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Nuncio: Evangelization, mercy, encounter mark pope’s first four years

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Evangelization, mercy, encounter and accompaniment are the hallmarks of the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said March 15.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis' papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“First and foremost, Pope Francis is committed to the work of evangelization. The main role of the church is to evangelize, to receive the gospel and offer it to the world,” he said in a conversation in New York with Jesuit Father Matthew F. Malone, president and editor-in-chief of America Media.

“The raison d’etre of the church is evangelization. It’s not a business, it’s not an organization or an association for the defense of Jesus, but a group called to announce God’s presence to humanity,” Archbishop Pierre said.

At a meeting of cardinals before the conclave that elected him pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio reflected on the challenges Pope Benedict’s successor should address. Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ handwritten notes from his talk were a blueprint for his papacy.

In them, Pope Francis underscored the importance of evangelizing with apostolic zeal and going to the peripheries of sin, pain, injustice and misery to reach people. He warned that when the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and sick. He wrote, “The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-reference and a kind of theological narcissism.”

Cardinal Bergoglio said the next pope, “must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her be the fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

“The church is a continuation of Christ in the world,” Archbishop Pierre said. And the pope continues to insist it is time not to rest, but to go to the many peripheries to be God’s presence to the people who suffer, he said.

He expanded on the pope’s familiar description of the church as a field hospital. “It’s very simple. It’s a tent where you attend people. Be there. Don’t waste time. That’s where you meet wounded people.”

Father Malone said Jesus, the source of joy in the Gospels, is the medication in the field hospital. Pope Francis pictures himself as a patient in the hospital, not the doctor, he said.

People have rediscovered the sacrament of penance during this papacy because Pope Francis identifies himself as a sinner and is seen going to confession, Archbishop Pierre said. “Many had abandoned the sacrament of reconciliation, but have rediscovered the necessity of receiving the forgiveness of God and giving it to others,” he said.

When the pope speaks of mercy, it is not only a human virtue, but a gift from God, and people are the first target of God’s mercy, Archbishop Pierre said. “Our church is a merciful church. We present truth in a respectful way. Mercy means dialogue and walking along the path of the other,” he said.

“I’m impressed to see the capacity Pope Francis has to meet people,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Politicians want to see the pope, not just for the photo, but for the encounter. I have seen politicians transformed.”

He recounted the pope’s visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of Lutheranism. “We’ve had the idea that Luther is the enemy,” the nuncio said. But Pope Francis had an encounter with Lutheran leaders there and said Luther is part of the history of the Catholic Church. The pope speaks with his actions, Archbishop Pierre said.

The nuncio said Pope Francis approaches dialogue as an important ingredient of public life. People who dialogue successfully must be rooted in their own convictions and faith. In this way, dialogue is “two rooted persons looking for the truth,” he said.

The pope is hard on bishops and priests because he wants them to be masters of discernment and help people develop the capacity to choose between good and bad, Archbishop Pierre said. It is not enough to identify right from wrong, he said. If the understanding is not applied to personal actions, life will be a dichotomy.

Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) is based on the closing document of the 2007 meeting of the Latin American bishops’ council in Aparecida, Brazil. Then-Archbishop Bergoglio led the editing committee for the document. A document intended for the Latin American bishops “became the patrimony of the whole church,” Archbishop Pierre said.

He said Pope Francis’ experience living in a “peripheral” country helped him elaborate a different kind of option for the poor than the one envisioned three decades earlier at the Medellin, Colombia, meeting of the Latin American bishops. “The reality is the people had been evangelized so deeply that the culture was filled with the Gospel,” he said.

Because the church does not play the same role in people’s lives it once did, the church today is challenged to help people encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their own lives. It must be missionary and not self-referential, the nuncio said.

In his introductory remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said Archbishop Pierre is an intrepid adventurer who “enfleshes Pope Francis’ desire to go to the peripheries.”

Archbishop Pierre entered the papal diplomatic corps in 1977 and served in New Zealand, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil, Geneva, Haiti, Uganda and Mexico. Pope Francis named him apostolic nuncio to the United States April 12, 2016.

The event was co-sponsored by America Media and the American Bible Society and held at the New York Athletic Club.

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Cardinal Tobin installed as Newark, N.J., archbishop

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Catholic News Service

NEWARK, N.J. — The chasm between faith and life is the greatest challenge facing the Catholic Church today, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin said at his installation Mass, and he urged the church to be salt for the earth so that the presence of Christ does not become “a comforting, nostalgic memory.”

Delivering the homily during the liturgy Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, Cardinal Tobin said he wanted to head off “a growing trend that seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our lives” as people attend Mass on Sunday and then doing “whatever we think we need to do to get by” the rest of the week.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin smiles as he greets a clergyman before his Jan. 6 installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin smiles as he greets a clergyman before his Jan. 6 installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Tobin said his appointment reminded him “that stakes are incredibly high” as he assumes leadership of the richly diverse Archdiocese of Newark.

“If we permit the chasm between faith and life to continue to expand, we risk losing Christ, reducing him simply to an interesting idea of a comforting, nostalgic memory. And if we lose Christ, the world has lost the salt, light and leaven that could have transformed it,” he said.

He recalled how the church is “the place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world. The church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of salt, light and leaven for the world’s transformation. For this reason, our kindness must be known to all.”

The installation took place before more than 2,000 people at Newark’s towering Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Cardinal Tobin concelebrated the Mass with six other cardinals and more than 60 archbishops and bishops. Five hundred priests and deacons also participated.

After a 30-minute processional, Archbishop John J. Myers, retired archbishop of Newark, welcomed participants and took special note of members of Cardinal Tobin’s religious community, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, his mother, Marie Terese Tobin, and his extended family. Cardinal Tobin, 64, is the eldest of 13 children.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, recalled when St. John Paul visited Newark in 1995, he described the nearby Statue of Liberty as a symbol of “the nation America aspires to be.” Archbishop Pierre told Cardinal Tobin, “We are confident that in imitation of the Good Shepherd, your episcopal ministry will be both hospitable and welcoming.”

The nuncio read the apostolic mandate from Pope Francis to the College of Consultors to authorize Cardinal Tobin as the new archbishop of Newark.

Carrying the unfurled scroll with the mandate raised high in front of him, Cardinal Tobin walked down the main aisle and was greeted with sustained applause.

The cathedral was filled to capacity with the cardinal’s family and well-wishers from Newark and Indianapolis. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, as well as Sen. Robert Menendez were among the civic representatives.

The installation took place on the feast of the Epiphany and the choice of music reflected the liturgical season, as well as the special occasion. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was the opening hymn.

Ethnic diversity in the archdiocese was represented by prayers of intercession in Spanish, English, Korean, Polish, Creole, Ibo, Portuguese, Tagalog and Italian.

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Tobin thanked “all those families to which I belong, beginning with the one that’s put up with me for 64 years,” specifically his mother, 12 brothers and sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles who were present. He said his family taught him how to love and share while growing up in a one-bathroom house with eight sisters.

The cardinal extended thanks to his Redemptorist family and “bishops in episcopal service in Indiana and New Jersey.” When he thanked Archbishop Meyers for his welcome and “the care you’ve given to this archdiocese for 15 years,” the congregation offered sustained applause.

Thanking the people in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for all they taught him and now mean to him, Cardinal Tobin said, “I showed up there unexpectedly four years ago and I was a little embarrassed to be parachuted in on top of these unsuspecting Hoosiers.”

Of his newest family in Newark, Cardinal Tobin said, “These past couple of months have been an interesting roller coaster of emotions, a time of preparation, anticipation and change for all of us.” He expressed heartfelt thanks to the army of people who worked since his appointment was announced Nov. 7 to plan multiple services and celebratory events.

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Panel: Genocide, wars, indifference will make Mideast Christians extinct

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at a Dec. 5 interfaith forum in New York.

A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said.

Men walk in rubble Nov. 13 near St. Mary's Catholic Church and St. Elias Orthodox Church after a bombing in Damascus, Syria. Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, said speakers at a Dec. 5 panel discussion in New York. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

Men walk in rubble Nov. 13 near St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Elias Orthodox Church after a bombing in Damascus, Syria. Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, said speakers at a Dec. 5 panel discussion in New York. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

Twelve speakers at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture event explored “The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East,” with a particular focus on vulnerable Christian minorities in Syria and Iraq.

Christians formed the majority in the Middle East until the Crusades in the 12th-14th centuries, but “the past thousand years haven’t been good in many ways,” said Jack Tannous, assistant professor of history at Princeton University.

Tremendous violence perpetrated against Christians led to widespread conversion, he said, and long periods of stasis have been punctuated by large-scale persecution and followed by immigration.

As a result, many Christians were effectively exterminated from the lands where they lived for centuries, said Michael Reynolds, associate professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University.

Genocide is the accurate description for the fate of Christians, especially in areas controlled by the Islamic State, speakers said.

Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said she appreciated that Christians were included in the March 17 genocide declaration by Secretary of State John Kerry, even if the inclusion, she added, was made with difficulty by the current administration and because “it’s popular to talk about minority religions.”

Kerry said the atrocities carried out by the Islamic State group against Yezidis, Christians and other minorities were genocide.

“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and former U.S. ambassador to Austria. Referencing the Holocaust, he said, “Since 1945, genocide has occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You can’t just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up with action.”

“Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the hard way,” Lauder added.

“People turn off the Middle East because it’s so horrible,” Arriaga de Bucholz said, but having the U.S. declare genocide helps bring attention to the situation and opens the potential for action.

Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said his organization works with the Eastern churches throughout the Middle East, an area not fully understood or appreciated by those in the Latin church. The charitable and health care efforts particularly by women religious in largely Muslim areas have been well-received, and Christians and others have gotten along well, he said. Nonetheless, there is much outright suffering and persecution, he said.

“Syria is an absolute mess, but the church is still there,” Msgr. Kozar said. Lebanon is at or close to capacity with refugees. Jordan has the greatest concentration of refugees in the world, but its camps are plagued with extortion and a gangland mentality. Christians are considered third-class citizens in Egypt and still suffer reprisals after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. Christians in Kurdistan and Iraq face different challenges.

“We are accompanying Christians who believe that somehow Our Lord will accompany and sustain them. We try to bring a reasonable stability,” he said.

Msgr. Kozar and other speakers underscored the deep historic and cultural connection of the Christians to their lands. “There is a tug of war between the goodwill of people here in the West who want to welcome and adopt (the refugees) and presume it’s best to extract them from where they are, and the church leaders and most of the people who want to stay” in the region and return to their countries when it is safe to do so, Msgr. Kozar said. “Family, faith, and church and connected.”

Nina Shea, director of the center for religious freedom at the Hudson Institute, said the current administration’s lack of a religious test for aid dooms tiny minorities and the new administration must make sure Christians and other minorities get their fair share of aid destined for Syria and Iraq.

Also, the United Nations needs a plan to protect minorities. “Otherwise, they will become extinct,” she said.

Retired U.S. Gen. Raymond Odierno, former chief of staff of the U.S. Army, said during his lengthy leadership service in Iraq, he never had a specific mission to protect Christians. He said that was likely because there were bigger problems and if the U.S. singled out Christians, it might be interpreted by the Iraqis as trying “to force our religion on Iraq.”

Odierno said the new administration should be prepared to have a position on what happens to Christians when the fighting wanes in Syria. He advocated a multinational effort to establish a safe haven to protect Christians “until governments can receive them and place them back where they belong, or else, they’ll dwindle.”

The effort will only work if it is multinational and supported by the United Nations, he said. A solo effort by the United States would create a larger problem for Christians because it would look like the U.S. was unilaterally protecting Christians.

Odierno also suggested relocating Christians from the Ninevah Plain of Iraq to Kurdish-controlled areas during what he said could be a 10- to 20-year rebuilding process before they could return home. He could support a no-fly zone there if there’s a threat and if Russia participated, he said.

Odierno said it’s unclear if the U.S. and Russia can work together to protect Christians and he has not spoken to anyone in Russia, “but I believe we should be able to develop common ground on this.”

He said, “It’s up to us as a nation that supports all religions to assist when any religion is being attacked. We should be there and take a look at it … we may be judged 50 years from now.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said when bishops visit him from the Middle East, “they don’t say a lot, but unfailingly cry and plead not to be forgotten. They feel desperate, alone and isolated.” He wore a Coptic pectoral cross, a gift to him from Egypt, and he displayed an icon of the Martyrs of Libya.

“We have a God who is calling us to a sense of justice, advocacy and charity. We cannot forget these people,” he said.

The event was organized by the Anglosphere Society, a nonprofit membership organization that promotes the traditional values of English-speaking peoples, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of New York and the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture.

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Candidates spar at Al Smith Dinner that raises $6 million for New York’s Catholic Charities

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — When Donald J. Trump stepped over yet another invisible line of the contentious presidential race Oct. 20, many of the 1,500 people at 71st annual dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation broke historic precedent to boo him.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan shares a light moment with U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the 71st annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City Oct. 20. The charity gala, which honors the memory of the former New York Democratic governor who was the first Catholic nominated by a major political party for the U.S. presidency, raises money to support not-for-profit organizations that serve children in need. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan shares a light moment with U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the 71st annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City Oct. 20. The charity gala, which honors the memory of the former New York Democratic governor who was the first Catholic nominated by a major political party for the U.S. presidency, raises money to support not-for-profit organizations that serve children in need. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Candidates Trump and Hillary Clinton flanked the host, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, on the five-tiered dais of the Grand Ballroom at the heavily secured Waldorf Astoria hotel for the charitable gala.

The event has been a traditional opportunity for speakers to poke good-natured fun at themselves, one another, and prominent guests from the worlds of politics, business and philanthropy without inflicting wounds.

In 1928, Alfred E. Smith, former governor of New York who was raised in poverty, was the first Catholic nominated by a major political party to run for president of the United States.

Despite an introductory warning delivered as a humor-coated reminder of the evening’s ground rules by emcee Alfred E. Smith IV, chairman of the dinner, Trump veered from the safety of chuckle-inducing barbs and zings. He said she is “so corrupt” she was kicked off the Watergate commission. The room erupted in a crescendo of boos and shoutouts, as he lobbed one accusation after another that his opponent is deceptive and a Catholic-hater. “She is here tonight … pretending not to hate Catholics,” he said.

Decorum was restored when the Republican nominee recalled past Al Smith dinners as a special occasion to spend time with his father, developer Fred Trump.

Smith, a great-grandson of the foundation’s namesake, aimed jokes equally at both candidates and reflected the general discomfort of the electorate with them. He told Trump to watch his language because “even though the man sitting next to you is in a robe, you’re not in a locker room.” He advised Clinton to remain stoic in the face of insults during the evening by considering it a fourth debate.

Noting the proximity on Fifth Avenue of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Trump Tower, Smith said Trump’s appearance was historic, marking the first time the Catholic Church was not the largest tax-exempt landowner at the dinner.

Trump was greeted warmly with applause. He quipped that the huge event was a small intimate dinner with friends for him, but that it counted as his opponent’s largest crowd of the season.

Trump gave a shoutout to politicians in the room who formerly loved him, but turned on him when he sought the Republican nomination. He said the dinner gives candidates an opportunity to meet one another’s teams and those working hard to get them elected.

As he spoke, he pointed out chairmen of media corporations seated on the dais and among the assembly. As an example that the media is biased against him, Trump said Michelle Obama gave a speech that everyone loved, but when his wife, Melania, delivered the exact same speech, “people got all over her case. I don’t get it.”

Trump said he knows Clinton is very gracious because, if elected, she wants him to be her ambassador to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Trump said the presidential debates were the most vicious in the history of politics. In a rare reflective moment, he turned to Clinton and asked, “Are we supposed to be proud of it?”

We need to stand up to anti-Catholic bias, defend religious liberty and create a culture that celebrates life, Trump concluded.

Trump sat down to mixed applause and boos. Retaking the microphone, Smith said,
“As Ronald Reagan would say, ‘There you go again!’” He noted the dinner raised a record $6 million.

The Democratic nominee was introduced to a standing ovation. Clinton said the fiery populist Al Smith would be proud of the money raised at the event, but if he saw the
“room full of plutocrats” gathered to celebrate his legacy, he’d be confused.

Clinton said she was taking a break from her rigorous nap schedule to attend, but the event was also treat for the guests because she usually charges a lot for a speech. She said she was a little amazed at the opportunity to speak, because she didn’t think her opponent would be OK with a peaceful transition of power.

Clinton said, “Every year this dinner brings together a collection of sensible, committed mainstream Republicans, or as we now like to call them, Hillary supporters.”

She said critics accuse her of saying only what listeners want to hear. “Tonight that is true. This is exactly what you want to hear. This election will be over very, very soon.”

Clinton said when Trump wanted her to undergo a pre-debate drug test, “I was so flattered he thought I used some sort of performance-enhancers. Actually I did. It’s called preparation.”

Trump has questioned her stamina, Clinton said, but over the course of three debates, she has stood next to him for longer than any of his campaign managers. She said Trump is so concerned about her health, he sent a car to bring her to the dinner. “Actually it was a hearse.”

Nonetheless, Clinton said if elected, “I will be the healthiest and youngest woman ever to serve.”

Clinton said one of the things the candidates have in common is the Republican National Committee “isn’t spending a dime to help either one of us.”

Turning serious, Clinton said it’s easy to forget how far the country has come. When Al Smith ran for office, she said there were rumors that he would forbid Bible-reading in schools, annul Protestant marriages and make the Holland Tunnel into a secret passageway to the Vatican so the pope could rule the country. “Those appeals to fear and division can cause us to treat each other as ‘the other.’ Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to respect each other,” she said.

“We need to get better at finding ways to disagree on matters of policy while agreeing on questions of decency and civility,” she said.

Although the candidates shook hands across Cardinal Dolan at the dinner, he jokingly attributed his nascent cold at the benediction to having spent two hours seated between them, which he said is “the iciest pace on the planet. Where is global warming when you need it?”

He noted the funds raised at the dinner would provide grants for thousands of mothers and children who are most in need and least visible to society.

Dinner guests in formal attire sat elbow-to-elbow at gold-covered tables in the ballroom and its two balconies. The $3,000-a plate meal included a seafood trio appetizer, tournedos of beef and a chocolate dessert duet. Metropolitan Opera soprano Nadine Sierra sang the national anthem from the dais, set against the backdrop of a huge American flag.

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Gloves come off at 71st annual Al Smith Dinner in New York

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Catholic News Service

 

NEW YORK (CNS) — When Donald J. Trump stepped over yet another invisible line of the contentious presidential race Oct. 20, many of the 1,500 people at 71st annual dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation broke historic precedent to boo him.

Candidates Trump and Hillary Clinton flanked the host, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, on the five-tiered dais of the Grand Ballroom at the heavily secured Waldorf Astoria hotel for the charitable gala. Read more »

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By laughing at ourselves, we grow, change for better, says actress-writer

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Catholic News Service

 

NEW YORK (CNS) — Laughing at ourselves and being open to sharing our failures and flaws within and beyond the community of faith is a powerful means to dispel the myth that Catholics are ignorant or judgmental or exclusive in any way, actress Jeannie Gaffigan told an audience in New York Oct 14.

The comedy writer and producer of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” accepted the inaugural Eloquentia Perfecta Award from Paulist Press and the Fordham University Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. Read more »

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Sisters of Life hold up dignity of single moms in 25-year-old ministry

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Catholic News Service
NEW YORK — On a drizzly gray morning in early May, the bright kitchen at Visitation Mission on Manhattan’s East Side was filled with the sound of laughter and the inviting aromas of fresh-cut vegetables and baking cookies as postulants and novices of the Sisters of Life prepared food for themselves and their anticipated guests.
Visitation is the nerve center for the Sisters of Life’s material, emotional and spiritual outreach to pregnant women in crisis. The sisters help more than 900 women at the former convent each year, said Sister Magdalene, the congregation’s local superior. Read more »

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Minority faiths in Middle East threatened by intolerance, says speaker

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — A rising tide of intolerance in the Middle East threatens minority faith communities with cultural extinction, said speakers at a May 10 lecture in New York.

Religious minorities are the most seriously impacted among the millions who have fled their homes to escape violence and the percentage of Christians in the region has dropped to an all-time low, panelists said.

Douglas M. Padgett, foreign affairs officer in the Office of International Religious Freedom with the U.S. Department of State, gestures during a May 10 panel discussion at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York. Also pictured are Haider Elias, president of Yazda, a global organization that assists Yezidis; Iraqi Father Gewargis Sulaiman, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East; journalist Eliza Griswold; and Sarhang Hamasaeed, senior program officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace. (CNS photo/Leo Sore , Fordham University)

Douglas M. Padgett, foreign affairs officer in the Office of International Religious Freedom with the U.S. Department of State, gestures during a May 10 panel discussion at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York. Also pictured are Haider Elias, president of Yazda, a global organization that assists Yezidis; Iraqi Father Gewargis Sulaiman, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East; journalist Eliza Griswold; and Sarhang Hamasaeed, senior program officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace. (CNS photo/Leo Sore , Fordham University)

The Russo Family lecture event at Jesuit-run Fordham University was titled “Endangered: Religious Minorities in the Middle East and their Struggle for Survival” and co-sponsored by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture and its Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

A vast and vibrant network of religious and spiritual communities flourished in the Middle East for millennia and managed to live in peace, although with difficulty, according to journalist Eliza Griswold, who has traveled in and written extensively about Christianity and Islam.

Christians and other religious minorities were first targeted for persecution after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, she said. Iraq was destabilized and the Arab Spring felled tyrannical leaders whose forces previously “shored up” religious minorities. Neighbors turned against one another. Griswold said religious minorities were attractive targets because they had money.

“It’s not a sensational story; it’s the reality for those living in the region,” she said.

Although numbers vary from country to country, Griswold said the Christian population of the Middle East is now 4 percent, down from 20 percent. She said Islamic State buys and sells Christian women and girls in telephone negotiations. She witnessed a man in an Iraqi restaurant pose as an Islamic State member to negotiate the purchase of his kidnapped wife and daughters.

Iraqi Father Gewargis Sulaiman, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East, described the plight of Christians in Iraq as cultural genocide, for which immigration is the only immediate solution.

Father Sulaiman said he did not think Christianity would die in Iraq, because Christians have overcome violence in the past. “We are people of that land and believe God put us there to be the salt and light our ancestors were,” he said.

“When there was justice, people could live together. The cultural norms were protective to each group, but when politicians abuse power for personal benefit, there is no justice or protective norms,” Father Sulaiman said.

“Christians are integral to the social fabric of the country. They’ve been the source of peace, integrity and values and raised the standard of every community they’ve lived in,” Father Sulaiman said. “The world is obliged to provide assistance to prevent genocide. The disappearance of Christians in the Middle East will hurt everyone,” he said.

Haider Elias is co-founder and president of Yazda: A Global Yazidi Organization. He said Yezidis are an ancient ethno-religious minority indigenous to what is now northern Iraq. They practice a monotheistic religion and have endured 74 massacres and genocides in recorded history, Elias said. There are now fewer than 1 million Yezidis.

Islamic State militants attacked Yezidis in August 2014, kidnapping 6,000 women and girls and killing 5,800, including several members of Elias’ family. More than 400,000 Yezidis live in camps for displaced persons in Iraq.

Any resolution in Iraq requires the defeat of Islamic State before anything else can be done, Douglas M. Padgett said. He is a foreign affairs officer in the Office of International Religious Freedom in the U.S. Department of State. His office works with vulnerable communities, tracks laws and coordinates with civil society groups to identify and help those persecuted because of their faith.

The subsequent challenge is “to put Iraq back together in such a way that diversity can be maintained” and minority groups can enjoy security and economic and political viability, Padgett said.

“The humanitarian need is so vast, it’s shocking,” he said, but United Nations’ appeals for help are routinely underfunded by at least 40 percent. Padgett said other needs include efforts to document atrocities and mass graves for potential prosecution, and a plan to establish transitional justice to help people live together again after the conflicts. In addition, survivors need medical, psychological and social support.

Sarhang Hamasaeed, a senior program officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said Iraqis have three options: return to homes in liberated areas, remain wherever they relocated, or resettle somewhere safe.

Elias is an Iraqi refugee who worked as a translator for the U.S. Army. He said most Yezidis want to be resettled elsewhere. “This is not the first, second or third time this has happened. They’ve lost trust in the Iraqi government and surrounding cultural communities,” he said.

“Those who want to stay want international protection,” Elias said.

Speakers agreed that protection in the form of international peacekeepers, troops on the ground or the creation of a no-fly zone is prohibitively expensive and extremely unlikely.

Padgett said there is potential for a self-secured autonomous zone for religious minorities in northern Iraq after Mosul is retaken from Islamic State. Griswold said the Iraqi Constitution includes a provision for such a zone, but Elias said self-governance of the envisioned zone is complicated by conflicts among five competing groups in the area.

Panelists agreed the needs outpace the resources, but individuals can take action. “In 20 years of covering conflict, I have never seen a more pressing need for funding,” Griswold said.

Jesuit Refugee Services, Caritas, Assyrian Aid Society, Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization and other small nongovernmental agencies are working in the affected communities to serve people in need, they said.

Griswold urged listeners to invite members of groups such as Yazda to address parishes and meetings of interested people because the extent of the suffering is poorly understood in this country.

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Father Berrigan recalled as an anti-war visionary ruled by faith at funeral Mass

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, whose protests against government policies earned him multiple jail and prison sentences, was remembered as a “fierce, mischievous visionary,” a “Beatnik Jesuit friend,” a priest who “taught the sacrament of resistance,” and a loving uncle ruled by faith, not fear, during his funeral Mass.

More than 800 people packed the Church of St. Francis Xavier to cheer the life of the Jesuit at a festive service May 6.

A mourner carries signs as she participates in a peace march May 6 prior to the funeral Mass of Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. Father Berrigan, a peace and social justice activist, died April 30 at age 94. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A mourner carries signs as she participates in a peace march May 6 prior to the funeral Mass of Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. Father Berrigan, a peace and social justice activist, died April 30 at age 94. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Father Berrigan, a poet, author and longtime peace activist, died April 30 at age 94.

The Mass was concelebrated by more than two dozen priests, including retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit. Jesuit Father Stephen M. Kelly prefaced his homily with a tongue-in-cheek welcome to members of the FBI, which was met with laughter and applause. During his life, Father Berrigan’s anti-war demonstrations and meetings were routinely monitored by the FBI.

Father Kelly recalled Father Berrigan and his late brother and fellow activist Philip as men who lived the Resurrection and challenged religious leaders to know “bomb-blessing has no place in Jesus’ self-giving.” He suggested their lives of radical witness made them candidates to be doctors of the church.

At the Offertory, as the choir sang “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” a procession of children and relatives presented gifts described as important to Father Berrigan’s life: copies of his books, framed photos, a Salvadoran cross, a hammer, a green shirt he was fond of wearing, and a large banner with Isaiah’s admonition to beat swords into plowshares.

Elizabeth McAlister, widow of Philip Berrigan, got a standing ovation when she opened her eulogy with a rousing statement Father Berrigan used to rally the so-called Catonsville Nine and their supporters in 1968. The group entered a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland, outside Baltimore, removed files, pour their blood on them and burned them using homemade napalm in an adjacent parking lot. Father Berrigan and others were found guilty of conspiracy and destruction of government property and served jail sentences.

McAlister said Father Berrigan invited his students into the streets to witness against the atrocities of war and they returned to their classrooms changed. “Dan shared ways to dig into resources and live deeply even with so much wrong in the world,” she said.

“The gift I walk with most is his practice of talking deeply but briefly at the end of an evening about something in the world and then posing the question, ‘What gives you hope?’ He experienced getting insights from others, he built and rebuilt the base, remembered the reasons for hope and returned to faith, hope and love,” McAlister said.

“Sisters and brothers, it is of no service to Dan or to his memory for us to simply hold him up as an icon especially in ways that exempt us from responsibility,” McAlister said to applause. “How much better would it be if we asked for a double portion of Dan’s spirit, and better yet, if we acted on it?”

In other eulogies, three nieces and a nephew recalled Father Berrigan as a wonderful storyteller, an uncle who introduced them to a gritty, cheeky New York, and a man whose mind was unleashed through his pen. “It was almost like he lived right in the heart of God and reported back to us,” Jerry Berrigan said.

Before the Mass, Jesuit Father James Keenan recalled with a smile that although their assignments never overlapped, he was grateful to Father Berrigan because, “He made a good decision on my part. He was one of my four interviewers coming into the Society (of Jesus) from Brooklyn Prep.”

Ken Curtin recalled Father Berrigan as a frequent visitor to his Bronx office in the early 1970s when he worked with the Defense Committee, an independent group established to publicize and support people who participated in draft board raids. He laughed as he said Father Berrigan’s example cost him a lot of money through the years.

“The night before the last time I was arrested in Washington in 1974, Father Berrigan bought me dinner, saying, ‘If you’re not working, you don’t pay’ and I’ve had to follow that practice ever since,” Curtin said.

About 300 gathered before the funeral and marched through Greenwich Village to the church on West 16th Street, following a serpentine path that passed buildings and locations significant to Father Berrigan’s life. The mourners assembled in the rain at Mary House, a Catholic Worker house in the East Village. Led by a brass band named the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and a woman on stilts carrying a parasol, they carried photos, banners and new and worn anti-war placards. Without comment, but with occasional song, they passed the St. Joseph Catholic Worker house, a Jesuit residence on Thompson Street, Washington Square Park and Union Square.

Organizer Matt Daloisio said, “Somehow it was fitting to walk through the rain to come sing Dan home.”

The marchers came from near and far. Art Laffin, a 39-year friend of the Jesuit from Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, said 50 Catholic Worker communities were represented. “Dan never wavered in calling for the abolition of war. He spoke out clearly. He knew the cost of discipleship and he paid the price. He gave his life to make the Word flesh,” he said.

Retired teacher Trudy Silver from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, said, “I’ve just been so appreciative of the Berrigans and the role they’ve played in the movement over the years. Their inspiration guides my thoughts, actions and teaching. I put them up there with Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who make life better.”

Despite the pelting rain, the march and funeral had the air of a reunion. As she surveyed the marchers, Silver said, “I’ve seen people here I’ve been arrested with over the years. People pulled together to honor Dan.”

There were mourners of all ages at the church, but the baby boomers were the best-represented group and there was an impressive display of gray beards and ponytails.

Joseph Finneral, a white-bearded self-described profligate from the Catholic Worker community in Worcester, Massachusetts, leaned on his sumac walking stick to offer an assessment of Father Berrigan.

“There’s little to cherish in this world and he’s the one who pointed to it,” Finneral said. “He was a great teacher and I loved the man. To tell the truth, and although the Berrigans would laugh about it, I’m a bit in awe of them,” he said.

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Francis to celebrate ‘simple weekday Mass’ for 20,000 at Madison Square Garden

September 18th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

A “simple weekday Mass” is in the works when Pope Francis celebrates the liturgy with 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden during his U.S. visit. Read more »

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