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Pope Francis to preside over 20 September weddings at Vatican

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Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will preside over his first wedding ceremony as pontiff during a nuptial Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Sept. 14.

Pope Francis will preside at 20 weddings at St. Peter's in September. (CNS)

Pope Francis will preside at 20 weddings at St. Peter’s in September. (CNS)

The Vatican confirmed Aug. 29 that 20 couples from the Diocese of Rome will be married by the pope, the bishop of Rome. The papal Mass celebrating the couples’ marriage will come just a few weeks before the start of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, Oct. 5-19. Since Pope Benedict XVI never publicly presided over a marriage ceremony as pope, the mid-September ceremony will be the first papal celebration of a wedding since 2000, when St. John Paul II married eight couples from different parts of the world as part of the Jubilee for Families. St. John Paul presided over another joint wedding for a group of couples in 1994 as part of his celebration of the International Year of the Family. He also married a number of other couples at private Masses during his lengthy pontificate.

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Finding peace of mind after a concussion: Schools in diocese to begin baseline brain function testing

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Dialog reporter

 

What should have been a routine trip to the store and dinner last October turned into a multi-month nightmare for Bella Raytick. She accidentally hit her head on the car door when she opened it. By the time Bella and her mother, Ann Casapulla, reached the store, the signs of a concussion were already evident.

“Instantly I had a headache, and my eyes hurt,” Bella said. “When we got to Staples, it’s so bright in there, it hurt my head so bad.”

Bella, then in seventh grade at All Saints Catholic School in Elsmere, got through dinner, but she couldn’t think straight or complete simple tasks. She went to school the next day, which was Halloween. That proved to be a mistake. Read more »

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Labor Day 2014 — U.S. bishops lament young adults’ high unemployment rate

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WASHINGTON — In their 2014 Labor Day statement, the U.S. bishops denounced the fact young adults have “borne the brunt” of unemployment and underemployment in this country and around the world.

“Our younger generations are counting on us to leave them a world better than the one we inherited,” wrote Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Writing the statement on behalf of the bishops for Labor Day, which is Sept. 1, the archbishop spoke of Pope Francis’ teaching against an “economy of exclusion” and applied it to the millions of unemployed young adults in the United States. Read more »

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Did you hear? Pope sees saintly virtue in refusal to gossip

August 28th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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The refusal to gossip is the quickest way to sainthood, Pope Francis said at his weekly general audience Aug. 27.

“How much gossip (happens) in parishes,” the pope lamented. “We mustn’t do it. I won’t tell you to cut off your tongue. No. Not that. But do ask the Lord for the grace to not do it, all right?”

The refusal to gossip, in fact, is such an outstanding Christian virtue, it should make a person a saint overnight, the pope said. Read more »

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Bucket line — Catholic schools decide how to take part in ALS fundraising effort

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a major fundraising effort that began this summer to raise money to research a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, has left many people scratching their heads.

The challenge involves dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head and nominating others to go through the same process within 24 hours or make a donation to the charity of one’s choice to support further research to treat and cure ALS. The ALS Association, based in Washington, is the largest organization researching the disease.

Fausin Weber, headmaster, left, and Deacon Brian Edwards, chair of the theology department at Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., were doused with ice water in the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge" at half time at the school's Aug. 22 football game. Proceeds were donated to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which sponsors ALS research without using embryonic stem cells. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

Fausin Weber, headmaster, left, and Deacon Brian Edwards, chair of the theology department at Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., were doused with ice water in the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” at half time at the school’s Aug. 22 football game. Proceeds were donated to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which sponsors ALS research without using embryonic stem cells. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

The challenge went viral on social media. As of Aug. 26, the ALS Association had received $88.5 million in donations from July 29-Aug. 26 compared to $2.6 million during the same time period a year ago.

Friends have challenged friends on Facebook and celebrities have joined the fundraising fray. Now with schools starting their new year, Catholic schools across the country have also considered the challenge. But there has been some hesitation, particularly after reports that the ALS Association, which is researching for a cure for the disease, uses embryonic stem cells in some of its research.

Some dioceses have issued statements urging schools that participate to send donations to other research organizations, such as the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which does not use embryonic stem cells in its research.

The Catholic Church opposes any research involving the destruction of human embryos to create stem cells. Adult stem cells, so called because they are derived from living human beings, also have promising scientific value but do not require destruction of an embryo. The reprogrammed stem cells can sometimes be used to replace damaged cells.

Carrie Munk, a spokeswoman for the ALS Association, told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 26 email that the organization primarily funds adult stem cell research and is at the end of funding one single embryonic study, which is funded by one specific donor. Read more »

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Faith a source of strength for slain U.S. journalist, his family

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ROCHESTER, N.H. — In April 2013, the parents of slain U.S. journalist James Foley attended a prayer vigil at Marquette University in Milwaukee to pray for their son, who at that time had disappeared in Syria.

Before Diane and John Foley had confirmation that spring that their son was missing, Diane said she just felt it, he had missed one of his usual phone calls home. Once they knew for sure, the couple said they were relying on their Catholic faith to cope and leaning on prayer to bring him home.

“Faith has been part of family life, but this has deepened my faith because there is our hope. Our hope is that God will take care of Jim,” she told the Catholic Herald in Milwaukee at the time.

U.S. journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., after being released from imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and a Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Tommy Giglio, Northwestern University via Reuters)

U.S. journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., after being released from imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and a Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Tommy Giglio, Northwestern University via Reuters)

That strong faith will likely help the couple, who are members of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester, get through the fact that their 40-year-old son was beheaded by militants with the Islamic State extremist group, known as ISIS.

According to an AP story, U.S. officials confirmed a graphic video released Aug. 19 that showed ISIS fighters beheading Foley, a 1996 graduate of Marquette who had been a freelance journalist for the past several years, mostly in the world’s trouble spots. In 2011, he was kidnapped on a Libyan battlefield and held captive in Tripoli for 45 days.

Sometime in late 2012, he went missing in Syria. The last time the Foley family heard from him was before Thanksgiving that year.

A statement about his death attributed to Diane Foley was posted on a Facebook page originally set up to urge James’ release. Family members “have never been prouder of him,” it said.

“He gave his life trying to expose the suffering of the Syrian people,” the statement said, which also urged the militants to release others they are holding hostage. “Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.”

ISIS said they killed James Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on the militants’ strongholds and the group said it would kill another U.S. hostage.

News of his grisly death has sent shock waves around the world, eliciting prayers and statements of support for the family from Catholic leaders, the Marquette community, reporters’ organizations, fellow journalists and many others.

“The brutality of this act is itself evidence of an unspeakable evil that is rampant and inhuman,” New Hampshire Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester. “To the prayers that have been offered since his captivity almost two years ago, we now add our prayers for James’ eternal rest and, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, James’s future resurrection to eternal life.”

“Our prayers also must accompany a sorrowful mother, a grieving father, a deeply pained family and countless friends who have kept vigil all this time,” he said. “May we also pray for those who have embraced the way of darkness and death, that they may turn away from this terrible evil now and forever.”

News reports said the Foleys’ pastor, Father Paul Gousse, was at the family’s house for about 45 minutes Aug. 19. He left without speaking to reporters. The parish posted a notice that the church would be open to all to join in prayer for Jim, his family, friends, colleagues “and all who are still in danger.”

Besides Facebook, his family has been using Twitter and other social media to express their sorrow and ask for privacy.

In her statement on Facebook, Diane Foley said: “We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

James’ sister, Kelly, took to Twitter asking others not to watch the video that shows his beheading: “Please honor James Foley and respect his family’s privacy. Don’t watch the video. Don’t share it. That’s not how life should be.”

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said on Twitter that anyone sharing the images of the event would have their accounts suspended. “We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery. Thank you.”

Prayed the rosary

In 2011, after he was let go by his kidnappers in Libya, James Foley wrote an article for Marquette magazine on how prayer, specifically the rosary, got him through captivity in a military detention center in Tripoli.

He had been captured with two colleagues, he said. “Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

“I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.”

Foley began to pray the rosary.

“It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused,” he wrote. “Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.”

Foley also describe his experience at Marquette University, which he said “has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.” He added that Marquette had never been “a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist.”

Marquette posted a link to his article along with a statement about his death on the university’s website: https://news.marquette.edu.

“The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist James Foley,” the university’s statement said. “We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James’ family and friends during this very difficult time.”

James Foley had majored in history at the Jesuit university, then enrolled at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and earned a master’s degree in 2008.

He “had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world, a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder,” the Marquette statement said.

A campus prayer vigil to remember Foley and to support his family was scheduled for Aug. 27 on campus.

 

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To ‘dismantle systemic racism’ — St. Louis archbishop taking steps to eliminate problem evident in Ferguson

August 21st, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized

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ST. LOUIS — With the strife and violence continuing in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death by a police officer in Ferguson, more than 500 St. Louis Catholics gathered for a votive Mass for peace and justice Aug. 20 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

Brown, 18, was black, and Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him Aug. 9, is white.

Protesters hold their hands in the air during an Aug. 16 demonstration against the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The unarmed teen was shot and killed Aug. 9 by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Protesters hold their hands in the air during an Aug. 16 demonstration against the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The unarmed teen was shot and killed Aug. 9 by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated the Mass with 27 priests and, in his homily, laid out five important steps to “dismantle systemic racism,” which has become evident in Ferguson:

• “I am re-establishing today the Human Rights Commission in the Archdiocese of St Louis.”

• “I am asking the Charles Lwanga Center to begin a study and offer solutions to decrease violence in our communities and in our families.”

• “I pledge an ongoing commitment to provide a pathway out of poverty by providing scholarships so that young people can receive a quality education in our Catholic schools.” (He noted that 3,000 children have received scholarships in the last year.)

• “I pledge my support and the support of the archdiocese to assist the churches in Ferguson to deal with issues of poverty and racism.”

• “Finally, I am asking each priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to offer a Mass for Justice and Peace.”

As Archbishop Carlson noted, “This is a modest beginning, but begin we shall.”

“There is more that will need to be done, and we will work to open dialogue with the churches, community leaders and people of Ferguson,” he said.

Archbishop Carlson offered prayers for Brown and his family, for Wilson and his family, for first responders and their families, and for community leaders.

“We ask for the wisdom and compassion and courage to address the brokenness and division that confronts us as we recognize there is an irrepressible yearning present in the heart of each person for good,” he said, noting that the church has been down this road before.

He spoke of one of his predecessors, Cardinal Joseph Ritter, who in the summer of 1947, “wrote to the priests of the archdiocese announcing the desegregation of our Catholic schools; this paved the way for the desegregation of the public schools seven years later.”

In 1963, St. Louis priests made a pledge on the equality of all people and that summer the Human Rights Commission was established.

“Many priests and religious are still living who walked with (the Rev.) Martin Luther King defending the dignity of every human person,” he said.

“In the face of brokenness and shame and heartbreak Jesus calls us to come to him and encourages us so that we do not walk away,” he continued. “The time has come for us to acknowledge decades of hurt and mistrust and suspicion and prejudices and, yes, even a tragic death. … We hear the Lord’s gentle voice as he invites us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and his invitation to each one of us to be peacemakers.”

The Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes provide Catholics with a roadmap to address the underlying issues in the death of Brown and what has followed, Archbishop Carlson said.

“Like the first disciples, we need to leave our ordinary way of doing things behind and follow Jesus, a journey that is never easy,” he said.

Prayer is necessary for the journey, Archbishop Carlson said, citing Blessed Teresa, who started her day with an hour of eucharistic adoration.

“It was only after prayer that she would leave to serve,” he said. “Prayer is the inexhaustible source of our service.”

— By Dave Luecking

 

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Iraqi minorities need more than material aid, cardinal says

August 14th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The one thing Iraqi church leaders and aid workers, foreign charities and governments cannot do for the displaced and terrorized people of northeastern Iraq is answer their question, “What will become of us?” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the pope’s envoy to the region.

“Alongside the material dimension, obviously there is the psychological dimension” of being forced from their homes, “uprooted from their normal lives, their culture and environment,” Cardinal Filoni told Vatican Radio Aug. 14 during a telephone interview from Irbil, Iraq.

A demonstrator marches with crutches outside the U.S. consulate in Irbil, Iraq, Aug. 11. The pope's envoy to the region, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, said people still do not know what will become of terrorized Christians. (CNS photo/ Sahar Mansour)

A demonstrator marches with crutches outside the U.S. consulate in Irbil, Iraq, Aug. 11. The pope’s envoy to the region, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, said people still do not know what will become of terrorized Christians. (CNS photo/ Sahar Mansour)

The cardinal, a former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was visiting the region at the request of Pope Francis, who wanted to demonstrate his concern for tens of thousands of people — mainly Christians, Yezidis and other minorities — driven from their homes by the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Islamic State controls large areas of Syria and Iraq. Its militants captured Mosul in late July and Qaraqosh in early August, killing hundreds of people and forcing thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minorities from their homes.

The U.S. military began airstrikes against the Islamic State Aug. 8 as well as airdrops of food and water for Iraqi minorities who had been forced to flee. Cardinal Filoni estimated 160,000 people have been displaced; many of those who have found safety are in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan province.

Cardinal Filoni told Vatican Radio he began his day Aug. 14 visiting the bishop’s house where “in the garden, in the church and in 23 other places — mostly parochial schools or the parish churches — thousands of people have found refuge.”

“Fortunately, it is not cold. In fact, it’s very warm, so people sleep outside at night. Others, especially those with children, find a place in one of the big halls,” he said.

Others are being hosted by families and a few have the resources to rent an apartment, he said.

Thanks to the local church, local families, international aid agencies and several foreign governments, the welcome for the displaced seems well organized, he said. “There is much generosity and much hard work.”

The cardinal said he spoke that morning with Masoud Barzani, the region’s president, who expressed his government’s willingness to welcome the displaced and who was deeply appreciative of Pope Francis’ public appeals to stop the killing and persecution.

“Unfortunately, it must be said that the situation, including from a military point of view, is still fluid,” he said. Local officials complain of difficulty getting the help they need to defend their territory and their people from the advance of the Islamic State militants.

 

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Catholic aid agencies try to ‘pick up the pieces’ in Gaza

August 14th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan — A senior Catholic aid official said humanitarian agencies are “trying to pick up the pieces” of Gaza’s badly destroyed infrastructure, desperately hoping that the declared truce between Israel and the militant Hamas will hold.

“It’s difficult to explain the gravity of the situation,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

A Palestinian man sits amid the ruins of destroyed homes in Gaza City Aug. 6. An Israeli Cabinet minister warned that Israel will respond if Hamas resumes fire after a temporary truce expires in the Gaza Strip. (CNS photo/Finbarr O'Reilly,

A Palestinian man sits amid the ruins of destroyed homes in Gaza City Aug. 6. An Israeli Cabinet minister warned that Israel will respond if Hamas resumes fire after a temporary truce expires in the Gaza Strip. (CNS photo/Finbarr O’Reilly,

El-Yousef told Catholic News Service in a phone interview that the initial cease-fire in early August allowed aid workers to get out for the first time in more than a month to assess the extent of the damage from intensive bombardment and shelling.

“We’re trying to pick up the pieces of the infrastructure, water, sanitation, electricity. Food and water supplies are running low, there is significant damage to the infrastructure, homes and other buildings,” he said. “It’s going to take a very, very long time before Gaza gets back on its own two feet.”

The CNEWA official said he and others are “clinging to the hope” the cease-fire “will hold and eventually we get to the root cause of all this mess. Otherwise, we will enter this cycle again and again.”

As the extent of the devastation wrought on the coastal strip emerges so, too, have some of the stories unfolded of both bittersweet miracles and tragedies.

El-Yousef said that, in March, CNEWA had just completed restoration of the Gaza City residence of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, damaged in an earlier conflict. During the most recent conflict, the bedrooms were struck by shelling.

“But there was actually a miracle in the making,” he said. “Had the sisters been in the house at the time, they were evacuated a bit earlier, something very bad would have happened.”

Still, the nuns, the handicapped children in their care and Father Jorge Hernandez, the lone parish priest in Gaza, are all safe. Father Hernandez travels throughout the strip helping with aid distribution and carrying out pastoral visits, El-Yousef said.

Many others have been less fortunate.

El-Yousef recounted learning about the recent death of a nurse serving at the Anglican Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, the only Christian hospital in Gaza, which serves the entire community.

“She had been working for a long stretch and was released to go for a home rest for two days,” he said. “The day she went home her house was targeted by a missile. She, her mother-in-law and father-in-law were killed in the attack. Only her two young children survived. I felt awful to hear this news.”

El-Yousef said Jeries Ayyad, a Christian injured when a missile struck his house in July, was clinging to life after being transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem. Jeries had burns on approximately 90 percent of his body. He has had amputations to both of his legs and has had three strokes.

During the cease-fire, El-Yousef said CNEWA hoped to provide psychosocial support, particularly to children served by Gaza’s Christian institutions. The United Nations reports that some 373,000 Gazans are in need of psychosocial intervention because of the losses of immediate family members, homes, and traumatic events.

Immediately though, CNEWA’s focus will be to provide emergency medicines, medical supplies, and fuel for generators to the Al-Ahli hospital and to Middle East Council of Churches clinics.

“Gaza’s electricity supply is nearly gone so refueling for the generators is needed to ensure near uninterrupted power supply,” El-Yousef explained. CNEWA also is covering costs for medical treatment for conflict-related diseases.

Planning is underway to fix damages sustained by Christian institutions and some homes within Gaza’s Christian community.

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem said the church was helping provide emergency items as well as some cash to help some families buy basic necessities, such as food.

“We need to inject a bit of hope into the hearts of the people,” Bishop Shomali said in a phone interview from Jerusalem.

“For one month, they haven’t slept because of the shelling and the bombing. They need to heal from their fatigue and stress,” he said.

Both Catholic officials expressed concern that with most of Gaza’s schools sheltering perhaps up to 400,000 people, children will be unable to start classes any time soon.

Some U.N. schools as well as the Holy Family Catholic School in Gaza City have also been partially damaged in the airstrikes. The school has helped host some displaced people who have lost homes.

“It’s been quite a challenge because they don’t have the official structures in place to deal with emergency situations,” El-Yousef explained.

Despite that, these Christian institutions have provided meals, clean water and hygiene kits, opening their doors to thousands, mainly Muslims, who do not have a safe place, he added.

“We are trying to help. But it’s small in a sea of needs,” the CNEWA official explained. “We are doing a lot, but the needs are so incredible. We keep at it.”

 

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Praying for those who take their own life — Priest who runs program for survivors of suicide discusses outdated notions of church teaching

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Catholic News Service

After 35 years of providing counseling and a Catholic outreach to families with a loved one who died by suicide, Father Charles Rubey has consulted on more than his share of the resulting funerals or wakes.

Actor Robin Williams  was found dead Aug. 11 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff's Office said. (CNS photo/ Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

Actor Robin Williams was found dead Aug. 11 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office said. (CNS photo/ Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

The priest is the founder and director of a Chicago-based ministry called Compassionate Friends, which later evolved into Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide, or LOSS, an entity of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

He still bristles when he occasionally hears misinformation or outdated notions concerning suicide and church teaching.

“The church’s official teaching in the catechism still lists suicide as a sin but they do add that in most instances there are extenuating circumstances that could severely impair culpability,” said Father Rubey told Catholic News Service in a phone interview.

Twice recently he heard of someone suggesting to surviving families members that their loved one would be automatically deprived of eternal life as a result of completing suicide.

The incidents prompted the priest to draft an advisory memorandum for best practices in dealing with and discussing suicide situations in local parishes, and how best to minister to families already feeling the stigma of suicide and the mental illness that often attended the deceased.

“The church’s standing is to be pastoral to the survivors: They feel stigmatized anyway … and so we shouldn’t do anything more because it is a suicide, nor should we do anything less because it’s a suicide,” Father Rubey said. “We do the normal rites and burial, not treating the situation any differently.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that suicide “is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the Fifth Commandment (and) contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. … Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

What the church no longer teaches is that suicide automatically condemns the deceased to damnation, while denying family members access to a Catholic funeral and burial privileges for their loved one.

The catechism notes that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.”

“By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The church prays for persons who have taken their own lives,” it states.

The Aug. 11 death of actor-comedian and Chicago native Robin Williams has reignited questions about suicide, now the 10th leading cause of death in America. It is thought to often be accompanied by factors such as mental or other illnesses, substance abuse, the pain of social disconnect and other underlying problems.

Father Rubey, whose LOSS program has counseled thousands of family members of the years, said he is saddened but understanding at hearing of William’s suicide and that he hopes people don’t think less of the actor as a result.

Williams, who was reportedly found dead by asphyxiation in his California home, was suffering from longtime bouts of depression and a history of substance abuse about which he spoke publicly and often with humor.

“Does it make sense to me? No, but I understand that he battled with this all his life and he got tired of the pain. I feel badly for the wife, and all of his fans,” Father Rubey said. “He died of an illness and that is the important part of it, just as a person might die from a car accident or from a cancer. But with mental illness they look like everyone else (on the outside) and it may not be apparent.”

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bill Schmitz Jr., board president of the American Association of Suicidology, a Washington-based research and prevention nonprofit organization, said he grew up in Boulder, Colorado, not far from the house used in William’s “Mork & Mindy” TV sitcom, which aired in the late 1970s.

Fans were flocking to the house in the days following the actor’s death to pay their respects.

“My heart goes out to his family,” said Schmitz, a clinical psychologist with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. “This touches all of the entertainment industry, just as it can an entire church congregation (in other cases). I think Williams was really trying to find answers, and I would have loved the opportunity to sit with him.”

Schmitz said that faith communities can and do play an important role in offering support groups and local networks for surviving family members. Churches can be part of the social cohesion that keeps people from completing suicide in the first place.

“For a lot of people faith life is a buffer and protector against suicide; one of the key components I look at is a sense of belongingness and a sense of community, and church communities are a powerful buffer against suicide because they fill that need so well,” he said.

“Spiritual, physical and mental health are all interrelated and interdependent. A sense of belonging is more than just saying, ‘I attend services.’ It is really about that connection.”

Where there has been a suicide, Father Rubey urged survivors not to make it “the family secret,” and instead talk about it rationally just with any other tragedy, especially if there is a history of occurrence of suicide in a given family.

“Children have a right to know what is in their genes and it is part of the family history. It can be a very healthy learning experience: that this is not how you handle life’s problems,” the priest said.

When loved ones ask him the inevitable question: is my loved one in heaven? “That’s a common question people have. My response is always: ‘Sure they are.’”

Resources on suicide prevention, help for families 

The Aug. 11 death of actor-comedian and Chicago-native Robin Williams has reignited questions about suicide, which is now the 10th leading cause of death in America.

Counselors says it is often accompanied by factors such as mental or other illnesses, substance abuse, the pain of social disconnect and other underlying problems.

Here is a list of some organizations and their websites with resources on suicide prevention and help for families experiencing the death a loved one by suicide:

– Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide, or LOSS, an entity of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago: www.catholiccharities.net/GetHelp/OurServices/Counseling/Loss.aspx.

– National Catholic Partnership on Disability and its Council on Mental Illness, www.ncpd.org.

– American Association of Suicidology, www.suicidology.org.

– American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org.

– Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, www.save.org.

– Jed Foundation, www.jedfoundation.org.

– National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention; http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org.

 

 

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