Vatican announces pope will attend reconciliation events in Colombia

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Days after rebels in Colombia announced turning in the last of their cache of weapons over to international observers, the Vatican announced June 23 details of Pope Francis' September trip to the war-torn South American country.

The pope is scheduled to visit four cities, starting his trip in the Colombian capital of Bogota Sept. 6, followed by day trips to Villavicencio and Medellin Sept. 8 and 9, respectively, and heading back to Rome from Cartagena after Mass Sept. 10.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos had said the pontiff had promised him he would visit Colombia if the government and the rebel group known as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias) signed a peace agreement. Though Colombian voters last year rejected a referendum on the peace agreement between the government and FARC, Santos later negotiated a modified deal with Colombian opposition leader and former President Alvaro Uribe. The process came with help from the Vatican, including the pope, who met with the two men in late 2016.

The rebels began turning in their weapons to United Nations observers in early June and all were expected to be turned in by June 20, bringing 52 years of war to an end.

The pope is expected to take part Sept. 8 in several acts of reconciliation, including a Mass and prayer, in Villavicencio, according to a schedule released by the Vatican.

Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo said in an interview published June 23 in El Tiempo newspaper that that pope's trip comes at a time in the country "when the discussion stops being about how to win the war, but how to achieve peace." The pope's trip cannot be "just another episode" in the national discourse about peace, said Naranjo.

According to some estimates, more than 220,000 have died in the decades-long conflict, tens of thousands have been injured, and more than 7 million were displaced. Concerns about the end of the conflict were reawakened when a bomb exploded inside a mall bathroom in Bogota June 17, killing three and injuring nine people. Some blamed another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional). The group, however, denied involvement and said it doesn't target civilians.

While in Colombia, the pope also is set to meet in Bogota Sept. 7 with the directive committee of the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM for its Spanish acronym.

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Bishop: 'Fundamental defects' persist in Senate's version of health bill

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act contains "many of the fundamental defects" that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act "and even further compounds them," said the bishop who heads the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The Senate released its health care reform bill in "discussion draft" form June 22.

"As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, said in a statement released late June 22. "It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written."

Bishop Dewane criticized the "per-capita cap" on Medicaid funding, which would no longer be an entitlement but have its own budget line item under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The effect, he said, "would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported."

"An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life," Bishop Dewane said. "Such a health care system must protect conscience rights, as well as extend to immigrant families."

He indicated the Better Care Reconciliation Act at least partially succeeds on conscience rights by "fully applying the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill."

However, the bishops "also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal," Bishop Dewane said. "It fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy."

Other first-day reaction to the bill was negative.

The Senate's 142-page draft "is not the faithful way forward," said a June 22 statement from Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who heads the Network Catholic social justice lobby.

"My faith challenges me to heal the sick and care for the widow and the orphan. This Republican bill does the opposite," she said, adding, "We urge a no vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act."

"Learning about the proposed deep cuts in Medicaid passed by the House of Representatives, the American people looked to the Senate. Sadly, the Senate plan proposes even deeper cuts in Medicaid," said a statement from Larry Couch, director of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd's National Advocacy Center.

"This wanton disregard for human life must be stopped. Millions of children living in poverty, people with disabilities, and older people in nursing homes will be denied life-saving medicine and care," Couch added. "Stop this vicious attack on the most vulnerable people in our communities."

Sister Campbell criticized the Republican-only drafting of the bill, and the announced intent of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to have a vote on the bill before the Fourth of July recess, which could severely limit debate on the bill or any amendments.

"This bill is a crass political calculation carried out by 13 white, male senators who are out of touch with the realities of millions of ordinary families in every state," she said. "Democracy works best when there are hearings, debate, and discussion to craft a bill that works for everyone, not just a few senators."

"Ending the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of Americans will have their health care coverage taken away. Senators who support this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, the disabled, and children," said a June 22 statement from the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby.

"Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty," Rev. Beckmann added. "Instead of making our health care system worse, Congress should strive to improve the system so that all Americans have the health care coverage they need."

Network, Bread for the World and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd are part of the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition, which also includes as members the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness; the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism; the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative; the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries; and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The American Psychological Association also came out in opposition to the bill, citing the Medicaid cuts and permission to states to waive certain health benefits.

"This so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act is actually worse than the bill passed by the House, because it would undermine Medicaid even more severely, if a little more slowly," said a June 2 statement by Antonio E. Puente, APA president. "Medicaid is a critical backstop of coverage for mental health treatment, and for millions of older Americans, children and individuals with disabilities. If the goal is to cover more people, why slash Medicaid when it is already much more cost-effective than private sector plans?"

One part of the bill cuts the federal government's share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill would reduce tax credits to help people buy insurance and would defund Planned Parenthood for one year under the bill. It is expected the Senate will take up the measure on the floor during the week of June 26.

According to an Associated Press analysis, the Republicans' health bill "cuts taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, mostly for corporations and the richest families in America."

The Better Care Reconciliation Act which would repeal taxes in the Affordable Care Act -- popularly known as Obamacare -- and structure subsidies for insurance policy-holders based on their incomes. It also would continue for at least two years to offer reimbursements to health insurance companies for subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income customers of Obamacare plans.

The bill would allow children to stay on their parents' health plans to age 26. It also would fund $62 billion over eight years to a state innovation fund, which can be used for coverage of high-risk patients, reinsurance and other expenses.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to issue its "score" of the Senate bill before the end of June.

The CBO's score of the first House GOP-led Obamacare "repeal and replace" bill, which never came to a vote, estimated that 24 million Americans would lose health insurance over the next decade. Its score on the second bill, which squeaked to a 217-213 victory, estimated that 23 million Americans would lose their health care.

"America deserves better than its failing status quo," McConnell said June 22 on the Senate floor when introducing the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

But calling it "mean and heartless legislation," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said the bill is "going to gut Medicaid. It's going to take away care for our seniors" and "from millions of people across the country," to "give another massive tax cut for the wealthy and well-connected."

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Venezuela risks becoming Caribbean 'North Korea,' former leaders say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Miguel Gutierrez, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Two former Latin American presidents said the world is running out of time to find a solution to the crisis in Venezuela as President Nicolas Maduro aims to consolidate power over the country.

Despite widespread protests, Maduro's push to "put a group of his friends in what is called a 'constituent assembly,' would be the end of democracy and the annihilation of the Republic of Venezuela," said Jorge Quiroga, former president of Bolivia.

That election "will install a Soviet state in Venezuela, liquidate democracy, end the Congress, cancel elections and turn Venezuela into a sort of Caribbean 'North Korea,'" he said.

Joined by former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, Quiroga spoke to journalists at the Vatican June 23 on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and attempts to diffuse the crisis following their meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country's parliament, in which the opposition had a two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of judges nominated by Maduro.

Quiroga said he was grateful for Cardinal Parolin's call for humanitarian aid, free elections and the release of political prisoners. He also hoped the international community would "insist and persist" on the Vatican's recommendations.

"The Vatican has enormous moral and political weight and its position -- in the name of Cardinal Parolin and the Holy Father -- would be a determining factor to reel Venezuela back in toward the path of democracy," he said.

However, Quiroga added, Maduro's push for a constituent assembly June 30, comprised mainly of his supporters and aimed at changing the country's constitution, would "finish off Venezuela and destroy the country."

Both men also denounced former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Ernesto Samper, former Colombian president and current secretary general of the Union of South American Nations, for their indirect support for Maduro despite their roles as impartial negotiators between the government and the opposition.

At a June 21 meeting on immigration in Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales -- flanked by Zapatero, Samper and former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa -- expressed his support for the Venezuelan government's actions against protestors.

"Dale duro, Maduro" ("Hit them harder, Maduro"), Morales said as he, Samper and others raised their fists in solidarity. Correa and Zapatero, however, did not raise their fists.

"What meaning does this have when former presidents ask a dictatorship like the one in Venezuela to 'hit them harder?' Do they mean 'keep killing, continue slaughtering youth who are raising their voices in Venezuela?'" Pastrana asked.

The former Colombian president condemned the indirect support of two negotiators following the release of images showing government forces shooting and killing a 22-year-old protester, saying that their support decreases the likelihood of a peaceful solution.

"I think dialogue has ended in Venezuela, that word has been stricken from the Venezuelan dictionary. There is no dialogue, there is no possibility for dialogue and less, when Zapatero, Samper and Correa are holding hands with Evo Morales and shouting, 'Hit them harder, Maduro,'" he said.

Quiroga added that he was "profoundly saddened" by Morales' support for Maduro who continues "repressing and killing young people in the streets of Venezuela; continues detaining and judging civilians in military courts; continues to disband the Congress and muzzle the press."

He also accused Zapatero as acting as "a foreign operative of the Maduro government," claiming the former Spanish prime minister tried to act on Maduro's behalf to "scare" opposition members before the parliamentary election that saw them win a two-thirds majority.

"We know his position and that he's pretending to be a negotiator," Quiroga said of Zapatero.

Describing the current situation in Venezuela as a "surrealist dystopia," Quiroga said that calls made by the Vatican supporting democracy must prevail. However, he said, time is running out.

"The risk is that on June 30, Maduro has decided to deliver the final blow of his coup, calling it a vote for a constituent assembly, but in reality, is a final blow for Venezuelan democracy," he said.

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Under the radar: South Sudan needs media attention, immediate action

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis is first of all a shepherd who makes seeking out the lost and forgotten his top priority. But he also knows that wherever he goes, the cameras and news coverage will follow.

He leveraged his pull on the media spotlight early in his papacy when he went to Lampedusa for his very first trip as pope, tossing a funeral wreath onto the vast, unmarked cemetery known as the Mediterranean Sea -- where thousands of migrants die each year escaping from economic distress, political crises or persecution.

His visits to the Central African Republic, refugee centers, prisons, homes for the elderly and ill have all been key stops in his mission to reach out to the neglected peripheries, encourage those who are suffering and the hidden heroes helping them, and wake up the world to their presence and plight.

South Sudan was meant to be next on that list, to red-flag the disastrous effects of civil war -- millions of people facing violence, displacement, chronic hunger and mass starvation -- and to nudge conflicting parties toward peace.

However, mounting doubts over security and how ready those parties may be for negotiation have put a boots-on-the-ground papal visit on hold. And now some Catholic aid and development agencies are wondering, with no pope, how does this tragedy get on the world radar now?

"With Donald Trump, Brexit and terrorist attacks happening in the news," outlets that are usually very receptive to covering humanitarian crises and efforts "don't have the space to cover them," Patrick Nicholson, director of communications at Caritas Internationalis, told Catholic News Service.

Despite the immensity of the tragedy, "it's really off the radar in terms of the world caring," he said, which is why "the pope raising awareness is absolutely crucial." Everybody's efforts to get the word out is still key, and Nicholson and his Caritas colleagues created after a recent visit to South Sudan to better show the human stories and lives at stake.

Sister Yudith Pereira-Rico, associate executive director of Solidarity with South Sudan, told CNS in Rome that her organization is promoting the hashtag #SouthSudanWeCare on social media to show the South Sudanese people that they will not be overlooked.

"The people there feel they are forgotten. There is no media attention and they always tell us, 'Please, don't forget to speak about us.'"

A member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, Sister Pereira-Rico said she has spent the past two decades working in the poorest parts of West Africa "and yet I've never see the poverty like there is in South Sudan."

"My first time in South Sudan, in Malakal, I wasn't able to sing 'Hallelujah' in church" having seen the situation of the people. "Now, more and more, I can see that God is here."

Sometimes she and her colleagues can feel so powerless when faced with so many people in need, "but just being there" can offer comfort, she said. "A challenge we have as Christians is believing in the resurrection in these situations, knowing that there is a good end for human history."

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international network of religious congregations that was formed to train primary school teachers, health care workers, pastoral agents and sustainable farmers from all ethnic groups, learning tolerance and reconciliation along the way.

The NGOs do the emergency relief, "and we do development, teach values," Sister Pereira-Rico said.

The 28 nuns, priests and brothers from 20 different congregations and 20 nations living and working together in four different communities across South Sudan are a living witness of what harmony in diversity and collaboration look like, she said.

"We're like the United Nations," she smiled, and "we show people a new model of living."

The local church also provides the credibility, networks and infrastructure that relief agencies need to reach the most vulnerable, said Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services.

"The church has an incredible reputation. It is battered and weary," like its people, but it never shuts down, it always sticks by its people, which is partly why it's so respected, he told CNS by Skype from Juba.

By working directly with parishes and religious orders, like the Comboni sisters, CRS can get food to 5,000 to 6,000 families in places where no one else has access, he said.

No matter how bad things get, the Catholic Church still is operating its schools, hospitals, clinics and programs all over South Sudan; the facilities may not look as nice as those in the West, "but they work."

"Peacebuilding is quiet, but relentless," he said, and it often does not make for an exciting or visual story.

Media often like to cover things such as the highly complex emergency airdrops to those who are stranded, but Farrell said reporters should be looking at the Catholic schools, like the ones run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

"It's not visually catchy, but that's the real story. That's where the future of South Sudan lies" as these schools provide basic care, nutrition and even vegetable gardens for the mothers to grow healthy food.

The other real story that should get coverage, he said, are the survivors. "The people here are incredibly resilient and one of the main reasons for that is they go to church" and are deeply spiritual people.

With aid from partner agencies, the church becomes a place people go to find basic supplies, safety, sanctuary and "spiritual nourishment because without that, aid is just a pat on the back," Farrell said.

"Things will be better. It will just take time because peacebuilding is meant to help South Sudan heal itself," he said.

As the Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches work for peace from the bottom up and the role of political leaders is to help from the top down, he added, someday they will all meet in the middle.

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Scorsese says a boyhood of church and movies continues to inspire him

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Cindy Wooden

QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- Faith and films have been lifelong obsessions for director Martin Scorsese, obsessions that he said have given him moments of peace amid turmoil, but also challenges and frustrations that, in hindsight, he will accept as lessons in humility.

"For me, the stories have always been about how we should live who we are, and have a lot to do with love, trust and betrayal," he said, explaining that those themes have been with him since his boyhood spent in the rambunctious tenements of New York and in the peace of the city's St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, where he was an altar server.

Scorsese spoke June 21 in Quebec City at a joint session of the Catholic Press Association's Catholic Media Conference and the world congress of Signis, the international association of Catholic media professionals. That evening, both groups presented him with a lifetime achievement award for excellence in filmmaking.

Before Scorsese answered questions posed by author Paul Elie, conference participants watched his film "Silence," which is based on the novel by Shusaku Endo. The book and film are a fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan; the central figures are Jesuit missionaries, who are ordered to deny the faith or face death after witnessing the death of their parishioners.

Although "Silence" was not nearly as controversial as his 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," Scorsese said the two films are connected and not just because an Episcopalian bishop gave him Endo's book after seeing the 1988 film.

Even before filming began on "The Last Temptation of Christ," which is based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and explores the human side of Jesus, people were writing letters to the studio and producers complaining about plans to bring it to the big screen.

Recounting the story, Scorsese said a studio executive asked him why he wanted so badly to make the film.

"To get to know Jesus better," Scorsese said he blurted out. "That was the answer that came to mind. I didn't know what else to say."

If one affirms that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, he said, people should be able to look at his humanity.

But Scorsese told his Quebec City audience that his explorations of who Jesus is and what faith really means were by no means exhausted by "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"The journey is much more involved," Scorsese said. "It's just not finished."

In reading Endo's novel, working on and off for two decades to make the film and in finally bringing it to completion, Scorsese said he was "looking for the core of faith."

The climax of the film is when one of the Jesuits gives in and, in order to save his faithful who are being tortured, he tramples a religious image. However, the character believes that act of official apostasy is, in reality, a higher form of faith because, by sacrificing his own soul, he is saving the lives of others.

"It's almost like a special gift to be called on to face that challenge, because he is given an opportunity to really go beyond and to really get to the core of faith and Christianity," Scorsese said.

In the end, the priest "has nothing left to be proud of" -- not his faith or his courage -- and "it's just pure selflessness," the director said. "It's like a gift for him."

"I think there is no doubt it is a believer's movie," he said. "At least for me."

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In lieu of visit, pope makes major donation to South Sudan charities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a trip to South Sudan postponed indefinitely, Pope Francis is sending close to a half-million dollars to help two church-run hospitals, a teacher training center and farming projects for families as a way to show the people there his solidarity and support.

Because a planned trip with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury couldn't happen this year as hoped, Pope Francis "wants to make tangible the presence and closeness of the church with the suffering people through this initiative 'The Pope for South Sudan,'" Cardinal Peter Turkson told reporters at a Vatican news conference June 21.

"He fervently hopes to be able to go there as soon as possible on an official visit to the nation; the church does not shut hope out of such an afflicted area," said the cardinal, who is prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

An official visit was meant to draw the world's attention to a silent tragedy, give voice to those suffering, and encourage conflicting parties to make renewed and greater efforts in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, the cardinal said.

Already in March, Pope Francis had expressed doubts about the possibility of making the trip, saying in an interview with Germany's Die Zeit newspaper, that visiting South Sudan would be "important," but that "I don't believe that it is possible." The pope approved the project funding in April, a month before the Vatican announced the trip's delay.

The initiative is meant to supplement, support and encourage the ongoing work of religious congregations, Catholic organizations and international aid groups on the ground that "generously and tirelessly" help the people and promote peace and development, the cardinal said.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence and abuses. The fighting, displacement, insecurity and drought have led to large-scale hunger and malnutrition across the country. It's estimated that 3.8 million people have been displaced and at least 28 million are in need of food aid.

A papal donation of about $200,000 will support a program run by Caritas South Sudan, providing fast-growing seeds and farming tools for 2,500 families in areas where it is still possible to grow food.

Some $112,000 will go to fund Solidarity With South Sudan -- an international Catholic network, supporting 16 scholarships and a training program for primary school teachers. The teacher training center takes in students from every ethnic group so they can learn and later teach values of tolerance and reconciliation along with basic education.

A contribution of $150,000 will go to fund two hospitals run by the Comboni Missionary Sisters. Comboni Sister Laura Gemignani told reporters that they have extremely few resources to support their small staff and numerous patients.

For example, she said their hospital in Wau sees 300 patients a day -- 40,000 a year -- but there is only one doctor, who comes in every day and responds to every emergency.

"It's hard to pay his salary," she said, but he, the nurses and other staff stay on despite the insecurity and danger.

When they were told to evacuate because of intensified fighting, she said the staff said that as long as they had even just one patient to attend to, they would never leave.

Cardinal Turkson said, "The Holy Father does not forget the unheard and silent victims of this bloody and inhumane conflict, does not forget all those people who are forced to flee from their homes because of abuses of power, injustice and war. He holds all of them in his prayers and his heart."

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Holiness means being open to God, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being a saint doesn't require spending long hours in prayer, but rather living life open to God in good times and in bad, Pope Francis said.

Christians should live with the "hope of becoming saints" and with the desire that "work, even in sickness and suffering, even in difficulties, is open to God," the pope said June 21 during his weekly general audience.

"We think that it is something difficult, that it is easier to be delinquents than saints. No! We can become saints because the Lord helps us. It is he who helps us," he told the estimated 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis rode around in his popemobile, stopping along the way to greet pilgrims and kiss babies. One child casually waved goodbye to the pope as he was handed back to his parents.

In his talk, the pope reflected on the intercession of the saints, who are "older brothers and sisters who have gone along our same path, (gone through) our same struggles and live forever in God's embrace."

"Their existence tells us above all that Christian life isn't an unattainable ideal. And together, they comfort us: We are not alone, the church is made up of innumerable brothers and sisters, often anonymous, who have preceded us and who, through the action of the Holy Spirit, are involved in the affairs of those who still live here," he said.

Just as their intercession is invoked in Baptism, the pope continued, the church asks for their help in the sacrament of marriage so couples "can have the courage to say 'forever.'"

"To live married life forever; not like some who say, 'as long as love lasts.' No, it is forever. On the contrary, it is better you don't get married. It's either forever or nothing. That is why their presence is invoked in the nuptial liturgy," he said.

The lives of the saints, he continued, served as a reminder that "God never abandons us" and in times of trial and suffering, he "sends one of his angels to comfort us and fill us with consolation."

There are "angels, sometimes with a face and a human heart because God's saints are always here, hidden among us," the pope said.

Another sacrament in which the saints are invoked is Holy Orders, in which candidates for the priesthood lay prostrate on the ground while the bishop and the entire assembly pray the litany of the saints, he said.

"A man would be crushed under the weight of the mission entrusted to him but, in feeling that all of paradise is behind him, that the grace of God will not fail because Jesus is always faithful, he can go forward serenely and refreshed. We are not alone," the pope said.

Pope Francis told the pilgrims that Christians need saints who lived their lives "aspiring to charity and brotherhood" because without them, the world would not have hope."

"May the Lord give us the grace to believe so profoundly in him that we become images of Christ for this world," he said.

Before the general audience, Pope Francis met with members of the U.S. Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will be inducted into the prestigious association Aug. 5.

"As many of you know, I am an avid follower of 'football,' but where I come from, the game is played very differently!" the pope said, referring to the fact that "football" refers to the game of soccer in most parts of the world.

The pope said the values of "teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence" aren't just important on the field, but are "urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community."

"Our world, and especially our young people, need models, people who show us how to bring out the best in ourselves, to use our God-given gifts and talents and, in doing so, to point the way to a better future for our communities," he said.

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Pope accepts early resignation of Vatican's first independent auditor

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just two years after being hired to help with the Vatican's efforts in finance reform, Libero Milone -- the Vatican's first independent auditor who answered only to the pope -- handed a request for his resignation to Pope Francis.

The pope accepted Milone's request, the Vatican announced June 20, after Milone personally presented it to the pope a day earlier.

"While wishing Milone the best in his future endeavors, the Holy See wishes to inform (everyone) that the process of naming a new director of the auditor-general's office will be underway as soon as possible," the Vatican's written statement said.

Pope Francis named Milone to fill the new position of auditor general in June 2015, more than a year after establishing special structures to oversee the Vatican's finances -- the Council for the Economy and the Secretariat for the Economy.

The auditor general has the power to audit the books of any Vatican office and reports directly to the pope. The auditing office currently has 12 people on staff.

Milone, 68, an Italian accountant and expert in corporate risk management, was born in Holland and educated in London. He was chairman and managing partner of Milone Associates and had worked for Falck Renewables, Wind Telecom and Fiat. Until 2007, he was chairman of Deloitte Italy and served three years as a member of the audit committee of the United Nations' World Food Program.

An independent auditor was a key part of the "separation of powers" necessary for reforming the Vatican's economic activity, Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, wrote in 2015.

"These reforms are designed to make all Vatican financial agencies boringly successful, so that they do not merit much press attention," the cardinal wrote.

No reason was given for Milone's request to step down.

In an interview in March with the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, Milone said the previous 18 months had been very busy because he had to learn the way things had worked and then oversee 120 offices and foundations that make up the Roman Curia or are associated with the Holy See.

The office had just been completing preliminary studies of all the major assets, finances and economic data of 2015 and 2016. "The next step is auditing the balance sheet up to Dec. 31, 2017, so as to be able to get ready for auditing the whole budget ending Dec. 31, 2018," he said.

He felt their efforts had paid off by bringing in "a new model of managing the budget and introducing the best international standards," adding that the real work in reform was, "first of all, cultural."

When asked if he had met with any resistance, he said, "more than real or actual resistance, often it was about being unaware" of more modern, integrated and transparent accounting standards. They did a lot of training to help people "overcome foreseeable difficulties," he said.

He said he never regretted accepting the job, which had been offered to him by an international headhunting agency, he said. "On the contrary, I will go all the way with great enthusiasm."

He said, "I am very motivated by the privilege of being at the service of the pope ... and to be able to do my small part of a decisive reform for the Vatican ... A reform whose full extent has perhaps still not been well understood."

Back in September 2015, an employee of the auditor general's office notified Vatican police that Milone's computer had been tampered with, the investigation into that tampering led to the second VatiLeaks investigation and trial, according to Vatican Radio.

That trial found Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, guilty of having roles in the leaking of confidential documents about Vatican finances and acquitted an associate and two journalists.

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Pope: Don't pretend to be teens; help youths see blessings of adulthood

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giorgio Onorati, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Instead of "pretending to be adolescents," parents must help young people see the blessing of growing into adulthood, Pope Francis told priests, religious, catechists and parish council members from the Diocese of Rome.

The belief that youthfulness is a model of success "is one of the most dangerous 'unwitting' menaces in the education of our adolescents" that hinders their personal growth because "adults have taken their place," the pope said June 19, opening the Rome Diocese's annual convention.

This "can increase a natural tendency young people have to isolate themselves or to curb their process of growth" because they have no role models, the pope said.

In his nearly 45-minute talk, Pope Francis reflected on the convention's theme, "Do not leave them alone! Accompanying parents in educating adolescent children."

The pope said the first step in reaching out to young people in Rome is to "speak in the Roman dialect, that is, concretely" rather than in general or abstract terms that do not speak to teens' problems.

Families in big cities such as Rome face different problems than those in rural areas. For this reason, the pope said, parents must educate their adolescent children "within the context of a big city" and speak to them concretely with "healthy and stimulating realism."

Families, the pope continued, also must confront the challenge of educating their children in an "uprooted society" where people are disconnecting from their roots and feel no sense of belonging.

"An uprooted culture, an uprooted family is a family without a history and without memory," he said.

Although social networking has allowed more people to connect and feel part of a group, its virtual nature can also create a certain alienation where people "feel that they do not have roots, that they belong to no one," the pope said.

"If we want our children to be formed and prepared for tomorrow, it is not just by learning languages, for example, that they will succeed in doing so. They need to connect, to know their roots. Only then can they fly high," he said.

Departing from his prepared speech, Pope Francis said parents "should make room for their children to speak with their grandparents," who have the gift of passing on "faith, history and belonging with wisdom."

Often disregarded and cast aside, grandparents must be given the opportunity to "give young people the sense of belonging that they need."

Pope Francis said parents, catechists and pastors must understand that adolescence is a challenging time in young people's lives where "they are neither children (and do not want to be treated as such) and are not adults (but want to be treated as such, especially on the level of privileges.)"

He also said he was worried about the current trend in society to view adolescence as a "pathology that must be fought" and that leads some parents to "prematurely medicate our youths."

"It seems that everything is solved by medicating or controlling everything with the slogan 'making the most of time' and in the end, the young people's schedules are worse than that of a high-level executive," he said.

Instead, schools, parishes and youth movements can take a pivotal role in helping young men and women want to feel challenged so they can achieve their goals.

In this way, "they can discover that all the potential they have is a bridge, a passage toward a vocation (in the broadest and most beautiful sense of the word)," he said.

However, he warned parents about people who may wield influence over their children, including aunts and uncles, and especially those who "have no children or who are not married."

"I learned my first bad words from a bachelor uncle," the pope recalled. "Aunts and uncles often don't do good things to get their nephews and nieces to like them. There was an uncle who would secretly give us cigarettes... things of that sort. And now, I am not saying they are evil but you must beware."

Young people, Pope Francis added, need educators that help grow within them "the life of the spirit of Jesus" and help them see that "to become Christians requires courage and it is a beautiful thing."

"I think it is important to live the education of children starting from the perspective as a calling that the Lord has made to us as a family, to make this step a step of growth, to learn to enjoy the life that he has given us," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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New priests follow many paths to answering call to serve God's people

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Josephine von Dohlen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After almost 12 years as an Episcopal priest, Deacon Jonathan Erdman entered into full communion with the Catholic Church along with his family in 2016 and a year later, he is becoming a Catholic priest.

He will be ordained a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter June 29.

This spring, 590 men entered the priesthood in dioceses throughout the United States, according to a report released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. The report is based on an annual study that the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate conducted for the USCCB.

Leading to his joining the Catholic Church, Deacon Erdman felt something in the background repeatedly calling him to the church, but he said he continually found new ways to distract himself.

"I think often when one hears God calling, a response can be thinking of an excuse," Deacon Erdman said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service June 14. "Moses said he didn't have the ability to speak, Jeremiah claimed he was too young, and even Peter asked Jesus to depart because he felt unworthy. I distracted myself with my work in ministry. I told myself that I was needed where I was."

He recalls teaching a yearly presentation on "What Is the Episcopal Church?" at St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in Indiana. "One of my students joked that it seemed I wanted to be a bit more Catholic with each passing year," Deacon Erdman said.

Events such as the election of Pope Francis allowed Deacon Erdman to see the unity of the Catholic Church through devotion and prayer, gradually leading him to the doors of the Catholic faith.

The first time Deacon Erdman attended Mass while beginning the discernment process, it happened to be on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the namesake feast of the ordinariate of which he will soon become a part.

Based in Houston, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is similar to a diocese, but national in scope. It was established in 2012 by the Vatican earlier this year to facilitate and shepherd communities of former Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic faith while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions.

"I'm very grateful to Anglicanism for teaching me what to long for, for teaching me to long for Scripture, to long for the sacraments, to long for a faith rooted in tradition and reason, to long for Incarnated faith, and to long for true unity," Deacon Erdman told CNS. "I believe these desires pointed me in the direction that God has called me to go. I found these desires satisfied in the Catholic faith."

After his priestly ordination, he will serve the Community of Our Lady and St. John in Louisville, Kentucky.

Six months after Father Andrew Dawson entered the Catholic Church at Easter 2006, people began to ask him if he had thought about joining the priesthood.

According to the USCCB report on the ordinand class of 2017, 87 percent of men were encouraged by an average of four people to enter the priesthood.

"I remember very vividly sitting up in bed one night, bolt upright, thinking to myself, 'All these people have said these things and not one time have I ever said no,'" Father Dawson said to CNS June 14. "All I've done is make a joke of it, and just dismiss it. I realized that the reason that I hadn't been able to say no to anyone is because I was asking myself the same question."

The priesthood eventually became all that Father Dawson would think of in his free time.

Before entering the seminary, Father Dawson worked as an associate director at a Catholic youth camp, Sancta Maria, in Gaylord, Michigan. His experience working at the camp drastically influenced his faith life, as the camp began his intellectual conversion to the Catholic Church.

It was in the chapel at Sancta Maria that he truly came to experience the reality of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. "I didn't know what was happening, but I knew that what I was looking at was not what I had believed it to be previously," Father Dawson said. "I needed to go and investigate that'it was so powerful to me."

Father Andrew said he relates to St. Peter because of how St. Peter is both bold and terrified, both understands and doesn't understand, how St. Peter puts all his weaknesses out there and still the Lord uses him in a powerful way because of his openness.

Being in the Archdiocese of Detroit also has brought Father Dawson close to the late Capuchin Father Solanus Casey, who will be beatified in Detroit in 2017. Father Dawson wore a relic of Father Casey during his ordination and will serve at St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Father Steven Oetjen's parents, along with those of 80 percent of the new ordinands, were both Catholic.

They raised Father Oetjen and his siblings in the church, sending them to Catholic schools and Mass every Sunday. But it wasn't until Father Oetjen went off to study engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that he began to feel the call to the priesthood.

"Basically, I found myself thrown into this really competitive environment and a very demanding environment, with all the work of engineering it was very busy, very hard to find time for prayer," Father Oetjen said. "It was also the first time that I was on my own without my family and I knew that I needed to really start to make the faith my own and if I wanted to take the faith seriously, my parents weren't going to be there anymore to make me."

Desiring to make his faith his own, Father Oetjen became involved actively with the Newman Center at Carnegie Mellon and he saw in his friends a joy in living a life of virtue that he, too, wanted for himself. It was in the chapel at the Newman Center that he encountered the Blessed Sacrament.

"I found that there in the chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar in the monstrance, it was the perfect place for me to go every day to encounter our Lord Jesus Christ and to just spend time with him in silence and to pray to him, telling him about all my struggles and challenges, asking him for grace," Father Oetjen said. "That helped me immensely."

This devotion to the Blessed Sacrament eventually revealed a little tug on his heart that Father Oetjen felt and discovered to be God calling him to the priesthood.

"Seeking the Lord out in silence and in prayer really filled a gap that was much needed in my life at the time, and it is always there, I always need to pray," Father Oetjen said. "But I also think it's a joy that is always going to be growing and it's a joy that doesn't mean that everything is always happy go lucky, all the time but even through ups and downs, its an underlying joy, it's a peace."

Like 43 percent of those ordained this year, Father Oejten finished his undergraduate degree before entering the seminary.

"I've really been in awe now that I'm able to celebrate Mass every day," Father Oejten said. "I'm looking forward to every day for the rest of my life, God willing, to being able to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass, to preach and teach God people to help them receive the sacraments as fruitfully as they can so that all the grace that God wants to give them can flourish in their lives."

Father Oejten was ordained June 10 in the Diocese of Arlington, and he will serve at St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia.

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Pope will visit Chile, Peru in January, Vatican announces

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will travel to Colombia in September and, the Vatican announced, he will return to South America in January for a visit to Chile and Peru.

The pope will be in Chile Jan. 15-18, visiting the cities of Santiago, Temuco and Iquique, the Vatican press office announced June 19. He then will fly to Peru and from Jan. 18-21, he will visit Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo.

The Vatican had announced in March that the pope would make a pastoral trip to Colombia Sept. 6-11.

No mention was made of a possible trip to the pope's homeland, Argentina. He has not returned to the country since he was elected pope in March 2013.

The Peru-Chile trip would be his fourth to South America. In July 2013, he visited Brazil for World Youth Day. In July 2015, he traveled to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. The September trip to Colombia would be his third to the continent.

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Louisiana priest in Washington spends hours with Scalise at hospital

IMAGE: CNS photo/Frank J. Methe, Clario

By Christine Bordelon

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- Father Tim Hedrick, parochial vicar of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Metairie, was in Washington continuing his canon law studies when a news alert came across his phone June 14 that Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, had been shot.

"I immediately called and texted Jennifer (Scalise's wife) to let her know that I was here (in D.C.) and would go and be with Steve," Father Hedrick told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese.

Scalise, his wife, Jennifer, and the couple's two children, Harrison and Madison, are Catholic and are parishioners of St. Catherine.

Father Hedrick said Jennifer Scalise, who was back home with the children in Louisiana, called for a police detail to pick up the priest from The Catholic University of America to take him to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Scalise was being treated.

"He was already in surgery, and they brought me down to surgery and I actually got to watch the surgery," Father Hedrick said, who learned that several members of the surgery team were Catholic.

"They felt very comforted to know I was there, and they asked me to pray for them," Father Hedrick said. He was at the hospital for 12 hours that first day and was able to give the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to Scalise.

As of early June 19, Scalise remained in serious condition. Over the June 17-18 weekend, he was upgraded from serious condition. He has undergone several surgeries since he took a bullet to the hip early in the morning of June 14 while at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center said the bullet fractured bones, injured internal organs and caused severe bleeding.

Scalise and fellow GOP House members along with staffers and others were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, which is played for charity. Four others, including Capitol police officers who were on Scalise's protective detail, a congressional staffer and a lobbyist, also were injured. The shooter, now identified as James Hodgkinson, died at the scene.

"Just being there as a familiar face" at the hospital has been comforting to Jennifer Scalise, Father Hedrick said. "(I am) one who can pray with her and pray for Steve. ... I prayed with him first."

Father Hedrick said he also has taken on the role of Jennifer's communicator of Scalise's condition with St. Catherine parishioners.

"Whatever updates she asks me to give, I do," Father Hedrick said. "She wants to thank everyone for their outpouring of support. She's strong. She's done great."

Scalise, who represents Louisiana's 1st Congressional District, had participated for several years in the congressional baseball fundraiser since being elected to office in 2008. The game, with the GOP lawmakers versus Democratic House members, went on as scheduled the evening of June 16.

Father Hedrick has been parochial vicar at the Scalises' parish since July 2014.

"I know him in my role as a priest and fellow (Archbishop) Rummel (High) graduate. And they (the family) come to church," he said.

Father Hedrick said he has been in Washington the past three summers studying canon law and has visited Scalise in his congressional office.

When Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress in 2015, the congressman was able to secure tickets not only for wife Jennifer but also for Father Hedrick and New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond to attend

Since the shooting, Father Hedrick said has visited the Scalises every day. He was present when President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Scalise in the hospital and learned the president had called Jennifer immediately after the shooting.

"The interesting thing about the Trump visit -- it was his birthday," Father Hedrick. "He left his birthday party with Melania to meet with Jennifer. When President Trump came in, he was so calm and caring and concerned about Jennifer and Steve. He promised to help them and support them."

Residents of Scalise's hometown of Metairie have shown their love and concern. On the evening of the shooting, St. Catherine of Siena held a short prayer service for the Scalise family and all those injured.

Several groups, including the Knights of Columbus, also were rallying to schedule blood drives on Scalise's behalf; he has had several blood transfusions. Archbishop Rummel High School, where Scalise graduated in 1983, planned a drive June 23.

Father Hedrick said Archbishop Aymond called Jennifer the day of the shooting and offered his prayerful support.

"That's the kind of support they are getting," Father Hedrick said. "It's a great comfort for her to know that people are praying for her back home. The president, archbishop and all these people, in the midst of the tragedy, are supporting her and praying for her."

Father Hedrick considers it providential that he was in Washington when Scalise was shot and in such close proximity to the hospital where he was taken. MedStar Washington Hospital Center is three blocks from Catholic University.

"I can see it from my bedroom window," he said. "It is comforting for the (Scalise) family but also for St. Catherine family that someone from their community is taking care of one of their own."

He said he also has gotten to know the Capitol police officers injured with Scalise on the baseball field, because they accompany the congressman to Mass when he is in Metairie. Father Hedrick is glad he can be there for them as well and said they were doing OK after the shooting.

Father Hedrick said Jennifer Scalise asked everyone to keep praying for her husband, the other who were injured, the medical staff and her family.

Scalise will remain in the hospital for some time and faces rehabilitation. The MedStar staff said other surgeries are necessary to manage abdominal and bone injuries.

"He's got great care," Father Hedrick said. "The doctors are taking care of him. It's just going to take time."

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Bordelon is associate editor of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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Eucharist is reminder of God's love, call to unity, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The Eucharist is a tangible reminder of God's love, and receiving Communion is a call to work to build the body of Christ by loving others and shunning all that sows division within a community, Pope Francis said.

The Eucharist should "heal our ambition to lord it over others, to greedily hoard things for ourselves, to foment discord and criticism," he said June 18, celebrating the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. "May it awaken in us the joy of living in love, without rivalry, jealousy or mean-spirited gossip."

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. With an almost constant breeze cooling the warm Rome day, thousands of people -- including children who made their first Communion this spring -- gathered outside the basilica for the evening Mass and for the Corpus Christi procession later from St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, about a mile away.

The 2017 feast day included two major changes from past practices. First, although Italian dioceses, like many around the world, moved the feast from a Thursday to a Sunday in the late 1970s, the Mass and procession with the pope at St. John Lateran remained on the Thursday until this year.

Second, instead of transporting the Blessed Sacrament on a truck in the Corpus Christi procession this year, it was carried on a platform held aloft on the shoulders of four men. Eight other men carried tall poles holding a canopy over the platform, a task made more difficult by the breeze.

The truck had made its first appearance in 1994 when St. John Paul II began having difficulty walking. He and now-retired Pope Benedict XVI would ride on the truck, kneeling or sitting before the monstrance.

Elected at the age of 76, Pope Francis walked behind the truck for the 1-mile procession in 2013. But beginning in 2014, because of his difficulty walking long distances and in order to avoid drawing attention away from the Eucharist, he met the procession at St. Mary Major instead of participating in it.

In his homily at the Mass, the pope said the Eucharist "is the sacrament of memory, reminding us, in a real and tangible way, of the story of God's love for us."

Just as the Israelites were called to remember how God led them safely through the desert, he said, "remembering all that the Lord has done for us is the foundation of our own personal history of salvation."

"Remembrance is essential for faith, as water is for a plant," Pope Francis said.

Remembering, he said, keeps people "mindful, never forgetting who it is who loves us and whom we are called to love in return."

Pope Francis said it seems that today people's ability to remember and be mindful is weakening.

"Amid so much frantic activity, many people and events seem to pass in a whirl," he said. "We quickly turn the page, looking for novelty while unable to retain memories."

But the focus on living for the moment, he said, often means living superficially and without a focus on "who we are and where we are going."

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the pope said, reaches people even in their "fragmented lives," reminding them how Christ was broken for their salvation and continues to offer himself in the "loving fragility" of the Eucharist.

"In the Bread of Life, the Lord comes to us, making himself a humble meal that lovingly heals our memory, wounded by life's frantic pace of life," he said.

"The Eucharist is flavored with Jesus' words and deeds, the taste of his passion, the fragrance of his Spirit," he said. "When we receive it, our hearts are overcome with the certainty of Jesus' love."

At the same time, the pope said, the Eucharist is a reminder that Christians are not isolated individuals but are called to receive Christ's body together and to build up the body of the church.

"In experiencing this Eucharist," he told those at the Mass, "let us adore and thank the Lord for this greatest of gifts: the living memorial of his love that makes us one body and leads us to unity."

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Convocation delegate wants to find new ways to spread unchanged Gospel

IMAGE: CNS photo/Northwest Catholic

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Maybe it's no surprise the Seattle Archdiocese is sending a delegation of 12, as in the number of apostles, to the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" in Orlando, Florida, July 1-4.

Deacon Eric Paige, one of the 12, is the executive director for the archdiocese's Office of Evangelization, Formation and Discipleship. For him, it could seem like a busman's holiday to spend four days at a gathering with 3,000 other Catholics talking about something he works on every day.

But when asked if he hopes to either gain wisdom from the event or share what he has learned with other participants, Paige said it would likely be a combination of the two.

One thing he hopes to get a better grasp of during the gathering -- with its workshops, keynote addresses and time for prayer -- is advice on how to use modern technology to spread the Gospel message. But even with that goal in mind, he also is cautious that the tools can't be so much of the focus that people forget the purpose of using them is "to draw people to engage in the Eucharist."

For him, the Seattle delegation and the entire gathering of Catholic leaders from across the country are symbolic of the original apostles commissioned to share the Gospel message.

Citing the passage from Ecclesiastes, he said: "There is nothing new under the sun," meaning Christians today have the same task as always. The call to be missionary disciples in the modern world was echoed by Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel").

Deacon Paige, who has been involved in church ministry for years and currently provides consultation to parishes and archdiocesan agencies, said a major pastoral concern he often hears is about grown children or family members who aren't engaged in the church anymore.

He said people tend to ask church leaders for help on this issue without recognizing that they can often be the best candidates for this role. He said they need to recognize the "faith being rejected is not the Christian faith but what they think the Christian faith is."

Those who have left the church need to "understand who Jesus is," the deacon said, which comes from personal encounters with people sharing their faith and listening.

That's not going to happen automatically, either, he added, but only when Catholics are "renewed in their sense of mission" about the church -- something the convocation is all about.

As he sees it, the Orlando gathering sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will likely show how Catholics across the country that the "church is in a state of constant evaluation."

And his verdict is that the church is not experiencing all that God intends, which leaves room for more to happen.

"We have to be open" to what God wants to do, he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Church offers counseling to help students cope with trauma of London fire

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

Church agencies are helping London Catholic school students cope with the trauma of the Grenfell Tower fire, including knowing that some of their fellow students are missing.

Children who attended Catholic schools in the shadow of Grenfell Tower are among about 76 people who have yet to be accounted for. Police have confirmed that 30 people died in the June 14 fire, with the death toll expected to rise as emergency services personnel search the ruins for bodies.

John Paul Morrison, the director of education for the Archdiocese of Westminster, told Catholic News Service June 16, said the archdiocese was offering counseling to students, to help them to deal with the trauma of the tragedy.

"What they have witnessed was incredibly shocking," said Morrison. "Television and media can only touch on it.

"The thing that really hit the students was the screaming," he said. "I spoke to some people yesterday who were very upset by that -- by hearing, 'Help me!', 'Help me!'"

Morrison confirmed that students were missing from the schools, but he declined to say how many, saying he did not wish to identify them prematurely.

He said hundreds of other students and their families were evacuated from the vicinity of the 24-story building because of the possibility that it might collapse and scatter debris over a half-mile radius.

All students of the 240-place St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School, which is close to the tower, have been relocated to Sion Manning Catholic Girls School, which is outside of the zone cordoned off by police.

"I think from an educational point of view, it is really important you get back to some form of consistency and normality as much as you can in a period of incredible anguish and tragedy," said Morrison.

He said that teachers tried extremely hard to provide students with a normal day in class, and schools across the archdiocese helped by delivering books and other materials needed at short notice.

Morrison said he was "very proud" of the response to the tragedy of the Catholic Church "at every level."

"It was good to see all elements of the church's mission come together to address what is an incredibly said but also an incredibly complex situation," he added.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Notting Hill was one of two churches to serve as a collection point for members of the public who wished to contribute clothing, food and other supplies for families dislocated by the fire.

Father Gerard Skinner, the parish priest, was so inundated with donations that within hours there was no storage space remaining.

He left a message on his telephone to tell well-wishers that the church was "at capacity." He said he was also overwhelmed by offers of practical assistance.

The fire in Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, in the west of the capital, is believed to have started in the early hours of the morning in a faulty refrigerator in the fourth-floor home of Behailu Kebede, a taxi driver from Ethiopia.

It spread rapidly because it ignited the flammable cladding that encased the tower block, and many trapped tenants jumped from the building to escape the flames and smoke.

About 80 people are being treated in hospital and about 17 of them are described as being in "critical" condition.

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New child protection experts graduate from Rome's Jesuit university

IMAGE: CNS/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Before students were presented with their diplomas in safeguarding minors, they each received a logoed mug as a memento of their time in the Center for Child Protection's intensive program at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The cup might come in handy because their task of promoting child protection will be hard, and "you will be working late, so you will be drinking lots of tea," psychology professor Katharina Fuchs said good-heartedly at the start of the informal graduation ceremony. The graduates -- 24 men and women from 18 different countries -- would be going back to their dioceses, bishops' conferences or religious orders to kick-start or strengthen child protection policies and measures.

The ceremony, held June 14 at the Gregorian University, included a panel discussion with five post-doctoral students and a poster exhibition of all 24 students' final theses and research. Drew Dillingham of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Child and Youth Protection Office was one of those completing the program.

A Capuchin Sister of the Sacred Heart, who works in Slovakia, did her final project on how communism and, before that, centuries-long monarchical rule created a favorable environment for abuse and secrecy because the political systems thrived on and encouraged subordination, passivity and avoidance of responsibility.

Sister Agnieszka Jarkowska said communism also encouraged keeping up appearances and a suppression of public opinion and speech. All of these conditions fed known risk factors for abuse: a concentration of power and authority in one person, fear, mistrust and isolation, she said.

Still today, talking about anything that has to do with sexuality is taboo, families are closed isolated systems, and even the media doesn't talk about abuse. "It's as if it doesn't exist," she told Catholic News Service.

Father Bennette Tang Bacheyie of the Diocese of Wa, Ghana, looked at the common, accepted practice of physical and emotional abuse in his country's school system.

UNICEF reported in 2014 that 80 percent of children in Ghana experience violent discipline in school, Father Bacheyie said. Even minor transgressions like being late, making noise or forgetting homework are considered to be deserving of corporal punishment. Caning and bullying are common as well as other rituals, he said, pointing to a photograph on his poster presentation showing boys in school uniform kneeling on the hard ground holding a large rock high over their heads.

Father Bacheyie said he will return to Wa to help all 300 Catholic schools in the diocese create a safe school environment by training and educating teachers, caregivers and staff on more effective and humane ways to correct and motivate students, and to teach children "to expose abuse and not stay silent."

He said he plans to create a diocesan youth protection team made up of professionals with different expertise, such as law enforcement, health workers and social workers, so they can build the right kind of policy for schools, which in turn, will need to create their own child protection teams.

The hope is that if kids grow up in a safe environment where guidance and discipline can still protect and respect their rights and dignity, "they will have the right tools and know how to treat children" when they are adults, passing that culture down to each successive generation.

Father Dominic Nnoshiri, a member of the Spiritans southeast Nigeria province, looked at the importance of forming open, honest and mature men in seminaries.

Too often, he said, there is a lack of knowledge and meaningful discussion in seminaries about human sexuality; overcrowding; too much isolation from "the reality of their future ministry"; victimization of seminarians who are transparent about their sexuality; and a lack of trust between candidates and formators.

Candidates for the priesthood and religious life need psychosocial, emotional and relational support so they can talk about and prepare for a life of chastity, he said. There also must be healthy and open discussion about respecting boundaries and sexuality, "expressing it positively rather than denying or repressing it."

Professionals should be involved in screening candidates, he said, and women should be involved in formation.

Father Nnoshiri also said some practices in Nigeria's Igbo culture could be integrated in formation, such as wearing simple attire as a reminder of humility and service, taking an oath of fidelity to one's priestly ministry and understanding sacredness in terms of respecting the body of others.

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of Center for Child Protection, praised the diversity of backgrounds, roles and expertise he saw in the new batch of graduates and expressed great hopes they will make important inroads in their nations where, for the majority of them, sex abuse is not even talked about or acknowledged.

While ensuring child protection is going to be "a long and demanding journey," the center's first graduates, who finished the course in 2016, already are making a difference, he said.

The graduates create networks and alliances, conduct workshops and give talks on child protection for the church and anyone who requests their help, like NGOs, sports associations and sometimes the government.

"They are considered experts," he said, because "about 75 percent of all countries have almost nothing in terms of expertise and competence" in the field of abuse prevention and child protection.

With such a need and demand for experts, Father Zollner said the Pontifical Gregorian University plans to offer a new master's degree in safeguarding, promoted by the Center for Child Protection.

The two-year degree will follow a multidisciplinary approach just like the current certificate program, and it will offer special electives tailored for professionals taking the course, like medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers and canon lawyers, he said. It will also include completing a semester-long internship.

Building this new army of experts in safeguarding "will have a snowball effect," he said. "Wherever these (students) have been asked to speak publicly, then suddenly people realize you are allowed to talk about it, you can talk about it" and make a difference.

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Italian police recover stolen relic of St. John Bosco

IMAGE: CNS photo courtesy of the Salesians and Andrea Cherchi


TURIN, Italy (CNS) -- Inside a copper teapot in a kitchen cupboard, Italian police found the relic of St. John Bosco that had been stolen two weeks earlier from the basilica erected at his birthplace.

The press office of the Salesians in nearby Turin announced June 15 that Italian military police obtained a search warrant and discovered the relic early that morning in the home of a 42-year-old Italian man identified only by the initials C.G.

From previous encounters with the law, the man's fingerprints were on file and they were found on the glass case protecting the relic and reliquary in the lower Basilica of St. John Bosco in the town of Castelnuovo Don Bosco.

Police said they watched and followed the man for several days before obtaining a warrant to search his home.

The relic, a piece of St. John Bosco's brain, was still in its small glass jar tied with red ribbon. The seal of authenticity was intact, the Salesians said.

"It appears the motive for the theft had nothing to do with a desire to demand a ransom nor was it stolen for a collector," the police said in a statement. Apparently, the thief "erroneously" believed the gold-painted reliquary over the glass jar was worth a lot of money.

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Convocation of Catholic leaders will be historic event, bishops told


INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- During their spring meeting in Indianapolis, U.S. bishops were reminded that the upcoming Convocation of Catholic Leaders -- a gathering they began talking about years ago -- is right around the corner.

It will be a historic event, Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, told the bishops June 15 about the July 1-4 "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" in Orlando, Florida.

He also noted that it will be the largest gathering sponsored by U.S. bishops and will be a time to show the unity of the church.

The convocation, an invitation-only event, is meant to give the 3,000 participants expected to attend a better understanding of what it means to be missionary disciples in today's world through workshop presentations, keynote addresses and prayer.

The plan, from the outset, was to bring Catholic leaders from across the country to closely examine and figure out how to best live out Pope Francis' call for all Catholics to be missionary disciples in today's world as expressed in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel").

Dioceses are sending delegations chosen by their bishops, and other attendees will be key leaders of Catholic organizations, apostolates, missions, congregations, institutions and agencies identified by the USCCB.

Bishop Malone thanked the bishops for supporting the convocation dedicated to forming missionary disciples who can then go out and form others, following the call of Pope Francis.

He urged the bishops to make use of their time in conversations with diocesan delegates during the convocation to walk and pray with them. On a practical note, he also suggested that they wear comfortable shoes.

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Holy Cross priest presents reflection on immigration issues for bishops

By Natalie Hoefer

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody stood before the U.S. bishops June 14 and held up a chalice. It was not special in appearance, but rather in the story it told.

The chalice was handcrafted primarily with wood from a refugee boat that landed upon the beaches of Lampedusa, the Mediterranean island from which Pope Francis cast a wreath into the waters to remember the thousands of refugees who lost their lives there, attempting to flee persecution.

The base of the chalice was formed from mesquite, a common wood along the U.S.-Mexico border crossed by immigrants seeking better lives in America.

Together, he said, the materials of the chalice speak to the plight of immigrants, a topic addressed during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' spring assembly in Indianapolis.

"Migration is an incredibly, incredibly complex issue, and those who don't realize its complexity either aren't listening, or they don't understand," said Father Groody, an associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and director of immigration initiatives at the university's Institute for Latino Studies.

"And second, migration is an incredibly, incredibly simple issue, and those who don't realize its simplicity either aren't listening, or they don't understand," he said.

Along those lines of duality, Father Groody noted the need to "move people beyond binary language: legal or illegal, citizen or alien, native or foreigner, and to try to go to the deeper river of these issues."

He spoke of the tensions in the topic of immigration, the tension between sovereign rights and human rights, between civil law and natural law, and between national security and human security.

Father Groody's reflection preceded a review by the working group on migrants and refugees created out of the bishops' general assembly last November.

The group was to complete its work by this spring meeting, but "recognizing the continued urgency" so many migration and refugee issues present, Cardinal Daniel N. Dinardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, announced June 15 he was extending the group.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president and the group's chairman, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, addressed the working group's origins, activities and next steps on issues.

"Some of the desires that were expressed (at the November meeting regarding the working group) were in tension with each other and required a certain balance," said Archbishop Gomez.

For example, he said, "There was a desire for pastoral concern for those at risk, but there was also a desire to avoid encouraging accelerated fears. These tensions were not a problem, but were instead constructive, reminding us always of the full range of consideration at stake."

Archbishop Gomez noted that part of the reason the group was created last November was the bishops' "desire for a strong response to the anticipated policies of the incoming administration regarding refugees and immigrants."

That motive proved prophetic. Some of the group's first actions involved issuing official statements opposing three executive orders involving immigration and immigrants the Trump administration issued in its first week. The travel ban executive order and a revision of it is being held up in the courts; the order temporarily bans entry into the U.S. by people from six Muslim-majority countries.

"These statements, combined with many local statements by bishops across the country along the same lines, helped to make a positive impact on the public conversation regarding the orders," said Archbishop Gomez.

On the legislative front, Bishop Vasquez and Dominican Sister Donna Markham, director of Catholic Charities USA, wrote a joint letter in support of the BRIDGE Act, which stands for Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our Economy. The bipartisan bill would provide temporary protection from deportation for three years as well as work authorization for young people eligible for former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Archbishop Gomez said that while the letter and statements were more high profile, "the greatest fortune of the work was to provide each one of you with resources to support your local episcopal ministry in this area (of helping migrants and refugees)."

Such resources include information to provide to families fearing separation from deportation, action alerts, and information and analysis "to keep each of you well informed in a fast-paced environment, where even basic information is so often tainted by political polarization and partisanship," the archbishop said.

Bishop Vasquez also pointed to the ongoing collaborative effort of Catholic groups through Justice for Immigrants -- The website of coalition, created in 2004 and coordinated by the USCCB, offers backgrounders, webinars and action alerts that the working group developed and disseminated.

Such collaborative efforts and information are meant "to convey a comprehensive vision for immigration reform, to paint a fuller picture of what justice and mercy mean with respect to migrants and refugees in our country today," Archbishop Gomez explained.

"We must take the initiative to provide a more complete and positive account on our views," he added.

He pointed to "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey to Hope," a 2003 joint pastoral letter by the bishops of the U.S. and Mexico, for laying out the bishops' principles on immigration. In in the bishops challenged their governments to change immigration policies and promised to do more themselves to educate Catholics and political leaders about the social justice issues involved in migration and address migrants' needs.

To bring such perspective "into the public square (is) for the benefit of all, not just for migrants and refugees, or for the faithful, or for the institutional church, but for the common good," he said.

During the open discussion, a dozen bishops stepped forward to praise the group's work, make comments and suggestions, and even express caution.

"I have a reservation on (a) symbolic level," said Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego. "I think we have to keep signaling (that) we as a conference are on a level of heightened alert because our people are on a level of heightened alert because of the fears among them. (The fears) are not imaginary, and they have been stoked by particular actions and words and legislative orders."

The concept of sanctuary arose twice. While one bishop desired more guidance on the topic, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, cautioned that sanctuary "will not provide what the immigrant community needs long term, and that is to be incorporated as fellow citizens, brothers and sisters of this one society. Offering a more positive vision and to continue to hold for sensible, reasonable immigration reform is just key."

Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud, Minnesota, encouraged helping immigrants through local ecumenical efforts.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee noted that officials in "the current administration are economic pragmatists." Since the loss of labor in small businesses and farms would be disastrous if so many are deported, he said, that angle on immigration should be pursued with such an economic-minded administration. It would be "a wonderful way to move the issue forward," he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle called the committee's work prophetic.

"Not all of us are on the same page supporting immigration. But at the same time we have to be countercultural," he said. "We all as Christians and Catholics have to be -- that's our mission, especially for the vulnerable people."

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Hoefer is a reporter for The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Gregory: Bishops 'can never say we are sorry enough' for tragedy of abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Standing before some 200 bishops from across the country, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said that "we can never say that we are sorry enough for the share that we have had in this tragedy of broken fidelity and trust" in the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

He made this sober observation in a homily during a June 14 Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on the opening day of the U.S. bishops' spring meeting.

The liturgy was a response to a call from Pope Francis to episcopal conferences around the world to observe a "Day of Prayer and Penance" for survivors of sexual abuse within the church.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the principal celebrant of the Mass and spoke about the pope's call at the start of the liturgy.

"Today, there is a special urgency to our prayer," Cardinal DiNardo said. "The Holy Father has asked that all episcopal conferences offer a Day of Prayer and Penance for victims and survivors of sexual abuse.

"In solidarity with our brother bishops around the world, we acknowledge the sins that have occurred and ask forgiveness from and healing of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of those who should have been protecting and caring for them."

At the end of the Mass, the bishops, in a sign of penance, knelt while praying a prayer of healing and forgiveness for the victims of sexual abuse in the church.

"At this Mass," Archbishop Gregory said in his homily, "we bishops humbly and sincerely ask for the forgiveness of those who have been harmed, scandalized or dispirited by events that, even if they happened many years ago, remain ongoing sources of anguish for them and for those who love them."

The liturgy took place 15 years after U.S. bishops, in response to revelations about the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the church, approved the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which expressed the responsibility of Church leaders to reach out to abuse victims and offer them means for healing and reconciliation.

Archbishop Gregory was USSCB president at the time of the charter was approved in 2002.

"We humbly seek forgiveness from the faith-filled people of our church and from our society at large," he said, "and especially from those whose lives may have been devastated by our failure to care adequately for the little ones entrusted to us and for any decision that we made or should have made that exacerbated the sorrow and heartache that the entire church has felt and continues to feel -- for what we have done, and for what we have failed to do."

The charter established church procedures to ensure the care of victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church; that justice be pursued for them; and the prevention of such abuse now and in the future.

Earlier in the day, the bishops heard a report on the continuing implementation of the charter and annual audits of local dioceses across the country to evaluate their compliance with it.

"They are sincere, state-of-the-art and effective," Archbishop Gregory said of the charter's procedures in his homily. "Nevertheless, this expression of our sorrow is far more important at this time, in this place, than any administrative process or training effort, however beneficial to the church and to the world."

The Mass on the "Day of Prayer and Penance" was an expression, Archbishop Gregory said that "ultimately it must be the Lord himself who heals and reconciles the hearts of those who live with the pain of God's law unheeded. For that grace, with sincere hearts, with contrite spirits and with a renewed promise to protect, we simply pray this evening."

The bishops were joined at the Mass by many Catholics from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as well as USCCB staff members.

Tom Spencer, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, worshipped at the Mass and was impressed by the gesture of penance made by the country's bishops.

"It was very powerful," said Spencer after the liturgy. "I think that it's a very powerful statement. I hope that the broader church sees it as a great effort on their part to bring about healing, to listen to the folks who have been abused and to offer our prayer and sacrifice for them to help them heal."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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