CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 37 min 5 sec ago

Want to know the history behind the Feast of the Epiphany?

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.

This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.

While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the next Sunday, overlapping with the rest of the Western Church’s celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.

“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.

“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”

Origins of Epiphany

While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.

“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”

In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.

Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.

Roman Traditions

The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.

As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.

Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast. Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.

In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.

The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”

In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.

These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.

“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.

Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”

Revelation of God

Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.  

In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.

With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”

Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.  

“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”

“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.

The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.

To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.

During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 6, 2017.

Caggiano condemns anti-Semitic graffiti at Bridgeport cathedral

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 20:22

Bridgeport, Conn., Jan 5, 2019 / 06:22 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Bridgeport condemned anti-Semitism Saturday, after a swastika was found painted on the doors of Bridgeport’s cathedral.

“I am appalled and outraged by this act of vandalism against the Mother Church of our Diocese and this brazen and disgusting display of anti-Semitism which is morally abhorrent and an affront to our Catholic faith,” Bishop Frank Caggiano said in a statement Jan. 5.

“To use a clearly anti-Semitic symbol is participating in unspeakable evil.”

The swastika was found painted on the doors of St. Augustine’s Cathedral on the morning of Jan. 4. Caggiano said that because he is on retreat, he had only learned of the vandalism Saturday afternoon.

Bridgeport police have not yet named a suspect in the crime, Caggiano said.

Anti-Semitic incidents are reported to be on the rise in the U.S. and internationally. The number of anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League reported. In October, 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man who said he “wanted all Jews to die.”

A recent survey of Jewish people living in the European Union found that over a quarter of respondents had been the victims of anti-Jewish harassment in 2017 or 2018.

“It is deeply distressing to see such a display of hatred at a time when we need to strengthen our efforts to come together as a community in mutual respect and support,” Caggiano said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the city of Bridgeport and beyond. We stand with you and condemn every form of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry wherever it may be found.”


Scarlett Johansson: Deepfake pornographers prey on the vulnerable

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 5, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- In a 25-year film career, Scarlett Johansson has portrayed a cartoon mermaid princess, a comic book superhero, an Indian python, and a punk-rock porcupine. She has not portrayed a porn star. Nevertheless, her image has been digitally-generated in dozens of “deepfake” pornographic videos, which have been viewed more than 1 million times.

The actress said recently there is no way to fight back, and that online pornographers prey on the vulnerable for profit.

“The Internet is just another place where sex sells and vulnerable people are preyed upon,” Johansson told the Washington Post Dec. 30.

“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired.”

Johansson has been the victim of digital technology that digitally replaces the faces of pornographic actors with those of celebrities, creating synthetic but convincing videos in which the digitally imposed person appears to be engaging in pornographic sexual acts.

One program, FakeApp, is freely available to download and does not require programming skills; it can be used by anyone with the kind of computer capable of running detailed video games.

“The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause, for the most part,” Johannson told the Washington Post.

“Vulnerable people like women, children and seniors must take extra care to protect their identities and personal content,” she added.

The actress said that while Google has recently developed policies allowing anyone to request that false pornographic depictions of themselves be blocked from search results, deepfake pornography can still be found.

“There are basically no rules on the internet because it is an abyss that remains virtually lawless, withstanding US policies which, again, only apply here,” she said.

FakeApp’s creator has said that he hopes his face-swapping technology will become more easily accessible and useable.

“Eventually, I want to improve it to the point where prospective users can simply select a video on their computer, download a neural network correlated to a certain face from a publicly available library, and swap the video with a different face with the press of one button,” the app’s creator told Motherboard in 2018.

Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth” and host of the podcast “Love People Use Things,” told CNA last year that the app could invade celebrities’ privacy and inflict harm upon their reputation.

“It will get to the point where we’re not really sure if Jennifer Aniston just did a porn film, or whoever the celebrity is, or if this is one of the AI things. So we are dragging people’s reputation through the mud and we are humiliating them,” Fradd told CNA.

“If they can do that with celebrities they can do that with your sister or with your mom if they wanted to.”

Rudolph Bush, director of journalism at the University of Dallas, told CNA in 2018 that deepfake technology could also be used for dangerous political manipulation.

“It’s very likely to happen, I think, and the consequences could be serious,” Bush told CNA. “Depending on who is targeted by this, depending on how ripe that target is to be manipulated, it could be very damaging.”

Bush said deepfakes could sow widespread social and institutional confusion.

“As these things become more sophisticated, particularly if they’re used by state actors or groups with a high level of understanding of what it takes to manipulate a society or a group, then we’ll see whether we can parse what’s real or not real,” he said.

For Johannson, who called deepfake pornography demeaning, fighting back is not a simple matter.

“it’s a useless pursuit, legally, mostly because the internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself. There are far more disturbing things on the dark web than this, sadly.”

Fradd told CNA that Catholics should respond to any kind of pornography with the wisdom of the Church.

“Wojtyla says the human person is a good to which the only proper and adequate attitude is love, but when we consume pornography we are always engaging in something contrary to love, namely use.”



Commentary: A few books for 2019

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 18:47

Denver, Colo., Jan 4, 2019 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- It’s probably a little late for retrospectives, but if you’re planning your 2019 reading list, here are six great novels and memoirs I read in 2018.

I am not including on this list my perennial favorites, but I am not limiting myself to books published in 2018 either. Rather, these are six books that gripped my heart and imagination last year, and might do the same for you.


The Devil’s Advocate” Morris West, 1959.

Father Blaise Meredith is an English priest, a canon lawyer, and official in the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the predecessor to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Father Meredith is precise, meticulous, intelligent, and disconnected: lacking living relationships, and the experience of love. His life is ordered, peaceful, and gray. When he discovers he is dying, his Vatican superiors send him to investigate the cause for canonization of a complicated figure from a complicated place, a man who was executed by Communist partisans in Calabria at the end of World War II. In Calabria, he discovers more about faith, hope, and love than he ever would have expected.  

Lincoln in the Bardo” George Saunders, 2017

George Saunders is weird, and so is his fiction. A lapsed Catholic and a practicing Buddhist, the impact of a Catholic education and a Catholic worldview is never entirely absent from his work, which explores questions of spirituality, morality, and relationships from new approaches and perspectives.

"Lincoln in the Bardo" is the story of the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s deceased son, Willie. While at times upsetting for some readers, the book is funny, tragic, and, in its own way, offers beautiful insights on living and dying well.  

The Book of Aron” Jim Shepard, 2015.

Aron is a poor, Polish, Jewish boy who endures the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, where his family lives in a tenement flat. His world is miserable before the Nazis arrive, and it falls apart as they force Warsaw’s Jews into ever-worsening conditions. When he can no longer survive by his own wits, he discovers what it is to be loved, by Janusz Korczak, director of a Warsaw orphanage. While Aron, Korczak, and everyone they know march toward an inevitable evil, that love endures, as a powerful counter-witness of hope.


The Last Homily: Conversations with Fr. Arne Panula” Mary Eberstadt, 2018

“How great,” wrote St. Francis de Sales, “is a good priest.” Fr. Arne Panula was a good priest: holy, humble, cultured, and human. It takes a writer as skilled as Mary Eberstadt to capture the beauty of a good and holy priest preparing for a good and holy death. In this book, she has done exactly that. Do not miss the prophetic witness of Fr. Panula, captured in the prophetic prose of Eberstadt.

From Fire, By Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith” Sohrab Ahmari, 2019

The story of an Iranian immigrant, who discovered in America first nihilism, then communism, and then eventually the Lord. Ahmari’s memoir took me to places I have never been, and gave me a fresh look at people and places that seemed very familiar. Most especially, Ahmari’s book explored a restless human heart, searching and seeking, until, quite unexpectedly, coming to rest in the Lord.


With God in Russia” Fr. Walter J Ciszek, SJ, 1964.

As a young priest, Fr. Walter Ciszek wanted to preach the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain. He spent more than a decade in Soviet labor camps, preaching and witnessing to the Gospel in extraordinary ways. His story is the story of the Lord’s Providence, and one man’s fidelity to Christ.

I asked CNA reporters and editors to suggest the best books they read in 2018. Here are some of their suggestions, in no particular order:

“The Other Francis: Everything they did not tell you about the pope” Deborah Lubov, 2018
“Life and Love: Opening Your Heart to God’s Design” Terry Polakovic, 2018
“Why Liberalism Failed,” Patrick Deneen, 2018
“By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed,” Edward Feser, 2017
“A Canticle for Leibowitz” Walter Miller Jr., 1984
“The Magnolia Story” Chip and Joanna Gaines, 2016
“In Sinu Jesu”  A Benedictine Priest, 2016
“Crossing to Safety” Wallace Stegner, 2002
“Gilead” Marilynne Robinson, 2006
"Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name" Leah Libresco, 2018
“A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus” Louis and Zelie Martin
“Hillbilly Elegy” J.D. Vance, 2016
“My Squirrel Days,” Ellie Kemper, 2018
“The Buried Giant” Kazuo Ishiguro, 2016
Every Sacred Sunday Mass Journal
“I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” Michelle McNamara, 2018
“The Power of Silence”  Cardinal Robert Sarah, 2017
“Deaconesses: An Historical Study” Aime G Mortimort, 1986
“The Idea of a University” John Henry Cardinal Newman, 1852
“Don Quixote” Miguel de Cervantes, 1605


'Heaven is all that matters' FOCUS founder tells conference

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 18:30

Indianapolis, Ind., Jan 4, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) founder Curtis Martin encouraged members to recall the real purpose of their lives while speaking at the organization’s annual conference.


“Eternal life is all that matters,” Martin told a packed conference hall on Thursday, the opening day of SEEK2019 Conference in Indianapolis.


In a keynote speech, Martin reminded the crowd that their primary focus in life is to seek heaven, and to live out their mission here on earth, rather than becoming embroiled in day-to-day cares and materialistic goals.


“This is why you’re here, nothing else matters,” said Martin, joking that in heaven, no one will care that a person owned an expensive car.


The five-day event marks the 20th anniversary of the first FOCUS Conference. Martin noted that in two decades the event had grown from 20 students from Benedictine College to include more than 17,000 attendees, with thousands more watching online.


Despite the success and growth of the event, Martin insisted that “not much has changed” since that first conference, and that there was still an urgent need for Christian leaders in the world.


“The message is still ‘Christ is the key, and you’re the answer,’” he said. “The world is still waiting for Christ-like leaders to better shape society.”  


These leaders need to have both moral authority and spiritual gravity, Martin said, giving an example of Mother Teresa confronting a pro-abortion politician about their stance during a Mass. Mother Teresa had moral authority, Martin said, which meant that her concerns and advice were taken seriously by others.


“There’s two types of people in this world: there’s thermometers, and there’s thermostats,” he told the conference hall. “When you walk into a room, does the room impact you, or do you impact the room?”


Christ-like leaders must be “thermostats,” he explained, especially in a world where current culture tells people that their lives have no meaning or purpose, and that their existence is the result of “random chaos.”


In this culture, Martin said, Christians are called to announce that Christ “loved [each person] into existence” and that each of them will be “loved for eternity.”


“The world says you’re nothing, Christ says you’re almost everything.” He advised the crowd to “pursue truth so that you can live in love forever,” rather than pursuing earthly desires which left human nature wounded by sin.


God, Martin said, created human beings to do “amazing” works, and not to live in a kind of virtual reality or video game. It is important he told attendees, to go into the world, to take risks in order to live a full life as designed by Christ, with the eventual goal of making it to heaven.


Catholics were not made for the “pleasures” of this world, he explained, but instead they were made for and by Christ. They are called to find out their purpose in this world, in order to find “everlasting happiness.”


FOCUS was founded in 1998 and seeks to evangelize college students. FOCUS missionaries are currently present on more than 130 campuses throughout the United States and Europe.

Conversion or reform: What will the bishops choose in 2019?

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- This week the U.S. bishops gathered at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago for a weeklong retreat, held at the urging of Pope Francis. Under the guidance of the preacher to the papal household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, they will spend a week “pausing in prayer” to “reflect on the signs of the times.”


Although recent scandals loom large over the meeting, the pope has asked the bishops to focus on their own conversion, before further discussion about new systems or structures to address the sexual abuse crisis.


In a letter sent to the American bishops ahead of their retreat, Pope Francis underscored that the recent crisis has “severely undercut and diminished” the Church’s credibility.  Only response grounded in unity and communion, the pope wrote, has the power to restore the Church’s authority and authenticity.


The pope warned the bishops to avoid temptations to seek either the “relative calm resulting from compromise, or from a democratic vote where some emerge as ‘winners’ and others not.”


These temptations remain strong. One of the great frustrations for many of them during the Baltimore assembly was what they saw as a missed opportunity to produce “a solution,” in whatever form.


Whatever model bishops supported in November: the proposed lay-led national commission or the so-called metropolitan model, at least some seemed to be looking for a silver bullet, a powerful “fix” that would restore confidence now and prevent scandals from repeating.


Many American Catholics, too, seemed to expect a cure-all structural reform, and are now hoping that at the global summit on abuse in February, Rome will produce the reforms the U.S. Church could not.


But expectations that there can be one practical solution to solve the crisis are likely to prove false hopes. It has become obvious to most observers that no new policy, structure, or process can answer or prevent what is essentially a crisis of sin.


In his letter, Francis called administrative reforms “necessary yet insufficient” as they “ultimately risk reducing everything to an organizational problem.” The pope called the bishops to recognize their “sinfulness and limitations” and to preach to each other the need for conversion.


The pope’s diagnosis seems to be rooted in the evidence of recent months.


The current crisis is really better understood as a web of intersecting crises. The sexual abuse of minors is rightly seen as the most scandalous among them, but it has festered – as the pope has observed – among other illnesses in the body of the Church.


Clericalism, sexual permissiveness, moral indifference, and administrative negligence are themselves serious problems that require answers of their own.


But, if recent history is any guide, those answers are unlikely to come from any canonical or structural reform, however dramatic or well-intended.


As Cardinal Blase Cupich noted in November, there have been structures and commitments of various kinds in place in since 2002. The Statement of Episcopal Commitment was designed to ensure Church law was always followed when allegations were made, no matter who was being accused. And in 2016, Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Come una madre amorivole, which established – or was meant to – an entirely new canonical procedure for investigating and triying allegations against a bishop.


But even with those those policies and promises, Church officials have not seemed to consider themselves bound to any uniform procedure for handling allegations against bishops. Meanwhile, Francis has withdrawn the reforms of Come una madre before they were ever tested.


Many are now realizing that the problems facing the Church have never been the result of a lack of procedures. Instead, attention is beginning to shift to an enduring lack of will in the Church to employ its policies consistently and with rigor.


Absent a moral commitment to see them applied unsparingly, no reform measures – however systematic – can prevent the worst from happening.


As a case in point: last month it emerged that the Archdiocese of New York, which has some of the clearest, best-established abuse policies of any U.S. diocese, left a priest in ministry even after its own independent commission offered compensation to several of his alleged victims.


As recently as last month, the office of clergy personnel issued a letter of good standing stating “without qualification” that no accusation had ever been made against him; this despite an ongoing investigation by the archdiocese’s own review board.


The failures in New York were not caused by a lack of policies and procedures. Instead, they appear to have been truly human failures.


This may be the reason the pope appears skeptical that another policy or structure could yield different results, at any level of the Church, without personal conversion by the people charged with implementing them.


In August of last year, at the height of the Church’s summer of scandal, the USCCB’s own lay-led National Review Board agreed, issuing a statement that ruled out further structural reforms as a solution.


“The evil of the crimes that have been perpetrated reaching into the highest levels of the hierarchy will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures,” the review board wrote.


“What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church's culture, specifically among the bishops themselves. This evil has resulted from a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence that enabled these incidents to occur.”


Moral leadership, as the pope has told the U.S. bishops in no uncertain terms, cannot be effected by a vote. It requires a personal conversion in the face of failure and sin. Real change will require a totally new mindset among bishops, and the Curia.


The 19th century British Prime Minister George Canning ridiculed what he called “the idle supposition that it is the harness and not the horses that draw the carriage.”


“Men are everything,” Canning said, “measures comparatively nothing.”


Pope Francis echoed this sentiment in his letter to the bishops, warning them that the Church’s lost credibility “cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts.”


Instead, the pope wrote, the Church will only regain her credibility by “acknowledging its sinfulness and limitation” while at the same time “preaching the need for conversion.”


After the scandals of 2002, many bishops and officials treated the new measures and standards as a hardship to be endured, rather than a new reality of ecclesiastical life to be internalized. The “cultural change” called for by the national review board and the pope may prove to be the only means of breaking what has begun to resemble a cycle of scandal.


By warning the American bishops against measures aimed at recovering their reputations rather than amending their ways, the pope may have set the bar by which his own February summit will be measured. In his letter, Francis has called for a “shared project that is at once broad, unassuming, sober, and transparent.” Such a project, it seems, would bear little resemblance to past attempts to respond to the sexual abuse crisis.


As the bishops pray in Mundelein and the pope’s advisers prepare for February’s meeting in Rome, many Catholics begin 2019 wondering if a hierarchy beset by scandal can truly convert, or merely reform – again.

New House passes spending bill with pro-abortion rider

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- In the first day of the new congressional session, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that includes a provision to repeal a pro-life policy. The bill was one of two appropriations bills passed on Thursday in an attempt to end the partial government shutdown.


The bill, which would resume funding for the federal government, includes language that would repeal the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which prevents non-governmental organizations from receiving U.S. health assistance funds if they either promote or provide abortions.


Pro-life congressmen and campaigners spoke out against the rider which would overturn the policy.


In a floor speech, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) criticized newly-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for it inclusion in the bill, saying it would “eviscerate” the pro-life protection.


“Madam Speaker, if reopening the government is the goal, if ending the shutdown is the goal, why does this appropriations package contain a brand-new poison pill rider, Section 71, that overturns a major, comprehensive, current-day pro-life policy?” asked Smith.


Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser condemned the move, saying that it showed the real priorities of the new House majority leadership.  


“While many lawmakers are focused on getting the government funded and running, Nancy Pelosi did not waste a moment trying to force American taxpayers to prop up the abortion industry. Her first act as Speaker leaves no doubt about House Democrats’ senseless priorities for the next two years,” said Dannenfelser.


Smith praised the policy as one that “establishes pro-child safeguards that are benign and humane conditions” that seek to protect “innocent children who might otherwise die from chemical poisoning or by dismemberment.”


“For years, pro-abortion organizations have used U.S. taxpayer funds to weaken, undermine or reverse pro-life laws in other nations, and destroy precious lives of these children,” he said.


Smith also accused Pelosi of inconsistency, noting that earlier in the day she had “admonished [the House] to protect God’s creation.”


“These unborn children are God’s creation. They cry out for our protection,” Smith stated.


Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House Minority Whip, accused the House Democrats of attempting to “Sneak a provision into their funding bill that allows taxpayer dollars to fund abortions in foreign countries.”


Writing on Twitter, Scalise also called the legislation a “sham bill.”


The House spending bill is identical to one approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June, 2018, though that bill was never considered by the full Senate.


Despite the bill’s passage by the House, it is unlikely to become law. The Republican Senate Majority leadership indicated Thursday that they will not be considering either of the bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House.


Dannenfelser also expressed her hopes that the bill’s provisions would not come into effect.


“We are confident that as the fight over funding the government continues, the pro-life Senate majority and the President will not stand for any attempt to undermine this administration’s pro-life policies,” she said.


The Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy was brought in by President Trump in 2017. It is an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy which applied to NGOs receiving global family planning assistance funds from the United States.


Since it was first implemented by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy has regularly been rescinded Democratic presidents and then re-instituted by Republican presidents when they take office.


The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the taxpayer funding of abortions in the United States, is not impacted by this legislation.

Was this Michigan grandfather on a mission from God?

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 05:34

Marquette, Mich., Jan 4, 2019 / 03:34 am (CNA).- Irving “Francis” Houle was a Michigan father of five known for his holy life. He appeared to bear the stigmata, a physical manifestation of the wounds of Jesus Christ, and said he experienced the Passion and visions of Jesus and Mary.

Now the Diocese of Marquette is asking whether he was a saint.

For Gale Houle, his wife of more than 60 years, he was also her husband.

“Irving is my saint, and this is well deserved,” she said, speaking to the U.P. Catholic newspaper about the inquiry into his canonization.

“He was a husband and father and a grandfather. I love him with all my heart,” she continued, “But some days he just wasn’t there!”

In November 2018, Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan opened the cause of canonization for Servant of God Irving C. Houle, who passed away Jan. 3, 2009 at the age of 83.

Houle believed he first saw Jesus when he was a young child, but didn’t recognize him at the time. He suffered near-fatal injuries in a fall from a horse, and his doctor said he was too weak for surgery.

A nun in the family encouraged prayers for him, and the next morning new X-rays showed no evidence of severe injuries. Young Irving told his mother a man in white robes and upraised hand had been standing by his crib in the night, and a bishop told his parents this figure must have been Jesus, the National Catholic Register’s Joseph Pronechen said in a blog post.

Houle graduated from high school in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army for two years in Europe and the Middle East, then worked at a shoe store and a Montgomery Ward department store before becoming a cleaning supplies salesman. He then served as a plant manager for a machinery manufacturer.

He and his family were parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Church in Escabana, a city of over 12,000 on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In addition to his five children, he had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“He was a joker,” his wife Gail said. “He was a little tease; he was a lot of fun. The kids miss him terribly.”

Irving Houle said he received his mission in visions from Jesus and Mary: to suffer the Passion every night to save sinners and to bring people back to confession and to the Eucharist.

He began a healing ministry, often in churches after Mass. He would pray and place his hands on people’s heads. His travels took him across Michigan, to South Dakota and, one time, to Fatima. He never took payment for the healings.

Though the healings were often spiritual, rather than physical in nature, some people reported immediate physical cures as well.

He prayed over one wheelchair-bound woman, a cancer patient given only four months to live. Five months later she came to him, walking, reporting that she was free of cancer. An eight-year-old boy suffering leukemia also reported healing after his prayers.

Witnesses, including his wife Gail, said Houle first received the stigmata in 1993, at the age of 67.

“I didn’t notice any real changes in him before it happened,” she said.

On Holy Thursday of that year, he felt sick and went home to lay on the couch after Adoration at the parish church.

“That night, he said his hands hurt,” Gail said. “I looked but there was nothing. I asked him if his arms hurt too, but he said no. Later, he said his head hurt.”

On Good Friday, he stayed home, an unusual action for the devout churchgoer. This continued through Easter.

“After Easter, he had red spots the size of dimes on his hands. He said they hurt, but didn’t want to discuss it.”

Deacon Terry Saunders told the U.P. Catholic he saw Howe immediately after Easter when the layman brought Holy Communion to him.

“He told me of the pain in his hands and when the marks appeared. He was nervous about it,” Saunders said. “Over time, I saw his hands swell, like they’d do if you were hit with something. His hands split open, and after that, he had open wounds sometimes as big as a quarter or half dollar. He wore bandages on the back of his hands for the rest of his life, and bands like sweatbands around them if he was bleeding.”

Gail said they struggled in dealing with the stigmata.

Doctors, priests, bishops and cardinals had examined his wounds, but they did not know what was happening.

Houle said he suffered the Passion and had visions every night, with the pain beginning at 12:30 a.m. and lasting 35 minutes. He would then have visions until 2:30 or 3 a.m., he told Father Robert J. Fox in an interview.

His wife Gail never witnessed this part of her husband’s life, though several people including his brother did. She believed that her habit of falling asleep quickly was God’s way of shielding her.

In one May 1993 vision, the Virgin Mary told him: “My beloved Son: I come to you this night to tell you how much your prayers and suffering have meant to my Son and me. Your suffering has been long, my child. You have pleased my Son and me. We will be close to you. The graces have been given to you. Satan is trying to cause confusion among you. But I tell you, he will not succeed…”

Houle said he would feel intense pain, at times feeling as if he were being torn apart. During this time God would show him who and what he was suffering for, like civil wars, abortion, homelessness, murders, and abused women and children.

He saw the people for whom he suffered, but not their names. He would say “it usually goes back to the sins of the flesh,” according to the National Catholic Register blog post.

Saunders said that all of Houle’s suffering was “for the conversion of sinners.”

Bishop Doerfler has appointed Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, a priest from Rome, as postulator of Houle’s cause. Ambrosi is involved in overseeing other canonization causes, including that of the American archbishop and television personality Ven. Fulton J. Sheen.

At its June meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will review the cause of Houle’s canonization and give its opinion on whether it should move forward. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will then review the case to determine if he led a life of heroic virtue. Should the congregation and the Pope approve, he will then be given the title “venerable.”

He could be beatified following sufficient proof of one miracle, and canonized upon sufficient proof of another miracle.

In 2005, Father Robert J. Fox published a book about Houle under the title “A Man Called Francis,” calling him “Francis” to protect his identity.

Father Fox was an observer of Houle’s sufferings and estimated that Houle prayed over 200,000 people. The priest founded the Fatima Family Apostolate and retired near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. In 2003, he hosted Houle on his EWTN radio show “Reclaiming Your Children for the Catholic Faith.”

The Irving C. “Francis” Houle Association has been formed to promote Houle’s canonization cause and to help raise funds for expenses, including for the work of Ambrosi and others. It currently has between 100 and 150 members.

Bishop Doerfler named Deacon Terry Saunders as its president and moderator.

Cardinal Dolan urges aid for abuse victims 'no matter who their abuser was'

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 21:01

New York City, N.Y., Jan 3, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote in a recent an op-ed that while he fully supports victims of sexual abuse, proposed legal reforms in the state should be crafted so as support all victims, whether their abuser was part of a public or private institution.

“I believe it is important to strengthen the Child Victims Act to ensure that all victim-survivors are the center of this much-needed legislation,” Dolan wrote in the New York Daily News Dec. 31.

The Child Victims Act is a proposed measure that would give survivors until age 50 to report sexual abuse as a minor. Under current state law, alleged survivors of abuse cannot file a claim after they turn 23.

The New York legislature is now under Democratic control, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said passing this bill is one of his priorities for the coming year.

“The emphasis must be on helping [victims] heal, not breaking government, educational, health, welfare, or religious organizations and institutions,” Dolan wrote.

The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of New York, has been working with lawmakers and advocating for a complete elimination of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors.

However, Dolan reportedly in March personally asked Cuomo to remove a provision in the Child Victims Act that would allow a one-year “lookback” window of opportunity for victims of any age to bring their alleged abusers to court, according to WNYC.

He contended that the temporary window lifting the statute of limitations would be “toxic” and “very strangling.” Such a window means “the only organization targeted is the Catholic Church,” he said, according to the Buffalo NPR news station WBFO.

The bill has also faced opposition from Orthodox Jewish community leaders, the Boy Scouts of America, and insurance companies, who fear financial hardship from the lawsuits.

Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a co-sponsor of the Child Victims Act, told NBC News that she believes "Cardinal Dolan knows well that the true path to justice for adult survivors lies in the lookback window, in addition to extending the criminal and civil statute of limitations."

Dolan did not explicitly address the lookback window in his op-ed.

“Right now, we, along with many others, want to work with...all interested parties to achieve a balanced, fair reform that provides a sense of resolution to all victims, no matter who their abuser was — a government worker, a public school teacher, a counselor, a health care professional, a coach, a foster parent, and, yes, a member of the clergy, no matter how long ago,” Dolan wrote.

“The Archdiocese of New York and four other state dioceses have instituted the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, with over $200 million in compensation paid to more than 1,000 individuals, with some cases reaching back over 60 years,” he wrote.

Dolan noted that all eight of New York state’s Catholic diocese have implemented resolution and compensation programs for victims of abuse as minors. He offered his own archdiocese’ model, implemented in 2016, as a guide for the rest of the state.

Their “survivor-centered” approach, he asserted, works well for several reasons: it avoids costly litigation that could also cause further pain to survivors; it “insures fair and reasonable compensation,” and guards against the possibility of bankrupting “public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Dolan acknowledged that healing from trauma is a long and often impossible process. In addition to “spiritual, emotional and therapeutic support” offered by the Church for victims of abuse from all kinds of organizations, monetary compensation can also serve as “a tangible acknowledgement of the harm done” to victims and help them heal considerably.

“Our Church’s own experience in abandoning the rigid statute of limitations, although financially expensive, was morally necessary in order to help promote healing and justice for those who deserve it,” he wrote.

New Congress is more than one-third Catholic

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The 116th Congress was gavelled into session on January 3, bringing almost 100 new lawmakers into office, and with Catholics making up nearly 30 percent of the congressional freshman class.


Catholics account for 28 of the 96 new members of Congress, including newly-elected Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), the only Catholic freshman in the Senate.


In total, there are 163 Catholics sitting in either the Senate or House of Representatives, a drop of five from the 115th Congress, but still more than 30 percent of the legislature.


According to figures from Pew Research, the new session sees an end to what had previously been a near even split of Catholic members between the parties in the House of Representatives, with 86 Catholic Democrats now serving alongside 55 Republicans.


Among the newcomers in the House is Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), who represents Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. Stauber a former professional hockey player, police officer, and city councilman, is the second Catholic to win the seat in seven decades.


Stauber, a married father of four, campaigned as a defender of life from “conception until natural death” and promised to “always be a strong and constant voice for the right to life.”


Another notable Catholic in Congress is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who now represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, covering parts of the Bronx and Queens. This November, Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the age of 29.


Widely expected to become a leading voice for the progressive wing of the new Democratic House majority, Ocasio-Cortez won a surprise primary victory over Democrat incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, a result considered to be one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 election.


In June, the day after her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez published an op-ed in America magazine about how her Catholic faith has inspired her to work on criminal justice reform.


Catholic education also played a role in shaping many members of the new Congress. According to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, one out of 10 members of Congress graduated from a Jesuit institution, including 12 Senators and 43 members of the House of Representatives.


Of the 12 Jesuit schools with alumni currently in Congress, Georgetown University has the highest number of graduates with 28. Boston College and Fordham University each have six alumni serving on Capitol Hill.


The 116th Congress is also one of the most religiously diverse in U.S. history, with the first two Muslim women elected to the House, which has already moved to change procedural rules so that Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) can wear her Muslim hijab on the House floor.

Seven Christians detained several days in Laos

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 17:19

Savannakhet, Laos, Jan 3, 2019 / 03:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven Christians in a Laotian village were arrested and detained for several days for holding a church service deemed illegal.

They were arrested Dec. 29 and released Jan. 2, according to Radio Free Asia, which aims “to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”

The detainees are from Nakanong village in the Phine District of Savannakhet Province. Three of those arrested were church leaders, and the rest were members of the church.

Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom told BosNewsLife that local authorities “demolished the [church’s] stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized three mobile phones.”

Laos is a communist country of southeast Asia. Its constitution provides citizens the freedom to believe in religion, but religious groups must register with the government. The US State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom Report said that “freedom of religion tended to decline in the rural areas.”

It added that “government restrictions on registered or unregistered minority religious groups, particularly Protestant groups, remained disproportionately limiting in certain remote regions. Reports continued of authorities, especially in isolated villages, arresting, detaining, and exiling followers of minority religions, particularly Christians.”

Laos is a majority-Buddhist country, and less than two percent of the population is Christian.

The Ministry of Home Affairs must give permission for religious practice, and it can order the cessation of any religious activities or beliefs not in agreement with policies, traditional customs, or laws.

The International Religious Freedom Report also said that the decentralization of Laotian government contributes “to abuses by local officials, some of whom reportedly were unaware of laws and policies protecting religious freedom or unwilling to implement them. Religious groups stated that most, if not all, instances of abuse occurred in remote villages.”

RFA reported that four Christians were detained for a week in November in Savannakhet's Viraboury District for holding services without permission.

Pope calls for unity and conversion in letter to US bishops

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has written to the bishops of the United States calling for a “change of mindset” to restore the Church’s credibility and trust among the faithful.


“Clearly a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it,” the pope wrote in a letter to the American bishops, dated Jan 1 and released Thursday by the U.S. bishops’ conference.


This repair process must involve a “change of mindset” by bishops in relation to prayer, power, exercising authority, and handling money, he explained, with the change rooted in an acknowledgment of the “sinfulness and limitations” which necessitate God’s grace.


The letter was sent ahead of the U.S. bishops’ weeklong retreat at Mundelein Seminary, in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The retreat was proposed by the pope in October as an opportunity for them to reflect and pray after a year of scandals which have rocked the Church in the U.S. and worldwide.


Following months of scandals, including the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, American bishops met in November for their annual general assembly in Baltimore, at which bishops vocally disagreed with one another on the root causes of the crisis facing the Church, and on the best means of addressing it.


Acknowledging that recent abuse scandals have undercut the credibility of the Church in the United States, Pope Francis said that a cover-up mentality “enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.”


A unified body of bishops, he said, would be helpful in regaining this credibility.


“Credibility will be the fruit of a united body, that, while acknowledging its sinfulness and limitations, is at the same time capable of preaching the need for conversion,” he said.


Francis also condemned what he called a sense of “division and dispersion” among the communion of bishops that has erupted in the wake of abuse allegations. This discord, the pope said, goes beyond the typical disagreements bound to arise among any group of people and comes from “the enemy of human nature” taking advantage of current crises to further divide the Church.


The bishops must take a “renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts,” said Francis, as he cautioned against a reliance on structural solutions that would reduce the role of a bishop to “a mere administrative or organizational function” in the “business of evangelization.”


The paramount task facing the American bishops, Francis said, is to create “a shared spirit of discernment” leading to true communion, without giving in to the “relative calm” of a sterile compromise or a vote with winners and losers.


The pope said that the bishops must abandon the “modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships,” and instead should focus their attention on “the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.” Instead, he said, the bishops should work to avoid “gossip and slander” and promote dialogue, discussion and discernment among one another.


“As a Church we cannot be held hostage by this side or that, but must be attentive always to start from those who are most vulnerable.”


In his letter, Francis expressed regret that he was not able to personally attend the retreat, but that he still wished to “reflect with [the American bishops] on some aspects I consider important,” and to offer encouragement for their “prayer and the steps [they] are taking to combat the ‘culture of abuse’ and to deal with the crisis of credibility.”


The pope warned that while many responses were being considered by the bishops, they must be cautious to avoid those that do not necessarily align with the “flavour” of the Gospel.


“To put it colloquially,” said the pontiff, “we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease.’”


For this to be accomplished, he said that the bishops must engage in “wisdom, prayer, much listening, and fraternal communion.”

How this Episcopalian’s own book convinced him to become Catholic

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:00

Nashville, Tenn., Jan 3, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- An Episcopalian priest set out to write a book on finding and understanding the Gospel’s truth. Now, after he and his family have converted to Catholicism, he says they have found it.

Andrew Petiprin, his wife Amber, and their two children Alex and Aimee were confirmed into the Catholic Church on Jan. 1, at St. Patrick’s Parish in Nashville, the city where they have lived for the last 18 months.

“I am grateful for 16 formative years as an Anglican, and 8 as an Episcopal priest, most recently as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Tennessee. But I am thrilled that the Lord has called me, my wife, and our children into full communion with Rome,” said Petiprin on Twitter.

Petiprin told CNA that his conversion was heavily influenced by questions raised in the process of writing his book “Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself,” which was released last April.

“Even though I was writing about doctrines that applied to different Christians in different traditions, finishing the book was a real emphasis to examine the questions again about whether I should be Catholic.”

The book discussed foundational elements of Christian doctrine: the Trinity, Christology, the Holy Spirit, atonement and salvation. Petiprin said that after the book’s completion, a major question arose – where does the authority come from to verify the truth of these subjects?

“It really forced me back into questions I had been asking myself for a long time, namely, where is truth ultimately to be found?” he said.

“For me, it came back to the papacy, it came back to the Church…The Roman Catholic Church is [the] primitive Church that the doctrine has developed faithfully within over these centuries.”

Petripin had set out to write the book as a project for his parishioners, but his goal for the book have since changed. He said he now hopes that it will lead people to seek out more catholic resources.

“Now, I really hope that people read the book and then they get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that they begin exploring the Catholic faith.”

“I intend to write a follow up to it called Catholic Truth Matters and explore some particularities of why it’s not enough to be just okay with Christian doctrine but also to see how the practices of the Catholic Church are the place where Gospel is lived out at its fullest.”

Petiprin told ACI Prensa that he was heavily influenced by the death of Saint John Paul II, and more recently, by devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“In 2005 when Pope Saint John Paul II died, I had a very strong feeling that I was connected to him and to the Church and that I would one day be Catholic. It turned out to take more than 13 years,” he said.

“Over the past several months I have begun praying the Rosary and asking for Mary’s prayers. Loving Mary is all about loving Jesus. Her maternal love for me inspires a deeper love for her son, my savior.”

Petiprin said he is “overwhelmed with the welcome I am receiving from Catholics. Their faith is real, and they can’t help but pour out enthusiasm for people like me who have been called to share it with them. I hope in time that I can share that same level of welcome with others coming into the faith.”

While married Anglican ministers who convert to Catholicism are permitted to pursue the priesthood, Petiprin says he has not yet decided if he will seek ordination.  

“I am open to discernment about eventual formation for the Catholic priesthood, but I am eager now to find good employment and live the Catholic faith with my family as a layman.”


Knights of Columbus: Anti-Catholic bigotry is nothing new

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 11:09

New Haven, Conn., Jan 3, 2019 / 09:09 am (CNA).- Catholics can be good US citizens and honest public servants, the head of the Knights of Columbus wrote Thursday in a message to members of the Catholic charitable organization.

“There have been times in our country’s past when uninformed or prejudiced people questions whether Catholics could be good citizens or honest public servants,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson wrote in the letter.

“Sadly, it seems that in some quarters, this prejudice remains.”

Anderson's Jan. 3 letter was occasioned by two senators objecting last month to a federal judicial nominee's membership in the Knights.

Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked whether his membership in the Knights of Columbus would prevent Brian C. Buescher from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.” Buescher is an Omaha-based lawyer nominated to sit on the US District Court for the District of Nebraska.

The Supreme Knight noted that Buescher's “fitness for the federal bench” was questioned by Hirono and Harris “precisely because our Order holds firm to the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life and marriage.”

Anderson said, “Such attacks on the basis of our Catholic faith are hardly new. The Knights of Columbus was formed amid a period of anti-Catholic bigotry.”

From the founding of the Knights of Columbus until the presidential election of John F. Kennedy, “many still held that Catholics were unfit for public office,” he added.

The Knights of Columbus has always adhered to Catholic teaching, Anderson said, adding that “our primary motivation” is Christ's commandment “that we love God completely and our neighbor as ourselves.”

It is this commandment of love that compels the Knights' charitable work, he noted.

“This love also motivates us to stand with the Church on the important issues of life and marriage, precisely because the Church’s teaching reflects and is based on that love. We stand with our Church because we believe that what our faith teaches is consistent with reason, is timeless and transcends the changing sentiments of any particular time or place.”

The Supreme Knight also noted that in his letter to the Knights' 2013 convention, Pope Francis had asked that the organization “bear witness to the authentic nature of marriage and the family, the sanctity and inviolable dignity of human life, and the beauty and truth of human sexuality.”

Anderson pointed out the no religious test clause of Article VI of the US Constitution, and the free exercise clause of the Constitution's First Amendment, saying, “any suggestion that the Order’s adherence to the beliefs of the Catholic Church makes a Brother Knight unfit for public office blatantly violates those constitutional guarantees.”

“Let us continue to express our love of God and neighbor by helping those in need and by standing with our Church, regardless of the popularity of doing so,” Anderson exhorted.

“Let us also remember that, from our founding, we have embodied the truth that a good Catholic is a good citizen who shows civility and dignity even in the face of prejudice.”

Buescher was nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court Nov. 3. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Buescher’s nomination Nov. 28, sending him written questions Dec. 5.

Hirono had asked Buescher if he would end his membership with the Knights of Columbus if confirmed, so as “to avoid any appearance of bias,” saying the organization “has taken a number of extreme positions.”

And Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society”, and asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

Harris raised a statement from Anderson saying abortion constituted “the killing of the innocent on a massive scale” and asked Buescher if he agreed with Anderson.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) noted the nominee’s previously outspoken opposition to abortion and asked, “why should a litigant in your courtroom expect to get a fair hearing from an impartial judge in a case involving abortion rights?”

Buescher ran in the Republican primary for Nebraska attorney general in 2014. During that campaign he described himself as “avidly pro-life” and said opposition to abortion was part of his “moral fabric.”

In his responses to the questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Buescher said if confirmed as a federal judge, he would follow established rules regarding conflicts of interest, and that he would not seek to advance personal opinions, but would make rulings in accord with the judicial precedents established by the US Supreme Court.

Anderson is not the only voice to raise objections to the senators’ line of questions.

A Jan. 2 Wall Street Journal editorial said that the senators’ “argument against Mr. Buescher fits a distressing pattern. No longer is it necessary to engage the political merits of a position, or—in the case of a judicial nominee—demonstrate he’d use personal views to override the law. Today it is enough to label a nominee’s religion or associations “extreme” and use that to try to banish him from public life.”

The editorial noted another recent instance in which a Catholic faced questions about her faith, mentioning the 2017 confirmation hearing for federal Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Barrett “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” That comment sparked a groundswell of support for Barrett’s nomination.

Last month, a Washington, D.C. chapter of the Knights of Columbus invited Harris and Hirono to join in their charitable activities, including a February Polar Plunge raising money for the Special Olympics. Neither senator has responded to that invitation.

The Knights of Columbus is active in 17 countries. In 2017, some 2 million members carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes.

Synthetic hormone injections for transgender children worry some doctors

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Jan 2, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pediatric endocrinologists are warning that despite a lack of medical tests to determine its safety, U.S. doctors are increasingly injecting children who have gender dysphoria with a powerful hormonal suppressant normally used to treat prostate cancer.

"[Parents] need to continue to love their children. They need to continue to affirm their human dignity. Yet they shouldn't have to jettison biological reality to be able to put what they're being told into practice, in terms of disrupting normally timed puberty," Dr. Paul Hruz, an associate professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Christian Post.

Leuprorelin, sold under the brand name Lupron, has never been green-lighted by the Food and Drug Administration to treat gender dysphoria, nor have there been any peer-reviewed studies done on the drug's long-term physical and psychological side effects on children, The Christian Post reports.

The Christian Post interviewed several doctors in a recent report who said synthetic hormones could put children on a pathway to permanent sterilization, and many other long-term repercussions which may not be felt for years.

Hormone blockers, like leuprorelin, are approved for use in children to treat precocious puberty— when a child experiences puberty at an abnormally early age— and pediatricians may administer them to children to help them handle hormone drives and avoid peer pressure related to their sexual maturity.

Doctors may diagnose children with central precocious puberty when signs of sexual maturity begin to develop in girls under the age of 8 or boys under the age of 9, according to the drug’s website.

When used normally, the drug suppresses hormonal signals from the pituitary gland which regulate testosterone or estrogen levels. This can aid in the treatment of prostate cancer for men and endometriosis in women.

When used to suppress normally-timed puberty, however, the drug can affect bone density, which increases during a child’s normal pubertal development, Hruz told The Christian Post.

"The reality is that there is no long-term data about treating children, and the only data that we have in adults indicates that medical interventions to align the appearance of the body to a transgendered identity does not fix the problem," he said, adding that overwhelming evidence exists that most children will realign their gender identity with their biological sex if left alone.

Dr. Michael Laidlaw, a Rocklin, California-based board certified physician, told The Christian Post that a group called the World Professional Association for Transgender Health overhauled and “co-opted” the guidelines regarding gender transition therapy of the Endocrine Society, the largest global professional organization representing the field of endocrinology, to be overwhelmingly pro-transition.

Ladilaw also claimed that parents who change their minds about helping their children transition are often “strong-armed” or “bullied” into continuing the treatment by doctors, who warn that the child may commit suicide without the treatment.

"Gender dysphoria is not an endocrine condition, but is a psychological one, and should, therefore, be treated with proper psychological care,” Laidlaw told the The Christian Post.

“But it becomes an endocrine condition once you start using puberty blockers and giving cross-sex hormones to kids."

Ladilaw also mentioned that he knows of no psychological condition that is treated by misaligning a patient’s hormones from their normal levels. He said he predicts that a few years down the road, when patients begin to realize the side effects of the treatment, there will likely be medical malpractice lawsuits filed against those who encouraged their transition.

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist in private practice in Atlanta, said that doctors who oppose gender transition therapy today face barriers to getting published and are routinely dismissed by the scientific community at large.

"There is a core of very diabolical people who are filtering large sums of money into this and using mass social pressure," Van Meter asserted.

California passed a law in September 2018 to provide resources for “gender-affirmative” treatment for foster children, despite strong opposition from doctors; a group of endocrinologists have co-authored a letter of protest to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism regarding the guidelines. Between 2009 and the present, the number of transgender medical clinics in the U.S. has ballooned to 55.

The doctors cited by The Christian Post all recommended appropriate counseling to uncover the root cause of the child’s distress, rather than seeking a gender change.

Pregnant employees accuse Planned Parenthood of discrimination

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 17:33

New York City, N.Y., Jan 2, 2019 / 03:33 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood Federation of America is frequently under fire from pro-life politicians and organizations for being the largest single provider of abortion in the United States.

But last month, the company faced harsh criticism from among its own staff.

Numerous employees at varying levels of Planned Parenthood throughout the U.S. said they have faced pregnancy discrimination at the company, which claims to have healthcare for women - including prenatal care - as its mission.

In a report last month from the New York Times, several employees shared their experiences of being an expectant mother while working at Planned Parenthood.

Ta’Lisa Hairston, who worked as a medical assistant at a Planned Parenthood in New York, had high blood pressure after becoming pregnant and therefore needed more frequent breaks. Multiple notes from her nurses urging rest and breaks at work were dismissed by her supervisors, she told the New York Times.

“I had to hold back tears talking to pregnant women, telling them to take care of their pregnancies when I couldn’t take care of mine,” she told the New York Times. “It made me jealous.”

Hairston resigned from Planned Parenthood in June, after long shifts on her feet and infrequent breaks led to such severe swelling and complications that she had an emergency C-section at 34 weeks of pregnancy.

“I didn’t get into the medical field to be treated like this,” she told the Times.

Another former Planned Parenthood employee who requested anonymity reported a similar experience to Hairston - her managers ignored her doctor’s notes requesting frequent breaks, and she was asked to cut her maternity leave short.

Two former employees reported being fired from Planned Parenthood shortly after giving birth.

A former hiring manager from California who requested anonymity said that when she worked at Planned Parenthood, supervisors would blatantly discuss whether candidates for positions or promotions might become pregnant.

Candidates who were likely to get pregnant were often turned down for jobs or promotions, she said, despite the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibiting such practices.

According to the Times, of Planned Parenthood’s 55 regional offices (which oversee local clinics) only six provide regular paid maternity leave. About 20 offices allow for short term disability to cover maternity leave, in which an employer is paid a portion of their salary while on leave. Employees at Planned Parenthood’s headquarters, located in New York, are given six-week paid maternity leave.

Christine Charbonneau, who heads a Planned Parenthood regional office in Seattle, blamed the lack of paid maternity leave on financial constraints.

While some states have made cuts to government funding of Planned Parenthood in recent years, government funding of the company remains fairly stable. In August, the Senate rejected a bill that would have blocked federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

According to a 2018 report, Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding has increased by 61 percent in the past decade, from $336.7 million in 2006 to $543.7 million in 2016.

Despite defunding efforts, the organization received only two percent fewer tax dollars in 2016 than in 2015. “Government Health Services Reimbursements & Grants” constituted the largest source of funding for Planned Parenthood in 2016-2017, providing 37 percent of the organization’s revenue.  

Current and former Planned Parenthood employees from Florida told the Times that regardless of official policies, a general culture of discouraging pregnancy among the staff is prevalent at the organization. Coworkers would often announce at work that they were “not planning on having children or were gay or single.” Pregnant workers requesting breaks or special treatment were seen as lazy and uncommitted.

Several spokesmen for Planned Parenthood denied any discrimination.

“All the individuals identified in the article were treated fairly and equitably, free of any discrimination,” said Vincent Russell, the head of Planned Parenthood’s Hawthorne, N.Y. office, which oversees the clinic where Hairston had worked.

The Times said many of the employees they spoke with said they hoped that an article might spur change and address the lack of paid maternity leave available at the company. “It was looked down upon for you to get pregnant,” Carolina Delgado, a former Planned Parenthood employee from Florida, told the Times.

“I don’t think that any supervisor had to literally say it for us to feel it.”


Kansas judge strikes down ban on 'telemedicine' abortions

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 17:00

Topeka, Kansas, Jan 2, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A district judge in Kansas has ruled that the state cannot prohibit “telemedicine” abortions and blocked a law banning the practice that was due to go into effect this month.


District Judge Franklin Theis ruled Dec. 30 that the new law was legally unenforceable and could not go into effect. Theis had earlier described the law as an “air ball.” He also ruled that other state laws that contain provisions against telemedicine abortions were to be put on hold. Those laws are being challenged in a different case that has not yet been decided.


A telemedicine abortion is when a woman consults a doctor via a video chat rather than an in-person visit. The doctor then writes a prescription for abortion inducing drugs which the woman can fill locally, taking the drugs at her own home or another location.


Theis has previously ruled against similar bans on telemedicine abortion in Kansas. In his decision, he said that the 2018 law lacks a basis for prosecutors to bring charges against someone for performing a telemedicine abortion. He ruled that the law “has no anchor for operation.”


In comments reported by the Kansas City Star, the executive director of Kansans for Life, Mary Kay Culp, called Theis’ ruling “infuriating,” and said the judge had a long record of “taking laws designed by the legislature to protect unborn babies and women and turning them into laws that instead protect the abortion industry.”


The pro-abortion legal advocacy organization Center For Reproductive Rights filed suit against the law in November, 2018. The suit was filed on behalf of Trust Women Wichita, which operates an abortion facility in Wichita. Trust Women had started offering telemedicine abortions the previous month, due to a shortage of abortionists for in-clinic procedures.


Trust Women also said that they hoped that they would be able to provide abortions via telemedicine to women living in the state’s rural areas. There are no abortion clinics outside of Kansas’ major cities.


In 2017, there were nearly 4,000 medication abortions performed in Kansas. This is more than half of the total number of abortions in the state. It is unknown how many of these were performed by telemedicine.


The measure was the third attempt by Kansas lawmakers to restrict telemedicine abortions. In 2011, a ban on telemedicine abortions was passed as part of a larger group of regulations for abortion clinics in the state. That law was challenged by abortion clinics, and the regulations were blocked in another ruling by Judge Theis.


Four years later, in 2015, Kansas’ legislators again passed a bill banning telemedicine abortions. Theis later ruled that this new law was also covered under his previous injunction, which he described as a “safe harbor” for the state’s abortion clinics.


Seventeen states have banned the practice of telemedicine abortion.

Father Cantalamessa preaching to US bishops on retreat this week

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 15:46

Chicago, Ill., Jan 2, 2019 / 01:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of the US are gathered near Chicago for a week-long retreat directed by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., who has been apostolic preacher since 1980.

The Jan. 2-8 retreat is being held at Mundelein Seminary, in the Chicago suburbs, on the theme of Christ's commission of the 12 apostles, and the apostolic mandate.

It is “taking place at the invitation of Pope Francis who has asked all bishops in the United States to pause in prayer as the Church seeks to respond to the signs of the times,” the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in December.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB, expressed his gratitude to the Pope for asking the bishops “to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead. I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”

Fr. Cantalamessa, 84, was appointed apostolic preacher, or preacher to the papal household, by St. John Paul II, early in his papacy. He was born in Italy in 1934, and ordained a priest in 1958.

He then earned a doctor of divinity in Fribourg in 1962, and a doctorate in classical literature in Milan in 1966.

Before being appointed preacher to the papal household, Fr. Cantalamessa was a history professor and head of the religious sciences department at the Catholic University of Milan, as well as a member of the Catholic delegation for dialogue with Pentecostal communities. He as a member of the International Theological Commission from 1975 to 1981.

As apostolic preacher, Fr. Cantalamessa preaches to the pope and the Roman curia on the Fridays of Advent and Lent, and he also preaches at the Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica. Since its recent establishment by Pope Francis, he has also preached for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in St. Peter's Basilica.

He is the author of more than 20 books of spiritual theology and Catholic devotions. His most recent book is the 2015 work “The Gaze of Mercy: A Commentary on Divine and Human Mercy.”

The office of apostolic preacher was established in the mid-16th century by Paul IV. Since a 1743 decision of Benedict XIV, the office has been restricted to Capuchins.


Spiritual direction: What is it, who needs it, and why?

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 09:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 1, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Chatting with Lee McDowell is a peaceful experience.

Seated in a comfy leather chair in a rust-colored office near downtown Denver, McDowell serenely and thoughtfully explains the “art and science” of her particular trade - and it’s not surprising to learn that she has a background in clinical psychology.

Today, McDowell serves not as a psychologist, but as one of many spiritual directors available to Catholics and other Christians through the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Denver, Colorado. The center is a house founded by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, with the mission of bringing spiritual direction to the “popular level” of parishes and lay people.

Once thought to be reserved for the “interior castles” of highly mystical souls like St. Teresa of Avila, spiritual direction is today increasingly popular among Catholics of all vocations in the post-Vatican II age of emphasizing the universal call to holiness.

"As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction,” Pope Benedict XVI said in 2011, “not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ."

But good spiritual directors can be hard to find, and it can be difficult to know when one needs spiritual direction, versus a good confession or pastoral counseling or other kinds of help.

CNA posed some questions about the ministry to some seasoned spiritual directors and experts on spiritual direction: McDowell, a Catholic convert and former clinical psychologist who found spiritual direction through her grief after losing her husband; Fr. Greg Cleveland, an oblate of the Virgin Mary and executive director of the Lanteri Center; John Johnson, the associate director of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation; and Dr. Anthony Lilles, Academic Dean of both St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California, and the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, who has written extensively on the spiritual life.

What is spiritual direction - and what is it not?

While the answers from spiritual directors and experts vary slightly on this question, one thing is clear - spiritual direction must be aimed at forming and cultivating a relationship with the Lord.

“One of my favorite definitions for spiritual directions is that it is a three-part encounter,” McDowell said. “An encounter between the Lord, the directee, and the spiritual director, for the purpose that the directee may grow in their relationship with our Lord.”

Remove any one of those encounters, and what is taking place is no longer spiritual direction, McDowell said.

Spiritual direction is also distinct from other forms of pastoral help or counseling, Cleveland told CNA.

“Spiritual direction is not pastoral counseling, a lot of people mistake it for that,” Cleveland said. “Pastoral counseling is more about solving problems in a person’s life, and that’s certainly important and very much needed.”

It’s also not confession, Johnson noted.

“It’s very important that spiritual direction is distinguished from confession. Confession is for your sins, and that doesn’t need to be very illustrative. Confession is number and occasion (of sin),” he said. “If you confess all your sins, you express remorse, you have contrition, and you vow to do have a good confession, you get absolution. It doesn’t need to be a laundry list.”

Spiritual direction instead focuses on a relationship with God, Cleveland said, which is “not a problem to be solved, but something to be discovered and deepened and celebrated. A lot of times people are looking for something sometimes we have to really reorient someone’s thinking - are you looking to deepen your relationship with God through prayer and discernment?”

Johnson told CNA that spiritual direction is a helping relationship that allows Christians to achieve sanctity and the heights of contemplation - which are for every Christian, and not just an elite few.

The practice has biblical roots, Johnson noted, such as in Acts 8:27-39 in which an Ethiopian eunuch is travelling and reading Scripture, but does not fully understand the passage he is reading.

“Seated in his chariot, (the eunuch) was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go and join up with that chariot.’ Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.” (Acts 28-31).

In the rest of the passage, Philip reads the Scripture passage with the eunuch and “proclaimed Jesus” to him by teaching him about the passage, and then baptizing him.

Lilles emphasized that spiritual direction is not just another self-improvement program.

“It’s not psychological counseling for example, nor is it self-exploration or self-improvement or self-therapy,” he said.

“There might be a therapeutic dimension to it, and of course self-knowledge allows you to have a deeper knowledge of God, but is about a living encounter with the Lord. What obstacles do I need to remove so that that encounter can unfold in my life? What do I need to do to dispose myself for that encounter so that I’m ready to say yes to what God places in my heart?”

Who needs spiritual direction? Is it for everyone?

“The first thing that we could say about a spiritual director is that everybody needs one,” Johnson said.

It’s a point on which not everyone in the world of spiritual direction and formation completely agrees. But for Johnson, the biblical roots of spiritual direction confirm its necessity in the spiritual life.

“In this culture of self-starters, of bootstrappers, we hear a lot this notion of ‘well I taught myself.’ How’d you learn that language? I taught myself. How’d you learn ballet? I taught myself. Well that’s not true, because if you could teach yourself anything, you wouldn’t need to,” Johnson said.

“So we need a guide, and beginning in the Biblical tradition even in the earliest days, the apostles introduce one another to Christ. This is the normative way that sanctity is achieved.”

For Father Cleveland, the desire for spiritual direction is key. The average person who identifies as Catholic but may not pray regularly or seek out the sacraments is probably not going to be interested in a spiritual director, he said.

McDowell said that while every Christian who is serious about their faith could benefit from spiritual direction, she didn’t believe formal spiritual direction with a trained religious or lay director was always necessary - or practical - in the spiritual life.

People early on in their faith journey might benefit more from bible studies or other small groups at first, rather than diving right into spiritual direction, she noted.

But there are times in a person’s life when spiritual direction might be more beneficial, she said, such as times of transition - whether that’s vocational discernment, transitioning from college to the real world, a midlife crisis, retirement and empty nesting, or other life changes.

Another time when spiritual direction is especially helpful could be when a person experiences something unexpected, usually something painful like the loss of a job, a dream or a loved one, McDowell said.

“Unexpected sufferings, are marvelous times and often needed times for the ministry of spiritual direction,” she said.

Lilles said there are three key times when he thinks spiritual direction is most needed in a person’s life: when someone has become “spiritually lazy” and needs to reignite their spiritual life, when someone experiences a traumatic event due to their own sin, the sin of others or an outside event, and when someone experiences some internal spiritual trial that may or may not be related to external events.

“When some kind of crisis of faith has come it would be good to seek someone out,” he said.

Where can good spiritual directors be found?

A good spiritual director can be hard to find. Isolated geographic locations, a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the already-busy schedules of available spiritual directors are some of the reasons someone might have difficulties finding a qualified person.

Johnson said he recommends that people find the holiest person they know, and ask them who their director is.

“It’s easy to say my parish is terrible and my priest is too busy...but you have to keep looking. Because the best spiritual directors are going to be very hidden,” he said. “If you see a billboard that says call me, 1-800 Spiritual Director, run the other way.”

Johnson and Lilles both recommended spending some times at local monasteries or convents with religious who are faithfully living out their vows, and asking them for spiritual direction.

“Where the discipline of the Christian life is being lived, God always raises up people who have wisdom for the spiritual life,” Lilles said. He added that most parish priests should also be able to recommend spiritual directors to their parishioners.

As with everything in the spiritual life, prayer is a key component of finding a good spiritual direction.

“The most important thing to find a spiritual director is to beg God to send you one, and God will send you the spiritual director you need at the right time in your life, he hears those kinds of prayers,” Lilles said.

Are all priests spiritual directors? Can lay people be spiritual directors?

While most priests have some sort of training in giving spiritual counsel, they often need further formation to become a well-trained spiritual director, Cleveland said.

“The traditional thinking was that priests were automatically qualified by virtue of their training to be spiritual directors, but it all depends on how good their training is,” he said.

“Priests may have that gift but that gift needs to be developed, like any talent we have,” he added. “Somebody could be a born athlete but they would still have to practice and become good at the sport that they play, and its like that with the priesthood as well.”

There are several formation programs that help develop priests and religious as spiritual directors, and these are increasingly open to interested and qualified lay people as well. Both the Avila Institute and the Lanteri Center providing spiritual direction formation for priests and laity.

Lay people, when given the proper formation and training, “make excellent spiritual directors,” Cleveland said.

“Sometimes the life experience of one lay person receiving spiritual direction will be more consonant and similar to the lay person who’s giving spiritual direction... (they) may find that another lay person understands and is able to relate to (their) experience of being a layperson in the world,” he said.

McDowell, herself a lay spiritual director, said that she finds that people seek lay spiritual directors for a variety of reasons - their priest is busy, they want to talk to someone who might share their vocation of marriage, or they are a woman who would rather share intimate spiritual details of their life with another woman, rather than a priest.

The key qualifications for any good spiritual director are spiritual maturity, psychological maturity, and self awareness, McDowell added. These people can then enter into formation as spiritual directors, where they delve more deeply into the spiritual life, the discernment of spirits, and the ability to listen deeply to another person and notice where God might be moving in their life.

What happens at spiritual direction? What do the directee and the director bring to the table?

At the Lanteri Center, spiritual directors are taught to listen to their directees and to help facilitate their relationship with God, rather than present themselves as gurus who have all the answers, McDowell said.

“My facilitation is mostly asking questions, sometimes repeating back to them a word or phrase that they have said and asking them to say more about that,” McDowell said.

“I don’t suggest: ‘I believe God wants you to do this.’ We are not directive in that way. There’ll be times when I may have a sense that God is working in a particular way in a directees life, but one of our cardinal maxims so to speak is never get out in front of God,” she said.

“So even though I may have a sense that he is working in a particular way or has a desire for the directee in a particular area of holiness and growth, my suggestion will be - how about praying with this scripture. Or if they’ve been praying with it, to journal about it. That’s what I will do, that’s what I mean by facilitating.”  

As for what the seeker of spiritual direction brings to the table, a desire for and commitment to a prayer life is key, McDowell said.

“Without their own personal prayer, there’s really no reason to get together,” McDowell said. “Now, some people come and they want to be taught how to pray. That’s beautiful and we can do that.”

Once people begin with spiritual direction, Cleveland said he usually recommends they spend at least half an hour a day in prayer, whether that’s meditating on scripture, praying the examen prayer, spending time in front of the Eucharist or other forms of prayer.

Johnson said his recommendation to people just beginning spiritual direction is “to bring themselves.”

“At first you especially want to try to get to the heart of the matter, and that can be the most prevalent place of pain in your life, that can be your heaviest cross, that can be your darkest memory,” he said, “because in many ways these crosses, these trials impress themselves upon us in a way that’s very formative or de-formative and that might be the place to start, the most difficult place.”

“Each of us is deeply broken, and if we weren’t deeply broken we wouldn’t need any direction,” he added. “It’s like when you go to the doctor, what are you going to do? It’s not like you’re going to tell them about things that aren’t bothering you. You’re going to tell them about what’s hurting so he can fix it. That’s what a director does, that’s the quality of a good physician.”

What happens if a spiritual director is not a good fit?

McDowell said both the spiritual director and directee should always be discerning whether the relationship is a good fit.

At the Lanteri Center, people seeking spiritual direction are encouraged to have an initial interview meeting with one of the available spiritual directors, and to read their biographies online to see if they feel called to meet with any particular person.

McDowell said she never assumes at a first meeting that she will be that person’s spiritual director, she rather uses the time to gauge where the person it at and what they need.

“Our first meeting with a potential or prospective directee is what we call an initial interview...where I’ll tell them what spiritual direction is and is not, I’ll ask what their desires are and what has brought them,” she said.

It is then up to both the director and directee to discern whether they are a good fit, or whether another person or another ministry altogether might be needed. McDowell said she has referred people to priests for pastoral matters, and directors at the Lanteri Center are also able to recommend Christian psychological counselors if they discover that that is what a person might need.

Sometimes a spiritual direction relationship reaches a natural end - a person may enter a new phase of life or prayer that necessitates a different spiritual director. Prayerful discernment and honesty are key, McDowell said.

For example, as a convert to Catholicism, McDowell said if she had directees who desire to delve more deeply into the lives of the saints, she will usually refer them to a different director, since she is not as familiar with this particular tradition.

“So that’s another time where it’s really good to discern,” McDowell said. “Maybe we’ve been together, and it’s been really good, but now there’s someone else to take them on the rest of the journey.”  

What can Catholics do if they still can’t find a good spiritual director?

There are many resources on spiritual direction available to those who desire spiritual direction but who cannot find a formal director.

Cleveland recommended the many books by Father Timothy Gallagher, another Oblate priest, who is most well-known for his book “Discernment of Spirits”, as well as his other spiritual works such as “The Examen Prayer,” and “Discerning the Will of God.”

In his video for Ascension Press entitled “No spiritual director? No problem!” Father Mike Schmitz makes several book recommendations. Besides “Discernment of Spirits,” he also recommends “Time for God” by Father Jacques Philippe, “Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer” by Father Thomas Dubay, and the “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales.

Whether people are in spiritual direction or not, Lilles said he recommends that people who want to grow in their spiritual lives read more about the doctors of the Church.

“Since 1972 the church has raised up doctors of the Church - St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. John of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and more recently St. Gregory of Narek..these doctors of the Church have all written about the spiritual life, they all have spiritual wisdom,” he said.

“They are masters of the spiritual life...this is an important time for rediscovering that spiritual teaching,” he added.

“Don’t be afraid to put out into the deep, as St. John Paul II often exhorted us” Cleveland added.

“Don’t be afraid to try to deepen that relationship with God, to seek the Lord through prayer and through living the spiritual life vibrantly. It’s a commitment, but the rewards are tremendous - to have that relationship with God, to know God’s presence not only in prayer but in the midst of my daily life, and to be able to seek and find God in all things.”  


This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 31, 2018.


How a priest and teams of homeless people are transforming Detroit

Mon, 12/31/2018 - 19:01

Detroit, Mich., Dec 31, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Many homeless people of Detroit already recognize Father Marko Djonovic’s white Ford Excursion.

When Djonovic rolls up with his friend Marcus Cobb, it’s probably because they’ve got a job to offer, in exchange for lunch and some pay.

“Word is getting out on the street about us,” Djonovic said of his new ministry, which he dubbed Better Way Detroit.

“So when they see the white Ford Excursion they come up to us, asking, are you going to pick us up for work?” he told CNA.

Djonovic and Cobb are the two-man crew behind Better Way Detroit, and since May they have been teaming up with the city of Detroit and willing homeless workers to clean up the city’s parks, overgrown alleys, and vacant lots.

They drive around three days a week, stopping at shelters and other homeless hangouts, offering several hours of work for pay. The van can hold up to six people besides Djonovic and Cobb, and they typically take workers on a first come, first serve basis.

While he never worked with the homeless in any official capacity prior to starting this ministry, Djonovic said he was inspired by the individual interactions he had had with people on the streets.

After helping a mentally ill man get off the streets and into housing, he said he realized that while the homeless agencies are a “well-polished machine, there are gaps in that sometimes they can’t go out on the streets and find people and meet these people.”

He said he also discovered that many of the homeless had a strong work ethic and a desire to work for pay.

“When I see the homeless I don’t see hopeless objects of pity, but I see persons...with a sincere desire to work. They want to work. And there’s a great need in the city of Detroit, so putting those two things together moved me to to do this project,” he said.

Djonovic is also part of the newly-formed Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri at Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Detroit.

The spirit of service found in St. Philip Neri was an inspiration behind Better Way Detroit, Djonovic said.

“We serve following his spirit,” Djonovic said of the members of the Oratory. That service manifests itself in three ways: evangelization to youth, the cultivation of the spiritual life among the people through the sacraments, and service to the poor.

“I believe it’s what St. Philip would have done, he wasn’t afraid to out on the streets and preach the Gospel, to engage people, which included the homeless. St. Philip Neri was known as the apostle of Rome just because of that,” he said.

In the beginning, Better Way Detroit partnered with the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department to clean up parks through their Adopt a Park program. They now also help the city clear out overgrown alleys and vacant lots that can pose safety problems to neighborhoods.

Cobb provides much need insight to the ministry for how to work with the homeless because he was once a homeless veteran himself, Djonovic said.

“I learn a lot from Marcus, he understands the homeless culture; he’s very wise,” Djonovic said. He said Cobb has taught him the importance of being attentive to even the smaller needs of the homeless, such as if they want cigarettes or water, and to let them know they are respected.

Cobb said it helps instill a sense of respect and responsibility to the homeless that they work with if they are given ownership of the projects in which they partake. Every job starts with an evaluation of the site and the work to be done, and the homeless workers decide how best to get the job done, he said.

“You give them ownership, ask them how it should be done. It gives them responsibility,” Cobb said. “We get their input, and before you know it everyone’s teaming up. It makes them feel important, it gets better results, and they put the word out because they know it’s well worth their time.”

Cobb said he believes the ministry has been well-received among the homeless because “it gives them something to look forward to, and a chance to give back, and to get back into society.”

“Just because they’re homeless...doesn’t mean they don’t want to give back or try to get back in to society,” Cobb said.

It also appeals to the homeless because it gives them a chance to provide for some of their own needs “without a handout,” he said.

The partnership with the city, which is significantly understaffed, has also worked well, Cobb and Djonovic said, because their team is often able to get to jobs that the city doesn’t have the staff to do.

For example, the city gets a lot of calls from senior citizens who have lived in their neighborhoods for decades and have safety concerns about overgrown lots that may serve as hideouts or hubs for drug deals, Djonovic said.

“One woman was just singing our praises” after they cleared up a vandalized, overgrown lot in her neighborhood, he said. “Once (lots) are exposed, they feel safer, especially for the sake of children.”

Djonovic said he feels privileged to get to work alongside the homeless, and as they work, “sometimes I get to know their story, and they get to know my story,” he said.

“It’s happened a few times where guys ask me, why did you become a priest?” he said.

Every project concludes with lunch and a reflection on a bible reading. They have also handed out prayer cards to the homeless and do their best to connect them to housing, healthcare services, or other resources they might need.

“We at least just make them aware of the services available and encourage them to go, some guys aren’t aware of (everything available),” Djonovic said.

Djonovic currently funds the ministry entirely out of his own pocket, and through any donations he receives for the project. All of the money goes strictly to needed materials such as gloves or shovels and to pay the homeless for their work.

Djonovic and Cobb added that they are always looking for ways to expand and strengthen their ministry, and they are hoping sometime in the future to employ someone in a full-time position who can oversee the operation to make it more sustainable.

“Things are looking good we’re really enjoying it,” said Djonovic, who added that he’s been touched by some of the responses he’s seen from the homeless.

“One guy said: ‘I feel blessed because to be a part of something positive.’ He didn’t say, 'oh, now I’ve got some money in my pocket',” Djonovic recalled.

“Another young man, 25 years old, he said it was a grace” to participate in the project, he said.

Cobb said he would encourage Catholics to encounter and get to know the poor in their cities.

“Go out and start from the bottom and communicate with the people...go into the areas where the people don’t have the income, and approach them and talk to them halfway nice, and they’ll respond.”

This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 12, 2018.