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Murdered nuns' opposition to death penalty leads to life in prison for killer

Jackson, Miss., Jun 22, 2018 / 12:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A man convicted of the 2016 slayings of two religious sisters in Mississippi will not receive the death penalty and will instead spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rodney Earl Sanders, 48, pled guilty on Thursday to murdering Sr. Margaret Held, SSSF, and Sr. Paula Merrill, SCN, as well as the theft of Held’s car. The two were found stabbed to death and sexually assaulted at their home in Durant, Mississippi, on August 25, 2016. They worked as nurse practitioners at a medical clinic near their home. Their bodies were discovered after they failed to arrive to work.

Sanders did not give a motive for his crimes. At the time of the murders, he was living in a shed across the street from the sisters’ home. He was arrested and charged the day after the crime. Police said he was a person of interest from the beginning of the investigation.

Held was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, which is based in Milwaukee, and Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, from Kentucky.

While Sanders was indicted for the sexual assaults, those charges were not included in his guilty plea, according to the Associated Press. Sanders was eligible for the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison after the judge took into account the fact that Held and Merrill were opposed to the death penalty and would not want their killer executed.

In a statement at Sanders’ plea hearing, Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said that the two sisters were “two of the most gentle persons you could ever know,” who based their lives on “peace, justice, and the love of God.”

Gatz said the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were in favor of the plea agreement as it took away the possibility of the death penalty for Sanders.

“We have longed for justice with regard to our two beloved sisters,” she said. “And so, we support this plea agreement for life in prison without parole. It is justice that recognizes all life is valuable. It is justice that holds out hope, always, that love can break through the hardest barriers.”

Speaking directly to Sanders, Gatz said that her congregation would “never forget what you did to them,” and that many people had suffered as a result of his actions.

“But, because we believe in Christ and his gospel, we forgive you. We have learned over these couple of years that your life has had much turmoil and pain. We want you to know that we will pray that you can find peace.”

Held and Merrill were “examples of goodness, examples of Christ-like love,” said Gatz, “and nothing and no one can ever take that away.”

Des Moines diocese defends legality of school grants

Des Moines, Iowa, Jun 22, 2018 / 10:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After reviewing $844,000 worth of grants that were given by Polk County, Iowa to local Catholic schools a few years back, the Diocese of Des Moines said that it believes the grants complied with state law.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Des Moines has concluded that there is nothing improper associated with the technology grant,” the diocese said in a June 21 statement.

It added that after reviewing the relevant facts and law involving the Polk County grant, “We agree completely with Polk County that the Community Development Grant was entirely legal and proper.”

Iowa state law says that government officials “shall not appropriate, give, or loan public funds to, or in favor of, an institution, school, association or object which is under ecclesiastical or sectarian management or control.”

In 2011, after the Polk County Board of Supervisors learned that it could not give grant money directly to church-affiliated schools, Catholic school supporters formed a separate corporation through which to route the grant money.

Called Education for the 21st Century, the corporation is now defunct. During its two years in operation, 100 percent of its reported revenue came from Polk County grants, according to the Des Moines Register.

The grant money was taken from gambling revenue accrued by the Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel.

The Polk County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 in 2012 to give $400,000 to the corporation. The year after, the board approved $444,000 to the corporation.

With the money, new technology equipment was bought for St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Augustin, St. Pius X, St. Theresa, Christ the King, Holy Trinity, Holy Family, and Sacred Heart schools. The money was used to purchase iPads, cameras, computers, projectors, and whiteboards.

“If Iowa taxpayer money was, in fact, intentionally funneled to religious schools, that is unacceptable and a misuse of the taxpayers' public dollars,” said Mark Stringer, executive director of ACLU Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.

However, county supervisors have defended financial assistance to Catholic schools. They say that going forward, such assistance can be given directly to the schools, thanks to a 2017 Supreme Court ruling which held that states cannot discriminate against religious schools by making them ineligible for non-religious amenity funding programs.

The Diocese of Des Moines stressed that the Catholic Church “did not manage or control the foundation that received the grant,” and that grant money was not used for religious purposes, but “for purchasing learning technology that was provided to Christian and parochial schools.”

The diocese noted that Catholic schools already receive state funding for transportation and textbooks, “in recognition of the fact that families choosing a religious education are taxpayers.”

“Providing this form of support that does not directly advance religion is entirely consistent with the law,” the diocese said. “In fact, as the US Supreme Court has recognized, a law or policy that expressly discriminates against an otherwise eligible recipient and disqualifies them from a public benefit because of their religious character, is a clear violation of the United States Constitution.”

The former legal advisor for Polk County’s School Board, Michael O’Meara, told the Des Moines Register that he had told the board that they could only support Catholic schools if they did so via an entity that was not under ecclesiastical control.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman said she will not review the case. Her chief of staff and legal counsel noted that the county attorney appeared to have been consulted and approved the grants.
 
 
 

 

Pope Francis: Jerusalem must be protected from political disputes

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2018 / 10:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis stressed Friday the important role the Eastern Catholic Churches play in spreading the Gospel given that many of them are concentrated in the Holy Land, and said Jerusalem in particular should be protected from tensions and political disputes.

“The Oriental Catholic Churches, as living witnesses to their apostolic origins, are called in a special way to protect and pass on a spark of Pentecostal fire,” the pope said June 22. “They are called daily to discover anew their own prophetic presence in all those places where they dwell as pilgrims.”

This, he said, begins with Jerusalem, “whose identity and particular vocation needs to be safeguarded beyond different tensions and political disputes.”

Pope Francis spoke at the Vatican's Consistory Hall to members of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches, who are in Rome for their 91st plenary assembly, which this year coincides with the 50th anniversary of their founding.

The organization unites funding agencies from countries worldwide in order to provide services such as houses of worship and study, scholarships, and social and health care facilities to struggling areas.

Christians, though small in number in the area, are primarily called to this task, and must draw strength from the Holy Spirit “for their mission of witness,” he said, adding that in today's context, this mission “is more urgent than ever before.”

Francis then prayed that holy places such as Jerusalem, “where God’s plan was fulfilled in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” would be the birth place of “a renewed spirit of strength to inspire Christians in the Holy Land and the Middle East to embrace their special vocation and to offer an account of their faith and their hope.”

He voiced hope that the Eastern Catholic Churches would not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel in settings “that are often even more secularized than in the West, where they come as immigrants or refugees.”

The pope also prayed that they would be welcomed on both a practical and ecclesial level, “as they seek to preserve and enrich the patrimony of their various traditions.”

Thanks to organizations such as ROACO, members of the Eastern Churches, he said, “can bear witness to us, whose hearts are often dulled, that it is still worth living and suffering for the Gospel, even as a minority, or the object of persecution, for the Gospel is the joy and the life of men and women of every age.”

The pope said the organization's landmark anniversary is a testament to the help they have given to Christians throughout the Middle East through the various initiatives they lead.

These projects, he said, allow Eastern Catholic Churches to thrive not only in their native lands, but also in the increasing diaspora, enabling them to continue bearing witness to the Gospel despite being “severely tested” by persecution.

This persecution, he said, has arisen “first by the totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe and then, more recently, by forms of allegedly religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, to say nothing of apparently interminable conflicts, especially in the Middle East.”

Solidarity shown by organizations such as ROACO, he said, have helped to ensure the continued existence of the Eastern Churches at risk of extinction, and have allowed these churches to continue spreading the Gospel.

Pope Francis said the work of ROACO has also helped him to continue his mission of “pursuing possible paths to the visible unity of all Christians,” and stressed that Christians who are members of Eastern Churches, though distant, “are no less loved, and certainly not forgotten.”

“With your help,” he said in closing, “they are always listened to and helped to continue their journey as the Church of the Risen Christ, amid every challenge, and every spiritual and material suffering, in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe.”

Francis' comments on Jerusalem come after the United States on May 14 opened an embassy in the city, making the U.S. the only country to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel since the state was established in 1948.

Israel has claimed Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized by the international community, and all countries but the US have embassies in Tel Aviv. Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, then, was met with fierce backlash not only from international interlocutors, but also by the Vatican.

After Trump announced the change last December, Pope Francis expressed his “deep concern” and issued an appeal to the international community to ensure that “everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant Resolutions of the United Nations.”

Pope Francis also urged the necessity of maintaining the status quo in his meeting with Theophilos III, patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, in October 2017, in which the two discussed the patriarch’s concern for the Christian community amid aggression by Jewish settlers.

“Any kind of violence, discrimination or displays of intolerance against Jewish, Christian and Muslim worshipers, or places of worship, must be firmly rejected,” the pope said, adding that “the Holy City, whose status quo must be defended and preserved, ought to be a place where all can live together peaceably; otherwise, the endless spiral of suffering will continue for all.”

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More: Following God’s law above all else

London, England, Jun 22, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA).- The feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More is observed as an optional memorial June 22. So that our readers don’t have to fish for more information, CNA has compiled a question-and-answer lowdown on their lives and legacies:

Who was St. Thomas More?

St. Thomas More (1478-1535) was a humanist and intellectual – he worked as a lawyer and explored theology through his written works, many of which were defenses of the Catholic faith against heresy. He studied at Oxford and briefly considered religious life, but he eventually followed a vocation to marriage and fatherhood.

More was appointed by King Henry VIII to be Lord Chancellor of England in 1529.

What does “Lord Chancellor” mean?

The “Lord Chancellor” was the highest ranking member of the King’s cabinet. This role was commonly filled by a clergyman. Historically, the role entailed great judicial responsibility – its influence has evolved to scale back on this particular front.

How did he manage to get on Henry VIII’s bad side?

St. Thomas More stood firmly in his Catholic faith when Henry VIII began to pull away from the Church.

The king wanted a declaration of nullity for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, but the Church, upon examination, could not find his marriage to Catherine invalid. More refused in 1530 to sign a letter asking the pope to declare the marriage null, and would not sign an oath acknowledging the monarch as the supreme head of the Church in England.

In May 1532 Henry pressured the English synod, the Convocation of Canterbury, to submit the clergy's authority to his own. The day after the convocation agreed to Henry's terms, More resigned as Lord Chancellor.

More wished to retire from public life, but when he refused to assent to the Act of Supremacy 1534, which repudiated the pope's authority over the Church in England, he was imprisoned on charges of treason.

He was sentenced to execution, which took place July 6, 1535.

Why is he a saint?

More’s persistence to remain sided with the Church rather than the king, ending in martyrdom, was a testament to his tireless devotion to God’s law. He was canonized by Pius XI in 1935, and was named patron of statesmen and politicians by St. John Paul II.

I’ve heard something about his beard…?

Yes. You’re not imagining things, don’t worry.

The story with St. Thomas More’s beard is that he laid his beard outside of the execution blade’s path in one final, humorous gesture.

His last words were,“This hath not offended the King,” implying that while his head had angered Henry VIII, his beard was innocent and did not deserve to be severed.

  Who was St. John Fisher?

St. John Fisher (1469-1535) was ordained a priest when he was about 22, and was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1504. He lived an intentionally simple lifestyle and was an intellectual. He studied theology at Cambridge, where he became chancellor. Among his writings is a commentary on the seven penitential psalms.

His mission as a bishop was to perfect how the Church’s teachings were conveyed by his diocese. Fisher spent much of his time travelling to parishes with the mission of theologically correcting and realigning clergy. He also wrote various apologetic defenses in response to Martin Luther.

What did he have to do with the whole Henry VIII situation?

St. John Fisher studied Henry's request for a declaration of nullity, but could not find grounds for such a declaration.

He refused to assent to the Succession to the Crown Act 1533, which recognized the king's supremacy over the Church in England and declared the daughter of Catherine of Aragon illegitimate, and was imprisoned for treason in April 1534.

Fisher was jailed, starved and deprived of all sacraments, but he didn’t budge on his position.

Fisher was made a cardinal in May 1535, in the hopes that Henry would not dare execute a prince of the Church.

Please don’t tell me it ended like More’s story…

It didn’t. There was no beard on the line.

However, Fisher was executed, head on the chopping block and all. He removed his hair shirt, and said the Te Deum and Psalm 31 right before giving his life for the kingdom of God and the honor of the Church, June 22, 1535. He is the only cardinal to have been martyred.

Why is Fisher a saint?

Same deal as More – he stuck to what he knew to be the truth and died for it. He was canonized with More in 1935 by Pius XI.

But he’s not nearly as well-known as St. Thomas More!

No, he’s not. St. Thomas Fisher’s grave, which also contains the bones of More, doesn’t even bear his name. But he did it for the glory of God.

Study finds mounting global restrictions on religion

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2018 / 12:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Government restrictions on religion continued to rise across the globe in 2016, according to a recently released Pew study, which linked the stifling of religion to nationalist parties and organizations.

“This marks the second year in a row of increases in the overall level of restrictions imposed either by governments or by private actors (groups and individuals) in the 198 countries examined in the study,” said the Pew report.

The research found that 42 percent of countries experienced high or very high levels of overall religious restriction, which included hostile acts by government or private individuals or groups. This number is up from 40 percent in 2015, and 29 percent in 2007.

“This marks the biggest number of countries to fall in this top category since Pew Research Center began analyzing restrictions on religion in 2007,” Pew said.

“The share of countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of government restrictions…rose from 25 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016,” the study found. “Meanwhile, the share of countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of social hostilities involving religion…remained stable in 2016 at 27 percent.”

The Middle-East and North Africa experienced the highest median level of government restrictions on religion, while Europe and the Americas were the only areas to experience an increase in median levels of social religious hostility.

Additionally, the research pointed to nationalist groups’ role in the rise of religious restrictions, particularly through targeting specific ethnic and religious minorities.

“In many countries, restrictions on religion resulted from actions taken by government officials, social groups or individuals espousing nationalist positions,” the Pew study noted.

Around 11 percent of countries saw government actors who “at times used nationalist, and often anti-immigrant or anti-minority, rhetoric to target religious groups in their countries in 2016,” – a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

European countries experienced this attitude most strongly, with around 33 percent having nationalist parties making statements against religious minorities, while 12 percent of Asia-Pacific countries shared a similar experience.

“Typically, these nationalist groups or individuals were seeking to curtail immigration of religious and ethnic minorities, or were calling for efforts to suppress or even eliminate a particular religious group, in the name of defending a dominant ethnic or religious group they described as threatened or under attack.”

Additionally, there was a 5 percent increase in countries where organized groups aimed to overtake public life at the expense of a religion.

The most popular targets for religious restrictions were Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“Looking at religious groups, harassment of members of the world’s two largest groups – Christians and Muslims – by government and social groups continued to be widespread around the world, with both experiencing sharp increases in the number of countries in which they were harassed in 2016,” the study said.

This research, which included 198 countries making up 99.5 percent of the world, comes from Pew’s ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion, which analyzes the “extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.”

These levels were measured by government laws and policies, acts of individual or group hostility against religion, including armed conflict and terrorism. Harassment of religious groups was gathered by data relating to physical or verbal assaults, arrests, detentions, desecration of holy sites, and discrimination against religious groups via employment, education and housing.

The 2016 year was the most recent year in which data was available.

 

God Is Not a Clock-Watcher

We should not become slaves to time but live like God, unbound by time’s constraints. This is important when you begin to be alone with the Lord in prayer. Being absolutely fixated on the amount of time that has been set aside, down to the last second, is a common tendency. “I set aside twenty minutes, so I’m going to sit here until the twenty minutes are up.” Avoid this at all costs. It treats God as a cruel taskmaster, a clock-watcher, rather than the fount of love that has invited you into his presence. Eventually, you will come to resent having to sit there until time runs out. 

—from Prayer Everywhere: The Spiritual Life Made Simple

Prayer Everywhere

On papal flight, Francis says intercommunion policy should be decided by diocesan bishops

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2018 / 05:22 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said Thursday that the German bishops’ debate on the reception of the Eucharist by the non-Catholic spouses of Catholics, also referred to as intercommunion, should be decided by diocesan bishops, rather than bishops’ conferences.
 
Speaking aboard the papal flight from Geneva to Rome June 21, the pope told journalists that the Code of Canon Law leaves decisions about the criteria for intercommunion to diocesan bishops, in order that their decisions will apply only to their individual dioceses, rather than to the Church across an entire country.

The pope said that although the German bishops attempted to establish guidelines through their episcopal conference, “the Code does not foresee that. It foresees the bishop of the diocese, but not the conference, because a thing approved by an episcopal conference immediately becomes universal.”

“The particular Church, the Code permits it, the local Church [episcopal conference] cannot because it would be universal,” Francis elaborated.

“The conference can study and give direction and opinions to help the bishops to manage the particular cases,” the pope added.

Canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law generally allows for episcopal conferences to establish norms regarding the circumstances in which non-Catholic Christians may be admitted to the Eucharist.

In the danger of death, or “if in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it,” Catholic ministers may licitly administer penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to Protestants “who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed,” the canon says.
 
The same canon notes that “the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.”

The pope’s remarks were in response to a question about a letter he approved, sent from Cardinal-elect Luis Ladaria to the German bishops in May, asking them to study the topic more before publishing guidelines.
 
The pope added that communion for Protestant spouses of Catholics “in special cases” is not a “novelty,” mentioning again the Code of Canon Law.

The Vatican press office could not be reached for clarification by deadline.

During the press conference, Pope Francis also addressed his feelings on the outcome of the day trip to Switzerland, which he undertook for the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches, saying the day’s activities of prayer, speeches, meetings, and Mass had all made him happy.
 
“The right word of the day is ‘encounter,’ and when a person encounters another and feels appreciation for the meeting, this always touches the heart, no? They were positive meetings, good even,” he said.
 
Francis also addressed the topics of immigration and refugees, the responsibility of religions to promote peace, and ecumenism.
 
About immigration, he noted that mass-migration is a problem around the world, and that a country should welcome as many refugees as it can integrate and give work to, in light of the virtue of prudence.
 
The pope also lamented the conditions which many refugees may face if they return to their country of origin, including the increased risk of being trafficked.
 
Speaking particularly of the United States, the pope reiterated his comments in a recent interview with Reuters, that he backs the statements of the U.S. bishops on the issue.
 
Answering a question on the topic of so-called “pacifist Churches,” which hold that a Christian cannot use or condone violence, Francis refuted the idea that there are “religions of peace,” as if that implied the existence of “religions of war.”
 
He said that religious fundamentalism exists, with people who “seek wars,” which it is important to stay alert to, but that during this time, when there is a “crisis of human rights,” all churches should work together to bring about a spirit of peace in the world.

The press conference concluded with Pope Francis presenting a slice of cake to Cardinal-elect Angelo Becciu, currently Substitute of the Holy See Secretariat of State.

Francis, offering the slice of Sardinian cake, noted that it was Becciu's last trip with the pope, because he will soon "change color, but not for embarrassment," referencing the archbishop's recent appointment as a cardinal.

 

Farm bill with SNAP restrictions passes narrowly in House

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- On Thursday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the 2018 farm bill, H.R. 2, which included controversial changes to food assistance programs that Catholic leaders had voiced concern over.

The Farm Bill is the main agricultural and food policy guide for the country. It provides funding for a number of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries.

The party-line vote was 213-211. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 20 Republicans voted against it. The same bill failed in May, when 30 Republicans voted against the legislation.

The most controversial element of the bill was a provision to change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously called food stamps.

The farm bill would tighten restrictions on eligibility for SNAP. It would require people between the ages of 18 and 59 who receive SNAP to either have a job or participate in a job training program for 20 hours per week. Adults with disabilities or young dependents are exempted from this requirement.

Penalties for not complying with work requirements increase under the bill, from one month ineligibility to one year for a first violation, and from three months to three years for a second violation.

When the farm bill was being discussed in April, representatives from the U.S. bishops conference, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Rural Life, and the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul wrote a letter to leaders of the Congressional Agriculture Committee.

“Efforts to improve state workforce training programs by providing case-management, streamlining workforce programs, providing increased training slots and setting minimum standards are welcomed,” they said.

"However, the new workforce training program appears to lack sufficient investment to meet the additional demand for meaningful job training and skill building that will be generated by the new requirements,” they said in the April letter. The letter noted that the majority of SNAP recipients currently work.

“Moreover, rural communities may find compliance especially challenging given that job training programs are often located far away, and there is insufficient access to transportation,” the letter said.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the passage of the farm bill was a step “moving toward a poverty-fighting system,” where Americans will be able to move out of a cycle of poverty.

“This is a big deal,” said Ryan in a statement published on his website.

Ryan referred to the SNAP reforms as “critical,” saying they will “close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and encourage people to move from welfare to work.”

“These reforms will return agency to people, rather than keeping it in government, empowering individuals to reach their full potential and make the most of their lives.”

President Donald Trump, posting on Twitter, said that he was “so happy to see work requirements included” in the version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives.

“Big win for the farmers,” said Trump.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where a bipartisan compromise bill is expected to be debated next week.

Full text of Pope Francis' in-flight press conference from Geneva

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2018 / 04:29 pm (CNA).- In a June 21 conversation with journalists on the way back from a trip to Geneva, Pope Francis touched on an array of topics, including ecumenism, intercommunion, peace and just war, and refugees.


Please read below for CNA's full transcript of the Pope's inflight press conference:


Greg Burke:

Thank you, Your Holiness... we wait a second, here we go... perfect! Thank you in the meantime. To journey, to pray, to work together... we have walked, we have prayed also, at various times, and now we touch on work a little, even to eat after, so that it is seen that to journey together brings fruit.

Today the welcoming- we have seen, after many speeches that it is the mutual respect and it is something more, it is also friendship. However, there is still so much work to do and so many challenges and this interests us normally, the challenges... so, to you journalists... but, if you want to say something first [Holy Father]?

Pope Francis:

Thank you for your work, the day was a little heavy, at least for me... but I am content, I am content [ed. note: or ‘happy’] because the various things that we have done -- that is, the prayers to begin, then the speech during lunch it was the most beautiful, then the academic meeting, and then the Mass, they are things that have made me happy... The tiring but beautiful things! Thank you so much! Now I am available to you.  

Greg Burke:

Good. We begin with the Swiss. (Arnaud Bedat of L’Illustre magazine)

Bedat:

Holy Father, you have been in Geneva, but also in Switzerland. What are the images and what are the strong, important moments that had an impact on you during this day?

Pope Francis:

Repeat for me.

Bedat:

(repeated)

Pope Francis:

I believe that it is a common word: encounter. It was a day of varied encounters. The right word of the day is ‘encounter,’ and when a person encounters another and feels appreciation for the meeting, this always touches the heart, no? They were positive meetings, good even, beginning with the dialogue with the president at the beginning; it was not a speech of courtesy, as usual... [it was] a deep speech on the profound world debates and [spoken by him] with an intelligence... that I remain astonished, beginning from that.

Then the meetings that you all saw, and that which you did not see is the meeting at lunch, that was very profound [or deep] in the way it touched on many debates, mabe the debate we spent the most time on is "the youth." Because even all of the churches are concerned, in the good sense, for the youth and the pre-synod that occurred in Rome from March 19 and then attracted enough attention, because there were youth of all [different] beliefs, even agnostics and of all the countries. Think, 315 youth there and 15,000 connected [ed note: via Facebook] that they entered and exited and this perhaps awakened a special interest.

But the word that came to me maybe the whole trip is that it was a voyage of ‘encounter.’ Maybe... I don't know... an experience of encounter... no rudeness, nothing entirely formal. A human encounter. And this... between Protestants, Catholics and all [people] it says a lot, eh!


Greg Burke:

Thanks, Holiness. Now the German group. Roland Juchem of the German Catholic CIC Agency is here.

Roland Juchem:
 
Thanks, Holy Father. You speak often of concrete steps toward ecumenism. Today, for example, you again referred to that, saying “Let’s see what is possible to do concretely rather than getting discouraged for what isn’t.”

The German bishops recently have decided to take a step and so we ask ourselves why Archbishop Ladaria wrote a letter that seems like an “emergency brake.” After the meeting May 3, it was affirmed that the German bishops would have had to find a possibly unanimous solution. What will be the next steps? Will an intervention from the Vatican be necessary to clarify or will the German bishops have to find an agreement?

Pope Francis:

Well. This is not a novelty because in the Code of Canon Law, what the German bishops were talking about is foreseen: communion in special cases. And, they were looking at the problem of mixed marriages, no? If it is possible or it isn’t possible. And the Code says that the bishop of the particular Church - this word is important, “particular,” if it is of a diocese - must read that. It’s in his hands. This is in the Code. The German bishops, because they had seen that it wasn’t clear... also some priests did things who weren’t in agreement with the bishop, have wished to study this theme and have made this study that I don’t want to exaggerate, but it was a study of more than a year, and more… it’s more than a year… well done… and the study was restrictive.

What the bishops wanted is to say clearly what is in the Code. And, I read it and said: this is a restrictive document, no? It wasn’t open to everyone. It’s a well thought-out thing, with ecclesial spirit. And they wished to do it for the local Church, not the particular. The thing slid along up until there for the German [bishops’] conference. And there, there is a problem, because the Code does not foresee that. It foresees the bishop of the diocese, but not the conference, because a thing approved by an episcopal conference immediately becomes universal.

And this was the difficulty of the discussion: not so much the content, but this. And they sent the document. Then, there were two or three meetings of dialogue or of clarification and Archbishop Ladaria sent that letter, but with my permission. He didn’t do it alone! I told him: ‘Yes, it’s better to make a step ahead and say that the document isn’t yet mature and that the thing needed to be studied more.’ Then, there was another meeting and at the end they will study the thing.
I think that this will be an orientative document so that each of the diocesan bishops can manage what canon law already permits.

It wasn’t a brake … it is reading the thing so that it goes along the right path. When I made a visit to the Lutheran Church of Rome, a question of the kind was posed, and I replied according to the spirit of the Code of Canon Law. It is the spirit that they are seeking now. Maybe it wasn’t the right information in the right moment, a little bit of confusion, but this is the thing: the particular Church, the Code permits it, the local Church [episcopal conference] cannot because it would be universal.

(journalist inaudible)
 
But the conference can study and give orientative opinions to help the bishops to manage the particular cases. Thanks.

Greg Burke:

Now from the Spanish group there is Eva Fernandez of COPE agency and Spanish radio

Pope Francis:

They are good, these [journalists] of COPE

Eva Fernandez:

Thank you, Holy Father! We have seen that even the secretary general of the Ecumenical Council of Churches spoke of help to refugees. Just recently we have seen the incident of the Aquarius ship, also the separation of families in the United States. Do you think that some leaders instrumentalize/use the tragedy of refugees. Do they use them...?

Pope Francis:

I have spoken a lot on refugees, the criteria are those that I have said: to welcome, to accompany, to place, to integrate. This is the criteria for all refugees. Then I have said that every country should do this with the virtue of the rule of prudence, because a country should welcome as many refugees as it can and as many as it can integrate, educate, assimilate, give work to. This I would say is the straightforward/easy, serene plan for refugees. Here we are living [with] a wave of refugees that flee from wars and from hunger. The war and hunger of many countries in Africa, wars and persecution in the Middle East. Italy and Greece were very generous in welcoming [refugees], and for the Middle East, Turkey [was also], in respect to Syria, it has received many... Lebanon many... Lebanon has as many Syrians as Lebanese... and then Jordan... other countries, also Spain has received [them? some?].

There is a problem of trafficking migrants, and also there is the problem when in some cases they return, because they should return if this -- I do not know/understand well the terms in agreement -- if they are in the Libyan water, they should return... and there, I have seen the photographs of the detention centers controlled by the traffickers. Traffickers immediately separate the women from the men... women and babies go... God knows where! This is what the traffickers do! There is even a case that I know of where the traffickers were close to a ship that had accepted barges and... [they were saying] "give us the women and the babies and take the males."

These traffickers and the detention centers of the traffickers eh, that have returned, they are terrible... terrible! In the detention camps of the Second World War they saw these things! And also the mutilizations in the torture of [forced?] labor and then they threw them to be in the comunes of the men. For this the leaders are concerned that they [the people] do not return and fall into the hands of these people [the traffickers]. It is a world-wide concern! I know that the leaders speak on this and they want to find an agreement, even to modify the Dublin agreement and all of this.  

In Spain you have had the case of this ship that is docked in Valencia, but all of this is a mess... the problem of the wars is difficult to resolve. The problem of the persecution also of Christians in the Middle East, also in Nigeria... but the problem of hunger they can resolve, and many European leaders are thinking of an emergency plan to invest in these countries, to invest intelligently, to give work and education in these two things in the countries from which those people come... because -- [I’ll say] one thing, not to offend, but it is the truth -- in the collective subconscious, is a bad motto: Africa is exploited. And Africa is to be preyed on... this is in the subconscious... ‘eh, they are Africans.’ Always ‘land of slaves.’

And this should change with this plan of investment, and to increase education, because the African people have many cultural riches, many, and they have a great intelligence. The children are very intelligent and they, with a good education, can go beyond... this will be the road halfway to the goal, but in the moment leaders should make an agreement between themselves to go forward with these emergency fixes... this here in Europe! We go in America: in America there is a great migration problem.  

(journalist inaudible)

In Latin America too there is an internal migration problem... in my homeland there is a migration problem from North to South and even these people leave the countryside because there is no work and the go to the big cities and where there are these megacities [or huge cities], the slums and all these things, but it is also an external migration to other countries that have work... and speaking concretely of the United States, I back that which the bishops of the country say. I side with them. Thank you.


Greg Burke:
 
Thanks, Holiness. Now is the English group: Deborah Castellano Lubov of the Zenit Agency.


Deborah Castellano Lubov (Zenit):

 Thanks, Holiness! Holiness, in your address today to the ecumenical encounter you made reference to the enormous strength of the Gospel. We know some of the Churches, now the World Council of Churches, the so-called “pacifist Churches” who believe that a Christian cannot use violence. We remember that two years ago in the Vatican there was as conference organized. Do you think that it would be the case for the Catholic Church to unite to these so-called “Churches of peace” and set aside the doctrine of just war? Thanks.

Pope Francis:
A clarification, why do you say that there are “pacifist Churches?”

Deborah Castellano Lubov:

They are considered as pacifist because they have this way of reasoning that if a person (intuits) a violence, at that point they can no longer be considered Christians.

Pope Francis:

Thanks. I understand. Because you put your finger right in the wound, eh? I think that… today at lunch a pastor said that maybe the first human right is the right to hope and I liked that. And this has to do a bit with this and we spoke about the crisis of human rights today. I think that I have to begin from this to arrive to your question.  The crisis of human rights is clearly seen. They speak a bit about human rights but so many groups or some countries take a distance, and “yes, human rights,” but there isn’t the strength, the enthusiasm, the conviction. I don’t say 70 years ago but 20 years ago. And this is grave because we have to see the causes, but what are the causes for which we have arrived to this that today human rights are relative. Also the right to peace is relative. It is a crisis of human rights. This I think that we must think it through to the end, or with certainty.

Then, Churches of peace. I think that all the Churches that have this spirit of peace must reunite and work together as we said in the speeches today, myself and the other people that spoke. And at lunch, unity for peace was spoken of. Peace is an exigency because there is risk of a war that we … some have said this: this third world war, if it is done, we know with which arms it will be done… but if there were a fourth, it would be done with sticks because humanity will be destroyed. The commitment for peace is serious, but when you think of the money that is spent on weapons… for this, the religions of peace… is the mandate of God. Peace, fraternity, human unity. All of the conflicts, don’t resolve them like Cain, resolve them with negotiations, with dialogue, with mediations… for example, we’re in a crisis of mediations. The mediation as a juridical figure (very rich) today is in pure crisis. Hope is in crisis, crisis of human rights, crisis of mediations, crisis of peace.

But then if you say that there are religions of peace, I ask myself, where are the religions of war? It’s tough to understand this. It’s tough. But, some groups, I would say in almost all of the small religious groups, I will say a bit simply fundamentalists, seek wars… Also we Catholics have some. They always seek destruction, no? And this is very important to have our eyes on it.  I don’t know if I replied. Thanks.

They say that the population is asking for lunch, eh, dinner, that there is just enough time to arrive with a full stomach. It’s just to tell you… a word that I want to say clearly that today was an ecumenical day, really ecumenical! And at lunch we said a beautiful word, a beautiful thing, that I leave with you so that you think on it and reflect, you make a nice consideration of this. In the ecumenical movement we have to take from the dictionary a word: “proselytism.” Clear? You cannot have ecumenism with proselytism. You have to choose. Either you have an ecumenical spirit or you are a proselytizer.

Thanks! I would continue speaking because I like it… but now let’s make the Substitute [of the Secretariat of State] come because it is the last trip he’ll make with us, because now he’s going to change color, but not for embarrassment! We want to say goodbye to him. It’s a Sardinian cake to celebrate!


Cardinal-elect Angelo Becciu (Sardinian-born Substitute of the Holy See Secretariat of State):

 Thanks! It is a double surprise of calling me and thanking me in front of you! And then there’s a Sardinian cake. Well, then, we’ll try it with pleasure! I truly thank the Holy Father for this occasion, but for everything, because he has allowed me this magnificent experience of traveling so much with him. At the beginning, he scared me saying, ‘No, I’ve made few trips.’ Do you remember? And then after one, he added another and then another and we said to ourselves, ‘good thing he said there would be few and they’ve been many.’ A magnificent experience of seeing the Holy Father spread the Word of God courageously. My service has been only this: to help him in this. Alright? Thanks to all of you and to those who have helped us! Thanks.

Pope Francis:

Buon appetito, have a good dinner and thanks so much! And pray for me, please. Thanks.
 

 

The Catholic Church's long history of resettling refugees in the US

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church has resettled nearly one-third of all refugees received by the United States since 1980 through a public-private partnership with a high rate of successful integration of refugees into society, according to a report released in June 2018.

The Center for Migration Studies report examines data on 1.1 million of the refugees resettled in the U.S. from 1987 to 2016. These refugees came from more than 30 countries, including Ukraine, Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia and Burma.

“What we've found is that they are integrating, contributing, and accomplishing a lot in the United States after starting from basically nothing. Not surprisingly, we found that refugees with the longest residence have integrated the most fully in the country, and we provide statistics on how that progresses over time,” said Donald Kerwin, the primary author of the report, at a World Refugee Day event at the U.S. Capitol building.

Frances McBrayer has seen this successful integration firsthand in her experience as senior director of refugee services of Catholic Charities Atlanta.

“More than 90 percent of the refugees that we have resettled through Catholic Charities Atlanta were self-sufficient in 2017 within 6 months of arrival,” said McBrayer at the June 20 event.

“That means they are working, paying their own bills, and they are not receiving government cash assistance,” she continued.

This rapid success can be partially attributed to the committed volunteer efforts of local communities, according to McBrayer, who said that Catholic Charities Atlanta had 874 volunteers working with refugees last year.

Parish volunteers are matched with incoming refugee families, whom they accompany in everything from English practice and job applications to American grocery shopping.

In partnership with its affiliates, the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services resettles approximately 30 percent of refugees arriving in the U.S. each year through a network of more than 100 diocesan offices.

“In the United States, we offer a model public-private partnership,” said Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy for the U.S. bishops, at a congressional briefing co-hosted by Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the U.S. bishops conference.

The U.S. also has one of the safest refugee programs in the world, Feasley said, as each refugee is required to go through extensive vetting, including a series of very rigorous interviews by the Department of Homeland Security.

“They will have their information checked by the FBI. They will have their information checked by the NSA. They will have much of their biographical information verified as well as going through a security check and a health check. All of this will occur before a refugee is ever finally selected to be admitted to the United States.”

Feasley explained how the U.S. refugee resettlement program as we know it today emerged out of the ad hoc charitable actions of faith-based groups in response to the Vietnam War. As a result, Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, which laid out a definition of who counts as a refugee and how resettlement would work.

The American Catholic involvement with refugee resettlement dates back even earlier, as documented in an archive exhibit at The Catholic University of America on the American Catholic Church’s refugee aid from the late 1930s to early 1950s.

Despite this history, the U.S. is on pace this year to resettle the lowest number of refugees in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, according to the 2018 CMS report.

There are currently some 25.4 million refugees worldwide who have fled their countries to escape conflict or persecution, according to statistics released by the UN refugee agency on June 19. This constitutes the largest increase in refugees in a single year that the UN has ever documented.