staff.”

Conley, 64, became Lincoln’s bishop in November 2012. He had been an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Denver since 2008 and had worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1996 until 2006.

The bishop’s announcement comes days after a report from the Associated Press chronicled the mental health challenges experienced by priests, and noted the propensity of ministry leaders toward depression and other difficulties.

Conley wrote that he is hopeful about his medical leave of absence.

“Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician, who offers us the grace of healing. I entrust myself to the healing power of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the bishop wrote.

“I am grateful to be your bishop, and I love the Diocese of Lincoln. It will be difficult to be away. Please pray for me, as I pray for you.”

 

Senate passes resolution recognizing Armenian Genocide

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Thursday passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, after several previous attempts to do so were blocked at the direction of the White House.

Senate Resolution 150, introduced by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), expresses “the sense of the Senate that it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance.”

It was passed with unanimous consent by the chamber on Thursday.

From 1915 to 1923, the Ottoman Empire killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in eastern Anatolia in systematic fashion, with reports of forced displacement, torture, mass killings and mass graves in the region.

Thursday’s Senate resolution recognizes the empire’s “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.” It comes after the House passed a similar resolution in October recognizing the genocide.

Turkey has long denied that the genocide took place, claiming that the number of those killed was far less than is commonly estimated and that many deaths were due to the ongoing First World War.

In response to the Armenian genocide resolutions passed by the House and then being considered by the Senate, Erdogan in a Nov. 13 joint press conference with President Trump at the White House condemned the congressional efforts to recognize the genocide.

“And some historical developments and allegations are being used in order to dynamite our reciprocal and bilateral relations,” he said. “Especially in the House of Representatives, some of the resolutions that were passed on October 29th served this very purpose and hurt deeply the Turkish nation, and they have a potential of casting a deep shadow over our bilateral relations.”

“Turkey and the United States stand side by side in order to fully eradicate Daesh and in order to bring peace and stability to Syria once and for all,” he said.  

After Erdogan’s visit, the genocide resolution was blocked from consideration by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), reportedly at the direction of the White House.

Subsequent attempts to bring the resolution up for consideration were blocked by Sens. David Perdue and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). The White House reportedly did not want the resolution enacted because of ongoing talks with Turkey about its purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system.

Cramer, in a statement provided to CNA, said he offered to block the resolution when informed of the White House’s disapproval.  “When I was told of their concern, I said I would block the UC [unanimous consent] if they would like,” he stated.

The campaign of displacement, violence, and killings of Armenians—mostly Christians—by the Ottoman Empire has been recognized by many scholars as genocide. Pope Francis has recognized the genocide several times by name, including at a mass in 2015 shortly before the centenary of the genocide.

In 2015, the Vatican made public some materials from its archives related to the Armenian genocide, including correspondence between the Holy See and regional political and religious leaders.

The archives spanned from decades before 1915, when state-sanctioned violence against Armenians was occurring, to well into the 20th century, and showed efforts by the Vatican to quell the violence against Armenians and to aid the victims of the genocide.

In his June, 2016 visit to Armenia, Pope Francis recognized the “Great Evil” of the “genocide” of Armenians.

White House summit on family leave follows new House bill

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The White House hosted a summit on paid leave Thursday, hours after the House passed a bill with 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers,.

“We’re here today to support the heroic calling of working moms and dads,” President Donald Trump said Dec. 12 at the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. Attending the summit on paid leave and child care were members of Congress and business leaders.

Trump called families the “heart, soul, and backbone for our nation.” He noted the importance of giving mothers the “precious chance” to spend time with a new child through policies allowing them to take leave from work with some sort of compensation.

On Wednesday evening, the House overwhelmingly passed the “conference report” for a massive defense spending bill—the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—that was the result of negotiations between members of the House and Senate. The bill received 377 votes and 48 votes against.

Among its provisions, the bill contains 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees, beginning next October.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) praised the inclusion of paid parental leave in the report as a “significant first step” towards the goal of full paid family and medical leave.

He called for federal civilian employees and private sector employees to see the same benefits, and said he sent a letter to the conference when it appeared that only Department of Defense employees would receive paid parental leave in the bill.

The White House also praised the inclusion of paid parental leave for federal employees in a statement on Tuesday.

At Thursday’s summit, both the President and his daughter Ivanka, who serves as an advisor to the president, pushed for paid family leave as a next step in policy, and President Trump emphasized the importance of “expanded access to quality, affordable child care.”

“As the country’s largest employer, we must lead by example,” Ivanka Trump said, referring to the federal government. “We have a historic chance to pass paid family leave and child care reform,” she said, in order to promote the “dignity of work and the joy of raising a family.”

Members of Congress participated in two panels on paid leave at Thursday’s White House summit, giving acknowledgement to the House passage of the NDAA.

Some of those who need paid leave the most—low-income workers—are also much less likely to have benefits, said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) introduced the New Parents Act earlier in 2019 to allow parents to draw from Social Security benefits to defray the cost of leave at the birth of a child.

“The advantage” of paid leave, Rubio said, “is the ability to not have to go on public assistance or debt when you have a child.” Ironically, “the people who can least afford to do that” are much less likely to have paid leave, he said.

Studies show that the vast majority of African-American mothers are the primary breadwinner in a household, Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said. According to a report of the Black Women’s Roundtable “State of Black Women in the U.S. & Key States, 2019,” more than 70% of black mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in their families.

The working poor might be back at work one or two days after the birth of a child, she said, leaving their children with a neighbor or family member. “The impact this is having on the child,” she said, “on the mother and her own health and well-being, is extraordinary.”

Policies like paid parental and family leave have a multi-layered benefit and are not just a financial bump for families, members said.

“If we’re going to think holistically” about improving health care while lowering costs, “these pieces of legislation actually feed into that,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said. Scripture talks about the generational effects of sin, he said, and the passage of paid leave policies “is a wonderful thing that will pay off upwards” through generations.

Studies show that children experience better behavioral outcomes when they have a parent at home right after birth, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said, showing “the long-term benefits of that initial bonding time.”

The financial strain of a lack of paid leave time results not just in a lack of resources for families, Rep. Joe Cunningham (R-S.C.) said, but takes an “emotional toll” on them. The work of “relieving that anxiety and relieving those pressures,” he said, “at the core of it, that’s why this is so important.”

Cunningham also pointed to the need for better paternity leave policies as he shared his story of the birth of his son when he, as a member of a small law firm, returned to work two days after his son’s birth.

“I regret that,” he said of his prompt return to work, noting that he was absent “for the bonding of my son Boone” and in “being there for my wife.”

“There’s no manual for having kids,” he said. “It’s emotionally draining,” yet “just being there” for one’s spouse “means the world.”

“It’s a shame that we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a full-on paid family leave program,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said, calling the provision in the NDAA a “huge victory” and a “win-win.”

Six California dioceses subpoenaed in sex abuse investigation

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 13:33

Sacramento, Calif., Dec 12, 2019 / 11:33 am (CNA).- The office of California's attorney general has informed six dioceses in the state that they will be issued subpoenas as part of a review of child protection policies and procedures.

“To verify that safeguards are effectively in place and are being appropriately implemented to ensure the safety of aour children and young people is crucially important and a shared interest,” the Diocese of Fresno, one of those being subpoenaed, said Dec. 10.

Subpoenas are being issued as well to the local Churches of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, and Orange. The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 10 that both the Orange and San José dioceses have already received the subpoena orders.

The state's 12 Latin rite dioceses were told in May that attorney general Xavier Becerra would be investigating their handling of sexual abuse allegations involving minors, and they were asked to retain documents related to such allegations.

The six dioceses that will be subpoenaed were also asked to produce documents on the allegations.

The Fresno diocese said it and the other five dioceses have voluntarily cooperated since May with Becerra's office.

“We have worked to accommodate the Attorney General's requests while also following the laws governing the privacy rights of employees, abuse victims and mandated reporters,” it stated. “An abundance of time and resources has already been dedicated to this high-priority undertaking and we will continue to do so until the process can come to completion and accomplishes its goal.”

Bishop Joseph Brennan of Fresno said, “I am committed to fully cooperating with the Attorney General's examination to the best of our ability in accordance with the law.”

“To now undergo a review by the Attorney General's Office is a welcomed process that will help us to advance efforts towards greater transparency; to further learn from our past, scrutinize our current performance in implementing mandated reporting procedures; and, to continue to tirelessly puruse and develop all reasonable measures to protect the vulnerable in our midst,” Bishop Brennan added.

Similarly, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento had said Dec. 6 that the six dioceses have, since May, “een involved in a voluntary effort with the California Attorney General’s office to provide documents related to mandated reporting of child sexual abuse.”

“We share the Attorney General’s desire to conduct a thorough examination of the practices and procedures that seek to protect the children entrusted to our schools, churches and programs. Throughout this process, we have worked to accommodate the Attorney General’s requests while also following the laws governing the privacy rights of employees, abuse victims and mandated reporters,” he added.

Bishop Soto said the subpoenas “will move us toward our shared goal of ensuring that the safeguards in place for our children are working as they should. We remain committed to cooperating with the Attorney General’s inquiry to the best of our ability and as fully as the law permits.”

California adopted a law in October extending the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse victims.

The law allows civil claims of childhood sexual abuse to be filed by victims until age 40, or five years after discovering the damages from the abuse. Previously, claims had to be filed by age 26, or within three years of discovering damages from the abuse.

The new law also opens up a three-year window to revive past claims that would have expired under the previous statute of limitations. That window begins Jan. 1, 2020.

Surprise! Chicago suburb is home to a major Guadalupe shrine

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 05:01

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Marian devotion is intense among the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year on her feast day.

Not just her shrine in Mexico City. The Virgin of Guadalupe has a major place of honor in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

“People make the journey to come, and they leave their flowers and their offerings. They light a candle,” said Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “They want to get here, they want to get to her. When you talk to the pilgrims, you see the genuineness of the people’s faith.”

The shrine attracts over 1 million pilgrims each year, and can draw 250,000 people on the Dec. 12 feast day alone, Sanchez told CNA.

While most pilgrims arrive by vehicle, many people walk to the shrine either from Chicago or throughout the Midwest as a sign of devotion or mortification.

“They walk miles to arrive,” said Fr. Sanchez. They each have a story to tell. A 2016 pilgrim walked on his knees part of the final two-and-a-half miles to the shine.

People like him will say “my daughter’s sick, and I want Our Lady to help,” the priest recounted, adding: “the extreme of the expression only indicates the extreme of the concern for their petition.”

The shrine hosts a digital replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the most visited U.S. shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second most-visited in the world after Mexico’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Its origins date to 1987, when a group of Chicago-area Catholics decided to launch a mission to promote devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe using a special pilgrim statue from the shrine in Mexico City.

In 1995, construction began on an outdoor shrine in Des Plaines modeled after Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the indigenous Mexican St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin Mary left her image on his cloak, known as a tilma, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop.

The apparition helped inspire mass conversions of indigenous people to Christianity.

While devotion to the Guadalupe Marian apparition is strong among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Fr. Sanchez said other Catholics in America are “beginning to appreciate her a little more, and honor her.”

“I think American Catholics are looking at the story itself, and how much it sounds like the gospel,” he said.

The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is promoting Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she has become an image for the pro-life movement as well as for women’s issues, the priest noted. Other ethnic groups are growing in devotion to her, including the Indian and Polish communities.

Sometimes the mortifications of the pilgrims are extreme. In severe cold weather, senior citizens will still walk through the snow.

“Here we don’t judge them. We just get them to Our Lady,” Sanchez said. “Our job is to make sure you get there safely.”

Sometimes safety is a concern.

Once, a group of pilgrims traveled on foot through the northern Illinois city of Rockford on their way to the shrine. They were holding a banner and singing songs. A group of people voicing anti-immigrant attitudes began to assault them, told them to get out of the neighborhood, and threw rocks at them.

“It’s not necessarily a wonderful experience,” Sanchez said. “They continued their pilgrimage and made it.”

The priest suggested the pressures of contemporary American culture also drive devotion.

“Whatever the country is feeling, the community is looking for hope,” he said. “We live in a time when people feel less welcomed, where people feel scared, and often the only thing they feel they can trust is their prayer, and the one thing that has got them through the hardest times of their lives thus far: Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

The feast day can create a major traffic issue, with 300,000 people in a 36-hour period. Planning begins months in advance, with the local police department helping to manage the situation.

There are 150 to 200 volunteers just to care for the pilgrims Dec. 11-12.

“Our job is to take care of the pilgrims when they come. They are trying to get to her,” Sanchez said, adding that they aim to help the pilgrims feel loved and well-fed.

“We make sure that the people’s experience is one that is very, very festive,” he said. “There’s a lot of music, a lot of serenading mananitas, a lot of indigenous dancing, what you see in other shrines.”

Sanchez said there is a strong custom in Mexican Hispanic culture of “mandas,” which means “promises” in English.

“People make promises to Our Lady of Guadalupe for a specific intentions or miracles or an act of gratitude,” he said.

“The problem is a lot of people here in the U.S. can’t go back to Mexico. There are immigration issues, economic issues, health issues, there are a lot of issues that keep them from going to Mexico City to fulfill their life’s promise to Our Lady.”

To help these pilgrims fulfill their promises, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City has offered them the same graces and indulgences if they visit the Illinois shrine.

Other pilgrimages come during the novena, the nine days before the feast day.

“We have a pilgrimage of truckers,” Sanzhe said. “They bring their tractor trailers, the truck, just the cab… and they decorate their trucks and they come to the shrine and they have a special Mass in which all their trucks get blessed.”

About 300 horseback riders come through for a separate blessing.

Devotees even organize through their occupations. The local landscapers’ union sought a special blessing and a Mass.

“It’s wonderful to see they’re finding Our Lady of Guadalupe, and how much that really helps them,” the shrine’s rector said.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 12, 2017.

Pro-life doctor weighs in amid furor over Ohio ectopic pregnancy bill

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 02:48

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 12, 2019 / 12:48 am (CNA).- Controversy continues over a bill in Ohio that would require doctors to attempt to “reimplant” embryos removed during procedures to treat ectopic pregnancy, with both pro-life and pro-choice advocates noting that doing so is not yet medically possible.

“I understand the theoretical ideal of being able to do something like that,” Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami, told CNA in an interview.

“But it's an ideal, and it's theoretical, and I don't know that a lot of patients would go for it...you just have to have proper evidence that this is really a viable option.”

HB413 in the Ohio Legislature includes a provision that doctors must attempt to “reimplant” ectopic pregnancies in a woman’s uterus “if applicable.” The bill, which has garnered attention around the world, is currently in committee.

“[Reimplantation] is so theoretical at this point, that I can't imagine how anybody would vote to approve this,” O’Sullivan commented.

“It's food for thought, no question about that. Maybe it will stimulate some kind of research to see whether this can actually be done, at least in animals.”

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. Once implanted, the embryo’s growth is likely to rupture the fallopian tube, which can cause the death of both mother and child.

With modern ultrasound, it is possible to make a diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy fairly early on, as long as you have an early first trimester ultrasound, O’Sullivan said.

There are three common medical procedures to address ectopic pregnancies, she noted, only one of which is widely considered to be moral from a Catholic perspective.

The patient may be offered methotrexate, which is an anti-cancer drug that stops the embryo’s cells from dividing; or the fallopian tube can be opened and the embryo “scooped” out, a salpingostomy; or the segment of the tube can be transected on each side and removed completely, a salpingectomy.

In all of the procedures, the embryo dies. However, in the first two, the procedure itself is an act to end the life of the embryo. A salpingectomy, in contrast, is an act to remove the damaged portion of the fallopian tube.

For this reason, salpingectomies are generally considered moral under the principle of double effect: the objective of the surgery is the removal of the affected tube, and the embryo dies as an undesired - although foreseen - side effect. Since there are no alternative procedures that can save the life of the embryo, this process is considered morally acceptable.

Dr. O’Sullivan said in her view, the methotrexate treatment and the salpingostomy are both abortions.

“What you're doing this time [in a salpingectomy] is you're taking out damaged section of tube, and since it's removed it's cut off from its blood supply, and ultimately the little baby, the little fetus, will die,” O’Sullivan explained.

“In the other two cases, the baby is going to die, too. But both of them are direct attacks on the baby itself. In this latter one, you primary intent is to remove the diseased section of the tube, and you know that the outcome of that will be the loss of the pregnancy.”

Kevin Miller, a Catholic moral theologian at Franciscan University of Steubenville, agreed.

“I think it is somewhere between extremely hard and impossible to conceptualize [methotrexate] administration for ectopic pregnancy as anything other than direct killing of the embryo,” he said.

“The embryo’s death is the chosen means to the end of resolving the ectopic pregnancy and saving the mother from possible hemorrhage – it is not a ‘side effect.’”

“Wait and see”— i.e. not taking any action, and waiting to see if the embryo will naturally dislodge itself— is an option, O’Sullivan said, but this option demands thorough conversation between the patient and physician, and both must be perfectly willing to accept the risk that while they are waiting, the tube could rupture, causing an acute emergency.

“It takes a great deal of counseling, and understanding, and cooperation on the part of both the patient and physician,” she said.

Dr. O'Sullivan said in her experience, in the hospitals she has worked in, patients facing an ectopic pregnancy are offered each of the three treatment options and given the chance to choose for themselves.

“In this world of patient autonomy, often the patient is presented with what the options are, and sometimes they make the decision as to which procedure they would prefer,” she explained.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) reports that incidences of ectopic pregnancy have increased by 600% in the United States in the last two decades.

“Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attribute the rise to chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases that can scar the fallopian tubes, as well as failed tubal sterilizations and the increased use of drugs and surgery to induce ovulation. Other conditions, such as endometriosis, can also contribute to this pathology,” the bioethics center says.

Some Catholic bioethicists defend salpingostomy as also being an acceptable procedure. It is a less mutilating procedure than a salpingectomy, and could potentially preserve future fertility, the main reasons doctors may choose it. O’Sullivan said she knows pro-life doctors who have performed salpingostomies.

O’Sullivan said she could find evidence of only two reported cases of a successful replantation of an ectopic pregnancy, one of which allegedly happened in 1917, with the doctor's case report the only evidence that it occurred.

“You have no way of proving that happened. You have to accept what the guy wrote,” she commented.

She said the pregnancy would likely be at 5-6 weeks at the earliest before the doctor sees it, and trying to remove the embryo without damaging the amniotic sac, and trying to put it back into the uterine cavity through the cervix, is in her words “pie in the sky.”

It also would be difficult to get a procedure like this through an institutional review board, O’Sullivan said, because it would be extremely dangerous to test on humans.

“There's absolutely no animal evidence that this would work, that I could find,” O’Sullivan said.

“[The procedure] should be done in animals before you even attempt to do it in humans...I'd be reluctant to talk to a patient about that, and I'd be reluctant to do it without animal evidence of safety.”

 

Voices: 'Our Lady of Guadalupe gave my family a miracle'

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 18:45

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2019 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- It was in December of 1991, while attending a novena in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Finbar Church in Burbank, that I learned that there existed a small piece of the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the city of Los Angeles.

The associate pastor at the time, Father Peter Irving, explained that this relic was stored at the archdiocesan Archival Center at the San Fernando Mission, and that he had requested it for the novena at St. Finbar. This tiny piece of the tilma is the only piece in existence outside of Mexico City. Being a devoted child of Mary, this fact providentially stuck with me.

Little did I know that Our Lady would save the life of my husband, Vicente, a decade later.

On Friday, May 3, 2002, my husband collapsed due to the rupture of a brain aneurysm. He immediately fell into a coma, flatlined en route to the hospital, and was given less than a 5% chance of surviving. He was 42 years old.

When we went to see him at the hospital, we were greeted by a medical team who took us into a private office and explained that he was gravely ill and that he would most likely not make it through the night. Two different priests went that night to anoint him. The neurosurgeon on call performed an emergency procedure of drilling a hole in my husband’s brain to relieve the pressure. The ventriculostomy drained his brain fluid and the blood from his bleeding brain into a bag. The doctor said that if he survived the night, he would attempt brain surgery.

Hundreds of people began to pray for his recovery. What followed was a series of one miracle after another.

Ian, a ten-year-old friend of the family, offered up his first Holy Communion on Saturday, May 4. Ian’s uncle was my husband’s physician and at the time that Ian was receiving Holy Communion, my husband miraculously woke up from the coma.

Through what I firmly believe to be divine intervention, my husband was transferred to Keck Hospital of USC where doctors were able to seal the brain aneurysm with a coil (a newly pioneered technique at the time) instead of open-brain surgery.

He spent the next four weeks in intensive care. He did not recognize anyone, not even me, his wife.  He developed multiple complications, and doctors at Keck wanted to wait for him to stabilize before placing a shunt in his brain, as he was draining more than 90% of his brain fluid into the external bag. 

I questioned several neurosurgeons about the idea of attempting surgery on such a sick man. They all said that he would definitely need such a surgery — to which I would reply that we were praying for his recovery without a shunt.

It was easy to see that we were praying: a Norbertine priest said Mass daily in his room, a priest of Opus Dei visited him daily, and the room was decorated with holy cards of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo and Saint Josemaria Escriva, among many others.

On May 12, Mother’s Day, the doctors came in to inform me that he had taken a turn for the worst. He had developed meningitis and they would not be able to place the much-needed shunt, which put him at greater danger of developing another infection.

To make matters worse, he was not responding to antibiotics. Nothing seemed to bring the fever down, so he was placed on an ice blanket in an effort to reduce his temperature. I asked again if the shunt was necessary and doctors told me that it was not only necessary, but urgent. I asked about his prognosis and the doctors were clear that he would likely never walk nor recognize people.

It was then that I remembered the relic at the San Fernando Mission.

Our family attended Mass at the mission and my husband was a Eucharistic minister. So I asked Msgr. Francis J. Weber, the archivist for the Archdiocese, whether he could bring the relic. He came to the hospital on May 15 and blessed my husband with the only piece of the tilma in existence outside of Mexico.

I was sure that Our Lady would work a miracle!  My husband had a tube coming out of his head and multiple IV’s. He was on an ice blanket. He had a brain infection, pancreatitis, and hepatitis, and he was not responding to treatment.

On Thursday, the doctor noted that my husband was draining only 50% cerebral fluid into the bag, only 25% on Friday, and nothing by Sunday. We had a miracle!

On Monday, a team of about 15 neurosurgeons and students came in to examine my husband and take a look at his medical record. Though he was not quite “out of the woods” and still in intensive care at that moment, the lead neurosurgeon said he did not have a medical explanation for the healing. 

The impossible became possible and my husband would not need a shunt. 

“Mrs. Cornejo, I don’t know who you prayed to, but if I ever need a miracle, I’ll be calling you,” the doctor said.

My husband began to recover by leaps and bounds and was home by June 6. We even went on to have another daughter after five straight miscarriages (all of which occurred before Vicente’s illness). We named her Frances Marie, because, after all, we could not leave the Blessed Mother out of her name.

Though he was not able to return to work, seventeen years later Vicente is a loving husband and a joyful father to five children, a devoted parishioner at Guardian Angel in Pacoima, and still a passionate musician.

I put my story into words because we have seen her intercession in our lives, and I look back at my life knowing that we are safe in His arms. Being blessed in a special way by this relic is still possible in this great “City of Angels,” and so I can tell others with confidence: Take your needs to her, she will always be Our Mother. 

That is why tonight, December 11, 2019, Vicente and I will be celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where the relic of the tilma is now permanently housed: to thank her and show our love to her.

 

 

This commentary was first published by Angelus News. It has been reprinted with permission by CNA.

Suspect arrested after arson destroys NJ church

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 18:33

Newark, N.J., Dec 11, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- A suspect is in custody after an early-morning arson destroyed a Catholic parish in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

James Mayers, who has been identified as a 26-year-old who lives in Franklin Lakes, was arrested shortly after a fire broke out at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish around 1:30 a.m. The fire completely destroyed the parish and was mostly extinguished by 4 a.m.

“An investigation revealed that James Z. Mayers entered the structure during the early morning hours of December 11, 2019, and purposely started the fire with the use of gasoline and a cigarette lighter. Mayers was arrested at the scene and treated by first responders for thermal injuries he sustained while starting the fire,” a statement released Wednesday afternoon by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office said.

Mayers will be charged with one account of aggravated arson and one count of burglary. It was not immediately clear what Mayers is accused of stealing. He is being held in the Bergen County Jail awaiting a court appearance.

Fire crews arrived at the parish quickly after the fire was reported and began working to put out the flames.

The township’s police captain, John Bakelaar, told to local media that “damage to the church is complete” and that “the fire was extensive.”

It is unclear if Mayers was a parishioner at Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament, had attended its school, or was in any way connected to the church.

Classes were canceled on Wednesday at Academy of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which is located near the parish building. The school was not damaged by the fire.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Newark thanked those who worked to fight the fire and who attempted to save the church building, “during frigid conditions.”
“We are moving forward to ensure parish life continues and we are currently identifying alternative sites for Masses, liturgies, and parish activities,” the archdiocese said.

“We ask everyone to please pray for all who have been affected by this incident.”

US education department may allow religious to receive federal student aid

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 18:11

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- The US Department of Education is proposing to restore eligibility to members of religious orders for certain federal higher education student aid programs.

In a proposed rule announced Dec. 10, the agency said regulatory changes would “restore the ability” of members of religious orders to access certain federal higher education aid programs, “eliminating regulatory provisions that treat members of religious orders as having no financial need in certain circumstances.”
 
The agency said the rule would ensure that “otherwise eligible students and faith-based entities” wouldn’t be shut out of Title IV, Higher Education Act programs on account of their religious affiliation.
 
Currently, members of religious orders are considered, under certain subsidized federal student aid programs, to have no “financial need.” They are eligible, however, for certain unsubsidized federal aid programs.
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the proposed rule change protects against religious discrimination in federal higher education aid policy.
 
“Faith-based institutions should not have to worry about losing access to federal programs due to their faith,” DeVos stated Dec. 10.
 
“These new rules will ensure a level playing field and will guarantee that individuals and institutions can continue to practice their faith and adhere to their values without losing the federal funding opportunities otherwise available to others,” she stated.
 
The proposed rule would also “eliminate arbitrary limitations” on religious schools’ participation in the federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, which helps low-income students prepare for college.
 
Students who borrowed money to pay for college could defer some federal loans if they are volunteering full-time in a tax-exempt organization, and their responsibilities include religious instruction or other religious duties.
 
The Department of Education said it issued the rule in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church could not be shut out of a public grant program simply because it was a church.
 
The case was considered a significant ruling in favor of equal access of houses of worship or religious institutions to public grant programs, and against old state laws barring their eligibility for public grants simply on account of their religious status.
 
The rule was also based on the administration’s policy of promoting religious freedom, as outlined in President Trump’s May 2017 executive order on religious liberty, as well as October 2017 guidance from the attorney general on federal protections for religious liberty.

Archbishop Gomez asks prayers for Francis on his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 17:50

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2019 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood Friday, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishop’s conference, is asking Catholics throughout the country to pray for the Pope.

“In honor of Pope Francis and in celebration of his service to the Church, I would ask that you consider encouraging the faithful in your dioceses to mark the Holy Father’s jubilee with special prayers for him in his priestly ministry,” Gomez said in a letter sent to U.S. bishops Dec. 5.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was ordained a priest of the Society of Jesus Dec. 13, 1969, in Buenos Aires. Four years later, he made his final profession of vows, and he was elected to the papacy March 13, 2013.

“May Jesus the High Priest continue to renew, increase, and strengthen in Pope Francis the graces received at his ordination as he continues to carry his priestly ministry in service to our Holy Church,” Gomez added.

Attached to the letter to bishops were prayers for the Pope to be said during Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours for Pope Francis. The attachment also included a note that while Dec. 13 is normally celebrated as the memorial of St. Lucy, the Roman Missal allows the celebrant of a Mass to use one of the Masses for Various Needs on this day, if “some real necessity or pastoral advantage requires it.”

“In the first section of these Masses (the Masses For Holy Church), the second Mass is For the Pope and would be appropriate to use in honor of the fifty years of priesthood of Pope Francis,” the attachment notes.

Pope Francis’ 50th ordination anniversary is also being commemorated with two Vatican stamps of the pope; one a painting of a young Fr. Bergoglio, and the other a painting of him as Pope Francis.

Sainthood cause advances for religious sister, educator who fought racism

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 02:30

Baltimore, Md., Dec 11, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA).- In the race to see who will become the first canonized black American saint, one candidate’s cause has advanced: Mother Mary Lange, a renowned educator and founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first community of religious sisters in the United States for women of color.

In an announcement last week from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where Mother Mary Lange lived and served, Archbishop William Lori said that “I’m happy to say her cause is moving along.”

After meeting with Vatican officials about Lange’s cause last week, Lori reported that the paper arguing for her life of heroic virtue was nearly finished, and that the “positio,” another document arguing for her cause for canonization, was complete and being sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If approved, the document will be forwarded to Pope Francis, who would then be able to grant the title of “Venerable” to Mother Mary Lange.

Scant concrete details are known about the early life of Mother Lange. She was born Elizabeth Clarisse Lange sometime around the year 1784, most likely in a French-speaking area of Santiago, Cuba. Her parents were reportedly refugees who fled to Cuba from a revolution in their native Saint Domingue (in present-day Haiti), according to the Black and Indian Mission Office.

In the early 1800s, Lange emigrated to the United States from Cuba, and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, a popular landing spot for other French-speaking Catholic Haitian refugees at the time. She arrived in the U.S. well-educated and with some money to her name, indicating that her parents were also educated and well-off.

According to the Mother Lange Guild, Lange was living in Baltimore by 1813, and soon after realized that the children of her fellow refugees were in desperate need of education, something that was hard to come by for black children in pre-Civil War America.

Together with a friend, Marie Magdelaine Balas, Lange began offering free education to children of color from her home. In 1828, Lange was approached by a priest, Reverend James Hector Joubert, S.S., about officially founding a Catholic school for girls of color. Lange told the priest that she had been wanting to dedicate her life to God, and that she wanted to start not only the school but also a religious order of sisters for women of color. Permission was granted, and in 1829, Lange and three other women (including Balas) took their first vows as Oblate Sisters of Providence. Lange, who became the superior of the order, took the religious name of Mary, and became known as Mother Mary Lange.

The first paragraph of their order’s rule spelled out their vocation and mission: “The Oblate Sisters of Providence are a religious society of virgins and widows of color. Their end is to consecrate themselves to God in a special manner not only to sanctify themselves and thereby secure the greater glory of God, but also to work for the Christian education of colored children.”

“Our sole wish is to do the will of God,” Mother Lange once said of her order, according to the Oblate Sisters.

The school founded by the sisters, St. Frances Academy, is the oldest, continuously running school for black Catholics in the United States, and remains open today. By 1860, all children of color attending Catholic school in Baltimore were educated in schools run by the Oblate Sisters.

In 1843, the sisters suffered a blow at the death of Fr. Joubert, who had been their biggest supporter since the founding of the order. Combating poverty and racism, the sisters scrambled to shore up their order as some members left, and the Sulpician priests, the order to which Joubert had belonged, were no longer able to support the sisters.

“There was a sense of abandonment at the dwindling number of pupils and defections of her closest companions and co-workers,” the Mother Lange Guild states in her biography. “Yet, through it all Mother Mary never lost faith in Providence.”

During her lifetime, Lange and her sisters not only educated children of color, but they housed orphans and vulnerable elderly, and took in extra washing and mending and begged on the streets to support those in their care. In 1832, the sisters also cared for the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic. After the Civil War, the sisters cared for dozens of black orphans who were living in Baltimore. On February 3, 1882, after a long life of service to others, Mother Mary Lange died.

“Mother Mary Lange practiced faith to an extraordinary degree,” the Guild wrote of her. “In fact, it was her deep faith which enabled her to persevere against all odds. To her black brothers and sisters she gave of herself and her material possessions until she was empty of all but Jesus, whom she shared generously with all by being a living witness to his teaching.”

Lori added that Mother Lange was “a person who was in every way a pioneer” who “stood head and shoulders above the racism of her era.”

Should Lange be declared Venerable, the next step in her cause for canonization would be for a miracle through her intercession to occur and be approved by the Vatican.

China punishes families of those who speak out in America, Congress hears

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Uighur-American whose mother has been held captive in a Chinese detention camp was one of several witnesses to testify on Tuesday before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the unfolding human rights crisis in China. 

The hearing was titled “Authoritarianism with Chinese Characteristics: Political and Religious Human Rights Challenges in China” and was hosted by the Foreign Affairs’ Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and Nonproliferation.  

“Stop allowing China to take away freedom so totally in Xinjiang, in Tibet, increasingly in Hong Kong, and even here on your own soil,” said Ferkat Jawdat, a Uighur American who testified before the subcommittee. 

“Xinjiang security officials freely deliver threats, psychologically torture, and extortion, against your laws, to silence your own citizens here,” he told memebrs of Congress on Dec. 10.

“China is effectively taking the world hostage. Please do not let your voices be silenced. Begin to speak with meaningful actions,” he said in testimony that was published on the committee’s website.

Jawdat explained that while most of his family moved to the United States in 2011, his mother remained in China as she had been denied a passport. She has since faced the consequences of her son speaking out against the Chinese government. He said that he had been labeled a “terrorist,” and his other family members in China have been convicted of “bogus crimes” and sentenced to prison. 

His mother was sent to a re-education camp for Uihgurs. 

“On February 6th, 2018, my mother left me her last message on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp and other messaging platforms that it does not allow in China,” said Jawdat. “She told me she was going to the ‘school’ – the euphemism the whole world now knows China uses for its concentration camps. She then disappeared.”

His mother was eventually released from the camp in June 2019. 

Jawdat was critical of how President Donald Trump has handled the situation in China, and pleaded with the president to “stop allowing China to silence you.” He said he hopes that Trump would sign the “Uyghur Act of 2019” into law before the end of the year, and that Congress will pass legislation prohibiting companies in the United States from using products produced by forced labor in the province of Xinjiang. 

“Find a voice that speaks of freedom and justice, like Reagan’s, to the world to end tyrannies. Do not succumb with envy for their rich autocrats who have stolen billions from their own people and treat their suffering as badges somehow making them ‘great leaders.’ They are tyrants who rule for life, secured only by the wealth they steal,” he said. 

The United States, said Jawdat, should “Rededicate (...) our commitment to ‘Never Again!’ by taking action to convince China to empty its concentration camps and dismantle, rather than export, its high-tech mass surveillance police state.” Additionally, he feels as though the U.S. should fund organizations that will expose the human rights abuses happening in Xinjiang. 

“The Chinese government is spending billions every year to spread its propaganda around the world,” he said. 

“We should counter its propaganda by denying it such unequal access here and empower those who tell the truth with more resources and manpower to ensure facts pierce through China’s fiction,” Jawdat said.

DC basilica attack leaves 'Mary's Shrine' shaken, and at prayer

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 18:55

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 04:55 pm (CNA).- A violent attack at “Mary’s Shrine” in Washington D.C. on Tuesday shook the community and prompted prayer and solidarity among staff and regular attendees.

“It was evil, it was tragic—it could have been worse,” Monsignor Vito Buonanno, associate rector and director of pilgrimages of the Shrine, told CNA.

“It’s happened before in other places—people have entered houses of worship and killed people there. That’s the only reason why, I think, we all say we’re grateful to God, it could have been worse,” Buonanno said.

On Tuesday morning at 9:14 a.m., the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department responded to a 911 call at the basilica, where a suspect had struck a female security guard with his vehicle.

The basilica’s rector, Monsignor Walter Rossi, spoke at a press conference inside the basilica’s upper church on Tuesday afternoon. He said the assailant pinned the female security guard between his vehicle and other vehicles at the basilica’s east parking lot. The attacker allegedly tried to run the female staff member over.

A male security guard confronted the attacker in an attempt to help his coworker, and was pursued by the attacker into the basilica. The guard was stabbed multiple times by the attacker, according to Rossi and Jacquelyn Hayes, director of communications for the shrine.

The assailant then fled the scene.

“I had seen them just minutes before, when I came in to work—I see them every day. Every day,” Buonanno told CNA of his regular interactions with the security guards.

“We wished each other a good day, and who would ever think, I didn’t even get back into my—I didn’t get into my office to take my coat off when this occurred.”
 
After the attacks, Rossi prayed with the victims before they were transported to the hospital, Hayes said. Buonanno joined him.
 
The startling violence at “Mary’s Shrine,” descending like a lightning bolt on a place of peace, shook the community.
 
“I can tell you I’ve been here for 13 years, and nothing like this has ever happened,” Hayes said.
 
Paul Rybczyk, a graduate of neighboring Catholic University of America, arrived at the basilica later in the morning after the stabbing. He told CNA he has been attending Mass at the Shrine for 50 years.

“It’s something that’s really close to me,” he said. Tuesday’s attacks were “terrible.”

“Both security staff members are extremely dedicated to us. They are quite personable to our staff and guests alike, and this incident had been quite upsetting for everyone here at the National Shrine,” Rossi said.

“This Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a place of prayer, peace, worship, and pilgrimage.”

Late on Tuesday morning, the Shrine’s staff gathered to pray.
 
“He [Rossi] not only prayed for our security guards who were victims, but he also prayed for the perpetrator,” Hayes said. “That is who we are here at the Basilica.”

Morning events at the Shrine were curtailed because of the crime scene, but noon Mass occurred as usual, albeit in the Blessed Sacrament chapel on the upper level, not in the crypt church as originally scheduled. Dozens were in attendance as Monsignor Buonanno celebrated Mass.

“We had a number of people who came up to me personally today and who expressed their grief, but their gratitude for the Basilica being here, and they indicated that they were in solidarity and prayer with us,” Hayes said.

Buonanno preached in his homily what he later repeated to CNA—that the Shrine is a “holy place that we know is Mary’s house.”

“We are very close here at the shrine. It’s more than just staff. There truly is a sense of family, and when something like this happens, all of us—the whole staff—reacted, so upset,” he told CNA.

After the stabbing, the attacker fled the basilica in a Lincoln Navigator and later barricaded himself in a house in the nearby neighborhood of Brightwood, during an ensuing standoff with police.

A suspect was apprehended by police after the standoff ended, and had lacerations to the stomach area from before his capture. He was familiar with at least one of the two victims, Hayes said in a written statement on Tuesday morning.

The suspect lived at the house with family members, said Jeffery Carroll, assistant chief of police with the D.C. Metropolitan Police’s homeland security bureau, in a press conference on Tuesday morning.

The stabbing was believed to be a “domestic” attack and not a targeting of the shrine itself, D.C. Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday.

“We believe there is some sort of a domestic relationship between the female victim and the suspect here,” Carroll said.

Monsignor Rossi went to the hospital to visit the two victims and speak with their doctors, but would not disclose their condition out of privacy concerns. Hayes said that she understood the victims are “stable.”

The shrine’s security personnel are not armed, Monsignor Rossi said, although “we are in the process of looking at that policy.” The shrine was already reviewing its security operation before the time of the attack, he said.

“We do have D.C. Police with us for special events, and on the weekends, and we are looking at our entire security operations even as we speak—before this even happened. This is unfortunate timing,” Rossi said.

Hayes later said that the shrine is currently “on a heightened security alert,” and although it has 50 security guards, “in today’s day and age, we are looking at enhancing our current security protocols.”

“A member of our family has been struck. So that’s difficult, but we are in solidarity,” she said.

In January of 2019, a group of demonstrators at a rally led by Nathan Phillips attempted to enter the Shrine to disrupt a Saturday evening Mass on the weekend of the March for Life, but the group was halted by security personnel.

 

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